As the conquest of Mexico suited Prescott's conventional theories and individual talents, the Dutch rebellion against Philip II suited those of Motley. Although it posed serious structural problems, this story, too, centered on the conflict of two irreconcilable "races," political systems, and religions, and Motley believed that the conflict had aided all democratic progress. The Dutch rebellion also offered abundant material for Motley's skill in portraying cruel, treacherous, and merely contemptible characters, and for his skill in describing grotesque and horrible events. In the Dutch patriots' endurance through innumerable defeats, innumerable executions, and recurrent pillage he found ideal evidence that liberty was indestructible. In the letters of Philip II and others he found signed confessions of treachery and secret murder--crimes committed against rebellious heretics and loyal Catholics. In the Dutch hero he found a sixteenth-century Prince who not only had defied alien, "ecclesiastical tyranny" but had upheld against his own people the nineteenth-century ideals of religious freedom and federal unity.
Out of these materials Motley built a history which, though at times singularly exasperating, represents a major literary achievement. The Rise of the Dutch Republic does suffer from the romantic methods that account for much of its success, from the vehemence of Motley's antipathy to "ecclesiastical tyranny," and from his failure to construct it as tightly as Prescott had built his masterpiece. But it is distinguished by superb scenes that dramatize its grand theme, by a remarkably brilliant gallery of historical portraits, and by some of the finest narrative prose in American literature.
Despite all its advantages, Motley's subject alone sufficed to prevent him from achieving
Prescott's kind of structural triumph. Motley could not build his narrative on the geographical
advance, retreat, and return of his hero. William the Silent, indeed, had begun his campaign not by
In the face of these difficulties Motley followed Prescott's example and organized The Rise of the Dutch Republic dramatically. After his "Historical Introduction," he divided his narrative into six "Parts": a dramatic prologue,1 and five acts corresponding to the terms of the five governors whom Philip II had sent to the Netherlands during this period. The prologue, "Philip II in the Netherlands," prepares the stage admirably. Opening with the abdication ceremony at which Charles V gives his native Netherlands to his "foreign" son, it introduces many of the main characters, foreshadows the betrayal that awaits several of them, describes a "petty" war in which the Pope and the Kings of France and Spain betray one another, and closes with Philip's ominous departure from the Netherlands. The first act, "The Administration of Margaret, Duchess of Parma," reveals the basic conflict and leads to the verge of inevitable war. Philip's intensified persecution of Dutch heretics provokes many of the lesser Dutch nobles to demand that he honor his oath to respect their constitutional privileges; William the Silent and other great nobles try desperately to resolve the conflict; but then the Dutch people explode into action. Margaret, forced to grant concessions, revokes them at the first opportunity and imposes loyalist garrisons on all the towns, but Philip nevertheless sends a Spanish army to "crush" the country that has already been "subjugated." (II, 82.)* The act ends as this army marches toward the Netherlands, and William must at last commit himself to rebellion.
In the second and third acts (Parts III and IV) the Dutch people are reduced to "sublime desolation," but the patriot cause survives because of a few timely successes, the oppressors' stupid economic policy, and the death of Philip's third governor. This accident near the center of the third act enables the unpaid Spanish troops to mutiny, and their pillage of Antwerp--"the Spanish Fury"--provokes all Dutch classes and religious factions to demand the expulsion of the Spanish troops. Before Philip's new governor-general can arrive, the Dutch have won virtual control of the entire country, and their fortunes continue to rise through most of the fourth act. They achieve their greatest success just before the climax, when William wins an alliance with England and unites all the provinces under the "New Union of Brussels." But immediately afterward the patriot armies are crushed at the battle of Gemblours, and the final act of the drama is one long denouement. According to Motley, the battle of Gemblours has permanently divided the Netherlands, and his fifth act dramatizes the inevitable sequel. Again on the defensive, the patriots are occupied with minimizing their political and military defeats until the drama ends with William's assassination.
Thus Motley had to invert the chart of action that Prescott had traced in The Conquest of Mexico; in The Rise of the Dutch Republic progressive fortunes decline, rise, and finally decline. This arrangement seriously weakens the structure, for Motley's drama lacks an appropriate conclusion. At the end the basic conflict, the struggle for religious and political liberty remains unresolved. Liberty survives in the Netherlands, but the concluding events do not even dramatize its precarious survival. Apparently aware of this problem, Motley tried to solve it by concentrating on the secondary issue of Dutch national unity, by insisting that William's death had eliminated the last dim hope of union; yet he had to admit that the final separation had not been completed until the fall of Antwerp in the following year, and he could neither make William's assassination a dramatic substitute for that event nor establish a clear connection between the two disasters. (III, 615-16.) William's assassination, moreover, does not follow dramatically from the major scenes that precede it, or from the climax; it is an isolated episode, a historical accident.
