Seventeen lectures on the study of medieval and modern history and kindred subjects/Inaugural
(Feb. 7, 1867.)
THE giving of an Inaugural Lecture is an occasion which compels and may well excuse a little trepidation. The speaker, although he is wisely restrained by academic decorum from courting or fearing the thunder, propitious or otherwise, of right or left, cannot divest himself of the feeling that he is really about to take the omens of his future success, and cannot but be anxious to make, if he possibly can, a promising beginning. This is especially the case when he is called upon, as I am now, for the first time in his life, to address an academic, I may even say an educated, audience. He has not learned the tone of authority which befits the professorial character: it is no mere matter of form for him to deprecate adverse criticism; he feels that he must introduce himself, in a way that is of necessity painful both to his self-respect and to his modesty, to an audience from whom he has at least as much to learn as he can ever hope to teach them. I can indeed hardly use the word teach without reservation. I am so sensible of the greatness of the field, the variety of the instruments, the infinite multitude of the workers employed on the subject to which my labours in this place are to be devoted, that I am afraid even to advertise myself as a teacher, and would rather be looked on as a helper and trainer in a school in which every man has to learn his own lessons.
For I am thoroughly convinced that the purpose which is answered by the study of Modern and Medieval History is twofold; it is at once the process of acquisition of a stock of facts, an ignorance of which unfits a man from playing the very humblest part as a citizen, or even watching the politics of his own age with an intelligent apprehension; and it is an educational discipline directed to the cultivation of powers for whose development, as it seems to me, no other training is equally efficacious. It is but natural that I should speak thus of a study which has been to me the pleasure, rest, and comfort of a somewhat busy and anxious life, to whose teachings I feel myself indebted for whatever power of judgment, critical experience, or speculative equity, if I may be allowed to use such a form of words, I am conscious of possessing. I wish to undervalue no other system of training, no other field of inquiry, but I speak of this as I love it, and as, if a sound purpose of doing with my might what my hand has found to do can be any pledge of honest and effectual work, I trust those who will apply themselves to it with my assistance will come to love it and profit by it as well. But as I shall have, no doubt, to say more than enough about myself before I finish this lecture, I will proceed now, in that desultory way which the nature of an inaugural lecture necessitates, to say something about my founder and my predecessors; and, having done that, to enlarge somewhat on the place which our study has among the pursuits of this University, the method of training, and the end which I propose to myself in the work that lies before me. I have pleaded guilty to a natural trepidation, I have acknowledged that what I have to say will be desultory. I think that the circumstances account for both, and trust to you for an equitable consideration.
The Professorship of Modern History was founded in the year 1724 by King George I; a prince of whom those who would say the worst must allow that he was an honest and harmless sovereign, whilst a professed panegyrist would most wisely content himself with saying that his reign is the commencement of an era during which the happiness of the kingdoms he ruled, their progress in knowledge, political intelligence, wealth, domestic and social comfort, have increased in a ratio unprecedented and unparalleled: during which the exertion of English influence in the councils and contests of the world has been effective beyond precedent and parallel, and has been used, if not always in the most enlightened way, always for the end and for the cause that seemed to be just and right. The process of events, and the action of various systems of politics, have in a great measure served to alter the views which at the time were taken of the wars of the last century and of the early years of the present. We have learned some of us to approve, and more perhaps to acquiesce in, proceedings which our fathers looked on as in the last degree unrighteous and intolerable. The days in which men go to war for an idea, and accept subjugation because they cannot afford to be sentimental, can safely smile at the errors of statesmen and the short-sightedness of kings, to whom justice and honesty were still justice and honesty, although disguised in the mock solemnities of dynastic shadows. But we will not deny either to kings or to peoples the credit of zeal for what they believed to be right, and the glory they had, so far as it was real, of counting no cost too great to be incurred for what they saw to be the cause of order and of society. They fought, as they believed, for their own existence and ours.
