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A PLEA FOR PLAIN HISTORY.
The reader will soon discover that I advance but few pretensions to that which has been called the philosophy of history, and which I have had the temerity to call the philosophy of romance. It is the privilege of the novelist to be always acquainted with the secret motives of those whose conduct and character he delineates; but the writer of history can know no more than his authorities have disclosed, or the facts themselves necessarily suggest. If he indulge his imagination, if he pretend to detect the hidden springs of every action, the real origin of every event, he may embellish his narrative, but he will impose upon his readers and probably upon himself. Much research and experience may perhaps have entitled me to form an opinion; and I have little hesitation in saying that few writers have done more to pervert the truth of history than philosophical historians. They may display great acuteness of investigation and a profound knowledge of the human heart, but little reliance can be placed on the fidelity of their statements. In their eagerness to establish some favorite theory they are apt to overlook every troublesome or adverse authority, to distort facts in order to form a foundation for their system, and to borrow from their own fancy whatever may be wanting for its support and embellishment.—Dr. Lingard's Preface to History of England.
In view on the one hand of the very combative opinions respectabove weighty and well-considered ing all historical problems, from the words, and on the other hand of the origin of the Athanasian Creed to performances at the present day of the guilt of Mary Queen of Scots, the historical muse, we cannot avoid while with the bare outline of the asking ourselves the question whether facts involved they have not even a the writing of history be not likely decent acquaintance. to become as much a lost art as But it is not with the recipient architecture or even as logic it- public that we are now concerned ; self. For who among contemporary not with those who cry for food, but historians—who at least that aims at with those who put it into their being “popular," and attaining that mouths ; not with the consumer, but circulation which is its own reward with the producer. And in speak—but does and must do the very ing of this producing class the fact thing which a grave and capable au- we assert seems not to need proof. thority thus strongly deprecates ? Historians nowadays are expected
For mere facts our public has to be “philosophical,” and “philoceased to care, nor does it employ sophical” they are. They do not historians to provide it with such even think of presenting us with dry and Spartan fare. Their busi- facts as facts and inferences as inferness is to cook the facts ; to chop ences, or of confining themselves to them up; to season them scientific- what they find recorded. To read ally; to serve them up highly spiced character, to detect and lay bare its to tickle the public palate. Above inmost recesses and hidden springs, all, they have to save the public mind to penetrate from the fact on the from the disagreeable process of surface to the motive beneath, to thought. That same mixture of shal- tell us not only the “what” but the low culture, ambitious to know every- “why,” and the why not objective thing, and of mental indolence, un- only, but subjective as well—this is willing to work at anything, by vir- their task, and it is only on the tue of which we allow reviewers to strength of supposed fitness for this persuade us that we admire poetry task that they occupy the position which no mortal man can under which they have. stand, brings it likewise about that They are taken, in other words, men should have very strong and as historical experts who from much familiarity with the subject have ac- use his acquired knowledge to arquired eyes to see what others cannot range and to co ordinate facts or to see, and a right in consequence to in- argue from them, but he must let us terpret for their less practiced breth- know how much is fact or record ren that which the said brethren have and how much inference. He may not the means of understanding for think that a chronicle betrays a leanthemselves. .
ing or that a recorded action sugNow it is doubtless true that with- gests a motive, and he may tell us in certain limits this claim is reason- so. But if he undertakes to assert able. It is true that, as an African simply as a piece of history that the explorer or an excavator of cata- writer wrote as he did because of combs, so also a seeker among rec- that leaning, or that the subject of ords and archives has a right to a his history did what he did because hearing and must have a special au- of that motive, he is as much a thority when he speaks on matters charlatan as the magician who unwithin the limits of his researches. dertakes to find a spring by the diThis is true; and it is true besides vining rod, or the astrologer who that he will acquire by his experience casts a horoscope according to the such a knowledge of the tract in stars. which he works as to be able to take This thesis we do not propose to short cuts where others must go argue a priori. We will take some round-about, and to recognize his specimens of recent “history,'' and bearings by landmarks which for in their presence ask the common others have no meaning.
sense of readers to say how far they This we allow, but we can allow deserve the name. him no more, and our present task Mr. James Anthony Froude has is to protest against the other func- been engaged these last few months tions which they who call them- in telling the British public and the selves historians affect to discharge, world at large what they are to think functions which we hold with Dr. of St. Thomas of Canterbury, or as Lingard to be dangerous and absurd. he curtly styles him " Thomas As to argument on the subject, his Becket." Those who know anyadmirable remarks might suffice; thing of this author's method will but we will observe two things in not need to be told that his tale is addition. First, that with all our entirely made up of those elements telegraphs and all our correspond- which we wish to see eliminated. ents we find it quite impossible to Motives, objects, influences, are run master the right and the wrong, the off the reel for us from the beginwhy and the wherefore, of history ning of the complex narrative even in progress at this moment with half to the end. Reasons are given to the confidence and security with explain facts, and when that will which historical sleight of hand af- not do, reasons are given to explain fects tò clothe its interpretation of facts away, and the reasons in the the dim records of the middle ages; one case as in the other are given and second, that while historical quite as peremptorily and categoriclairvoyance reads glibly off for us cally as the facts. the character and motives of men of We have heard of an Italian who other centuries, no one of us can do being drawn to serve in the army of the same for his most intimate living his united country was saved from friend.
