Edward Augustus Freeman

English historian (1823–1892)

Edward Augustus Freeman (2 August 1823 – 16 March 1892) was an English historian, architectural artist, and Liberal politician during the late-19th-century heyday of Prime Minister of the United Kingdom William Ewart Gladstone, as well as a one-time candidate for Parliament. He held the position of Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford, where he tutored Arthur Evans; later he and Evans would be activists in the Balkan uprising of Bosnia and Herzegovina (1874–1878) against the Ottoman Empire. After the marriage of his daughter Margaret to Evans, he and Evans collaborated on the fourth volume of his History of Sicily. He was a prolific writer, publishing 239 distinct works. One of his best known is his magnum opus, The History of the Norman Conquest of England (published in 6 volumes, 1867–1879). Both he and Margaret died before Evans purchased the land from which he would excavate the Palace of Knossos.

Edward Augustus Freeman


  • I must confess that I have never read W. Malmsb. de Pont. His Kings are enough to make me thoroughly despise him as a lying affected French scoundrel.
    • Letter to William Stubbs (26 April 1858), quoted in W. R. W. Stephens, The Life and Letters of Edward A. Freeman, Volume I (1895), p. 241
  • I have actually sat down to make a distinct History of the Norman Conquest, which I can do easier than anybody else, as I have worked so much at the subject for twenty years past, that is, a great part of the story; there will be little more to do than to write down what is already in my head.
    • Letter to Dean Hook (23 December 1865), quoted in W. R. W. Stephens, The Life and Letters of Edward A. Freeman, Volume I (1895), p. 335
  • It seems to me that an age of belief sowed the good seed of which an age of unbelief, an age at least of less fervent belief, reaps the fruits. It strikes me that the moral precepts and moral influences of Christianity needed the dogmatic teaching and the systematic discipline of past times to gain for them a hold in the world. The sower may sometimes have sowed tares along with his wheat, but the wheat has survived the tares. I believe that many a man who has little faith in Christian theology is deeply influenced by Christian morality, and that he is altogether a different man from what he would have been had Christianity never been.
    • 'The Morality of Field Sports', The Fortnightly Review (October 1869), quoted in E. A. Freeman, The Morality of Field Sports (1874), p. 12
  • I cannot but think that the indulgence in cruelty in any form and in any degree must more or less harden the heart. I am far from saying that every fox-hunter is a bad man, but I certainly think that, cæteris paribus, the fox-hunter would be a better man if he were not a fox-hunter. And few would approve of devotion to pursuits of this kind when it becomes the distinguishing feature in the character. A mere fox-hunter, a mere bull-baiter, a mere amateur of gladiators, can never have been an estimable character in any age.
    • 'The Morality of Field Sports', The Fortnightly Review (October 1869), quoted in E. A. Freeman, The Morality of Field Sports (1874), p. 17
  • I have no doubt that, if I had stood on the hill of Senlac, I should have felt a strong satisfaction in cleaving the skull of a Norman. But feelings of this kind need to be kept under careful control. As soon as either war or hunting loses its purely defensive character, as soon as it is pursued, not distinctly for the public good, but as a matter of sport or out of sheer love of slaughter, as soon as suffering is needlessly inflicted or wantonly prolonged, it ceases to be a righteous and praiseworthy occupation, and comes under the general head of cruelty.
    • 'The Morality of Field Sports', The Fortnightly Review (October 1869), quoted in E. A. Freeman, The Morality of Field Sports (1874), p. 18
  • Can any modern fox-hunter honestly say that his hunting is done with the legitimate object of getting rid of a noxious animal in the quickest way? It is nothing of the kind. It is plain that instead of men hunting with any object of getting rid of foxes, the fox exists simply for the purpose of being hunted. But for the practice of hunting, the fox would long ago have been as extinct in England as his cousin the wolf.
    • 'The Morality of Field Sports', The Fortnightly Review (October 1869), quoted in E. A. Freeman, The Morality of Field Sports (1874), p. 18
  • I say then without hesitation that fox-hunting, which ages back may have been a praiseworthy means of ridding the country of a noxious animal, has, in its modern shape, degenerated into a sport of wanton and deliberate cruelty. Strip it of its disguises, and it is that and nothing else.
    • 'The Morality of Field Sports', The Fortnightly Review (October 1869), quoted in E. A. Freeman, The Morality of Field Sports (1874), p. 20
  • [T]he risk of these sports, and the supposed manliness of facing that risk, is generally put forth as one of their merits. Now I may be very blind and mean-spirited, but the manly sport of foxhunting seems to me not to be manly at all, but to be at once cowardly and fool hardy. It is cowardly as regards the cruelty practised on a victim which cannot defend himself by tormentors who, as far as the victim is concerned, are perfectly safe. It is foolhardy as risking men's lives for no adequate cause. It is manly, it is something much better than manly, when a man sacrifices or risks his life in a good cause. But I can see nothing manly, nothing in any way praiseworthy, in a man risking his life in a bad cause or in no cause at all. When a fox-hunter is suddenly cut off in the midst of his cruelties, I can see nothing in his end at all resembling the end of the martyr who dies for his religion or of the hero who dies for his country. I believe I am unfashionable in thinking so, but I cannot help it.
    • 'The Morality of Field Sports', The Fortnightly Review (October 1869), quoted in E. A. Freeman, The Morality of Field Sports (1874), p. 24
  • Cast away all prejudices, all conventionalities, all subterfuges, look the thing boldly in the face, and will any one tell me either that it is really right to seek amusement in the suffering of any living creature, or that hunting is anything but amusement sought in the sufferings of a living creature? Will any one who engages in such sports tell me that he does not, for the time at least, stifle the divine voice of mercy within him, that he does not, for the time at least, give the reins to the passions of the wild beast or the savage? It may sound a hard saying, but in truth the joy of the hunter is only a lesser form of that intensified delight in cruelty which saw only a “merry, merry show," in those sports, those huntings, of old in which the human victim had to struggle against the lion and the tiger.
    • 'The Morality of Field Sports', The Fortnightly Review (October 1869), quoted in E. A. Freeman, The Morality of Field Sports (1874), p. 30
