When at last, by a miracle of resolution and endurance, the 1* "Short History" was finished, discouraging reports reached him from critics whose judgement he respected; and his despondency increased "Never mind, you mayn't succeed this time," said one of his best friends, "but you are sure to succeed some day." He never forgot that in this time of depression there were two friends, Mr. Stopford Brooke and his publisher, who were unwavering in their belief in his work and in hopefulness of the result.
The book was published in 1874, when he was little more than 36 years of age. Before a month was over, in the generous welcome given it by scholars and by the English people, he found the reward of his long endurance. Mr. Green in fact was the first English historian who had either conceived or written of English history from the side of the principles which his book asserted; and in so doing he had given to his fellow-citizens such a story of their Commonwealth as has in fact no parallel in any other country. The opposition and criticism which he met with were in part a measure of the originality of his conception. Success, however, and criticism alike came to him as they come to the true scholar. "I know," he said in this first moment of unexpected recognition, "what men will say of me, 'He died learning.' "
I know of no excuse which I could give for attempting any revision of the "Short History," save that this was my husband's last charge to me. Nor can I give any other safeguard for the way in which I have performed the work than the sincere and laborious effort I have made to carry out that charge faithfully. I have been very careful not to interfere in any way with the plan or structure of the book, and save in a few exceptional cases, in which I knew Mr. Green's wishes, or where a change of chronology made some slight change in arrangement necessary, I have not altered its order. My work has been rather that of correcting mistakes of detail which must of a certainty occur in a story which covers so vast a field; and in this I have been mainly guided throughout by the work of revision done by Mr. Green himself in his larger "History." In this History he had at first proposed merely to prepare a library edition of the "Short History" revised and corrected. In his hands, however, it became a wholly different book, the chief part of it having been re-written at much greater length, and on an altered plan. I have therefore only used its corrections within very definite limits, so far as they could be adapted to a book of different scope and arrangement.
Though since his death much has been written on English History, his main conclusions may be regarded as established, and I do not think they would been modified, save in a few cases of detail, even by such books as the last two volumes of the Bishop of Chester's "Constitutional History," and his "Lectures on Modern History "; Mr. Gardiner's later volumes on Charles's reign, and Mr. Skene's later volumes on "Early Scottish History." In his own judgement, severely as he judged himself, the errors in the "Short History" were not the mistakes that show a real mis-reading of this or that period, or betray an unhistoric mode of looking at things as a whole; nor has their correction in fact involved any serious change. In some passages, even where I knew that Mr. Green's own criticism went far beyond that of any of his critics, I have not felt justified in making any attempt to expand or re-write what could only have been re-written by himself. In other matters which have been the subject of comments of some severity, the grounds of his own decision remained unshaken; as for example, the scanty part played by Literature after 1660, which Mr. Green regretted he had not explained in his first preface. It was necessary that the book should be brought to an end in about eight hundred pages.
Something must needs be left out, and he deliberately chose Literature, because it seemed to him that after 1660 Literature ceased to stand in the fore-front of national characteristics, and that Science, Industry, and the like, played a much greater part. So "for truth's sake" he set aside a strong personal wish to say much that was in his mind on the great writers of later times, and turned away to cotton-spinning and Pitt's finance. "It cost me much trouble," he said, "and I knew the book would not be so bright, but I think I did rightly".
It was in this temper that all his work was done; and I would only add a few words which I value more especially, because they tell how the sincerity, the patient self-denial, the earnestness of purpose, that underlay all his vivid activity were recognized by one who was ever to him a master in English History, the Bishop of Chester. "Mr. Green," he wrote, "possessed in no scanty measure all the gifts that contribute to the making of a great historian. He combined, so far as the history of England is concerned, a complete and firm grasp of the subject in its unity and integrity with a wonderful command of details, and a thorough sense of perspective and proportion. All his work was real and original work; few people besides those who knew him well would see under the charming ease and vivacity of his style the deep research and sustained industry of the laborious student. But it was so; there was no department of our national records that he had not studied and, I think I may say, mastered. Hence I think the unity of his dramatic scenes and the cogency of his historical arguments. Like other people he made mistakes sometimes; but scarcely ever does the correction of his mistakes affect either the essence of the picture or the force of the argument.
And in him the desire of stating and pointing the truth of history was as strong as the wish to make both his pictures and his arguments telling and forcible. He never treated an opposing view with intolerance or contumely; his handling of controversial matter was exemplary. And then, to add still more to the debt we owe him, there is the wonderful simplicity and beauty of the way in which he tells his tale, which more than anything else has served to make English history a popular, and as it ought to be, if not the first, at least the second study of all Englishmen".
I have to thank those friends of Mr. Green, the Bishop of Chester, Canon Creighton, Professor Bryce, and Mr. Lecky, who, out of their regard for his memory, have made it a pleasure to me to ask their aid and counsel. I owe a special gratitude to Professor Gardiner for a ready help which spared no trouble and counted no cost, and for the rare generosity which placed at my disposal the results of his own latest and unpublished researches into such matters as the pressing of recruits for the New Model, and the origin of the term Ironside as a personal epithet of Cromwell. Mr. Osmund Airy has very kindly given me valuable suggestions for the Restoration period; and throughout the whole work Miss Norgate has rendered services which the most faithful and affectionate loyalty could alone have prompted.
Alice S. Green.