« ZurückWeiter »
regarded as a history of the world to his own time), Livy, Justin (which is an abridgment of Trogus Pompeius, now lost) Velleius Paterculus, Eutropius, perhaps Tacitus; and in modern times, Rapin's, Hume's, and the larger histories of our own country, and that of Mr. Gibbon. In the second class we may range Thucidydes' History of the Peloponesian War, the two Histories of Şallast, Guiccardini, Davila, Clarendon's History of the Civil Wars in England, the various histories of the Reformation, Dr. Robertson's History of Charles V., and of Scotland at a particular period, Mr. Roscoe's Lorenzo de Medicis, and Leo X., and many others. .
It will be obvious, and it will be confirmed by the perusal, that the writer wbo records a particular event or a particular period, has the easier, and the pleasanter task. He may adopt a perfect unity of design, may arrange his subject to the best advantage, may dramatize it, if I may use the expression. He will have the same set of actors and characters; and can obtain a much clearer view of his subject and all its parts and circumstances, than he who has to drudge through the records of ages, and pur
sue, often with a faint and glimmering light; - the progress of a nation from barbarism to re
... finement and greatness; and afterwards through all the mazes of laxury and corruption to its enslavement or dissolution.
A French critic - terms Mr. Gibbon's an “ endless bistory." Perhaps indeed, consistently with his title,. he might have stopped when the seat of empire was transferred from Rome ; .perhaps more properly at the division of the empire ; still more properly when it was overrun by the barbarians. But who could' wish so enchanting a writer to stop at all ? His history is indeed not that of a particular dy-nasty, scarcely that of a particular nation, but
But whether we regard it as one or several histories, our only regret is, that instead of having written so much he did not write more, or that he should have left a subject untouched by the magie of his pen.
In what may be termed general history, however, every writer will find it commodious to distribute it into such portions or periods as may enable him to adopt a unity of design for each portion, to exhibit every great event clear and distinct, and to finish one portion or pe
riod before he begins upon another. As the materials of history must be drawn from many sources, it must be compiled by the aid of notes or references collected with a view to the arrangement the historian means to pursue, generally I conceive in the order of time. It will however facilitate the task, if he takes one author for his basis, and makes his notes refer to others, either on the margin, or on a separate slip of paper. This I have indeed heard was the practice of Mr Gibbon. At all events, however, the historian before he begins must have a complete view of his subject in his mind, and compose in a great measure from his preconceived ideas, if he wishes to avoid the character of a mere copyist or transcriber.
It is almost common-place to say, that the great requisites of history are truth, impartiality, and perspicuity. The style of history should be grave, dignified, temperate and se. date. Purity is more essential than ornament, for reasons which I have already assigned; yet the style should not be monotonous, but animated, whenever the occasion is of sufficient importance.
Historical writing as such, without reference to the poetical histories is very antient, for we may regard the Pentateuch of Moses as the first history. From well authenticated tradition, and from the best of evidence, we are fully authorised to ascribe it to the venerable personage, whose name it bears; but the latter parts were undoubtedly added by Joshua, or some person under his direction. It includes in a small compass a vast scope and a long period, being a history of man from the creation to the death of the author, and including the whole code of laws, civil and religious, which was given to the people of Israel. If no religious character was attached to it; if we ceased to venerate it as the origin and source of that faith which we profess, it would be a most curious relic of antiquity, and must be allowed to con tain a record of the first ages, bearing more internal marks of authenticity than any antient history extant. The style is simple and sene tentious. It is often interspersed with fragments of poetry, perhaps parts of the original memorial lines from which the narrative was in part at least compiled. Yet it cannot class under the character of a chronicle or annals, but is a regular, though brief, history of many
ages and many important transactions. Some parts, and particularly the history of Joseph, are incomparably beautiful, and there is no part deficient in spirit. Yet from the singular, and almost metrical style in which it is coinposed, it cannot be a model for imitation, and is scarcely an object of criticism in this age of literature.
The other parts of sacred history, particu. larly the Books of Samuel, of Kings, and Chronicles, belong rather to the class of annals, than of general history. One circumstance I must remark of them all, that brief as they are, they are remarkable for exhibiting always a striking picture to the mind of the reader. They lose not the matter in general, but the principal actors and characters are before our eyes. This is strongly exemplified in the transactions of Samuel with Eli, and afterwards with Saul. In the life of David, and particularly in the affecting interview with Nathan the prophet; in the history of Jeroboam, and of the prophet who declaims against the altars; the seizure of the vineyard of Naboth, and the death of Jezebel. Who can now write history that makes