**** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE ****

Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!


by [?]

These are the three separate modes of treating history; each has its distinct purposes; and all must contribute to make up a comprehensive total of historical knowledge. The first furnishes the facts; the second opens a thousand opportunities for pictures of manners and national temper in every stage of their growth; whilst the third abstracts the political or the ethical moral, and unfolds the philosophy which knits the history of one nation to that of others, and exhibits the whole under their internal connection, as parts of one great process, carrying on the great economy of human improvement by many stages in many regions at one and the same time.

Pursued upon this comprehensive scale, the study of history is the study of human nature. But some have continued to reject it, not upon any objection to the quality of the knowledge gained–but simply on the ground of its limited extent; contending that in public and political transactions, such as compose the matter of history, human nature exhibits itself upon too narrow a scale and under too monotonous an aspect; that under different names, and in connection with different dates and regions, events virtually the same are continually revolving; that whatever novelty may strike the ear, in passages of history taken from periods widely remote, affects the names only, and circumstances that are extra-essential; that the passions meantime, the motives, and (allowing for difference of manners) the means even, are subject to no variety; that in ancient or in modern history there is no real accession made to our knowledge of human nature: but that all proceeds by cycles of endless repetition; and in fact that, according to the old complaint, ‘there is nothing new under the sun.’ It is not true that ‘there is nothing new under the sun,’ This is the complaint, as all men know, of a jaded voluptuary, seeking for a new pleasure and finding none, for reasons which lay in his own vitiated nature. Why did he seek for novelty? Because old pleasures had ceased to stimulate his exhausted organs; and that was reason enough why no new pleasure, had any been found, would operate as such for him. The weariness of spirit, and the poverty of pleasure which he bemoaned as belonging to our human condition, were not in reality objective, (as a German philosopher would express himself,) or laid in the nature of things, and thus pressing upon all alike, but subjective, that is to say, derived from the peculiar state and affections of his own organs for apprehending pleasure. Not the apprehensibile, but the apprehendens, was in fault–not the pleasures, or the dewy freshness of pleasures, had decayed, but the sensibilities of him who thus undertook to appraise them.

More truly, and more philosophically, it may be said that there is nothing old under the sun, no absolute repetition. It is the well-known doctrine of Leibnitz, [Footnote 2] that amongst the familiar objects of our daily experience, there is no perfect identity. All in external nature proceeds by endless variety. Infinite change, illimitable novelty, inexhaustible difference, these are the foundations upon which nature builds and ratifies her purpose of individuality–so indispensable, amongst a thousand other great uses, to the very elements of social distinctions and social rights, But for the endless circumstances of difference which characterize external objects, the rights of property, for instance, would have stood upon no certain basis, nor admitted of any general or comprehensive guarantee.

As with external objects, so with human actions; amidst their infinite approximations and affinities, they are separated by circumstances of never-ending diversity. History may furnish her striking correspondences, Biography her splendid parallels, Rome may in certain cases appear but the mirror of Athens, England of Rome,–and yet, after all, no character can be cited, no great transaction, no revolution of ‘high-viced cities,’ no catastrophe of nations, which, in the midst of its resemblances to distant correspondences in other ages, docs not include features of abundant distinction and individualizing characteristics, so many and so important, as to yield its own peculiar matter for philosophical meditation and its own separate moral. Rare is the case in history, or (to speak with suitable boldness) there is none, which does not involve circumstances capable to a learned eye, without any external aid from chronology, of referring it to its own age. The doctrine of Leibnitz, on the grounds of individuality in the objects of sense, may, in fact, be profitably extended to all the great political actions of mankind. Many pass, in a popular sense, for pure transcripts or duplicates of similar cases in past times; but, accurately speaking, none are such truly and substantially. Neither are the differences, by which they are severally marked and featured, interesting only to the curiosity or to the spirit of minute research. All public acts in the degree in which they are great and comprehensive, are steeped in living feelings, and saturated with the spirit of their own age; and the features of their individuality, that is, the circumstances which chiefly distinguish them from their nearest parallels in other times, and chiefly prevent them from lapsing into blank repetitions of the same identical case, are generally the very cardinal points, the organs, and the depositories which lodge whatever best expresses the temper and tendencies of the age to which they belong. So far are these special points of distinction from being slight or trivial, that in them par excellence is gathered and concentrated, whatever a political philosopher would be best pleased to insulate and to converge within his field of view.