Seventeen lectures on the study of medieval and modern history and kindred subjects/Methods of Historical Study
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Methods of Historical Study
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METHODS OF HISTORICAL STUDY.
(May 18, 1877.)
IN my Lecture delivered the other day, in discharge of a duty which, in the case of a Professor who is willing to work, might well be dispensed with, I attempted to arrange some few thoughts on the subject of Historical study which had occurred to me, on some sort of a plan, carefully disavowing however any attempt at complete or even systematic treatment; I used the division of the subject which I then proposed, simply as furnishing pegs on which to hang divers desultory observations. The principle of division which I adopted was merely this; that we should view our subject in three lights; first looking on the study of history as pursued for its own sake, secondly regarding it as an instrument of education or training of the mind, and thirdly regarding it in reference to the ulterior uses to which the results of such study could be most advantageously applied; in other words, the student or professorial view, the educatorial or tutorial view, and the popular or utilitarian view. Without, as I said, attempting any systematic treatment, I made the question of History for its own sake an occasion of saying a word or two on the current ideas touching the study; the investigation of original materials, the doctrine of the necessary unity and continuity of History, and the much-debated possibility of the creation of a science of History, in the sense of science which involves the discovery of general laws and the classification of human wills and events out of which the men of the future may prophesy. I have still the other two heads of my division to trifle with, and, as it is now too late to modify my plan, I can only ask for your tolerant attention and proceed, in the hope that what I may have to say on the practical work of the subject may be better worth saying than what I said on the theory of it, a speculation on speculations.
The first point to be stated in relation with the second head of discussion has merely to be stated; supposing that the study of History is useful as an educational instrument, that is, not only as providing stores of knowledge or amassing tools for future use, but as having a disciplinary and formative virtue, what part of the mind is it on which the disciplinary process acts, and what power or virtue may it be supposed to develope by training? It is perhaps unnecessary for me to say more than this, that I regard the judicial faculty, 'judgment,' as in vulgar unphilosophical language we call it, as that on which historical study produces the most valuable results; I have so often said this from this desk that I feel shy of repeating it; but it does not appear to me to be less true than it did the first time I said it. The study of the early stages of that history in whose later stages we know ourselves to be personally interested, the study of the modern world of which we are parts, as distinguished from that of the ancient world which, except as a matter of culture, is dead to us, affords room for the development of an equitable as well as an unbiassed judgment, which is a great advantage in itself and may be of great practical use in the world. The exclusive study of the more modern phases of history has a tendency to make men partisans or advocates; but the study of the periods just a generation or two farther removed produces far more effect on the judgment; and the study of medieval History, that is, of the ages in which the things that are precious to us were rooted and sprang up, but had not yet entered into the phases in which controversy is most bitter, or in which the political questions of the day are most directly engaged, has always seemed to me to furnish very good training; to enable us to approach questions in which we are ourselves engaged, with moderate and cautious treatment, to allow some of them to wait for solution, to determine others by the evidence of fact rather than by prepossession, and to let others alone altogether. Ancient History exercises the critical faculty in a comparatively narrow and exhausted field, although, as a matter of training, every student has to go over the field and exhaust its interest for himself before he gets the benefit of what he is reading; mere modern politics, as I have said, furnish training only, and that incomplete training, for the advocate and partisan; the intermediate region is that in which real personal interest may be strongly engaged without much temptation to passionate controversy, and in which therefore the judgment may be best trained for its own perfect development, and for the uses of practical politics when the time for practical controversy and advocacy comes. We learn patience, tolerance, respect for conflicting views, equitable consideration for conscientious opposition; we see how very differently the men of the particular time seem to have read the course of events, which seem to us to have only one reasonable bearing; we see how good and evil mingle in' the best of men and in the best of causes; we learn to see with patience the men whom we like best often in the wrong, and the repulsive men often in the right; we learn to bear with patience the knowledge that the cause which we love best has suffered, from the awkwardness of its defenders, so great disparagement as in strict equity to justify the men who were assaulting it; we learn too, and this is not the least of the lessons, that there are many points on. which no decision as to right or wrong, good or evil, acquittal or condemnation, is to be looked for; and on which we may say that, as often the height of courage is to say I dare not, and the height of love is to say I will not, so the height of wisdom is to have learned to say, I do not know. I will however leave this point, as it is one on which I may have to say a word under my third head.
