« ÎnapoiContinuați »
was a new one
spire of every village-church, and which, while they gave some wild. hopes to the down-trodden and the desperate, struck dismay where the domestic virtues were grouped at the once secure and happy fireside. It was a commotion of the very primal elements of society. The scene
-suddenly a new one—in the drama of civilization: the power of strange rights was thrust into the hands of men; the burden of strange duties was harnessed on their backs. Ancient landmarks, covered with the moss of many years, were torn up. The guidance of principles, drawn not from any customary or conventional authority, but from the depths of human nature, was needed alike for those who hailed and those who abhorred the change. Men long accustomed to float on the placid waters of a river, within sight and reach of safe and smiling shores, found themselves suddenly driven out upon a stormy and shoreless sea; and, in their peril, some were earnestly gazing for a beacon-light from the lost coast, others were idly gazing at the flashing fires that crest the dark billows of the deep, and a few were looking upward hopefully for some star in the cloudy sky. The agitation of the times carried some minds into the delusion of sophistry and irreverence, but it also led others into deeper moods of thought and larger sympathies. Superficial precepts, whether in government, philosophy, or literature, were not enough; but there was needed what should deal with human nature with a deeper and truer wisdom. This influence, either direct or indirect, extended over all departments of thought and action, and thus made its impression on European literature, on English literature, for the perturbation of the times stirred the mind of England, though it did not shake her ancient constitution.
When I speak of the agitation consequent on the French Revolution, I include all that forms the historic era, the revolution itself, the wars of the republic, and the wars of the French Empire; in short, the quarter of a century of tumult and war which closed in 1815 with the battle of Waterloo. It has been followed by the thirty years' peace, the longest period of tranquillity in modern history—perhaps I may say, in
I the world's history. The increased activity and independence of thought that attended the political convulsions of Europe, and even then found expression in literature, continued, and indeed expanded still further, in the more genial years of peace that followed.
This half century, in which our lot has been cast, has been unquestionably one of great and varied intellectual activity, distinguished by achievements in the two chief departments of thought and inquiry, science and literature. Never, perhaps have they been cultivated in truer proportion, and they have moved forward with harmonious
progress, giving 'to mankind the various elements of civilization and improvement which are respectively in the gift of science and literature. In this connection, one cannot but think how fortunate, how providential it was that the wonderful results of physical science which this century has witnessed were not accomplished in the last century, at a time when a low state of religious opinion was prevailing, when 'scepticism was dominant in literature; for at such a time the victories of science over the powers of the material universe, instead of raising our sense of the Creator's power, and inspiring that humility which true science ever cherishes, the more deeply at every advance it makes instead of this, an age of unbelief, whose literature had divorced itself from revelation, would have been ready to use the results of science to decoy men into that insidious atheism which substitutes Nature for God, and would have entangled our spiritual nature in the meshes of materialism. The truest cultivation of science and the truest cultivation of literature in our day have shown this harmony, that alike for the scientific and the literary study of man and nature—for the naturalist, for instance, and the poet—there is needed the same spirit of humble, willing, dutiful inquiry, a power of recipiency as well as of search. The man of science, and the poet equally, will miss the truth, if either the one or the other be such as has been described as the man who “grows to deal boldly with nature, instead of reverently following her guidance; who seals his heart against her secret influences; who has a theory to maintain, a solution which shall not be disturbed ; and once possessed of this false cipher, he reads amiss all the golden letters round him.”
The intellectual activity of the nineteenth century has been displayed in a very extended and various literaturė, in prose and poetry, and in literature on each side of the Atlantic. With no disposition to magnify the present at the expense of the past, it may, I believe, be safely said, in an estimate of the literature of this century, that in some departments it has excelled that of the previous centuries. This is especially the case in historic literature, for never heretofore in English letters has there been so true a conception of an historian's duties, so deep a sense of the difficulties of his story, and at the same time such hopefulness of its powers. It is far better understood now than heretofore, that in order to reconstruct the testimonies of the past, so as to make not only a record but a picture of the men that lived in the past and the events that belong to it, the historian must possess some of the knowledge of the statesman and of the powers of the poet and philosopher. In no respect has historical literature been more improved than in the thorough and laborious processes of research which are now demanded at the
historian's hands. Thus various tracts in the world's history, known formerly with a sort of careless familiarity, have been admirably reclaimed by the better cultivation, which is rewarded with the recovery of abundant materials neglected by an indolent generation. It is such dutiful and laborious research, united with other high qualifications, which has placed our countryman, Mr. Prescott, among the best historians in our times.
Nor is it only by more accurate methods of research that this department of literature is now distinguished. A deeper philosophy of history has entered into it. The historic sagacity of Niebuhr may be considered as having led the way in those processes which give him almost the fame of a discoverer, and which have been followed out in the history of antiquity by English as well French historians ; so that it may be said, that within the last twenty years the whole history of Greece and Rome has been not only reconstructed, but fashioned into a more life-like reality. Hannibal's campaign in Italy, in the posthumous volume of Arnold's History of Rome, is as vivid a narrative as could be given of one of Napoleon's or Wellington's campaigns.