But if the course of Dutch fortunes and the final incident of the history prevented Motley from
completing his drama as effectively as he had begun it, they gave admirable support to his central
theme. His story of those thirty years of bloodshed proclaims two complementary "laws": that liberty
and religious truth, always indestructible, are invincible when defended by
The structural importance of Dutch suffering is apparent from beginning to end. Motley's atavistic Introduction reviews the Netherlands' centuries of struggle against massive forces, and his drama traces a course of fruitful suffering under Spanish oppression. As Prescott's conquistadors had done, Motley's patriots move from crisis to crisis, but here the majority of crises turn against the progressive forces. In spite of rebel successes the gory evidence of Dutch suffering accumulates steadily through 1,700 pages until the representative hero, who has already lost most of his property in the cause, loses his life. Using spectacular catastrophes to dramatize the principle, Motley demonstrates that the patriots' difficulties and the horrors they endured increased with time. From the terrors of the rejuvenated Inquisition and the sack of a few recalcitrant Dutch towns in the first act, he moves to the vindictive tyranny of the Duke of Alva, whose ubiquitous "Blood Council" seems to carry bloodletting to its extreme. But Alva's successful siege of Harlem, where Dutch liberty is driven to its original "lair," is still more gruesome; his unsuccessful siege of Leyden, still more bloody. The Spanish Fury, in the third act, accomplishes new refinements of individual brutality and new records of slaughter and destruction; and Alexander Farnese's reduction of Maestricht, in the last act, is the most destructive battle of the entire history.
This accumulation of gore helps, of course, to characterize Spanish tyranny as well as Dutch
endurance. Although he recognized the danger of tedious repetition (III, 196), Motley was
determined to paint a complete picture of tyranny, and he tried to convert the immense bulk of his
material into an artistic advantage. However awkwardly they sometimes impede his narrative, the
scores of disingenuous proclamations, inconclusive conferences, cynical economic proposals, and
treacherous letters of Spanish officials add great power to this gross picture. Alternated as they are
with innumerable pictures of cruel actions, they assume the shape of almost superhuman evil.
Horrible dramatic scenes in Gothic settings, plain entries from a ledger of payments to an
executioner, grotesque pictures of Spanish leaders in unnatural situations--not only the concrete detail
but the cumulative number of such facts reveals a picture of Gothic horror. With the
For working out this picture in historical and dramatic terms Motley had the advantage of royalist characters whose individual traits seemed appropriate to both the course of events and Spanish policy during their respective administrations. Although he used the persistence of cruelty and deception through all five administrations to demonstrate that tyranny remains essentially the same under varying disguises, he made the governors themselves represent different aspects of tyranny, corresponding to the different masks that events led Philip II to present to the Netherlands. Each of the first four administrations fails, and the fifth does not succeed completely; the end of each of the first four acts, therefore, emphasizes a personal failure.
Religious oppression and sly deceit stand forth most clearly in the first act, in which the Dutch government is dominated by the Iagoesque Cardinal Granvelle; here the personal drama focuses on Granvelle's secret calumny of the "great" Dutch nobles; on the mutual deceit of Granvelle and the regent, who "stab fiercely at each other in the dark" (I, 447); and on Philip's intrigues with each of these agents against the other, while all three unite to promise false concessions to the Dutch. When these traits and policies have failed to destroy heresy, Philip removes both Margaret and Granvelle, who have lost his confidence and that of the Dutch people, and resorts at last to total oppression.
Philip's next agent, the Duke of Alva,, wears no mask at all, but reveals to the Netherlands the bare face of tyranny. He violates every Dutch constitutional privilege, condemns the whole nation to death (excepting by name "a few" individuals), levies an incredible tax on every single business transaction; and when, having finally lost Philip's confidence, he sneaks out of Amsterdam without paying his personal debts, he recommends that every city in the country be razed. Portraying him as the nearly mad incarnation of despotism (II, 178-79), Motley calls this Part of the history one of the most "finished" pictures ever recorded of a "perfect tyranny." (II, 503.)
With the failure of Alva total oppression disappears from the history, and so, for the moment,
does the strong Spanish character. Motley opens his third act by announcing that Philip has "again"
turned to "the mask and cothurn," sending "a grave and conventional personage . . . to perform an
interlude of clemency." (II, 513.) The "mediocre" Grand Commander, Requesens, pursues the war
but offers pardons and abolishes Alva's
Even the freedom of fiction could not have given Motley a more ideal Spanish leader for his fourth act than history gave him in the last "crusader of chivalry" (III, 145), Don John of Austria. The hero of Lepanto, whose barren victory there offered a neat contrast to William's fruitful defeats; the "romantic hero," whose chimerical designs on the English throne invited comic comparisons with his real difficulties in the Netherlands; the hot-blooded cavalier, yearning to fight but helpless without any army to lead against the enemy--here was the perfect governor for Motley's section describing the greatest rebel successes of the entire history. This type of the popular, debonair hero illustrates the hollowness of the tyrant's kindness. Knowing that the people foolishly love him, he tries to reconcile them to Philip; secretly, however, he advises Philip to treat them severely, and he soon proclaims the Council of Trent in the Netherlands. But he is a pathetically inept intriguer, and he fails more completely than any other Spanish governor. Betrayed by his suspicious half-brother the King, and outwitted and humiliated by the Dutch, he is still begging Philip for specific instructions when he dies, broken in health and spirits, the victim of Dutch perseverance, his own folly, and his half-brother's tortuous policy.
In Alexander Farnese Philip finally happens on a perfectly qualified governor. Hero of the decisive battle of Gemblours, Alexander combines the military skill and intriguing art that are the tyrant's most effective weapons against a divided country. Since he knows whom to bribe and how to bribe them, he capitalizes on all the Dutch weaknesses, and Motley insists that no one but William could have prevented him from conquering the northern provinces. His character and administrative skill enable the Spaniards to regain the offensive, to succeed at last in killing William, and (though Motley reserves this achievement for his History of the United Netherlands) to recover the southern provinces permanently.
