Thomas Arnold.

Introductory lectures on modern history : delivered in Lent term, MDCCCXLII : with the inaugural lecture delivered in December, MDCCCXLI online

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Online LibraryThomas ArnoldIntroductory lectures on modern history : delivered in Lent term, MDCCCXLII : with the inaugural lecture delivered in December, MDCCCXLI → online text (page 1 of 21)
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' 1849.














THE following Lectures are printed almost exactly
as they were delivered. They were written with the
expectation that they would be read in a room to a
very limited audience ; which may explain why the
style in some instances is more colloquial than became
the circumstances under which they were delivered

Rugly, May 5M, 1842.




History often underrated. It cannot be appreciated justly at
once. Definition of history. The biography of a society.
Properly, the biography of a nation. And hence, gene-
rally, of a government. But not always so in reality. A
nation's life is twofold, partly external, and partly internal.
The internal life determined by its end. This end
moral rather than physical. Because a nation is a sove-
reign society ; and must therefore be cognizant of moral
ends ; as it controls all actions. End of a nation's life, its
highest happiness. This is the fruit of laws and institu-
tions ; which together form its constitution ; executive,
legislative, and judicial. Institutions for public instruction.
Institutions relating to property. Their great import-
ance. Instances given : primogeniture, entails, commer-
cial laws, &c. Other elements affecting national life.
Conclusion : the greatness of history. What constitutes
modern history 1 It treats of nations still living. When
was the English nation born ? National personality de-
pends on four great elements. Peculiarity of modern his-
tory. Its element of the German race. Spread of this
race. Is modern history the last history? Why it seems
likely to be so. Importance of its being so. Value of
the lessons of history. Conclusion I




Theory of the perfect state. The supreme society must be
moral. Why the moral theory is objected to. What
should be the bond of societies. Union of action rather
than of belief. When is government national? Govern-
ment speaking the voice of the nation may choose its own
national law. Churches may infringe individual rights.
Excommunication is a punishment. All centralization has
its dangers. Obedience to Christian law the way to arrive
at Christian faith. But the end is not to be made the
beginning. What the real difficulty of the question is.
Agreement of the moral theory of a state with the true
theory of the church. The one seems to require the other.
Notice of some special objections. The objections as-
sume as true what is condemned by high authorities.
Confusion as to what is properly "secular." Excommuni-
cation a secular punishment. In what sense our Lord's
kingdom was not a kingdom of this world. Conclusion . So


Introductory remarks. Contrast bet ween ancient and modern
history. Extreme voluminousness of modern history.
Some one particular portion to be selected. First study it
in a contemporary historian. Or in those of more than
one nation. Other authorities next to be consulted.
Advantage of the university libraries. Collections of
treaties to be consulted. Rymer's Fcedera. Also col-
lections of laws, &c. Their value to the historical student.
Letters or other writings of great men. Miscellaneous
literature. How such reading may be made practicable,
by reading with a view to our particular object. And yet
will not be superficial. What reading is superficial and
misleading. Remarkable example of misquotation from
Mosheim's Ecclesiastical History. Which quotation has
inadvertently been given by several successive writers.
Showing the danger of quoting at second-hand. Still a


knowledge of past times is insufficient and even incom-
plete in itself, without a lively knowledge of the present.
Good effects of a knowledge of the present, and
generally of more than one period. To prevent our
wrongly valuing one period. Especially to prevent us
from decrying our own. Recapitulation. Subject of the
ensuing lecture Gl


Two periods of modern history. Before and after the six-
teenth century. The history of the first is simpler, of the
second more complicated. Historians of the first period.
Bede. Study of language in history. Importance of
good habits of translation. Difference of the classical and
later Latin. Trustworthiness of historians. Question as
to Bede's accounts of miracles. Difference between wonders
and miracles. Alleged miracles by far the most difficult.
Their external testimony defective ; and also their in-
ternal evidence. They are generally to be disbelieved.
Perhaps with some exceptions. But even if true they
cannot sanction all the opinions held by those who work
them. Questions belonging to the thirteenth century.
Questions in the study of the Chronicles. Philip de
Comines. Advantages of previous classical study. Greater
difficulty in the study of the middle ages. Importance of
genealogies. We must look backwards and forwards.
Examples given. Contest for the throne of Naples.
Peculiar interest of the period described by Philip de
Comines. Contrast between him and Herodotus. Con-
clusion 91


