Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/40

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understand the position of actual questions with which they and their age are engaged. For this purpose accurate facts are needed,—not opinions, however plausible, which are unsustained by facts. At the same time, the variety of the matters with which history is bound to concern itself steadily increases. As more interest is taken in questions relating to social organisation, researches are conducted in fields which before were neglected. It is useless for the science of history to plead established precedent for its methods, or to refuse to lend itself willingly to the demands made upon its resources. The writer of history has to struggle as he best may with multifarious requirements, which threaten to turn him from a man of letters into the compiler of an encyclopaedia.

This continual increase of curiosity, this widening of interest introduces a succession of new subjects for historical research. Documents once disregarded as unimportant are found to yield information as to the silent growth of tendencies which gradually became influential. The mass of letters and papers, increasing at a rate that seems to be accelerated from year to year, offers a continual series of new suggestions. They not only supplement what was known before, but frequently require so much readjustment of previous judgments, that a new presentation of the whole subject becomes necessary. This process goes on without a break, and it is hard in any branch of history to keep pace with the stock of monographs, or illustrations of particular points, which research and industry are constantly producing. However much a writer may strive to know all that can be known, new knowledge is always flowing in. Modern history in this resembles the chief branches of Natural Science; before the results of the last experiments can be tabulated and arranged in their relation to the whole knowledge of the subject, new experiments have been commenced which promise to carry the process still further.

In sciences, however, which deal with nature, the object of research is fixed and stable: it is only man’s power of observation that increases. But history deals with a subject which is constantly varying in itself and which is regarded by each succeeding generation from a different point of view. We search the records of the past of mankind, in order that we may learn wisdom for the present, and hope for the future. We wish to discover tendencies which are permanent, ideas which promise to be fruitful, conceptions by which we may judge the course most likely to secure abiding results. We are bound to assume, as the scientific hypothesis on which history is to be written, a progress in human affairs. This progress must inevitably be towards some end; and we find it difficult to escape the temptation, while we keep that end in view, of treating certain events as great landmarks on the road. A mode of historical presentation thus comes into fashion based upon an inspiring assumption. But the present is always criticising the past, and events which occur pass judgment on events which have occurred.