Besides giving historical order to Motley's portrait of tyranny, the course of Dutch fortunes also
enabled him to build his theory of progress into the
But he cannot maintain this eighteenth-century constitution with the inadequate men and against the overwhelming circumstances of the sixteenth century. When the Catholic nobles sell themselves, one by one, to Spain; when he is forced to support a treacherous French duke for the crown; when his disconsolate brother feels compelled to leave the Netherlands and his brother-in-law commits treason; William must stand once again completely alone. The best he can do is to strengthen the "burgher" class for its future republican duties and solidify the union of the two most determinedly independent provinces. At his death the republic and liberty survive, and their tenuous survival is the measure of his success.
Clearly, then, Motley's method combined exposition and personal drama. Individual characters bear the burden of his narrative. He achieves his most effective organization when he can make their conflict typify the broader action while he brings in the people for grand, symbolic scenes. Therefore, although interesting characters and individually brilliant scenes abound throughout the history, its most effective units are the prologue and the first two acts. Crammed though they are with expository material, they combine personal drama and popular action in strategically placed scenes to emphasize both the continuity of events and decisive changes.
As the prologue opens, Charles V enters the scene of his abdication on
Between this high moment of his career and the moving scene of his public decapitation, Egmont's romantic tragedy serves Motley as a major unifying device--defining varied political groups, dramatizing the essential traits of the most important characters, and illustrating the theme. William, of course, is the one consistently accurate political navigator, but Motley uses Egmont's impulsive tackings to define William's almost imperceptible course. Too rash in the early days of jocular protest against Granvelle, Egmont is seduced by the King's flattery, and he soon becomes too vigorous in enforcing the royal punishment, too credulous of royal promises. His example teaches William, as Motley intends it to show the reader, the consequences of critical loyalty to Philip; and William's futile efforts to save him culminate in a moving scene just before William flees the country. Besides assuring his own death on the scaffold, Egmont's refusal to escape leaves William at last completely alone.
Through letters and scenes, Egmont's story also dramatizes the most sinister deceit of Granvelle, Margaret, Philip, and Alva. Then, after the fine, climactic scene in which he is arrested while guest of honor at Alva's own table (II, 123-25), Egmont becomes "a colossal emblem of the condition in which the Netherlands were now gasping." (II, 178.) By arresting and trying him, Alva and Philip have gone beyond violating Dutch constitutional liberties; they have ignored the privileges of the Order of the Golden Fleece. Since the Holy Roman Emperor himself fails to convince Philip to try Egmont according to the rules of the Order, Egmont's trial proves that "law and order were now abrogated throughout the land"; and Motley takes advantage of the fact that "the last act" of Egmont's tragedy is precipitated by William's first counterattack in the northern provinces. (II, 179.)
In the final scene of this tragedy, "emblem" and people meet at last. The three thousand Spanish
troops whom Alva has ordered to control the mob cannot "restrain them from tears and from
execrations," or from dipping
Not only here, but in the first act as well and on two strategic occasions later in the second, the facts allow Motley to balance his complex tale of representative characters by dramatizing popular action. He first animates the Dutch people just after the noble Beggars have implicitly threatened the Regent. First he describes the "field preachings," vast gatherings of crudely armed but peaceful folk to hear Protestant ministers outside the walls of towns all over the country. Against these relatively placid scenes, then, he sets a more violent example of spontaneous action: a remarkable series of Gothic scenes in which smaller mobs of nocturnal marauders gut dozens of the most beautiful churches in the country. It was through the iconoclasts, Motley says, that "the religious war, before imminent, became inevitable." (I, 573.) Besides provoking Philip's vengeance, this outburst also forces the three great nobles to define their positions. Between a chapter on Horn's failure to suppress the heretics and the concluding chapter in which Egmont helps the government to crush them, Motley uses another popular uprising in Antwerp to display William in his finest hour as the only man who can control the people. William, entirely alone and unarmed, dissuades a Protestant mob from rushing out of Antwerp against the government troops, and then, in a scene that dramatizes all the people's divisions and their relationship to their representative leader, he prevents a battle for which Catholics, Calvinists, and Lutherans inside the city have already pitched their camps. (II, 64-72.)
Again in the second act popular action clarifies personal conflicts and dramatizes decisive changes. After William's first two invasions have failed, Alva's monstrous tax provokes legal resistance in the estates and passive resistance among the people. When William's allies desert him once again, the Dutch merchants simply close their shops rather than pay Alva's tax; and just as Alva sentences eighteen merchants to be hanged in their doorways, a popular force of wild "sea-beggars" takes the city of Brill, securing the "foundation" of the Republic. This scene sets off a revolution throughout Holland and Zeeland, and it begins the decline of Alva. He succeeds in taking Harlem, but the people's heroic resistance--dramatized repeatedly in Motley's account of the seven-month siege--makes the victory too costly. From this point on, Alva encounters a series of reverses until his ignominious departure, and the government is bankrupt when he leaves.
In the last three Parts of the history Motley was able to dramatize popular action in several more grand scenes--the siege of Leyden, the Spanish and French "Furies" at Antwerp, and the destruction of the Antwerp citadel by ten thousand citizens of all classes. But he could not give these scenes the same structural value that he had given those of his first two acts. After the siege of Leyden, the story itself becomes more fragmentary. Diplomatic and internal problems become more complex,2 and Motley defines them less clearly. The connections among separate events become less clear. And the weaknesses in Motley's selective standards do more damage.