Magnitude of modern history. Its different subjects of study.
External history. Geography. Common notions of
geography. How it should be studied. Examples of its
importance. Geography of Italy. Tendency of the last



three centuries. Small states swallowed up by great ones.
Excesses of this tendency. First, Spain. Spain dangerous
to Europe. The Austro-Spanish power. France danger-
ous to Europe. Ascendancy of England in 1763.
France under Napoleon. The dominion of Napoleon
Its wonderful overthrow. These are merely external
struggles ; although often mixed up with struggles of
principle. The questions contained in them are econo-
mical and military. Economical questions. Difficulty of
supporting a war. Temptation to raise money by loans.
Evils of the borrowing system. Examples of financial
difficulties in France and in England. Are such evils
unavoidable? Conclusion 12t


Difficulty of speaking on others' professions. How far it
may be done with propriety. And where we must be
ignorant. Whose campaigns are worth studying. Disci-
pline must conquer enthusiasm. Will some races always
beat others'? Not of necessity. Mischiefs of irregular
warfare. Irregular warfare not justified by the accident
of our country's being invaded. Certain laws of war con-
sidered. Plundering a town taken by storm. General
Napier's judgment on this point. Of the right of block-
ade. Siege of Genoa in 1800. Importance of amending
bad laws. Of wrong done in going to war. Suspicion
begets suspicion. Understanding of military operations.
What leads to battles in particular places. Great lines of
road often change. Changes in roads and fortresses.
Mountain warfare. Conclusion 151


Transition to internal history. General divisions of the sub-
ject. Question of many and few. What is a popular
party ? What is meant by the few and the many ? What
is the good of a nation 1 Principles intermixed with one
another. Example of Hume. What is the party of



the movement? Not always a popular party. Parties
changed by time. Example of the Guelfs and Ghibelins.
Dread of extinct evils ; or of such as are the weaker.
Analysis of internal history. Period of religious move*
ment. Parties in England first appear in the reign of
Elizabeth. Three parties. The party of the established
church. The party of the puritans. Party of the Roman-
ists. Ability of Elizabeth. Her great popularity. . .183


Church questions are often political rather than religious ;
inasmuch as they have been questions of government.
Questions of the priesthood are religious, but were not dis-
cussed in England. Church questions in England political,
as the church and state were one. Yet the church ques-
tions were in form not political till the reign of James I.
Causes of the political movement. Growth of the House
of Commons. Its growth owing to that of the nation.
The intellectual movement stood aloof from the political,
being regarded by it with suspicion, especially by the reli-
gious movement. Why the purely intellectual movement
inclined to the party upholding church authority ; submit-
ting to it insincerely. State of the contest hitherto. It
might have been delayed, but not prevented. Change
wrought in the popular party ; both in its religious party
and in its political. Elements of the antipopular party.
Nobleness of its best members. Lord Falkland. Its
other members. Those who are called meek and peace-
able. They have no temptation to be otherwise, and are
not to be admired. Other opponents of puritanism, some
better and others worse. Lord Falkland's character of
these. Results of the civil war. Altered relations of
church and state. Conclusion ......... 215


England after the Revolution. Parties supportingor disliking
it. The popular party. Two divisions of the opposite



party. One of these maintained the Revolution because it
had changed so little ; yet the advantages involved in it
were both great and lasting. Treatment of Ireland by
the popular party. Feelings of the opposite party towards
France. The poorer classes unfriendly to the Revolution.
Parties in the eighteenth century. Triumph of the po-
pular party. What it neglected to accomplish. New form
of English party. First years of George the Third's reign.
The House of Commons antipopular. How this came
to take place. New popular party out of Parliament.
The periodical press. Separation of politics from morals.
Letters of Junius. American war. War of the French
Revolution. Consistency of parties. General view of the
movement. Omissions of both parties. Our judgment of
them affected by our judgment of earlier times. Conclu-
sion . 249


Credibility of history. History alone tells us of the past.
Whether a narrative is meant to be history. Example
from Sir Walter Scott's works. A narrative may aim
at truth and yet be careless of fact. Criteria of an his-
torical narrative. Ecclesiastical biographies. Credibi-
lity of writings clearly historical. Contemporary writers
often overrated. The narrative of actual witnesses.
Witnesses more or less perfect. The principal actor a per-
fect witness, in knowledge though not in honesty. All
history credible up to a certain point. An earnest craving
after truth the great qualification of an historian. Truth
when sought may be found. The craving after truth in a
reader enables him to estimate truth in a writer. Examin-
ation of an historian's credibility, both as to style and
matter. As to the authorities referred to. As a military
historian. As a political historian. False notions of im-
partiality. Obj ection to history generally. Uncertainty as
to political questions. Their laws not really uncertain,
although often thought to be so. Certain principles are



clearly good. Yet can history profit us ? Or are we
bound by an unchangeable fate? Can \ve undo the effect
of the past? Supposed case in the French Revolution.
The effects of the past partly reversible. Conclusion of
the Lectures. Proposed subject of the next course.
Conclusion ... . 281


IT has been often remarked that when a stranger
enters St. Peter's for the first time, the immediate
impression is one of disappointment; the building
looks smaller than he expected to find it. So it is
with the first sight of mountains ; their summits
never seem so near the clouds as we had hoped to
see them. But a closer acquaintance with these, and
with other grand or beautiful objects, convinces us
that our first impression arose not from the want of
greatness in what we saw, but from a want of
comprehensiveness in ourselves to grasp it. What
we saw was not all that existed : but all that our un-
taught glance could master. As we know it better it
remains the same, but we rise more nearly to its
level : our greater admiration is but the proof that we
are become able to appreciate it more truly.

