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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 to they had been accustomed to admire. The ef- be turned over like sheep from tyrant 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 barrer ness, 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 for one species of excellence, the human intellect was stunted. Occasional coincidences were turned into general rules. Prejudices were confounded with instincts. On man, as he was found in a particular state of society, on government, as it had existed in a particular corner of the world, many just observations were made; but of man as man, or government as government, little was known. Philosophy remained stationary. Slight changes, sometimes for the worse and sometimes for the better, were made in the superstructure. But nobody thought of examining the foundations.
Yet even this remedy was not sufficiently violent for the disease. It did not prevent the empire of Constantinople from relapsing, after a short paroxysin of excitement, into a state of stupefaction to which history furnishes scarcely any parallel. We there find that a polished society, a society in which a most intricate and elaborate system of jurisprudence was established, in which the arts of luxury were well understood, in which the works of the great ancient writers were preserved and studied, existed for nearly a thousand years without making one great discovery in science, or producing one book which is read by any but curious inquirers. There were tumults, too, and controversies, and wars in abundance; and these things, bad as they are in them selves, have generally been favourable to he progress of the intellect. But here they ter mented without stimulating. The waters were troubled, but no healing influence descended. The agitations resembled the grinnings and writhings of a galvanized corpse, not the struggles of an athletic man.
The vast despotism of the Cæsars, gradually effacing all national peculiarities, and assimulating the remotest provinces of the Empire to each other, augmented the evil. At the close of the third century after Christ, the prospects of mankind were fearfully dreary. A system of etiquette, as pompously frivolous as that of the Escurial, had been established. A sovereign almost invisible; a crowd of dignitaries minutely distinguished by badges and titles; rhetoricians who said nothing but what had been said ten thousand times; schools in which nothing was taught but what had been known for ages-such was the machinery provided for the government and instruction of the most enlightened part of the human race. That great community was then in danger of experiencing a calamity far more terrible than any of the quick, inflammatory, destroying maladies, to which nations are liable-a tottering, drivelling, paralytic longevity, the immortality of the Struldbrugs, a Chinese civilization. It would be easy to indicate many points of resemblance between the subjects of Diocletian and the people of that Celestial Empire, where, during many centuries, nothing has been learned or unlearned; where government, where education, where the whole system of life is a ceremony; where knowledge forgets to increase and multiply, and, like the talent buried in the earth, or the pound wrapped up in the napkin, experiences neither waste nor augmentation. The torpor was broken by two great revolutions, the one moral, the other political; the one from within, the other from without. The victory of Christianity over Paganism, considered with relation to this subject only, was of great importance. It overthrew the old system of morals, and with it much of the old system of metaphysics. It furnished the orator with new topics of declamation, and the logician with new points of controversy. Above all, it introduced a new principle, of which the operation was constantly felt in every part of society. It stirred the stagnant mass from the inmost depths. It excited all the passions of
From this miserable state the Western Em pire was saved by the fiercest and most destroying visitation with which God has ever chastened his creatures-the invasion of the northern nations. Such a cure was required for such a distemper. The Fire of London, it has been observed, was a blessing. It burned down the city, but it burned out the plague. The same may be said of the tremendous devastation of the Roman dominions. It annihilated the noisome recesses in which lurked the seeds of great moral maladies; it cleared an atmosphere fatal to the health and vigout of the human mind. It cost Europe a thousand years of barbarism to escape the fate of China.
At length the terrible purification was accomplished; and the second civilization of mankind commenced, under circumstances which afforded a strong security that it would never retrograde and never pause. Europe was now a great federal community. Her numerous states were united by the easy ties of international law and a common religion. Their institutions, their languages, their manners, their tastes in literature, their modes of education, were widely different. Their connection was close enough to allow of mutual observation and improvement, yet not so close as to destroy the idioms of natural opinion and feeling.
