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From Stereograph, copyright 71,0; ty L 'ndtrtvood & Under-wood










Complete in Twenty-jive Volumes





G r; (.) R ( ; E E n \v IN R i N i: s ,


Reviewed and indorsed by Fifteen Professors in History and Educators in
American Universities, among whom are the following :


President, University of Maine


Professor of History, University of North Carolina


Assistant Professor of Economics, Washington Uni-


Professor of History, University of Iowa


lirflte Principal of Queen's University, Kingston,
Ontario, Canada


Late Professor of American History, Cornell Uni-


Chancellor. University of Nebrasl a


Formerly United States Commissioner of Educatior

SON, Ph.D.

Professor of History, University of Georgia


Professor of History, University 01 Virginia








IN order to do justice to the claims of historical study, it can never be neces-
sary for us to depreciate those of any other branch of learning. Properly con-
sidered, there is no such thing as rivalry between different spheres of knowledge;
only emulation, a noble and helpful emulation. All real knowledge is good, being
in one way or another a source of power and happiness. The various realms of
things known or knowable are but co-equal and fraternal states in that vast con-
federation which we may call the republic of science. No single member of this
confederation is strong, none is sufficient, standing alone. Each is necessary to
all, all are necessary to each.

While, therefore, no one study may assert for itself the whole of what is valu-
able, every study doubtless has its own special value; and this value, as in the
case of a study like history, it may sometimes be worth our while to place clearly
before our minds, modestly, tolerantly, and for the rightful purpose of forming
a just idea of the particular good we ought to expect and to work for, in our pursuit
of it.


Probably that use of the study of history which will first occur to most persons,
is the one suggested by the common conception of history as an enormous body
of facts about the past, the effort to know and retain a considerable number of
these facts being regarded as a fine gymnastic exercise for the faculty of memory.
It is, indeed, quite astonishing ho'w great a multitude of historical details dates,
names, and other precise items about persons, cities, nations, armies, political
parties, institutions, and so forth almost any person is capable of carrying in his
memory, if only he patiently stores and trains it in that way. Moreover, no one


will deny that there is much convenience and delight in the possession of a memory
like that, a memory enriched with precise and various historical facts, all labeled,
and pigeon-holed, and ready for service at a moment's call. Certainly, a brilliant
accomplishment this for conversation; a weapon of victory for public speech; in
hours of loneliness and suffering, a great solace, all of which may be seen in the
cases of certain famous men in our country who had such a memory, as John
Quincy Adams, Theodore Parker, Charles Sumner, or James A. Garfield.

On the other hand, this particular use of historical study is somewhat discredited
among persons of mature sense, whenever it is associated with either of two prac-
tical mistakes, to which, indeed, young students of history are liable. One of these
mistakes arises from a lack of discrimination as to the relative value of different
historical facts; the other from the notion that the work of memorizing historical
facts is the principal part of historical study. It can hardly be wise to make the
memory serve the purpose of an old-fashioned garret in a country house, a re-
ceptacle for all sorts of odds and ends of property, precious and worthless. Surely,
such indiscriminate memorizing must be a waste of energy, and the perversion
of a noble faculty. What is the use of making an effort to remember what is use-
less ? Besides, however valuable it may be to store the memory with well-selected
dates and names and other historical items, this at best belongs among the lower
and more mechanic uses of history.

With these qualifications upon the primary claim put forward on behalf of
historical study, we may now pass on to consider some claims which point to mental
and even spiritual discipline of a far higher and more complex kind.


One of these higher benefits may be described as that of training the critical
faculty, through the effort to test the evidence for and against particular historical
facts, or what are alleged to be such. Perhaps the very hardest thing to get at in
this world is the truth, the very truth, especially the very truth concerning the past
transactions of the human race. From this point of view, it is plain that the study
of history is something more than the passive reading of certain finished and fas-
cinating books, like Livy, for instance, or Gibbon, or Thiers, or Macaulay, or
Prescott, or Parkman; it is indeed, the resolute and attentive application of the
whole mind to an immense and complicated subject, a process which cannot be
carried on very long without our running up against questions of disputed fact. To
deal with these questions in a manner to satisfy a truth-loving mind, it will be
necessary for us to look keenly into problems of conflicting testimony, of personal


character, of the validity of documents, of the meaning of words, of the right method
of construction. I am not now speaking of the labors of professional historians,
the intricacy and arduousness of which are admitted to be great, just in proportion
to the quality of their results. Even pupils at school, however, and college students,
and the members of historical clubs, and solitary readers of history, if they would
pursue this study in the wisest and most fruitful way, must all be, to some extent,
historical critics; must be alert, inquisitive, cautious, never credulous, always in-
tolerant of slovenly ways; and as far as possible, they must try the texts they are
reading by earlier texts, and especially by those nearest to the times that happen to
be under consideration.

