Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine — Volume 53, No. 328, February, 1843 online

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If any doubt could exist as to the nature of the loss which the
premature death of Dr Arnold has inflicted on the literature of his
country, the perusal of the volume before us must be sufficient to show
how great, how serious, nay, all circumstances taken together, we had
almost said how irreparable, it ought to be considered. Recently placed
in a situation which gave his extraordinary faculties as a teacher still
wider scope than they before possessed, at an age when the vivacity and
energy of a commanding intellect were matured, not chilled, by constant
observation and long experience - gifted with industry to collect, with
sagacity to appreciate, with skill to arrange the materials of
history - master of a vivid and attractive style for their communication
and display - eminent, above all, for a degree of candour and sincerity
which gave additional value to all his other endowments - what but
leisure did Dr Arnold require to qualify him for a place among our most
illustrious authors? Under his auspices, we might not unreasonably have
hoped for works that would have rivalled those of the great continental
writers in depth and variety of research; in which the light of original
and contemporaneous documents would be steadily flung on the still
unexplored portions of our history; and that Oxford would have balanced
the fame of Schlösser and Thierry and Sismondi, by the labours of a
writer peculiarly, and, as this volume proves, most affectionately her

The first Lecture in the present volume is full of striking and original
remarks, delivered with a delightful simplicity; which, since genius has
become rare among us, has almost disappeared from the conversation and
writings of Englishmen. Open the pages of Herodotus, or Xenophon, or
Cæsar, and how plain, how unpretending are the preambles to their
immortal works - in what exquisite proportion does the edifice arise,
without apparent effort, without ostentatious struggle, without, if the
allusion may be allowed, the sound of the axe or hammer, till "the pile
stands fixed her stately height" before us - the just admiration of
succeeding ages! But our modern _filosofastri_ insist upon stunning us
with the noise of their machinery, and blinding us with the dust of
their operations. They will not allow the smallest portion of their
vulgar labours to escape our notice. They drag us through the chaos of
sand and lime, and stone and bricks, which they have accumulated, hoping
that the magnitude of the preparation may atone for the meanness of the
performance. Very different from this is the style of Dr Arnold. We will
endeavour to exhibit a just idea of his views, so far as they regard the
true character of history, the manner in which it should be studied,
and the events by which his theory is illustrated. To study history as
it should be studied, much more to write history as it should be
written, is a task which may dignify the most splendid abilities, and
occupy the most extended life.

Lucian in one of his admirable treatises, ridicules those who imagine
that any one who chooses may sit down and write history as easily as he
would walk or sleep, or perform any other function of nature,

"Thought, to the man that never thinks, may seem
As natural as when asleep to dream."

From the remarks of this greatest of all satirists, it is manifest that,
in his days, history had been employed, as it has in ours, for the
purposes of slander and adulation. He selects particularly a writer who
compared, in his account of the Persian wars, the Roman emperor to
Achilles, his enemy to Thersites; and if Lucian had lived in the present
day, he would have discovered that the race of such writers was not
extinguished. He might have found ample proofs that the detestable habit
still prevails of interweaving the names of our contemporaries among the
accounts of former centuries, and thus corrupting the history of past
times into a means of abuse and flattery for the present. This is to
degrade history into the worst style of a Treasury pamphlet, or a daily
newspaper. It is a fault almost peculiar to this country.

We are told in one of these works, for instance, that the "tones of Sir
W. Follett's voice are silvery" - a proposition that we do not at all
intend to dispute; nor would it be easy to pronounce any panegyric on
that really great man in which we should not zealously concur; but can
it be necessary to mention this in a history of the eighteenth century?
Or can any thing be more trivial or offensive, or totally without the
shadow of justification, than this forced allusion to the "ignorant
present time," in the midst of what ought to be an unbiassed narrative
of events that affected former generations? We do not know whether the
author of this ingenious allusion borrowed the idea from the
advertisements in which our humbler artists recommend their productions
to vulgar notice; or whether it is the spontaneous growth of his own
happy intellect: but plagiarized or original, and however adapted it may
be to the tone and keeping of his work, its insertion is totally
irreconcilable with the qualities that a man should possess who means to
instruct posterity. When gold is extracted from lead, or silver from
tin, such a writer may become an historian. "Forget," says Lucian, "the
present, look to future ages for your reward; let it be said of you that
you are high-spirited, full of independence, that there is nothing about
you servile or fulsome."

