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THE PHILOSOPHY OF HISTORY. 9
gauntleted hand pitilessly strikes down one after another the fairest of Grecian cities. Syracuse and Corinth, with all their columns and statues, sink before her. Carthage meets her in vain in a hundred battles by sea and land; the result is but that the Roman exile moralises over her ruins. Again, there is a wide difference between a Polycrates or a Peisistratus, and a master of thirty legions, with whom it was ill to argue; but this is a difference of degree, and not of kind. Still the Caesar in his almost world-wide dominion reached no higher unity of man than the national unity, and the painter of a servile senate and degenerate people, of a Nero or Domitian, and the empire super et Garamantas et Lidos, which quivered beneath their rage, had indeed a wider canvass, yet grouped not his figures with a deeper thought than he who described the conflict in the bay of Syracuse, or immortalised the oration over the dead at Athens. In one respect, indeed, this political history of the ancients will never be surpassed, probably never be ecmalled—I mean as a work of art. I have hitherto been considering history in another point of view; as to its substance, not as to its shape; as to its inward thought, not as to its outward clothing. All of these great masters were genuine artists, and they could work on materials which none can hope for now. They possessed, as instruments of their thought, two languages, very different in their capacity, but both of them superior in originality, beauty, and expressiveness, to any which have fallen to the lot of modern nations. It may be that the marbles of Pentelicus and Carrara insure good sculptors. Certain it is that those masters of ancient thought deemed it not beneath their pains to spend much time on the mode of expression. Those, perhaps, who have but brick to deal with think it useless to mould so ignoble a material, or shrink from an attempt to rival in plaster the forms of marble art. Yet I have often lamented that historians, who would feel insulted at a comparison of their subject-matter with that of Thucydides or Tacitus, should descend to a style which the Greek would have thought unworthy of an Athenian barber, and the Roman of a manumitted slave.
Nor is it only in style, as an expression of thought, that the ancient historians possess so great an excellence. In the narrative—that is, the poetic and pictorial part of history—they have equal merit. Their history is a drama, in which the actors and events speak for themselves. The author is not perpetually intruding himself and his personal feelings, after the egotistic fashion of too many moderns. It is the difference between Shakespeare and a fashionable novel. In the former characters stand out to the mind and impress themselves on the feelings by action and suffering; in the latter we are continually being told that the heroes are brave or clever, and the heroines paragons of beauty. As we feel Othello or Hamlet, so in a battle-field of Livy we comprehend how, while the combatants were fighting,
"An earthquake reeled unheededly away."
The historian is not yet become an untimely moralist or a dull dissertator. He is the great painter of human nature, and in his subject forgets himself.
But on the philosophic part of history,—the bearing of events on each other, the relations of cause and effect, the apprehension of great first principles, the generalisation of facts,—what shall we say concerning the political history of the ancients? They had faithfully noted whatever belonged to the civil life of man, the political organisation of human society in national centres; but the bearing of nations on each other, the greater whole of humanity itself, they had not reached. Perhaps the course]of history within the memory of man had been too short, its experience too simple, its direction too little evident, for such an advance. Something must happen to man, something to society, something to humanity, before such a result could be attained. For history, as we have observed, is the picture of man's civilisation as it is; and the reality must take place before its portrait can be drawn. Thus, to find any advance in the idea of history, with an exception which I shall note hereafter, the treatise De Civitate Dei, the remarkable work of a great and saintly mind, who has had more influence probably on human thought than any uninspired writer, we must step over a long period of time, during which Europe was reconstituting itself after the convulsions produced by the inroads of the barbarians. At length, after the rise of modern nationalities at the beginning of the sixteenth century, the revival of the ancient Kterature produced for a time a recurrence, at least in outward form, to the political history of the ancients. Such was the model in the mind of Machiavelli and Guicciardini. But the state of the world had gone beyond this; had advanced to a riper growth. To have been contented with the limited views, the national boundaries of ancient history, because of the exquisite shape and perfect language into which that history was thrown, would have been to sacrifice the spirit to the body, would have been a positive retrogression in the then state of the human mind. Through the long travail of the Middle Ages it had been prepared for something better. Indeed, in those very Middle Ages, and notably in the thirteenth century, there were minds which have left us imperishable memorials of themselves, and which would have taken the largest and most philosophic view of history, had the mere materials existed ready to their hand. Conceive, for instance, a history from the luminous mind of St. Thomas, with the stores of modern knowledge at his command. But the invention of printing, one of the turning-points of the human race, was first to take place; and then on that soil of the Middle Ages, so long prepared and fertilised by so patient a toil, a mighty harvest was to spring up. Among the first fruits of labours, so often depreciated by those who have profited from them, and in the land of children who despise their sires, we find the proper alliance of philosophy with history. Then, at length, the province of the historian is recognised to consist, not merely in the just, accurate, lively narrative of facts, but in the exhibition of cause and effect. "What do we now expect in history?" says M. de Barante; and he replies — " Solid instruction; a complete knowledge of things; moral lessons; political counsels; comparisons with the present; the knowledge of general facts." Even in the age of Tacitus, the most philosophic of ancient historians, no individual ability could secure all such powers. What, then, had happened in the interval? Christianity had happened; Christendom had been formed; mankind had passed through fire and water—a deluge and a passion; the secret of its unity and its destiny had been given to it. The nation was no longer the highest of human facts, patriotism no longer the first of virtues. A reconstructed humanity towered far above the nation, and no one member of the human society could any longer engross the whole interest of man. There was a voice in the world greater, more potent, thrilling, and universal than the last cry of the old society, Civis sum Romanics; and this