Lectures on the French Revolution – John Emerich Edward Dalberg
The two volumes of his lectures on modern history and on the French Revolution give us in their full ripeness the sum of Acton’s historical judgments. History was not to Acton a mere academic pursuit. With that view of history which considers it, beneath the dry light of science, as a series of phenomena capable of detachment from the present, susceptible to separate analysis, he had no sympathy. Still less did he consider history a mere form of literary exposition. The one justification for the study of history was to Acton its value as a guide in the affairs of the every-day world. The present is what it is because of what the past has been. Human development has been a continuous chain of cause and effect. Any course of action in the present must be based upon a knowledge of the way in which things we now do are hedged in, limited by what men have done before us. History thus becomes a great mentor, a schoolmaster of action.
Lectures on the French Revolution.
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John Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron of Acton and Politics (from Wikipedia):
In 1859, Acton settled in England, at his country house, Aldenham, in Shropshire. He returned to the House of Commons that same year as member for the Irish Borough of Carlow and became a devoted admirer and adherent of Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone. However, Acton was not an active MP, and his parliamentary career came to an end after the general election of 1865, when he headed the Liberal ballot for Bridgnorth near his Shropshire home. Acton defeated Conservative leader Henry Whitmore, who successfully petitioned for a scrutiny of the ballots, and thus retained his own seat and Acton lost his new seat. After the Reform Act 1867, Acton again contested Bridgnorth, this time reduced to a single seat, in 1868 but to no avail.
Acton took a great interest in the United States, considering its federal structure the perfect guarantor of individual liberties. During the American Civil War, his sympathies lay entirely with the Confederacy, for their defence of States’ Rights against a centralised government that he believed would, by what he thought to be all historical precedent, inevitably turn tyrannical. His notes to Gladstone on the subject helped sway many in the British government to sympathise with the South. After the South’s surrender, he wrote to Robert E. Lee that “I mourn for the stake which was lost at Richmond more deeply than I rejoice over that which was saved at Waterloo,” adding that he “deemed that you were fighting battles for our liberty, our progress, and our civilization.”
In 1869 Queen Victoria raised Acton to the peerage as Baron Acton, of Aldenham in the County of Shropshire. His elevation came primarily through the intercession of Gladstone. The two were intimate friends and frequent correspondents. Matthew Arnold said that “Gladstone influences all round him but Acton; it is Acton who influences Gladstone.” Acton was appointed to the Royal Victorian Order as a Knight Commander (KCVO) in the 1897 Birthday Honours.
(The text of the last section was taken from a Wikipedia entry and is available under the the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.)
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