The next point after determining the nature of the disciplinary value ascribed to historical study, especially modern historical study, is the question of method. And as I have already said that it does not follow that the best method of studying History in one aspect is the best way of studying it in the other two, I will, for the sake of simplicity, go directly to our own idea of teaching in this place as exemplified in the Examination Statute. That statute was the result of a good deal of consideration and discussion between men of very different views and extent of experience, and I do not know that I should venture to. say that it is incapable of improvement; "but it has worked well, and any improvement that may be made in it must be made on the lines of its own plan, which seem to me complete. I take it, however, as a peg for more general remarks. The main feature of it is, as you are doubtless aware, the threefold division into, first, a continuous reading of our national History, second, an epochal treatment of a portion of general European History, and thirdly, the special study of some character or period in the original authorities. The plan thus aims at realising two of the ideas which I discussed the other day, although of course only by way of introduction to the larger fulfilment of the promise; it attempts in the continous reading of one subject to convey the lesson of continuity, and in the special subject to invite the student to see what original sources are like, and what is the pleasurable work of studying them.
Now I am not quite sure that our way of studying the special subject is exactly the best method of beginning work on original authorities, but it may very well be the best that we can incorporate in a plan of gaining, in a year and a half's reading, a mental training, or the beginning of a mental training that may serve a lifetime. I am not sure that it would not be more true to the idea, to require the student to read a single book and explore its mechanism and materials, rather than to set before him a character or institution and bid him look for illustration for it in a particular set of books; but it must be remembered that the immediate object of the reading is to meet the test of examination, and that it would be almost impossible to examine, on one set of questions, a set of men all of whom had been working from different points; for essay writing it might be invaluable training, but for collective examination it would be unreasonable. I will, then, content myself with remarking that the special subject in the class schools should be regarded only as a starting-point in independent research; a sort of first step in the study of original sources, which we hope may lead on to further and deeper investigation, but which, as it has to serve two pm-poses, can scarcely be likely to satisfy both; it is a specimen of minute study, and it is a specimen of original reading; but the object of the minute study is not the book, but the hero or the plot of it. It is, however, most encouraging to those who have the future of our History school at heart to know that the treatment of the special subject is always one of the best features of our examination; that in which the best side of the mind of each examinee is as a rule most distinctly shown. Regarded then as a study of a subject, rather than as a first step into the region of original authorities, this part of our work exemplifies one of two diametrically opposed methods of reading. And, whether there is or is not a science of History, and I believe that in the reasonable and intelligible sense of the word there is such a science, there is, I am sure, an art of writing History and an art of reading it; and the educational use of it is an exemplification of the art.
According to this, the reader or the writer may set before himself two opposite ideas; he may either wish to produce a historical statue or group of statuary, we may say, or he may wish to produce a historical picture. In the former case he has to look out his materials first, then to construct from the careful view of them an idea or model of the object which he desires to reproduce, and then to work out his idea. It is necessary for him to look at his subject all round, to finish it off completely at every point, and, while seeking for statuesque unity and perfection, to make truth and reality the first object. Everything that in the remotest way bears upon the history of the person or institution that he is describing, has its special value; original sources, the verdict of other historians, tradition, popular conceptions, poetic idealising; the place which his object has occupied in the development of historical life, the results which historical experience has produced or may have produced upon the object; every species of illustration derivable from archaeology, genealogy, law, morals, and religious history, will have to be ransacked. The result will then, if the writer has chosen his subject well, and with a due estimate of his own powers, be an artistic unity, a perfect image, true to its author's idea, and, if he has not let his own idea prejudice him in the manipulation of his materials, true to the reality, so far as the reality can be discovered. It is of course in the life-like portraiture of great men that success of this sort is most frequently achieved, for it is in the realising of grand character that the strength of historical genius chiefly displays itself. But the same method may be applied to an institution that has a well ascertained growth, and the result in that case will certainly be not less valuable. Still there are certain unities of time, place, and interest, which are more readily united in biography than in institutional history. As valuable History may be so written, so a good deal of History may be so read, in a way, that is, to produce in the mind a perfect image of the character worth studying; nay, the method is more applicable to the reading than to the writing of History, because it is easier for the mind to receive successive images or phases of the one character, than it is for the writer to reproduce them without becoming tedious; the realisation in the mind may easily be a regular and orderly development, whilst in the written record of even the best historian it is liable to become a series of postures and attitudes, attended by tricks and mannerisms of style that are unworthy of the serious student.
