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every fifty years since the time of Elizabeth. those which Boileau may have formed about There is not the least reason to believe that the Shakspeare. Dionysius lived in the most principles of government, legislation, and po- splendid age of Latin poetry and eloquence. sitical economy, were better understood in the He was a critic, and, after the manner of his time of Augustus Cæsar than in the time of age, an able critic. He studied the language Pericles. In our own country, the sound doc- of Rome, associated with its learned men, and trines of trade and jurisprudence have been, compiled its history. Yet he seems to have within the lifetime of a single generation, dimly thought its literature valuable only for the pur. hinted, boldly propounded, defended, systema- pose of illustrating its antiquities. His read. lized, adopted by all reflecting men of all ing appears to have been confined to its public parties, quoted in legislative assemblies, incor- records, and to a few old annalists. Once, and porated into laws and treaties.
but once, if we remember rightly, he quotes To what is this change to be attributed ? Ennius, to solve a question of etymology. He Partly, no doubt, to the discovery of printing, has written much on the art of oratory; yet he
-a discovery which has not only diffused has not mentioned the name of Cicero. knowledge widely, but, as we have already ob- The Romans submitted to the pretensions of served, has also introduced into reasoning a a race which they despised. Their epic poet, precision unknown in those ancient communi- while he claimed for them pre-eminence in the ties, in which information was, for the most arts of government and war, acknowledged part, ccnveyed orally. There was, we suspect, their inferiority in taste, eloquence, and science. another cause less obvious, but still more pow. Men of letters affected to understand the Greek erful.
language better than their own. Pomponius The spirit of the two most famous nations preferred the honour of becoming an Athenian, of antiquity was remarkably exclusive. In the by intellectual naturalization, to all the distinctime of Homer, the Greeks had not begun to tions which were to be acquired in the politiconsider themselves as a distinct race. They cal contests of Rome. His great friend comstill looked with something of childish wonder posed Greek_poems and memoirs. It is well and awe on the riches and wisdom of Sidon known that Petrarch considered that beautiful and Egypt. From what causes, and by what language in which his sonnets are written, as gradations, their feelings underwent a change, a barbarous jargon, and intrusted his fame to it is not easy to determine. Their history, from those wretched Latin hexameters, which, lurthe Trojan to the Persian war, is covered with ing the last four centuries, have scarcely found an obscurity broken only by dim and scattered four readers. Many eminent Romans appear gleams of truth. But it is certain that a great to have felt the same contempt for their native alteration took place. They regarded them- tongue as compared with the Greek. The preselves as a separate people. They had com- judice continued to a very late period. Julian mon religious rites, and common principles of was as partial to the Greek language as Fre. public law, in which foreigners had no part. derick the Great to the French; and it seems in all their political systems, monarchical, aris. that he could not express himself with eletocratical, and democratical, there was a strong gance in the dialect of the state which he ruled. family likeness. After the retreat of Xerxes Even those Latin writers, who did not carry and the fall of Mardonius, national pride ren- this affectation so far, looked on Greece as the dered the separation between the Greeks and only fount of knowledge. From Greece they the Barbarians complete. The conquerors con- derive the measures of their poetry, and indeed, sidered themselves men of a superior breed, all of poetry that can be imported. From men who, in their intercourse with neighbour-Greece they borrowed the principles and the ing nations, were to teach, and not to learn. vocabulary of their philosophy. To the litera. They looked for nothing out of themselves. ture of other nations they do not seem to have They borrowed nothing. They translated no- paid the slightest attention. The sacred books thing. We cannot call to mind a single ex- of the Hebrews, for example, books which, conpression of any Greek writer earlier than the sidered merely as human compositions, are inage of Augustus, indicating an opinion that valuable to the critic, the antiquary, and the any thing worth reading could be written in philosopher, seem to have been utterly unnoany language except his own. The feelings liced by them. The peculiarities of Judaism, which sprung from national glory were not and the rapid growth of Christianity, attracted altogether extinguished by national degrada- their notice. They made war against the Jews. tion. They were fondly