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ters, accompanied by perpetual sneers at priests, eulogies on kings, or sarcasms on mankind. This was more particularly the case when the political contests of the eighteenth century increased in vehemence, and men, warmed with the passions of real life, turned back to the indifferent coolness, the philosophic disdain, the ton dérisoire, with which the most momentous or tragic events had been treated in these gifted but superficial writers. Madame de Stael has said, that when derision has become the prevailing characteristic of the public mind, it is all over with the generous affections or elevated sentiments. She was right, but not for ever-only till men are made to feel in their own persons the sufferings they laugh at in others. It is astonishing how soon that turns derision into sympathy. The “aristocrats dérisoires” emerged from the prisons of Paris, on the fall of Robespierre, deeply affected with sympathy for human woe.
The profound emotions, the dreadful sufferings, the heartstirring interest of that eventful era, speedily communicated themselves to the style of historical writers; it at once sent the whole tribe of philosophic and derisory historians overboard. The sketchy style, the philosophic contempt, the calm indifference, the sceptical sneers of Voltaire and his followers, were felt as insupportable by those who had known what real suffering was. There early appeared in the narratives of the French Revolution, accordingly, in the works of Toulongeon, Bertrand de Molleville, the Deux Amis de la Liberté, and Lacretelle, a force of painting, a pathos of narrative, a vehemence of language, which for centuries had been unknown in modern Europe. This style speedily became general, and communicated itself to history in all its branches. The passions on all sides were too strongly roused to permit of the calm narratives of former philosophic writers being tolerated ; men had suffered too much to allow them to speak or think with indifference of the sufferings of others. În painting with force and energy, it was soon found that recourse must be had to the original authorities, and, if possible, the eye-witnesses of the events; all subsequent or imaginary narrative appeared insipid and lifeless in comparison ; it was like studying the mannerist trees of Perella or Vivares after the vigorous sketches from nature of Salvator or Claude. Thence has arisen the great school
of modern French history, of which Sismondi was the founder ; and which has since been enriched by the works of Guizot, Thierry, Barante, Thiers, Mignet, Michaud, and Michelet : a cluster of writers which, if none of them singly equal the masterpieces of English history, presents, taken as a whole, a greater mass of talent in that department than any other country can boast.
The poetical mind and pictorial eye of Gibbon had made bim anticipate, in the very midst of the philosophic school of Voltaire, Hume, and Robertson, this great change which misfortune and suffering impressed generally upon the next generation. Thence his extraordinary excellence and acknowledged superiority, as a delineator of events, to any writer who has preceded or followed him. He united the philosophy and general views of one age to the brilliant pictures and impassioned story of another. He warmed with the narratives of the Crusaders or the Saracens, he wandered with the Scythians, he wept with the Greeks, he delineated with a painter's hand and a poet's fire the manners of the nations, the features of the countries, the most striking events of the periods which were passed under review; but, at the same time, he preserved inviolate the unity and general effect of his picture : his lights and shadows maintained their just proportions, and were respectively cast on the proper objects. Philosophy threw a radiance over the mighty maze; and the mind of the reader, after concluding his prodigious series of details, dwelt with complacency on its most striking periods, skilfully brought out by the consummate skill of the artist, as the recollection of a spectator does on any of the magic scenes in Switzerland, in which, amidst an infinity of beautiful objects, the eye is fascinated by the calm tranquillity of the lake, or the rosy hues of the evening glow on the glacier. We speak of Gibbon as a delineator of events : none can feel more strongly, or deplore more deeply, the fatal blindness—the curse of his agewhich rendered him so perverted on the subject of religion, and left so wide a chasm in his immortal work, which the profounder thought and wider experience of Guizot has done so much to fill.
