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Essays: English and American. rn The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

Edward Augustus Freeman

Introductory Note

EDWARD AUGUSTUS FREEMAN (1823–92), one of the most distinguished of recent English historians, was born at Harborne, in Staffordshire, and educated at Oxford, where he was a Fellow of Trinity College, and later Regius Professor of Modern History. His earlier writings show great interest in architecture, and it was one of his distinctions to be the first historian to make extensive use in his subject of the evidences and illustrations supplied by the study of that art. His most famous and most elaborate work was his “History of the Norman Conquest” (1867–79), a monument which is likely long to remain the great authority on its period.

Freeman believed in the unity of the study of history, and in the wide range of his own writings he went far toward realizing the universality he preached. Outside of the field just mentioned he wrote on ancient Greece, on Sicily, on the Ottoman Empire, on the United States, on the methods of historical study, and on many other subjects. His interests were primarily political, and he took an active part in the politics of his own day, writing for many years for the Saturday Review. As a teacher he influenced profoundly the scientific study of history in England.

Of few terms in general use has the average man a less exact or less accurate comprehension than of the word “race.” The speculative philologists of last century, with their attempts to classify the peoples of the earth according to linguistic evidences, succeeded, as far as the layman is concerned, chiefly in adding to the confusion by popularizing prematurely facts whose signification was improperly understood. The anthropologists of a more recent time, with their study of skull-shapes and complexions, have sought to correct misapprehensions; but the popular mind is still in a mist about the whole matter. In the following essay Freeman brings his knowledge of modern scientific results and his enormous historical information to the rescue of the bewildered student, and does much to clear up the perplexing relations of race with language, custom, and blood.