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Memorial Chronology
by [?]

I. The Main Subject Opened. What is Chronology, and how am I to teach it? The what is poorly appreciated, and chiefly through the defects of the how. Because it is so ill-taught, therefore in part it is that Chronology is so unattractive and degraded. Chronology is represented to be the handmaid of history. But unless the machinery for exhibiting this is judicious, the functions, by being obscured, absolutely lose all their value, flexibility, and attraction. Chronology is not meant only to enable us to refer each event to its own particular era–that may be but trivial knowledge, of little value and of slight significance in its application; but chronology has higher functions. It teaches not only when A happened, but also with what other events, B, C, or D, it was associated. It may be little to know that B happened 500 years before Christ, but it may be a most important fact that A and B happened concurrently with D, that both B and D were prepared by X, and that through their concurrent operation arose the ultimate possibility of Z. The mere coincidences or consecutions, mere accidents of simultaneity or succession, of precession or succession, maybe less than nothing. But the co-operation towards a common result, or the relation backwards to a common cause, may be so important as to make the entire difference between a story book, on the one hand, and a philosophic history, on the other, of man as a creature.

History is not an anarchy; man is not an accident. The very motions of the heavenly bodies for many a century were thought blind and without law. Now we have advanced so far into the light as to perceive the elaborate principles of their order, the original reason of their appearing, the stupendous equipoise of their attraction and repulsion, the divine artifice of their compensations, the original ground of their apparent disorder, the enormous system of their reactions, the almost infinite intricacy of their movements. In these very anomalies lies the principle of their order. A curve is long in showing its elements of fluxion; we must watch long in order to compute them; we must wait in order to know the law of their relations and the music of the deep mathematical principles which they obey. A piece of music, again, from the great hand of Mozart or Beethoven, which seems a mere anarchy to the dull, material mind, to the ear which is instructed by a deep sensibility reveals a law of controlling power, determining its movements, its actions and reactions, such as cannot be altogether hidden, even when as yet it is but dimly perceived.

So it is in history, though the area of its interest is yet wider, and the depths to which it reaches more profound; all its contradictory phenomena move under one embracing law, and all its contraries shall finally be solved in the clear perception of this law.

* * * * *

Reading and study ill-conducted run to waste, and all reading and study are ill-conducted which do not plant the result as well as the fact or date in the memory. With no form of knowledge is this more frequently the case than with history. Such is the ill-arranged way of telling all stories, and so perfectly without organization is the record of history, that of what is of little significance there is much, and of what is of deep and permanent signification there is little or nothing.

The first step in breaking ground upon this almost impracticable subject, is–to show the student a true map of the field in which his labours are to lie. Most people have a vague preconception, peopling the fancy with innumerable shadows, of some vast wilderness or Bilidulgerid of trackless time, over which are strewed the wrecks of events without order, and persons without limit. Omne ignotum, says Tacitus, pro magnifico; that is, everything which lies amongst the shades and darkness of the indefinite, and everything which is in the last degree confused, seems infinite. But the gloom of uncertainty seems far greater than it really is.