Modern history is now exclusively to be considered. Modern history,
separated from the history of Greece and Rome, and the annals of
barbarous emigration, by the event which above all others has
influenced, and continues still to influence, after so many centuries,
the fate of Europe - the fall of the Western Empire - the boundary line
which separates modern from ancient history, is not ideal and
capricious, but definite and certain. It can neither be advanced nor
carried back. Modern history displays a national life still in
existence. It commences with that period in which the great elements of
separate national existence now in being - race, language, institutions,
and religion - can be traced in simultaneous operation. To the influences
which pervaded the ancient world, another, at first scarcely
perceptible, for a time almost predominant, and even now powerful and
comprehensive, was annexed. In the fourth century of the Christian era,
the Roman world comprised Christianity, Grecian intellect, Roman
jurisprudence - all the ingredients, in short, of modern history, except
the Teutonic element. It is the infusion of this element which has
changed the quality of the compound, and leavened the whole mass with
its peculiarities. To this we owe the middle ages, the law of
inheritance, the spirit of chivalry, and the feudal system, than which
no cause more powerful ever contributed to the miseries of mankind. It
filled Europe not with men but slaves; and the tyranny under which the
people groaned was the more intolerable, as it was wrought into an
artificial method, confirmed by law, established by inveterate custom,
and even supported by religion. In vain did the nations cast their eyes
to Rome, from whom they had a right to claim assistance, or at least
sympathy and consolation. The appeal was useless. The living waters were
tainted in their source. Instead of health they spread abroad
infection - instead of giving nourishment to the poor, they were the
narcotics which drenched in slumber the consciences of the rich.
Wretched forms, ridiculous legends, the insipid rhetoric of the Fathers,
were the substitutes for all generous learning. The nobles enslaved the
body; the hierarchy put its fetters on the soul. The growth of the
public mind was checked and stunted and the misery of Europe was
complete. The sufferer was taught to expect his reward in another world;
their oppressor, if his bequests were liberal, was sure of obtaining
consolation in this, and the kingdom of God was openly offered to the
highest bidder. But to the causes which gave rise to this state of
things, we must trace our origin as a nation.

With the Britons whom Cæsar conquered, though they occupied the surface
of our soil, we have, nationally speaking, no concern; but when the
white horse of Hengist, after many a long and desperate struggle,
floated in triumph or in peace from the Tamar to the Tweed, our
existence as a nation, the period to which we may refer the origin of
English habits, language, and institutions, undoubtedly begins. So, when
the Franks established themselves west of the Rhine, the French nation
may be said to have come into being. True, the Saxons yielded to the
discipline and valour of a foreign race; true, the barbarous hordes of
the Elbe and the Saal were not the ancestors, as any one who travels in
the south of France can hardly fail to see, of the majority of the
present nation of the French: but the Normans and Saxons sprang from the
same stock, and the changes worked by Clovis and his warriors were so
vast and durable, (though, in comparison with their conquered vassals,
they were numerically few,) that with the invasion of Hengist in the one
case, and the battle of Poictiers in the other, the modern history of
both countries may not improperly be said to have begun. To the student
of that history, however, one consideration must occur, which imparts to
the objects of his studies an interest emphatically its own. It is this:
he has strong reason to believe that all the elements of society are
before him. It may indeed be true that Providence has reserved some yet
unknown tribe, wandering on the banks of the Amour or of the Amazons, as
the instrument of accomplishing some mighty purpose - humanly speaking,
however, such an event is most improbable. To adopt such an hypothesis,
would be in direct opposition to all the analogies by which, in the
absence of clearer or more precise motives, human infirmity must be
guided. The map of the world is spread out before us; there are no
regions which we speak of in the terms of doubt and ignorance that the
wisest Romans applied to the countries beyond the Vistula and the Rhine,
when in Lord Bacon's words "the world was altogether home-bred." When
Cicero jested with Trebatius on the little importance of a Roman jurist
among hordes of Celtic barbarians, he little thought that from that
despised country would arise a nation, before the blaze of whose
conquests the splendour of Roman Empire would grow pale; a nation which
would carry the art of government and the enjoyment of freedom to a
perfection, the idea of which, had it been presented to the illustrious
orator, stored as his mind was with all the lore of Grecian sages, and
with whatever knowledge the history of his own country could supply,
would have been consigned by him, with the glorious visions of his own
Academy, to the shady spaces of an ideal world. Had he, while bewailing
the loss of that freedom which he would not survive, disfigured as it
was by popular tumult and patrician insolence - had he been told that a
figure far more faultless was one day to arise amid the unknown forests
and marshes of Britain, and to be protected by the rude hands of her
barbarous inhabitants till it reached the full maturity of immortal
loveliness - the eloquence of Cicero himself would have been silenced,
and, whatever might have been the exultation of the philosopher, the
pride of the Roman would have died within him. But we can anticipate no
similar revolution. The nations by which the world is inhabited are
known to us; the regions which they occupy are limited; there are no
fresh combinations to count upon, no reserves upon which we can
depend; - there is every reason to suppose that, in the great conflict
with physical and moral evil, which it is the destiny of man to wage,
the last battalion is in the field.

