Courtesy Reuters

Lord Acton: Apostle of Liberty

The Future in Retrospect

THE HISTORY OF FREEDOM AND OTHER ESSAYS. BY JOHN EMERICH EDWARD DALBERG ACTON, FIRST BARON ACTON. London: Macmillan, 1907.

LORD ACTON can be studied as a personality, a historian, a Roman Catholic, a moralist and a Liberal. As a personality he ranks among the most fascinating figures of the nineteenth century. Young and old agreed that there was no one like him. Lord Morley used to say that if he could summon one -- and only one -- of his friends from the grave it would be Acton. Gladstone, declares his biographer, could never have enough of his company, and the present writer preserves the memory of delightful talks fifty years ago. The success of Bishop Mathew's recent study of his formative years suggests that interest in this striking figure tends to grow rather than to wane. As a historian the man who never published a book has outlived most of his more productive contemporaries on the strength of two posthumous collections of essays and two courses of Cambridge lectures. His strenuous efforts to broaden the intellectual horizon of English Catholics and to combat the Ultramontanism which he abhorred have been described in Dr. Noack's "Acton und der Katholizismus," a book too little known outside Germany. His celebrity as a moralist is largely due to the fact that some of his maxims have become current coin. Taine was saluted by a young French writer as notre conscience vivante. It was Acton's task to test men and movements, institutions and ideologies, by the pointed challenge of Christian ethics, convinced as he was that since the coming of Christ there was no excuse for anyone to pretend that he did not know the difference between right and wrong. On his deathbed he confessed to his son that his judgments had occasionally been too harsh, but he would have reproached himself far more if he had ever failed to condemn wrongdoing in Church and State.

It is with the fifth aspect of this many-sided man

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