Page images

and religion, their mutual connexion, their influence and dependence upon each other, are better perceived and comprehended by the historian himself, if he be competent to the task which he undertakes, when he follows the natural order of narration ; and things presented in that order appear to the reader in their proper place, and bearings, and proportions.

It would not be obvious what is meant by a Constitutional History, if Mr. Hallam had not, in the preface, explained what he intended by this designation. In common parlance, to call an historical work constitutional, would be analogous to giving the epithet of orthodox to a theological one; it would be understood as implying that the author was attached by principle and feeling to the established institutions of his country; consequently, that the book might be recommended as designed to inculcate safe opinions and sound doctrines relating to church and state. So far as the title may seem to imply this, it is a misnomer. The book is the production of a decided partisan; presenting not the history itself, but what is called the philosophy of history, and to be received with the more suspicion, because it deals in deductions and not in details. There are many ways in which history may be rendered insidious; but there is no other way by which an author can, with so much apparent good faith, mislead his readers. For if he enter into details, he must either relate them faithfully, and in that

case, however his own mind may be biassed, the true statement will induce the true conclusions ; or, he must misrepresent them, at the hazard of being traced to his authorities, and detected in misrepresentation. This, indeed, is little regarded by those who labour to serve the interests of a party or of a sect, sure as they are of obtaining credit with the faction which is thus served. There is a proverb imputed to the Spaniards, (and not improbably, when we remember the Machiavelian politics of Ferdinand, the Catholic king, and the Austrian dynasty,) that “ a lie, if it will last half an hour, is worth telling :' authors' lies last longer. A Frenchman, in the 17th century, published a book, in which he valiantly denied that Francis I. had been taken prisoner by the Spaniards. His very countrymen marvelled at the audacity of this falsehood; but when he was asked how he could venture upon sending such an assertion into the world, he replied, that he had done so advisedly, because in the course of an hundred years

his denial of the fact would become sufficient authority for calling it in question, and thus it would be rendered doubtful. He spoke and acted in the gaiety and frankness of his heart for the honour of France; and books are still composed in that country from the same motive upon the same principle. It would be possible to compile a history of the Peninsular War from French memoirs, and

o 2


official reports to the French Imperial government, by which it should appear that the English were defeated in every action during that war, and that the enemy, after a series of skilful and brilliant operations, concluded their career of success by obtaining a signal victory before Thoulouse.

If the mere spirit of nationality will induce men thus to impose upon the world narrations which they know to be essentially and impudently false, much more may a like effect be expected from religious or factious zeal: for men prefer their religion to their country (as they must of necessity do, if they sincerely hold the opinions which they profess); and they prefer their faction to their country also, for the same reason which, in a collision of interests, would make them prefer their own to that of their faction: and as there is no other country in which factions, both civil and religious, have struck such deep roots and sent up their scions so widely as in England, so there is none in which historical transactions have been so perseveringly and systematically falsified; nor has this ever been done more elaborately than in the present times. They who have the worst cause are generally the most alert and indefatigable in promoting it. There is a restless principle of activity in faction, error and wickedness, even as in disease and contagion, -the moral constitution of things resembling in this respect the physical The falsehoods which are thus propagated, obtain sometimes a long currency; and the false impressions which they make, produce consequences grievously injurious to mankind. The comfortable maxim of our own homely old Georgics, that «Time tries the truth in every thing,' fails unhappily in such cases. Systems, indeed, of every kind are brought to the test by time; physical errors are disproved and exploded; and fine-spun theories, political and economical, are demolished as effectually when attempted in practice, as they have been triumphantly demonstrated in lengthy speeches and in wire-drawn volumes. But there are historical falsehoods which are continually kept alive by the evil feelings and intentions (not to say the evil principle) which originally produced them. Generation after generation they are repeated, with a pertinacity which no disappointment relaxes, and with an effrontery which nothing can abash, and which, therefore, is only hardened and exasperated by the infamy of repeated exposures; and thus the work of delusion and mischief, for which they were designed, is carried on through successive centuries and ages. Such, for instance, are the impious fables concerning our Lord and Saviour, which are at this day received among the Jews, and contribute to harden them in their unbelief. Such (to adduce less awful examples) are the calumnies which the Roman Catholics everlastingly repeat against Luther, Calvin,


and Beza. Such are the beastly slanders concerning Henry VIII. which are boldly asserted at this time by the more ignorant of that party, and insinuated by the more artful. Such too are those systematic misrepresentations of the conduct, principles, motives, and intentions of the English government in church and state, from the accession of Elizabeth to the Great Rebellion, which furnish matter for so much special pleading and so much common-place declamation on the part of those who are ill-affected toward one branch of the constitution, and not well-affected toward the other.

According to the motto which Horace Walpole has prefixed to one part of his Memoirs, a man cannot rightly fulfil the duties of an historian unless he be a sort of monster which the world never has seen, and never can see: · Pour etre bon historien, il ne faudroit etre d'aucune religion, d'aucun païs, d'aucune profession, d'aucun parti.' There is a shallowness in this maxim which could not have deceived Horace Walpole if he had reflected upon the words. Little as his faith may have been, he was far too able a man to suppose that he who is without religion is, therefore, free from prejudice concerning that most momentous of all subjects; or, that the writer who hates all churches, is likely to be more equitable in his judgments, and more candid in his statements, than he who should be bigoted to one.

