another, excites a desire for whatever is fair and good, and engages even the passions on the side of the judgment. It fixes the strongest and most lasting impressions upon the inind, fanctions the argu. ments of reason, and gives life to the lessons of morality.

How tame and spiritless are the precepts of wisdom, even when taught by a Socrates or a Plato, if compared with the more animated beauties of virtue, exemplified in the actions of an Aristides, or a Phocion! To the former we only give the cold affent of the judgment; of the latter we express our admiration with rapture; they receive the promptest tribute of our applause, they excite the spirit of emulation, and we are eager to {hew by our conduct the influence which they have gained over our hearts.

But what is this homage, which is paid almost involuntarily to such great and illustrious examples? It is undoubtedly the voice of nature, and the suggestion of reason pure and uncorrupted by the bad practices of the world. It is the decision of a correct judgment, and the proof of a genuine taste for true greatness and folid glory. In order therefore to form a virtuous character, and to be distinguished for the most laudable actions, it is an object of the first concern to be ever attentive to this voice, and to conform to its wife and friendly admonitions.

While history holds up to the view instances of eminent virtues and splendid actions, she calls not the student to a servile imitation of her examples; for thus might he unintentionally be led to error and misconduct. No two men were ever precisely the same in inoral or intellectual qualities, or in situations exactly similar; and therefore no one can with safety conclude, that the same conduct could in all respects be prudent for him, which his predecessor has followed. Expedients springing from our own minds are formed with more clearnefs, and executed with more fpirit, than those which are derived from the imitation of others. While the imitator is revolving the precedents of past times, and minutely examining them with reference to his own care, he may suffer the favourable opportunity for action to escape him, and may be undone for ever;——or, fupposing he fhould take any particular example for his guide, from a want of accurate discrimination, he may be betrayed into some fatal error. The acute and the discerning will not fail to combine originality of plan with the guidance of precedent; they will make every proper allowance for the various dispositions and manners of the times ; they will instantly perceive where circumstances differ or agree; and will adopt only so much of the example, as is applicable to the exigency of their own affairs.

History rises to the highest degree of importance, and at:ains the full dignity of its character,



by fixing our attention upon the conduct of divine Providence in the moral government of the world. It is clear to every one, who takes the most fuperficial view of the past, that great events have often been effected by trifling means; that the consequences of actions have been much more extensive, inore fatal or calamitous, than were originally intended by the agents themselves; that the designs of Providence have been brought about by the caprice of human tempers, or the violence of human passions; and that craft, tyranny, and cruelty have rarely escaped their just, though sometimes long delayed punishment. The result of actions has been widely different from the end proposed by those who planned them; and great revolutions have been effected in direct opposition to the projects of the persons, who were the chief instruments of them. Such extraordinary discoveries draw us much nearer, and give us a much better insight into the operations of the Deity, than those occurrences, in which the causes are more equal to the effects; as is the case with the common affairs of life. Thus history becomes the handmaid of religion, and opens to us the most wonderful prospects of the divine interposition in the government of the world i.


i I fubjoin the following remarkable instance from Robertfon's Charles VIth, Book 10, C. 5. “ It is a fingular circumstance, that the Reformation should be indebted for its full establishment in Germany, to the fame band which had formerly brought it to the brink of destruction, and that both

Exclusive of the general uses of history, thert is a particular application of it, which every one -naturally makes to his own pursuits, his own age, and his own habits of thinking. The politician searches the records of past ages for the rise and fall of states, the measures which advanced their greatness, and the causes which precipitated them into ruin. The soldier looks for military achievements, the conduct of generals, and the discipline of armies. Cause and effect engage the attention of the philosopher; and the man of science is interefted by the description of the phenomena of nature. The antiquarian studies the ancient laws, customs, and dreffes, and other peculiarities of nations. The man who is advanced in years, is gratified with remarking in the same book thofe

events Mould be accomplished by the same arts of disfimulation. The ends, however, which Maurice, the Elector of Saxony, had in view at these different jun&tures, seem to have been more attended to, than the means hy which he attained them. It is no less worthy of observation, that the French King, a Monarch zealous for the Catholic Faith, mould, at the very fame time when he was perfecuting his own protestant subjects with all the fierceness of bigotry, employ his power in order to maintain and protect the Reformation in tlie Empire; and that the league for this purpose, which proved fo fatal to the Romish Church, should be negociated and signed by a Roinan Catholic Bishop. So wonderfully doth the wisdom of God superintend and regulate the caprice of human passions, and render them subservient towards the accomplishment of his own pàrposes.In the preface to Sir W. Ralegh’s History of the World, many similar examples are taken from the early part of the History of England.

• sentiments fentiments and actions, which he disregarded in his youth; and the habits of thinking, which he has formed at one particular period of life, induce him to search for different sources of entertainment and instruction at another. Thus every person is influenced by his peculiar tafte: when he consults the volumes of history, he difcovers something in them to suit the complexion of his own mind; and, from a natural partiality to his own pursuits, may be inclined to think, that his favourite historian wrote only for his use and entertainment.


Readers, however, of every age and description, may find in history ample materials for improving their judgment, by tracing the due connexion which fubfifts between causes and effects. They ought not to be satisfied with the recital of events alone, but endeavour to investigate the circumstances which combined either to produce, to haften, or to retard them; as well as the manner of their operation, and the degree of their influence.

In whatever abstruseness the science of politics may be supposed to be involved, it is probable, that the motives which lead to the performance of many remarkable actions do not lie very deep in the human mind. The actions themselves may indeed dazzle by their fplendour, or surprize by their novelty; but still they might probably be the result of no greater reach of capacity, than that which is exerted in the management of common concerns.


« ElőzőTovább »