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It is this change, tracer! in its inward working into the universal mind, and then working outward into all the forms and expressions of the general sentiment, into every detail of private and public life, which we consider the genuine subject of Christian history; a supplement or commentary of this nature on the History of the Decline and Fall, can alone completely expose its unfairness, and do justice to that part of it, which, though far from the least elaborate, is unquestionably the most defective. Even such a work, as its scope and limits would be confined, would by no means supersede or supply the place of Gibbon—it would run parallel to it, and by its own inherent interest might even rival it, though commended by less general brilliancy of execution. But where shall we find that triple union of genius, of philosophy, and of religion, which must preside over the successful treatment of so noble an historic subject—of genius, which can condescend to the most laborious and German detail of inquiry, yet give a living and attractive form to the materials which it has thus toiled to collect; of philosophy, which shall be superior to all temporary influence, to the passing sentiment and prevalent phraseology of the day, but shall be based in a deep and intimate acquaintance with the real nature, with the psychology of universal man; of religion, which shall alike rise above the passions and the language of the time, disdain all that is extraneous, and discriminate all that is the mere formal part in the development of Christianity—while it shall preserve a profound sentiment of its essential spirit, and be fully pervaded with its true and perfect Catholicism?
As then the History of the Decline and Fall must retain possession of the extensive field which it holds by the indefeasible right of conquest, achieved by unrivalled genius as well as by the tenure of unshaken confidence in the depth and accuracy of the author's researches, it may be matter of surprise that a foreign writer has been the first to attempt, with any degree of success, to neutralise what is objectionable in it—to correct, in a body of notes, the erroneous, and expand the less philosophical views of Gibbon, more particularly as to the progress and influence of Christianity—and finally, to bring up this great work, where it is inevitably defective from the want of materials, which have since come to light, to the high le\el of modern historic knowledge. The first part of his undertaking M. Guizot has accomplished with erudition, judgment, and right feeling. M. Guizot is a Protestant, a liberal and rational Christian; for we cannot consent to give up the latter epithet to that modern school, whom their opponents ought rather to charge with irrationalism, as assigning inadequate causes for the leading events in religious history, and substituting untenable hypotheses for the received belief of the Christian world. The editor of
Gibbon Gibbon, if free from ecclesiastical prejudice or theologic jealousy, asserts boldly and maintains with judgment the truth and divine origin of the Christian faith, which, as an historian, he has studied in one of its most convincing lines of evidence, its beneficial influence on human affairs.
It is no small advantage, more particularly on the Continent, to have this great point contested against Gibbon by an author not only not liable to suspicion of professional bias, but not composing under the awe of that strong popular sentiment which in this country is jealous even of any departure from the ordinary language, fiom the conventional manner of writing on a religious subject. Though we would willingly suppose that the minds of the higher literary men in Paris are now, in general, advanced far beyond the superficial historical scepticism, and the as unphilosophical as irreligious aversion to Christianity,* which characterize the school of Voltaire; yet an open and distinct protest from a writer of M. Guizot's high character can neither, we trust, be without influence, nor certainly without honour, with those who hail with satisfaction the reunion of high literary reputation with sound Christian views. We would not pledge ourselves to concur in all the editor's opinions, nor to admit the justice of all his criticisms, but in general the reader of Guizot's Gibbon will find, wherever he is in danger of being misled by the specious statements and insidious representations of the historian, a fair view of the opposite arguments, and the weight of authority which may be adduced in their support.
The other part of his editorial functions M. Guizot has performed far less copiously and completely. Whether from impatience of the humbler drudgery of the anuotator's office, or summoned away by higher avocations, he has not pursued his task at any great length beyond the two memorable chapters. The reason assigned by M. Guizot for this sudden abruption of his labours is not altogether satisfactory, excepting that he may
* A most remarkable testimony to tlie importance of Christianity, and eveu of an established clergy, in advancing the intellectual as well as the moral character of mankind, appears in the recent very interesting volume of M. Victor Cousin, on the state of education iu Germany. This brilliant metaphysician is commissioned by the government of France to examine the plan of general education in Prussia and other parts of Germany, with a view to the formation of a complete national system in France. M. Cousin, a man far from prejudiced iu favour of the clergy, and indeed considered by them in no friendly light, distinctly declares that no national eduea* tion, which is not founded on Christianity, can be of essential benefit in France, and considers that the clergy will be the only effective instruments for the introduction and maintenance of any system for the general instruction of the people. The projet of the French law, introduced under the auspices of M. Guizot, will not, we trust, lose sight of this remarkable and important feature in the great question of national education.
have felt the danger of heaping up the work to an unmanageable bulk
'In general, my labours do not extend much beyond the five first volumes of this new edition: these volumes contain nearly all which concerns Christianity; it is in them also that we behold the transition from the ancient to the modern world—from the manners and opinions of Roman Europe to those of our own; which forms the epoch the most interesting and most deserving of illustration in the whole work. Besides, the later times have been treated with care by a great number of writers; the notes, therefore, which I have added to the subsequent volumes are rare and little developed. There are already perhaps too many; nevertheless I can say with confidence, that I have severely imposed on myself the law of saying only what appeared to be necessary, and that with as much brevity as possible.'