The course to be adopted by the student of modern history is pointed out
in the following pages; and the remarks of Dr Arnold on this subject are
distinguished by a degree of good sense and discrimination which it is
difficult to overrate. Vast indeed is the difference between ancient and
modern annals, as far as relates to the demand upon the student's time
and attention. Instead of sailing upon a narrow channel, the shores of
which are hardly ever beyond his view, he launches out upon an ocean of
immeasurable extent, through which the greatest skill and most assiduous
labour are hardly sufficient to conduct him -

"Ipse diem noctemque negat discernere coelo,
Nec meminisse viæ, mediâ Palinurus in undâ."

Instead of a few great writers, the student is beset on all sides by
writers of different sort and degree, from the light memorialist to the
great historian; instead of two countries, two hemispheres are
candidates for his attention; and history assumes a variety of garbs,
many of which were strangers to her during the earlier period of her
existence. To the careful study of many periods of history, not
extending over any very wide portion of time, the labour of a tolerably
long life would be inadequate. The unpublished Despatches of Cardinal
Granvelle at Besançon, amount to sixty volumes. The archives of Venice
(a mine, by the way, scarcely opened) fill a large apartment. For
printed works it may be enough to mention the Benedictine editions and
Munatoris Annals, historians of the dark and middle ages, relating to
two countries only, and two periods. All history, therefore, however
insatiable may be the intellectual _boulimia_ that devours him, can
never be a proper object of curiosity to any man. It is natural enough
that the first effect produced by this discovery on the mind of the
youthful student should be surprise and mortification; nor is it before
the conviction that his researches, to be valuable, must be limited,
forces itself upon him, that he concentrates to some particular period,
and perhaps to some exclusive object, the powers of his undivided
attention. When he has thus put an end to his desultory enquiries, and
selected the portion of history which it is his purpose to explore, his
first object should be to avail himself of the information which other
travellers in the same regions have been enabled to collect. Their
mistakes will teach him caution; their wanderings will serve to keep him
in the right path. Weak and feeble as he may be, compared with the first
adventurers who have visited the mighty maze before him, yet he has not
their difficulties to encounter, nor their perils to apprehend. The clue
is in his hands which may lead him through the labyrinth in which it has
been the lot of so many master-spirits to wander -

"And find no end, in boundless mazes lost."

But it is time to hear Dr Arnold: -

"To proceed, therefore, with our supposed student's course of
reading. Keeping the general history which he has been reading
as his text, and getting from it the skeleton, in a manner, of
the future figure, he must now break forth excursively to the
right and left, collecting richness and fulness of knowledge
from the most various sources. For example, we will suppose
that where his popular historian has mentioned that an alliance
was concluded between two powers, or a treaty of peace agreed
upon, he first of all resolves to consult the actual documents
themselves, as they are to be found in some one of the great
collections of European treaties, or, if they are connected
with English history, in Rymer's _Foedera_. By comparing the
actual treaty with his historian's report of its provisions, we
get, in the first place, a critical process of some value,
inasmuch as the historian's accuracy is at once tested: but
there are other purposes answered besides. An historian's
report of a treaty is almost always an abridgement of it; minor
articles will probably be omitted, and the rest condensed, and
stripped of all their formal language. But our object now being
to reproduce to ourselves so far as it is possible, the very
life of the period which we are studying, minute particulars
help us to do this; nay, the very formal enumeration of titles,
and the specification of towns and districts in their legal
style, help to realize the time to us, if it be only from their
very particularity. Every common history records the substance
of the treaty of Troyes, May 1420, by which the succession to
the crown of France was given to Henry V. But the treaty in
itself, or the English version of it which Henry sent over to
England to be proclaimed there, gives a far more lively
impression of the triumphant state of the great conqueror, and
the utter weakness of the poor French king, Charles VI., in the
ostentatious care taken to provide for the recognition of his
formal title during his lifetime, while all real power is ceded
to Henry, and provision is made for the perpetual union
hereafter of the two kingdoms under his sole government.