It is in these particulars, laborious and accurate research and use of historical materials, and in a better science of history, that the later writers have entitled themselves to a reputation so much worthier than that of the best-known historians in the last century. Of those historians, Gibbon is the only one whose history preserves to this day its authority, on the score of such extensive research and deep learning as were required by his large theme. With regard to Hume and Robertson, the two most popular historians, the labours of later students of history have demonstrated that their works are of that indolent and superficial character which destroys their authority as trustworthy chroniclers. I do not suppose that any careful and conscientious inquirer after historic truth would at the present day consider a question of history determined by a statement in the histories of either Hume or Robertson.
Another and a very high merit may be claimed for history in the English literature of our times : I mean the religious element which has been developed in it, and most of all by Arnold. This is a noble contrast to the aggressive infidelity, and the low and false views attendant on it, which vitiates the histories of Gibbon and Hume, corrupting the learning of the former, and coupling a positive evil with the defects of the latter; so that history was made a godless, infidel study, suhservient to the shallow scepticism of the eighteenth century.
With minds blinded to Christian truth, and tempers alien from all Christian earnestness, they looked upon religious feeling as either fraud or superstition,
and so they spoke of it in the narrative of portions of the world's history in which the Christian church was leading the nations of Europe to the truth.
It is not only in such offensive, assailant unbelief, as Gibbon's and Hume's, that history has been in fault, but there has also been the negative fault of the omission of all thought of a providential government and guidance of the nations of the earth. We are thus tempted to draw too broad a line between sacred and profane history, and to fancy that there was a providence over the one chosen people, but that all the kindred peoples of the earth were abandoned to chance, to fate, to anything but the government of God. Now Arnold's great achievement in historical science is, that in treating the history of a pagan people, he gives to his reader a sense of a divine providence over the Roman nation, for the future service of Christian truth, at the same time that this religious element is not irreverently obtruded or mingled with incongruous subjects. When Hume, in his History, reaches the end of a splendid era in the English annals, he closes it with this meagie reflection, “ that the study of the early institutions of the country is instructive as showing that a mighty fabric of government is built up by a great deal of accident, with a very little human foresight and wisdom.” In our meek hours of faith we are taught that not a sparrow falls to the ground without God's providence; and then we turn to the infidel history, to be admonished that the “kingly commonwealth” of England, that has swayed the happiness of millions of human beings, and from which sprang this vast Republic of the West, was by accident;" that there was a little human foresight, and all the rest was chance,
When Arnold was planning his history, he said, “My highest ambition ... is to make my history the very reverse of Gibbon in this respect, that whereas the whole spirit of his work, from its low morality, is hostile to religion, without speaking directly against it; so my greatest desire would be, in my history, by its high morals and its general tone, to be of use to the cause, without actually bringing it forward."
Besides this high quality, another merit of recent historical literature is, that it has modified what used to be called the “dignity of history," and has blended with it more of the lively interest of biography. An excellent specimen of such historical composition, an accurate, calmlytempered, and attractive history, will be found in Lord Mahon's History of England during an important part of the last century.
In this department of literature the greatest power of attraction has been proved in the first volumes of Mr. Macaulay's History
66 built up
England, for they have won a far larger number of readers, it is believed, than did any one of the Waverley novels in Scott's palmiest day. Such rapid and wide-spread popularity is proof of power, the measure of which will be taken more accurately after the lapse of some years than now, when it is new to us. Mr. Macaulay's aim, as an historian, is to bring into history a greater number and variety of the testimonies of the life of the past than history has been in the habit of taking cognizance of. With great powers of accumulating such multifarious memorials of former times, with a dexterous skill in combining them, and with a brilliant, effective style, he has gained such applause as, perhaps, was never given to historian before. It is most attractive and exciting reading—the more delightful, if you can lull to sleep all questioning of truthfulness, and can bring your mind to a passive, submissive recipiency of Mr. Macaulay's absolute and contemptuous condemnation of characters you might otherwise have been inclined to honour or respect. There are few writers who exact from the reader such unquestioning obedience-obedience, too, to sarcasm and scorn. It has been justly said, that an historian's first “great qualification is an earnest craving after truth, and utter impatience, not of falsehood merely, but of error.” I would ask any reader of this work, even with the fresh fascination on him, whether, on closing the volumes, he feels an assurance of the presence there of such an earnest craving after truth. Mr. Macaulay has another ambition, fostered, perhaps, by his habit of writing as a reviewer, and not yet duly disciplined in him—the ambition, or, as it may be more fitly called, the vanity of showy and startling display. Of the majestic beauty of quiet and simple truth he seems to have no conception. His moral and intellectual nature seem not to be justly balanced.
This appears in another form of intellectual pridean absence of all genial appreciation of lofty character-heroic or saintly—an unbelief in high and earnest moods of thought and feeling, and a pride of power in despoiling men of the sentiments of reverence and admiration they had been glad to bestow. The more habitual those sentiments have been, the greater the power displayed in scattering them. If Mr. Macaulay should carry his history on to that period when it will be necessary for him to treat of what he has not as yet thought it worth while to allude to, colonial America, as part of Engand's history, and when he will have occasion to speak of Washington and Franklin, I venture to predict that the temptation to bid the world abate their admiration will be irresistible; and that then some of Mr. Macaulay's American admirers, who are now rather intolerant of the least dissent, will faip recall some of their present praises.