The second form of our art is analogous to painting, and its result to a picture; it aims at reproducing not a character or a life, but a situation; it requires a background and a foreground, scenery and perspective, as well as unity and symmetry; it studies the relations and positions, the features and habit of each of the persons or groups that the picture contains, and tries to make ^hem true to the eye, whatever they may be to the life. Thoroughness and complete realisation is not a requisite of this sort of work quite so much as accurate reproduction. The painter is not, like the statuary, obliged to look at his figures all round; he need not go to the back of his picture, or if he does, he will see nothing: so the historian, who works at a situation, will often satisfy himself if his grouping is true and consistent for the moment which he wishes to seize; and he will not spend much time in trying to show us how the scene comes to be what it is, satisfied that his reproduction is an adequate representation of what it seemed to be. The result will have its value; for first, the work need not be a whit less conscientious because it is less deep and searching; and, secondly, because the good workman will only try to reproduce scenes that are worth describing; the good painter will not waste his genius on revolting or worthless subjects, and the historian of true genius will choose for the employment of his genius scenes from history that may read good and noble lessons to the world that reads him. Such historical writing is far more brilliant, if it is well done, than that which I mentioned first; but, like everything that is brilliant, it is liable to be counterfeited. Sensational and picturesque writing satisfies the popular taste, and sensational and picturesque writing, adopted as a historical style, is very apt to corrupt and destroy the more valuable features of painstaking and conscientious truthfulness. Popularity is nowhere a greater snare than it is in this region of work, and magazine articles, and review articles, the romance of history, and historic scenes and characters, are produced with great facility when the principal object is to attract the half-educated to read. But, notwithstanding this, both the writing and the. study of history in this way has a great value, if it enables the student to realise the situations more vividly, to put himself in the place, so to speak, of his characters, and to represent to his mind's eye, for the purpose of forming an equitable judgment, the several circumstances of the case on which he is trying to adjudge, in somewhat the same way as that in which his characters themselves might have seen them. I should say, then, read history now and then with a view to the picturesque, but do not read it too much, and do not read it at second-hand; do not write it, or dwell too much on the pictures which are not drawn by the first masters; try to reproduce, not to copy.
A third form of the art, which combines and adds to these two, borrows its analogue from the domain of another of the arts, and attempts to read not only character and situation but plot also; and this, I need hardly say, is in result at least very far in value beyond the other two. It involves the complete identification of persons, and the complete realisation of relations; of persons identified through long historical careers, and of relations varying from moment to moment during the long periods over which the drama extends. It can perhaps afford better than our second form of the art, to discard circumstances and characters that are not essential to the plot, but it cannot afford to neglect a single circumstance or feature that may be essential to it. The result of such writing is seen in its best form in the history of great institutions, great empires that have had definite periods of growth, duration, and decline; Church History, or different episodes in it; the history of the Roman empire, or of Athens. It has all the unity of the statuesque, and all the vividness of the picturesque, but a continuity of life and argument that are its own. I need scarcely say that to write this sort of history requires the very highest mental powers, as well as patient training and incredible labour. For even the writing of episodes, as we call them, the minor plots of a great drama, the writer must combine qualities of mind that are combined in but few; the clear sight that can apprehend the idea that gives life and truth to the story, and the labour that will apply itself to details as if it were only out of the study of the details that life and truth could come.
But although to write such history may well be beyond the reach of nine hundred and ninety-nine out of each thousand of historians, there is no reason why every man who goes into the schools should not try to read history with a special view j to the realising of the dramatic plan; and I think that in our present scheme we hold out to the student the clue which he has to follow in order to succeed; for both in the study of the general period, and in that of the continuous history of his own country, he will find the dramatic interest strong and capable of almost infinite illustration. More especially if he can throw himself personally into the action of it; not merely regarding it as an image, or a picture, or a piece of biography, but as part of the growth of his own life, of the laws, history, circumstances, that have helped to make him what he is; acts that have taken place in scenes with which he is familiar, great deeds of war and peace done by the men whose blood runs in his own veins; high aspirations, sympathies and instincts, that lie knows are living in his own heart and brain, not merely by imitation or engrafted life, but with continuous, hereditary strength. I would not have him read as a partisan, with the likes and dislikes, the prejudices, the false and artificial antipathies of modern political life, but with the sympathies of an Englishman; I would have my brother Yorkshireman, for instance, learn to look on Fairfax and on Strafford both as men of flesh and blood, with beliefs, sincerities and virtues that bring them very near to us, notwithstanding their antagonism to each other, and the gap that widens daily between us and both of them. I am sure that the more I know of both of them, the more I find that is admirable and loveable in them. But perhaps it is easier to grow enthusiastic here than to maintain judicial calmness; and I will proceed.