Something of this sort takes place, I think, in our
uninstructed impressions of history. We are not
inclined to rate very highly the qualifications required
either in the student or in the writer of it, It seems


to demand little more than memory in the one, and
honesty and diligence in the other. It is, we say,
only a record of facts ; and such a work seems to offer
no field for the imagination, or for the judgment,
or for our powers of reasoning. History is but time's
follower ; she does not pretend to discover, but merely
to register what time has brought to light already.
Eminent men have been known to hold this language :
Johnson, whose fondness for biography might have
taught him to judge more truly, entertained little
respect for history. We cannot comprehend what
we have never studied, and history must be content
1o share in the common portion of every thing
great and good ; it must be undervalued by a hasty

If I were to attempt to institute a comparison
between the excellences of history and those of
other studies, I should be falling into the \$ry fault
which I have been just noticing; I might be doing
injustice to other branches of knowledge, only because
I had no sufficient acquaintance with them. But
I may be allowed to claim for history, not any
particular rank, whether high or low, as compared
with other studies, but simply that credit should be
given it for containing more than a superficial view
of it can appreciate ; for having treasures, neither
lying on the surface nor immediately below the sur-
face treasures not to be obtained without much
labour, yet rewarding the hardest labour amply.

To these treasures it is my business to endeavour
to point out the way. A Professor of History, if I


understand his duties rightly, has two principal ob-
jects : he must try to acquaint his hearers with the
nature and value of the treasure for which they are
searching ; and, secondly, he must try to show them
the best and speediest method of discovering and
extracting it. The first of these two things may be
done once for all; but the second must be his
habitual employment, the business of his professorial
life. I am now, therefore, not to attempt to enter
upon the second, but to bestow my attention upon
the first ; I must try to state what is the treasure
to be found by a search into the records of history : if
we cannot be satisfied that it is abundant and most
valuable, we shall care little to be instructed how to
gain it.

In speaking of history generally, I may appear to
be forgetting that my proper subject is more limited ;
that it is not history simply, but modern history. I
am perfectly aware of this, and hope not to forget
it in my practice : but still at the outset I must trace
the stream from its source : I must ask you to remain
with me awhile on the high ground, where the
waters, which are hereafter to form the separate
streams of ancient and modern history, lie as yet
undistinguished in their common parent lake. I
must speak of history in general, in order to under-
stand the better the character of any one of its
particular species.

The general idea of history seems to be, that it is
the biography of a society. It does not appear to

B 2


me to be history at all, but simply biography, unless
it finds in the persons who are its subject something
of a common purpose, the accomplishment of which
is the object of their common life. History is to this
common life of many, what biography is to the life
of an individual. Take for instance any common
family, and its members are soon so scattered from
one another, and are engaged in such different pur-
suits, that although it is possible to write the bio-
graphy of each individual, yet there can be no such
thing, properly speaking, as the history of the family.
But suppose all the members to be thrown together
in one place, amidst strangers or savages, and there
immediately becomes a common life, an unity of
action, interest, and purpose, distinct from others
around them, which renders them at once a fit sub-
ject of history. Perhaps I ought not to press the
word "purpose;" because purpose implies con-
sciousness in the purposer, and a society may exist
without being fully conscious of its own business as
a society. But whether consciously or not, every
society so much is implied in the very word must
have in it something of community ; and so far as the
members of it are members, so far as they are each
incomplete parts, but taken together form a whole,
so far, it appears to me, their joint life is the proper
subject of history.

Accordingly we find the term history often applied
to small and subordinate societies. We speak of the
history of literary or scientific societies; we have
histories of commercial bodies ; histories of religious


orders ; histories of universities. In all these cases
history has to do with that which the several members
of each of these societies have in common : it is,
as I said, the biography of their common life. And
it seems to me that it could not perform its office,
if it had no distinct notion in what this common
life consisted.

