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account of the American revolution, and the institutions and the progress of our country. This general regard to historical truth secures confidence to his statements, which are more precise and succinct than we find in other works on universal history.
But the want of independence in historical works, originating in countries in which the nation as well as its historians are swayed by despotic power, is not confined to those countries. False coin is not less false for its bearing the escutcheon of a republic rather than the head of a king. In our own republic, in which the capital of history is not vested in ponderous volumes, but in the circulating medium of daily events, our newspapers, the temptations to misrepresent facts and characters are more temporary and various than in Europe. That our newspaper history is different from the real history of this country, is, we believe, generally acknowledged; though the adherents of each of the contending parties may endeavour to throw the charge altogether upon their opponents; or at least, if there are any, honest, or generous, or politic enough to confess that there is a mote in their own eyes, they would still see a beam in those of their dissenting brethren. Those, therefore, (must we say few ?) who read the newspapers, not for the purpose of seeing their friends lauded and their enemies abused, those who read the accounts of both parties, require a peculiar skill, a new kind of algebra, to find out from the proportion of positive and negative quantities brought together, the unknown quantity sought for; that is, the simple truth. But even in the calculation of those who always expect to find the truth between the two extremes, there is much fallacy. The whole truth frequently lies exclusively in one direction; and even the spirit of moderation and caution may become a passion, and be carried to a dangerous extreme. The man who is predetermined to choose the middle way, is apt to lose all decision in judgment as well as action ; to discredit all accounts, only because they are supported by a violent party ; to be afraid of an excess of truth and virtue; to disregard the strict line of demarcation between right and wrong; to seek truth between truth and falsehood, and goodness between virtue and vice. In history, this excess of moderation takes away all distinct outlines from characters and events.
There are characters and events which appear in so different a light as related by the different parties, that it becomes the duty of the historian to give the account of each. Thus, in the history of the two rival queens in England, and in that of the Puritans, the accounts of both parties are to be stated ; and in representing some of the most important characters and transactions in the French revolution, which are still involved in mystery, an impartial judgment requires a knowledge of the different party accounts, of the royalists, of the two republican parties,
and of the adherents of a constitutional monarchy. It is quite a different task, one too, which bears its reward in hand, to consult, in representing such scenes, chiefly the taste of the numerous class of readers (as yet, we fear, the plurality) who take up an historical work as a novel, warranted to be true, in which they expect, as a matter of right, to be gratified with objects of admiration and of horror, with suffering saints and triumphing monsters. We must ascribe some part of the applause which the Sketch of the French Revolution, by Walter Scott, in his Life of Napoleon, has met with, to a very general want of a genuine relish for historical truth, to a public hungering and thirsting after food for admiration and abhorrence. Yet the eminent historical talent which characterizes the novels of this author, is a sufficient proof, that he could not in any instance have calculated upon a perversion of the public taste, which he himself, by his works of fiction, has raised to such a nice discrimination of truth, that the judgment which condemns his essay on the French Revolution as a history, may more properly be considered as his own work, than that essay itself. It is indeed one of the highest moral exertions of the intellect, to view and represent justly the actions and principles of others when opposed to our own. It is an effort which the young should be taught to make from their earliest years, and the want of which should never be excused in any writer, though it be supported by great power and ability. For the falsehood is dangerous in proportion as the arguments by which it is maintained are good. The history of our own country exhibits characters and events, particularly toward the close of the last, and in the beginning of this century, which cannot be placed in a fair historical light without giving the accounts of both parties. These are chiefly to be obtained from the newspapers, periodical works, and pamphlets published at the time. In regard to these ephemeral records of our history, we would add one observation. Their frequent appearance in every part of the country fits them to notice every fleeting event, of which the consequences perhaps appear only at a time when otherwise it would have been long forgotten. On the other hand, this circumstance renders them peculiarly obnoxious to party influence, which lessens their claim to general and lasting credit. Accordingly, we should presume, the future historian of this country will feel embarrassed at once from the superabundance and the scarcity of materials for his work. One very important source of our history has begun to be opened in the publication of the memoirs of influential men; in which French literature is particularly rich.
We have spoken of the injurious influence of party spirit in politics upon history. Its influence upon religion is evident from all the records of ecclesiastical history. If we examine the deVOL. V.NO. 9.
scriptions which authors belonging to different religious sects have left of those who more or less dissented from their own opinions, it would almost seem as if they had endeavoured to imitate nature in forming distinct races of men, with white, yellow, red, and black skins. The party historian, of course, represents those of his own sect as the privileged race, while he describes other sects as coloured people, with more light or shade in their characters as they differ more or less from the chosen race. Therefore, in examining the moral portraits exhibited in party records, we cannot judge from the colouring alone, whether we behold an angel of light or of darkness; for this depends, we know, on the painter's being born in Africa or in Europe. To the true historian, many of these party records are valuable only as unintentional auto-biographies of the writers: while with deep regret and indignation he sees religion, the life-spring of truth and therefore of history, employed as a sufficient ground for legitimating the productions of falsehood.