There is yet another way of reading and of writing history which demands its place in our enumeration, which, however, can scarcely be regarded as educational, because the historic faculty, whatever it is, must have been already educated before it can attempt to approach the task. To read and write with the single and simple purpose of collecting, testing, and arranging the facts of history, to discover causes and work out consequences, to determine the rights and wrongs of questions as they arise, the growth and decline of institutions as they emerge from and retire into darkness when their work is done, to build up history as a treasure-house of knowledge, that may enable the man who attempts the task to read with like facility the history of the past and present, to solve the difficulties of conflicting testimony, and hold the balance of equitable judgment between conflicting systems; the study, for I must recur to the first of our three heads, the study of History for its own sake can scarcely be regarded as a method co-ordinate with the other three. But it unites the advantages of all three, and furnishes still more formative and disciplinary influence of its own. It is, in relation to its subject, an end in itself, and is not to be classed among means and methods; if there be a science, this is the science. And yet, strange to say, this idea, like the others, is apt to be lowered and made vulgar by the impatience and intolerance of utilitarian theory; and of all intolerant things utilitarian theory, or theoretic utilitarianism, is the most so. As however I do not wish to use language unnecessarily strong, I will leave this, and remark upon two other educational theories connected with the subject.
History may be read either backwards or forwards. That is, the man who has time for it may begin at the beginning and read, on to modern times; noting every influence in its origin and effects, the growth and decay, as I have just said, of institutions, the origin, complications, and counter-changes of rights and wrongs; and, whether he reads on a wide scale or on a narrow one, he will, if he lives long enough, arrive at such a knowledge of the situation of things at the present day, as will give him a right to make his opinion heard. This is the way in which members of parliament ought to read history, and I take leave to say that, if they would submit to hold their tongues until they have so read it, it would be all the better for the nation and for themselves.
In working thus through the history of our own country, we should come, no doubt, upon many lines of inquiry as to institutions that have long been obsolete, and influences that have no direct representative among the influences of the day; we shall trace the pedigrees of extinct families, and the growth and disuse of worn-out fashions of thought, dress and manners; but without such reading we cannot trace the origin of existing institutions and influences with anything like a true appreciation of their proportion and relation to national life. We may, as we proceed, have to discard much that has seemed historical as now become archæological, but we cannot dispense with the recollection that without that obsolete material, that obsolete influence or form, that which has succeeded, survived and continued to flourish, could not have become what it is. The tree that has stood for centuries bears to the microscopic investigator marks of every winter that has passed over it; it has not cast aside one dead leaf or rotten branch which would not, had it remained, have made the tree something different from what it has become. I do not advise microscopic minuteness in this study to the neglect of other methods, but I do claim for it a place and a function; and further than that, I maintain that this synthetic reading of the subject is the best of all ways for those who have time and patience to follow it up. But here we must be cautious; lest having begun to build we be not able to finish; and having begun to read history at the Norman Conquest, we find ourselves stranded at the battle of Waterloo, or earlier still. Observing a due scale and proportion of study, much educational benefit will accrue by beginning at the beginning; neglecting the due scale and proportion, the student may find that instead of educating himself to take his place in the world, he has disqualified himself for being anything but a student all his life; no bad thing perhaps, but not an educational result.
The second and reverse method has strong recommendations to other minds; to take the interesting subject of the day and work back to its beginning, following every branch of inquiry that may present itself, but following it chiefly with a view to the leading idea with which you have started. Here too there is abundant exercise for the historic instinct, the desire of getting to the bottom of everything and looking at it all round; arid, regarded as an analytic process, complementary to that .synthetic process which I have first stated, some amount of such reading seems absolutely necessary to the education of the student. Still, I question very much whether it is wise to put this idea forward as the best. As the way in which men of modern ways of thinking, and with little time for study, may be invited, tempted to and interested in History, much may be said in its favour, and much has been said on very high authority. But surely it has, unless it be accompanied by some strong corrective, a tendency to educate men for advocates rather than for judges, it leads them into a habit of looking for all that may be said on one side of a subject, rather than for what may be said on both sides; and it certainly leads a man to give to the point from which his investigation started an exaggerated form and influence amongst the earlier competing influences which, as a matter of fact, it has outgrown, or of which it may itself be in some measure a resultant.
