Freeman, Edward Augustus (DNB01)

FREEMAN, EDWARD AUGUSTUS (1823–1892), historian, only son of John Freeman and Mary Anne, daughter of William Carless, was born at Harborne, Staffordshire, on 2 Aug. 1823. Having lost both his parents in infancy, he was brought up by his paternal grandmother, who in 1829 settled in Northampton, where he attended a school kept by the Rev. T. C. Haddon. He was a quaint and precocious boy; he read Roman and English history with delight before he was seven, wrote English verses at an early age, and at eleven had a good knowledge of Latin and Greek, and had taught himself some Hebrew. In 1837 he was sent to a school kept by the Rev. W. Browne at Cheam, Surrey, and in 1840 as a private pupil to the Rev. R. Gutch at Segrave, Leicestershire. By that time he was under the influence of the high church movement, and took much interest in religious and ecclesiastical matters. After failing to obtain a scholarship at Balliol College in November, he was elected in June 1841 to a scholarship at Trinity College, Oxford, where his fellow scholars generally were serious youths with high-church sympathies. He obtained a second class in the schools at Easter 1845, graduated B.A., and in May was elected probationary fellow of his college. In 1846 he wrote an essay on the effects of the Norman Conquest for a university prize; he was unsuccessful, and his failure stirred him up to study the period of the Conquest. Giving up thoughts of taking orders, from a feeling in favour of clerical celibacy, and also some idea of adopting architecture, at which he worked with pleasure, as a profession, he determined to devote himself to historical study. As an undergraduate he had engaged himself to Miss Eleanor Gutch, a daughter of his former tutor, was married to her at Segrave on 13 April 1847, and for a year resided at Littlemore, near Oxford.

An increase of fortune having come to him, he moved in 1848 to a house near Dursley in Gloucestershire. While there he read much history, both ancient and modern, made several contributions to two volumes of ballads, and in 1849 published his first book, 'A History of Architecture.' This book, dealing exclusively, so far as Christian times are concerned, with ecclesiastical architecture, treats its subject comprehensively and in a philosophical manner, laying down principles of development which are supported by examples. Though Freeman had not then seen any buildings beyond England, the merits of his work have been acknowledged fully in later years. It was followed in 1855 by another volume on Gothic window tracery. He also wrote reviews for the 'Guardian,' papers for quarterly and other periodicals, and some pamphlets on the new examination statute at Oxford. In 1855 he moved to Lanrumney Hall, near Cardiff. During the next five years he wrote many articles for various quarterlies on Greek and Roman history. The fortunes of the Greek nation were then, as throughout the rest of his life, of deep concern to him, and he corresponded on them with George Finlay [q. v.] and Spyridion Trikoupes, then the Greek minister in London. Among his other periodical work he began to write for the 'Saturday Review' soon after it was started in 1855, and for twenty-two years contributed constantly to it. He sought to be elected to parliament for Cardiff in 1857, and for Wallingford in 1858, as an independent radical, but did not go to the poll in either case. In 1858 he hoped to be appointed regius professor of modern history at Oxford, but Mr. Goldwin Smith was chosen. He was an examiner in the school of law and modern history at Oxford in 1857-8, 1863-4, and 1873. Though he travelled much in England, constantly adding to his knowledge of church architecture, he did not make a tour abroad until 1856, when he visited Southern France. From 1860 onwards he made frequent tours on the continent, and found his chiefest pleasure in them. To him, however, travel was not a mere matter of pleasure; he travelled either to see the places which were connected with the histories he was writing, or to extend his knowledge of architecture, or to visit spots of historical importance, and it was his habit to write articles on places of special interest which he visited. Many of these articles are collected in volumes, and are among the most attractive parts of his literary work. While travelling either in England or abroad, he made vigorous drawings of all noteworthy buildings and architectural details. Thousands of these drawings are still extant.

In 1860 he bought a house, with a small park, called Somerleaze, near Wells in Somerset, and settled there. He was an unsuccessful candidate for the Camden professorship of ancient history at Oxford in 1861, and for the Chichele professorship of modern history in 1862. During the ten years which succeeded his going to Somerleaze, he established his reputation as an historian. In 1861 he began his 'History of Federal Government,' of which the first and only volume appeared in 1863, and in 1865 his 'History of the Norman Conquest,' of which the third volume was published in 1869. In that year also was published his 'Old English History for Children,' and in 1870 his 'History of the Cathedral Church of Wells.' Meanwhile he was contributing largely to periodicals, and chiefly to the 'Saturday Review,' for which he wrote in one year as many as ninety-six reviews and articles. In an article which he contributed to the 'Fortnightly Review' in October 1869 on the 'Morality of Field Sports,' he maintained that sport which entailed unnecessary suffering on animals was unjustifiable. He was answered by Anthony Trollope [q. v.], and the discussion which ensued excited general interest. Freeman's position illustrates his tender-heartedness for animals, and his constant habit of deciding all moral questions by reference to duty. He wrote many articles on matters which concerned the university of Oxford. While opposing changes which he believed to be needless, he advocated some useful reforms, such as the admission of non-collegiate students to the university. A letter which he wrote to the 'Daily News' in October 1864 led to a settlement of the question as to the stipend of the regius professor of Greek, Benjamin Jowett [q. v. Suppl.], by pointing out that Christ Church was morally bound to make adequate provision for the chair. At that time he was active as a magistrate, and though he found the duties of the office some hindrance to his writing, he took pleasure in fulfilling them for several years, and believed that the experience of practical affairs which he gained from them was useful to him as an historian. At the general election of 1868 he stood as a follower of Gladstone for one of the two seats for the Mid-Somerset division, and was defeated at the poll.

