William Shepherd.

Systematic education: or Elementary instruction in the various departments of literature and science; with practical rules for studying each branch of useful knowledge (Volume 1) online

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Online LibraryWilliam ShepherdSystematic education: or Elementary instruction in the various departments of literature and science; with practical rules for studying each branch of useful knowledge (Volume 1) → online text (page 21 of 44)
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by the parties concerned, to secure the memory of these ar-
rangements and covenants, would give rise to records, which
may be considered as the main sources of history. In the
imperfection of human knowledge, these records would, of
necessity, be first retained and handed down by the medium
of Oral Tradition. And as the genius of man in the ruder
ages of society is naturally inclined to the cultivation of
poetry; and as metrical compositions are best adapted to
make a permanent impression upon the memory, it is highly


probable that the first historical memorials assumed a poetical
form. And this presumption is corroborated by numerous
hints which occur in the Greek and Latin writers, and by
observations which have been made upon the condition and
the customs of uncivilized nations in modern times. In the
poems of Homer, ' minstrels and heroes are represented as
singing to the music of the harp, the deeds of mighty chief-
tains of old.* And in Ovalle's Historical Relation of Chili,
we have the following curious account of the appearance of a
traditionary historian of that country. " For proof of the
care they take to keep the memory of remarkable passages, I
must relate here what I leamed from Father Diego Torres
Bollo, a very extraordinary man both for holiness of life and
skill in government. This great man, returning from Rome
(whither he had been sent as procurator of the province of
Peru) to found the province of Quito, he saw, in a place
where four ways met, an Indian, who, to the sound of a drum,
was singing a great many things all alone, in his own tongue ;
the father called one in his company, who understood it, and
asked him, what that Indian meant by that action ; who told
the father that the Indian was, as it were, the register of that
country, who, to keep up the memory of what had passed in
it, from the deluge to that time, was bound every holiday to
repeat it by the sound of a drum, and singing as he was then
doing. He was, moreover, obliged to instruct others in the
same way, that there might be a succession of men to do the
same thing after he was gone."

Even in modern times, the remembrance of the minute
circumstandes of History, is kept alive in ballads and party
poems, an extensive collection of which affords matter, not

* Tliu?, when Ulysses and Phoenix visited Achilles for the purpose of
deprecating his wrath, they found him playing on his lyre :

T^ o'y Bvfjiov eIe^wcv aitii) $' u^a nxia, 'avJjSv

and Tacitus, speaking of the German chieftain Arminias, says, (Annal.
L. II. C. 88.) " septem et triginta annos vitae, duodecim potentiae ex-
pievit, caniturque adhuc barbaras apud geotes."


Only of amusement, but also of accurate information, espe*
cially as to ilie feelings entertained by different classes of a
community, on the occurrence of specific political events. *

Another simple method of preserving the memory of past
transactions, is the commemoration of them by the observance
of stated days of public festivity, or humiliation. Thus the
migration of the children of Israel from g}pt, is still cele-
brated amongst their descendants, by the festival of the
Je^vish Passover; and the generality of the British youth
derive their earliest knowledge of two important events in the
kistory of their country, from the custom of wearing oak
brandies on the 29th of May, and of lighting bon-fires on
tlie 5lh of November.

Another method of preserving the memory of illustrious
personages, and of important events, apparently more effectual,
but in reality less so than the former, is the erection of unin"
scribed pillars, and monuments of stone or earth. What-
ever memorials of this kind have been erected before the in-
vention of alphabetical characters, have stood in need of the
aid of tradition to communicate a knowledge of the persons
and the events which they were intended to celebrate. But
the tradition may be lust, and that the more easily, in conse-
quence of the apparently greater durability of its substitute.
In that case, the object of the memorial finishes. It is an
awful admonition of the vanity of human pride, and at the
same time, a signal instance of the superiority of written re-
cords overall other historical memorials, that though the pyra-
mids of Egypt seem calculated to endure as long as the

earth itself, the date of their construction, and the object of

their erection, are absolutely unknown.

