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النشر الإلكتروني

LECTURES

ON

MODERN HISTORY.

LECTURE I. ON THE VALUE OF HISTORY, AND ON THE ORIGINAL STATE

OF MEN IN EUROPE AND GERMANY. THERE are three subjects which chiefly attract the attention of educated men, and occupy the leisure, which the duties of life and their social position leave them : the philosophy of life,—the enjoyment of the fine arts,—and the study of history.

All three are adapted in various ways to exalt and enrich the inward man. They are in this respect equally indispensable. Yet it is pre-eminently from the study of history, that all these endeavours after a higher mental culture derive their fixed centre and support, viz., their common reference to man, his destinies and energies. Without a knowledge of the mighty past, the philosophy of life, however much it may enchant by wit, or transport by eloquence, will never be able to carry us beyond the limits of the present, out of the narrow circle of our customs and immediate issociations. Even the higher pbilosophy itself, that most daring, and for that very reasou, a noble aspiration of human thought, can never with impunity neglect a constant retrospection of the history of man's development and of his mental energies, as it would otherwise infallibly be entangled and lost in the unintelligible. History, on the contrary, if it does not stop at the mere enumeration of names, dates, and external facts ; if it seizes on and sets forth the spirit of great times, of great men, and great events, is in itself a true philosophy, intelligible to all, and certain, and in its manifold applications the most instructive. The value of the fine arts

for all higher mental culture is acknowledged. But without the earnestness which they acquire only by their relation to the destinies and history of man, they would ever be in danger of becoming an empty pastime—a mere revel of the imagination. The meaning of the most admirable and highest productions of the plastic arts and of poetry becomes really perceptible to us, only when we can enter into the spirit of the times out of which they sprang, or which they set forth. If philosophy more immediately engages the understanding, if the fine arts occupy the feelings and the imagination, so history, on the other hand, claims the whole attention of man, and all the faculties of his soul alike; or at least it ought to do so, if it would correspond to its high destination.

Thus history, if not in itself the most brilliant, is yet the most indispensable link in that beautiful chain, which encompasses man's higher intellectual culture : and history it is which binds the others more closely together. But another and very special motive for the study of history is to be derived from the extraordinary and surprising events of the present times.* Reflection on the mighty past,—the knowledge of it can alone enable us to take a calm steady survey of

the present, to measure its greatness or its littleness, and to 'form a just judginent respecting it.

Thus are the simplest things generally the most exalted. History constitutes the apparently easy and first element of all instruction; and yet the more cultivated the mind of a man is, the more multiplied opportunities will he find of applying it and turning it to use, the more will he discern its richness, and divine its deeper sense. Indeed, no thinker is so profound as to be able to anticipate with accuracy the course of history, no scholar so learved as to think he has exhausted it, or has come to the bottom of it, and no sovereign so powerful that he may with impunity disregard its silent teaching.

It is a great merit of our age to have renovated the study of history, and to have cultivated it with extraordinary zeal. The English had the honour of leading the way in this noble career. The Germans have followed them with success. It would be easy to name one or two of our great historians who, at least as regards the happy combination of intel

* A.D. 1810.

PARTIALITY OF THE HISTORIAN.

lcct, learning, and fertility of ideas, might be preferred to the most celebrated English historians. On the other hand, the merit of a more equable and finished execution is incomparably more frequent among the historians of England than of Germany. Yet the difference of taste and difference of potion respecting the art of historical narration may cause a great diversity of opinions as to the comparative value of our national and of foreign historians. It is, nevertheless, certain that we possess in the German language a rich treasure of historical research, profoundly instructive, and in part entirely new. Within the last two or three decades alone, so much has been achieved and produced in this department, that historical knowledge has been perhaps as much extended in that short space of time as formerly in as many centuries.

Despite these acquisitions, however, history on another side is still defective enough; historic truth, still here and there, veiled by many clouds of error.

That history is written with partiality is a universal complaint. In the ordinary and literal sense this complaint ought not to be made, if we survey history from a lofty point of view. If, in his narrative, a writer of history has in view merely the advantage of some individual state, or some other special political object, and not the general interests of mankind and the progress of human destinies, in that case he may be, perhaps, a skilful advocate, an able orator, a distinguished political writer, but by no means is he an historian. But if a genuine historian sets before us facts, as they are, without falsification, and with the strictest conscientiousness,—for so he is required, and so it is self-evident he ought to do,—and if with respect to his views and opinions,—without which it is impossible to write history, or at least a lively historic narrative, he frankly states the principles of belief and right which determine his views and opinions, then we cannot complain with justice, for he himself furnishes us with the means of easily ascertaining how far we can agree with him or not. Of partiality we ought not to accuse him, even if we should differ from him in opinion ; or at least the word has then no longer any very reprehensible sense. In general it is in history as in life itself, where it may often be more praiseworthy to choose and join the right party, than to remain without any party, ever neutral and indifferent. The example of a great

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