The occasional use of this method as a means of study is one thing, the exclusive use of it is another; the use of it as a means of inviting popular attention to history is a third. And it is perhaps in this its third application that it should be regarded with the most favour, but only as a step towards something deeper and sounder. An audience may he attracted by an able lecturer to listen to him on any subject whatever; he takes the subject of the day and works back; Turkey and Russia, we will say. Of course, if his audience is really a popular audience, they bring sadly little information with them to the lecture; a large proportion probably of the elder hearers can go back as far as the Crimean War, most of the audience will have come into this world of trial since that date. Their ideas of right and wrong will be very much prejudiced by the fact that England took a side in that war, and by the grand principle that whatever England does is right; some may be equally convinced, on equally sound principles, that whatever the Aberdeen ministry, that is supposing them to have heard of an Aberdeen ministry, did must have been wrong: probably some will have imbibed the belief that there is a subtle connexion between Russia and Ritualism, or between Turkey and religious toleration as exemplified in the massacre of orthodox Greek Christians and the protection of Roman Catholics and Protestant Missionaries. Well, furnished with materials, prepossessions, fixed ideas and expectancy, it would be a miracle if they did not come away fully persuaded of their competence to decide on the minutest questions of the last Protocol.
Really it does seem to me that this is beginning at the wrong end, and yet I confess it is extremely difficult to suggest anything that is at once theoretically better and practically possible. If it were only for the fact that these questions of the day are to so large extent as they are, doubtful and party, doubtful or party questions; that matters on which our acutest and most honourable statesmen feel bound to take sides diametrically opposed, are by this process subjected to the rough and ready manipulation of men who know nothing about the and care nothing about the logical connexion between them and the conclusions, care nothing about the conclusions except in so far as they are the conclusions of a blue or an orange lecturer; the fact itself seems to me a reductio ad absurdum of historical lecturing. Yet, what is to be done? A little learning is a dangerous thing, but what of total ignorance, what of that ignorance which will not bear to be enlightened unless it is played on by passion or party? How shall we remedy this? Here is a question that extends far beyond the scope of my purpose, for it touches the whole great field of popular education; it is an inviting subject, for we are so distinctly at the beginning of our work in this department that a man of my age may safely propound any nostrum, sure that he will not live to see its absolute uselessness proved by an adult generation of historically trained people.
Let me just say, before I go on to the next and last point of my subject, that popular lecturing on history can be only one, ay, and only a secondary one, of the implements of historical education, if the people of the next generation are to be qualified to use the power which the men of this generation have placed in their hands. The schools, the national schools as well as the public schools, must be made to begin at the beginning; at present the blind are leading the blind; God help us, for we are very near the ditch. Lecturing is of little use, if it does not lead men to read for themselves; in many instances it is worse than useless, if it be made a substitute for self-culture. So too with newspaper education; imagine the state, moral and intellectual, of the man who tries to form his mind by reading the daily journals of England since the beginning of the last Long Vacation. What value will truth and justice have in the eyes of a man who has read history through such a medium? But again I forbear: one word; it has been said, perhaps the story is apocryphal, that one well-known politician of our own day, one too whose judgment would have been well worth having on present events, once said something to the effect that there was more valuable political training in one column of The Times than in all the pages of Thucydides; I will venture to say that there are English journals now, claiming a worldwide circulation and assuming to be the very interpreters of history and political morality, in preference to whose lessons I should recommend the student to seek for lessons of history and political morality among the arrowheaded inscriptions of Assyria or the papyri of the Neapolitan Museum.