cherished through They made laws against the Christians. But ages of slavery and shame. The literature of they never opened the books of Moses. JuveRome herself was regarded with contempt by nal quotes the Pentateuch with censure. The those who had filed before her arms, and who author of the treatise on the “Sublime" quotes bowed beneath her fasces. Voltaire says, in it with praise: but both of them quote it erroone of his six thousand pamphlets, that he was neously. When we consider what sublime the first person who told the French that Eng- poetry, what curious history, what striking and land had produced eminent men besides the peculiar views of the divine nature, and of the Duke of Marlborough. Down to a very late social duties of men, are to be found in the period, the Greeks seem to have stood in need Jewish Scriptures; when we consider the two of simila: information with respect to their sects on which the attention of the government masters. With Paulus Æmilius, Sylla, and was constantly fixed, appealed to those Scrip. Cæsar, they were well acquainted. But the tures as the rule of their faith and practica, notions which they entertained respecting Ci- this indifference is astonishing, The faci cero and Virgil were, probably, not unlikel seems to be, that the Greeks admired only then
selves, and that the Romans admired only them- a stormy democracy in the quiet and listless selves and the Greeks. Literary men turned population of an overgrown empire. The fear away with disgust from modes of thought and of heresy did what the sense of oppression expression so widely different from all that could not do; it changed men, accustomed t* they had been accustomed to admire. The ef- be turned over like sheep from tyranı to tyrant, fect was narrowness and sameness of thought
. into devoted partisans and obstinate rebels. Their minds, if we may so express ourselves, The tones of an eloquence which had been bred in and in, and were accordingly cursed silent for ages resounded from the pulpit of with barrerness, and degeneracy. No extra- Gregory. A spirit which had been extinguished neous beauty or vigour was engrafted on the on the plains of Philippi revived in Athanasius decaying stock. By an exclusive attention to and Ambrose. one class of phenomena, by an exclusive taste Yet even this remedy was not sufficiently for one species of excellence, the human intel. violent for the disease. It did not prevent the lect was stunted. Occasional coincidences empire of Constantinople from relapsing, after were turned into general rules. Prejudices a short paroxysin of excitement, into a state of were confounded with instincts. On man, as stupefaction to which history furnishes scarce. he was found in a particular state of society, ly any parallel. We there find that a polished on government, as it had existed in a particu- society, a society in which a most intricate lar corner of the world, many just observations and elaborate system of jurisprudence was eswere made ; but of man as man, or government tablished, in which the arts of luxury were as government, little was known. Philosophy well understood, in which the works of the great remained stationary. Slight changes, some- ancient writers were preserved and studied, times for the worse and sometimes for the bet- existed for nearly a thousand years without ter, were made in the superstructure. But no- making one great discovery in science, or probody thought of examining the foundations. ducing one book which is read by any but
The vast despotism of the Cæsars, gradually curious inquirers. There were tumults, too, effacing all national peculiarities, and assimu- and controversies, and wars in abundance, lating the remotest provinces of the Empire to and these things, bad as they are in th.m each other, augmented the evil. At the close selves, have generally been favourable to ihe of the third century after Christ, the prospects progress of the intellect. But here they tor of mankind were fearfully dreary. A system mented without stimulating. The waters were of etiquette, as pompously frivolous as that of troubled, but no healing influence descended. the Escurial, had been established. A sove. The agitations resembled the grinnings and reign almost invisible; a crowd of dignitaries writhings of a galvanized corpse, not the minutely distinguished by badges and titles ; struggles of an athletic man. rhetoricians who said nothing but what had From this miserable state the Western Em been said ten thousand times; schools in which pire was saved by the fiercest and most de. nothing was taught but what had been known stroying visitation with which God has ever for ages-such was the machinery provided chastened his creatures-the invasion of the for ihe government and instruction of the most northern nations. Such a cure was required enlightened part of the human race. That great for such a distemper. The Fire of London, it community was then in danger of experienc. has been observed, was a blessing. It burned ing a calamity far more terrible than any of down the