Who is likely to overstate the educational value of such a method of study?
On the moral side, how great it must be! It is produced and is nourished by a
conviction of the incomparable worth and sacredness of mere truth in itself, as
against all baser stuff in the form of half-truth, guess work, fables, or lies, and
this conviction is sure to grow and to strengthen under such honest toil in its serv-
ice. On the purely mental side, how great must be the effect of such study,
since it calls forth and taxes powers so important as those of analysis and com-
parison, nicety of verbal sense, literary insight, logical acuteness and precision,
soundness of judgment, and saving common sense.


In the next place, it should not be overlooked that the mental and moral dis-
cipline involved in the study of history, is of a kind even broader and more complex
than that required for the ascertainment and verification of particular historical
facts. That alone, as we have just seen, is a great task, calling for fine and strong
powers of mind ; it is a task that can perhaps never be perfectly done by any finite
being; and yet, even that, when it is done as well as we can do it, is not the end of
historical study, but rather the beginning of it. For, after you have verified and
defined your facts, comes the still more subtle process of discovering their causal
relations, the great play of influence among human events, the interdependence
of events, the action and reaction and counteraction of events. Of course, to do
this sort of work hastily, recklessly, with that tone of easy infallibility which some
historical students have when passing judgment upon groups of facts in relation to
the past, is probably not very hard, at least for persons who can do it all; but to
one who realizes the worthlessness, the misleading character, of all mere assumption
in statements professing to be historical, and how hard it must be even approxi-
mately to discover the actual relations of events, it will be obvious that, aside from


the intrinsic value of such generalizations, is the disciplinary value of the mental
and spiritual process of arriving at them. Certainly, to generalize wisely from
sound historical data, is a great exercise of the philosophic powers; it is a test and
a development of broad-mindedness, lucidity, and vigor in reasoning.


Another benefit from historical study will occur to us, when we [reflect that
such study compels one to investigate and to reason within the realm, not of the
exact and of the absolute, but of the approximate and the probable.

No doubt there is a peculiar educational value in the study of those sciences
in which the data are precise or absolute; in which the conclusions are so, like-
wise. History, however, deals with data of a different kind, with mixed deeds,
and mixed motives, and traits of character, and experiences of human beings;
looking back into the past, it draws some general conclusions from these data
and applies them to the present and the future; it aims to formulate some gen-
eral principles relating to the collective human life of this world, to government,
to the working of the social organism. But whatever history requires of its
student or does for him, it keeps him mostly within the sphere of the approxi-
mate and the probable. You cannot weigh a human motive or impulse as pre-
cisely as you can a chemical substance. In much of your work as an historian,
you have to balance one probability against another, to estimate the operation
of spiritual forces, to deal with the inscrutable mysteries of personal character.
In so many parts of your work, you are obliged to reason with caution, slowly,
circumspectly, not dogmatically; and to realize the limitations upon the definiteness
and certainty of many of your conclusions.

Well, is there any special value in such training as this? It seems to me
that, in a rather peculiar sense, this gives the very training required for real
life; since in real life we are in the sphere not of the absolute, but of the rela-
tive, and we have to deal with the very problems which the historian has to deal
with, human character, human feelings and motives, probabilities, and other
data more or less indefinite. I would say no word to imply any disparagement
of the educational value of mathematics, for example. It has its value, unri-
valed in its kind; but he who should apply the methods of mathematical reason-
ing to the questions which come up between man and man in real life, would
often make most absurd mistakes and go far astray Historical study, on the
other hand, is a study of human nature on a broad field, and for all ages; it is
exactly the sort of training which helps us to know persons and affairs in real


life, the great types of human character, the limited worth of testimony, the play
of passion in interfering with reasonable and prudent conduct, the probable con-
sequences of any particular set of outward conditions. History is the great teacher
of human nature by means of object lessons drawn from the whole recorded life of
human nature.


This brings us naturally to the fifth benefit to be got from historical study,
the cultivation of fair-mindedness as a habit, and the suppression of intellectual
partisanship with respect to all subjects whatsoever.

