Nationalism and Internationalism: Essays Inscribed to Carlton J. H. Hayes

By Edward Mead Earle | Go to book overview

SIR JOHN SEELEY, PRAGMATIC HISTORIAN IN A NATIONALISTIC AGE

THOMAS P. PEARDON

THE REPUTATION of Sir John Seeley illustrates the danger of writing an enormously successful book on a subject of great public importance. Apart from the interest that students of intellectual history have in his Ecce Homo ( 1865), he is remembered chiefly as the author of The Expansion of England ( 1883), which is treated as a philosophy of Imperialism, and as the writer of some dubious aphorisms about the study of history. A philosopher of Imperialism he certainly was, but not in the sense that is sometimes alleged; and his views concerning history were broader and more sagacious than is generally agreed. For Seeley had one of the most vigorous and acute minds of his generation. He was not an original thinker, but he was sensitive to the problems and intellectual currents of his time and greatly gifted in the art of lucid and stimulating exposition. He represents one phase of the impact on a liberal mind of science, nationalism, and democracy.

The English have paid little attention to Seeley except to remember Ecce Homo and The Expansion of England. The French treat him somewhat more extensively, but as a philosopher of British Imperialism.1 The Germans have taken him more seriously, both as an Imperialist and also as a man of wider significance. Only in German are there books or monographs devoted to Seeley exclusively; of these there are at least three,2 one a biography and critical study, the others doctoral dissertations dealing with his views on history and politics and his "Humanismus." The biography, by Adolf Rein, was published in 1912, seventeen years after Seeley's death. Rein visited Cambridge, talked with the widow and old associates of his subject, and gathered together what he could of the man as well

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1
Jacques Gazeau, L'Imperialisme anglais: Son évolution: Carlyle-Seeley-Chamberlain ( Paris, 1903).
2
Adolf Rein, Sir John Robert Seeley: Eine Studie über den Historiker (Langensalza, 1912); Erich Rosenblüth, John Robert Seeley: Sein Historisches und Politisches Weltbild ( Berlin, 1934); Georg Brettschneider. Der Humanismus John Robert Seeleys: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Ideologie des Britischen Imperialismus (Borna, Leipzig, 1937).

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