The basic trouble, then, is not that Motley's powers fail, but that his subject itself highlights faults which have appeared, only less prominently, in the preceding sections. Consider, for example, the vagueness of his religious statistics. Although clearly apparent throughout the history, this understandable deficiency does not seriously weaken his narrative of the development of the rebellion. For if he cannot give the precise ratio of Dutch Protestants to Catholics, he can at least demonstrate that thousands were executed, that thousands attended the "field preachings," that mobs desecrated Catholic churches, and that three religious armies once pitched camp for a battle in Antwerp. Interlocked with the personal drama of the great nobles, these scenes suggest the magnitude as well as the nature of the conflict.
After the death of Requesens in the third act, however, Motley must describe two important reversals in the religious alignment, and he is unprepared for the occasion. Having ignored the religious statistics for five hundred pages, he cannot prepare the reader for the universal revulsion against all Spaniards without admitting that Catholicism "had, of late years," grown rapidly enough to win half the people in the country. (III, 56.) This sudden announcement is astounding, for nowhere in the preceding act, which consistently emphasized Alva's oppression of Catholics and Protestants alike, has Motley given any reason for a revival of Catholicism. Indeed, the loathing for foreign tyranny that now, "at last," infuriates all the people is exactly the feeling that Motley has said they expressed eight years before. (See II, 116-17, 285-86; and I, 271.) Even though his dramatic skill and his moral preoccupations have led him into this difficulty, he might still avoid the confusion by analyzing the changes more carefully. But he disposes of the subject in a paragraph, less space than he devotes to William's second marriage. (III, 56.)
The same kind of confusion follows from Motley's vague and inconsistent
But the most damaging fault in Motley's history is his repetitiousness. It is this quality, far more than his well-known partisanship or his inconsistencies, that makes some parts of the work so exasperating. Proceeding though it does from his moral intention, the basic fault is an organizational weakness. Motley has good literary and moral reasons for heaping up evidence of the tyrant's deceit, but it is hard to see any justification for his steady repetition of moral judgments. In portraying Charles V, Philip II, and Granvelle, he can seldom resist the obvious ironic comment even after overwhelming evidence and his own previous remarks have made the moral perfectly clear. (See, for example, I, 206, 426-27, 475-76.) He often presents the evidence of deceit by summarizing the sinful example as he introduces it, then quoting extensively from the hypocritical document, and at last repeating his judgment. In a few episodes, moreover, he repeats the same moral several times in virtually the same words. His otherwise excellent chapter on the iconoclasts is thus marred by eight assertions within twenty pages that these mobs, unlike Spanish conquerors, stole nothing and hurt no human beings; and the language (at one point in two successive paragraphs) is so nearly identical that he seems to have forgotten his previous paragraph.4 The moral distinction, important to Motley's theme, seems valid, but the repetition is extremely offensive.
These serious faults do not ruin the broad outline of the history, but they often obscure it. As
Motley reports the details of each exchange in fruitless negotiations (III, 12-18); as he iterates the
heavy irony of Dutch popular tributes to Charles V (I, 206); as he paints a large portrait of a
Motley's great strength lies in characterization. As I have already demonstrated, he built the conventional distinctions firmly into the structure of his history and made them reinforce his theme. But his success extends much further than this. Although he relied on types, although he used personal contrasts even more explicitly than Prescott had used them, although his technique and his partisanship led him inevitably to distort--Motley saw acutely and painted precisely the features of individual character. His portraiture excels Prescott's because of the very large number of people whom he depicts in sharp detail.
In aligning his characters, Motley modifies Prescott's arrangement but follows the same basic principles. Instead of polarizing the virtues of two embattled civilizations, he consistently opposes the best of the one to the worst of the other. For The Rise of the Dutch Republic does not culminate in a decisive battle between the finest representatives of the conflicting nations, and Motley's Spaniards have no particularly national virtues. The chief antagonists in this history come as close to representing absolute good and absolute evil as any opponents since Cotton Mather's Devil attacked the Puritans. Yet Motley does portray virtues and defects on both sides of his battleline, and he repeatedly uses the faults of both groups to define the character of his hero. He balances the two groups by placing the subtle tyranny of Philip II at one extreme and the "savage" demagoguery of some rebels at the other. He builds a pyramid of characters, with William of Orange, the perfect hero, at the top. Down one side he deploys the royalists, with Philip at the base; down the opposite face he stations the patriots--with the rash Beggars, the wild iconoclasts, some of the "savage" Beggars of the Sea, and the treacherous demagogues grouped near the base.
Among the Dutch as among the Spaniards, almost all of these distinctions help to clarify not only
the individual characters but the developing action. During the first two acts, for example, Motley
concentrates on distinguishing William from the rebellious Beggars and from such loyal opponents of
Granvelle as Egmont; and in the last two acts, after the republic
It is not these techniques, however, that explain Motley's remarkable success. His finest achievement lies in his brilliant use of circumstantial detail to depict these conventional characters. Like Prescott, he often uses a pictorial method, but he is much more precise than Prescott. The specific action, the revealing letter, the visual peculiarity--all of these stand forth so clearly in The Rise of the Dutch Republic that reality merges with convention, supports allegory. Although perfect justice would require a more sympathetic representation of Philip II's motives and his less reprehensible traits, Motley records enough unquestionably deceitful and cruel actions to mark him as the type of "consummate" tyranny (II, 314), whether or not one wants to insist that Philip's taste for art was a virtue. Philip is angered by the "clemency" of a cruel decree issued by his Regent (II, 97); he orders Dutch theologians and lawyers to find a way to remove the "glory" from heretics' executions without diminishing their "sufferings," and he substitutes "secret drowning" for "public burning." (I, 466, 474-75.) Long after he has condemned every person in the Netherlands to death, he proclaims a general amnesty which, as Motley carefully notes, pardons nobody but those who have committed no crimes; and then he swears before a notary that he cannot be bound by his offer because he has made it under duress. (II, 5, 298.)
