The dead were and are not. Their place knows them no more and is ours today...The poetry of history lies in the quasi-miraculous fact that once, on this earth, once, on this familiar spot of ground, walked other men and women, as actual as we are today, thinking their own thoughts, swayed by their own passions, but now all gone, one generation vanishing into another, gone as utterly as we ourselves shall shortly be gone, like ghosts at cockcrow.
"Autobiography of an Historian", An Autobiography and Other Essays (1949).
One outcome of the Norman Conquest was the making of the English language. ...the speech of Alfred and Bede, was exiled from hall and bower, from court and cloister, and was despised as a peasant's jargon... It ceased almost, though not quite, to be a written language. … Now when a language is seldom written and is not an object of interest to scholars, it quickly adapts itself in the mouths of plain people to the needs and uses of life. ...it can be altered much more easily when there are no grammarians to protest. During the three centuries when our native language was a peasant's dialect, it lost its clumsy inflexions and elaborate genders, and acquired the grace, suppleness, and adaptability which are among its chief merits.
Their demands were limited and practical, and for that reasonthey successfully initiated a movement that led in the end to yet undreamt-of liberties for all.
The Charter was regarded as important because it assigned definite and practical remedies to temporary evils. There was very little that was abstract in its terms, less even than later generations supposed.... A King had been brought to order, not by a posse of reactionary feudalists, but the community of the land under baronial leadership; a tyrant had been subjected to the laws which hitherto it had been his private privilege to administer and to modify at will. A process had begun which was to end in putting the power of the Crown into the hands of the community at large.
on the Magna Carta's legacy
She regarded it as a first charge of her slender war-budget to see that French and Dutch independence were maintained against Philip. This was secured, partly by English help and by the holding of the seas, and partly by domestic alliance of the Calvinists with Catholic 'politiques' averse to Spanish domination; it followed that an element of liberality and toleration very rare in the Europe of that day made itself felt in France and in Holland in a manner agreeable to Elizabeth's eclectic spirit.
In the Stuart era, the English developed for themselves, without foreign participation or example, a system of Parliamentary government, local administration and freedom of speech and person, clean contrary to the prevailing tendencies on the continent, which was moving fast toward regal absolution, centralized bureaucracy, and the subjection of the individual to the State.