The balance of moral and intellectual influence, thus established between the nations of Europe, is far more important than the balance of political power. Indeed, we are inclined to think that the latter is valuable principally be
cause it tends to maintain the former. The civilized world has thus been preserved from a uniformity of character fatal to all improvement. Every part of it has been illuminated with light reflected from every other. Competition has produeed activity where monopoly would have produced sluggishness. The number of experiments in moral science which the speculator has an opportunity of witnessing has been increased beyond all calculation. Society and human nature, instead of being seen in a single point of view, are presented to him under ten thousand different aspects. By observing the manners of surrounding nations, by studying their literature, by comparing it with that of his own country and of the ancient republics, he is enabled to correct those errors into which the most acute men must fall when they reason from a single species to a genus. He learns to distinguish what is local from what is universal; what is transitory from what is eternal; to discriminate between exceptions and rules; to trace the operation of disturbing causes; to separate those general principles which are always true and everywhere applicable, from the accidental circumstances with which in every community they are blended, and with which, in an isolated community, they are confounded by the most philosophical mind.
saint of Laud, or a tyrant of Henry the Fourth.
This species of misrepresentation abounds in the most valuable works of modern historians. Herodotus tells his story like a slovenly witness, who, heated by partialities and prejudices, unacquainted with the established rules of evidence, and uninstructed as to the obligations of his oath, confounds what he imagines with what he has seen and heard, and brings out facts, reports, conjectures, and fancies, in one mass. Hume is an accomplished advocate. Without positively asserting much more than he can prove, he gives prominence to all the circumstances which support his case; he glides lightly over those which are unfavour able to it; his own witnesses are applauded and encouraged; the statements which seem to throw discredit on them are controverted; the contradictions into which they fall are explained away; a clear and connected abstract of their evidence is given. Every thing that is offered on the other side is scrutinized with the utmost severity; every suspicious circumstance is a ground for comment and invective; what cannot be denied is extenuated or passed by without notice; concessions even are sometimes made; but this insidious candour only increases the effect of the vast mass of sophistry.
We have mentioned Hume as the ablest and most popular writer of his class; but the charge which we have brought against him is one to which all our most distinguished historians are in some degree obnoxious. Gibbon, in particu lar, deserves very severe censure. Of all the nu merous culprits, however, none is more deeply guilty than Mr. Mitford. We willingly acknowledge the obligations which are due to his talents and industry. The modern historians of Greece had been in the habit of writing as if the world had learned nothing new during the last sixteen hundred years. Instead of illustwo-trating the events which they narrated by the philosophy of a more enlightened age, they judged of antiquity by itself alone. They seemed to think that notions, long driven from every other corner of literature, had a prescriptive right to occupy this last fastness. They considered all the ancient historians as equally authentic. They scarcely made any distinction between him who related events at which he had himself been present, and him who five hundred years after composed a philosophical romance, for a society which had in the interval undergone a complete change. It was all Greek, and all true! The centuries which separated Plutarch from Thucydides seemed as nothing to men who lived in an age so remote. The distance of time produced an error similar to that which is sometimes produced by distance of place. There are many good ladies who think that all the people in India live together, and who charge a friend setting out for Calcutta with kind messages to Bombay. To Rollin and Barthelemi, in the same manner, all the classics were conteiporaries.
Mr. Mitford certainly introduced great im provements; he showed us that men who wrote in Greek and Latin sometimes toll lies; make a he showed us that ancient history might be
Hence it is that, in generalization, the writers of modern times have far surpassed those of antiquity. The historians of our own country are unequalled in depth and precision of reason; and even in the works of our mere compilers we often meet with speculations beyond the reach of Thucydides or Tacitus.
But it must at the same time be admitted that they have characteristic faults, so closely connected with their characteristic merits and of such magnitude that it may well be doubted whether, on the whole, this department of literature has gained or lost during the last and-twenty centuries.
