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meaning and connection of those events which to his predecessor were bare and isolated incidents. And with the historian arises a new need, -historical criticism.* It is not enough that a fact be stated, he must examine the proofs of its authenticity. He must endeavour to trace the various stories to their original source, to unravel the threads of fiction which successive repetitions have woven into the original tissue, and to strip off all those later additions which form no part of the genuine narrative.
With the Greeks, among whow history sprang almost like Minerva, in full maturity, in the work of Herodotus, there was something like criticism from the very first; even in Herodotus, there is some weighing of evidence, and a definite expression of opinion. But we see it in its full in Thucydides.
The difference in years between Herodotus and Thucydides was less than one generation, but in tone of thought they are separated by ages. The one belongs to the ancient world, with its child-like wonder and trust, moving among the powers of nature with an unreasoning eye which
Has sight of Neptune rising from the sea,
Or hears old Triton blow his wreathed horn, While in Thucydides, we find ourselves transported abruptly into a modern world of thought and feeling. Thucydides is the only modern ancient; much of his history may be cast in an antique mould, much of it may seem rude and unskilful, but the tone of thought is essentially modern. If we only compare the way in which the two speak of the oracles and the prodigies which to the common belief foretold the coming struggles, when we pass from the one to the other, it is as though centuries intervened. No ancient historian writes with the severe criticism of Thucydides, and hence the difference strikes us so strongly. If we pass from Herodotus to Livy, there is no such shock, we can at once realise and understand both.
But that which in the rapid development of the Greek mind came out in the next generation, in the ordinary routine of the human mind takes centuries ; it is only through a long line of tedious chroniclers that we reach at last a genuine historian. Thus in French history we must wade through a long series of monkish annals, from Gregory of Tours, for more than nine
* Whether the historian treat of past or contemporary events, really makes no difference, as in either case he must depend on the testimony of others ; for even in contemporary events, he cannot have been personally present at onetenth of what he relates. In the following pages, we have considered the historian of the past, who compiles from contemporary writers; but the same rules apply for all.
centuries, before we come to Philippe de Comines,—the first writer who has something of the historian, with whom to write history was to think and to weigh, as well as to recollect and narrate.
For our present purpose all history may be divided into four classes, characterised by a greater or less amount of evidence; and it is by examining these that the rules of historical criticism may be determined.
1. Where there is abundance of contemporary evidence, writers of all parties and opinions, and evidence of all kinds, as letters, speeches, &c., besides proper histories. This is only found in modern times, as for instance in our Parliamentary struggle with Charles I.
II. Where there is contemporary evidence, but all on one side ; thus in Roman history, we have no story from the Carthaginian side. The best Mohammedan history never rises above this class.
III. Where there remain no contemporary writers, but only later compilers from popular traditions, backed however by contemporary monuments; as the history of the Roman republic to the age of Pyrrhus, and pre-Mohammedan India from the fourth century before our era.
IV. Beyond this lies the mythic period, where there is no basis of historical proof at all, but only unsupported legends, as in the regal period at Rome, and the heroic age of Greece and India.
Let us examine each of these in an inverse order; for it is by an induction from these that the rules of historic evidence are to be framed, and to each of them are the rules to be applied, if our history is to be worthy of the name.
With the last mentioned, or mythic period, that cloud-land of heroic fable, which lies at the dawn of history, stretching back as far as the national memory or imagination may have ventured to explore, historical criticism has nothing to do. The vexed questions of the siege of Troy, or the wanderings of Æneas, or the Mahábhárata war, lie beyond her province,her instrument has no power to analyse them. There doubtless is some portion of truth contained in all these ancient heroic poems; the national enthusiasm of those simple times craved some basis of reality on which to ground its lawless inventions; but in which part of the poem that truth is to be found, we have no power to determine,-we cannot resolve the nebula. Poetic fiction has thrown her glamour-light over all alike, and we must be content to resign it all to her. There is no substratum of fact apart from the poems, by which to test and reject the overgrowth of fiction ; we have no contemporary records
or monuments; and therefore criticism is powerless. What can be a more hopeless task than that which Bishop Thirlwall has attempted in the earlier chapters of his 'Greece,'—to sist the few grains of truth from the conflicting legends of an unhistoric age, where we have no possible criterion except our own preconceived associations, to guide us in the search ? We find the same also in Indian history. In the Rámáyana and Mahábhárata, there doubtless is an historic basis, on which the national fancy has erected its enormous superstructure of fable ; but which is fact and which is fable, it is hopeless at this distance of time to determine. The story of ancient India is lost for ever, and we cannot re-produce it. All that we can attempt is to give the representations of the people, where any such are preserved to us, as in Manu's code and the Greek accounts; and by these scattered notices to form some combined picture of what India was in its social aspect at these two different epochs.