In June 1870 he received the honorary degree of D.C.L. at Oxford, in 1874 that of LL.D. at Cambridge; in 1875 the king of the Hellenes created him a knight-commander of the Order of the Redeemer, and in 1876 he was elected corresponding member of the Imperial Academy of Sciences of St. Petersburg. Though working incessantly while at home, he made several tours abroad at this time, and was visiting Dalmatia in 1875 when the revolt against the Turks broke out in Herzegovina. History, as well as more recent events, led him to detest the Ottoman rule in Europe. He had early learned to condemn the Crimean war, both because it upheld the Turks and served the purpose of the 'tyrant,' as he always called Napoleon III, and he was deeply moved by the revolt of the Slavonic provinces and by the accounts of Turkish atrocities. In 1876 he raised over 5,000l. for the relief of the Christian fugitives by personal appeals and letters to newspapers, wrote many articles, and made many speeches both against the Turks and the leaders of the conservative party in England. While his sentiments were generous, his words lacked moderation, specially in his speeches. At a meeting held in St. James's Hall on 9 Dec., he said in the course of an impassioned speech, 'Perish our dominion in India rather than that we should strike one blow or speak one word on behalf of the wrong against the right.' He was accused of having said 'Perish India.' The accusation, though often denied, was constantly repeated, was widely believed, and did him some damage in public estimation. The actual intemperance of his language on eastern questions seems to have weakened his position with his own party; for in spite of the services which he rendered to it at this time, he was not invited to stand for any constituency at the general election of 1880. In 1877 he received the order of Takova from the prince of Servia, and the order of Danilo from the prince of Montenegro, and during a tour in Greece which he made in that year was warmly received by the Greeks, specially in the Greek islands. He severed his connection with the 'Saturday Review' in 1878, because the paper took a line on eastern matters which he did not approve, and thus from conscientious scruples gave up a constant source of pleasure and an income amounting, it is said, to over 500l. a year, which he could ill afford to sacrifice.

From early manhood Freeman occasionally suffered from gout, and by the end of 1878 his health began to decline; he had constant and violent fits of coughing, slept little, and grew weak. Nevertheless his industry did not abate; he worked diligently at his Historical Geography,' his 'William Rufus,' and other matters, and in 1879 made two short tours in France in order to visit places connected with the history of Rufus. He was elected an honorary fellow of his college in 1880, and in 1881 was appointed a member of a royal commission to inquire into the constitution and working of the ecclesiastical courts. Absence from England and ill health prevented him from attending many of the meetings of the commissioners. To their report, which was issued in 1883, he added a statement of his dissent from the recommendation that the crown court of final appeal should consist of a permanent body of lay judges learned in the law, desiring that it should be open to the crown to appoint men of any profession who might be thought competent, 'as was the case with the court of delegates under the statute of Henry VIII.' In the autumn of 1881 he visited the United States, and lectured in several towns, returning to England in April 1882.

