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gross, and called it witty; and a little rude, and called it raillery: but 'twas false coinage, and never passed long. Indeed, I have generally remarked, that people did so only because they could not do better: 'tis like pleading privilege for a debt which a man's own funds do not enable him to pay. A great man may, perhaps, be well-bred in a manner which little people do not understand; but, trust me, he is a greater man who is well-bred in a manner that every body understands.'
No. 5. SATURDAY, MARCH 5, 1785.
Historia decus est et quasi anima, ut cum eventis causæ copulentur.
BACON, DE AUGM. SCIENT.
Of the various kinds of literary composition there is hardly any which has been at all times more cultivated than that of HISTORY. A desire to recount remarkable events, and a curiosity to hear the rela tion of them, are propensities inherent in human na ture; and hence historians have abounded in every age, in the rudest and simplest, as well as in the most polished and refined. The first poets were histo rians; and Homer and Ossian, when the light of the song arose,' but recounted the virtues and ex. ploits of their countrymen.
From poetic numbers, history at length descended to prose; but she was still of the family of the Muses, and long retained many features of the race from whence she sprung. Historia, says Quintilian, est proxima poëtis, et quodammodo carmen solutum.
She professed, indeed, that her purpose was to instruct no less than to please; yet such was her hereditary propensity, that for many successive ages she continued more studious to cultivate the means of pleasing, than anxious to gather the materials of instruction. But when all her arts of pleasing had been exhausted, when the charms of novelty and the bloom of youth were gone, she began to feel the decay of her power. In her distress she looked around for aid, and wisely embraced an union with PHILOSOPHY, who taught her the value of the rich field of instruction she had so long neglected, showed her how she might add new graces to her powers of giving delight, how she might not only recover, but extend her empire, and be crowned with honours that should never fade.
To drop the allegory,-the truth is, that although to afford pleasure and to convey instruction have been ever the professed ends of history, yet they have not always been mingled in due proportion. The former has been the object of the greater part of historians; and their aim of instruction has seldom gone further than to illustrate some moral precept, and to improve the heart by exhibiting bright and illustrious examples of virtue. It is of late only that history, by taking a wider range, has assumed a different form; and, with the relation of splendid events uniting an investigation of their causes, has exhibited a view of those great circumstances in the situation of any people, which can alone yield solid instruction.
Historians may therefore be divided into two kinds, according to the methods they have followed, and the ends they have chiefly had in view in their composition. The first class, and which is by far the most numerous, consists of those who have confined themselves to the mere relation of public trans
actions; who have made it their principal aim to interest the affections; and who, in assigning any causes of events, have seldom gone beyond those immediately connected with the particular characters of the persons whose actions they describe. The second class comprehends the very few historians who have viewed it as their chief business to unfold the more remote and general causes of public events, and have considered the giving an account of the rise, progress, perfection and decline of government, of manners, of art, and of science, as the only true means of rendering history instructive.
In the former of these classes we must rank almost all the celebrated historians of ancient Greece and Rome. In general they merely relate distinguished events; but to search out and reflect upon the ge. neral causes of them they seldom attempt; and to mark the state of government, of laws, of manners, or of arts, seems not to have been thought of by them as falling within the province of history. To delight the imagination seems to have been their favourite aim; and accordingly, from the superior effects of recent events in interesting the passions, we find that many of the most distinguished historians of this class, have chosen for their subjects, either transactions of which they were themselves witnesses, or that were very near their own times. Thucydides and Xenophon record little but the events of their own day, and in which they themselves bore a part; Cæsar gives us nothing but memoirs of his own exploits; and Tacitus confines himself very nearly to his own times. Even Herodotus, who takes a larger range, is, in general, only a relater of facts which he either saw himself, or reports on the testimony of others; and Livy, who commences his history with the foundation of Rome, scarce thinks of any thing beyond a mere detail of wars and revolutions,
and seems only careful to embellish his story by interesting narrative and flowing language.
When such were the limited bounds of this species of writing, history was an ART, the design of which was to please; not a SCIENCE, the purpose of which was to instruct. It was, as Quintilian says, proxima poëtis; and critical rules were laid down for its composition, similar to those for the structure of an epic poem. To select a subject, the recital of which might be interesting; to arrange and distribute the several parts with skill; to embellish by forcible and picturesque description; to enliven by characteristic and animated speeches, and to clothe the whole in beautiful and flowing language; formed all the necessary and essential parts of the composi
tion. In these the ancients held the highest excellence and perfection of history to consist; and so little did their views reach any further, that Dionysius of Halicarnassus, a critic of taste and acuteness, says, that the first object of a person about to write history ought to be, to select a subject striking and pleasing, and such as may not only affect, but overpower the minds of the readers with pleasure.' And he condemns Thucydides for his choice of the Peloponnesian war, 'because it was neither honourable nor prosperous, nor ever should have been engaged in, or at least should have been buried in silence and oblivion, that posterity might be ignorant of it.'
Thus confined were the ideas of the ancients with regard to the objects of history. But while we may regret this, we are not to ascribe it to any defect of genius it arose from causes which a little reflection may render sufficiently obvious, and from the circumstances in which they were unavoidably placed.
In ancient times, mankind had before their eyes
but a very limited field of observation, and but a short experience of the revolutions of nations. Their memorials of former events, too, were scanty and imperfect, being little more than traditions, involved in uncertainty, and disfigured by fable. They possessed not that extensive experience, nor that large collection of facts, which can alone lead to general reasonings, or can suggest the idea of philosophical history. Nothing further could occur to them as the object of history, but to delight the imagination and improve the heart; and accordingly they chose subjects that made the strongest impression on their own minds, and might most interest the passions of others. To explain, the immediate motives and springs of actions, was necessary even for connecting their narrative; but to proceed further, and trace the remote causes, and to perceive how much public events were affected by the degree of advancement which a nation had reached in government, in manners, and in arts, were discoveries yet hid from their view.
The ancient world wanted that communication and intercourse of one nation with another, which, of all circumstances, has the greatest effect in generalising and enlarging the views of an historian. It is with nations as with individuals; no family-knowledge, no domestic study, can ever afford that large and extended information which mixing with other men, which commerce with the world will bestow. In the time of the Grecian republics, man consisted but of two divisions, Greeks and Barbarians; though the subdivision of the former into smaller states promoted the spirit of philosophic research considerably more than when to the name of Roman was confined every science, every art, every privilege and dignity of man. In modern times, the nearly equal rank and cultivation of different European kingdoms