From these uninscribed monuments, the next step to the

perpetuating of the remembrance of remarkable events would

be registering them in monumental inscriptions, and on tables

of brass, stone, or other durable materials, exposed to public

view.* Hence the transition is, by just degrees, easy and

* Of thu, an instance is afforded in the celebrated Arimdeliaa marbles,


natural, to the most copious accumulation of materials for
History, in the collecting and preserving written records or
authentic accounts of public transactions, composed by the
authority, and digested under the inspection, oi persons hold-
ing the higher offices in the state. These would of necessity
be at first but scanty, supplying little more than the dates and
order of events, without any detail of the circumstances by which
those events were accompanied, or of the causes from which
they derived their origin. But they woidd encrea^e in number
and importance with the progress of civilization ; they would
become more ample in proportion to the diffusion of litera-
ture ; and being deposited in places of safe custody, they
would constitute a rich mine of historic facts, authenticated
ky the best authority. To give a full enumeration of the
various species, and to point out the peculiar utility of the
different subdivisions of these records, would be an arduous
task. It may on the present occasion suffice briefly to men-
tion their principal classes.

And it is obvious to remark, that collections of the laws,
ordinances and internal regulations, enacted and enforced in a
state during any particular period of its history, are well cal-
culated to give an accurate view of the circumstances and con-
dition of its inhabitants at that period. I'hey give to those
who examine them with due attention, full intimation whether
they who constitute the great mass of the community, were then
exalted by liberty, or degraded by slavery ; whether their na-
tural rights were strictly guarded, or violently trampled upon.
They also apprize the reader, what were the prevaihng crimes
and vices of the age in which they were passed, and what
measure of punishment was deemed sufficient to expiate or to re-
press them. As records of taxation, and of fiscal regulations they
furnish a view of a nation's resources and of the course and
system of its commerce. The laws by which a country is

whidi exhibit the dates of the principal events of the Grecian history, till
sixty years after the death of Alexander the Great ; and the Capitoline
marbles, which contain a list of the Roman Magistrates, and the most
important occnrrences in the Annals of the Roman Republic.


governed, reflect on the attentive mind an image of the
genius of the people and their rulers. They supply the means
of detecting the ignorance of barbarism, and mark the pro-
gress of retineraent, and of mental culture. They exhibit
distinct traces of the usurpations, or of the depression of
monarchs, and of the power or the impotence of legislative
bodies. In short, a reference to collections of the laws of a
community is frequently necessary to correct the errors of
mere chroniclers, and to rectify the false conceptions of poli-
tical theorists; and, in all cases in which it can be made>
tends to promote tlie prime object of the historian's researches,
namely, the establishment of truth.

Many of the preceding observations may be applied to de-
monstrate the utility, which the historian may derive from the
records of Courts of Law. These furnish a vast variety of
historical facts most minutely investigated. In their pages
may be traced the artful devices of injustice, and the amend-
ment of judicial principles and practice. They serve as a
warning against that worst species of tyranny, oppression
under the forms of law and exemplify the superior felicity
enjoyed by nations, when the lives and liberties of their citi-
zens are securely fenced by legal provisions against the en-
croachments of power.*

r The public archives in which are preserved original grants
of titles, estates, and immunities, contain documents which
throw great light upon the internal history of states and king-
domsnor will the student, who wishes fully to investigate
many historical questions, refuse their due praise to heralds,
genealogists, and antiquarians ; whose labours, though fre-
quently made the subjects of ridicule, are, nevertheless, on
many occasions extremely useful to the historian,
tiy The reports, made by the governors of distant provinces to

It nay be with troth affirmed that no one can form an adequate and

correct idea of the gradual amendment effected in the institutions of oor

'native country, and of the value of those constitutional principles, from

t^Hiich those amendments have been naturally derived, who has not read

with attention the State Trials of England. r. 42* .^jl. l/, j;1


the seat of government in the mother country, detail the diffi-
culties experienced in the infancy of colonization. They mark
the gradual growth of emigrant communities. They afford
important hints of warning and instruction. By their aid may
be traced the rise and progress of ideas of independence,
from the first impatient murmurs against restrahit, to the bold
and manly struggle to throw off the yoke of despotism.