  • That Mahometanism is essentially an obstructive, intolerant system, supplying just sufficient good to stand in the way of greater good. It has consecrated despotism; it has consecrated polygamy; it has consecrated slavery. It has declared war against every other creed; it has claimed to be at least dominant in every land. And in one sense it has rightly so claimed. So long as a Mahometan nation is dominant and conquering, so long is it great and glorious after its own standard. When it ceases to have an enemy to contend against, it sinks into sluggish stupidity and into a barbarism far viler than that of the conquerors who raised it to greatness. It must have an enemy; if cut off, like Persia, from conflict with the infidel, it finds its substitute in sectarian hatred of brother Moslems. Islam has founded mighty empires, it has reared splendid palaces, it has accumulated libraries of countless volumes. But it has done nothing for man in his highest earthly capacity, as the citizen of a free state; it has done nothing for the higher even of his purely speculative faculties. By slightly reforming, it has perpetuated and sanctified all the evils of the eastern world. It has, by its aggressive tenets, brought them into more direct antagonism with the creed and civilization of the west. A system, originally the greatest of reforms in its own age and country, has proved the curse and scourge of the world for twelve hundred years.
    • The History and Conquests of the Saracens. Six Lectures delivered before the Edinburgh Philosophical Institution (1876), pp. 202–203
  • But we are told that English interests demand it; that our dominion in India will be imperilled, that the civilized world will crumble into atoms, if a Russian ship should be seen in the Mediterranean Sea. If it be so, then I say, perish the interests of England, perish our dominion in India, rather than that we should strike a blow or speak a word on behalf of the wrong against the right.
    • Speech to the National Conference on the Eastern Question in St. James's Hall, London, protesting against a war for Turkey against Russia after the Bulgarian atrocities (8 December 1876), quoted in The Times (16 December 1876), p. 8. Freeman was quoted as saying "Perish India" by Stafford Northcote on 13 December in a speech in Devon (The Times, 14 December 1876, p. 8). H. H. Asquith said that: "In the condensed form, “Perish India”, Freeman's phrase, for a long time did service on Tory platforms as a convenient summary of Liberal foreign policy" (Fifty Years of British Parliament, Volume Two (1926), p. 264.)
  • At Trieste I saw Burton. ... I remember him, thirty-five years ago, the wildest-looking creature; now he is shorn and looks quite respectable. He has killed more men than most people; but they were mainly Turks.
    • Letter to Edith Thompson (29 July 1877), quoted in W. R. W. Stephens, The Life and Letters of Edward A. Freeman, Volume II (1895), p. 154
  • I believe I hate the British army more than any institution in being. My loathing for it is in exact proportion to my admiration for the men who fought at Senlac and Muratovizza. Forwhy, if you have conscription or landwehr, a man simply obeys the law; if the war is unjust, it is simply like obeying or enforcing any bad law. ... The fault rests not with him, but with those who send him. But in our army every man, officer and private, is there by his own choice. He is not consulted about that particular war; but he chose the man-slaying trade, when he might have chosen some other; so he is, what the conscript or landwehr man is not, responsible for being there. I grant that this is rather ideal; and, as circumstances go I don't rate the responsibility very high, if they only keep quiet. But when they came back, strutting and swaggering, talking as if they had done something to be proud of instead of ashamed, I hold that they made themselves accomplices with the Jew in the murther of the Zulus. ... I don't value skill or bravery, any more than height, strength, or beauty, unless they are used to a good purpose.
    • Letter to W. R. W. Stephens (8 March 1880), quoted in W. R. W. Stephens, The Life and Letters of Edward A. Freeman, Volume II (1895), pp. 198–199
  • This would be a grand land if only every Irishman would kill a negro, and be hanged for it.
    • Letter to F. H. Dickinson during his visit to the United States (4 December 1881), quoted in W. R. W. Stephens, The Life and Letters of Edward A. Freeman, Volume II (1895), p. 242
  • I know that to run down Lord Macaulay is the fashion of the day. I have heard some speak against him who have a right to speak; I have heard many more who have none. I at least feel that I have none; I do not see how any man can have the right who has not gone through the same work through which Macaulay went, or at least through some no less thorough work of a kindred sort. I can see Macaulay's great and obvious faults as well as any man; I know as well as any man the cautions with which his brilliant pictures must be studied; but I cannot feel that I have any right to speak lightly of one to whom I owe so much in the matter of actual knowledge, and to whom I owe more than to any man as the master of historical narrative. Read a page of Macaulay; scan well his minute accuracy in every name and phrase and title; contrast his English undefiled with the slipshod jargon which from our newspapers has run over into our books; dwell on the style which finds a fitting phrase in our own tongue to set forth every thought, the style which never uses a single word out of its true and honest meaning; turn the pages of the book in which no man ever read a sentence a second time because he failed to catch its meaning the first time, but in which all of us must have read many sentences a second or a twentieth time for the sheer pleasure of dwelling on the clearness, the combined fulness and terseness, on the just relation of every word to every other, on the happily chosen epithet, or the sharply pointed sarcasm .
    • Methods of Historical Study (1886), pp. 104-6, quoted in C. H. Firth, A Commentary on Macaulay's History of England, ed. Godfrey Davies [1938] (1964), p. 32
  • It is not too much to say that Mommsen has no notion whatever of right and wrong. It is not so much that he applauds wrong actions, as that he does not seem to know that right and wrong have anything to do with the matter. No one has set forth more clearly than Mommsen the various stages of the process by which Rome gradually reduced the states round the Mediterranean to a state of dependence—what he, by one of the quasi-technicalities of which we complain, calls a state of clientship. It is, for clear insight into the matter, one of the best parts of the book. But almost every page is disfigured by the writer's unblushing idolatry of mere force. He cannot understand that a small state can have any rights against a great one, or that a patriot in such a state can be anything but a fool.
    • 'Mommsen's History of Rome', Historical Essays, second series, third edition (1889), p. 317
  • I am parochially minded; but my parish is a big one, taking in all civilized Europe and America.
    • Letter to J. A. Doyle (19 August 1889), quoted in W. R. W. Stephens, The Life and Letters of Edward A. Freeman, Volume II (1895), 406
  • I am fuming at all this jew humbug. It is simply got up to call off our thoughts from Armenia and Crete. If I were to say that every nation has a right to wallop its own jews I might be misunderstood, for I don't want to wallop anybody, even jews. The best thing is to kick them out altogether, like King Edward Longshanks of famous memory. But I do say that if any nation chooses to wallop its own jews 'tis no business of any other nation. Whereas if the Turk wallops Cretans and Armenians it is our business, because we have promised to make them do otherwise. And, besides, if you simply want to abuse Russia there is Bulgaria bullied and Finland threatened. What can jews matter beside either of these?
    • Letter on the expulsion of Jews from Russia (c. 1891), quoted in W. R. W. Stephens, The Life and Letters of Edward A. Freeman, Volume II (1895), p. 428

