Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 76.djvu/176

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172
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

fact" from the chaos of ore before him, but also mint the coin of general truths.[1] Indeed he is hopeful of deriving a sound generalization even from a mass of particular facts some of which are doubtful. He recognizes further that to accomplish this is no simple matter, as when, for instance, he says that the evaluation of the relative worth of the facts is a problem "délicate et sujette à mille causes d'erreurs." But it is also in his opinion a problem where "rules are insufficient" and where individual genius is called for, where sometimes "even a sort of intuition penetrates further than study and reflection."[2]

That is that divination of which Winsor spoke—a feeling-it-in-one's bones method. History written thus would be more like a feat of magic than the work of science. To identify historian and magician is of course absurd, yet it must be said that a certain mystery enveloping the labors of the historian lends further color to the fancy. The historian has too much the air of entering a holy of holies of the sources where none but he dare tread and whence he will in due time emerge bearing precious secrets from beyond the veil. Rather cabbalistic footnotes make the mystery the more esoteric. He judges the past not in open court with the evidence made public, the press admitted, a jury hearing all the facts and then rendering its verdict, but in secret inquisition where he alone is both advocate and judge—and sometimes torturer. Another historian may retry the case if he wish, but will need to start again almost from the beginning. So sixteenth century mathematicians published their new formulas but kept from the world the processes by which they had been attained. Only there is the difference that those formulas justified themselves in use; the historian's results must be taken entirely on faith. Of course the conscientious historian of to-day has no desire to cover his tracks, he makes by bibliography and references an endeavor to indicate them to the reader, but he seems to despair of a complete scientific exposition of his labors. Yet even if he can not always hit the truth, even if history has no scientific laws, surely his thought about history can give an account of itself. Surely, too, its methods must be ones of which it can give an account.

Monod, to do him justice, to some extent realizes the former possibility if not the latter requirement. He finally gives three "general rules" of historical presentation. First, the sources used by the historian should be indicated; second, proof of his statements should be furnished as far as possible; third, he should sharply distinguish those points of which he feels sure from those which are more or less uncertain. These rules, vague in their wording and inadequate in their scope, are a faithful reflection of the present unsatisfactory and indefinite status of historical presentation. "Indicate" the sources:—

  1. The metaphor is mine, not Monod's.
  2. Ibid., p. 489.