In Motley's portrait of Philip, as in the whole gallery of villains, the very detail that sometimes
causes an annoying repetitiousness is what makes the characterization memorable. Occasionally,
indeed, Motley offers a new horrible fact just when it seems that no new kind of detail is possible.
Philip's "murder" of Baron Montigny, for example, seems to offer nothing new, for Count Horn,
Count Egmont, and Montigny's own brother have already been betrayed and executed in violation of
several laws. But as Motley proceeds one sees the importance of this episode in characterizing Philip.
It demonstrates the great King's love of deception for its own sake, his inveterate affection for the
minutiae of intrigue. Having worked out every
Of the forty-odd characters to whom Motley imparts a memorable individuality the most striking are the villains and others whom he criticizes. From their own papers he selects quotations that depict them as clearly as their portraits. Viglius, the collaborating state councillor, adopts the motto "vita mortalium vigilia," and the narrative reveals that "the vigils had all been for Viglius" (III, 207-8); Philip makes an error of more than half a million ducats, and in his own favor, in estimating the royal accounts (I, 293); Alva tells Philip that the Blood Council is necessary because "the men of law only condemn for crimes which are proved" (II, 137); Granvelle writes letters in language that resembles Iago's; Don John complains to Philip that liberty is a "contagious disease" (III, 309); and in a proclamation requesting Dutch obedience, Philip claims to be both a "brooding hen and the prodigal's father, a range of impersonation hardly to be allowed him even by the most abject flattery." (II, 461.)
When Motley calls this last mixture of figures "very grotesque," he offers the key to most of these letters and to the documented pictures that illustrate them in his history. The opening portrait of Philip reveals, beneath a "broad forehead, and blue eye, . . . [a] heavy, hanging lip, with a vast mouth, and monstrously protruding jaw." (I, 104.) And one of the last pictures of him in this history shows him receiving a formal visit from the corpse of Don John, which he has brought in three sections to Madrid, and which has been stuffed, wired together, and dressed formally for the interview. (III, 361.) Between these two pictures Motley hangs a large exposition of grotesques. The glutton Charles V, retired to a monastery, spits out pronouncements of "savage bigotry" while ingesting "surfeits of sardine omelettes, Estramadura sausages, eel pies, pickled partridges, fat capons, quince syrups, iced beer, and flagons of Rhenish, relieved by copious draughts of senna and rhubarb, to which his horror-stricken doctor doomed him as he ate." (I, 132.) The "hysterical" Queen Mary announces that she has already borne Philip's son, although she is not even pregnant. (I, 138.)
Although Motley relied solely on Dutch sources for some of his grotesque pictures, many others came from Spanish sources, and the private letters of the subjects often support the same kind of inference. The grotesque painting and imagery extend, moreover, to the most savage rebels as well as to Spanish villains. In a war of absolutely antithetical principles there were bound to be some Dutchmen who fought as cruelly as Spaniards and who deviated as widely as Catholic "fanatics" from the true principles of William. When the documents permitted, therefore, Motley highlighted fantastic detail in scenes of Dutch activity and pictures of Dutch leaders, simultaneously illustrating the inhuman hatred bred by religious war and providing a grotesque background for the portrait of his humane, truly Christian hero. In some of his general scenes he was able to depict ragged Dutch freebooters parading in the splendid priestly robes that they had taken from a captured cathedral; in others he could reveal Dutch atrocities, as when a rebel commander nailed a Spanish heart to his ship's prow and invited his men to sink their teeth in it. (II, 366.) And in such characters as William de la Marck, the Dutch admiral, he found portraits with which to complete the fantastic, allegorical picture. This "wild, sanguinary, licentious noble, wearing his hair and beard unshorn, according to ancient Batavian custom, until the death of his relative, Egmont, should have been expiated, [this] worthy descendant of the Wild Boar of Ardennes, this hirsute and savage corsair seemed an embodiment of vengeance." (II, 350.)
The range of defective character exposed by Motley's attention to precise detail is as remarkable
as the number of striking pictures and quotations. Beside the grotesque stands the comic, the
ridiculous. The Archduke Matthias, a figurehead whose greatest achievement has been to "escape
from Vienna in his nightgown" (III, 305-6); the pedantic state councillor Viglius, who tries to find
"the exact path between right and wrong" (I, 353); the petty Malcontents who have a priest jailed for
impugning their motives after they have "sold out the liberty of the Celtic provinces" (III, 406-9);
With these and two dozen other sharply focused portraits of reactionaries, Motley achieves an unforgettable characterization of tyranny in action. The petty and pretentious as well as the vicious; the paid, superstitious assassin as well as the misguided, brave crusader; the subtle Cardinal as well as the pedantic state councillor; the vigorous, hot-tempered Emperor as well as his cold, lethargic son; the rigid fanatic and the flexible opportunist--each of these stands forth with such remarkable clarity that the heroic and virtuous characters seem less distinct.
