תמונות בעמוד

theoretical deductions. High and rare powers of mind bave been, beyond doubt, devoted to these inquiries. Niebuhr, judging from what is said of him by competent persons, is the great model and example of an historian of the kind ; though he seems considered to have occasionally taken a higher range also. These writers are brought into direct contact with the Old Testament, and have started many difficulties on the right mode of understanding its historical narratives. But an ideal Church would have interpreters ready at hand, both to solve their difficulties, and to avail themselves of the science itself, as might advantageously be done, for the purpose of illustrating and clearing up many parts of our earlier sacred books. A much higher science of history, however, is in gradual progress of formation, which has a far nearer connexion both with poetry and with philosophy. It aims at “realizing a true and living picture of times past, clothed in their circumstances and peculiarities,”—at probing to the bottom, in regard to those times, not the intellectual life of intellectual men, not the social life of the people, but their internal life; their thoughts and feelings in regard to themselves and their destinations; the habitual temper of their mind; the causes of their highest joys and sorrows, hopes and fears. Nay, more than this: it regards, the whole of the events which have befallen the human race, and the states through which it has passed, as a series of phenomena, produced by causes, and susceptible of explanation. All history is conceived as a progressive chain of causes and effects; or (by an apter metaphor) as a gradually unfolding web, in which every fresh part that comes to view is a prolongation of the part previously unrolled, whether we can trace the separate threads from the one to the other, or not.” It makes its chief aim “ to find on what principles, derived from the nature of man and the system of the universe, each state of society and of the human mind produced that which came after it;” and to discover how far any order of production can be traced sufficiently definite, to show what future states of society may be expected to emanate from the circumstances which exist at present. To regard, indeed, the successive changes of society as connected, in some degree at least, by an ascertainable order of advance, appears at first sight contradictory to the deep and sure knowledge which all Christians possess, of God's particular providence towards individuals, and generally of His ceaseless intervention, for His moral purposes, in the affairs of the world; and the same apparent inconsistency exists in the case of physical science, as at present studied. That there is no real inconsistency, I fully believe; and in an ideal Church, there would exist a recognised theory, explaining fully the principles on which, and the degree in which, the Christian can apply himself to the processes of experimental philosophy, with the hope of a true result. – Ward's Ideal of a Christiun Church, pp. 38, 39.

But this, as we have said, is not our present concern; our less ambitious aim is to point out a few of the difficulties which beset the ordinary reader, and the methods by which they are to

be overcome: in a word, we wish to give a few hints to the teacher conducting an average education, and anxious to communicate to his pupil such historical knowledge as should be in the possession of every man and woman in the upper classes.

His aim must be twofold: first, to impress the learner with by-gone facts, as far as may be, in their real character; and, next, to give him such a theory of those facts—such a principle of unity to uphold and bind them as may be fairly arrived at.

1. The first, we need scarcely say, is attended with difficulties which our ordinary teacher and learner must encounter in common with the authors of whom they avail themselves; with, however, this comparative disadvantage, that, instead of, like many things, becoming fainter at second hand, they are greatly strengthened by arriving at that stage. Whatever mist may dim the investigator's view of the past, and whatever fallacies may distort it, are, of course, equally interposed between the reader and the fact; but the reader's mind throws its own clouds, too, across the prospect, and engenders meteors of its own; so that the lie becomes doubled. How difficult it must be really to master a by-gone, even when not very distant, fact, will be apparent on the slightest consideration of the difficulty involved in getting real hold of a contemporaneous and present one. How differently that is viewed and reported by different persons; nay, how differently—as, for example, in the case of censuring or excusing the action of another-it is viewed by ourselves at different times! The artistic and plastic power of the imagination, moreover, will blend facts into a picture of its own composing, and coloured with its own associations; and this is done first by the writer and then by the reader. Add to this, that a fact, however distinct and real, must always have far more of a relative than an intrinsic character; it is not to be understood except it be viewed in particular connexions. Johnson's contempt for the average intelligence of the mass of the Athenian population, on the ground that not nine men out of ten among them could read, is but one instance, out of thousands, of misinterpreting an undoubted fact, from disregarding the relation in which it stands. As has been well observed, this non-ability to read is an humiliating fact, or otherwise, according to circumstances. It does argue a nearly total want of cultivation when we find it in an English agricultural district; it did not argue it among the people of Athens, who gazed habitually, and with delight, on the sculpture of a Phidias, and listened to the oratory of a Demosthenes and the poetry of a Sophocles.* Similarly, the

• Edinburgh Review of Croker's ‘Boswell. We do not remember whether the unmistakable author has republished the parer.

