Page:American History Told by Contemporaries, v2.djvu/58

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.
[No. 13
Use of Sources

In those larger libraries which aim at general completeness, or at special historical collections, it is an obvious duty to put abundant sources on their shelves, for the benefit of the students and investigators who must have a large range. The sources are scientific material comparable with the fossils of the palæontologists, by the use of which the popular books are to be written, as well as the general scientific treatises. Not to have them is to ignore one of the principal objects of libraries,—the preservation of accumulated knowledge from age to age.

For libraries especially is intended the list of most valuable sources printed above (Nos. 5, 6), which may suggest purchases in this field.

13. Caution in using Sources

VALUABLE as are original records, they must be used intelligently or they will mislead. First of all, they are not all of equal authority or of equal value. To turn an inexperienced student unguided among sources is to invite errors, for sometimes even sources are untruthful. How is the tyro to know, for example, that letters purporting to be written by George Washington were forged and set afloat during the Revolution? Sometimes a writer bears internal evidence of malice or of untruthfulness, as Simcoe in his account of his loyalist corps (No. 181), in which his animus against the patriots is plain enough. But, without warning, how is one to know that Edward Randolph (No. 34), shrewd observer as he was, was sent to the colonies with the mission of finding something wrong, and was bound to justify his employment? The value of many sources depends on the writer s truthfulness, which cannot be attacked without training and the sifting of later evidence. Most reprints of old pieces, especially those in the proceedings of historical societies, include a critical account of the writer. Other criticisms may be found in Moses Coit Tyler, History of American Literature during the Colonial Time (2 vols.), and Literary History of the American Revolution (2 vols., New York, 1897); in Justin Winsor, Narrative and Critical History of America (8 vols., Boston, 1886-1889); in Henry T. Tuckerman, America and her Commentators (New York, 1864); in S. Austin Allibone, Critical Dictionary of English Literature, and British and American Authors (3 vols., Philadelphia, 1858-1871). Extracts from records and formal documents (as in Nos. 21, 38, 78, 187), may usually be relied