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their anxious, and, in their own view, eventful courses of life, history knows nothing. Incalculable thousands, therefore, and tens of thousands, of emotions of joy and agony, of ardent hopes, of romantic schemes, of interesting disclosures, of striking dialogues, of strange incidents, of deep laid plots, of fatal catastrophes, of scenes of death, that have had their place and their hour, that have been to certain human creatures the most important circumstances in the world at the time, and collectively have constituted the real state of the people, could not be saved, and cannot be redeemed, from sinking in oblivion. This vast crowd of beings have lived in the social and yet separating economy of families, and thus have been under an infinite number of distinct polities, each of which have experienced innumerable fluctuations, as to agreement or discord, as to resources, number, cultivation, relative sorrows or satisfactions, and intercourse, alliances, or quarrels, with the neighbouring little domestic states. All this, too, though constituting at all times so great a part of the moral condition of the good and evil of the community, is incapable of being brought within the cognizance of history. There are larger subdivisions of the nation, yet still so small as to be very numerous, into the inhabitants of villages and towns, with all the local interests and events of each; and even these are for the most part invisible in the narrow sketch of the history of a nation. We may add all the train of events and interests connected with religious associations, with the different employments of the people, with civil and literary professions, and with all the departments of studious life, together with the lighter, but both characteristic and influential course of amusements and fashions.
No one ever wished to see the world so literally filled with books as to leave no room for the grass and corn to grow, nor therefore regretted that a host of writers of superhuman knowledge and facility had not been appointed to record all the things interesting to individuals, or families, or districts, that have been done or said in a whole nation during centuries; but it is at the same time to be acknowledged, that nothing really deserving to be called a history of a nation can be written, unless the historian could exhibit something that should be a true and correct miniature of what has thus been an almost boundless assemblage of moral being and agency. He must, in description, reduce this vast assemblage of particulars to some general abstract, which shall give the true measures of all the kinds of good and evil that have existed in a whole nation at the assigned period; and he must contrive some mode of narration that shall relate, as one course of action, the whole agency of millions of separate, and diversified, and often mutually opposing agents. But how is all this to be done? The historian does not know a ten thousandth part of all those facts of good and evil among individuals, the collective amount of which formed the moral character and condition of any people during any given period, and which collective amount he is required to ascertain as he proceeds, and to give in a continued abstract; nor, indeed, if he could know so vast an assemblage, would it be possible for him so to combine and compare all these things together, as to make any true abstract and estimate of the whole; nor if he could make such a summary estimate, would it be of any material value, as thus divested of all particular appropriation to individuals, and given as the description of the character and state of an imaginary being called a nation. A nation having one character and condition, and acting as one being, is but an idle fiction after all; since in plain sense it is as individuals that men are good or evil, are happy or miserable, and are engaged in an infinite diversity of action, and not as constituent particles of some multitudinous monster.
What is it, then, that a work professing to be the history of a nation actually does ? What it does is
precisely this: it devotes itself to a dozen or two of the most distinguished persons of the times of which it professes to relate the story; and because the stations and actions of those persons much affected the state and affairs of the nation, frequent notice is taken of the people in the way of illustrating the conduct of those principal persons. The natural order would seem to be, that the people, consisting of so many millions of living and rational beings, should form throughout the grand object; and that the actions of these leading individuals, who by the very nature of the case will occupy, after the historian's best efforts to reduce their factitious importance, a very disproportionate share of attention, should be narrated as tending to explain, and for the purpose of explaining, the state of the nation, and the changes in its character and affairs. It might be presumed, that the happiness or calamities, the civilization or barbarism, the tranquillity or commotions, of a large assembled portion of the human race, is a much more considerable object of interest than the mere names, characters, and proceedings, of about as many men as might be conveyed in a common stage-waggon; and that the writer, who is making records of that nation, should be much more anxious, both to illustrate whatever in its condition and qualities was quite independent of these chief persons, and to elucidate the effect, on the popular condition, of the actions of these persons, than just to relate that these particular persons acted in that particular manner, and then call this a history of the nation. But this latter is obviously the mode in almost all the works professing to be