city, but it burned out the plague. the quick, inflammatory, destroying maladies, to The same may be said of the tremendous de which nations are liable--a tottering, drivelling, vastation of the Roman dominions. It anniparalytic longevity, the immortality of the Struld- hilated the noisome recesses in which lurked brug", a Chinese civilization. It would be the seeds of great moral maladies; it cleared easy to indicate many points of resemblance an atmosphere fatal to the health and vigour between the subjects of Diocletian and the of the human mind. It cost Europe a thoupeople of that Celestial Empire, where, during sand years of barbarism to escape the fate of many centuries, nothing has been learned or China. unlearned; where government, where educa- At length the terrible purification was ac. tion, where the whole system of life is a cere complished; and the second civilization of mony; where knowledge forgets to increase mankind commenced, under circumstances and multiply, and, like the talent buried in the which afforded a strong security that it would earth, or the pound wrapped up in the napkin, never retrograde and never pause. Europe experiences neither waste nor augmentation. was now a great federal community. Her
The torpor was broken by two great revolu- numerous states were united by the easy ties tions, the one moral, the other political; the of international law and a common religion. one from within, the other from without. The Their institutions, their languages, their manvictory of Christianity over Paganism, consi- ners, their tastes in literature, their modes of dered with relation to this subject only, was education, were widely different. Their conof great importance. It overthrew the old nection was close enough to allow of mutual system of morals, and with it much of the old observation and improvement, yet not so close system of metaphysics. It furnished the ora- as to destroy the idioms of natural opinion and tor with new topics of declamation, and the lo- feeling. gician with new points of controversy. Above The balance of moral and intellectual influall, it introduced a new principle, of which the ence, thus established between the nations of operation was constantly felt in every part of Europe, is far more important than the balance society. It stirred the stagnant mass from the of political power. Indeed, we are inclined to ninosi depths. It excited all the passions of think that the latter is valuable principally be.
cause it tends to maintain the former. The saint of Laud, or a tyrant of Henry the civilized world has thus been preserved from Fourth. a uniformity of character fatal to all improve- This species of misrepresentation abounds ment. Every part of it has been illuminated in the most valuable works of modern histowith light reflected from every other. Compe- rians. Herodotus tells his story like a slovenly tition has produeed activity where monopoly witness, who, heated by partialities and prejuwould have produced sluggishness. The num- dices, unacquainted with the established rules ber of experiments in moral science which the of evidence, and uninstructed as to the obliga. speculator has an opportunity of witnessing tions of his oath, confounds what he imagines has been increased beyond all calculation. with what he has seen and heard, and brings Society and human nature, instead of being out facts, reports, conjectures, and fancies, in seen in a single point of view, are presented one mass. Hume is an accomplished advoto him under ten thousand different aspects.cate. Without positively asserting much more By observing the manners of surrounding na- than he can prove, he gives prominence to all tions, by studying their literature, by compar- the circumstances which support his case; he ing it with that of his own country and of the glides lightly over those which are unfavourancient republics, he is enabled to correct able to it; his own witnesses are applauded those errors into which the most acute men must and encouraged; the statements which seem fall when they reason from a single species to to throw discredit on them are controverted; a genus. He learns to distinguish what is the contradictions into which they fall are ex. local from what is universal; what is transi- plained away; a clear and connected abstract tory from what is eternal; lo discriminate be- of their evidence is given. Every thing that tween exceptions and rules; to trace the ope- is offered on the other side is scrutinized with ration of disturbing causes; to separate those the utmost severity; every suspicious circumgeneral principles which are always true and stance is a ground for comment and invective; everywhere applicable, from the accidental what cannot be denied is extenuated or passed circumstances with which in every community by without notice; concessions even are somethey are blended, and with which, in an iso- times made; but this insidious candour only in. lated community, they are confounded by the creases the effect of the vast mass of sophistry. most philosophical mind.