But if the life of every society belongs to history,
much more does the life of that highest and sovereign
society which we call a state or a nation. And this
in fact is considered the proper subject of history;
insomuch that if we speak of it simply, without
any qualifying epithet, we understand by it not the
biography of any subordinate society, but of some
one or more of the great national societies of the
human race, whatever political form their bond of
connexion may assume. And thus we get a somewhat
stricter definition of history properly so called; we
may describe it not simply as the biography of a
society, but as the biography of a political society or

Now in a commonwealth or state, that common
life which I have ventured to call the proper subject
of history, finds its natural expression in those who
are invested with the state's government. Here we
have the varied elements which exist in the body
of a nation reduced as it were to an intelligible
unity : the state appears to have a personal existence
in its government. And where that government
is lodged in the hands of a single individual, then
biography and history seem to melt into one another,


inasmuch as one and the same person combines in
himself his life as an individual, and the common
life of his nation.

That common life, then, which we could not find
represented by any private members of the state, is
brought to a head, as it were, and exhibited intel-
ligibly and visibly in the government. And thus
history has generally taken governments as the pro-
per representatives of nations ; it has recorded the
actions and fortunes of kings or national councils,
and has so appeared to fulfil its appointed duty,
that of recording the life of a commonwealth. Nor
is this theoretically other than true ; the idea of
government is no doubt that it should represent the
person of the state, desiring those ends, and contriv-
ing those means to compass them, which the state
itself, if it could act for itself, ought to desire and
to contrive. But practically and really this has not
been so : governments have less represented the
state than themselves : the individual life has so
predominated in them over the common life, that
what in theory is history, because it is recording
the actions of a government, and the government
represents the nation, becomes in fact no more than
biography ; it does but record the passions and ac-
tions of an individual, who is abusing the state's
name for the purposes of selfish, rather than public

We see then in practice how history has been be-
guiled, so to speak, from its proper business, and has
ceased to describe the life of a commonwealth. For


taking governments as the representatives of com-
monwealths, which in idea they are, history has
watched their features, as if from them might be
drawn the portrait of their respective nations. But
as in this she has been deceived, so her portraits
were necessarily unlike what they were intended to
represent ; they were not portraits of the common-
wealth, but of individuals.

Again, the life of a commonwealth, like that of
an individual, has two parts ; it is partly external
and partly internal. Its external life is seen in its
dealings with other commonwealths; its internal life,
in its dealings with itself. Now in the former of
these, government must ever be in a certain degree
the representative of the nation : there must here
be a community of interest, at least up to a certain
point, and something also of a community of feeling.
If a government be overthrown by a foreign enemy,
the nation shares in the evils of the conquest and in
the shame of the defeat; if it be victorious, the
nation, even if not enriched with the spoils, is yet
proud to claim its portion of the glory. And thus in
describing a government's external life, that is, its
dealings with other governments, history has remained,
and could not but remain, true to its proper subject :
for in foreign war the government must represent
more than its individual self ; here it really must act
and suffer, not altogether, but yet to a considerable
degree, for and with the nation.

I have assumed that the external life of a state is


seen in little else than in its wars ; and this I fear is
true, with scarcely any qualification. A state acting
out of itself is mostly either repelling violence, or
exercising it upon others ; the friendly intercourse
between nation and nation is for the most part ne-
gative. A nation's external life, then, is displayed in
its wars, and here history has been sufficiently busy :
the wars of the human race have been recorded,
when the memory of every thing else has perished.
Nor is this to be wondered at ; for the external life
of nations, as of individuals, is at once the most easily
known and the most generally interesting. Action,
in the common sense of the word, is intelligible to
every one ; its effects are visible and sensible ; in
itself, from its necessary connexion with outward
nature, it is often highly picturesque, while the qua-
lities displayed in it are some of those which by an
irresistible instinct we are most led to admire.' Abi-
lity in the adaptation of means to ends ; courage,
endurance, and perseverance ; the complete con-
quest over some of the most universal weaknesses
of our nature ; the victory over some of its most
powerful temptations, these are qualities displayed
in action, and particularly in war. And it is our
deep sympathy with these qualities, much more
than any fondness for scenes of horror and blood,
which has made descriptions of battles, whether in
poetry or history, so generally attractive. He who
can read these without interest, differs, I am inclined
to think, from the mass of mankind rather for the


worse than for the better ; he rather wants some noble
qualities which other men have, than possesses some
which other men want.

But still we have another life besides that of out-
ward action; and it is this inward life after all which
determines the character of the actions and of the
man. And how eagerly do we desire in those great
men whose actions fill so large a space in history, to
know not only what they did but what they were :
how much do we prize their letters or their recorded
words, and not least such words as are uttered in
their most private moments, which enable us to look
as it were into the very nature of that mind, whose
distant effects we know to be so marvellous. But a

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Online LibraryThomas ArnoldIntroductory lectures on modern history : delivered in Lent term, MDCCCXLII : with the inaugural lecture delivered in December, MDCCCXLI → online text (page 1 of 21)