George I, whatever may have been his personal faults, and, however little adapted he may have seemed in his own days, or may seem now, to fulfil the ideal character of kingship in a free and enlightened people, comes on the stage of English History as the representative of a principle which has been found to answer, and as the inaugurator of a period of national prosperity. So far at least we have no cause to blush for our founder. But as our founder, I think we may look at him more closely. The house of Brunswick has always had the reputation for the good sense to patronise literature, and especially historical literature. Not to seek for precedents so far back as Henry the Lion, who superintended the writing of the annals of his country in the twelfth century, it will perhaps suffice to give a general reference to the enormous number of historical books which, during the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, issued under ducal patronage from the presses of Helmstadt, Hanover, and Göttingen. George himself had been the patron of Leibnitz, of Jo. George Eccard, Burckhard Gotthilf Struve, and Johann Lorenz von Mosheim, whom I name rather as familiar to English ears than as standing alone in their peculiar studies. One of his first measures, when his accession to the crown of Great Britain had increased his influence in Europe, was to interest himself in behalf of Leibnitz and Muratori in their attempts to draw from the archives of the jealous republic of Venice, materials for their gigantic undertakings in the same line. At Cambridge, again, he appears as purchasing and bestowing on the University the invaluable MS. Collections of Bishop More, which have helped to make the Public Library there one of the most useful and famous historical libraries in Europe. Whatever may have been the king's purpose in these several measures, we may safely, I think, affirm that it was not a mere political or official object which determined him when, in 1724, he wished to confer a mark of favour on Cambridge and to hold out an olive-branch to Oxford, to give to his sister foundations the same character of professorships of Modern History. Leibnitz was the most learned man he had ever seen, and perhaps Leibnitz's learning was most intelligible to George I in the shape of the Annales rerum Brunsvicensium. Nor should I omit to mention what, in the opinion of their most adverse critics, ought to be a redeeming point in the later Hanoverian princes. George II refounded and reformed the Chair which I have the honour to fill; under George III began those long and at last successful investigations into the archives of the kingdom and the treasures of our great public libraries, which are now but beginning to bear a promise of abundant interest: under George IV, as king of Great Britain and Hanover, was begun the great series of Monuments of German History, the editor of which was once wont to call himself Historiographer of the Most Serene Guelfic house, and of which the king of Hanover was a patron to an extent double of that of Prussia, and nearly equal to the patronage of all the rest of the German Courts; a great work which has made Hanover its home, and for the possession of which our Library here is indebted to the munificence of king George V.
It is hardly, I think, necessary to look further than the king himself for the influence under which the foundation was first projected; the exact time and the declared purpose of the completion of the design may have been determined by others. It is possible that Walpole or Stanhope may have been the adviser; it is by no means improbable that bishop Robinson, who has been looked upon as the founder of the eighteenth century school of English diplomacy, may have been consulted as to those details of the plan which were intended to afford to the students of the Universities the means of a diplomatic education. I am sorry to say that I have been unable to find any satisfactory evidence on the subject. I have indeed heard it positively affirmed that bishop Robinson drew up the scheme which took effect the year after his- death; and I should have been glad to believe it was so, for bishop Robinson was a benefactor of the Church to which I owe my own education, and the College which has munificently contributed a large portion of the endowment of the professorship. But until more evidence is attainable, I cannot speak with confidence. The influence of either Stanhope or Robinson Would account for the particular intention with which the foundation was completed; whilst that of Walpole, if it were used, would hardly have taken any other than a utilitarian direction. It is to the prominence with which this particular intention is put forward that, in conjunction I think with a general distaste to accept a benefaction from the duke of Brunswick, the ungracious reception which the new foundation met with at Oxford is to be ascribed. For the University not only acknowledged the receipt of the king's letter in a most contemptuous way, forwarding their letter of thanks by a bedell, but when, by due pressure and by the example of Cambridge, compelled to send a formal answer by a deputation to the king, clothed it in such words as showed that the introduction of the new study was looked on as an unwarranted interference with the educational government of the place; clearly it was no part of the intention of Oxford in 1724 to educate able servants for the house of Hanover.