national histories. Throughout the work the nation appears as a large mass of material, which a very few persons in succession have inherited, or bought, or stolen, and on which they have amused themselves with all manner of experiments. Some of them have chosen to cast it into one kind of polity, and others into another; and sometimes rival proprietors have quarrelled about it, and between them dashed and battered it out of every regular form, wasting and destroying it, as men will often do in quarrelling about what each of them professes to deem very valuable, by tossing large pieces of it at each other's heads. And all the while the relator of the fray views this material in no other light, than that of the question which of the two has the most right to it, and which of them shows the most strength, dexterity, or determination, in employing it in the battle. If it is at one time moulded into a fair and majestic form, it is regarded purely as showing the hand of the artist; if at the next turn it is again reduced to a mass, and thrown into some loathsome shape, it is no further a matter of concern than to marvel at the strange taste of the sovereign political potter. In plain terms, history takes no further account of the great mass of a nation or of mankind, than as a mere appendage to a few individuals, and serving them in the capacity of a mechanical implement for labour, the passive subject of experiments in legislation, the deluded partisan of faction, and the general's disposable, that is, consumable force for war. The story of this great mass is briefly told, not for its own sake, but merely as a part of the story of the chiefs, and in a manner which indicates, that the interests of the million were quite of secondary account, in the historian's view, to those of the individual. The histories of nations, therefore, are not what they pretend, and are commonly taken to be: history pretends to be the same thing to the time of a nation, that geography is to the local space that it inhabits; but a traveller that has just gone along a few of the great roads of a country, and visited its chief towns, might just as properly call a sketch and a map of this journey a geographical survey of the country, as any of our national histories can pretend to be a satisfactory view of the state of a people through a course of ages.
It may indeed be alleged, that the grand defect in question is in a great degree the inevitable misfortune of history, from the very nature of things, which makes it impossible for the historian to do more than record the actions of a few conspicuous men. We acknowledge this to be partly true ; and have only to observe that history therefore, from the narrowness of its scope, is of vastly less value as a revealer of human nature, and a teacher of moral principles, than it has been commonly and pompously represented to be. Exclusive of mere facts, the only truths that history peculiarly illustrates
are few and obvious. It were needless to mention the most conspicuous of its demonstrations, the stupendous depravity of our nature; the whole of the interesting fragment before us, for instance, contains absolutely nothing but an account of follies and crimes, except indeed the heroic conduct of some persons who perished for opposing them. The more specific truths illustrated appear to be these : the invariable tendency of governments to become despotic, the universal disposition of nations to allow them to become so, the extreme hazard to liberty when sought by revolutions effected by arms; and the infinite mischief of religious intolerance, and of all such measures of the state as naturally tend to create it, and give it an organised force and operation.
A rigid adherence to Mr. Fox's theory (it is not so much his practice) of historical composition, would still more contract its scope and diminish its value. Lord Holland has explained this theory.
“ It is indeed probable, that his difficulties on this occasion were greater than any other modern historian would have had to encounter. I have mentioned them more particularly, because they in some measure arose from his scrupulous attention to certain notions he entertained on the nature of an historical composition. If indeed the work were finished, the nature of his design would be best collected from the execution of it; but as it is unfortunately in an incomplete and unfinished state, his conception of the duties of an historian may very possibly be misunderstood. The consequence would be, that some passages, which, according to modern taste, must be called peculiarities, might, with superficial critics, pass for defects which he had overlooked, or imperfections which he intended to correct. It is therefore necessary to observe, that he had formed his plan so exclusively on the model of ancient writers, that he not only felt some repugnance to the modern practice of potes, but he thought that all which an historian wished to say, should be introduced as part of a continued narration, and never assume the appearance of a digression, much less of a dissertation annexed to it. From the period therefore that he closed his introductory chapter, he defined his duty as an author to consist in recounting the facts as they arose, or in his simple and forcible language, in telling the story of those times. A conversation which passed on the subject of the literature of the age of James the Second proves his rigid adherence to these ideas, and perhaps the substance of it may serve to illustrate and explain them. In speaking of the writers of that period, he lamented that he had not devised a method of interweaving any account of them or their works, much less any criticism on their style, into his history. On my suggesting the example of Hume and Voltaire, who had discussed such topics