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had long been his habit. The work of his later years included two revisions of the History (1876 and 1884), a History of the Formation of the Constitution of the United States (1882), A Plea for the Constitution of the United States of America, wounded in the House of its Guardians (1886), and a sketch of the public life of Martin Van Buren (1889).
Bancroft died in Washington on January 17, 1891.
BANCROFT's character was fashioned on a large scale. His mental horizon was broad, his power to plan and carry out a vast undertaking was commensurate with the reach of his vision. There was little in his habit of thought to suggest the narrowness so often associated with the name of scholar. Yet he had the infinitely laborious powers of the mere scholar. He could toil with unflagging energy day by day or year by year.
The magisterial note in his historical writings is due not alone to the subject or to the literary manner, but also to the deliberate tenacity of purpose with which the historian wrought. Such a work is the product, not of feverish spasms of intellectual activity, but of even and steady effort.
Bancroft has been accused of a want of enthusiasm in receiving critical observations on his work. It is a question whether historians (more than philosophers) are wont to receive with rapture proofs that they are possibly in the wrong. Bancroft's tone of controversy is perhaps less peculiar to himself than is commonly asserted. However, it must be kept in mind that he had a strong nervous personality.'
Emerson described the greeting he had from Bancroft in London. When he presented himself at the minister's door, it was opened by Mr. Ban
croft himself in the midst of servants whom that ‘man of eager manners thrust aside, saying that he 'would open his own door for me. He was full of 'goodness and talk.' Other accounts of him give an impression of much stateliness of manner tempered by affability. Still others convey the idea that he was always artificial, and sometimes playful with a playfulness that bordered on frivolity. A friend' professed to detect in Bancroft's bearing marks of the man of letters, diplomat, politician, preacher and pedagogue, one trait superimposed on another. But the blend of characteristics was charming.
IT. W. Higginson in • The Nation,' January, 1891.
2 Bancroft's characteristics as a young man are admirably brought out in the recently printed selection from his letters and journals, edited by M. A. De Wolfe Howe. Scribner's Maga‘zine,' September and October, 1905.
The charge brought against Bancroft of having embellished his themes with 'cheap rhetoric' is unjust. Rhetorical the historian undoubtedly was, but the rhetoric was not cheap. It had the merit of sincerity; it was the result of an honest effort to present important facts and comments in becoming garb.
In 1834 the style thought appropriate to historical writing was markedly oratorical. Historians addressed their readers. A pomp of expression, something almost liturgical, was held seemly if not indeed of last importance. Reading their works, one involuntarily calls up a vision of grave gentlemen in much-wrinkled frock-coats, making stilted gestures, and looking even more unreal than their statues which now terrify posterity. Bancroft was affected by the prevailing drift towards oratorical forms. At times one is tempted to exclaim : 'This was not meant to be read but to be heard.'
Take for example this passage on Sebastian Cabot: 'He lived to an extreme old age and loved ' his profession to the last; in the hour of death his wandering thoughts were upon the ocean. "The discoverer of the territory of our country was one of the most extraordinary men of his age;
'there is deep cause for regret that time has spared 'so few memorials of his career. Himself incapa'ble of jealousy, he did not escape detraction. He 'gave England a continent, and no one knows his
Not to enter into the question whether this is good, or indifferent, or even bad writing, it is sufficient to note that the passage in question belongs to spoken discourse rather than to literature. It appeals to us, if at all, through the medium of the ear rather than the eye.
Take for another example the comparison of Puritan and Cavalier : Historians have loved to eulogize “the manners and virtues, the glory and 'the benefits of chivalry. Puritanism accomplished for mankind far more. If it had the sectarian 'crime of intolerance, chivalry had the vices of 'dissoluteness. The knights were brave from gal'lantry of spirit; the puritans from the fear of God. 'The knights were proud of loyalty, the puritans ‘of liberty. The knights did homage to monarchs, 'in whose smile they beheld honor, whose rebuke 'was the wound of disgrace; the puritans, disdain‘ing ceremony, would not bend the knee to the 'King of kings. The former valued courtesy; the 'latter justice. The former adorned society by 'graceful refinements; the latter founded national 'grandeur on universal education. The institu‘tions of chivalry were subverted by the gradually 'increasing weight, and knowledge, and opulence,
of the industrious classes ; the puritans, relying ‘on those classes, planted in their hearts the undying principles of democratic liberty.'
Passages such as these are often employed as a rhetorical flourish at the end of a chapter. They are analogous to what actors call 'making a good exit.' In Bancroft they constitute for pages together the prevailing rather than the exceptional form. The reader, whether conscious of it or not, is kept on a strain. At last he grows uncomfortable. He wishes the historian would cease to declaim, would come down from the rostrum, throw aside his academic robes, and be neighborly and familiar.
This History was so long in the writing that Bancroft's style changed materially. The opinion prevails that his diction improved as the work proceeded, that the later volumes are uniformly less inflated, strained, and 'eloquent' than the earlier ones. It is true that he made innumerable revisions of the text. The changes were not always improvements. Sometimes in rewriting a sentence he made it less energetic. Strong expressions were softened. A plain old-fashioned word would be taken out; often it carried the whole phrase with it. Whether the literary or the historical sense dictated the change in question cannot always be determined.
Bancroft's diction is manly and forceful, but it lacks natural grace and suppleness; it is flexible