Home  »  Volume XVI: American EARLY NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART II LATER NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART I  »  § 21. John of Barneveld; Court of St. James; Autobiographical Colouring in Motley’s Histories

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

§ 21. John of Barneveld; Court of St. James; Autobiographical Colouring in Motley’s Histories

Luckily for the ex-diplomat, the seventeenth century was waiting till he should be released from the claims of the nineteenth, and he plunged at once into the next period of his Netherland story. The History of the United Netherlands was concluded by two more volumes issued in 1868. A continuation centred about John of Barneveld was finally published in 1874. Motley returned from Vienna to Boston and was settled there at the time of Grant’s first campaign, into which he entered with much interest. At the suggestion of Sumner, he was honoured by Grant with the appointment to the Court of St. James, the highest diplomatic post in his gift. That was pleasant after the Vienna incident. Unfortunately, Grant identified him with Sumner, and when a breach came between the president and the senator from Massachusetts, the former found a pretext to recall Motley, and again a secretary of state failed to protect the minister. Moreover, the explanatory letter written by Hamilton Fish was not phrased in a manner to soothe the diplomat’s feelings, so that the incident ended with added discomfiture for Motley. Again work was the refuge from the annoyances to which he had been subjected, but they were not forgotten. It is rather curious to note how the author’s unpleasant experience colours the story of the relations between Maurice of Nassau and John of Barneveld. The inability of the soldier, acting as statesman, to understand the diplomat is dwelt on in a fashion to show that General Grant was in the historian’s thoughts when he wrote of Count Maurice. Indeed, John of Barneveld is a reflection of autobiography almost as much as Morton’s Hope. Every point having to do with the ambitions of the individual province and the needs of the United Netherlands is coloured by the crisis through which the United States had just passed. Sometimes the implied parallel is apt, sometimes both strained and forced. It was Motley’s tendency, in general, to indulge in comparisons and metaphor that once more troubled The Saturday Review. The carping critic evidently thought that all the expressions to which he objected were American. He did not realize that any worker in sixteenth century historical sources is living in the midst of just such language as was found objectionable. Sober documents are permeated with idioms not to be counted Americanisms; the letters of Elizabethan statesmen overflow with quaint twists and turns. Thus Motley’s natural tendency in this direction was constantly fed during his researches into contemporary material. It was natural for him, writing from Vienna during a terrible drought, to declare that there was nothing green in Austria but the Archduke Maximilian, dreaming of an American empire (1863). It was phrases like that in history which shocked the reviewer. Other reviews in Great Britain and America were almost unanimous in their high praise for John of Barneveld. The Edinburgh Review said: “We can hardly give too much praise to the subtle alchemy of the brain which has enabled him [Motley] to produce out of dull, crabbed, and often illegible State-papers, the vivid, graphic, and sparkling narrative which he has given to the world.”