The recording of treaties with foreign powers, is an obvious
method of preserving the remembrance of the external rela-
tions of a country ; and the dispatches of envoys and embassa
dors, especially the confidential communications made by di-
plomatic agents to the executive branches of their respective
governments, lay open to view the most secret springs of
political conduct. How clearly is the policy, or rather the
impolicy, of our King Charles I. and of his unfortunate
successor, to be traced in the official letters of Barillon, which
have been laid before the public by Sir James Dalrymple and
Mr. Fox ; and what a striking picture do we behold of the
difficulties incident to the administration of a free government,
in the papers of Sir Robert Walpole and his associates in
office, as published by Mr. Coxe in the appendix to his Life of
Sir Robert Walpole. Though a degree of obscurity is thrown
upon some parts of this work, in consequence of its author's
not sufficiently opening the general history of the times of
which he treats, it is, in the main, highly interesting and in-
structive ; and, above all, it evinces, what is a quality of rare
occurrence in a political biographer, a candid and unpreju-
diced mind. The appendix, which occupies ten volumes
supplementary to the life, contains an abundance of docu-
ments which disclose the secret springs of many political
transactions, and which will teach the young to regard with
due scepticism the professions of public men ; to vvhich it
may be added, that the collection of letters, of which the ap-
pendix principally consists, exhibits an interesting variety of
style, rising in excellence through just degrees, from the
clumsy coarseness of Chancellor Middleton, to the graceful
ase of the profligate Bolingbroke.


It is impossible, in many cases, correctly to decide upon
the merits or the demerits of commanders of fleets and armies,
M'ithont an ins]>ei tion of such returns of their fortes, and of
8uch details of their plans, and the reasons of their movements,
as they are accustomed, from time to time, to submit to their
superiors. A mere atlen'ion to dates will apprize the readers
of gazettes, that General Washington, hi the years 1775 and
1776, lay encamped before the town of Boston, at the head
of a force far superior to that of the British, for tlie space of
nine months, without striking a blow. The general's official
correspondence with Congress, accounts for his seeming dila-
toriness, by revealing the astonishing fact, that, during a great
part of this time', he was so scantily provided with powder,
that, had the British been aware of his situation, and marched
to attack him, be would have been under the necessity of
abandoning his position.*

Though the declarations and manifestoes which the rulers
of states, in deference to public opinion, are in modern times
accustomed to issue as a record of their mutual grievances,
and as apologies for disturbing the general tranquillity by an
appeal to arms, are usually drawn up with considerable arti-
fice, and with an anxious desire to distort fact^ and to disguise
the truth, to the discerning mind they not unfrequently afl^jrd
a clue for the tracing of political mysteries ; and are by no
means to be neglected by him who would wish to be well
versed in history.

The records which have been preserved of the instructions
given to plenipotentiaries, and of the successful and the un-
successful negociations which have, from time to time, taken
place between belligerent powers for the restoration of peace,
afford abundant matter of information and instruction to the
student of History. They admit the reader, as it were, be-
hind the curtain. Tliey reveal the views and expectations of
adverse powers ; their sense of strength, or their consciousness
of weakness ; the real as well as the pretended foundation of

* See WasliingtoD't Official Letters, published in Lood|J| p^i|
two ToU. octavo.


their demands, and the true as well as the alleged reason of
their relinquishment of claims. They not unfrequently deve-
lope the whole system of the policy of a state, and while they
afford specimens of the mutual exercise of consummate dis-
simulation, they may be classed among the most valuable do-
cuments which can be submitted to the examination of an

Of HO less value are all those records which afford authentic
materials for statistical science ; namely, accurate accounts of
the population of different countries at several periods of
l^eir revenues their commerce, their naval^ military, and
religious establishments of their civil constitution, and the
condition of the various classes into which their inhabitants
are subdivided.