the disagreeable honor by the charOur thesis, then, is this: the his- acteristic intervention of an intertorian is a man of facts, and he who ested official. It was this man's ceases to be a man of facts ceases, duty to test the conscript's eyes so far, to be an historian. He may by handing him various kinds of spectacles and asking him as he Church he intended to be head both put each on how things looked to of State and King; to place the him through them. As, however, Pope, and himself as the Pope's Lehe at the same time added how gate, in the place of God's vicegerthey ought to look if he wished to ents. When he found it written that have his eyes judged worthless for “by me Kings reign and princes demilitary purposes, it was not hard cree judgment,' he appropriated the to arrive at a prosperous conclusion. language to himself, and his single Some such part does Mr. Froude un- aim was to convert the words thus dertake for our benefit. We must construed into reality. The first pubnever see the text without his gloss; lic intimation which he gave of his never be suffered to look at a fact intentions was the resignation of the till we have heard from him what chancellorship,'* and to make assurwe are to find there. He never for ance doubly sure, this account of the an instant hints it as conceivable that matter is backed up by another idea what he finds there may not be there equally philosophical, but as to the at all. Nay, he seems explicitly to proof which is vouchsafed utterly accept or to claim that very charac- childish, that he wished to avoid an ter of a reader of hidden things audit of his accounts, in which Mr. against which we are arguing. "Mo- Froude pronounces that “ he was tives,” he tells us, * " which in one wise."'+ age are languid and even unintelli- Again, when ruptures began begible, have been in another alive tween King and Primate, and when and all-powerful. To comprehend the Pope urged the latter to keep these differences, to take them up within the laws of the realm, the into his imagination, to keep them fact is thus set forth: present before him as the key to what “Alexander had no liking for he reads, is the chief difficulty and Becket. He had known him long the chief duty of the student of his- and had no faith in the lately astory.”
sumed airs of sanctity. ... On the Now for a few samples of the man- spot he dispatched a Legate," etc. I ner in which this difficulty has been Presumably, Alexander confided met and this duty accomplished. I these motives to Mr. Froude, for he We take them almost at random. seems never to have intrusted them
St. Thomas, as is well known, to any one else. when he became Archbishop, in- Again, the same Pontiff, who, as sisted, to the King's displeasure, on seems to common eyes, did his best resigning his chancellorship. This to find a middle course which, withis the fact. Now for the philosophy. out sacrifice of principle, should not
“As Chancellor, he had been at exasperate the King, is thus depicted the head of the State under the King for his pains by the keener glance of As Archbishop in the name of the the philosopher:
“Harassed on both sides, know. * Nineteenth Century, June, 1877, p. 549. The ing perfectly well on which side good italics here and throughout these citations are ours, † More than this, he seems elsewhere naively to
sense and justice lay, yet not daring admit the force of the very impeachment which we
to declare Becket wrong and accept are attempting to urge. He writes in the same series of papers (October, p. 393): “In that distant cen what after all that had passed would tury, when the general history is but outline, and
be construed into a defeat of the the colors are dim and the lights and shadows fall where modern imagination chooses to cast them." Church, the unfortunate Alexander But this is a stray seed of truth falling by the wayside and not bearing any fruit.
drifted on.'' I It is no part of our present object to point out
The side of good sense and justice misrepresentations of fact, and in dealing with Mr. Froude the task would be endless. We are engaged with the system only on which such history is con
* Nineteenth Century, July, P. structed, and with that which serves to illustrate the + Ibid., p. 844.
Frid. p. 847. system.
Ibid., September, p. 223.
being, it is needless to observe, the sion of any story was held to be the side of the historian, and the only truest which gave most honor to the ground for asserting that the Pope martyr. ... The monks sought saw it to be so, being that the same their pallets with one thought in the authority judges that he ought to minds of all of them. Was the Archhave so seen it.
bishop a saint, or was hea vain Not to multiply examples, we take dreamer? God only could decide.” another from the finale of the his. And the way being thus scientifictory.