No one can pursue this study in the right way, or with any real success, who
does not learn to acquire the mental attitude, not of an attorney standing for
one side of the question, but of a judge standing for what is true on both sides.
The historical spirit is the judicial spirit. However vast may be his learning,
however splendid his style, whoever writes history in a partisan fashion, spoils
to that extent the genuineness and value of his work, as any one may observe by
the brilliant examples of Macaulay and Froude.

We must not, we cannot, tolerate in history, what we art obliged to tolerate
in contemporary comment. Such comment is almost inevitably colored by con-
temporary passion, is biased this way and that through contemporary prejudice,
through the stormy likes and dislikes that are irrepressible among men actually
engaged in the conflicts of their own time, and having great personal interests
at stake. But when it comes to history, we demand something different. History
is the comment made afterward, when the fight is over and ended and the com-
batants are cold in their graves; and the duty of history is to hear all sides and all
persons, to weigh all pleas, to sift all testimonies, to be fair to all. If, with re-
gard to living controversies, this attitude of fairness between opposite persons
and opinions is almost impossible to attain, it is by no means easy of attainment
even with regard to dead controversies; it is, for every topic in history, one of
the last and choicest results of spiritual discipline.

I do not know any other study more likely than the study of history, to help
us to acquire intellectual poise, justice in thought and word, freedom from the
warp of undue sympathy or antipathy, the judicial habit. And this, after all,
is a quality of great influence and esteem in this world, overriden, as it is, with
partisanship of all sorts, and yet conscious that there is a mental attitude nobler
and wiser.



For the sixth benefit to be got from historical study, I would call attention to
its incomparable use in enlarging one's mental horizon.

He who doe? not know history must have a very limited mental horizon a
horizon as wide only as the time during which he has lived. The whole vast
realm of the past is to him as if it never had been; he knows only what has been
done and enjoyed and suffered by the human family since he arrived here. Even
in the case of the oldest man, what is that by comparison with all the years, decades,
centuries, epochs, which have rolled over this planet before the sound of his foot-
step was heard upon it, and which have been crowded with stupendous transactions
that he is totally ignorant of except by some sort of hearsay, by broken fragments
of knowledge picked up from casual tradition?

The man who knows only the time immediately around him, is in a mental
condition somewhat like that of the man who knows only the place immediately
around him the man who has never traveled, who knows nothing of other
neighborhoods and other peoples. Such a man must have a very false notion
of himself and others; his mind can hardly fail to be full of local prejudice
and conceit; he lacks the necessary standards by which to estimate his own size
and quality and that of the men and things around him. Such a man is neces-
sarily provincial, parochial; his intellect is the intellect of a villager. So, the
man who knows but little of human time, except what has elapsed since his own
birth, is provincial-minded with respect to vast tracts of human experience; his
mental horizon is necessarily limited to the petty circle of time which surrounds
his own life in the world. To such a man history comes with its power to en-
large his own horizon by annexing to it the horizons of all the generations
before him. History is for tune, what travel is for space; it is an intellectual
journey across oceans and continents of duration, and of ages both remote from
our own and vitalized and enriched by stupendous events. There is an old
aphorism to the effect that, " ignorance of what has been done in the world before
he came into it, leaves a man always a child." This, perhaps, is but a far-away
echo of the saying of the Chinese moralist, Lao-Tse: "Man is an infant born at
midnight, who, when he sees the sun rise, thinks that yesterday has never existed."
To him who has not studiously opened those books which tell of the world's yester-
day, it is as though the world had never had a yesterday as though the world had
begun only when he began.

There have been many attempts to define the essential difference between man
and the other animals known to us here. What is to be thought of this definition ?


Man is the history-knowing animal the only animal that can know the past.
Therefore, our conscious and cultivated relation to the past, through historical
study, develops in us as human beings that very attribute which distinguishes
us from those animals that are called the brutes.


Perhaps the most impressive consideration touching the benefit to be derived
from historical study is the one which still remains to be mentioned: history
enables each generation of men to profit, if they will, by the experience of their
predecessors, especially to avoid their costliest and most painful mistakes.
Without history, the only complete record of human experiences, nearly all the
practical wisdom of mankind, gained through innumerable blunders and mishaps,
would be lost, and the same blunders and the same mishaps would have to be re-
peated and to be suffered over and over again on the part of successive generations
ignorant of what had happened before. A nation emerging from savagism,
until it has a written record makes little advancement.

