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genial with our peculiar habits and manners; and which come more within the reach of our imitation.
1. The Qualifications of an accomplished Historian.
In order to erect a standard by which to measure the merits of historians, let us form to our minds one of the greatest characters which can adorn the literature of a country, and endeavour to point out the qualifications, by which an accomplished historian ought to be distinguithed.
Such a writer chooses a subject adapted to his talents and situation. lle is mofi fortunate, when his stores of knowledge are fupplied by experience, and his own observation; as was the case with some of the best historians of antiquity, Thucydides, Xcnophon, Polybius, Cæsar, and Ta.citus; and in modern times Sully and Clarendon. Or if he has not been himself an agent in the transactions he records, he has recourse to the purest fources of information. Although it is impossible always to select such a subject as admits of strict unity of design; yet he is convinced that the argument is most noble and most interesting, when · he can preserve, without distracting the attention of the reader by useless digressions, a close con
nexion of all the parts, and in the detail of which - he can proceed by a regular course of events to fome important and grand conclusion. This hiftorical unity of subject may be best illustrated by
the retreat of the ten thousand by Xenophon, and the Roman History of Livy. The action is not from the beginning interrupted by extraneous fubjects, but ascends from one incident to another, till the principal point is reached. Impressed with a deep sense of his duty, he pays the most facred regard to truth; and his diligence in ascertaining facts is equal to his accuracy in stating them. As far as the infirmities of human nature will allow, he is divested of the stubbornness of prejudice, the violence of paffion, and the predilection of party. He is convinced that the ornaments of composition may properly be employed to embellish truth, but that no ornaments can compensate for wilful misrepresentation. He guards against the flights and the delusions of imagination, and is therefore careful not to convert history into romance, or merely adorn his subject with the arguments of philosophical dissertation, or the pomp of figurative style. His fondness for his work infuses vigour into his conceptions, and the delicacy of his tafte gives elegance to his style, and purity to his fentiments. He is not satisfied with taking a superficial view of affairs, but with acute penetration examines their proximate and remote causes, leparates thern from the disguises under which they are concealed, and defcends to the true motives of conduct'. He breaks through the obftacles that
" It will doubtless occur to my readers, that when I made these observations, I had Gibbon in view. It would lead me into too prolix a detail, if I were to point out how much he
stop the progress of vulgar intellect; and produces those reflections, in which truth, penetration, and novelty are blended with peculiar ikill, and strike with certain effect. He distinguishes from the furrounding crowds the examples of eminent persons, and presents their pictures either completely finished, or marked by a few bold and expressive outlines. Of their domestic, as well as public conduct, he selects such circumstances as will give the clearest insight into their tempers and manners. In his developement of characters, he regards the MORAL tendency of history, which is its noblest and most valuable end. He neither blackens his characters with the aspersions of malevolence, chastises them with unjuft fatire, nor heightens their lustre with the varnish of adulation. If he feel any bias upon his mind, it is that of a true philanthropist; he is inclined to draw a veil over the failings of human nature, and not expose every vice and folly to the public. He divests himself as much as possible of local prejudices, confiders himself as a citizen of the world, and weighs all characters of his own or foreign countries in the balance of impartial justice. Highly conducive
has betrayed his trust, and deserted the province of a good and fair historian. My readers are again referred to Dr. Whitaker's excellent pamphlet, in which his incorrect language, contradictions, digressions, obscurities, absurdities, and violations of decorum are stated with great clearness. See likewise a very able letter to Lord Sheffield, 1796 ; and the Bampton Lectures of 1790, 2d edition ; where a violent attack made by Gibbon upon a very important part of the Gospel History is repelled. R 4
may it prove to the reputation of his work, should he be as unbiassed by motives of partiality or averfion, as Tacitus was with respect to the Emperors, who were the subjects of his annals, when he declared that to him neither Galba, nor Oțho, nor Vitellius were known either by benefits or injuries”, As it is his main object to teach by example, he either makes his remarks with brevity, or leaves his.reader to form his own judgment from the clear and accurate statement of facts, which he presents to his mind,
Useless however will prove his labour, and ineffeétual his skill, in tracing events and actions to their caules, or in preserving due order and connexion in his work, unlels he can inspire his writings with animation, and excite the interest of his readers. For this most important purpose he displays the foundness of his judgment, the boldness of his genius, and the correctness of his taste. He is cautious in his choice of such circumstances as will please and strike the mind; and, like a skilful poet or painter, he studies the effect of felection, combination, and contrast. He perceives that by this road the ancient historians were led to fame: he imitates their powers of lively description, and, as often as a proper opportunity will admit, paints the scene of action with a rapid pencil dipped in the most glowing colours, delineates the lively portraits of the actors, and charms the imagination, and excites the sympathy of every judicious reader.
m Tacit. Hift. lib. i. c. 1.
In In short, the accomplished historian is awake to the interests of virtue, and is influenced by fenfibility, and warmed by a proper regard for liberty, and the happinefs of mankind. There principles give energy to his conceptions, and perseverance to his induttry. He is best qualified to write with true dignity, when he has worked up his mind to a juft elevation of thought, by reflecting, that it is his noble and important office to address himself to all polished nations through the succeeding ages of the world. And he will be kept steady to the caufe of justice, when he confiders himself as an impartial witness, who is bound by his duty to stand before the tribunal of posterity, and is there liable to be arraigned for every offence, against the majefty of truth”.
By these laws, which may be considered as some of the principal rules of history, every historian may be tried. They furnish an equal standard to
1 Μονη Φυτεον τη αληθεια, ει τις ισοριαν γραψων του, των δε αλλων απαντων αμελητεον αυτω" και όλως πεχυς εις και μετρον ακριβες, αποβλεπειν μη εις τες νυν ακερντας, αλλ' εις τες μετα ταυτα συνεσομενες τους our y papele soiv. Lucian, v. ii. p. 53. edit. Hemsterhus.
Many of the requisites which Lucian in this too much neglected Treatise on the Manner of writing History, esteems necessary to constitute a good historian, are touched upon with great judgment and spirit. There are some judicious remarks on this subject by the Marquis d'Argenson, who frankly confesses the failure of the French in this noble branch of composition. Choix de Memoires de l'Academie, tom. iii. p. 627. See Hayley's Essay on History, and particularly bis Notes ; and Cicero de Oratore, lib. ii. fect. 62, 63.