The following letter was sent out to the contributors to the


It will interest many, as giving characteristic expression to Lord Acton's ideals as a


[From the Editor [Lord Acton compiler]  of the Cambridge Modern History.]

I. Our purpose is to obtain the best history of modern times that the published or unpublished sources of information admit

The production of material has so far exceeded the use of it in literature that very much more is known to students than can be found in historians, and no compilation at second hand from the best works would meet the scientific demand for completeness and certainty.

In our own time [1903], within the last few years, most of the official collections in Europe have been made public, and nearly all the evidence that will ever appear is accessible now.

As archives are meant to be explored, and are not meant to be printed, we approach the final stage in the conditions of historical learning.

The long conspiracy [as with the EU since 1957] against the


has been practically abandoned, and competing scholars all over the civilised world are taking advantage of the change.

By dividing our matter among more than


we hope [as we do in 2008] to make the enlarged opportunities of research avail for the main range of


Froude spoke of 100,000 papers consulted by him in manuscript, abroad and at home; and that is still the price to be paid for


beyond the narrow are of effective occupation.

We will endeavour to procure transcripts of any specified documents which contributors require from places out of reach. [in 2008 in


[The Daily Mail is showing more interest of late in the EU archives but it has a long way to go to uncover conspiracies over the past 50 years to deceive the electorate of the member states-before it becomes merely an academic inquiry when the facts are TOO LATE! to save the mislead populations of EUROPE.]

2.  It is intended that the narrative shall be such as will serve all readers, that it shall be without notes, and without quotations in foreign languages.

In order to authenticate the text and assist further research, it is proposed that a selected list of original and auxiliary authorities shall be supplied in each volume, for every chapter or group of chapters dealing with one subject.

Such a bibliography of modern history might be of the utmost utility to students, and would serve as a substitute for the excluded references.

We shall be glad if each contributor will send us, as early as he finds convenient, a preliminary catalogue of the works on which he will rely; and we enclose a specimen, to explain our plan, and to show how we conceive that books and documents might be classified.

3. Our scheme requires that nothing shall reveal the country, the religion, or the party to which the writers belong.

It is essential not only on the grounds that impartiality is the character of legitimate history, but because the work is carried on by men acting together for no other object than to


The disclosure of personal views would lead to such confusion that all unity of design would disappear.

4.   Some extracts from the editor's Report to the Syndics will show the principles on which the


has been undertaken.

" The entire bulk of the new matter which the last forty years have supplied amounts to many thousands of volumes.  The honest student finds himself continually deserted, retarded, misled by the classics of historical literature and has to hew his own way through multitudinous transactions, periodicals, and official publications, where it is difficult to sweep the horizon or to keep abreast.  By the judicious division of labour we should be able to do it, and to bring home to every man the last document, and the ripest conclusions of


" All this does not apply to our own time, and the last volumes will be concerned with


that cannot be learned from books, but from men....

[As we have found over the past 30 years]

" The recent past contains the key to the present time. All forms of thought that influence it come before us in their turn, and we have to describe the ruling currents, to interpret the sovereign forces, that still govern and divide the world.....

" By Universal History I understand that which is distinct from the combined history of countries, which is not a rope of sand, but a continuous development, and is not a burden on the memory, but an illumination of the soul.  It moves in a succession to which the nations are subsidiary.  their story will be told, not for their own sake, but in reference and subordination to a higher series, according to the time and the degree in which they contribute to the common fortunes of mankind....

" If we treat History as a progressive science, and lean specifically on that side of it, the question will arise, how we justify our departure from ancient ways, and how we satisfy the world that there is reason and method in our innovations....

" To treat with this difficulty we must provide a copious. accurate, and well-digested catalogue of authorities.....

" Our principle would be to supply help to students, not material to historians.  But in critical places we must indicate minutely the sources we follow, and must refer not only to the important books, but to articles in periodical works, and even to original documents, and to transcripts in libraries.  The result would amount to an ordinary volume presenting a conspectus of historical literature, and enumerating all the better books, the newly acquired sources, and the last discoveries.  It would exhibit in the clearest light the vast difference between history, original and authentic, and history, antiquated and lower than high-water mark of present learning....