But I have already run into the third division of my subject: that is the popular view of historic knowledge; the aspect of it in which it becomes merely a tool or a stock of tools capable of employment for ulterior purposes; and the methods of teaching it by which with the least trouble the learner can acquire practically useful information. I call this the popular or utilitarian aspect, because it belongs to the catchpenny theory of human life according to which the value of a thing is just as much as it win bring; the theory that despises science and research, that regards politics as a game between Blue and Orange, that places the interest of Great Britain at the crown and apex of national ambitions, and regards education in general not as the training of the human mind for God's service, a development of powers to His glory and the welfare of our fellow-men, but as a means for the acquisition of a certain sum in the funds; the theory that regards human souls as factory hands, and ascribes to parliament the power of making a false statement true. But although it is the vulgar view of education, and in this extreme a very vulgar view, it is founded upon a truth. There are many things which a mere acquaintance with the facts of history, however that acquaintance may have been gained, enables a man to do better than he would do them without it. There is a knowledge of history for ordinary practical purposes which may be acquired without either the love of the subject or going through the disciplinary study of it by way of culture. And this we must not undervalue, because a very little may be made to go a great way; and it is quite possible for a man to wish to take an independent and right view of public affairs and political duty, who has not, and never had and never can have, a proper education for forming a complete judgment. We respect the man who, when he has to vote on any public question, goes to his books to get up the question instead of voting as the party whip would wish him; we would rather that his education had fitted him to do right at once, that he had studied public questions to begin with, or that he had, by the culture of educational reading, exercised his mind to discern between good and evil; but we do not despise him even if he votes wrong in the end. Even an indifferent Cyclopaedia is better than a paid party agent as a guide in doubtful questions.
Now how can this sort of information be best provided? I do not know of any expedient that has not been at one time or other tried; tried in vain, you say. Not quite in vain, if such expedient has, as I said, enabled a man to do better than he would have done without it. We do not condemn the use of a Ready Reckoner because we think that a tradesman ought to do and would do better without it; it is much safer for his customers than that convenient leaden canon, the rule of thumb; but we do not think that a banker who entirely depends on his Ready Reckoner will ever become Chancellor of the Exchequer. One has known people too who have thought the Encyclopaedia Londinensis a useful sort of reading for Sunday afternoons; no doubt it would enable you, like one of Dickens's heroines, to pass a number of remarkable opinions upon a remarkable number of subjects. But seriously, anything should be welcome that would save a well-intentioned man from the necessity of taking his rule of political conduct from the leading articles of party papers. We have had popular histories and pictorial histories, political CyclopAedias, and Books for the Million; a whole historical department of the Society for Diffusing Useful Knowledge. Yet it seems as if even for such work, even where such work would pay, no one has the spirit to undertake it unless he is stirred by something stronger than the desire of being useful, the desire of ventilating some party view or destroying the character of some partisan opposed to him. Imagine a history of England in which the lying story of Hannah Lightfoot appears as an important clue to the difficulties of the reign of George III, and the triumphs of the Commonwealth are regarded as incomplete unless Henrietta Maria can be shown to have been an adulteress. These are extreme cases, because they are cases in which a coarse and violently prejudiced mind has undertaken the task of writing for party purposes; but the infection is not confined to coarse and vulgar minds: it defiles some of the very noblest works, especially historical works, that have ever been written. How can we recommend the man who wants to get up the rights of a case to a history like Macaulay's? how easy must have been the victory of Macaulay's hero if all his adversaries were the pitiful knaves and fools that they appear to him to have been. I am not calling him a slanderer, I do not believe that he was one; or ignorant or careless, for he was most learned and accurate; nor insincere, for he was most sincere; but for all that he was as much a party writer as Clarendon or Prynne, or Burnet, or Collier. And where such a man with such power of portraiture as would make us believe his pictures, if not true, more lifelike and real than if they were true,—where such a man with such knowledge, such memory, such transparent honesty of belief in his own version of history, cannot be relied upon, what shall we poor mortals do? If all the advance in historical study is to result only in the better presentation of party views and party arguments; if no one will write even cram-books without cramming his own disproportioned and one-sided theories down our children's throats, it seems as if it were time to turn over a new leaf; reconcile ourselves with party government and organisation and cut ourselves off from shams. Let men cease to pretend to exercise or to prepare to exercise conscientious judgment. Divide the world between Blue and Orange, and nail your colours to the mast.
For my own part I do not see why an honest partisan should not write an honest book if he can persuade himself to look honestly at his subject, and make allowance for his own prejudices. I know it is somewhat critical work, and a man who knows himself in one way, may be quite ignorant of himself in another. I take Hallam as an illustrious example; Hallam knew himself to be a political partisan, and, wherever he knew that political prejudice might darken his counsel, he guarded most carefully against it: he did not claim the judicial character without fitting himself for it; and where he knew himself to be sitting as judge he judged admirably: so admirably that the advanced advocates even of his own views have long ago thrown him over as too timid and temporising for their purpose. Yet where he was not awake to his own prejudice, in matters for instance regarding religion and the Church, in which he seems to have had no doubt about his own infallibility of negation, how ludicrously and transparently unfair he is!
