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from the antient schools. There is much good painting in Buchanan ; and I particularly recommend to your perusal the interesting scene between Malcolm and Macduff, previous to the fall of the usurper. In the latter periods of his history he has been charged with partiality, but that charge has never been proved. He lived in times when party regarded calumny as a duty, and he embraced the thankless side, the side of liberty.
Clarendon is not to be considered as a general historian, since his subject is confined to the civil wars in the reign of Charles I. and II. Clarendon's history is, however, in all senses of the word, a great work. In style and conduct it comes nearer Livy than any modern performance. He excels in drawing characters, though his portraits are occasionally darkened by the black tinge of party spirit. The style of English composition had not arrived at perfection in his time; and his periods are justly censured as long, embarassed, and sometimes ambiguous. Yet he was perhaps the first writer in prose who shewed the powers of the English language, and laid the founda. tion of those beauties which the succeeding age displayed.
It is somewhat singular that the first who composed a good general history of our country should be a Frenchman. To Rapin every successive generation has assigned the praise of industry, accuracy, and impartiality–no slight commendation of an historian. I never read his history in the original, it being superseded in this country by the very slovenly translation of Tindal. General Andreossi, however, who ought to be a judge of the language, denies that he possesses any taste. He is too fond of inserting the whole of documents, of which he should only have given abstracts. Yet whoever would look for truth, the great object in reading history, must still, I fear, have recourse to the ponderous volumes of Rapin. He was greatly assisted by that invaluable collection of records, Rymer's Fædera, which continued to be published while he was writing his history. Mr. Hayley denominates him the British Polybius, and adds
Thy sword, thy pen, have both thy name endeard; “ This join'd our arms, and that our story cleard; “Thy Foreign band discharg'd the historian's trust, “ Unsway'd by party, and to freedom just.”
We had, however, scarcely any work of the historical kind in our language, which deserves
the name of elegant, till the present times. Lord Littleton's Henry is a fine and chaste composition, but is rather prolix. It would be unfair, though I dislike his principles both political and religious, to deny Mr. Hume the praise of a chaste, correct, and pleasing writer. I have been told by some who knew him, that he composed with great difficulty, and even with painful feelings ; yet his genius seems to me happily calculated for narration. He is clear and spirited; and though he can rarely reach either the sublime or the pathetic, he always interests. Some of his dissertations, as that on the consequences of the invention of gunpowder, &c. might have been omitted; they remind us of scholastic disputations, and have no connexion with a recital of facts. He is not copious; his vocabulary is remarkably limited, but it is well chosen. I wish, however, he possessed more honesty, more industry, and less of that rancorous spirit so peculiarly characteristic of infidels, that even Mr. Gibbon terms Voltaire " a bigot, an intolerant bigot.” He frequently misrepresents when party or prejudice offers a temptation; as is particularly evinced in his account of Barebone's parliament, and the character of Milton,* and his negligence is very reprehensible. I have been told that he has copied pages, I might almost say volumes, from Carte, with only slight alterations in language. All these circumstances render his bistory of little value as an authentic record.
If I stand in fear of offending our northern countrymen by this qualified censure on Mr. Hume, I hope I shall amply compensate by declaring my unbiassed opinion, that the most accomplished historian of antient or modern times, is Dr. Robertson. His style is rich and copious, and he may be said to wield with ease all the powers and the treasures of the English language. Few provincial or idiomatic phrases appear in his classical pages. He is sufficiently florid and fanciful to interest continually, and yet not so much as to tire or disgust. His arrangement is always luminous, his incidents well selected, and his story well told. The History of Scotland is extremely engaging, and not the least interesting is the detail of domestic
* “ When giddy and fantastic dreams abuse
" A Hampden's virtue and a Shakspeare's muse."
and private transactions, which display the respective characters in the happiest lights. But his great work is the Charles V., a performance which will never be superseded, and which will be read while the English language endures. The preliminary dissertation is the best view which is any where to be found of the feudal institutions, though it might have been spared from the history ; for they were almost at an end when the history commenced, and perhaps something still more important might have been substituted in a concise view of the Jus publicum Imperii. But how great and how interesting is his account of that amazing event the Reformation ! He writes with all his heart; he rises with his subject; he is sublime, pathetic, yet every where rational. He is the only writer who has done justice, or who perbaps could do justice, to the exalted character of Luther. He has drawn him, and indeed all his other characters, with the pencil of Vandyke, as striking as elegant. His America is the least valuable of his histories; but the subject was better known, and had been treated by other modern historians.