Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

tory in the course of my literary life. It cannot therefore be supposed, that I mean to detract one iota from the real worth, importance, and interest of history. But, like the enraptured lover, the admirers of history may ascribe to her what she has no claim to, viz. that of being eminently the instructress of moral; and the questioning this supposed attribute is the sole object of the present essay.

This attribute has certainly been ascribed to history by writers of great repute, whose judgment on any subject ought not lightly to be arraigned. But

Nullius addictus jurare in verba magistri-Hor.

is a maxim sanctioned by high authority, and essential to the freedom of the human mind.---The . Jesuit Strada, Lord Boling broke, Vertot, Dr. Priestley, and many others, if my recollection do not fail me, have considered this praise, as appropriately due to history. But on what grounds I am utterly ignorant; for to the best of my remem

brance

brance they assume it as a datum, which they suppose no one would question. Perhaps it is presumed 'from the general interest and acceptance of history in every age. Perhaps it is inferred from such logical reasoning as the following. If moral be founded in the nature of man, this moral must be best learned from the largest and most comprehensive view of man; and this view of man, it is presumed, can only be found in history. Every part of this reasoning is sound but one, viz. thạt history is this large and comprehensive view of man. While if history be but a very partial view of man, of one distinct class of man, and this the most vicious and depraved class, and therefore history be generally the record of the vices, and hardly at all of the virtues of man;

and in addition to this narrow and partial view, if moral be not the object of history, the inference will totally fail, and so far as the information of history goes, we may be led to think infinitely worse of man than man deserves. On this ground

I prin

8

I principally take my stand, but without omitting such subsidiary arguments as I think pertinent to my subject.

In order to form a dispassionate judgment of the question, it may be necessary to discover, if we can, the foundation of that universal interest in history, which every age and nation bear testimony to. For, it being an acknowledged fact, that history has obtained this interest with

man,

it
may

be

presumed, that this could not be, unless history were eminently useful as a moral instructor. Now I apprehend, that this interest in history has no respect to moral at all, but derives itself altogether from that curiosity of the human mind, which impels to the pursuit of knowledge of every kind, and from the passion for the grand, without any regard to the useful or the moral. Both of these motives may be associated with the useful and the moral, and they may and do act as independent principles of human nature. They are two very powerful stimulants of the mind, and do alone account

for

for many striking phænomena of man. To know, and merely to know, is the business of man from the cradle to the grave; it is the province of other principles to apply the knowledge, when acquired, to whatever purpose. Now if history conduced to no other end whatever, than the gratification of this curiosity, man would be impelled to the conversation with history ; for, curious to know every thing, he could not be incurious in a subject, which so much regards the actings of his own species. The useful and the moral may be the fruit of this knowledge, and they may not, but curiosity would alone enforce the inquiry. To this powerful motive is added the passion for the grand, that most fascinating and irresistible impulse of the soul. Now as history exhibits man on what we may call a grand scale; for it is appropriately the history of the great, the powerful, the splendid, of man by the combination of many circumstances moving in the face of his fellows, as with the energy and majesty of a god : I am persuaded, that

to

to this strong attraction we principally owe that unsated interest and gratification, which history administers. We all feel the power of this principle, and know how little it is controlled by consideration either of the use ful or the moral. The awful and the terrible attract, because they are grand; and the awful and the terrible are abundantly found in history

Philosophers and abstract moralists will not allow the character of greatness to any quality of man separate from probity and virtue. But history knows no such theory, and the common sense of mankind accords with the judgment of history. High-sounding titles, splendid decorations, and a power that accumulates the force of millions, will, in despite of the philosophy of Horace, Juvenal, or even the New Testament, bow the free spirit of man, and command a general homage. Even the substance of power, without the dress of power, would sink'into familiarity and contempt. Take away the diadem, the sceptre, the retinue of guards,

the

« AnteriorContinuar »