In addition to the information which is to be derived from
these public documents, much light is frequently thrown on
national transactions by the papers of individuals. The nia*
nagement of state affairs has been Well denominated " a
craft." It is esteemed one of the chief requisites of a poli-
tician, to be able to put a fair seeming upon the schemes in
which he is engaged, and he frequently adopts the most skilful
artifices to disguise the motives of his actions, and to conceal
from observation his ulterior views and designs. These, how-
ever, he, in all probability, reveals, either to his superiors
and employers,, or to his confidential friends. When com-
munications of this kind come to light, they obviously tend
to explain what is obscure in the conduct of political affairs,
and to give a full view of the truth. Of these repositories of
private confidence, the diligent and faithful historical inquirer
will be anxious to avail himself. In many points, the orations
of Cicero exhibit the outward appearance of public transac-
tions in which that true lover of his country was engaged ; but
the real natyre, quality, and purpose of some of the most
important of these transactions, are clearly to be understood
only by the perusal of his Epistles, in many of which he ap-
pears to have opened to his friends his most secret thoughts.


Tacitus, in the compiling, or rather in the composition of his
Annals, consulted not only the public records of the times of
which he treated, but also the private memoirs of such sena-
tors as had taken an active part in the conduct and manage-
ment of the affairs of the Roman empire.*

In this respect, the historian of modern times enjoys great
advantages over the writer who endeavours minutely to inves-
tigate the events of ancient history. There exists a rich abun-
dance of private memoirs and letters of such statesmen as
have, in later days, directed the affairs of almost every country
in Europe. These documents disclose the hidden causes of
many public proceedings which cannot, without their aid, be
thoroughly understood. They evince the occasional embar-
rassments of the rulers of nations, and display, in all their
deformity, the mean artifices of political intrigue, and the
interested manoeuvres of the crafty and dishonest, who have
abused the delegation of power. A careful perusal of their
pages will abate the ardour of political idolatry, and prepare
the free inquirer to investigate the truth with candour and im-

The foregoing are the principal sources and repositories of
historical materials. Others, no doubt, may be enumerated.
The diligent and sagacious inquirer will glean facts from
quarters apparently the most unpromising and barren. What
is lost upon a careless or an ignorant reader, may dispense a
ray of light to the man who applies the powers of an active
mind to the investigation of historic truth. He who proposes
to himself this as his object, will not, when occasion requires
it, shrink with disgust from tlie toil of turning over heaps of
rubbish in search of a single pearl. Thus the intelligent and
industrious Gibbon, speaking of Uie works of Jerome, Au-
gustine, and Chrysostom, observes : "the smallest part of
these writings is of the historical kind ; yet the treatises which

Tims, in recordine the pruposn) to assaBsinate Anninins, made to the
Roman govemmeDt by Adgandestrin!i, n^ferring to his authorities, he yf,
*' Reperio apud scriptores, senatoresque eoruodem temporum."


seem the least to invite the curiosity of the reader, frequently
conceal very useful hints or very valuable facts. The polemic
who involves himself and his antagonists in a cloud of argu-
mentation, sometimes relates the origin and progress of the
heresy which he confutes; and the preacher who declaims
against the luxury, describes the manners of the age, and sea-
sonably introduces the mention of some public calamity,
that he may ascribe it to the justice of oflFended heaven." Thus
extensive is the field of investigation which lies open to the
historian ; thus various are the sources to which he must apply
in search of materials from which he may deduce the thread
of his narrative.




First Historians mere Chroniclers Characteristics of a good Historian
Ancient Hktory, importance of General Histories and Compendiums,
Tnrsellin's Le Clerc'g Slcidan's Bossuet's Rollin's Millot's. Par-
ticular Histories, Gillies' History of Greece Hooke's Roman History
Gibbon. Course of Ancient History described.

