William Edward Hartpole Lecky

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William Edward Hartpole Lecky, Photography 1868 by Julia Margaret Cameron, National Portrait Gallery London

William Edward Hartpole Lecky OM (26 March 1838 – 22 October 1903) was an Irish historian and political theorist. His major work was a multi-volume History of England during the Eighteenth Century.

Early life[edit]

Born at Newtown Park, near Dublin, he was the eldest son of John Hartpole Lecky, a landowner. He was educated at Kingstown, Armagh, at Cheltenham College, and at Trinity College, Dublin, where he graduated BA in 1859 and MA in 1863, and where he studied divinity with a view to becoming a priest in the Church of Ireland.


In 1860, Lecky published anonymously a small book entitled The Religious Tendencies of the Age, but on leaving college he turned to historiography. In 1861 he published Leaders of Public Opinion in Ireland, containing brief sketches of Jonathan Swift, Henry Flood, Henry Grattan and Daniel O'Connell, originally anonymous, republished in 1871; the essay on Swift, rewritten and amplified, appeared again in 1897 as an introduction to an edition of Swift's works. Two surveys followed: A History of the Rise and Influence of Rationalism in Europe (2 vols., 1865), and A History of European Morals from Augustus to Charlemagne (2 vols., 1869). The latter aroused criticism, with its opening dissertation on "the natural history of morals."

Caricature by Spy published in Vanity Fair in 1882.

Lecky then concentrated on his major work, A History of England during the Eighteenth Century, Vols. i. and ii. of which appeared in 1878, and Vols. vii. and viii., which completed the work, in 1890. In the "cabinet" edition of 1892, in 12 volumes (later reprinted), A History of Ireland in the Eighteenth Century is separated out.

A volume of Poems (1891) was less successful. In 1896, he published two volumes entitled Democracy and Liberty, in which he considered modern democracy. The pessimistic conclusions at which he arrived provoked criticism both in the UK and USA, which was renewed when he published in a new edition (1899) his low estimate of William Ewart Gladstone, then recently dead.

In The Map of Life (1899) Lecky discussed in a popular style ethical problems of everyday life. In 1903 he published a revised and enlarged edition of Leaders of Public Opinion in Ireland, in two volumes, with the essay on Swift omitted and that on O'Connell was expanded into a complete biography. A critic of the methods by which the Act of Union was passed, Lecky, who grew up as a moderate Liberal, was opposed to Gladstone's policy of Home Rule and, in 1895, he was returned to parliament as Unionist member for Dublin University in a by-election. In 1897, he was made a privy councillor, and among the coronation honours in 1902, he was nominated an original member of the new Order of Merit.


His university honours included the degree of LL.D. from Dublin, St Andrews and Glasgow, the degree of D.C.L. from Oxford and the degree of Litt.D. from Cambridge.[1] In 1894 he was elected corresponding member of the Institute of France. He contributed occasionally to periodical literature, and two of his addresses, The Political Value of History (1892) and The Empire, its Value and its Growth (1893), were published.

Family and posthumous recognition[edit]

He married in 1871 Elizabeth, baroness de Dedem, daughter of baron de Dedem, a general in the Dutch service, but had no children. She contributed articles, chiefly on historical and political subjects, to various reviews.

In 1904, money for a memorial was raised by subscription and a statue by John Goscombe was erected in Trinity College, Dublin.

A volume of Lecky's Historical and Political Essays was published posthumously (London, 1908).

The Lecky Chair of History at Trinity College, Dublin, was endowed by his widow in 1913.

In 1978, part of the college's humanities library complex was named in his honour.[2]


  • Advertisement in New York Times seeking subscriptions to Lecky's Memorial Fund (9 July 1904): facsimile


  1. ^ "Lecky, William Edward Hartpole (LKY891WE)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  2. ^ Fox, Peter (2014). Trinity College Library Dublin: A History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 329. ISBN 9781107011205. 


External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
D. R. Plunket and
Edward Carson
Member of Parliament for Dublin University
With: Edward Carson
Succeeded by
J. H. M. Campbell and
Edward Carson