James Anthony Froude, 1818–1894

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Biographical note

Historian and essayist, 3rd son of the Archdeacon of Totnes, Devonshire, near which he was born, and brother of Richard Hurrell. Froude, one of the leaders of the Tractarian party, was educated at Westminster School and Oxford, where for a short time he came under the influence of Newman, and contributed to his Lives of the English Saints, and in 1844 he took Deacon’s orders. The connection with Newman was, however, short-lived; and the publication in 1848 of The Nemesis of Faith showed that in the severe mental and spiritual conflict through which he had passed, the writer had not only escaped from all Tractarian influences, but was in revolt against many of the fundamental doctrines of Christianity. One result of the book was his resignation of his Fellowship at Oxford: another was his loss of an appointment as Head Master of the Grammar School of Hobart Town, Tasmania. In the same year began his friendship with Carlyle, and about the same time he became a contributor to the Westminster Review and to Fraser’s Magazine, of which he was ed. from 1860–74. These papers were afterwards collected and published in the 4 vols. of Short Studies on Great Subjects.

In 1856 he published the first 2 vols. of the great work of his life, The History of England from the Fall of Cardinal Wolsey to the Spanish Armada, which extended to 12 vols., the last of which appeared in 1870. As literature this work has a place among the greatest productions of the century; but in its treatment it is much more dramatic, ethical, and polemical than historical in the strict sense; and indeed the inaccuracy in matters of fact to which Froude was liable, combined with his tendency to idealise and to colour with his own prejudices the characters who figure in his narrative, are serious deductions from the value of his work considered as history. The English in Ireland in the Eighteenth Century appeared in 1872–4.

On the death of Carlyle in 1881, Froude found himself in the position of his sole literary executor, and in that capacity published successively the Reminiscences (1881), History of the First Forty Years of Carlyle’s Life (1882), Letters and Memorials of Jane Welsh Carlyle (1883), History of Carlyle’s Life in London (1884). The opinion is held by many that in the discharge of the duties entrusted to him by his old friend and master he showed neither discretion nor loyalty; and his indiscreet revelations and gross inaccuracies evoked a storm of controversy and protest.

Froude did not confine his labours to purely literary effort. In 1874–5 he travelled as a Government Commissioner in South Africa with the view of fostering a movement in favour of federating the various colonies there; in 1876 he served on the Scottish University Commission; in 1884–5 he visited Australia, and gave the fruit of his observations to the world in Oceana (1886), and in 1886–7 he was in the West Indies, and published The English in the West Indies (1888). The year 1892 saw his appointment as Prof. of Modern History at Oxford, and his lectures there were published in his last books, Life and Letters of Erasmus (1894), English Seamen in the Sixteenth Century (1895), and The Council of Trent (1896). Froude was elected in 1869 Lord Rector of the University of St. Andrews, and received the degree of LL.D. from Edinburgh in 1884. By his instructions no Biography was to be written.

[From A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature by John W. Cousin, 1910]

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