biography, history, Gladstone, History of Liberty
[Lord Acton, historian]
Home and Foreign Review, Cambridge Modern History

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Lord Acton
Cambridge Modern History

  John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton was born in Jan. 1834 in Naples into an English Roman Catholic émigré family.
  His paternal grandfather, Sir John Francis Edward, had held several high offices in the Kingdom of Naples, including Commander in Chief of the Navy and Prime Minister.

  Sir John Francis Edward Acton had in fact inherited his title as a baronet in 1791 upon the death of a distant cousin. This Sir John Acton's elder son, Richard, inherited the baronetcy in 1811. Sir Richard Acton entered into a marriage with a young lady of the House of Dalberg, the only daughter of a Duke Dalberg. The Dalberg's, as a family, were considered by some to be second only to the Habsburgs in eminence in the affairs of Austrian Europe. Duke Dalberg had himself been active in European diplomacy as part of the French representation to the Congress of Vienna. Upon Duke Dalberg's death in 1833 Sir Richard Acton and his wife assumed the name Dalberg-Acton.

  Sir Richard died in Paris in 1837 and his twenty-three year old widow, and their child (now himself a baronet), relocated to the family's estates in Shropshire, England. In 1840 the young widow married Lord Leveson, heir to the Earl of Granville. This marrige brought young baronet Acton into a close association with the Leveson-Gowers and Cavendishes, both noted English political families.

  Acton was educated in England, Scotland and Germany. In his later studies, at Munich, Acton was introduced to German historical methods by the celebrated liberal Roman Catholic scholar Johann Joseph Ignaz von Döllinger with whom he was afterwards to maintain a life-long friendship. Acton decided, as one of his life ambitions to attempt to write a great " History of Liberty " and began to assemble what eventually became a noted library of historical works in support of future scholarship.

  Acton, who was himself of a liberal political outlook, maintained contacts with intellectual circles widely in Europe and north America. In 1859 he was returned as a Member of Parliament for Carlow, Shropshire, and subsequently adhered to the Liberal leader William Gladstone. Acton was not an active Member of the House and lost his seat in 1865. He had meanwhile (1859) succeeded John Henry Newman as editor of the English Roman Catholic periodical The Rambler. In 1862 Acton merger the Rambler with the Home and Foreign Review.

  Acton was at one and the same time a sincere Roman Catholic and a holder of "liberal" views. The Home and Foreign Review was criticised by Cardinal Wiseman in 1862. In 1864 Döllinger appealed to a Munich Congress for a less hostile attitude to be taken by the Roman Catholic church to historical criticism - the then pope issued a declaration that the opinions of Catholic writers were subject to the authority of the Roman congregations. Acton subsequently resigned his editorship of Home and Foreign Review.

  In 1865 Acton married a Bavarian Countess with whom, in time, he was to have a family of three daughters and a son. Some years later the prominent Liberal politician Gladstone, recently (1868) become Prime Minister, decided to recommend that his friend and advisor, Sir John Dalberg-Acton, be raised to the English peerage - the former baronet now became a baron with the title of Lord Acton in 1869.

  Lord Acton found difficulty in agreeing with the doctrine of papal infallibility as defined at the time of the First Vatican Council in 1870 and came into conflict with church policy whilst continuing to regard his personal communion with Rome as "dearer than life."

  From these times Lord Acton produced a number of particularly well regarded articles and essays and also helped to found the English Historical Review (1886) but, whilst these efforts may be seen as often being in line with Acton's interest in issues of liberty, his long intended masterwork - History of Liberty - does not seem to have neared completion.

  Lord Acton continued as a valued political adviser to Gladstone and, in 1895, was appointed as Regius Professor of Modern History at the University of Cambridge. Following this appointment Lord Acton delivered an inaugural lecture on "The Study of History" which made a tremendous impression in the University due to the wealth of learning and erudition of which it gave evidence.

