Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/576

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physics, are certain to be deeply interested in its logical developments. It is a timely and telling contribution to the philosophy of science, imperatively called for by the present exigencies in the progress of knowledge. It is to be commended equally for the solid value of its contents and the scholarly finish of its execution.

The French Revolution. By Hippolyte Adolphe Taine, D. C. L., Oxon. Translated by John Durand. Vols. I, II. New York: Henry Holt & Co. 1878, 1881. 8vo. $2.50 per vol.

Of the three volumes which are to complete M. Taine's "French Revolution" two are now published, continuing the study which was begun in his preceding work on "The Ancient Régime." The two works form parts of a continuous series, which the author calls "The Origins of Contemporary France." Of this extensive subject M. Taine says that he has limited his treatment, primarily, to the consideration of its governmental aspects. In the work he tells us: "There will be found only the history of public powers. Other historians will write that of diplomacy, of war, of the finances, of the Church; my subject is a limited one."

What are the themes of the two volumes before us? Briefly: the first shows how "popular insurrections and the laws of the Constituent Assembly end in destroying all government in France"; the second, how "a party arises around an extreme doctrine, gets possession of the power, and exercises it in conformity with that doctrine." That doctrine was found in the generalizations of Jean Jacques Rousseau. The philosopher who generalizes must forget a great many facts. In a vein of delicate irony M. Taine says of his countrymen: "Almost all of them, more fortunate than myself, have political principles which serve them in forming their judgments of the past—I had none; if, indeed, I had any motive in undertaking this work, it was to seek for political principles. Thus far I have attained to scarcely more than one, and this so simple that it will seem puerile. It consista wholly in this observation: that human society, especially a modern society, is a vast and complicated thing."

In this order of M. Taine's method; in this limitation to a definite aspect of the phenomena presented; in this avoidance of stock conceptions; and in this perception of the infinite differentiation of the phenomena—we may already perceive that we have come upon something quite different, in the way of written history, from anything that the merely literary method ever presented. M. Taine has spared no trouble to get his facts at first hand. "The most trustworthy testimony is that of the eyewitness, especially when this witness is an honorable, attentive, and intelligent man, writing on the spot at the moment and under the dictation of the facts themselves—if it be manifest that his sole object is to preserve or furnish information." In the national archives M. Taine has had access to a great amount of manuscript testimony of this sort. On the other hand, the Jacobin documents, infinite in quantity, the vast masses of "polemics planned for the needs of a cause," of "eloquence arranged for popular effect," are worthless, except as they show the character of their sources; and yet they must be examined. "Never has so much been said to so little purpose. The historian may read kilometres of it, but he rarely finds one fact, one detail of interest, one document which calls up in his mind a physiognomy, the actual sentiments of either villager or gentleman, a graphic picture of the interior of an hôtel-de-ville or a barrack, of a municipal council-chamber, or of the character of an insurrection."

How has M. Taine applied his methods to the facts thus garnered? In the first place, he has grouped the events of which he treats according to their causal relations, and often, therefore, in anything but the close sequence of dates. Nothing has puzzled his critics so much as this feature of his treatment: his book has been much the worst stumbling-block in the path of the routine reviewers, American and English, that has fallen in their way for years. M. Taine is not now writing a school-book, with a new date for each new paragraph: he is writing for readers to whom a formal knowledge, at least, of the most important crises in modern history is a matter of course. To recite dates in sequence is, indeed, not only the schoolmaster's idea of history: it