Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/39

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largest, the right of free self-realisation as towards God. The conflict which ensued was long and bitter. The issue could not be restricted solely to the domain of religion, but rapidly invaded civil relations. The demands of the individual constantly increased, and every country had to readjust in some form or another its old institutions to meet the ever growing pressure.

Hence, the two main features of modern history are the development of nationalities and the growth of individual freedom. The interest which above all others is its own lies in tracing these processes, intimately connected as they are with one another. We delight to see how peoples, in proportion to their power of finding expression for their capabilities, became more able to enrich human life at large not only by adapting in each case means to ends, but also by pursuing a common progressive purpose.

Side by side with this increase of energy went an extension of the sphere with which European history was concerned. The discovery of the New World is a great event which stands on the threshold of modern history, and which has mightily influenced its course. New spheres of enterprise were opened for adventurous nations, and colonisation led to an endless series of new discoveries. The growth of sea power altered the conditions on which national greatness depended. Intercourse with unknown peoples raised unexpected problems. Trade was gradually revolutionised, and economic questions of the utmost complexity were raised.

These are obvious facts, but their bearing upon the sphere and scope of historical writing is frequently overlooked. It is no longer possible for the historian of modern times to content himself with a picturesque presentation of outward events. In fact, however much he may try to limit the ground which he intends to occupy, he finds himself drawn insensibly into a larger sphere. His subject reveals unsuspected relations with problems which afterwards became important. He perceives tendencies to have been at work which helped to produce definite results under the unforeseen conditions of a later age. He discovers illustrations, all the more valuable because they represent an unconscious process, of forces destined to become powerful. His work expands indefinitely in spite of his efforts to curtail it; and he may sigh to find that the main outline before him insensibly loses itself in a multitude of necessary details. If he is to tell the truth, he cannot isolate one set of principles or tendencies; for he knows that many of equal importance were at work at the same time. He is bound to take them all into consideration, and to show their mutual action. What wonder that his book grows in spite of all his efforts to restrain it within definite limits?

Indeed history, unlike other branches of knowledge, cannot prescribe limitations for itself. It is not only that men need the experience of the past to help them in practical endeavours, to enable them to