  As Regius Professor of Modern History Lord Acton was central to the planning of what was intended to be an extensive and definitive multi-volume - Cambridge Modern History - to which, although this ambitious project remained uncompleted for a number of years, he made important editorial contributions.

  Lord Acton died in June 1902, several of his courses of lectures were collected and published after his death.

  Lord Acton's magnificent historical library was purchased by the philanthropist Andrew Carnegie and presented to the Liberal Statesman, and biographer of Gladstone, Viscount Morley who promptly transferred this gift to the University of Cambridge.

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Many of our visitors seem to find the content of one of our pages -

Which is about Human Nature, (and 'Very Possibly' related matters)

- to be particularly fascinating!!!

There's neither honesty, manhood, nor good fellowship in thee.
William Shakespeare

"…can we possibly refuse to admit that there exist in each of us the same generic parts and characteristics as are found in the state? For I presume the state has not received them from any other source. It would be ridiculous to imagine that the presence of the spirited element in cities is not to be traced to individuals, wherever this character is imputed to the people, as it is to the natives of Thrace, and Scythia, and generally speaking, of the northern countries; or the love of knowledge, which would be chiefly attributed to our own country; or the love of riches, which people would especially connect with the Phoenicians and the Egyptians.
From Plato's most famous work ~ The Republic ~ detailing conversations entered into by his friend, and teacher, Socrates

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Pythagoras was a prominent figure in the intellectual life of the Greek world of the sixth century B.C.
Alongside his genuine contributions to mathematics and geometry Pythogoras is also considered to have recognised that there was evidently a "Tripartite" complexity to Human Nature:-
 Pythagoras who, according to Heraclides of Pontus, the pupil of Plato and a learned man of the first rank, came, the story goes, to Philus and with a wealth of learning and words discussed certain subjects with Leon the ruler of the Philasians. And Leon after wondering at his talent and eloquence asked him to name the art in which he put most reliance. But Pythagoras said that for his part he had no acquaintance with any art, but was a philosopher. Leon was astonished at the novelty of the term and asked who philosophers were and in what they differed from the rest of the world.

 Pythagoras, the story continues, replied that the life of man seemed to him to resemble the festival which was celebrated with most magnificent games before a concourse collected from the whole of Greece. For at this festival some men whose bodies had been trained sought to win the glorious distinction of a crown, others were attracted by the prospect of making gains by buying or selling, whilst there was on the other hand a certain class, and that quite the best class of free-born men, who looked neither for applause no gain, but came for the sake of the spectacle and closely watched what was done and how it was done: So also we, as though we had come from some city to a kind of crowded festival, leaving in like fashion another life and nature of being, entered upon this life, and some were slaves of ambition, some of money; there were a special few who, counting all else as nothing, ardently contemplated the nature of things. These men he would call "lovers of wisdom" (for that is the meaning of the word philo-sopher).

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In all districts of all lands, in all the classes of communities thousands of minds are intently occupied, the merchant in his compting house, the mechanist over his plans, the statesman at his map, his treaty, & his tariff, the scholar in the skilful history & eloquence of antiquity, each stung to the quick with the desire of exalting himself to a hasty & yet unfound height above the level of his peers. Each is absorbed in the prospect of good accruing to himself but each is no less contributing to the utmost of his ability to fix & adorn human civilization.
In William H. Gilman (ed.) The Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks of Ralph Waldo Emerson, vol II, 1822-1826, 305

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In what is perhaps Ralph Waldo Emerson's most famous essay - 'History' - we read such things as:-
… There is one mind common to all individual men. Every man is an inlet to the same and to all of the same. He that is once admitted to the right of reason is made a freeman of the whole estate. What Plato has thought, he may think; what a saint has felt, he may feel; what at any time has be-fallen any man, he can understand. Who hath access to this universal mind is a party to all that is or can be done, for this is the only and sovereign agent.

