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1. The skill shown in the selection and arrangement of facts.
No employment perhaps requires such various and extensive knowledge, as the writing of history. The historian is to view the actions of men in connexion with their causes; and to do this, he must well know the secret springs of human action. He is to judge also of occurrences as affecting communities, and this requires an intimate knowledge of the different forms of government, and of the principles of civil polity. He needs further to be familiar with literature in its different departments, and with religion in its various forms. But all these are but remote and indirect preparatives for the work. With the particular country and portion of time, which are the subjects of his history, the writer must have a thorough and intimate acquaintance. He must seek access to the fountain sources of knowledge, - must examine authentic documents and original authorities, and become familiar with the institutions, and manners, and opinions, of the age and people of whom he writes.
When, as the result of patient, continued research, and careful investigation, the writer has collected the materials of his work, his attention is in the next place directed to the selection and arrangement of facts; and here he will be guided by the proposed object of his work. If it be his design to write a narrative history simply, he will place before us such facts, as may fully inform us of whatever of importance pertains to the people of whom he writes. He will also have reference to what is fitted to excite interest in his readers, to gratify their curiosity and furnish them profitable instruction. But in philosophical history, the writer has some leading design in his work. He would show us the origin and progress of certain civil and religious institutions, or he would trace the effects of opposing opinions on a community, and show us in what manner public measures have
been influenced, and the welfare of the nation affected by contending parties. Any definite object of this kind, must evidently become a ruling principle to the historian in the selection of his facts.
The success of a historian, will also depend much on the clearness of his method and the strictness of his arrangement. In narrative history, the order of time will be principally observed. In philosophical history, the arrangement, as well as the selection of facts, will depend on the leading design of the writer. His statements, like the different parts of an argument, must all be brought to bear on some common point.
Some writers divide their histories into successive eras, and give a full and distinct view of the condition of a nation at these epochs. Such is the arrangement of Henry's History of England. Divisions of this kind are favorable to perspicuity, but, by breaking up the natural connexion of events, they diminish the interest of readers.
Many of the ancient historians are deficient in their plan. Herodotus, the father of Grecian history, though possessing great merit as a narrator, observes but little order in his narrations. He passes hastily from one nation to another, and often introduces in a parenthetical form, the events of many years. Thucydides also has in this particular shown little skill, and often, that he may strictly observe chronological order, interrupts in a painful manner the course of his narrative. After recording the events, which have occurred during a period of time in one part of the world, he breaks off abruptly, and proceeds to the narration of what has taken place, during the same period, in another part, A more skilful writer would have found some connecting link. Livy and Tacitus have more merit in this respect, and, as narrative historians, are good models in the selection and arrangement of facts.
2. Fidelity as a trait of the historian.
Cicero has said that two things are incumbent on the historian — to avoid stating what is false, and fully and fairly to place before us the truth. These two things the historian professes to do, and fidelity implies that he is true to his professions. He promises us the results of careful, thorough, fair investigation; and if he is faithful, he seeks access to every possible source of knowledge, and free from carelessness and indolence, makes a fair use of the materials he may obtain. Fidelity further implies, that a writer does not designedly deceive us. It is indeed hardly to be supposed, that one wishing to obtain confidence as a writer of history, should designedly deceive. But it is not enough that a his torian may not have laid to his charge designed misrepresentations. He must be free from the influence of prejudice, and his statements must be fairly made. In philosophical history, there is often strong temptation to misrepresent, and so various and apparently unimportant are the ways in which this
may be done, that there is much need of watchfulness. The selection of some facts in preference to others — the dwelling on favorite views of subjects — the manner of representing facts, even the epithets used, may give a decided cast to a historical statement, and strongly manifest the bias of the writer's mind. We almost expect, that when a historian writes of his own country, or attempts to account for the origin and to exhibit the nature of those political or religious opinions, which he himself is accustomed to maintain or oppose, he will be partial. From this source, no doubt, arise the greatest defects in Hume's History of England. Sometimes, also, the influence of cherished opinions will be felt, when writing the history of a nation extinct, and with which the historian himself has no connexion. Thus Gibbon's infidelity has colored his representations of what pertains to the Christian religion. In the same manner,
ford's monarchical principles are seen in the account, given in his History of Greece, of the democracy of Athens. In fact, such are the subjects on which the philosophical historian is called to pronounce an opinion, so connected are they, either directly or indirectly, with his own private views and opinions, that we can hardly expect more than an approximation to uncorrupted truth. The historian should be a man of no party, either in politics or religion, of no partialities or aversions, with no avowed or secret aim but naked truth; and rarely indeed can such a man be found.
3. Style of historical writings.
In examining a historical production of modern times, we find that there is a diversity in its different parts, requiring variety in the style in which it is written. Some portions are simply narrative; others argumentative. There are found relations ci striking and imposing occurrences, and descriptions of natural scenery and of works of art. Some histories also contain descriptions of men, or character-painting. Here evidently is occasion for variety of style. Narration and argument require chasteness and simplicity. Descriptive writing allows a freer range to the imagination. This is in fact a species of historical painting; and though it must be true to the original, it admits the adornings of fancy.
It may be said, in general, of the style of history, that it should have simplicity and gravity. Instruction is the appropriate employment of the historic muse; still she would allure us to the study of the lessons which she teaches. She may well be styled a matron among the muses; and the words which she utters, and the aspect which she wears, are those of maternal simplicity and endearment. It is well known, that ancient historians proposed the amusement of their readers as a prominent object of their efforts. When Herodotus wrote, he had in immediate view the assembled throng at the Olympic games. Indeed it may be said, that
histories are among the most polished and elegant productions of ancient literaturee And even now that History and Philosophy are found in alliance, much of the polish and elegance of former times is retained.
In tracing the progress of historical writings, we are led to notice varieties in their form, which occur at successive periods. The earliest records of nations belong to their poetry, and the connexion between epic poetry and narrative history is close. This is seen, not only in the style, but in the incidents narrated. Such are the marvellous exploits of heroes, uncommon and striking occurrences, and events, both in the natural and moral world, approaching the miraculous. Amusement, and not instruction, is evidently a leading design of the writer. The resemblance between ancient histories and modern historical novels, is striking. Both aim to carry us back to former periods, and to make present to us the scenes which then transpired. Of these ancient histories, but few have come down to us. Herodotus is usually placed in this class, though the accuracy of his geographical statements, and the amount of true information which he gives, might entitle him to a higher rank.
In the next period, are placed those rightly styled narrative historians. In these writings, we find true accounts of occurrences distinctly and fully stated in regular succession. The course of the narrative and the style are natu
There has apparently been little effort on the part of the writer, and little is required on our part in following him. It is a plain, easy route, and we advance in it pleasantly, gathering instruction as we proceed. Xenophon among the Greek, and Livy among the Latin historians, may be mentioned as excelling in this form of historical Writing. The easy, artless, natural manner, which characterizes their works,- the simple story which they tell, are fitted to excite grateful emotions, and recommend them highly to all their readers.
ral and easy