Lord George Germain
Lord George Germain
History becomes what historians say it is, for the past as we know it is largely the product of their talents and their limitations. 'That certain kings reigned, and certain battles were fought, we can depend on as true, but all the colouring . . . is conjecture', pronounced Samuel Johnson, and, like some other seekers for truth, did not pause for an answer.
The chief characters of the American Revolution have thus become amalgams of actual facts and congealed interpretations. Legend has simplified reality and turned subtle shades of personality into black and white. In America, Washington has become pure hero and Lord North pure villain, though happily both are being restored to a little of their original complexity, as young historians with reputations to make try to prove older historians wrong.
The central figure of this study has been a victim of that kind of encrusted myth, and has been more often pictured black than white, since emotions around him were high, his endeavours failed, and his career was baffling. He was a man of whose true motivations and nuances of character history, as Carlyle put it, 'will say nothing where you most desire her to speak'. Repetitions have elaborated but have not given depth to his portrait, and research only sharpens the contradictions, until one suspects it is not the facts that are contradictory but the character itself. If the men of his own time could not understand him, how can we?
The Lord George of Minden and the American Revolution cannot even be held to a consistent name, for he had three legal identities. To many of his contemporaries Lord George Germain was as stupid as Lord George Sackville had been brilliant, and Viscount Sackville's reputed mellowness consistent with neither. To others, all three characters were uniform; some said in their integrity; others in their devious malignity. History has tended to accept the harsher verdicts, since his critics were more eloquent than his defenders. The difficulty of penetrating these emotional verdicts to the real man beneath is enhanced by the fact that the material offering clues to his private thoughts, so often disguised, is now as sparse as his public documents are . . .