For the study of History Oxford had hitherto been no unkindly school. The period of literary activity which had succeeded the Restoration had been greatly indebted to Oxford scholars. The names of Bishops Nicholson, Tanner, and Kennett, of Atterbury, Wake, and Gibson, although in these days they are chiefly known, if known at all, as antiquaries or controversialists, mark a period of historical exertion second to none either in the importance of its researches or in the value of their results. Cambridge began the modern study of English History with Parker, Oxford followed up briskly with Savile and Camden, Selden, Gale, Fulman, and Fell; men, who, if they did not pretend to shine as Historians, are entitled to the eternal gratitude of all students, and appreciated at least that true and fundamental canon of composition that the materials for History must be provided before History can be written. From Oxford, or from the studies of Oxford men, proceeded nearly all the great collections of English Historians; and the old school of students was now well represented by Thomas Hearne. But at the time when this professorship was founded this class of men were either withdrawn, like Tanner and Kennett, to other work, or relegated by their own political sympathies and Whig liberality, like Hearne and Baker, to the comparative uselessness of literary retirement. Nor, I think, were the ministers of the crown very careful as to the hands in which they placed the engine of education, from which so much might have been hoped. To speak with the utmost respect of my early predecessors, I do not find that they were men to whom the study of History, either English or foreign, is in any way indebted, until we come down to Dr. Nares at the beginning of the present century. They probably owed their position to their political connexions or to literary eminence of other kinds. It is no wonder that under the circumstances the place of History among the studies of the University became worse rather than better, or, like that of Moral Philosophy, was lost altogether.
Passing on from Dr. Nares, of whom I speak with all gratitude, remembering well, as many of the elders amongst my hearers can doubtless remember likewise, the days when his weighty volumes were almost the only available sources of information for later history: we come to the great name, never to be pronounced without reverence even by his opponents, of the man whose sincerity, energy, and power of training, made him the prime mover of this generation. What Arnold might have done for the study of History in this place, had his time been given to it or been prolonged sufficiently to produce any appreciable effect on it, may be estimated by the effect of his work on other branches and in other places of education. I say it with diffidence, rather because I fear your criticism than because I have any doubt of the truth of the assertion, I believe that the one thing which Arnold wanted to perfect the balance of his admirable judgment, and to direct the current of his overflowing sympathies, was that experience of critical difficulties and moral incompatibilities which becomes practically, to the devoted student of History, a training in itself. Of Dr. Cramer I can say little. He was well furnished as a scholar and a most accomplished man: his contributions to literary history are exceedingly valuable: but his time here was short; he was not a young man when he undertook the office: he had other cares which took him away from Oxford. Most of all perhaps during the time of his holding this office all the thinking men of the University were engrossed in controversies on matters interesting, most interesting to all, in which, however much a historical training might have profited them, it was too late to forge their weapons when they were in the midst of battle. Of the two professors who preceded me, I must not, need not, say much: you are far better able than I am to appreciate their work here: but I may say that none of you can more sincerely than I do admire the learning, acuteness, earnestness and eloquence of Professor Goldwin Smith: learning, acuteness, earnestness, and eloquence never more signally admirable than when employed, as we have so often rejoiced to see them employed, on the behalf of Christian Truth against philosophic sciolism.
The circumstances under which I return to Oxford and begin my work here are, for many reasons, most encouraging; so encouraging as to afford, I think, some grounds of apprehension that the responsibility is heavier than I ought to have undertaken. In no respect does the Oxford I find on my return contrast more favourably with the Oxford I left sixteen years ago. At that time the professorship of Church History had been founded, and was filled by one [Robert Hussey] who was undoubtedly the founder of the modern study of that subject in Oxford. I mean the study of the history of the Church as a whole, not from points of controversy to supply weapons for the discomfiture of opposing theologians, but as the life of the Christian Church itself, the whole history of the body of which the modern nations claim in their spiritual character to be members. But the theological exigencies of the time had so far narrowed the field of inquiry that it was practically restricted to the first three centuries, or at the outside to the period embraced under the topics of the general councils. The attempt which he made to extend the range by introducing the study of the Venerable Bede as a text-book was, as you are aware, foiled by the impossibility of getting together a lecture on a matter that was neither connected with the controversies of the day, nor required to be known by candidates for holy orders. The College libraries then as now afforded abundant resources for any student who would take up the subject for himself, but my grateful recollection of the first acquaintance made with Hearne, Dugdale, and Prynn, in Christ Church Library, is inseparably connected with the reminiscence of the amused, and I am glad to remember approving, surprise, with which Dean Gaisford took me unawares at my note-book. It is possible that the rooms of the Architectural Society in Holywell were the school in which a taste for medieval history, at least, was insensibly acquired.