Quotes about FreemanEdit

  • Freeman is really a first-rate man, and knows about Federal Republics as well as about the Roman conquest.
    • Lord Acton, letter (21 May 1869), quoted in Lord Acton and His Circle, ed. Abbot Gasquet (1906), p. 354
  • What was really uncommon in Freeman was the...entire absence of any pretence of caring for things which he did not really care for. He was in this, as in all other matters, a singularly simple and truthful man, never seeking to appear other than as he was, and finding it hard to understand why other people should not be equally simple and direct. This directness made him express himself with an absence of reserve which sometimes gave offence; and the restriction of his interest to a few topics—wide ones, to be sure—seemed to increase the intensity of his devotion to those few.
    • James Bryce, ‘Edward Augustus Freeman’, The English Historical Review, Vol. 7, No. 27 (Jul., 1892), pp. 500–501
  • See, ladling butter from alternate tubs
    Stubbs butters Freeman, Freeman butters Stubbs.
  • Freeman maintained that his practical acquaintance with various forms of local government, gave him an advantage over the mere student in understanding the practical politics of past times. It was one way in which he realized the truth of his favourite dictum that history was past politics, and that politics were present history.
    • W. R. W. Stephens, The Life and Letters of Edward A. Freeman, Volume I (1895), p. 309
  • He was essentially Teutonic in his whole personality, physical, as well as moral and mental; in his square sturdy frame, his ruddy hair, his fair complexion, his plain and simple habits of life, no less than in his love of truth, and straightforwardness in deed and word. For the pure Celt he entertained a kind of natural antipathy, mingled with something like contempt, which often manifested itself in odd and amusing ways, suggestive of Dr. Johnson's attitude towards the Scotch.
    • W. R. W. Stephens, The Life and Letters of Edward A. Freeman, Volume II (1895), p. 464

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