The best nistorians of later times have been seduced from truth, not by their imagination, but by their reason. They far excel their predecessors in the art of deducing general principles from facts. But unhappily they have failen into the error of distorting facts to suit general principles. They arrive at a theory from looking at some of the phenomena, and the remaining phenomena they strain or curtail to suit the theory. For this purpose it is not necessary that they should assert what is absolutely false, for all questions in morals and politics are questions of comparison and degree. Any proposition which does not inVoive a contradiction in terms may, by possibility, be true; and if all the circumstances which raise a probability in its favour be stated and enforced, and those which lead to an opposite conclusion be omitted or lightly passed over, it may appear to be demonstrated. In every human character and transaction there is a mixture of good and evil;—a little exaggeration, a little suppression, a judicious use of epithets, a watchful and searching skepticism with respect to the evidence on one side, a convenient credulity with respect to every report or tradition on the other may easi
related in such a manner as to furnish not only allusions to schoolboys, but important lessons to statesmen. From that love of theatrical effect and high flown sentiment which had poisoned almost every other work on the same subject, his book is perfectly free. But his passion for a theory as false, and far more ungenerous, led him substantially to violate truth in every page. Statements unfavourable to democracy are made with unhesitating confidence, and with the utmost bitterness of language. Every charge brought against a monarch, or an aristocracy, is sifted with the utmost care. If it cannot be denied, some palliating supposition is suggested, or we are at least reminded that some circumstances now unknown may have justified what at present appears unjustifiable. Two events are reported by the same author in the same sentence; their truth rests on the same testimony; but the one supports the darling hypothesis, and the other seems inconsistent with it. The che is taken and the other is left.
The practice of distorting narrative into a conformity with theory, is a vice not so unfavourable, as at first sight it may appear, to the interest of political science. We have compared the writers who indulge in it to advocates; and we may add, that their conflicting fallacies, like those of advocates, correct each other. It has always been held, in the most enlightened nations, that a tribunal will decide a judicial question most fairly, when it has heard two able men argue, as fairly as possible, on the two opposite sides of it; and we are inclined to think that this opinion is just. Sometimes, it is true, superior eloquence and dexterity will make the worse appear the better reason; but it is at least certain that the judge will be compelled to contemplate the case under two different aspects. It is certain that no important consideration will altogether escape notice.
uncut; the magazines and newspapers fill their columns with extracts. In the mean time histories of great empires, written by men of eminent ability, lie unread on the shelves of ostentatious libraries.
That history would be more amusing if this etiquette were relaxed, will, we suppose, be acknowledged. But would it be less dignified, or less useful? What do we mean, when we say that one past event is important, and another insignificant? No past event has any intrinsic importance. The knowledge of it is valuable only as it leads us to form just cal culations with respect to the future. A history which does not serve this purpose, though it may be filled with battles, treaties, and comun-motions, is as useless as the series of turnpike-tickets collected by Sir Mathew Mite.
Let us suppose that Lord Clarendon, instead of filling hundreds of folio pages with copies of state papers, in which the same assertions and contradictions are repeated, till the reader is overpowered with weariness, had condescended to be the Boswell of the Long Parlia ment. Let us suppose that he had exhibited 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 Spain. Let us suppose that he had made his Cavaliers and Roundheads talk in their own style, that he had reported some of the ribaldry of Rupert's pages, and some of the cant of Harrison and Fleetwood. Would not his work in that case have been more interesting? Would it not have been more accurate?
While our historians are practising all the arts of controversy, they miserably neglect the art of narration, the art of interesting the affections, and presenting pictures to the imagination. That a writer may produce these effects without violating truth is sufficiently proved by many excellent biographical works. The immense popularity which well-written books of this kind have acquired, deserves the serious consideration of historians. Voltaire's Charles the Twelfth, Marmontel's Memoirs, Boswell's Life of Johnson, Southey's account of Nelson, are perused with delight by the most frivolous and indolent. Whenever any tolerable book of the same description makes its appearance, the circulating libraries are mobbed; the book Focieties are in commotion the new novel lies
The writers of history seem to entertain an aristocratical contempt for the writers of memoirs. They think it beneath the dignity of men who describe the revolutions of nations, to dwell on the details which constitute the charm of biography. They have imposed on themselves a code of conventional decencies as absurd as that which has been the bane of the French drama. The most characteristic and interesting circumstances are omitted or softened down, because, as we are told, they are too trivial for the majesty of history. The majesty of history seems to resemble the majesty of the poor King of Spain, who died a martyr to ceremony, because the proper dignitaries were not at hand to render him assistance.
