תמונות בעמוד



APRIL, 1845.

Art. I.-1. Smythe's Historic Fancies. London: Colburn.

1844. 2. Smythe's Lectures on History. 5 vols. London: Pickering.

1842-43. 3. Palgrade's History of the Anglo-Saxons. London: Longman. 4. Maitland's Dark Ages. London: Rivingtons. 1844. 5. Arnold's History of Rome. London: Fellowes.

That a great change has recently taken place, not only in the methods whereby Historical Investigation is pursued, but in the amount of interest generally felt in such investigation, seems abundantly certain. And there are few signs of the times which to us look more hopeful than this reviving taste for History, even as few intellectual conditions could have been worse than that out of which our men of thought seem emerging,-a disquisitive habit that is content to exercise itself on the topics of the day, and neither looks backwards nor forwards, ignorant of the past, and reckless of the future. The intellectual processes of those who are under this habit are of little more intrinsic gravity, and pursued with scarcely more earnestness, than a game at chess; they bestow their powers in spinning afresh the webs which, unknown to them, have been put together, and then cast aside as worthless, time after time, since men began to think; the formation of opinion is too obviously a mere gymnastic exercise of their own minds, for the opinion arrived at to be the object of firm faith; when the hour of trial arrives it will not abide the test ; the manufacture of nothing more than dialectical skill will be found of too flimsy a texture to abide the collision of rude Fact-rough hard-pressing Reality-and distinct wants, wishes, hopes, and fears. And in some foresight of this, your unhistorical man of discussion and logic is very sarcastic when he encounters earnest convictions, far looking faith, and genial enthusiasm. The use of one's


faculties is, in his eyes, but a game, and why should a man throw himself, soul and body, into a game? Some of us have happily played at this game till we have got thoroughly tired of it; tired of play altogether, and anxious to use what faculties we may have to some purpose. We have begun to feel, that as the life is more than meat and the body than raiment, so faith is of more consequence than good arguments; that facts concern us more than propositions; and that each of two realities is infinitely more precious than the very subtlest distinction that ever was laid down between them.*

While Literature was in this condition,-in respect of Poetry, a mere matter of taste, and in respect of Prose containing only such barren disquisition as we have been referring to,-men with an eye and a craving for facts betook themselves to the material sciences, where at least they came in contact with some sort of reality. But there are many people of intellectual stirrings and capacities, who cannot go heart and soul into those sciences, who cannot be energetically affected except by living interests, and who demand the Human as an indispensable element in all their pursuits. And never could Chemistry, Geology, and the like, really suit the female mind, though ladies some years ago tried hard to make them do so; never, for want of that element to which we have just referred, could such pursuits be a link between ourselves and our children, or between the different classes of society; nor, bounded and specific as with all its value each of them must be admitted to be, could they cast any strong light on ourselves, our relationships, and our duties; or mingle generally with the course of our lives or the main current of our feelings.

Now a change from all this in the direction of History, seems to us a change in the right direction. History is the only secular knowledge which has universal claims upon the attention of the upper classes. Take the ordinary intercourse of society: the chemist or the geologist neither can count nor has the least right to insist on finding chance companions able or willing to exchange thoughts with him on his especial topic, to which indeed only certain infrequent movements of conversation can conduct them. But how complete a bar to all but the most ordinary talk, is the company's ignorance of the great outline and salient points of history! What subject of human interest can we hope to illustrate in such case? Whether we are talking of political movements and their probable consequences,-or the condition of the people, --or the merits and demerits of laws,—or of poetry, or the fine arts, or of religion, we are incessantly constrained to bring out our meaning concerning that which is, by references to that which has been. In all these subjects there is no comfort in conversation, no free movement of thought, with people to whom the Past is a blank, and in whose presence one cannot make that passing reference to a generally known historical event, which presumes the hearer's acquaintance with it, and which can be serviceable as an illustration only when thus familiarly glanced at.

* We trust that we shall not be understood as sneering at logic, a science of which we strongly feel the importance : but pursuing it as a science is one thing, and continually practising it as an art is another; and it is quite natural that the very persons who have most done the latter, who have spent their whole intellectual leisure and strength in mere exercise of dialectical skill, should have a very inadequate appreciation, as in fact they generally have had, of the dignity and value of the study as a science. Still less wonderful, perhaps, is it that their logic should have been anything but severe or accurate.

History, therefore, even in reference only to secular considerations, ought, in its grand outline, to be the universal knowledge, -the common property of educated people,—the circulating medium of thought. As a liberal education used to be held incomplete without Travelling, so should it be without History; the one affording enlargement to the mind in respect of Space, the other in respect of Time. And as Time and Space in all things play into each other's hands, so Travelling, among its other advantages, greatly awakens a taste for History; and, on the other hand, such a taste previously acquired much enhances the relish, and increases the benefit, of travel.* In the sequel we shall occasionally look at these two as akin, illustrate the one by means of the other, and find, if we mistake not, that they are attended by corresponding difficulties, which require to be encountered by corresponding methods. We need scarcely, however, say that History is of far greater necessity than Travel; the mind's enlargement in respect of Space, which is procured by the latter, being procurable to some extent in other ways; while there is no substitute for History which can furnish the corresponding enlargement, in respect of Time.