I do not see any necessity for this. I do not see why a man should not say once for all, I like Charles I better than Oliver Cromwell: I like the cause for which Charles believed himself to be contending better than that for which Cromwell strove: Charles is attractive to me, Oliver is repulsive: Charles is my friend, Oliver is my foe: but, am I bound to maintain that my friend is always right and my enemy always wrong; am I bound to hold Charles for a saint, Oliver for a monster; am I bound never to mention Charles without a sigh or Oliver without a sneer; am I bound to conceal the faults of the one and to believe every calumny against the other? If you like, put it the other way, believe in the great Protestant statesman, treat Charles as the overrated fine gentleman, the narrow-minded advocate of a theory which he did not understand, the pig-headed maintainer of the cause you dislike. You may be a partisan, but can you not believe that, if you believe your own side of the question, truth when it is explored will be found on your side? misrepresentation, exaggeration, dishonesty of advocacy will only disparage the presentment which you desire to make of your own convictions and your own prepossessions. Nay, I would go further, and say I should like Charles better than Oliver even if his cause were less my own than I conceive it to be. I am ready to stick to my friends and vote against my unfriends: but why should I shut my eyes to the false and foolish things that my friends do, or to the noble aspirations, honesty, and good intentions of those whom I think wrong in their means and mistaken in their ends. Yet, as I began by saying, without some infusion of spite it seems as if history could not be written; that no man's zeal is roused to write unless it is moved by the desire to write down. Of course I seem to be stating extreme cases, but it is extreme cases that make their own advertisements, and that do the great mischief. Here the study of ancient history has its great advantage over modem; yet battles are fought over the character of Tiberius, and the 'lues rehabilitandi' has given a new reading to the history of Marius and Sylla.
The reason which led me to say that even an indifferent book is better than no book at all, that an encyclopedic history or a popular compendium, or a cram-book, or even a party pamphlet is better than no book at all, because even if it misleads and misrepresents, it deceives a man one degree less than he would be deceived by a mere party agent; because it makes him think, even if the extent of the thinking be that he thinks that he thinks; because it either suggests to him that he ought to form a judicial opinion, or keeps before his mind the duty of inquiry and furnishes him with a starting-point; the same reason that led me to say this of popular books, leads me also to estimate at something more than their intrinsic value the popular lectures, or lecture-system, of which we have recently heard a good deal. We are told that even a short course of lectures, clearly and interestingly delivered, will be sufficient to put the popular mind in possession of such an elementary knowledge of history, its course, influences and material lessons, as will enable men to approach the great questions of the day with some useful amount of foresight and theoretic experience.
Now, if I have mis-stated this prescription, I am very sorry; but I think 1 have not. I am quite willing to admit that a popular lecture may give information that is better than total ignorance; I am inclined to value highly the inducement to begin real study which a popular lecture may put before the mind of the audience; I am thankful to the popular lecturer, although he may get no farther than to rouse the hearers to the sense of the fact that he is talking about things of which they have no comprehension at all; at all events he tells them that there is such a study as history. But I confess that I do not see my way to go much further, unless I may be allowed very much to modify the prescribed idea of a popular lecture. In the first place, as to lectures at all;—that such oral teaching is an important part of the discipline of education we are all bound to believe; it is part of the system under which we have all grown up, and in a University course it is that one part of the system which is capable of the most development; an implement which has been growing to perfection by the labours of many generations of tutors and professors. Yet of our best lectures, as well as of our worst, it may be certainly said that that which a hearer carries away with him will be in exact and direct proportion to that which he brings: or that a lecture-system, unless it be added upon and followed up by independent reading, must be a deceptive and even useless system. Of course this is a platitude; but just consider that, if this be true of us, and true of us in those very subjects in which we have been training ourselves ever since we were seven years old, how much stronger is the point of it when it is applied to lecture-audiences that have not studied their subject, that have not even the elements of the study made accessible to them before they come, and that have not yet the means of following up the lessons that are then first propounded to them.
