Eminent Victorians and History
“Je n’impose rien; je ne propose rien: j’expose,” says Strachey in the preface to Eminent Victorians. Like almost everything else in the book, this is pure fabrication. Strachey got some of his facts right (principally in the account of General Gordon), but most of the rest of the time he distorts or simply changes what he knows to be the truth. Certainly he understands Cardinal Manning’s cruelty, cunning rigidity, megalomania, and hardheartedness. Equally well does he understand Florence Nightingale’s passion for medical reform, her hatred of bureaucracy and bungling, her genius for organization. In both of these studies he perceives the ways in which simple human affection and warmth have been obliterated by the cold ambition of aspiring natures. But he wants us to laugh at Victorian earnestness and devotion to duty, and in order to get us to do this he revises and flattens many of the facts of the lives of both. The account of Dr. Arnold is fabrication from first to last. The story of Gordon is brilliantly incisive—though even here Strachey was unable to resist some distortion of history.