William of Orange, the "statue of spotless marble" that Motley sets against this background, lacks the sharply individual features of these lesser men. Motley's metaphor is apt not only because of the "sublimity" of the contrast, but also because William, through most of the history, appears as a grand figure. His self-sacrifice, his advanced principles, and his political incorruptibility give him "colossal stature" (II, 242), especially in the innumerable contrasts that place his conduct against the base actions of others. But many of these incidents show him not acting when others act. He remains calm when others act rashly; he repeatedly declines bribes when others scramble for them; he fails to draw the enemy into open battle; and in his most vigorous scene he does not charge in the manner of a Cortés but holds his horse in as he quiets an angry mob. Despite his eloquence and his occasionally shrewd generalship, one never sees him swinging an "immense two-handed sword" in the manner of Alexander Farnese. (III, 370.) His strength lies in his firm endurance; his achievement, in gaining victory through "a long series of defeats." (III, 267.) He is "watchful William." (III, 203.)
Since this basic image of William accords with the facts and illustrates the theme, it need not be
faulty. Anyone would agree, moreover, that deliberately ordering the knife put to every throat in a
captured city is a more distinctly memorable action than ordering that Anabaptists be spared; Alva's
worst actions, therefore, were bound to be more sharply impressive than William's best. The trouble
is that Motley misses important opportunities to reveal the person beneath the heroic figure, and that
some of his efforts to move closer to William do more harm than good. As his attempts to keep the
statue spotless lead him into ethical inconsistencies,6 so they lead
him to use the emptiest, most generalized rhetoric at times when he might show real feeling instead of
telling about conventionally prescribed feeling.
At its worst, this technique of characterization is unconvincing, contradictory, sentimental, and it occasionally causes ludicrous stylistic blunders. At its best, it leads one away from the particular individual to the conventional figure. If Motley had not glossed over William's failure to protect his eldest son before fleeing the Netherlands, if he had dramatized the Prince's confusion in the face of military frustration or defeat, if he had not accepted at face value every one of William's apologies for diplomatic miscalculations, he would have achieved a more human and a more convincing portrait. As it is, he always maintains a reverent distance from the statue, and his excesses in portraying William do more damage than does his one-sided portrayal of Philip II. For the most extreme examples of the latter focus on indelible, documented fact, while the former tend to diffuse into generalizations as misty as the atmosphere in which Motley says William's "form dilates." (II, 242.)
This is not to say that Motley's characterization of William fails completely. One cannot read the history without being convinced of William's greatness. But Motley succeeds here because of the cumulative record of his hero's fidelity to humane principles and because of the contrast provided by the specific villainy of others, rather than by his efforts to characterize William intimately or to generalize on his greatness. When he quotes a Calvinist aide's criticism of William for failing to see the difference between Catholic and Protestant persecution (III, 206-7); when he reprints Don John's complaint that "the people here are bewitched by the Prince of Orange . . . and take no resolution without consulting him" (III, 203); when he reprints the notorious ban denouncing William "as an enemy of the human race" and offering pardon and a title to any criminal who might assassinate him (III, 493); he does more to impress William's virtues on the reader than when he himself expounds them.
As one might infer from Motley's successful portrayal of villains, he relies on a bold, clear prose that not only expounds but exposes. Like Prescott, he often uses balanced constructions, but here the stresses are heavier, the antitheses sharper, and vigorous judgment stands implicit in almost every line. Solidly based in the specific, moreover, Motley's indictments and exposés gain force as they proceed. For the repetition of subjects and sentence patterns, the carefully placed short sentences, the thumping, often alliterative stresses of balanced cadences in parallel constructions, the strong verbs, the periodic emphasis, and the relentless logical analysis that mingles fact and judgment give much of his prose an irresistible momentum.
When he attempts, for example, to demonstrate why the Inquisition was "the great cause of the revolt," Motley insists, first of all, that the distinctions among papal, episcopal, and Spanish inquisitions "did not, in the sixteenth century, convince many unsophisticated minds" that the institution was good "in any of its shapes."7 Proceeding then to the Spanish Inquisition, he sweeps in one long paragraph from a hammering statement of its unearthly irresponsibility to a specific analysis of its legal processes and extra-legal devices (I have numbered Motley's sentences for later reference):
1. It was a court owning allegiance to no temporal authority, superior to all other tribunals. 2. It was a bench of monks without appeal, / having its familiars in every house, diving into the secrets of every fireside, judging, and executing its horrible decrees without responsibility. 3. It condemned not deeds, but thoughts. 4. It affected to descend into individual conscience, and to punish the crimes which it pretended to discover. 5. Its process was reduced to a horrible simplicity. 6. It arrested on suspicion, tortured till confession, and then punished by fire. / 7. Two witnesses, and those to separate facts, / were sufficient to consign the victim to a loathsome dungeon. 8. Here he was sparingly supplied with food, /forbidden to speak, or even to sing--to which pastime it could hardly be thought he would feel much inclination--and then left to himself, / till famine and misery should break his spirit. / 9. When that time was supposed to have arrived he was examined. 10. Did he confess, and forswear his heresy, whether actually innocent or not, he might then assume the sacred shirt, and escape with confiscation of all his property. 11. Did he persist in the avowal of his innocence, two witnesses sent him to the stake, one witness to the rack. 12. He was informed of the testimony against him, but never confronted with the witness. 13. That accuser might be his son, father, or the wife of his bosom, for all were enjoined, under the death-penalty, to inform the inquisitors of every suspicious word which
might fall from their nearest relatives. 14. The indictment being thus supported, the prisoner was tried by torture. 15. The rack was the court of justice; the criminal's only advocate was his fortitude--for the nominal counsellor, who was permitted no communication with the prisoner, and was furnished neither with documents nor with power to procure evidence, was a puppet, aggravating the lawlessness of the proceedings by the mockery of legal forms. 16. The torture took place at midnight, in a gloomy dungeon, dimly lighted by torches. 17. The victim--whether man, matron, or tender virgin--was stripped naked, and stretched upon the wooden bench. 18. Water, weights, fires, pulleys, screws /--all the apparatus by which the sinews could be strained without cracking, the bones crushed without breaking, and the body racked exquisitely without giving up its ghost, was now put into operation. 19. The executioner, enveloped in a black robe from head to foot, with his eyes glaring at his victim through holes cut in the hood which muffled his face, practiced successively all the forms of torture which the devilish ingenuity of the monks had invented. (I, 323-24.)
