The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.

XVIII. Prescott and Motley

§ 16. Dutch and Belgian Critics

Froude did not like Motley’s estimate of Queen Elizabeth, adding: “It is ungracious, however, even to find so slight a fault with these admirable volumes.” This gentle animad-version is amusing, because all the eminent authorities on the period treated do just what Froude does. They like the way Motley has navigated the whole sea of difficulties but think he has lost his way on their private pools. In Holland and Belgium at the time of the appearance of The Rise of the Dutch Republic there were, among other scholars, three eminent archivists and one rising historian: Groen van Prinsterer, Bakhuysen van der Brink, and Professor Fruin in Holland, and Gachard in Brussels. They all received the book with pleasure as well as with profound surprise that any foreigner had cast his plummet down their deeps with so much assiduity. Mingled with their real and cordial approval there was a reserve on the part of each regarding the treatment of his own particular thesis. Groen thought that Motley did not really feel the Protestant impulse in all that happened; Bakhuysen considered that he did not understand phases of the relations with Germany; Gachard, himself less fervent in his opinions than the Hollanders, criticized Motley’s partisanship; while Fruin, the first man to hold a chair at Leyden University exclusively devoted to “Vaderlandsche Geschiedenis,” criticized the whole work on a larger and more ample scale. He thought that the author did not grasp fully the actual development of the congeries of provinces, found many weak spots in the generalizations, and held that, closely as Motley had followed original authorities, he had erred seriously in not testing the exact weight and authenticity of the witnesses whom he had summoned to help him tell his tale.

The English original excited immediate interest in Holland, but the most exhaustive reviews were reserved until the Dutch version appeared in 1859, made by no less an authority than Bakhuysen himself, who said: “Motley’s work seems to me to make such an excellent foundation for the history of the growth of the Commonwealth of the United Netherlands that it seems almost a duty to bring forth one’s own possessions in order to rear up a structure on this foundation.” Fruin repeated the words at the beginning of his review. He added a cordial appreciation of the industry and conscientiousness of the American.

  • We have discovered no unused source.… I take it for granted that everyone has read the work of the American.… It would be a scandal if our countrymen neglected to read what the foreigner counted of sufficient importance to discuss.… Motley shines in narrative [Hij is een bekwam stylist] but he is less fortunate in his explanations of cause and effect. What the witnesses whom he summons testify, he narrates better than they can tell, but he fails to weigh their personality and trustworthiness with sufficient accuracy. The “how” is good, the “why” defective. He is far behind Ranke in his comprehension of the beginnings of the revolt.
  • Then the Dutch historian proceeded to write one of the most valuable articles that ever came from his pen, Het voorspel van den tachtigjarigen oorlog. Herein he carefully reviewed the ground with exact references to his authorities and gave a less passionate and less biassed picture than Motley of Philip’s relations to the Netherlands and to the thread of events that preceded the final outbreak. Motley could not complain of lack of appreciation in the Netherlands, and had reason to flatter himself that his work was a spur to the Netherlanders to look to their own dykes and consider carefully what was true among their writers of the sixteenth century and what needed to be winnowed. Besides, there was an interest aroused in the texts, and several valuable works, used by Motley in manuscript, were printed within a few years after the publication of his work. Now nearly everything important is in print, and the stimulus to the incessant output during the last half century was certainly largely due to the American.