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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 sift 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 a 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; the very 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,† 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
* Ter frustra comprensa manus effugit imago,
+ 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.
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 witnessing, 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 a 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.
Ancient history almost entirely belongs to this class,-partyhatred extinguished its objects, and at the end of a struggle,
every trace of the conquered was swept away. Who can now re-produce the age of the Gracchi or of Augustus in its full features? The literature which remains is the voice of the conquerors, and carries only their distorted feelings and views; and we look in vain for any record of the hopes and feelings which strung the nerves of their antagonists. They were crushed, and their watchwords perished with them; and we can only gather faint traces of what they were by the casual hints or unconscious expressions which may drop from their enemies and maligners. To this class also belongs Mohammedan history even at its best;
we have only the records of Islam, not of the nationalities which Islam crushed. Thus the great blank in the history of Mohammedan India is the utter absence of any Hindu accounts of the struggle; we have only the annals of the invader. Not one voice from the millions that were conquered has dared to tell us his countrymen's struggles or despair. Even when a Hindu has written, he only writes as a Mohammedan. From one of that nation we might have expected to learn what were the feelings, hopes, faiths, fears and yearnings of his subject race,but unfortunately he rarely writes unless according to order or dictation, and every phrase is studiously and servilely turned to flatter the vanity of an imperious Mohammedan patron. There is nothing to betray his religion or his nation, except perhaps a certain stiffness and affectation of style, which show how ill the foreign garb befits him."*
One period yet remains-the only one to which the historian can really turn with comfort and hope; and even this will reveal sufficient ground for caution and care, to make us feel how difficult it is to recover the past from oblivion at all. In this we have every resource at our disposal, to recall the bye-gone age, so far as books and writings can recall it; those features only are absent, which the litera scripta' is powerless to pourtray. Most modern history is of this kind; and it is to the discovery of such literary and antiquarian treasures as the documents relating to early English history, published under the direction of the Record Commission, "the Close and Patent Rolls," the "Parliamentary writs," &c., the sixteen volumes of letters, relating to the times of Thomas à Becket, published by Dr. Giles, and many similar works, that modern history chiefly owes its success in its treatment of the later medieval times.† For the later periods of modern European history, we are amply supplied with contemporary narratives, written with all shades of opinions
* Sir H. Elliot's Bibliographical Index, Introd. p. xviii.
+ Similarly for French history, we have the "Collection des Memoires relatifs à l'histoire de France" in 31 volumes, and the various volumes of "Documens Inédits," published by the ministry of Public Instruction.
to bias them and with every degree of partiality; and from these, by comparison and mutual correction, we may re-produce a tolerably exact picture as the events appeared to the various contemporaries. But much is still undone, while we are dependent on written narratives only,-no contemporary is present at one-tenth of what he describes, and is necessarily dependent on others for his information, and is limited by their accuracy and honesty. It is to those stores of letters and despatches, which reveal the actors themselves in their unguarded moments, the publication of which has formed a new feature of literature Here if in our day, that history looks as her final resource. anywhere will the real truth be found; if the confidential communications of private intercourse reveal it not, the search is hopeless indeed. Such publications as the letters of Oliver Cromwell, or the Stanhope correspondence, are not like the letters of Cicero and Pliny in old times,-inestimable as the letters to Atticus are to the historical student,-for those were written with an eye to publication, and we feel that the writer never entirely unbosoms himself,-he is thinking of a future reader, besides Atticus, and checks his outpouring confidence, as at the entrance of an intruder. The pre-eminent value of the publications of our day, over all the ancient collections of letters, lies in their perfect genuineness and spontaneity,-they were written with no thought of after publication, for no third eye to see; and when we read them, it often seems a half sacrilege to intrude into such a sanctuary of private feeling. These are some of the highest kinds of historical evidence, and it is only in modern times that such have been rendered available; so that we have some good reason for hoping that modern history will be more truthful and valuable, from the better means placed at her disposal.
Such then being a progressive view of the several phases of history, as we pass from the absolute uncertainty of popular tradition, through a gradually increasing clearness to the daylight of modern times,-our next question is, what are the rules of historical evidence, to be applied with more or less severity to all these periods in turn?
The historian sits as the judge of an epoch, and he summons to his bar all the actors in its busy drama. His verdict is their future fame,—praise or blame may be said to hang on his voice. The rules of evidence therefore will be such as the upright judge demands; but a degree of laxity is necessarily allowed to the historian, which we deny in the court of law. The historian is a private individual, and he is armed with no powers to enforce the production of testimony; he is necessarily obliged to be content with the best that his researches can discover. Hence