The regius professor of modern history at Oxford, the Rev. W. Stubbs, having accepted the bishopric of Chester, Freeman was appointed his successor in the chair in 1884, and in that year received the honorary degree of LL.D. from the university of Edinburgh. His appointment did not add to his happiness; he regretted having to be absent for a large part of each year from Somerleaze; he disliked many of the changes which had been effected at Oxford of late years, was annoyed at finding himself powerless to direct the school of which he was nominally the head, and was disappointed at the general neglect of his lectures by the undergraduates. His influence, however, was strongly felt by some of the older students of history at Oxford. Home rule for Ireland seemed to him to be advisable, and he approved of the main principles of Gladstone's scheme of 1886. Later revisions of the scheme were, he considered, unsatisfactory in that, while giving Ireland a parliament of its own, they proposed to retain Irish members in the parliament at Westminster. He received invitations to stand for two constituencies at the general election of 1886, but was forced to decline by the state of his health, which was then growing worse. A southern climate having been recommended for him, he spent some months in Sicily in 1886-7, in 1888-9, and again in the early part of 1890. From 1886 he was was working at his 'History of Sicily,' which he planned on a large scale. He undertook this work mainly because the fortunes of the island illustrated his favourite theory of the unity of history; Sicily was, he would say, 'the œcumenical island, the meeting-place of the nations.' He also hoped to write a history of the reign of Henry I, and for that purpose paid the last of his many visits to Normandy in 1891. In February 1892 he visited Spain in company with his wife and two younger daughters. He fell ill at Valencia on 7 May, but on the 9th went on to Alicante, where his illness proved to be smallpox. He died at Alicante on the 16th, and was buried in the protestant cemetery there. He left two sons and four daughters. His eldest daughter, Margaret, a lady of great ability and sweetness of character, who was of much help to him in his work, was born on 17 Oct. 1848, married the eminent antiquary, Mr. Arthur J. Evans, keeper of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, on 19 Sept. 1878, and died at Alassio on 11 March 1893. She compiled the index volumes of Hook's 'Lives of the Archbishops of Canterbury' and her father's 'Norman Conquest,' and the index to his 'History of Sicily,' vols. ii-iii. After Freeman's death his library was purchased and presented, under certain conditions, to Owens College, Manchester, where the books form a separate collection known as the 'Freeman Library.' A portrait of Freeman is in the hall of Trinity College, Oxford, and there are engraved portraits in Dean Stephens's 'Life and Letters of E. A. Freeman.'

Freeman, while ceasing to hold many of the views of his early days on ecclesiastical matters, remained a sincerely religious member of the English church. Though his temper was impatient, and he was apt to be rude to people who were distasteful to him, he was truly kind, generous-hearted, and loveable. Unsparing in his condemnation of false pretenders to learning, he would cheerfully interrupt his own work to enlighten the ignorance of an honest student. All cruelty to man or beast roused his fiercest indignation, all suffering drew forth his pity, and he was liberal in his gifts. He was eminently truthful and expressed his thoughts and feelings without reserve. No more affectionate or constant friend ever lived. Among his most valued friends were Dr. Stubbs, at one time bishop of Oxford, John Richard Green [q v.], the Right Hon. James Bryce, Professor W. B. Dawkins, and the Rev. (Very Rev.) W. R. W. Stephens, now dean of Winchester, his biographer. His memory was excellent, his intellect clear, and his mind orderly and logical. His industry was amazing, he worked methodically and with an eager desire to get at the truth, and he loved his work with an intensity which rendered him limited in intellectual sympathy. In politics and history his interest was almost unlimited. Politics he studied not merely as they concern single nations, but as a science to be mastered by comparing the political institutions of all nations derived from a common source. Each portion of history, he would urge, and he carried out his own doctrine, should be regarded as a scene in 'one unbroken drama which takes in the political history of European man' (Inaugural Lecture). The range of his historical knowledge was wide. For some time he was specially attracted by the history of the Greeks and Romans ; then for many years his attention was largely devoted to the early history of the English nation, and in later life he found his chief pleasure in studying the history, architecture, and antiquities of the peoples of the Mediterranean, and used to say that he never felt 'quite happy away from palms and columns.'

His historical work is distinguished by critical ability, precision and accuracy of statement, and a certain fervour of spirit. His judgment was rarely swayed by feeling, and as a rule his estimates of character are masterly. Even where he seems partial he gives his readers full opportunity of testing his conclusions and never misrepresents his authorities. Almost exclusively an historian of politics, he passes by much that most deeply concerns human progress. Within his own sphere he exhibits an extraordinary power of seeing the past as though he lived in it, for he was not a mere student, and his active interest in present politics and other practical affairs enabled him to invest the politics and men of past times with reality. Yet the weight which he attached to the formal aspect of institutions seems to have rendered some of his doctrines on early English constitutional matters open to question. Historical facts had in themselves, and apart from their relative importance, so strong an attraction for him that his narrative is sometimes over-crowded. Nor was he content to state a point and then leave it alone, but repeats a single idea over and over again in slightly different words. Hence some of his books are too long and prolix to be popular. When, however, he had to write in a small space, as in his 'General Sketch of European History,' his power of condensation is as remarkable as his breadth of view and firmness of touch. His style varies greatly. Writing with his authorities open before him he was apt to follow them closely, and when he does so the effect is sometimes wearisome ; and his desire to use so far as possible only words which are purely English limited his vocabulary and was some drawback to his sentences. Yet his writing is always forcible and lucid, and in his 'Norman Conquest' and his 'History of Sicily' he occasionally pictures scenes vividly and in eloquent language. Physical infirmity caused no decline either in the matter or manner of his works; indeed his last great book is a monument of historical scholarship, and contains several passages of splendid writing (see especially History of Sicily, iii. c. 8). Freeman raised the study of history in England to a higher level than that on which he found it, chiefly by inculcating the importance of a critical use of original authorities, of accuracy of statement, and of the recognition of the unity of history. He did good service to the public by his unsparing exposure of pretentious ignorance and his correction of popular errors in his reviews and other articles, and he gave the world some books which, praised as they are at present by all competent judges, will not be valued less highly by historical scholars of later generations.