ally made straight, the vision which We all know the fact of the tre- one of these monks relates himself mendous revulsion of feeling caused to have seen can be safely introduced. by the Archbishop's murder, the And the writer who can put this triumph of his cause, and the peni- down as history is described as our tence of the King. We also know most illustrious living historian. that contemporary writers assert in But it is not with particular exterms the most explicit, that miracles amples that we are mainly concerned. were wrought by his relics or over We are attacking the system which his tomb, of which they, the writers, underlies such histories, be they right were eye-witnesses. Now let us or wrong in their particular conclutreat these facts philosophically. sions. Our protest is against the
“Martyr for the Church of Christ pretension of a writer to do what or turbulent incendiary justly pun- cannot possibly be done: to lay ished ? ... That was the alternative down in this manner motives and that lay before the Christian world. causes which neither are recorded, ... Benedict of Canterbury. ... nor which “the facts themselves relates the influences by which alone necessarily suggest." the popular verdict was decided in the Now in the matter of St. Thomas Archbishop's favor.” Mr. Froude we have seen what, on Mr. Froude's goes on to tell us that "miracles showing, were the unmistakable come when they are needed." But merits of the case. His was "the he considerately adds that "they cause of sacerdotalism” as against come not of fraud, but of an im- "the prosaic virtues of justice and passioned credulity, which creates common sense.” And it was this what it is determined to find." plainly and broadly “in the eyes
And having thus made clear the of Europe," so that no one, we pre
the region of “facts.”
facts could hesitate thus to esteem it. “In the eyes of Europe the cause More than this, Becket was seeking for which Becket fell was the cause to usurp a power not justly his. It of sacerdotalism as against the pro- was an “encroachment."* If he saic virtues of justice and common were right, “then kings and cabinets sense. Every superstitious mind in ought to be superseded at once by Christendom was at work immediately commissions of bishops." He generating supernatural evidence. sought to secure, “not the purity of ... Either the laws of nature were the Church, but the privilege and suspended, or for the four years which supremacy of the Church :''I the followed his death the power and the King, “always moderate'' (Henry wish were gone to distinguish truth the Second), was moved to action from falsehood.* The most ordinary only by the clear evidence which the events were transfigured. That ver- Archbishop forced upon him, that
he justice was to be withheld in the case * In which'latter case it certainly is clear that the task must needs devolve upon some other century, such as ours, of making a history for the twelfth * Nineteenth Century, June, P. 540;... ne which it was obviously quite incapable of supplying + Ibid., July, p. 847.
P Ibid., p. 843. for itself.
& Ibid., p. 846.
of clerics, and that “they might but an example to illustrate an evil commit murder upon murder, rob- which influences writers far more bery upon robbery, and the law worthy of our consideration than is would be unable to touch them.” that unscrupulous partisan. We
In fact it is abundantly made evi- must enter our protest in the redent that the case of the Monarch mainder of this paper against what against the Prelate was that of justice of the same evil system we find in against injustice.
the work of an historian who has obBut while this is so, it is a little tained, and to a great extent most puzzling to a reader accustomed to deservedly obtained, an exceptiontake his explanations as well as his ally wide hold on the public mind,facts on trust, to find that the same Mr. John Richard Green. facts have suggested another quite In some respects, indeed, Mr. opposite, albeit presumably quite as Green's Short History of the English philosophical a judgment. What is People is a yet more striking instance a plain man to think if, after what of the bad system we deprecate than we have just given, he stumble across is even anything of Mr. Froude's. the following ?
The latter does, at least, give us “Times were changed in England references and notes, and the notes since the Second Henry walked bare- occasionally flatly contradict for us foot through the streets of Canter- the text to which they are appended. bury. ... The clergy had won the The former, after a very general inbattle then because they deserved to dication of "authorities,” presents win it. They were not free from to us all the substance of his volume fault and weakuess, but they felt the purely on his own ipse dixit. meaning of their profession. Their And some few circumstances canhearts were in their vows, their au- not but suggest to our minds a doubt thority was exercised more justly, as to whether that authority be almore nobly than the authority of the ways truly philosophical. First, as crown; and, therefore, with inevita- to the selection of authorities. In ble justice, the crown was compelled his seventh chapter on the Reformato stoop before them.”
tion wę read as follows: And assuredly the bewilderment The main authority... is does not grow less on finding that Foxe's Book of Martyrs. In spite of this latter account, no less than the endless errors of Puritan prejudices former, comes from the pen of Mr. and deliberate suppressions of the James Anthony Froude. The one truth ... its mass of facts and he gave to the world in the year 1856 wonderful charm of style will always in nis History of England,* the other give a great importance to the work this year in the pages of a Review. of Foxe.” History has been changed between In the name of sober history, what these dates because Mr. Froude has is this? What is the meaning of changed his spectacles. One thing facts in conjunction with the name seems clear. If now he is teaching of a witness who is acknowledged to us history, then twenty years ago he be not only deceived, but deceiving ? was perverting its most obvious les. What does it matter as to his hissons. If, in 1856, he was speaking torical credibility whether he lie with any authority, then is he a picturesquely or ungracefully? What slanderer in 1877. And surely the sort of a view of his duties can that historical method which leads to such historian have who can thus naively awkward dilemmas can hardly com- introduce a “main authority ?!? mend itself to sober common sense. But we pass from authorities to the But Mr. Froude is, after all, for us use of the same, and with one in* Vol. i, p. 81.
stance thereof we shall be content.