non-translation of the Scriptures and the Liturgy, from the dead languages, was, as we shall by-and-by have occasion to see, a very different fact in the Middle Ages from what it is in the countries wherein we find it at present. Another impediment in the way of really understanding facts, is the fallacy of classification; yet of this writer and reader are sure to provide an abundance. The very divisions of volumes and chapters, indispensable as they are, constitute an artificial arrangement creative of some associations, and obstructive of others, which we cannot get rid of for the rest of our lives. Each reign, for example, headed by the name of a separate sovereign, with its especial chapter, or chapters, devoted to it, and introducing us to a perfectly new set of favourites and personages, seems to us a separate whole. We forget that the grown-up agents in its events must have been trained and moulded in the by-gone period which we have quitted, and had their associations formed by its discarded persons and proceedings. Thus we think of Laud simply as living and dying in the reign of Charles I., because Hume never mentions him till then, and because the most important part of his public life was passed in that period; and we are startled when it is first brought home to us that he had reached manhood before the death of Elizabeth, and must have had his early impressions made, and the peculiar bias of his mind directed, by the days and the doings of Hooker, Cartwright, Whitgift and Bancroft; and that he had matured his Anglican theory before the Hampton Court conference. So, too, we habitually surround Milton with the persons and the proceedings of the Protectorate and the Restoration; and quite forget that his choice early years were spent in the reign of James I.,in the gay time of the dramatists, and amid the first full flow of the English tongue. But not thus do we become acquainted with-get to know-a contemporary. We do not bound our view of him by the present position in which we find him; we do not think of Sir R. Peel only as the premier of 1845, but we go back to him as the promising boy at Harrow, the first-classman at Oxford, the rising young statesman of 1813, the HomeSecretary of 1822, the brilliant opposition leader of 1831. And without thus reverting to his previous course, we should feel that we had no real apprehension of him at all

. And, not only in the case of the public man, who is after all to be conceived by the private man only by means of the imagination, do we act thus; but we never consider ourselves really to know any one in our own circle about whose past life we are wholly in the dark. No one, however frankly conversing with him, calls himself acquainted with his fellow passenger or railway companion. Manifestly, then, a fallacy such as that to which we have referred must altogether hinder our attaining any real apprehension of the characters which we encounter in History.

These are but one or two illustrations of the refracting medium through which the light of the Past ordinarily comes to us; and when we add to them that each of our popular Historians has his own bias, his own cause to plead, his own case to make out, and that the two most read by people of education have certain very mischievous aims of which they never lose sight, the chance of an ordinary unscholastic person getting at historical truth seems discouraging enough. And there is a further difficulty from the nature, structure, and scope of what we call a History. Its plan almost necessarily excludes Memoir. It is all public and dignified. It confines itself to important people and great events; and yet these are but accidental, and even subordinate symptoms of the great whole to which they belonged, to be interpreted by, but very powerless to interpret, that whole. And History being further, when successful, a work of art, the obscuration of plain fact, if not the actual distortion of Truth, which must ensue, requires not to be shown.

So sensible seems a distinguished writer of the present day* of the difficulties whereof we have been speaking, that he is doubtful of the advantage accruing to an ordinary man from the study of History at all, and by way of a substitute for the enlargement of mind which it is supposed to minister, recommends mastering the memoirs, details, ways, and peculiarities of some one age. But to say nothing of the fact that such a task cannot be performed by ordinary persons, we deny that it would accomplish the end in view. For though a man who should know a good deal about one other time than his own, would be better off in respect of enlargement than a man who knew only his own, his mental prospect would be still very restricted; he would be like a prisoner allowed two apartments instead of only one, and remaining a prisoner still. What we think would be valuable, where practicable, would be such minute study of one period joined to a general historical range. The effect of the former might be to give the reader an eye for facts throughout the latter, and a power of interpreting them, which he would not otherwise possess. Having found the Reality of one time, and been enabled to compare it with the disguise thrown over it by the dignified Historian, he may guess at the Reality lurking behind the folds of a similar disguise elsewhere.

Still, be it remembered, we are professedly dealing with ordinary cases. Let us try then to imagine how a teacher, alive to the difficulties we have described, might deal with an intelligent boy between twelve and fifteen, to whom he wished to impart a real living acquaintance with by-gone fact. We shall suppose that the History of England is to be commenced. And here we would recommend the master to content himself with Hume as a text-book. The fact that his is the universally read History of England is sufficient reason for this, to say nothing of its being incomparably the most delightful. Let him then read it along with his pupil, accompanying the work with oral illustration and oral warning. Let him show how, with all his ability, Hume fails to give real facts. When the Saxon division has been read through, let Sir F. Palgrave's admirable little volume be consulted, and similarly let the same author's • Merchant and Friar' be perused at another stage.

* Mr. Henry Taylor in his Statesman.

The learner will thus have the advantage of knowing what is commonly believed, because it is said to be the listory of those periods, and of seeing the difference between this and what really happened and really characterizes them.

Again, at the outset, and repeatedly throughout, while reading Hume on the mediæval period, the phrase, dark ages,' may be commented upon. It may be shown to the learner how the designation came into use; how natural it was to be so delighted with certain discoveries and improved methods of investigation as to fancy that men had lived in vain till they were known, or so enchanted with the once again revealed charms of the classical civilization, as to have no eye for one in which the features of that were obscured and scarcely known; yet how fallacious both estimates are. Anyhow,' the teacher may say, “if we are reading about those ages, we may as well have some conception of their true character. He should therefore proceed to point out the peculiarity of mediæval civilization; that it was a process of formations out of the shattered mass of the Roman empire; that it had the unspeakable blessing of being carried on under Christian influences; that, under those influences, certain arts, such as architecture and music, and certain pursuits, such as theology, jurisprudence, and metaphysics, flourished in circumstances wherein Europe has never been known to exist before or since, the civilized and formed languages having ceased to be spoken in ordinary life, and become what we call dead, and their successors not having yet taken shape, so as to be available for any but the most familiar uses; and that the Teutonic races are in some measure an exception to this remark, though not wholly, and though too much bound


with the rest of Christendom not to come under its intellectual condition. This consideration, which is absolutely indispensable to our understanding a single fact connected with the mind of the middle ages, is not brought forward, so far as

« הקודםהמשך »