Of the works of this mind history is the record. Its genius is illustrated by the entire series of days. Man is explicable by nothing less than all his history. Without hurry, without rest, the human spirit goes forth from the beginning to embody every faculty, every thought, every emotion, which belongs to it in appropriate events. But the thought is always prior to the fact; all the facts of history preexist in the mind as laws. Each law in turn is made by circumstances predominant, and the limits of nature give power to but one at a time. …

… We are always coming up with the emphatic facts of history in our private experience, and verifying them here. All history becomes subjective; in other words, there is properly no history; only biography. Every mind must know the whole lesson for itself, -- must go over the whole ground. What it does not see, what it does not live, it will not know. …

… In old Rome the public roads beginning at the Forum proceeded north, south, east, west, to the centre of every province of the empire, making each market-town of Persia, Spain, and Britain pervious to the soldiers of the capital: so out of the human heart go, as it were, highways to the heart of every object in nature, to reduce it under the dominion of man. A man is a bundle of relations, a knot of roots, whose flower and fruitage is the world. His faculties refer to natures out of him, and predict the world he is to inhabit, as the fins of the fish foreshow that water exists, or the wings of an eagle in the egg presuppose air. He cannot live without a world. …

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"History is for human self-knowledge ... the only clue to what man can do is what man has done. The value of history, then, is that it teaches us what man has done and thus what man is."
R. G. Collingwood

To access our page about Human Nature, (and 'Very Possibly' related matters), - please click here:-

Human Nature (and the Courses of History?)

Popular European History pages
at Age-of-the-Sage

The preparation of these pages was influenced to some degree by a particular "Philosophy of History" as suggested by this quote from the famous Essay "History" by Ralph Waldo Emerson:-
There is one mind common to all individual men...
Of the works of this mind history is the record. Its genius is illustrated by the entire series of days. Man is explicable by nothing less than all his history. Without hurry, without rest, the human spirit goes forth from the beginning to embody every faculty, every thought, every emotion, which belongs to it in appropriate events. But the thought is always prior to the fact; all the facts of history preexist in the mind as laws. Each law in turn is made by circumstances predominant, and the limits of nature give power to but one at a time. A man is the whole encyclopaedia of facts. The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn, and Egypt, Greece, Rome, Gaul, Britain, America, lie folded already in the first man. Epoch after epoch, camp, kingdom, empire, republic, democracy, are merely the application of his manifold spirit to the manifold world.
Ralph Waldo Emerson's Essay "History"
Italian Unification - Cavour, Garibaldi and
the Unification of Risorgimento Italy
Otto von Bismarck &
The wars of German unification
Italian unification map
Risorgimento Italy
Map of German unification
1 The European Revolution of 1848 begins
A broad outline of the background to the onset of the turmoils and a consideration of some of the early events.

2 The French Revolution of 1848
A particular focus on France - as the influential Austrian minister Prince Metternich, who sought to encourage the re-establishment of "Order" in the wake of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic turmoils of 1789-1815, said:-"When France sneezes Europe catches a cold".

3 The Revolution of 1848 in the German Lands and central Europe
"Germany" had a movement for a single parliament in 1848 and many central European would-be "nations" attempted to assert a distinct existence separate from the dynastic sovereignties they had been living under.

4 The "Italian" Revolution of 1848
A "liberal" Papacy after 1846 helps allow the embers of an "Italian" national aspiration to rekindle across the Italian Peninsula.

5 The Monarchs recover power 1848-1849
Some instances of social and political extremism allow previously pro-reform conservative elements to support the return of traditional authority. Louis Napoleon, (who later became the Emperor Napoleon III), attains to power in France offering social stability at home but ultimately follows policies productive of dramatic change in the wider European structure of states and their sovereignty.

Emerson's "Transcendental" approach to History
Spirituality & the wider world
Some Social Theory and insights
The Unfolding of History
The Vienna Declaration
Framework Convention on National minorities

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Lord Acton
Cambridge Modern History