Let us now look at the case in a prudential and moral point of view. To act wisely we must look to the Past, because, as Lord Bacon observes, the experience of no life is enough for the guidance of that life. Further; events, trials, and duties do not exist as independent wholes; they have relation to other events, trials, and duties which have gone before them, and help to interpret them, to which therefore we must refer, if we wish to understand them. If a man's position be only private and domestic, which can scarcely be said of any Englishnan's, then

* And hence we suspect that Dr. Arnold was but an illustration of a general rule, in uniting a passion for History with a passion for Geography. Whether our phrenological friends generally find the organs of Eventuality and Locality in the same scull, we know not.

To sup

family traditions and recollections will be needful for him in order that his Present may be made living and clear; and that by discerning their relations, he may interpret the facts amid which he is placed. If he have any measure of public duty (and all educated men in England have some measure) he must have recourse to History in the ordinary sense of the term for the corresponding purpose.

Lastly, let us take Religion. The Bible is a history; the great history of the human race in its highest relation. Without therefore an historical habit of mind, it becomes in no small measure a dead letter. It is true, indeed, that the Bible is the great storehouse of Ideas, whereas History is the record of Facts which are only phenomena ; but it is also true that without phenomena we should never in our present condition apprehend noumena, or reach Ideas except by the way of Facts. pose that because God's manifestations in the world of Fact are but relative to us, what of old was styled economical, we can therefore dispense with that world, is one of the lying utterances of the Gnostic spirit. That the Fact revealed to us under the conditions of Time and Space is no adequate representation of the Truth free from those conditions, and as seen by the Supreme Reason “ in the depths of real being,” is the plain dictate of Philosophy; but no less plain is it that our best apprehension of the Fact is our nearest approximation to the Truth; and that if we choose to dispense with an Historical Revelation, because it enables us to know but in part, we must content ourselves with not really knowing at all.

In order to use God's Revelation, then, we must take it as we have it, and the form wherein we have it is, that of History. The Bible is the grand universal History, the History of the world, of mankind. Many of what we call its Doctrines are historical events; as, for example, we speak of the doctrine of the Atonement, but we can realize it only as the fact that Christ died on the Cross for our sins. And even those Truths of the proper Beodoyía, which in themselves are above and beyond the region of History and Phenomenon, have been manifested and evolved in the march of occurrences, and are brought out in connexion with the facts of a History. And this being so, it is obvious that an unhistorical temper and habit must be ill adapted to the scope

and drift of the Bible, and that he in whom we find them will scarcely read the sacred Scriptures so as to feel their power and catch their life. How incomprehensible is the Gospel, except as the transfiguring and glorifying fulfilment of the Jewish Polity! How can the genius of that polity be understood by him who has not carefully traced its history; and how is that to be done by the man who has no eye for political or biographical facts; no power of arresting and scrutinizing recorded events; no habit of seeing the meaning of a nation's impulses and its fortunes; no Imagination cultivated in the direction of the Past, of by-gone men, by-gone fashions and feelings, by-gone actions and conditions of Thought and Desire ?

We pass over for the present the importance of Church History.

While we thus would encourage the Historical temper, we are as far as possible from recommending any dreamy confusion between Past and Present; any fastidious turning away from the rough opaque reality, the stern homely round of life set before us in the latter; any of what is termed living in the Past. We feel very sure that the man over whom present wants, present duties, and present facts have no vigorous influence, is the very worst qualified man for truly apprehending by-gone wants, duties, and facts. Such an one wants that hearty Truthfulness which is the first and chief condition, no less of profitable reading, than of successful investigation, of History. To him a Fact can never stand out in its own form and colours, but looms fallaciously through the haze of his prejudices, whims, and passions.

Such, then, being the importance of History, it becomes a grave question, how the study is to be successfully pursued. And here be it understood, that we are not speaking of the writer, but the ordinary reader, of history. That to the former is assigned a task of no ordinary difficulty is obvious enough; that, in the last age, such difficulty was very inadequately apprehended, and the historical writers very far from really acquainted with the facts of which they professed to treat, is almost equally obvious; that great improvements have been made in our time, and a considerable approximation to a higher and better method of historical investigation arrived at, is an opinion which may perhaps be safely embraced; while, at the same time, we shall hardly err in saying that we have not yet got beyond such an approximation, if we are to take the following as a standard, to which the future historian can possibly attain.

History is another study which is assuming considerable importance at the present time; and that under two distinct aspects. The first may be called critical, and is both absolutely necessary, and I suppose principally important, as preparing the way for the other. I allude to the study which concerns itself with discovering the real circumstances of past ages, detecting the meaning of small things, and dragging to light the forgotten elements of a gone-by state of society, om scattered evidences which the writers themselves who have recorded them did not understand ; distinguishing truth from fable, plain fact from allegorical “myth” and the like; and thus preparing the materials by which the philosophical mind may test and verify

« הקודםהמשך »