We have mentioned Hume as the ablest and Hence it is that, in generalization, the writ- most popular writer of his class; but the charge ers of modern times have far surpassed those which we have brought against him is one to of antiquity. The historians of our own coun- which all our most distinguished historians are try are unequalled in depth and precision of in some degree obnoxious. Gibbon, in particu. reason; and even in the works of our mere lar, deserves very severe censure. Of all the nu. compilers we often meet with speculations be- merous culprits, however, none is more deeply yond the reach of Thucydides or Tacitus. guilty than Mr. Mitford. We willingly acknow
But it must at the same time be admitted ledge the obligations which are due to his ta. that they have characteristic faults, so closely lents and industry. The modern historians of connected with their characteristic merits and Greece had been in the habit of writing as is of such magnitude that it may well be doubled the world had learned nothing new during the. whether, on the whole, this department of lite. last sixteen hundred years. Instead of illusrature has gained or lost during the last two-trating the events which they narrated by the and-twenty centuries.
philosophy of a more enlightened age, they The best nistorians of later times have been judged of antiquity by itself alone. They seduced froin truth, not by their imagination, seemed to think that notions, long driven from but by their reason. They far excel their pre-every other corner of literature, had a predecessors in the art of deducing general prin- scriptive right to occupy this last fastness. ciples from facts. But unhappily tney have They considered all the ancient historians as fallen into the error of distorting facts to suit equally authentic. They scarcely made any general principles. They arrive at a theory distinction between him who related events at from looking at some of the phenomena, and which he had himself been present, and him the remaining phenomena they strain or cur- who five hundred years after composed a phi tail to suit the theory. For this purpose it is losophical romance, for a society which hac not necessary that they should assert what is in the interval undergone a complete change absolutely false, for all questions in morals It was all Greek, and all true! The centuries and politics are questions of comparison and which separated Plutarch from Thucydides degree. Any proposition which does not in- seemed as nothing to men who lived ir an age voire a contradiction in terms may, by possi- so remote. The distance of time produced an bility, be true; and if all the circumstances error similar to that which is sometimes prowhich raise a probability in its favour be stated duced by distance of place. There are many and enforced, and those which lead to an op- good ladies who think that all the people in posite conclusion be omitted or lightly passed India live together, and who charge a friend cver, it may appear to be demonstrated. In setting out for Calcutta with kind messages to every human character and transaction there Bombay. To Rollin and Barthelemi, in the is a mixture of good and evil;—a little exagge- same manner, all the classics were contemration, a little suppression, a judicious use of poraries. epithets, a watchful and searching skepticism Mr. Mitforil eer tainly introduced great im. with respect to the evidence on one side, a con- provements; he showed us that men who venient credulity with respect to every report wrote in Greek and Latin sometimes tol'l lies: or tradition on the other, may easily make a he showed us that ancient history might be
relate 1 in such a manner as to furnish not uncut; the magazines and newspapers fill theis only allusions to schoolboys, but important columns with extracts. In the mean time his lessons to statesmen. From that love of the-tories of great empirex, written by men of atrical effect and high flown sentiment which eminent ability, lie unread on the shelves of had poisoned almost every other work on the ostentatious libraries. same subject, his book is perfectly free. But The writers of history seem to entertain an his passion for a theory as false, and far more aristocratical contempt for the writers of me. ungenerous, led him substantially to violate moirs. They think it beneath the dignity of truth in every page. Statements unfavour- men who describe the revolutions of nations, able to democracy are made with unhesitating to dwell on the details which constitute the confidence, and with the utmost bitterness of charm of biography. They have imposed on language. Every charge brought against a themselves a code of conventional decencies monarch, or an aristocracy, is sifted with the as absurd as that which has been the bane of utmost care. If it cannot be denied, some the French drama. The most characteristi: palliating supposition is suggested, or we are and interesting circumstances are omitted or at least reminded that some circumstances softened down, because, as we are told, they now unknown may have justified what at pre- are too trivial for the majesty of history. The sent appears unjustifiable. Two events are majesty of history seems to resemble the mareported by the same author in the same sen- jesty of the poor King of Spain, who died a tence; their truth rests on the same testimony; martyr to ceremony, because the proper digni. but the one supports the darling hypothesis, taries were not at hand to render him assistand the other seems inconsistent with it. The ance. (le is taken and the other is left.