A history in which every particular incident may be true, may on the whole be false. The circumstances which have most influence on the happiness of mankind, the changes of manners and morals, the transition of com munities from poverty to wealth, from know. ledge to ignorance, from ferocity to humanity
these are, for the most part, noiseless revo lutions. Their progress is rarely indicated by what historians are pleased to call important
its dimensions, and has then departed, think ing that he has seen England. He has, in fact, seen a few public buildings, public men, and public ceremonies. But of the vast and complex system of society, of the fine shades of national character, of the practical operation of government and laws, he knows nothing. He who would understand these things rightly must not confine his observations to palaces and solemn days. He must see ordinary men as they appear in their ordinary business and in their ordinary pleasures. He must mingle in the crowds of the exchange and the coffeehouse. He must obtain admittance to the convivial table and the domestic hearth. He must bear with vulgar expressions. He must not shrink from exploring even the 'etreats of Bishop Watson compares a geologist to a misery. He who wishes to understand 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 ungists; 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 indred 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 nature 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 his notice, which is not too insigniquite 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 merely be described, but will be made intimately known to us. The changes of manners will be indicated, not merely by a few general phrases, or a few extracts from sta
The effect of historical reading is analogous, in many respects, to that produced by foreign travel. The student, like the tourist, is transported into a new state of society. He sees new fashions. He hears new modes of ex-tistical documents, but by appropriate images pression. His mind is enlarged by contem- presented in every line. plating the wide diversities of laws, of morals, and of manners. But men may travel far, and return with minds as contracted as if they had never stirred from their own market-town. In the same manner, men may know the dates of many battles, and the genealogies of many royal houses, and yet be no wiser. Most people look at past times, as princes look at foreign countries. More than one illustrious stranger has landed on our island amidst the shouts of a mob, has dined with the King, has hunted with the master of the stag-hounds, has seen the Guards reviewed, and a knight of the garter installed; has cantered along Regent street; has visited St. Paul's, and noted down VOL. L.-9
If a man, such as we are supposing, should write the history of England, he would assuredly not omit the battles, the sieges, the negotiations, the seditions, the ministerial changes. But with these he would intersperse the details which are the charm of historical romances. At Lincoln Cathedral there is a beautiful painted window, which was made by an apprentice out of the pieces of glass which had been rejected by his master. It is so far superior to every other in the church, that, according to the 'radition, the vanquished artist killed himselt from mortification. Sir Walter Scott, in the same manner, has used those fragments of truth which historians have
events. They are not achieved by armies, or enacted by senates. They are sanctioned by no treaties, and recorded in no archives. They are carried on in every school, in every church, behind ten thousand counters, at ten thousand firesides. The upper current of society presents no certain criterion by which we can judge of the direction in which the under current flows. We read of defeats and victories. But we know that nations may be miserable amidst victories, and prosperous amidst defeats. We read of the fall of wise ministers, and of the rise of profligate favourites. But we must remember how small a proportion the good or evil effected by a single statesman can bear to the good or evil of a great social system.