Let us suppose that the human family should now agree that history is an
undesirable branch of knowledge; that it should no longer be cultivated or
taught; that all the books of history which have been written, from Herodotus
down to Ranke and Stubbs and George Bancroft, should be burned up, and that
no more should be written; that even the documentary sources of history should
be destroyed. What would be the effect of this gigantic piece of Vandalism?
Of course, before many years, the men who now know something of the past
would be dead, and would have left no successors to their knowledge; and, grad-
ually, nearly all remembrance of former times and of the men and the deeds and
the sufferings of former times, of their mistakes and triumphs and failures, would
be blotted out. Nearly all the lessons taught by the experience of the human
family would be forgotten. Consequently, to a large extent, progress would
cease; each generation, knowing but little of what men had learned before them-
selves, would have to begin nearly all experiments over again; and each generation
would be liable to keep on repeating the errors of its predecessors, treading over
again the same round of blundering attempts and disastrous failures. Life itself,
or what is called civilization, would still be a laborious march, but it would be a
march in a treadmill, wherein the feet seem to move, and steps seem to be taken,
but no advance is made.

Whenever one is inclined to rate very low the utility of historical study, it may
be well for him to recall the fact that all human progress depends on each gen-


eration starting with the advantage of the wisdom gained and accumulated by all
previous experience, and that history is the temple in which the records of this
experience are stored. Burn down the temple, and you thereby destroy some of
the things that are essential to further progress.

People who do not know history, are apt to be presumptuous and rash in their
political methods. They go on advocating errors that were exploded ages ago;
trying political or industrial or financial experiments that have been tried and
found futile and disastrous times without number; taking false steps which their
ancestors had taken before them and had found to be steps toward folly and
misery; making civilization itself to seem no longer a stream of onward progress,
but a mere whirlpool, its currents spinning with men and institutions round and
round in a fierce motion, until at last they all go down and together into some
central gulf of darkness.

One of the greatest and most inspiring teachers of history known among us
during the past forty years has for his book-plate this motto: "Discipulus est
prioris posterior dies." "To-day is the pupil of yesterday." How much would
To-day know if it were not the pupil of Yesterday? But it is chiefly through
what we call history that Yesterday is able to communicate to its pupil the wis-
dom which it has hoarded. Moreover, it is because To-day learns wisdom from
Yesterday that it is able to teach wisdom to To-morrow; and it is, also, by the
same means. There are some people who have so intense an interest in the imme-
diate and tangible facts of life, that they are accustomed to sneer at the past,
calling it the dead past. After all, however, the past is not dead, except to persons
who are ignorant of it, or who are themselves dead in their own thinking con-
cerning it. Through the power of history the past does not die; it is gifted with
a perpetual life, and it reaches forward with a strong and helpful hand into the
times that now are and are to be.

I remember that once a student, in a thesis which he was reading, used a pretty
figure about history. "History," said he, "is only a stern light on the ship in
which we are making life's voyage." I asked him to consider whether he was
quite right in describing history as "only a stern light." Of course, even a stern
light is something, but it is not all that our life-ship needs. How about a bow
light, also, a light that may throw some gleam across the waters into which we
are advancing? So even though it might hurt the neatness of the image, we
should probably improve its accuracy, by saying, that history is not only a stern
light, but a bow light as well: it flashes its rays far back over those rough waters
through which our ship has been ploughing, and it throws at least some illumination
forward upon the deeps of time toward which we are about to sail.



Upon the whole, then, it may fairly be said, that by withdrawing now and
then from the present, and by making tours of studious observation into the
past, we greatly enlarge our knowledge and our capacity for knowledge; we teach
ourselves toleration, and even sympathy, for types of person and society, for
opinions and for courses of action, quite unlike our own; we become more truly
catholic and cosmopolitan; we become more modest, too, by realizing that mighty
persons and mighty peoples have lived in this world and left it ages before we came
into it; we learn to understand better our own place in the general movement of
time and events, and how to adjust ourselves to both for the greater service, for
the more perfect happiness, of ourselves and others.

If, indeed, this be a just account of the matter, perhaps we shall not deem it
an extravagance to say, as was lately said by a sober-minded English critic, that
"history is the central study among human studies, capable of illuminating and
enriching all the rest."


I should be sorry to come to the end of this discussion without a word as to
the importance of arranging for the study of history upon a wise plan, that is,
upon a generous and a comprehensive plan. Perhaps in no other study are
pettiness and provincialism more incongruous than in this study. Not even
patriotism is a sufficient justification for limiting our historical readings to our
own country. We Americans have a right to be glad and proud over the strong
enthusiasm for the nation which now fills every part of it. One manifestation

Online LibraryIsreal Smith ClareLibrary of Universal history and popular science ... (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 40)