As the Arts and Sciences, in general, attain to maturity bj
slow degrees, so the science of History, in particular, con-
tinued, for a lengthened period, in a state of infancy. The first
historians of every country were mere chroniclers of events,
the evidence of which rested on the uncertainty of tradition
and hearsay ; or which were in some degree, but in general
slightly, iovestigated by inquiries made in the course of foreign
and donaestic travel. Those simple narratives which are to
this day read with so much interest in the pages of Herodotus
and Froissart, were the fruits of many a long and painful
journey. It was in consequence of the personal, still more
than of the epistolary intercourse, which, during the barbarism
of the middle ages, tlie clergy of distant provinces and of
remote countries maintained with each other, that the mass of
true and false reports was collected, which, from the recesses
of monastic libraries, shed a dim light upon the period which
intervenes between the seventh and the fourteenth centiu-ies of


the Christian aera. For the monasteries were then the prin-
cipal, or rather the only refuge of literature. Within their
gloomy walls genius occasionally broke the trammels of super-
stition, and studious industry beguiled the dit)! uniformity of
the endless round of religious exercises. There chronicles
were compiled, transcribed, and deposited in, a custody which
was respected by the semi-barbarous chieftain, and even by
the lawless freebooter. In many of these compositions the
marvellous, as might be expected, frequently supersedes the
probable ; miracles and prodigies are more abundant than the
incidents of common life, and truth is obscured by fable.
The traditionary errors thus recorded, for some time obtained
implicit belief, and were handed down, by compiler after
compiler, to the credulity of successive generations. But as
knowledge was improved and extended, the scope of the his-
torian was enlarged ; his judgment became more discrimi-
nating, and his taste more fastidious. He rejected the fabu-
lous, the uninteresting, and the trifling matter which he found
in the writings of his precursors, or cited it only as a cha-
racteristic of the credulity of the age in which it was collected.
He fixed his principal attention upon topics of inquiry, the
discussion of which blended the entertaining with the useful.
By just degrees his character was matured ; till, by applying
to historical investigations the principles of sound philosophy,
he rose from the rank of a mere narrator to that of a guide in
morals, and an instructor in politics.

The spirit of philosophical inquiry, is, indeed, absolutely
necessary to enable the student to reap the full advantage
which may be derived from historical researches. If destitute
of the power of discrimination, he is liable to waste his time
and to be led into error, by listening to the inconsistencies and
the improbabilities of fiction ; if devoid of the faculty of,
deducing useful consequences, the utmost extent of accom-
plishment to which he may be expected to attain, will be the
making his memory a depository of barren incidents. To

s 2


distinguish probability from improbability, to separate truth
from falsehood in the undigested mass of the obscure records
of ancient times, or amidst the misrepresentations of party
zeal and factious mahgnity in more modern periods, requires
the exercise of consummate sagacity. Voltaire has justly
observed, that, in order to be qualitied to seize the proper
objects of history, a man must not be acquainted with books
atone. He must have a minute knowledge of the human
heart, and must be endowed with sufficient skill to enable
him to analyze the prejudices and the passions of men. A
reader of this description will give due weight to circum-
stances and situations. He will not, for instance, estimate
the character of a despot by the panegyric of a courtier ; and
if a prince has resisted the claims of ecclesiastical encroach-
ment, and restrained the power of the clergy, he will not
pass sentence of condemnation on him, merely because
his reputation happens to be vilified in the writings of a

In order to complete the character of an Histoiian, to this
soundness of the intellect should be added a strict integrity of
principle and a feeling heart. His standard of moral and po-
litical excellence must be Hxed at an elevated point. He must
be endued with a sense of dignity, which will lead him to dis-
dain to become the convenient apologist of folly or of vice.
He must entertain a strong dislike of every species of injustice,
and he ought to be armed with a boldness of spirit, which will
prompt him, without regard to personal consequences, to re-
present the actions of men in their true lineaments. At the
same time it is his duty to cherish a spirit of candour, and to
chastise and subdue all those party feelings, and sectarian pre-
judices, which, presenting facts through a deceitful medium,
distort their forms, and display them in colours not their 9Wi>.
He must beware of indulging the partiality of favouritism
of lavishing upon some honoured hero praises to which he is
not justly entitled, and of ascribing to lum glories to which


Bd has no claim.* He must also divest himself of that at-
tachment to system, the consequence of a propensity to gene-

Online LibraryWilliam ShepherdSystematic education: or Elementary instruction in the various departments of literature and science; with practical rules for studying each branch of useful knowledge (Volume 1) → online text (page 21 of 44)