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arise two important differences between his court and that of the judge. In the first place, he regards all evidence as admissible, he excludes no deposition; he only reserves to himself to discriminate between their relative merits. In the second place, evidence which would be hearsay in a court of law, may be in his eyes original, if he can but satisfy himself as to the accuracy of the copy or repetition. The rules of evidence established in our courts of justice, are too strict to bind the student in his library, but they may always furnish him hints in the examination of any doubtful authority. “He must be guided, not, indeed, by their rules, but by the reasons of their rules."*
To constitute the highest testimony, it must be original and contemporaneous; unless both these conditions be fulfilled, it is uncertain and of inferior value.
It must be original,-i. e., the narrative must rest on the authority of an eye-witness to the fact. The writer himself on whom the historian relies, or some person' with whom that writer has spoken, and whose testimony that writer has taken down, must depose to the relation, or we introduce an element of uncertainty, whose subtle poison, like quicksilver in gold, will loosen the cohesion of the whole. There is no limit to the uncertainty, if this witness' evidence is derived from hearsay. In all evidence, where our own senses did not inform us, we are necessarily dependent on another's word ; and of the truthfulness of that word we must ourselves determine by his bearing and character, if we are personally examining him, and by the internal evidence (which is a book's bearing and character) if it be only his written testimony. In either of these two ways, we come in direct contact with the witness. We saw not the event ourselves, but we have seen and tested one who did. But when the evidence is on hearsay, we lose this personal control altogether ; we are dependent on the testimony of a man, who is not produced in court, and of whose trustworthiness we have no means of judging. It is this which forms one main element of uncertainty in the boasted authorities of Arabian tradition; the historian who gives the chain and hangs his narrative thereon, has no means of testing the separate links. In evidence especially does the maxim hold that nothing is stronger than its weakest part; and here we have no means of determining where the flaw, if any, may lie. When Herodotus tells us of that famous dinner party at Thebes, which Attaginus gave to Mar
* Sir G. C. Lewis, 'Method of Observation in Politics,' vol. i., p. 196.
* Strictly speaking, this is hearsay to the historian,—but the writer must be considered as the magistrate who has taken the deposition of a person not produced in court. In a court of law, this may not be admissible, but in that of history we are forced to receive it.
donius and the other Persian nobles, when one of the Persians prophetically with tears told the Greek who reclined with him on the same couch, that of all those nobles, and the army which then lay encamped on the river, hardly a man was fated to escape the coming crisis,—he tells it on the personal authority of that very Greek to whom it happened,- the sequel which 'I am about to relate, I myself heard from Thersander, a native . of Orchomenos, and one of the first men in that city. Herodotus himself was not present, but he had talked face to face with one who was; and Herodotus has sufficiently proved his own truthful character by the internal and external evidence of his book, to carry conviction to the reader that he has faithfully reported the deposition. It rests on the trustworthiness of Thersander; and that we must take on the authority of Herodotus, as we must every thing else in his book.
Where the original documents are preserved, or as long as the witnesses themselves live, we can test the historian or writer's accuracy ; but in the historical court, time is continually removing both these sources, especially the latter; and hence we are obliged to consider as our original authority, the writer who records the deposition. Thersander in the narrative of Herodotus has been dead for more than 2,200 years, and the tablets in the Capitol, from which Polybius made his translation of the Roman" treaties with Carthage, have long since perished, so that we cannot test their accuracy ; this must rest on the general character which they possess for diligence
Diodorus Siculus, on the contrary, is a hasty writer, and we can often prove his inaccuracy; hence suspicion attaches to him throughout, because we can never feel sure that his quotations and repetitions are to be relied on.
But the Arabian evidence, as we said, is of a totally inferior kind, and can carry no conviction at all to the reader. We read of the care which the compilers exercised in rejecting spurious traditions; thus Abu Dáúd, out of 500,000 traditions respecting the Prophet, selected only 4,800; but this criticism was only guided by the character of the names of the witnesses. If the character of each link in the chain was deemed unimpeachable, the tradition was received, whatever its inherent improbability. Thus, “I have been informed by Mohammed b. Bashshár, that he had been informed by Yahya b. Sayd, who said that he hall been informed by Hisham b. Hassán, who said that he had it from Al Hasan Baçriy, ivlo said that he heard from Abdallah b. Moghaffal, that the Prophet had been forbidden by God to comb more frequently than every
* See the Calcuttit Review, No. XIXvii. "Sources for the biography of Mohammed.”
other day." "* The same system is pursued every where in all Arabian history; every author gives us these chains of names, as if they were demonstrative evidence.
As we said before, the historian rejects no evidence, however far removed from the original authority; a mere popular rumour may possess a certain weight and credibility ; but it is important that he should fully realise to himself and impress on his readers the uncertain character of such testimony when received. Some of it may be true, but much of it is certainly false; and it is the impossibility of testing how much that renders it so suspicious and dangerous.
The evidence must also be contemporary; it must be written down at the time, before the impression has been suffered to grow faint or be effaced. Life is like a long procession, and new faces and objects are continually appearing, while the old vanish from our sight; and the claims and interests of the present must inevitably confuse and alter our recollections of the past. If any long interval has been suffered to intervene before the facts are committed to writing, and stamped in a lasting form, so far is an element of inaceuracy and uncertainty admitted ; new events and combinations have risen meanwhile to influence and modify our recollections, and we are insensibly colouring the past by the prevailing hues of to-day. Here again the historian does not reject any evidence, however suspicious; he may receive it all for its worth, and test it by other and better kinds. We are speaking now of the highest evidence, which the historian is bound to find if possible, and if such be not forthcoming, the age is defective in one main ingredient of history, and its record therefore in the page of the historian is thus far defective also.