" We shall avoid the needless utterance of opinion, and service of a cause.


" Contributors will understand that we are established under the meridian of Greenwich, but in Long. 30 W.; that our Waterloo must be one that satisfies French and English, Germans and Dutch alike; that nobody can tell, without examining the list of authors, where the Bishop of Oxford laid down the pen, and whether Fairburn or Gasquet, Liebermann or Harrison took it up."



March 12, 1898



Notes to the Inaugural lecture on the Study of History


Lord Acton

Note 1  

"No political conclusions of any value for practice can be arrived at by direct experience.  All true political science is, in one sense of the phrase, a priori, long deduced from the tendencies of things, tendencies known either through our general experience of human nature, or as the result of an analysis of the course of history, considered as a progressive evolution.-" MILL, Inugural Address,51

Note 2

"Contemporary history is, in Dr Arnold's opinion , more important than either ancient or modern; and in fact superior to it by all the superiority of the end to the means.- Seeley, Lectures and Essays, 306

[There are a total of 105 notes in APPENDIX II]


Acton belonged to an old Shropshire family, but his grandfather had made  his career in the service of the King of Naples, whose prime Minister he was through the stormy years of the French revolution and Napoleon; and it was at Naples that Acton himself was born in 1834.  His father had died when he was an infant, and his mother was a German, the daughter and heiress of the Duke of Dalberg....


Acton came with very different and much wider ideas than he found. He was a European man, born in Naples and to die at Tegernsee in Bavaria, with as much German and Italian or English blood, and he had been more on the Continent than in England ever since he was sixteen...


...Acton brought this preoccupation with the non-Catholic world to his associates in England who had a smaller horizon and thought too much of the different groups among co-religionists.

Acton himself was not at all indifference to what he called the political education of Catholics.  At the outset of their association he wrote his ideas to Simpson, considering himself as particularly in charge of the political side of the paper, and quite clear what he wanted to do:

I think there is a philosophy of politics to be derived from Catholicism on the one hand and from the principles of our CONSTITUTION on the other -a system as remote from the absolutism of one set of Catholics as from the doctrinaire constitutionalism of another set (Le Correspondant, etc.). I conceive it possible to appeal at once to the example and interest of the CHURCH and to the true notion of the ENGLISH CONSTITUTION.


believing that in proportion as this came to be understood the existence and vitality of the CHURCH would be valued instead of feared.  He planned articles on [Edmund ] Burke as a teacher for Catholics, the later Burke after 1792, and he proposed to explain to them  they owed emancipation neither to the Irish Catholics nor to the Whigs, and that " we need no longer humiliate ourselves or eat dirt to obtain the  support of the  Liberal or Radical party."

[Details from Essays of CHURCH and STATE by Lord Acton.]


[In our time the Liberal/LibDems who were pushing the issue of PR system of electoral reform for many years decided over the past decade to  endeavour to share power with the main parties  and abandon their justified cause.  They betrayed their principles as a radical party and by doing so they betrayed the voters .    At the next GENERAL ELECTION and the EUROPEAN ELECTION -DON'T VOTE FOR THE WESTMINSTER TRIAD GANG but for the smaller parties which deserve your vote.  If millions of once supporters of the main parties refused to vote for them then a more democratic electoral reform would follow. ]


[*This is our contention in the year 2008 when our political system has been devalued by those who should have taken to heart the sacrifice of those in the past who by accepted conventions and disinterested honourable behaviour.  Regrettably there are too few members of parliament who still follow  in the footsteps of that hard fought fight for liberty and freedom of speech and expression and the honourable traditions of the House.   It is because of the failure of our present parliamentary electoral system to respond to the millions of voters who find their voices ignored that the only system which will give back TRUE DEMOCRACY - the same electoral practices which are enjoyed by the Parliament of Scotland and even  by the Iraqi parliament of a form of  PR PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION wherein NO VOTE IS WASTED. ]

[Details from Essays of CHURCH and STATE by Lord Acton.]


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