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Plato, and deceiving himself, both as a christian and a philosopher; but at the same time it displayed a refined and well-exercised mind.
It is the same with the primitives called quakers, of whom we have so much spoken. They have been taken for men who cannot see beyond their noses, and who make no use of their reason. However, there have been among them several who employed all the subtleties of logic. Enthusiasm is not always the companion of total ignorance, it is often that of erroneous information.
A TITLE very different from that of historian. In France we commonly see men of letters pensioned, and, as it was said formerly, appointed to write history. Alain Chartier was the historiographer of Charles VII.; he says that he interrogated the domestics of this prince, and put them on their oaths, according to the duty of his charge, to ascertain whether Charles really had Agnes Sorel for his mistress. He concludes, that nothing free ever passed between these lovers; and that all was reduced to a few honest caresses, to which these domestics had been the innocent witnesses. However it is proved, not by historiographers, but by historians supported by family titles, that Charles VII. had three daughters by Agnes Sorel, the eldest of whom, married to one Breze, was stabbed by her husband. From this time there were often titled historiographers in France, and it was the custom to give them commissions of councillors of state, with the provisions of their charge. They were commensal officers of the king's house. Matthieu had these privileges under Henry IV. but did not therefore write a better history.
At Venice it is always a noble of the senate who possesses this title and function, and the celebrated Nani has filled them with general approbation. It is very difficult for the historiographer of a prince not to be a liar; that of a republic flatters less; but he does
not tell all the truth. At China historiographers are charged with collecting all the events and original titles, under a dynasty. They throw the leaves numbered into a vast hall, through an orifice resembling the lion's mouth at Venice, into which is cast all secret intelligence. When the dynasty is extinct the hall is opened, and the materials digested, of which an authentic history is composed. The general journal of the empire also serves to form the body of history; this journal is superior to our newspapers, being made under the superintendance of the mandarins of each province, revised by a supreme tribunal, and every piece bearing an authenticity which is decisive in contentious matters.
Every sovereign chose his own historiographer. Vittorio Siri was one; Pelisson was first chosen by Louis XIV. to write the events of his reign, and acquitted himself of his task with eloquence in the History of Franche Comté. Racine, the most elegant of poets, and Boileau, the most correct, were afterwards substituted for Pelisson. Some curious persons have collected Memoirs of the Passage of the Rhine, written by Racine. We cannot judge by these memoirs whether Louis XIV. passed the Rhine or not with his troops, who swam across the river. This example sufficiently demonstrates how rarely it happens that an historiographer dare tell the truth. Several also, who have possessed this title, have taken good care of writing history; they have followed the example of Amyot, who said that he was too much attached to his masters to write their lives. Father Daniel had the patent of historiographer, after having given his History of France; he had a pension of 600 livres, regarded merely as a suitable stipend for a monk.
It is very difficult to assign true bounds to the arts, sciences, and literary labour. Perhaps it is the proper duty of an historiographer to collect materials, and that of an historian to put them in order. The first can amass everything, the second arrange and select. The historiographer is more of the simple
annalist, while the historian seems to have a more open field for reflection and eloquence.
We need scarcely say here, that both should equally tell the truth, but we can examine this great law of Cicero: Ne quid veri tacere non audeat,”—That we ought not to dare to conceal any truth. This rule is of the number of those that want illustration. Suppose a prince confides to his historiographer an important secret to which his honour is attached, or that the good of the state requires should not be revealed, should the historiographer or historian break his word with the prince, or betray his country to obey Cicero? The curiosity of the public seems to exact it; honour and duty forbid it. Perhaps in this case he should renounce writing history.
If a truth dishonours a family, ought the historiographer or historian to inform the public of it? No; doubtless he is not bound to reveal the shame of individuals; history is no satire.
But if this scandalous truth belongs to public events, if it enters into the interests of the state; if it has produced evils of which it imports to know the cause, it is then that the maxim of Cicero should be observed; for this law is like all others, which must be executed, tempered, or neglected, according to circumstances.
Let us beware of this humane respect, when treating of acknowledged public faults, prevarications, and injustices, into which the misfortunes of the times have betrayed respectable bodies. They cannot be too much exposed; they are beacons which warn these alwaysexisting bodies against splitting again on similar rocks. If an English parliament has condemned a man of fortune to the torture; if an assembly of theologians had demanded the blood of an unfortunate who differed in opinion from themselves, it should be the duty of an historian to inspire all ages with horror for these juridical assassins. We should always make the Athenians blush for the death of Socrates.
Happily, even an entire people always find it good to have the crimes of their ancestors placed before them; they like to condemn them, and to believe them
selves superior. The historiographer or historian encourages them in these sentiments, and, in retracing the wars of government and religion, prevents their repetition.
Definition of History.
HISTORY is the recital of facts represented as true. Fable, on the contrary, is the recital of facts represented as fiction.
There is the history of human opinions, which is scarcely anything more than the history of human errors. The history of the arts may be made the most useful of all, when to a knowledge of their invention and progress, it adds a description of their mechanical means and processes.
Natural history, improperly designated history,' is an essential part of natural philosophy. The history of events has been divided into sacred and profane. Sacred history is a series of divine and miraculous operations, by which it has pleased God formerly to direct and govern the Jewish nation, and, in the present day, to try our faith. To learn Hebrew, the sciences, and history, says La Fontaine, is to drink up the sea. Si j'apprenois l'Hebreu, les sciences, l'histoire, Tout cela, c'est la mer à boire.
LA FONTAINE, book viii. fable 25.
The Foundations of History.
The foundations of all history are the recitals of events, made by fathers to their children, and afterwards transmitted from one generation to another. They are, at most, only probable in their origin when they do not shock common sense, and they lose a degree of probability at every successive transmission. With time, the fabulous increases and the true disappears; hence it arises that the original traditions and records of all nations are absurd. Thus the Egyptians had been governed for many ages by the gods. They
had next been under the government of demi-gods; and, finally, they had kings for eleven thousand three hundred and forty years, and, during that period, the sun had changed four times from east and west.
The Phenicians, in the time of Alexander, pretended that they had been settled in their own country for thirty thousand years; and those thirty thousand years were as full of prodigies as the Egyptian chronology. I admit it to be perfectly consistent with physical possibility that Phenicia may have existed, not merely for thirty thousand years, but thirty thousand millions of ages, and that it may have endured, as well as the other portions of the globe, thirty millions of revolutions. But of all this we possess no knowledge.
The ridiculous miracles which abound in the ancient history of Greece are universally known.
The Romans, although a serious and grave people, have, nevertheless, equally involved in fables the early periods of their history. That nation, so recent in comparison with those of Asia, was five hundred years without historians. It is impossible, therefore, to be surprised on finding that Romulus was the son of Mars; that a she-wolf was his nurse; that he marched with a thousand men from his own village, Rome, against twenty thousand warriors belonging to the city of the Sabines; that he afterwards became a god; that the elder Tarquin cut through a stone with a razor, and that a vestal drew a ship to land with her girdle, &c.
The first annals of modern nations are no less fabulous: things prodigious and improbable ought sometimes, undoubtedly, to be related, but only as proofs of human credulity. They constitute part of the history of human opinion and absurdities; but the field is too immense.
Of Monuments or Memorials.
The only proper method of endeavouring to acquire some knowledge of ancient history, is to ascertain whether there remain any incontestable public monuments. We possess only three such, in the way of writing or in