That history would be more amusing if this The practice of distorting narrative into a etiquette were relaxed, will, we suppose, be conformity with theory, is a vice not so unfa- acknowledged. But would it be less dignified, vourable, as at first sight it may appear, to or less useful ? What do we mean, when we the interest of political science. We have say that one past event is important, and ancompared the writers who indulge in it to other insignificant? No past event has any advocates; and we may add, that their con- intrinsic importance. The knowledge of it is flicting fallacies, like those of advocates, cor- valuable only as it leads us to form just cale rect cach other. It has always been held, in culations with respect to the future. A history the most enlightened nations, that a tribunal which does not serve this purpose, though it will decide a judicial question most fairly, may be filled with battles, treaties, and com. when it has heard two able men argue, as un-motions, as useless as the series of turnfairly as possible, on the two opposite sides of pike-tickets collected by Sir Mathew Mite. it; and we are inclined to think that this opi- Let us suppose that Lord Clarendon, instead nion is just. Sometimes, it is true, superior of filling hundreds of folio pages with copies eloquence and dexterity will make the worse of state papers, in which the same assertions appear the better reason; but it is at least and contradictions are repeated, till the reader certain that the judge will be compelled to is overpowered with weariness, had condecontemplate the case under two different scended to be the Boswell of the Long Parliaaspects. It is certain that no important con- ment. Let us suppose that he had exhibited sideration will altogether escape notice. to us the wise and lofty self-government of
This is at present the state of history. The Hampden, leading while he seemed to follow, poet laureate appears for the Church of Eng- and propounding unanswerable arguments in land, Lingard for the Church of Rome. Brodie the strongest forms, with the modest air of an has moved to set aside the verdicts obtained inquirer anxious for information; the deluby Hume; and the cause in which Mitford sions which misled the noble spirit of Vane; succeeded is, we understand, about to be re- the coarse fanaticism which concealed the yet heard. In the midst of these disputes, how loftier genius of Cromwell, destined to control ever, history proper, if we may use the term, a mutinous army and a factious people, to abase is disappearing. The high, grave, impartial the flag of Holland, to arrest the victorious summing up of Thucydides is nowhere to be arms of Sweden, and to hold the balance firm found.
between the rival monarchies of France and While our historians are practising all the Spain. Let us suppose that he had made his arts of controversy, they miserably neglect the Cavaliers and Roundheads talk in their own art of narration, the art of interesting the affec- style; that he had reported some of the ribaltions, and presenting pictures to the imagina-dry of Rupert's pages, and some of the cant tion. That a writer may produce these effects of Harrison and Fleetwood. Would not his without violating truth is sufficiently proved work in that case have been more interesting? by many excellent biographical works. The Would it not have been more accurate ? immense popularity which well-written books A history in which every particular incident of this kind have acquired, deserves the serious may be true, may on the whole be false. The consideration of historians. Voltaire's Charles circumstances which have most influence on the Twelfth, Marmontel's Memoirs, Boswell's the happiness of mankind, the changes of Life of Johnson, Southey's account of Nelson, manners and morals, the transition of com. are perused with delight by the most irivolous munities from poverty to wealth, from know. and indolent. Whenever any tolerable book ledge to ignorance, from ferocity to humanity of the saine description makes its appearance, -these are, for the most part, noiseless revo de circulating libraries are mobbed; the book lutions. Their progress is rarely indicated by societies are in commotion the new novel lies what historians are pleased to call importan
arents. They are not achieved by armies, or its dimensions, and has then departed, think. enacted by senates. They are sanctioned by ing that he has seen England. He has, in fact, no treaties, and recorded in no archives. They seen a few public buildings, public men, and are carried on in every school, in every church, public ceremonies. But of the vast and combehind ten thousand counters, at ten thousand plex system of society, of the fine shades of firesides. The upper current of society pre- national character, of the practical operation sents no certain criterion by which we can of government and laws, he knows nothing. judge of the direction in which the under cur- He who would understand these things rightly rent flows. We read of defeats and victories. must not confine his observations to palaces But we know that nations may be miserable and solemn days. He must see ordinary men amidst victories, and prosperous amidst de- as they appear in their ordinary business and leats. We read of the fall of wise ministers, in their ordinary pleasures. He must mingle and of the rise of profligate favourites. But in the crowds of the exchange and the coffee. we must remember how small a proportion house. He must obtain admittance to the the good or evil effected by a single statesman convivial table and the domestic hearth. He can bear to the good or evil of a great social must bear with vulgar expressions. He must system.
