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This, indeed, is evident upon consideration; and is in some sense implied in the very verbal enunciation of the proposition; vi termini, it should strike every man who reflects–that in great national transactions of different ages, so far resembling each other as to merit the description of parallels, all the circumstances of agreement–all those which compose the resemblance for the very reason that they are common to both periods of time, specially and characteristically belong to neither. It is the differential, and not the common–the points of special dissimilitude, not those of general similitude–which manifestly must be looked to, for the philosophic valuation of the times or the people–for the adjudication of their peculiar claims in a comparison with other times and other people–and for the appraisement of the progress made, whether positively for its total amount, or relatively to itself, for its rate of advance at each separate stage.

It is in this way of critical examination, that comparison and the collation of apparent parallels, from being a pure amusement of ingenuity, rises to a philosophic labor, and that the study of History becomes at once dignified and in a most practical sense profitable. It is the opinion of the subtlest and the most combining (if not the most useful) philosopher whom England has produced, that a true knowledge of history confers the gift of prophecy; or that intelligently and sagaciously to have looked backwards, is potentially to have looked forwards. For example, he is of opinion that any student of the great English civil war in the reign of Charles I., who should duly have noted the signs precurrent and concurrent of those days, and should also have read the contemporary political pamphlets, coming thus prepared, could not have failed, after a corresponding study of the French literature from 1750 to 1788, and in particular, after collecting the general sense and temper of the French people from the Cahiers, (or codes of instruction transmitted by the electoral bodies to the members of the first National Assembly,) to foresee in clear succession the long career of revolutionary frenzy, which soon afterwards deluged Europe with tears and blood. This may perhaps be conceded, and without prejudice to the doctrine just now delivered, of endless diversity in political events. For it is certain that the political movements of nations obey everlasting laws, and travel through the stages of known cycles, which thus insure enough of resemblance to guarantee the general outline of a sagacious prophecy; whilst on the other hand, the times, the people, and the extraordinary minds which, in such critical eras, soon reveal themselves at the head of affairs, never fail of producing their appropriate and characteristic results of difference. Sameness enough there will always be to encourage the true political seer; with difference enough to confer upon each revolution its separate character and its peculiar interest.

All this is strikingly illustrated in the history of those great revolutionary events, which belong to the life and times of the Emperor Charlemagne. If any one period in history might be supposed to offer a barren and unprofitable picture of war, rapine, and bloodshed–unfeatured by characteristic differences, and unimproved by any peculiar moral, it is this section of the European annals. Removed from our present times by a thousand years, divided from us by the profound gulf of what we usually denominate the dark ages; placed, in fact, entirely upon the farther [Footnote 3] side of that great barrier–this period of history can hardly be expected to receive much light from contemporary documents in an age so generally illiterate. Not from national archives, or state papers, when diplomacy was so rare, when so large a proportion of its simple transactions was conducted by personal intercourse, and after the destruction wrought amongst its slender chancery of written memorials by the revolution of one entire millenium. Still less could we have reason to hope for much light from private memoirs at a period when the means of writing were as slenderly diffused as the motives; when the rare endowments, natural and acquired, for composing history could so seldom happen to coincide with the opportunities for obtaining accurate information; when the writers were so few, and the audience so limited and so widely dispersed, to which they could then profitably address themselves. With or without illustration, however, the age itself and its rapid succession of wars between barbarous and semi-barbarous tribes, might, if any one chapter in history, be presumed barren of either interest or instruction, wearisomely monotonous; and, by comparison with any parallel section from the records of other nations in the earliest stages of dawning civilization, offering no one feature of novelty beyond the names of the combatants, their local and chronological relations, and the peculiar accidents and unimportant circumstances of variety in the conduct or issue of the several battles which they fought.