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days will deserve as little credit as the 'Arabian Nights.'” To the same Countess, after an interval of five summers, he again expresses his scepticism as to the "study of history” being “useful ”- . “ which I doubt, considering how little real truth it communicates, and how much falsehood it teaches us to believe.” And once more, for a last example, writing on the chaotic politics of 1794: “I leave to history to collect the mass together, and digest it as well as it can; and then I should believe it, as I do most ancient histories, composed by men who did not live at the time, and guessed as well as they could at the truth and motives of what had happened, or who, like Voltaire and David Hume, formed a story that would suit their opinions, and raise their characters as ingenious writers.”
If from those of our fellow-men whom we daily meet, as Mr. Froude has observed, we are divided inwardly by impalpable and mysterious barriers,how much more difficult to understand a bygone age, the actors being so different from ourselves in motives and habits and feelings. The past he therefore calls a perplexity to the present; “it lies behind us as an enigma, easy only to the vain and unthinking, and only half solved after the most earnest efforts of intellectual sympathy, alike in those who read and those who write."
So much for the unravelling of motives. And not so very much better for the elucidation of facts. The dates of historical narratives, remarks a critical authority, - especially of modern histories—are a VOL, II,
heap of confusion: no one can tell where they lie, or where they do not lie; what is in them, or what is not in them. If literature is called the “fragment of fragments,” so is history “a vestige of vestiges;" so few facts leave any trace of themselves, any witness of their occurrence; while of fewer still is that witness preserved; "a slight track is all anything leaves, and the confusion of life, the tumult of change, sweep even that away in a moment. It is not possible that these data can be very fertile in certainties. Few people would make anything out of them : a memoir is here, a manuscript there—two letters in a magazine-an assertion by a person whose veracity is denied,—these are the sort of evidence out of which a flowing narrative is to be educed.”
The trial of an action for libel brought by Lord Cardigan against Major Calthorpe, in respect of the magnificent but not warlike Charge at Balaclava, was made the occasion of the following among other comments : “Here is a brilliant feat of arms performed before the eyes of a whole army. Hundreds who took part in it and thousands who watched it with intense anxiety are still living. It has been described again and again in despatches, in journals, in letters, in books, and in conversation; and yet it is with the utmost difficulty that we get at the truth of its most remarkable features. The smoke, the din, the excitement, and the confusion of battle left such impressions on the minds of the actors that we can hardly get from them a consistent
story of just those particulars on which an historian would dwell so gliby and dogmatically. With such an example before our eyes, if we do not share Sir Robert Walpole's scepticism about history in general, we may well receive the minute details of battles and sieges with some little reservation of judgment."
Mr. Carlyle follows up his reflections on the imperfectness of that same experience, by which philosophy is to teach, by others on the incompleteness of our understanding of those occurrences which do stand recorded, which, at their origin seemed worthy of record, and the summary of which constitutes what we now call History. “Is it even possible to represent them as they were ? The old story of Sir Walter Raleigh's looking from his prison-window, on some street-tumult, which afterwards three witnesses reported in three different ways, himself differing from them all, is still a true lesson for us. Consider how it is that historical documents and records originate; even honest records, where the reporters were unbiassed by personal regard; a case which, were nothing more wanted, must ever be among the rarest. The real leading features of a historical Transaction, those movements that essentially characterise it, and alone deserve to be recorded, are nowise the foremost to be noted. At first, among the various witnesses, who are also parties interested, there is only vague wonder, and fear, or hope, and the noise of Rumour's thousand tongues ; till, after a season, the conflict of testimonies has subsided into some general issue. Suppose, however, that the majority of votes was all wrong; that the real cardinal points lay far deeper; and had been passed over unnoticed, because no Seer, but only mere Onlookers, chanced to be there!"
Is it not both pertinent and piquant to note that every modern writer who alludes to Sir Walter's Towerstory, utterly differs in details from every other?
Deserving of more attention, if not careful study, than it seems ever yet to have secured, is a certain drawing-room game, in which the players sit in a row, A. at the one end whispering a story into the ear of B., who repeats it in a whisper to C., and C. to D., and so on to Z., as the terminus ad quem : Z. then has to repeat aloud the story as he got it, and the “fun” of the game lies in the enormity of development and perversion the story has undergone. It would be instructive to try the effect on an evening party of eminent historians, and to trace the process of oral tradition in their instance; to watch the stages of a story as started, say, by Mr. Grote, and from him repeated by Earl Stanhope to Mr. Carlyle, who conveys it to Dean Merivale, who confides it to Professor Brewer, by whom it is transferred through Mr. Massey to Mr. Lecky, who hands it on through Mr. Freeman to Mr. Froude. To account for the ultimate transformation by detecting where a fault lay in the line of communication, as they do with deep sea electric cables, would be highly suggestive and edifying if the thing were done well and done thoroughly.
ABOUT HAVING THE LAW ON ONE'S SIDE.
A Cue from Shakspeare.
SAMPSON and Gregory, armed retainers of Capule are intent on provoking to a quarrel Abram and Balthazar, armed retainers of Montague. But, eager as they are for the fray, they would like to have the law on their side, and therefore contrive how to make the others strike the first blow. In the streets of Verona, when and where Montagues and Capulets meet, a very petty gesticulation will suffice to beget knocks. So Gregory will frown, and Sampson will bite his thumb at the others as they pass; and as soon as that spark has fired the train—always laid, always ready—then let him and Gregory at once go in and win : and for all sakes let Gregory remember his swashing blow.
Greg. Draw thy tool; here come two of the house of Montague.
Samp. Let us take the law of our sides : let them begin.
Greg. I will frown, as I pass by; and let them take it as they list.
Samp. Nay, as they dare. I will bite my thumb at them; which is a disgrace to them, if they bear it.