"I have named treaties as the first class of official
instruments to be consulted, because the mention of them occurs
unavoidably in every history. Another class of documents,
certainly of no less importance, yet much less frequently
referred to by popular historians, consists of statutes,
ordinances, proclamations, acts, or by whatever various names
the laws of each particular period happen to be designated.
_That the Statute Book has not been more habitually referred to
by writers on English history_, has always seemed to me a
matter of surprise. Legislation has not perhaps been so busy in
every country as it has been with us; yet every where, and in
every period, it has done something. Evils, real or supposed,
have always existed, which the supreme power in the nation has
endeavoured to remove by the provisions of law. And under the
name of laws I would include the acts of councils, which form
an important part of the history of European nations during
many centuries; provincial councils, as you are aware, having
been held very frequently, and their enactments relating to
local and particular evils, so that they illustrate history in
a very lively manner. Now, in these and all the other laws of
any given period, we find in the first place, from their
particularity, a great additional help towards becoming
familiar with the times in which they were passed; we learn the
names of various officers, courts, and processes; and these,
when understood, (and I suppose always the habit of reading
nothing without taking pains to understand it,) help us, from
their very number, to realize the state of things then
existing; a lively notion of any object depending on our
clearly seeing some of its parts, and the more we people it, so
to speak, with distinct images, the more it comes to resemble
the crowded world around us. But in addition to this benefit,
which I am disposed to rate in itself very highly, every thing
of the nature of law has a peculiar interest and value,
_because it is the expression of the deliberate mind of the
supreme government of society_; and as history, as commonly
written, records so much of the passionate and unreflecting
part of human nature, we are bound in fairness to acquaint
ourselves with its calmer and better part also."

The inner life of a nation will be determined by its end, that end being
the security of its highest happiness, or, as it is "conceived and
expressed more piously, a setting forth of God's glory by doing his
appointed work." The history of a nation's internal life is the history
of its institutions and its laws. Here, then, it is that we shall find
the noblest lessons of history; here it is that we must look for the
causes, direct and indirect, which have modified the characters, and
decided the fate of nations. To this imperishable possession it is that
the philosopher appeals for the corroboration of his theory, as it is to
it also that the statesman ought to look for the regulation of his
practice. Religion, property, science, commerce, literature, whatever
can civilize and instruct rude mankind, whatever can embellish life in
its more advanced condition, even till it exhibit the wonders of which
it is now the theatre, may be referred to this subject, and are
comprised under this denomination. The importance of history has been
the theme of many a pen, but we question whether it has ever been more
beautifully described than in the following passage: -

"Enough has been said, I think, to show that history contains
no mean treasures; that, as being the biography of a nation, it
partakes of the richness and variety of those elements which
make up a nation's life. Whatever there is of greatness in the
final cause of all human thought and action, God's glory and
man's perfection, that is the measure of the greatness of
history. Whatever there is of variety and intense interest in
human nature, in its elevation, whether proud as by nature, or
sanctified as by God's grace; in its suffering, whether blessed
or unblessed, a martyrdom or a judgment; in its strange
reverses, in its varied adventures, in its yet more varied
powers, its courage and its patience, its genius and its
wisdom, its justice and its love, that also is the measure of
the interest and variety of history. The treasures indeed are
ample, but we may more reasonably fear whether we may have
strength and skill to win them."

In passing we may observe, after Dr Arnold, that the most important
bearing of a particular institution upon the character of a nation is
not always limited to the effect which is most obvious; few who have
watched the proceedings in our courts of justice can doubt that, in
civil cases, the interference of a jury is often an obstacle, and
sometimes an insurmountable obstacle, to the attainment of justice. Dr
Arnold's remarks on this subject are entitled to great attention: -

"The effect," he says, "of any particular arrangement of the
judicial power, is seen directly in the greater or less purity
with which justice is administered; but there is a further
effect, and one of the highest importance, in its furnishing to
a greater or less portion of the nation one of the best means
of moral and intellectual culture - the opportunity, namely, of
exercising the functions of a judge. I mean, that to accustom a
number of persons to the intellectual exercise of attending to,
and weighing, and comparing evidence, and to the moral exercise
of being placed in a high and responsible situation, invested
with one of God's own attributes, that of judgment, and having
to determine with authority between truth and falsehood, right
and wrong, is to furnish them with very high means of moral and
intellectual culture - in other words, it is providing them with
one of the highest kinds of education. And thus a judicial
constitution may secure a pure administration of justice, and
yet fail as an engine of national cultivation, where it is
vested in the hands of a small body of professional men, like
the old French parliament. While, on the other hand, it may
communicate the judicial office very widely, as by our system
of juries, and thus may educate, if I may so speak, a very
large portion of the nation, but yet may not succeed in
obtaining the greatest certainty of just legal decisions. I do

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