Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

who lived in paft ages, as well as of their cotem poraries. What is it to Cleora, whether Fulvia entertains a secret commerce of love with Philander, or not? Has fhe not equal reason to be pleased, when she is informed, (what is whispered about among hiftorians) that Cato's fifter had an intrigue with Cæfar, and palmed her fon, Marcus Brutus, upon her husband for his own, though in reality he was her gallant's? And are not the loves of Meffalina or Julia as proper subjects of discourse as any intrigue that this city has produced of late years?

But I know not whence it comes, that I have been thus feduced into a kind of raillery against the ladies; unless, perhaps, it proceed from the fame cause, which makes the person, who is the favourite of the company, be often the object of their good-natured jests and pleasantries. We are pleased to address ourselves after any manner to one who is agreeable to us, and at the fame time prefume, that nothing will be taken amifs by a perfon, who is fecure of the good opinion and affections of every one prefent. I fhall now proceed to handle my fubject more seriously, and shall point out the many advantages, which flow from the study of hiftory, and fhew how well fuited it is to every one, but particularly to thofe who are debarred the feverer ftudies, by the tenderness of their complexion, and the weakness of their education. The advantages found in history feem to be of three kinds, as it

amufes

amufes the fancy, as it improves the understand. ing, and as it ftrengthens virtue.

In reality, what more agreeable entertainment to the mind, than to be transported into the remotest ages of the world, and to obferve human fociety, in its infancy, making the first faint effays towards the arts and sciences: to fee the policy of government, and the civility of converfation refining by degrees, and every thing which is ornamental to human life advancing towards its perfection. To remark the rife, progrefs, declenfion, and final extinction of the most flourishing empires; the vir tues which contributed to their greatness, and the vices which drew on their ruin. In fhort, to fee all the human race, from the beginning of time, pafs, as it were, in review before us; appearing in their true colours, without any of those disguises which, during their lifetime, fo much perplexed the judgment of the beholders. What fpectacle can be imagined, fo magnificent, fo various, fo interefting? What amusement, either of the fenfes or imagination, can be compared with it? Shall those trifling pastimes, which engross so much of our time, be preferred as more fatisfactory, and more fit to engage our attention? How perverfe muft that taste be, which is capable of fo wrong a choice of pleafures?

But history is a moft improving part of khowledge, as well as an agreeable amusement; and a great

Cc

great part of what we commonly call erudition and value fo highly, is nothing but an acquaintance with historical facts. An extensive knowledge of this kind belongs to men of letters: but I must think it an unpardonable ignorance in persons, of whatever fex or condition, not to be acquainted with the history of their own country, together with the hiftories of ancient Greece and Rome. A woman may behave herself with good manners, and have even fome vivacity in her turn of wit; but where her mind is fo unfurnished, it is impoffible her converfation can afford any entertainment to men of fenfe and reflection.

I must add, that history is not only a valuable part of knowledge, but opens the door to many other parts, and affords materials to most of the fciences. And, indeed, if we confider the fhortnefs of human life, and our limited knowledge, even of what paffes in our own time, we must be fenfible that we fhould be for ever children in understanding, were it not for this invention, which extends our experience to all paft ages, and to the moft diftant nations; making them contribute as much to our improvement in wifdom, as if they had actually lain under our obfervation. A man acquainted with history may, in fome refpect, be faid to have lived from the beginning of the world, and to have been making continual additions to his ftock of knowledge in every century.

There

[ocr errors]

There is also an advantage in that experience, which is acquired by history, above what is learned by the practice of the world, that it brings us acquainted with human affairs, without diminishing in the least from the most delicate fentiments of virtue. And to tell the truth, I know not any study or occupation fo unexceptionable as history in this parti cular. Poets can paint virtue in the most charming colours; but as they address themselves entirely to the paffions, they often become advocates for vice. Even philofophers are apt to bewilder themselves in the fubtility of their speculations; and we have seen some go fo far as to deny the reality of all moral diftinctions. But I think it a remark worthy the attention of the fpeculative, that the historians have been, almost without.exception, the true friends of virtue, and have always reprefented it in Its proper colours, however they may have erred in their judgments of particular perfons. Machiavel himself discovers a true fentiment of virtue in his history of Florence. When he talks as a politician, in his general reafonings, he confiders poisoning, affaffination, and perjury, as lawful arts of power; but when he speaks as an hiftorian, in his particular narrations, he fhews so keen an indignation against vice, and fo warm an approbation of virtue, in many paffages that I could not for

bear applying to him that remark of Horace, that if you chace away nature, though with ever fo great indignity, fhe will always return upon you. Nor is this combination of hiftorians in favour of virtue, at all difficult to be accounted for. When Cc 2

a man

[ocr errors]

a man of business enters into life and action, he is more apt to confider the characters of men, as they have relation to his intereft, than as they ftand in themselves; and has his judgment warped on every occafion by the violence of his paffion. When a philofopher contemplates characters and -manners in his closet, the general abstract view of the objects leaves the mind fo cold and unmoved, that the fentiments of nature have no room to play, and he fcarce feels the difference between vice and virtue. Hiftory keeps in a just me'dium between thefe extremes, and places the objects in their true point of view. The writers of history, as well as the readers, are fufficiently interested in the characters and events, to have a lively fentiment of blame or praise; and, at the fame time, have no particular interest or concern to pervert their judgment.

.

[ocr errors]
[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]
« ZurückWeiter »