not shrink from exploring even the 'etreats of Bishop Watson compares a geologist to a misery. He who wishes to unde stand the gnat mounted on an elephant, and laying down condition of mankind in former ages, must theories as to the whole internal structure of proceed on the same principle. If he attends the vast animal, from the phenomena of the only to public transactions, to wars, conhide. The comparison is unjust to the geolo-gresses, and debates, his studies will be as un. gists; but it is very applicable to those his profitable as the travels of those imperial, torians who write as if the body politic were royal, and serene sovereigns, who form their homogeneous, who look only on the surface judgment of our island from having gone in of affairs, and never think of the mighty and state to a few fine sights, and from having held various organization which lies deep below. formal conferences with a few great officers.
In the works of such writers as these, Eng. The perfect historian is he in whose work land, at the close of the Seven Years' War, is the character and spirit of an age is exhibited in the highest state of prosperity. At the in miniature. He relates no fact, he attributes close of the American War, she is in a mise- no expression to his characters, which is not rable and degraded condition; as if the people authenticated by sufficient testimony. But by were not on the whole as rich, as well go-judicious selection, rejection, and arrangeverned, and as well educated, at the latter ment, he gives to truth those attractions which period as at the former. We have read have been usurped by fiction. In his narrabooks called Histories of England, under the tive, a due subordination is observed; some reign of George the Second, in which the rise transactions are prominent, others retire. But of Methodism is not even mentioned. A hun the scale on which he represents them is in. dred years hence this breed of authors will, we creased or diminished, not according to the hope, be extinct. If it should still exist, the dignity of the persons concerned in them, but late ministerial interregnum will be described according to the degree in which they eluci. in terms which will seem to imply that all go-date the condition of society and the naturc of vernment was at an end ; that the social con man. He shows us the court, the camp, and tract was annulled, and that the hand of every the senate. But he shows us also the nation man was against his neighbour, until the wis. He considers no anecdote, no peculiarity of dom and virtue of the new cabinet educed manner, no familiar saying, as too insignifi. order out of the chaos of anarchy. We are cant for las notice, which is not too insigni. quite certain that misconceptions as gross ficant to illustrate the operation of laws, of prevail at this moment, respecting many im- religion, and of education, and to mark the portant parts of our annals.
progress of the human mind. Men will not The effect of historical reading is analogous, merely be described, but will be made inti. in many respects, to that produced by foreign mately known to us. The changes of man. travel. The student, like the tourist, is trans-ners will be indicated, not merely by a few ported into a new state of society. He sees general phrases, or a few extracts from sta. new fashions. He hears new modes of ex- tistical documents, but by appropriate images pression. His mind is enlarged by contem- presented in every linc. plating the wide diversities of laws, of morals, If a man, such as we are supposing, should and of manners. But men may travel far, write the history of England, he would asand return with minds as contracted as if they suredly not omit the battles, the sieges, the had never stirred from their own market-town. negotiations, the seditions, the ministerial In the same manner, men may know the dates changes. But with these he wcuid intersperse of many battles, and the genealogies of many the details which are the charm of historical royal houses, and yet be no wiser. Most peo- romances. At Lincolr Cathedral there is a ple look at past times, as princes look at beautiful painted window, which was made by foreign countries. More than one illustrious an apprentice out of the pieces of glass which stranger has landed on our island amidst the had been rejected by his master. It is so far shouts of a mob, has dined with the King, has superior to every other in the church, that, hanted with the master of the stag.hounds, has according to the 'radition, the vanquished seen the Guards reviewed, and a knight of the artist killed himselt from mortification. Sir garter installed; has cantered along Regent Walter Scott, in the same manner, has used street: has visited St. Paul's, and noted down I those fragments of truth which historians have