This remarkable passage typifies Motley's finest prose. Here even his well-known indignation becomes a literary advantage. Although the analysis characteristically overlooks the similar practices of some other courts of the time, it does not focus on legal process or torture until the unique irresponsibility, the unusual punishment, and the court's primary interest in "thoughts" have been established. And if it seems to rely unfairly on the conventional bogey of "devilish" monks who employ "familiars," one should notice that the other-worldly power and concerns cited at the beginning of the passage, and the fiendish picture of the executioner at the end, support the imagery. Indeed, the movement from thought-control, through a "mockery of legal forms," to the fierce Gothic picture and appalling physical sensation of the last four sentences epitomizes the relationship, so important to Motley's success throughout the history, between general principle and concrete fact.
Of the rhetorical qualities in this passage, the only one that requires further analysis here is the
remarkable control of rhythm and diction. The importance of sentence length, parallelism, and
antitheses to this effect should be obvious, but Motley's acute sense of sound demands closer
attention. His alliteration, so prominent throughout this description, varies sufficiently (as in sentence
6) to avoid monotony, but the kind of sounds that it most often emphasizes adds considerable power
to the description and force to the judgment. The large majority of his alliterative consonants,
pounding home the inexorable cruelty of the evil agency, are fricatives, plosives, dentals, hard c's,
almost rolling r's and blunt b's. The monosyllables, too, often gain emphasis from these sounds,
and they sometimes
One further rhythmic skill should be noticed: the variation not only of sentence length but of flowing, longer lines with series of shorter elements that place extremely heavy stress on an early and a late syllable. The second sentence, for example, begins with a flowing line of iambic pentameter (though with an inverted first foot) with three heavy stresses of which the last is the strongest, and in the series of participial phrases that follow Motley stresses the first syllable of each verb more vigorously than any other except the last accented syllable of each phrase. In the seventh sentence, just after the most forceful series of short phrases so far, he turns again to fluid iambic pentameter, and after this sentence comes to a forceful stop he begins the next with a flowing line of blank verse before the short pair "forbidden to speak, or even to sing." The same arrangement, though more complexly worked out, strengthens the climactic eighteenth sentence.
These qualities give Motley's prose an admirable versatility. The same rhetorical skills expose the brutality of Charles V's "edicts," the deception in the Moderation of 1566, the procedures of the Blood Council, periodic acts of alleged amnesty, and the insincerity of dozens of characters. The predominant tone of these analyses is indignant, but Motley's forceful, balanced, repetitive style serves equally well for other tones and subjects. Along with his close attention to the language of the documents, it gives unusual force to his skillfully placed, revealing quotations. (I, 341; II, 137, 295; III, 258-59.) If it communicates his amazement, even in the third volume, at the extent of treachery (III, 197, 392), it also conveys his sense of grim comedy when he delineates the pathetic frustration of Don John, the time-serving of Viglius (I, 353; II, 295), the contemptible treason of Anjou. (III, 561-70.) Motley's forceful diction and rhythm function well in active scenes of gory horror; his antitheses and cumulative summary, in pictures that emphasize contrast.8 And, with the heaviest alliteration omitted and some of the blunt emphasis removed from the short sentences, the same techniques give unusual distinction even to his ordinary exposition. Some of the best prose in the history combines narrative and analysis, as in his description of the Inquisition, but simply in order to clarify rather than to judge.9
That acute perception which is revealed so clearly in Motley's characterization helps also to
distinguish his style, and one can see its value in his
This close attention to detail is especially valuable in vivifying the conventional. As Motley recognized the language of Iago in some of Granvelle's letters, he saw "something alert and snakelike"--the Dutch historian Bor had called it "een fel gesicht"--in the portrait of Alexander Farnese (III, 371), and he based much of the diabolical imagery that controls his portrayal of tyranny on similarly factual evidence. (II, 110-11, 255.) In the beautiful Gothic cathedral at Antwerp he noticed not only the "upward tendency" of the spire and the "tall columnar trunks," but the "prismatic lights and sepulchral shadows" cast on the floor by their "branches" and their "fantastic" fruit. (I, 554.) Then, as the "shadows of night" deepened the "perpetual twilight of the church," he was able to focus on a group of "furious iconoclasts [who] clambered up the dizzy heights, shrieking and chattering like malignant apes, as they tore off in triumph the slowly-matured fruit of centuries." (I, 562.) Even a conventional priest gains individuality through this careful control of figurative language. As the Prior of St. Vaast carries Alexander's bribes among the Malcontents throughout Artois, Motley's rhythm and imagery catch his movement and make him into an unusually successful type, while colorful paraphrase (and, later, quotation) conveys his individual reality:
With the shoes of swiftness on his feet, the coat of darkness on his back, and the wishing purse in his hand, he sped silently and invisibly from one great
Malcontent chieftain to another, buying up centurions, and captains, and common soldiers; circumventing Orangists, Ghent democrats, Anjou partisans; weaving a thousand intrigues, ventilating a hundred hostile mines, and passing unharmed through the most serious dangers and the most formidable obstacles. Eloquent, too, at a pinch, he always understood his audience, and upon this occasion unsheathed the most incisive, if not the most brilliant weapon which could be used in the debate. It was most expensive to be patriotic, he said, while silver was to be saved, and gold to be earned by being loyal. (III, 396.)