In ancient times (and even in modern too,) there was favourite method of extracting the truth from the mythic period, by stripping the legend of all its marvellous adjuncts, and reducing it within the limits of probability, as if all that was rendered vraisemblable must therefore be vrai, and as if the legend contained all the history, only in an exaggerated form. But few processes are more erroneous ;
marvels which are thus eliminated, are too often the one point of life in the legend, without which it collapses at once into dull commonplace. Our method has reduced the poetry to prose, but we have not changed the fiction into truth, we have only changed beauty into deformity, without gaining any thing for history by the transformation. Those legends which are found in every nation at a certain period of its growth, represent a phase of mind, not the events of an age; and we read them hopelessly wrong, if we think to decipher there any record of the events of that time. So far as the historian is the philosophic observer of national manners and habits of thought, these legends offer a boundless store of materials, and in every legend he has a contemporary and unconscious witness to represent the intellectual growth of the people. For the history of facts, they are valueless, but for that of thought they are pregnant with meaning. The story of Troy divine,' or the family war for the throne of Hastinapura, remains a fable still, after all the efforts to unravel its truth; but the phase of national character and civilization therein pourtrayed, has a never-dying truthfulness and interest; and it is in this, and this alone, that the historic value of the Homeric poems or the Mahábhárata consists.
Leaving the mythic period, our next division in the reverse order which we adopt is that which, though it possesses no con
temporary annals, but only compilations of a much later date, and from dubious original sources, has yet certain genuine monuments, which remain as witnesses for the historian. And here, we think, historic truth begins. It has escaped from the land of shadows, where every object eluded its grasp, and vanished into air at its touch, like the vision of Anchises in Hades ;* it here finds itself face to face with certain realities which will bear handling and examination. Much of the surrounding detail is still fable. The national invention has been busy to adorn its favorite heroes with impossible exploits, or to fill up chasms of oblivion by long histories of circumstantial fictions; but with it all we have certain truthful evidence, on which, as far as it reaches, we may safely take our stand. For the rest of the period we are at a loss as before, and speculation gropes blindly as ever ; but in each contemporary witness, be it law, or treaty, or inscription, we have sure ground for our hypothesis, and so far as these may explain or suggest, we may even venture to deal with the surrounding fables themselves. The monuments may explain or confirm them, or may themselves receive new light from the comparison. Thus in Indian history, we have a few certain monuments to attest the intercourse between the kings of Magadha and Greece, as the treaty of Seleucus with Sandracottus, Megasthenes' residence at Palibothra, and the treaty of Antiochus with Asoka ; and when this is established, what a light is shed on the Mahábhárata, which represents the king of the Yavanas (Ionians) as the ally of the king of Magadha. For the era of the war of Hastinapura, it is a childish anachronism ; but for the age of the poem itself, it is truthful evidence. The triumph of historical criticism, as applied to this period, is seen in Roman history, as for instance in the story of Porsena, where, by a few extant monuments,t we have not only detected the falsehood of the Roman account, but have constructed something like the truth.
We pass on to the second of our classes, and here we find ourselves with something of historic certainty within our reach. We have no longer the cloud-land of the mythic period, where fact and fable are intermingled beyond any power of human analysis ; nor are we toilsomely groping our way by the light of a few extant monuments, which too often only serve to render the darkness visible, and to make us realise the more vividly, how little we can ever really know. In our present period, we find ourselves amply provided with materials,-it is the quality rather than the quantity which embarrasses our search. The contemporaries of the events which we study have left us their written accounts, and from these we can compile our own narrative, and, as we read them, we may feel sure that they are leading us by a real road. It is no will-of-the-wisp which is guiding us, but a hand of flesh and blood; and the events which we are witness. ing, are not the dreams of a poet who only sought to embody a prevailing sentiment or idea of his own time; nor the fictions of à later chronicler who sought to conceal under his interpolations the hiatus which time had left, -we are in the midst of real scenes, enacted by living men, moved by real human passions. But our danger here lies in the very intensity of those human feelings, which give such reality to the page. The contemporary's passions must blind his judgment, the enthusiasm for his own party must render him partial ; and unless we can correct his statements by those of the other side, unless at any rate we can compare the relative plausibility of the two, we can scarcely avoid drawing a false estimate of the time, and stereotyping a view which was necessarily distorted and incomplete. The error which the historian here commits, is not the substitution of falsehood for fact, the mistaking for a real event something which never had any existence, except in the inventor's brain; but he is perpetuating to posterity the deficient perspective which must mar the landscape of the contemporary Our representation of the age is thus incomplete rather than false, we deal in half-truths and half-views of persons and things. But every one knows how perilous these half-views are, when we come to generalise the lessons of history into social philosophy; and hence however plausible our histories may be, when they are thus drawn from partial sources, they bear with them the marks of inaccuracy, and we must use all heed when we apply them. The more earnest the age which we study, the more intense its passions and contests,—the more certain it is that any one-sided view must be blotted and mutilated. It is not the Cavalier who can understand the Roundhead, or the Roundhead the Cavalier,--the Athenian and the Spartan have no sympathies with each other; and unless we have the accounts of both, to compare and contrast, our history is doomed to be incomplete, and the lessons which it might teach proportionably enfeebled and indistinct.
* Ter frustra comprensa manus effugit imago,
Par levibus ventis, volucrique simillima somno. + The treaty with Carthage, preserved by Polybius, which gives the extent of Roman territory, as it was in the first year of the Republic, the numbers of the tribes given in Livy, and the remarkable extract preserved by Pliny from the actual treaty with Porsena. How many generations of scholars had studied Livy and Pliny, and yet the value of this extract had never been noticed until M. de Beaufort pointed it out.