scornfully thrown behind them, in a manner | a great artist might produce a portrait of this which may well excite their envy. He has remarkable woman, at least as striking as that constructed out of their gleanings works in the novel of Kenilworth, without employing which, even considered as histories, are scarce- a single trait not authenticated by ample tesly less valuable than theirs. But a truly great timony. In the mean time, we should see historian would reclaim those materials which arts cultivated, wealth accumulated, the convethe novelist has appropriated. The history niences of life improved. We should see the of the government and the history of the peo- keeps, where nobles, insecure themselves, ple would be exhibited in that mode in which spread insecurity around them, gradually alone they can be exhibited justly, in insepa-giving place to the halls of peaceful opulence, rable conjunction and intermixture. We should to the oriels of Longleat, and the stately pinnot then have to look for the wars and votes nacles of Burleigh. We should see towns exof the Puritans in Clarendon, and for their tended, deserts cultivated, the hamlets of fishphraseology in Old Mortality; for one half of ermen turned into wealthy havens, the meal King James in Hume, and for the other half of the peasant improved, and his hut more in the Fortunes of Nigel. commodiously furnished. We should see those opinions and feelings which produced the great struggle against the house of Stuart, slowly growing up in the bosom of private families, before they manifested themselves in Parliamentary debates. Then would come the Civil War. Those skirmishes, on which Clarendon dwells so minutely, would be told, as Thucydides would have told them, with
The early part of our imaginary history would be rich with colouring from romance, ballad, and chronicle. We should find our selves in the company of knights such as those of Froissart, and of pilgrims such as those who rode with Chaucer from the Tabard. Society would be shown from the highest to the lowest-from the royal cloth of state to the den of the outlaw; from the throne of the le-perspicuous conciseness. They are merely gate to the chimney-corner where the begging connecting links. But the great character friar regaled himself. Palmers, minstrels, istics of the age, the loyal enthusiasm of the crusaders the stately monastery, with the brave English gentry, the fierce licentiousness good cheer in its refectory, and the high-mass of the swearing, dicing, drunken reprobates, in its chapel-the manor-house, with its hunt- whose excesses disgraced the royal causeing and hawking-the tournament, with the the austerity of the Presbyterian Sabbaths in heralds and ladies, the trumpets and the cloth the city, the extravagance of the Independent of gold-would give truth and life to the re- preachers in the camp, the precise garb, the presentation. We should perceive, in a thou-severe countenance, the petty scruples, the sand slight touches, the importance of the pri- affected accent, the absurd names and phrases vileged burgher, and the fierce and haughty which marked the Puritans-the valour, the spirit which swelled under the collar of the policy, the public spirit, which lurked beneath degraded villain. The revival of letters would these ungraceful disguises, the dreams of the not merely be described in a few magnificent raving Fifth Monarchy man, the dreams, scarce periods. We should discern, in innumerable ly less wild, of the philosophic republican-all particulars, the fermentation of mind, the eager these would enter into the representation, and appetite for knowledge, which distinguished render it at once more exact and more strikthe sixteenth from the fifteenth century. In ing. the Reformation we should see, not merely a schism which changed the ecclesiastical con-written would be of a vivid and practical cha stitution of England, and the mutual relations racter. It would be received by the imaginaof the European powers, but a moral war tion as well as by the reason. It would be not which raged in every family, which set the merely traced on the mind, but branded into father against the son, and the son against the it. Many truths, too, would be learned, which father, the mother against the daughter, and can be learned in no other manner. As the the daughter against the mother. Henry history of states is generally written, the greatwould be painted with the skill of Tacitus.est and most momentous revolutions seem to We should have the change of his character come upon them like supernatural inflictions, from his profuse and joyous youth to his without warning or cause. But the fact is, that savage and imperious old age. We should such revolutions are almost always the conseperceive the gradual progress of selfish and quences of moral changes, which have gratyrannical passions, in a mind not naturally dually passed on the mass of the community, insensible or ungenerous; and to the last we and which ordinarily proceed far, before their should detect some remains of that open and progress is indicated by any public measure. noble temper which endeared him to a people An intimate knowledge of the domestic history whom he oppressed, struggling with the hard- of nations is therefore absolutely necessary to ness of despotism and the irritability of dis-the prognosis of political events. A narrative, ease. We should see Elizabeth in all her defective in this respect, is as useless as a meweakness, and in all her strength, surrounded dical treatise which should pass by all the by the handsome favourites whom she never symptoms attendant on the early stage of a trusted, and the wise old statesmen, whom she disease, and mention only what occurs when never dismissed, uniting in herself the most the patient is beyond the reach of remedies. contradictory qualities of both her parentsthe coquetry, the caprice, the petty malice of Anne-the haughty and resolute spirit of Henry. We have no hesitation in saying, that
The instruction derived from history thus
An historian, such as we have been attempting to describe, would indeed be an intellectual prodigy. In his mind, powers, scarcely compatible with each other, must be tempered into