A full list of Freeman's books and his articles in quarterly and monthly publications is given in his ‘Life and Letters.’ Besides pamphlets, lectures published singly, and contributions to books, periodical literature, and archæological journals, he wrote:

  1. ‘A History of Architecture,’ London, 1849.
  2. ‘Essay on … Window Tracery in England,’ Oxford, 1850.
  3. ‘Poems,’ with Mr. (now Rev. Sir) G. W. Cox, London, 1850.
  4. ‘History and Antiquities of St. David's,’ with William Basil Jones [q. v. Suppl.], later bishop of St. David's, Oxford, 1856.
  5. ‘History and Conquests of the Saracens,’ lectures delivered at Edinburgh in 1855, London, 1856; with a new preface, 1876.
  6. ‘A History of Federal Government,’ vol. i.—all published—London, 1863; republished and edited with additions by Professor J. B. Bury as ‘The History of Federal Government in Greece and Italy,’ London, 1893.
  7. ‘Old English History for Children,’ London, 1869; reissued with omission of ‘for children’ in title, 9th edit., revised, 1892.
  8. ‘History of the Cathedral Church of Wells,’ lectures with notes, London, 1870.
  9. ‘History of the Norman Conquest,’ 5 vols. and index vol., Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1867-79; 2nd edit. vols. i-iii. 1870-5; 3rd edit. vols. i. and ii., 1877.
  10. -13. ‘Historical Essays,’ collected, first series, 1871; 2nd ser. 1873, 4th edit. 1892; 3rd ser. 1879; 4th ser. 1892—all London.
  1. ‘Growth of the English Constitution,’ London, 1872; French translation by M. A. Delahaye, Paris, 1877.
  2. ‘General Sketch of European History’ in Macmillan's ‘Historical Course for Schools,’ which was edited by Freeman, London, 1872.
  3. ‘Comparative Politics,’ lectures at the Royal Institution, London, 1874, 1896.
  4. ‘Disestablishment and Disendowment,’ London, 1874.
  5. ‘History of Europe’ in Macmillan's ‘History Primers,’ edited by J. R. Green, London, 1875.
  6. ‘Historical and Architectural Sketches,’ with illustrations from the author's drawings, London, 1876.
  7. ‘The Ottoman Power in Europe,’ London, 1877.
  8. ‘Short History of the Norman Conquest,’ Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1880.
  9. ‘Subject and Neighbour Lands of Venice,’ London, 1881.
  10. ‘Historical Geography of Europe,’ vol. i. text, vol. ii. maps, London, 1881, 1882.
  11. ‘Lectures to American Audiences,’ Philadelphia, London, 1882.
  12. ‘The Reign of William Rufus,’ 2 vols., Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1882.
  13. ‘Some Impressions of the United States,’ London, 1883.
  14. ‘English Towns and Districts,’ addresses, &c., collected, London 1883.
  15. ‘Methods of Historical Study,’ Oxford lectures, London, 1886.
  16. ‘Chief Periods of European History,’ Oxford lectures, London, 1886.
  17. ‘Greater Greece and Greater Britain,’ lectures, London, 1886.
  18. ‘Exeter’ in ‘Historic Towns’ series, edited by Freeman and W. Hunt, London, 1887.
  19. ‘Fifty Years of European History,’ Oxford lectures, London, 1887.
  20. ‘William the Conqueror’ in Macmillan's ‘English Statesmen’ series, London, 1888.
  21. ‘Sketches from French Travel,’ Tauchnitz, Leipzig, 1891.
  22. ‘History of Sicily,’ 3 vols., Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1891-2; vol. iv. edited by Mr. A. J. Evans, 1894.
  23. ‘Sicily’ in ‘Story of the Nations’ series, London and New York, 1892.
  24. ‘Studies of Travel’ (Greece and Italy), 2 vols., edited by Miss F. Freeman, London and New York, 1893.
  25. 'Studies of Travel’ (Normandy and Maine), edited by Miss F. Freeman, London, 1897.

[Dean Stephens's Life and Letters of Edward A. Freeman, 1895, 2 vols.; English Historical Review, July 1892, vii. 497 sqq., by Right Hon. Jas. Bryce; Somerset Archæol. and Nat. Hist. Soc.'s Proc. 1892, xxxviii. 370sqq.; Manchester Guardian, 18 March 1892; personal knowledge.]

W. H.