Considered as calm and philosophic narratives, the histories of Hume and Robertson will remain as standard models
for every future age. The just and profound reflections of the former, the inimitable clearness and impartiality with which he has summed up the arguments on both sides, on the most momentous questions which have agitated England, as well as the general simplicity, uniform clearness, and occasional pathos of his story, must for ever command the admiration of mankind. In vain we are told that he is often inaccurate, sometimes partial; in vain are successive attacks published on detached parts of his narrative, by party zeal or antiquarian research : his reputation is undiminished : successive editions issuing from the press attest the continued sale of his work; and it continues its majestic course through the sea of time, like a mighty three-decker, which never even coudescends to notice the javelins darted at its sides from the hostile canoes which from time to time seek to impede its progress. Robertson’s merits are of a different, and, upon the whole,
, of an inferior kind. Gifted with a philosophic spirit, a just and equal mind, an eloquent and impressive expression, he had not the profound sagacity, the penetrating intellect, which have rendered the observation of Bacon, Hume, and Johnson as enduring as the English language. He had not enjoyed the practical acquaintance with man which Hume acquired by mingling in diplomacy; and without a practical acquaintance with man, no writer, whatever his abilities may be, can rightly appreciate the motives or probable result of human actions. It was this practical collision with public affairs which has rendered the histories of Thucydides, Sallust, and Tacitus so profoundly descriptive of the human heart. Living alternately in the seclusion of a Scotch manse, or at the head of a Scotch university; surrounded by books, respect, and ease, the reverend Principal took an agreeable and attractive, but often incorrect view of human affairs. In surveying the general stream of human events, and drawing just conclusions regarding the changes of centuries, he was truly admirable; and in those respects his first volume of Charles V. may, if we except Guizot's Civilisation Européenne, be pronounced without a parallel in the whole annals of literature. The brilliant picture, too, which he has left of the discovery of America, and the manners of the savage
tribes which then inhabited that continent, proves
that he was not less capable of wielding the fascination of description and romance. But in narrating political events, and diving into the mysteries of human motives, his want of practical acquaintance with man is at once apparent. He described the human heart from hearsay, not experience: he was a historian by reading, not observation. We look in vain in his pages for a gallery of historical portraits, to be placed beside the noble one which is to be found in Clarendon. As little can we find in them any profound remarks, like those of Bacon, Hume, or Tacitus, the justice of which is perpetually brought home by experience to every successive generation of men. His reputation, accordingly, is sensibly declining; and though it will never become extinct, it is
easy to foresee that it is not destined to maintain, in future times, the colossal proportions which it at first acquired.
Both Hume and Robertson, however, left untouched one fertile field of historic interest, which Herodotus and Gibbon had cultivated with such success. This is the geographical field, the description of countries as well as men and manners. It is surprising what variety and interest this gives to historical narrative, how strongly it fixes places and regions in the memory of the reader, and how much it augments the interest of the story, by filling up and clothing in the mind's eye the scenes in which it occurred. Doubtless this must not be carried too far; unquestionably the narrative of human transactions is the main object of history, and the one thing needful, as in fiction, is to paint the human heart; but still there, as elsewhere in the Fine Arts, variety and contrast contribute powerfully to the effect; and amidst the incessant maze of villany and suffering which constitutes human transactions, it is sometimes refreshing to contemplate for awhile the calm serenity and indestructible features of Nature.
The modern French historians, forcibly struck with the insipidity and tameness of the philosophical histories, and fraught with the heart-rending recollections and fervent passions of the Revolution, have sought to give life and animation, as well as fidelity and accuracy to their works, by a sedulous recurrence to contemporary annals and authority, and an introduction of not only the facts and statements, but the ideas and words to be found in the ancient chronicles.
Hence the habitual recurrence to original authority, not only by reference at the foot of the page, but by quotation in the words of the old authors, of the actual expressions made use of on the more important occasions. There can be no doubt that this is in some respects an improvement, both with a view to the fidelity and accuracy of history; for it at once affords a guarantee for the actual examination of original authority by the writer, provides a ready and immediate check on inaccuracy or misrepresentation, and renders his work a catalogue raisonné, where those who desire to study the subject thoroughly, may discover at once where their materials are to be found. The works of both the Thierrys, * of Barante, Sismondi, and Michelet, are throughout constructed on this principle ; and thence, in a great measure, the fidelity, spirit, and value of their productions.
But fully admitting, as we do, the importance of this great improvement in the art of historical composition, it has its limits; and writers who adopt it will do well to reflect on what those limits are. Though founded on fact, though based on reality, though dependent for its existence on truth, History is still one of the Fine Arts. We must ever recollect that Mr Fox assigned it a place next to Poetry, and before Oratory. All these improvements in the collection and preparation of materials add to the solidity and value of the structure, but they make no alteration in the principles of its composition. However the stones may be cut out of the quarry, however fashioned or carved by the skill of the workman, their united effect will be entirely lost if they are not put together by the conception of a Michael Angelo, a Palladio, or a Wren. Genius is still the soul of history; its highest inspirations must be derived from the Muses. The most valuable historical works, if not sustained by this divine quality, will speedily sink into useful quarries or serviceable books of reference. "In vain does a Utilitarian age seek to discard the influence of imagination, and subject thought to the deductions of fact and reason, and the motives of temporal comfort. The value of fancy and ardour of mind, is more strongly felt in the narration of real,
* In the Histoire de la Conquête de l'Angleterre par les Normands, par AUGUSTE THIERRY; and the Histoire des Gaulois, and Histoire des Rois Mérovingiens, par AMÉDÉE THIERRY, (brother of Auguste.)