It is, in fact, ' the great number' of the writers who have treated on the later period of Gibbon's history—of the new views which they have struck out—of the till lately inaccessible stores of information which they have explored—which requires that the standard history of so vast a period should be enlarged and modified according to the actual state of our extended and corrected knowledge.
it is a singular but an inevitable consequence of the establishment of a very masterly work, as the acknowledged, the authorised history of any particular time or country, that, if it does not arrest the free progress of inquiry, it prevents the general dissemination of any subsequent discoveries in the same province. It has become, as it were, the historic creed of the nation ; and all attempts to correct and amend its imperfect representation of the times, are not perhaps met with an open and obstinate appeal to its indefeasible authority, but are either disregarded or obtain no general hearing. Where one man of letters, or one more inquiring lover of truth, reads the less attractive but more accurate statement, hundreds content themselves with the agreeable or eloquent original; and thus errors, which have been exploded for years from the historic belief of the better-informed few, remain inveterately moulded up with the popular instruction. The physical sciences are in a constant state of marked and acknowledged progression. In a certain sense, the last book must always be the best, as containing all the recent discoveries admitted by men of science: no one would think of reading Newton in the present day as a complete treatise on optics. Yet, though even the stanchest Tory must admit the deficiencies of Hume, and acknowledge, that from the public documents alone that have come to light since he wrote, it is impossible that his work should be a perfect or an accurate history of our
Vol. L. No. c. x country, country, yet, to how many is Hume the ne plus ultra of authority! We may remonstrate in learned indignation; we may deplore the indolent and unenquiring spirit of the age; we may lament the superior influence of manner over matter, of the graceful and easy style over solid and accurate information; but after all, the agreeable book will be the popular one; we may recommend one author for depth of research, another for philosophic views, but unless he possess some inherent attractiveness, unless he commend himself to the public taste, he will never supersede the more amusing, or more exciting narrative, which is already in possession of the ground. Thus is error perpetuated and canonized by genius; and the work which reflects the highest credit on a national literature, and during its first days is a source of unmingled good, by promulgating and impressing valuable knowledge upon the public mind in the most effective and lasting manner, becomes incidentally the cause of some mischief, and retards the free promulgation of truth. For though not progressive in the same defined and incontestable manner with science, there can be no doubt that historic knowledge must be constantly on the advance. Each age will have its own characteristic way of looking on the past; each will have its own philosophy of history; each be misled in the appreciation of characters, or in ascertaining the magnitude of events, by the haze of its own passions and prejudices; but we must encourage the hope, that though not altogether clear, our moral sight will become more keen and just; that our judgments on the past will not only be formed on the more complete evidence of more extensive information, but on sounder, wiser, and more truly Christian principles, But it is not so much in the philosophy of history, as in the critical sagacity which is perpetually sifting the materials with more jealous and scrupulous care, and the patient industry, or fortunate discovery, which is constantly accumulating new treasures, that historical knowledge enlarges its sphere. In the case of Gibbon, few discoveries may have been made in ancient literature, which will throw light on the subjects of his inquiries, though even in this province there have been some valuable accessions to our knowledge; but other parts of his history, particularly all that relates to the East, may admit of much improvement from the recently explored treasures of oriental literature. The whole of his narrative of Armenian affairs, so intimately blended with the political relations of the Byzantine empire, and of the laterPersian kingdom, requires to be modified according to the discoveries of M. St. Martin among the historians of that country. On another most important point, the origin and affiliation of the barbarous nations which invaded the West, the opinions of the learned have undergone considerable
change change since the age of Gibbon. The study of languages— since that time pursued with so much wider information, and so much more philosophically, by the Adelungs, Klaproths, Grimms, Kemusats, &c.,—has greatly modified many of the views adopted by our historian.
All this may undoubtedly be found in 'a great number of writers,' some of great and deserved popularity, but it is because it is to be found in 'a great number of writers,' that it is little likely to be sought, or at all events applied at the right time. W here one person extends his inquiries so far as to bring a mass of historical reading to bear upon the correction of a standard work, a thousand will acquiesce with unenquiring submission in the statements of an accredited author. But if accuracy of historical knowledge be of importance even in minute points—if it be desirable that erroneous views should not be thus incorporated and perpetuated in our whole system of instruction —any palliative to this growing evil would be a valuable service to our national literature. The only remedy appears to be the republication of such works as are unlikely to be superseded in public estimation and authority, with a body of notes, which may at once correct their errors, and incorporate the more valuable discoveries of modern enquiry. It is time that variorum editions"of our standard works should issue from the press. In this the French* are setting a good example; and we trust that we shall not long remain behind our enlightened neighbours. The combined motives of admiration for the classical works of our literature— which, in proportion to their merit, we should rejoice in beholding in a more perfect form—and of zeal for the sound and accurate instruction of the people, will we trust, before long, be enlisted in this important cause; and the attempt at least be made to extend and enlarge the general knowledge, not by hasty and temporary compilations, and such shreds and tatters of information as are scattered abroad in the countless cheap publications of the day, but by the continual improvement and completion of the great imperishable works of English literature.
* Even Rollin—a writer whom it will require much lubour and very considerable additions to bring up to the present state of opinion as to ancient history—has been undertaken by a scholar of the high reputation of M. Letronne. The ' Histoire du Bas K mpire,' of Le Beau, a work, as an historical composition, immeasurably inferior to Gibbon, is in courte of publication. It was commenced and carried nearly through the thirteenth volume by the celebrated Armenian scholar, M. St, Martin, who, however, has not confined his annotations to oriental affairs, but has subjoined nseful corrections and explanations to every part of the history. Since the deuth of M. St. Martin, the continuation of the work has bem confided to M. Brosscf.