John Richard Green - Encyclopedia

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JOHN RICHARD GREEN (1837-1883), English historian, was born at Oxford on 12th December 1837, and educated at Magdalen College School and at Jesus College, where he obtained an open scholarship. On leaving Oxford he took orders and became the incumbent of St Philip's, Stepney. His preaching was eloquent and able; he worked diligently among his poor parishioners and won their affection by his ready sympathy. Meanwhile he studied history in a scholarly fashion, and wrote much for the Saturday Review. Partly because his health was weak and partly because he ceased to agree with the teaching of the Church of England, he abandoned clerical life and devoted himself to history; in 1868 he took the post of librarian at Lambeth, but his health was already breaking down and he was attacked by consumption. His Short History of the English People (1874) at once attained extraordinary popularity, and was afterwards expanded in a work of four volumes (1877-1880). Green is pre-eminently a picturesque historian; he had a vivid imagination and a keen eye for colour. His chief aim was to depict the progressive life of the English people rather than to write a political history of the English state. In accomplishing this aim he worked up the results of wide reading into a series of brilliant pictures. While generally accurate in his statement of facts, and showing a firm grasp of the main tendency of a period, he often builds more on his authorities than is warranted by their words, and is apt to overlook points which would have forced him to modify his representations and lower the tone of his colours. From his animated pages thousands have learned to take pleasure in the history of their own people, but could scarcely learn to appreciate the complexity inherent in all historical movement. His style is extremely bright, but it lacks sobriety and presents some affectations. His later histories, The Making of England (1882) and The Conquest of England (1883), are more soberly written than his earlier books, and are valuable contributions to historical knowledge. Green died at Mentone on the 7th of March 1883. He was a singularly attractive man, of wide intellectual sympathies and an enthusiastic temperament; his good-humour was unfailing and he was a brilliant talker; and his work was done with admirable courage in spite of ill-health. It is said that Mrs Humphry Ward's Robert Elsmere is largely a protrait of him. In 1877 Green married Miss Alice Stopford; and Mrs Green, besides writing a memoir of her husband, prefixed to the 1888 edition of his Short History, has herself done valuable work as an historian, particularly in her Henry II. in the' "English Statesmen" series (1888), her Town Life in the 15th Century (1894), and The Making of Ireland and its Undoing (1908).

See the Letters of J. R. Green (1901), edited by Leslie Stephen.

(W. Hu.)

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