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“Historia testis temporum, lux veritatis, vita memoriæ, magistra vitæ, nuntia vetustatis

CICERO.-De Oratore.

“ Nobis non modo satis esse video quod factum esset id pronuntiare, sed etiam quo consilio quaque ratione gesta essent demonstrare."

SEMPRONIUS ASELLI0,-quoted by Aulus Gellius,

Noct : Attic : Lib. v. cap. 18.

“ Historiæ decus est, et quasi anima, ut cum eventis causæ copulentur.”

Bacon.-De Augmentis Scientiarum,

Lib. ii. cap. 4.

ON THE GROUNDS AND SOURCES

OF HISTORY.

“ CERTAINLY there be that delight in giddiness; and count it a bondage to fix a belief.” This trite quotation from the first of Bacon's beautiful and compendious Essays, describes a not uncommon state of the human mind. Scepticism of all truth and certainty, is not infrequently vaunted as our worthiest and most ennobling independence. A very satisfaction is cherished by some in doubting every thing. Theirs is not the suspense of caution, nor the interval of deliberation, they deride the hope, they abjure the capacity, of conviction. Now this is an intellectual condition most unhappy or most illegitimate, -most unhappy, if the nature of things precludes the possibility of just assent and settled belief,—most illegitimate, if there be an indifference to truth and a scorn of the evidence which confirms it. Whomsoever these Pyrrhonists call their Master, in their universal indetermination they have little cause to boast. Might not a more discursive enquiry, a more observant eye, detect the deciding proof ? May there not exist, and only latent to carelessness and lassitude, powers and instruments of assurance to which even they must yield: If more silent and more reverent, -might not the Oracle speak to them, and in no equivocal response ? At what point of human life, at what stage of human history, can man be justified in declaring that all the faculties of research are exhausted, that all the departments of knowledge are explored? And truly the spirit within us is placed most abjectly in all that concerns its improvement and pleasure, if it possess no tests by which to discriminate the impressions forced upon it, no rules to adjudge the circumstances out of which those impressions grow. To it only is this a phantom-world.

It secures to itself the prerogative of dreaming, only to question its dreams. To the inferior tribes all is real and indubitable. This diffuses joy and animation over the economies of sentient nature. It riots in the bound of the antelope, trills in the carol of the lark, sweeps along in the flight of the eagle. It is existence in sympathy with all the scenes about it,—the green earth, the blue heaven,-existence conscious, assured, unsuspecting,-existence which jealousy of any single instinct or object would cloud and mar. If man cannot thus partake the ecstacy of confidence,—if his superior intelligence compels him to a timid apprehensiveness of all that his predecessors have told, and all his contemporaries yet tell,—it is natural that he should bewail his fate, it may be laudable for him to submit to it,—but it must be an enormous inconsistency to make it a reason of exultation. And that mind which so flippantly and recklessly avows its willingness to oscillate for ever between fact and falsehood, should, at least, be informed of its unhealthiness and decrepitude. It is the eye of the understanding which has gathered a film over itself,—the page which it cannot read is undefaced! The balance is accurately equal,—it is the palsied hand which agitates the scales into their ceaseless alternations !

The disposition to encourage this cavilling state of mind, has manifested itself chiefly in matters of historical enquiry. There would have been a hardihood in disputing the demonstration of numbers and magnitudes,—the presumptuousness was not so palpable in impugning the authority and credibility of testimony. Historians and annalists are not, therefore, always most courteously and civilly quoted ; and it cannot be concealed that they interchange as little courtesy, and as few civilities, among themselves. It is no new thing to call them to account, nor to bring them into suspicion. But some speculations of a more modern date,-speculations in mythology, geography, and cognate dialects,—and some daring siftings of long-acknowledged historic truth by new, and hitherto considered inapplicable, principles,-have rendered it necessary that we should resort to these studies with additionl caution and firmness. And surely there is scarcely any species of knowledge so important and so indis

pensable. Shall we go back to the awful past as filled with gorgeous but incoherent visions as to a land of shadows, -as to realms where imagination enchants and fables all, -or like those who enter some city of the dead, tread the streets which its former population really walked, and open the abodes now voiceless and cheerless, which once rang with festive mirth and joy? Is the vast transmission from former ages, the golden and well-coiled chain, unadulterated and unalloyed, true in every link, compact through the entireness of its series,-or is it a fancy-tissue into which each wanton hand has wove its thread, and stained its colour, — variegated alike by imposture and caprice? Is it a succession of glorious creations, passages of power and greatness, once beheld while teeming forth to universal wonder, and of which this is the veritable record,-or is it a wreck, the debris, of some old chaos and older night?

It must be admitted that we, of this generation, enjoy superior advantages for the prosecution of such disquisitions. The mind of man, in general, is much released from the superstitious homage to names. No living age could possibly boast such perfect information of the dimensions and relative locality of every country. Where comparison is wanted between the former and present condition of any land, we can bring to it an ample array of statistics.—The wide extension of political knowledge clothes the rehearsal of ancient empire with the intensest attraction.—Etymology grubs up the root with untired labour, and with improved dexterity disengages the finer fibres also.— Travel, to be now distinguished, must leave a beaten track and fashionable tour; it must climb Lebanon, and measure the Thebaid or the Troad.-Induction has made us take each step towards a conclusion in a slow and serious manner, and only the more so where it is not of things within the cognizance of direct experiment and immediate sense.—And in the sphere of our short-lived observation, events have transpired which leave us little to call improbable and extravagant.

We shall impose as hard a claim to belief upon our descendants, as our most romantic forefathers did ever upon us! Besides, it is ours to learn from that antiquity which our world has now attained.

The full tide flows through our channel, swollen by the confluence of a thousand tributary streams. This is the old age of mundane narrative. We have long since outgrown and outlived our ancestors. We may think of antediluvians as our children, and of posterity as our sires. We are the longest livers up to the present moment. If we may put faith in history, we exist in all the past as well as all the present. We not only, as it has been said, live twice ; our first life compensates, for the brevity of the second, by chiliads of years. Time with our fathers was in its youth, we only see its hoary head. We partake of its consummation, and should display the experienced wisdom of such a comparative longevity.

To many it will appear that this advanced position is unfavourable to our impression of distant events, and enfeebling to the testimonies which report them. But as mathematical properties are always the same, as the qualities of the triangle must be invariable wherever in space it can be described, or by whatever mind it can be conceived,-so a fact once proved, can lose nothing of certainty by the continued durability of its proof. The age can no more weaken it, than the stain and the worm-eaten mould can invalidate charters of right and muniments of property. The preservation of such proof is its augmentation. The more venerable its period, the more triumphant is its force. We see in its allowance by so many ages, as well as its tradition through them, that it is stamped with constantlyrenewing approval. The suffrage of many centuries must help to confirm it. That which ever was sufficient to authenticate, must always be sufficient. Nor is there better evidence to be desired concerning any distant occurrence, than that contemporaries,—supposing them to be observant, competent, and unprejudiced, -unanimously, unwaveringly, and disinterestedly believed it.

Our immediate purpose is to vindicate that credence which we commonly repose in historical informations, and to lay bare the futility, or the profligacy, of that reserve which would suspend such credence, or of that scorn which would denounce it. If Walter Raleigh rebuked himself for his attempt to write a

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