"Flitting about" in the fish-market, "blithe and busy as usual when storms were brewing," this brave, unscrupulous character, "whose golden opinions had irresistible resonance," represents the triumph of the conventional. In the brief description of the counterrevolution that he led in Arras, culminating in "a series of terrible Rembrandt-like night pieces"-nocturnal executions in a howling storm--Motley demonstrates the value of his method. This priest is comically unique but conventionally deadly, and the combination of incremental summary and precise individual example, of historical, diabolical, and Shakespearean imagery with documented Gothic scenes of death, functions beautifully to dramatize the final effort of liberty in the "Celtic provinces." (III, 396-404.)
But despite its effectiveness in narrative, summary, judgment, and picture, Motley's prose has its faults, and his use of the conventional does not always produce a rhetorical triumph. One has only to recall some of his statements about William in order to see what can happen when he moves the conventional sentiment or language too far away from specific fact. When Motley says that "Prerogative was weary, Romanism was weary, Conscience was weary, the Spirit of Freedom was weary, but the Prince of Orange was not weary" (II, 454), his repetition emphasizes the almost ludicrous extravagance of the comparison; and the same principle applies when William seizes the swift occasion by the forelock. The fundamental weakness is a lack of restraint. The enthusiastic sense of participation that allowed him to talk of "pitching into" Philip and Alva, to allude bitterly to his own unhappy diplomatic experience when narrating the mistreatment of a diplomat in his Barneveld, and to write with such magnificent indignation of particular treacherous acts has inevitably bad effects not only on his judgment but on his language.
The vituperative diction that mars portions of Barneveld is much less prominent in
The Rise of the Dutch Republic, but no one can read this history without suspecting that
Motley found some personal catharsis in "the romantic agony"12--in the very horrors he deplored, the very curses
These lapses in taste occur more frequently in the Introduction than elsewhere in the history. In that section, which compresses the events of centuries into less than a hundred pages, Motley establishes the romantic wildness of both geological and human development, and he tries to establish the immense scale of the conflict. From the opening paragraphs describing the "slime" with which three rivers formed "oozy islands" on "the dunes and sandbanks heaved up by the ocean," he resorts often to similar diction. He fills his pages with "wild, chaotic, sanguinary scenes" (I, 28); with "groveling" and "bestial" people (I, 67-68), "foul" crimes, and "hovels" built "under the wolfish protection of little potentates." (I, 26.) In these pages he resembles Carlyle rather than Macaulay. Cramming many of his sentences with too much frenzied sentiment, too many adjectives, too many alliteratives and ponderous metaphors, he sometimes produces an overwhelming, exhausting effect. The foundations of the frozen North are opened, the waters prevail, but the ark of Christianity floats upon the flood. As the deluge assuages, the earth returns to chaos, the last pagan empire is washed out of existence, but the dim, groping, faltering, ignorant infancy of Christian Europe has begun. (I, 19.) Later, the genius of Liberty, conducted by the Spirit of Commerce, descends at last to awaken mankind from its sloth and cowardly stupor. (I, 26.) At one crisis, "A sudden spasm of liberty gives the whole people gigantic strength." (I, 49.) And when "imperial and papal persecution" continues "its daily deadly work with such diligence as to make [the country's survival] doubtful" (I, 80), one begins to doubt the desirability of plodding on.
Even in the Introduction, however, these faults are a small price to pay for the richness of
Motley's best prose. His description of Luther, for example, relies on his most frenzied language, but
in that paragraph he retains control of his diction and his rhythm. Beginning with images taken from
Meantime the man, whose talk is not of doves and owls, the fierce physician, who deals not with ointments and cooling draughts, strides past the crowd of gentle quacks to smite the foul disease. Devils, thicker than tiles on house-tops, scare him not from his work. Bans and bulls, excommunications and decrees, are rained upon his head. The paternal Emperor sends down dire edicts, thicker than hail upon the earth. The Holy Father blasts and raves from Rome. Louvain doctors denounce, Louvain hangmen burn, the bitter, blasphemous books. The immoderate man stands firm in the storm, demanding argument instead of illogical thunder; shows the hangmen and the people too, outside the Elster gate at Wittenberg, that papal bulls will blaze as merrily as heretic scrolls. What need of allusion to events which changed the world--which every child has learned--to the war of Titans, uprooting of hoary trees and rock-ribbed hills, to the Worms diet, the Peasant wars, the Patmos of Eisenach, and huge wrestlings with the Devil? (I, 76-77.)
Clearly, then, Motley knew how to make the best of his talents and of the imperfect attitudes and conventions with which his own temperament, Unitarian Boston, and romantic literature had supplied him. One must often wish that both his aesthetic and his moral judgment had been more consistent. But in passages such as this one, in his sharp characterizations, his precise scenes, his lucid analyses, and his dramatic construction of a great historical episode, one must recognize the achievement of a master. It will not suffice to distinguish between his historical and his literary achievement, for as the two are closely related in his failures, they have equal parts in his successes.