Perhaps the most abundant source of history is the love of country, the desire of those who look beyond their own narrow sphere, to make known to other nations and to preserve to coming generations, the lives and deeds of their countrymen. This truly patriotic aspiration, which has incited the most distinguished historians of all ages, cannot mislead the writer, so far as patriotism is a philanthropic principle. Patriotism is a virtue, it is philanthropy, when it is an enlargement of our interest in ourselves and our principles to a whole nation. But as soon as it becomes a spirit of hostility and pride toward other nations, it is no longer a moral or philanthropic principle, since it is not an enlargement, but a restriction, of the noblest powers and best affections, which should take in the whole family of man. The writer whose aim it is to exalt his own nation to the disparagement of others, by hiding the faults of the former and enhancing those of the latter; who misleads the minds of his countrymen, and particularly of the young, through principles of national pride and intolerance; such a writer, who does not deserve the name of an historian, commits as grievous a breach of international law, as any that is recognised as such by the law itself. His offence is equalled or surpassed only by that of him who is base enough to disfigure what is really great and good in the history of his own country, to please and serve its enemies abroad and at home. The design to preserve to coming generations the deeds of their ancestors, is a patriotic aim, which sometimes leads the narrator to magnify them, so that they may serve as models for imitation. The historian who relates the deeds of his own cotemporaries to preserve their memory, is less exposed to this temptation than he who undertakes to make known to the present generation the remarkable events in the history of their
ancestors. This desire of magnifying the deeds of forefathers, so common among ancient and modern historians, and frequently excused as an excess of exalted filial piety, is a serious error in regard to history, as well as morality and education. As soon as the historian of a nation ceases to think that posterity will be benefited by the knowledge of the faults as well as the merits of their ancestors, or rather as soon as he has any other object in view than to represent them as they actually were, whether deserving of censure or imitation, he forfeits his right to describe them.
The last remarks, in regard to a national historian, lead us to a more general observation, concerning the apparent predisposition in some historians, to exalt antiquity above modern times, and in others, to retaliate this partiality by reversing it, instead of doing justice to both. We here see in the department of history the same difference, which in that of education, appears in the partiality of some, for what is called classical learning; and of others, for what they technically designate useful knowledge. The partial admirers of antiquity are apt to overlook or slight what is classical in the productions of modern times, while their opponents restrict their conceptions of what is practical and useful, so much as to exclude the study of antiquity: as if the enlargement of the mind which grows out of this study, was not as real as any economical advantage. The works of Heeren are in general free from such partiality; he appreciates what is great and good, or faulty, in the peculiar institutions of all times. It is another trait in the historical character of Heeren's works, that he does not allow his imagination to swerve beyond the domain of history, either to the unknown past, or to the dark future; and that he does not pretend to indicate the laws, according to which, all that has happened must have come to pass. His works are in general characterized by the endeavour to exhibit the actual state of things in every period, in its connexion with the past and the future, so far as it can be ascertained. In his reasoning on the past, faith and scepticism seem to prevail in due proportion; his criticism on the work of Niebuhr on Roman history seems to us to contain more truth, than the high encomiums this work has met with from German and English writers. Heeren says, concerning this work, “there is almost more of criticism than history, with a constant effort to overturn what had been received. Acuteness is not always perception of truth; and it is not so easy to believe in a constitution, which is not only against the prevailing view of antiquity itself, (inferences from single passages do not at once overturn what all the rest assert,) but is also, according to the author's own confession, contrary to all analogy in history. But truth gains even where criticism is at fault; and
the value of several profound investigations is not on that aecount to be mistaken."
Not satisfied with the truly valuable, though somewhat exaggerated scepticism of Beaufort, Niebuhr has attempted, on the ground of etymology, (a very unsafe guide in historical research,) and of some detached passages of ancient authors, to put an hypothetical account of the origin of the Roman state, and particusarly of its two great political parties, in the place of the commonly received narratives of Livy and Dionysius. But though these narratives are evidently raised up with fables and stained by partiality; their account of the primitive institutions of Rome cannot be entirely disregarded. When they, for example, relate that in the comitia curiata, every Roman citizen had a vote of equal value, and that the first tribunes were chosen in these primitive assemblies of the whole people, we have no right to substitute for these accounts a theory, according to which they must appear as falsehoods. Niebuhr's as well as Beaufort's great merit seems to us to consist in their having put to a severe test the ancient documents we possess. Beaufort has been particularly successful in pointing out the gradual unfolding of the various political institutions of Rome. Niebuhr excels in representing the true characters and progress of the great political struggle between the patricians and the plebeians. His historical scepticism is sound and impartial; but it seems to overstep its own limits, or rather to be directed against itself, when he substitutes fictions of his own for what he believes fictitious in the accounts of the ancients.
Whenever Heeren ventures upon a view of the future, it is always done without pretension; without that air of prophecy with which historians are apt to relate their second sights. Only in a few instances does he intersperse his calculations of histori. cal probability with his own wishes, which we think he might better have forborne; from no other reason than because we generally disapprove of these interjections in the language of history. His views of the future are commonly founded on a thorough knowledge of the past, and therefore worthy of all consideration; since it is certainly probable that men will act from the same or similar motives or views, which have hitherto directed them in their various pursuits. But we ought not to carry our reliance on these calculations, so far as to overlook the free incalculable powers of the mind. One great discovery, like that of gunpowder or of printing, one great impulse and effort of the mind, like that which gave rise to the crusades and to the independence of America, may tear asunder the feeble web of well-contrived anticipations and provisions. We would recommend this subject to the consideration of those, who in their theoretical or practical schemes, are inclined to place too much confidence in the as