Give but a sane conscience and an upright intention, and the historian will not be unduly biassed either by his religious persuasion, or the love of his country, or his professional predilections. He comes to his task, not like an advocate with the purpose of bringing forward such parts of the case as may favour the side on which he is retained, and of keeping others in the shade; but under the sense of a more serious responsibility, and a higher duty. He will faithfully state the facts which he has carefully collected, and when this is performed with a sound judgment, the best history will be that which contains the fullest details. In direct opposition to the French maxim, it may be affirmed, that an historical writer must necessarily derive advantage from the knowledge of any profession which he may have followed; and for the proof of this, it would be enough to name Xenophon, Polybius, and Cæsar. That he should have a national feeling for his subject is not so directly advantageous, yet it is desirable; and, indeed, so natural is it for men to interest themselves deeply in those pursuits which they have voluntarily undertaken, that they who write the histories of other countries than their own, are generally found, in a certain degree, to naturalize their affections there. For the want of religion there can be no compensation. The more religious an historian is, the more impartial will be his statements, the more


charitable his disposition, the more comprehensive his views, the more enlightened his philosophy. In religion alone is true philosophy to be found ; the philosophy which contemplates man in all his relations, and in his whole nature; which is founded upon a knowledge of that nature, and which is derived from Him who is the Beginning and the End.

The last part of the maxim must, to a certain extent, be admitted. The historian who is under the influence of party spirit will, undoubtedly, be classed among party historians. His work may be good in that class, but in that class its place must be assigned; and temporary and partial applause are dearly obtained at this price of permanent degradation. The greater his industry, and the more conspicuous his talents, the greater is the sacrifice. To this consequence he may, perhaps, be blind; or, perhaps, be indifferent if he foresees it. But there is a worse consequence: the feelings which party-spirit induces are never so injurious to the individual as when they take this direction. In the immediate struggles of party a sort of endemic delirium prevails, which men readily admit as an excuse for the follies and excesses of others, and confess as an apology for their own. There is mingled also with this, in its commonest and still more in its most violent manifestations, a warmth of personal regard; a sense of hereditary obligations and attachments; an adherence to principles, or opinions which are mistaken for principles; and these, even when misdirected, excite a certain elevation of mind, and call forth that kind of generous exertion, which is one of the highest enjoyments, because the heart goes with it. A little may be allowed to this spirit in contemporary history, because it is difficult for those who live in the busy world, to keep themselves entirely free from it: but, between this kind of bias, and the partiality shown in an elaborate account of long-past transactions, the difference is great indeed: the one is like the dexterity of an advocate in setting forth what he believes to be a fair case; the other is as the perversion of justice by a judge. The historian who suffers himself to be possessed by this evil spirit, contracts an obliquity of moral vision; his views are narrowed; his understanding is warped; his sense of right and wrong is perverted; he has ceased to be just, and, therefore, he can no longer be generous.

We may gather out of history,' says Sir Walter Raleigh, 'a policy no less wise than eternal, by the comparison and application of other men's fore-passed miseries with our own like errors and ill-deservings.' The same sagacious writer, who had learnt true 'wisdom when, unhappily, it was too late for regulating his own conduct, observes also, that 'the judgments of God are for ever unchangeable, neither is He wearied by the long process of time,


and won to give His blessing in one age to that which He hath cursed in another.' These were his prison thoughts : to this conclusion he came after a comprehensive survey of the events of the ancient world, when he had full leisure for quiet meditation, with a mind which adversity had ripened, and under circumstances where his heart was no longer deceived by the low wisdom of the world. In this spirit it is that history should be written; and they who read it in this spirit will perceive that the mighty maze of human affairs is not without a plan; and that the ways of God are vindicated by the course of Providence even in this world.

Mr. Turner has included the reign of Henry VII. in his History of England during the Middle Ages, as a last act to the tragedy of York and Lancaster. Mr. Hallam, like Hume, takes the accession of that king as the epoch from which our history assumes a new character. One of the great transitions through which the governments of Europe (like the globe itself) have past, was then completed. The power of the feudal nobility had been broken; their turbulent tyranny was subverted by a race of monarchs excellently qualified for the exigencies of the age. A Machiavelian policy, upon which those monarchs acted, had superseded the chivalrous character of their predecessors : it made them better sovereigns, and it may be doubted whether they were, on the whole, worse men; at least it is some gain to humanity when ambitious designs are pursued by cunning rather than by violence. Henry VII. was the best of these contemporary kings; he committed the fewest crimes, and manifested the most enlightened views and the most beneficent intentions. Ferdinand and Louis XI. were men in whom the evil part of their nature predominated; in any condition of life they would have been cruel and perfidious; bad men in any times; and, therefore, eminently bad in an age when the principles of men were as corrupt as their practice : but the actions which have left a stain upon Henry's memory may justly be referred to the perilous situation in which his birth, and the necessity of his fortunes, had placed him; not to any obliquity of the moral sense, or hardness of heart, natural or acquired. Mr. Hallam contradicts the eulogium which Lord Bacon has past upon him, as the best lawgiver to this nation after Edward I.; for his laws,' says that great authority, ‘(whoso marks them well,) are deep and not vulgar; not made upon the spur of a particular occasion for the present, but out of providence of the future, to make the estate of his people still more and more happy, after the manner of the legislators in ancient and heroical times.' · But when we consider,' says Mr. Hallam,how very few kings or statesmen have displayed this prospective wisdom and benevolence in legislation, we may hesitate a little to bestow so rare a

« PreviousContinue »