I fail to see that elementary lectures, short courses of elementary lectures, can convey anything to the mind of beginners, besides the most elementary teaching. Twelve lectures on the scale and plan of Mr. Freeman's Handbook of Universal History would no doubt contain the marrow and spirit of Universal History; but the working-man who could understand them at the first reading would be fit to be Prime Minister after a second course. If, then, elementary lecturing is ever to furnish material lessons to ignorant men, it must, I take it, go on in long and progressive courses, and inculcate both patient hearing and the duty of independent reading. But, secondly, historical lecturing to uneducated people must surely begin by interesting them. And accordingly I would place the plan of lecturing on character and institutions, things in which every Englishman must almost of necessity feel his interest aroused as soon as he hears them, first; before the plan of elementary lectures to the people. Even where they do not see the direct application of the lesson, so offered, to their own circumstances, where there may be no such lesson, and no such application, they may be drawn to further study by a very inadequate exposition of a noble life or of a great battle, or even by a historical survey of some scene with the landmarks of which they are familiar. When they are drawn to history, they will not be likely to wish their elementary lessons to be restricted to twelve or to a single course.
Without then at all disparaging such a plan of elementary lecture, I feel certain that some preparation for it must be otherwise provided; if that is to be by lecture, it must be something more directly addressed to our common humanity than an elementary lesson can be; but I think that it must have begun at school, and that unless it has begun at school it will not do very much good. This is rather a dispiriting view for people who are too old to go to school; but then we are not dependent on lectures altogether; there are books enough and to spare, and the man who wants to learn will find time to read.
The moment however that people have, whether by reading at home or by hearing lectures, got beyond the elementary stage of historical study, my doubts about the expediency of popular lectures cease altogether; and I am glad to say this because, in some of the remarks that I have made, you may have thought me unwisely cynical and inclined rather to discourage effort in this direction. Popular lectures to fairly well-educated people, who have not the time or the opportunity of thorough courses of reading, must be valuable; and the experiments which have been tried in some of our large manufacturing towns have been successful in a remarkable degree. I do not shut my eyes to the fact that in such schemes zeal often outruns discretion, that volunteer lecturers are far more likely to spring from the ranks of the unlearned than from the class that has grown old in convincing itself of its own ignorance, and that, as I have said of writing, it may be true of lecturing, the zeal for informing other people may arise from political feeling quite as often as from the benevolent desire of teaching them what is good for them. It is most unfortunate that such teaching should be one-sided: how one-sided it could be made we learned from the history of Mechanics' Institutes; now we may hope that the exertions of the town clergy in their local societies are doing something to redress the balance; and if I could see my way to an administration on sound principles, apart from party organisation, and in the hands of competent teachers, of such a scheme as that known as the University Extension Scheme, I should be inclined to hope very great things from it. I trust that it will be so shortly.
If by these or any other plans we can induce men in authority to make the real teaching of History a part of the training of elementary schools, the first, and by no means the least, step will be taken towards furnishing the next generation of Englishmen with the means of exercising conscientiously, honestly, and judicially, the great political power which is now lodged in their hands. They will learn how to vote, and how to guard against imposture, exaggeration, and unfairness in their leaders as well. as in their opponents. And with real political awakening I shall trust that moral and religious progress will do more than keep pace. I go further; if the study of History can really be made an educational implement in schools, it will raise up a generation who not only will know how to vote, but will bring a judgment, prepared, trained, and in its own sphere exercised and developed, to help them in all the great affairs of life. Therefore let us have lectures many and good, books few and good; but above all school teaching fair, honest, and thorough.
Further I do not think we need look. I do not anticipate Englishmen ever becoming a nation of researchers. We may come, more of us, to love investigation for its own sake, and to love the study of History for the very exercise that it furnishes to our powers, and for the new regions of interest which expand before us as we proceed. Such study must however continue to be the portion of comparatively few, the few who have leisure, or who have the love in such strength as to enable them to overcome all obstacles. On them I trust the coming age will look more kindly than the present; which has much praise for the mere material lesson, and worships the statuesque, the picturesque, and the dramatic, but certainly honours the inquirers, the researchers^ with a scanty meed. It is an old, old story. Some of you may remember the passage in Saint Augustine's Confessions, the story he tells of one who was asked how the Deity, being from everlasting, was employed before the heavens and the earth were made; the reply was 'joculariter,' the great doctor tells us, a very pretty repartee, 'Alta, inquit, scrutantibus gehennas parabat.' He was preparing, to put it gently, a limbo for the advocates of research. 'Haec non respondeo,' says Augustine; but there are people at all events in one house of parliament who seem to hold the same views: one is glad to see that their number is now reduced to twelve.