Tried by this test, again, the Arabian traditions do not stand. Far from being committed to writing from the first, the great mass of tradition remained for generations only oral, transmitted from year to year, and inevitably growing as time went on, so that we cannot, with confidence, or even with show of likelihood, affirm of any tradition that it was recorded till nearly the end of the first century of the Hegira.t
We may here mention two of the principal sources of error, which may influence even the best kinds of evidence, the counteracting forces, for whose effects we must make continual allowance and correction; and of course it will be understood that with the inferior kinds these influences will be still more pernicious.
Contemporary evidence is liable to be partial and prejudiced.
To a student in after times the past seems tranquil; it has lost its heat and unrest, and has settled into a deceptive aspect of repose. But to the men who lived in the sound of the busy hum of its voices, it wore a very different appearance; to them all was real and living, and every event enlisted on its side strong sentiments and earnest convictions. To us these are all past; we can look on the scene with dispassionate eye; nay more, in many of the conflicts and crises we can sympathise with the better portion of both parties. But to the contemporary this is impossible ; he must, nay he ought to feel strongly, and the man who could write in cold blood about the Persian war in which he himself had fought, or the Reformation struggle in which his dearest friends had suffered, would be below, not above, the level of human nature. The contemporary should write with a desire to do broad justice to all, and he should consciously allow himself in no deviation from the truth ; but he cannot alter his point of view; he must see “in section,” not “in plan.” No one blames Clarendon for his Royalist prepossessions; these in him were natural and right; we honour him for his loyalty and fidelity, and they make us the more ready to trust him. But we have a right to demand conscious truthfulness, and in this Clarendon fails; and, as Hallam says, “No man can avoid considering his incessant deviations from the great duties of an
historian as a moral blemish in his character.” An honest contemporary may sometimes mislead, but it will be by an unconscious bias; and wilfully to misrepresent an antagonist is to forfeit that honesty. A contemporary record therefore, however honest its aim, will necessarily require caution in its use; we must test it by other accounts, especially those of the opposite party, and existing letters and public documents. But inasmuch as too large a proportion of mankind are habitually careless of truth, we must lay our account to find some degree of intentional perversion of facts in the mass of contemporary writers; and this is a serious drawback to historical accuracy in general.
Again, to the contemporary the future is unknown. This at first seem a matter of little importance, but in reality, we can hardly over-estimate its effects. To us, the fears and hopes of a past age are over, its triumphs and dangers are equally past, and it is only by a strong effort of the imagination that we can realise them, as if still in the womb of futurity. Especially must we bear this in mind in the great crises of a nation ; to the contemporaries the final issue, which to us is known from the lessons of childhood, was uncertain and alarming, and in this twilight of the future men saw shadows of terror, which we know to have been illusions, however real to them. Now this bright or sombre hue from an uncertain future colours the
contemporary's page; while at the same time his ignorance of the goal, to which the events of his age are tending, leads him to violate all relative proportion in his estimates. It is only the after historian who can reduce the events to their proper standard,—who can read the whole as a whole, and so duly subordinate the parts.
Contemporary evidence will vary in kind. This might seem a truism, but no rule has been so often and habitually violated. Our histories of Athens, for instance, have been hitherto compiled on an almost opposite principle.
Our scholars have written Greek history,* as if every contemporary record were of equal value; and they have drawn their conclusions from the sneers of the satirist, as unhesitatingly as from the gravest statesman. To the historian satires and libels are often invaluable aids; they may sometimes throw a new light on a period, and they will always illustrate its manners and views. Thus every classical scholar, who has read Thucydides and Aristophanes, hand in hand, taking each comedy in its order, as he reaches the corresponding year of the Peloponnesian war, will know how vivid the interest is, which the comedy throws on the sober history. Thus,-to give only one instance which occurs to us,--we learn from Thucydides that the Athenians who had lived in the country, were loath to be torn from their family homes, on the breaking out of the war, and to be cooped up in the crowded city; but to realise this to the full, we should read the comedy of the Peace, where these very old citizens form the chorus, and hear them lamenting in person for the pleasant farms and vineyards they have left :
Glad day for honest country folks,-oh Peace, how you remind me! You make me think directly of the vines I left behind me, And the fig trees which I planted, -ah I was younger then! How I long to bid good morrow to their honest heads again ! But satire and comedy are to illustrate, not to prove; and when we use them as evidence, they must mislead. Mr. Grote's chapter on the Sophists is a memorable illustration of this. For ages men have accepted satire as proof, and of course it has prejudiced their views. The Punch of our day will be an invaluable aid to the future historian, as representing the present time in its lighter traits and feelings; but alas for historic truth if he forgets what Punch is, and treats it as many a grave scholar has treated the Greek Punch, Aristophanes.
* “There has been a time, when every Arabic, Persian or Turkish work, containing the history of Mohanimed and his successors, or any part of the history of the East, was considered as a source of information, the authenticity of which was above all doubt and question."- Dr. Sprenger.