The introduction of new studies into the course of University training was viewed with apprehension by many: some perhaps of us who are now here were inclined to waver between a mistrust of innovations which seemed likely to break down the traditionary character of our education and the desire of welcoming a study of all others the most germane to the true and perpetual genius of Oxford. I may now, I suppose, say it without offence, I think that the distrust of the new studies, at all events of the study of Modern History, was owing quite as much to the management of their advocates as to the conservative habits of the opponents. I am not sure that either party would have admitted, or indeed would now admit, what, to adopt a proper professorial tone, I may say is certain, that whilst of all studies in the whole range of knowledge, the study of law affords the most conservative training, so the study of Modern History is, next to Theology itself, and only next in so far as Theology rests on a divine revelation, the most thoroughly religious training that the mind can receive. It is no paradox to say that Modern History, including Medieval History in the term, is co-extensive in its field of view, in its habits of criticism, in the persons of its most famous students, with Ecclesiastical History. We may call them sister studies, but, if they are not really one and the same, they are twin sisters, so much alike that there is no distinguishing between them. Men who are bent on seeing only differences and ignoring points of agreement refused to see that in 1850, and I dare say refuse to see it still.
So much, however, has changed and changed rapidly in sixteen years; so many old friends have sought new fields of work, so great changes have passed over the moral and intellectual atmosphere of Oxford, that one is prone to forget that in truth the precedent era from 1830 to 1850 was itself only a transient phase, and not to be looked on as stamping for ever the character of the University. I for one can rejoice in looking back on those days, and I can look forward with hope and sympathy to what is before us in these respects. If I regret the absence of some things that were pleasant in the old life, at least I can appreciate much of that which promises to be the charm of the new. Happily removed for all these years from Oxford controversies, and I am glad to say that in the humblest way I have not had a finger in them, I can still clothe the old life with that gladness which for most men gilds the recollection of undergraduate days. But the world did not stop with me when I left Oxford, and I trust, if God shall spare me, to work with a good heart as long as it is called to-day.
I rejoice then to find on my return the School of Law and Modern History occupying a well-defined and still improving position, and bestowing honours which the men most honoured in the other contests of the academic arena are glad not only to win but to work for. The Modern History School has thriven with very little nursing; and it needs but a glance at the class lists to show that there has been and continues to be, I will not say abundant promise, but actual work done m the cause of historical study by those who have distinguished themselves in our examinations. It is not invidious to mention the names of some who have challenged public criticism by their books, and have not merely shown in them the usefulness of historical training, but conferred lasting benefits on the students that follow them. The Law and Modern History School helped at least to train my excellent colleague, the Chichele Professor, for his labours; and it has helped to give us from Mr. Kington an English life of Frederick II, from Mr. Bryce a monograph on the Western Empire, which have already taken their place as standard books on our shelves. But far more than this has been done by the direction into the same channel of a considerable part of the more industrious teaching power of the Colleges, so that there is now a strong and, I hope, an increasing, staff of College tutors, whose time and mind are devoted primarily to the cultivation of this study. With these my occasional visits here as examiner have put me into communication, and the association with them in their work is to my mind one of the happiest incidents of my present position. I would, indeed, that this thought had been without the drawback that, at the very moment of my return, I in common with the whole of the rest of the University should have to lament the loss of one [Dr. Shirley], noble, good, and wise far beyond his years, who had watched and worked for the development of this study from the day of its introduction to Oxford, whose labours and influence were ever used for good and for every thing that was good, whose early promotion and effective character had marked him out as the man who was to do great things for the University and the Church of God in this age. Seldom has so much promise, seldom have so great earnests of great work been so sadly or so fatally blighted: we cannot look that his place can ever in all respects be so filled that there will not still be much, very much, to desiderate; for it is not Oxford alone that laments him, nor the cause of Historical study only with which he had identified himself both here and throughout the literary world. But I will not touch on questions beyond the scope of my present consideration.
Besides the very advantageous position which, without nursing, I repeat, our study has attained here, in men, books, and honours, the immense treasures of historical lore which are now being poured liberally from the great storehouses of record throughout Europe, but most especially in England, form, a feature of the present time that promises to renew the youth of the Historic Muse. The great Continental collections of Historians are growing slowly but substantially; the German collection, begun in 1826, nearly rivals the French one a century its senior; the Sardinian Government had one of its own, which we may hope will not be smothered for the sake of more ambitious plans; the Vatican itself, under the kindly influence of a German Oratorian, has begun to thaw from its old reserve. Last and greatest, our own national work under the direction of Lord Romilly has in eight years proved itself more than a worthy rival both in bulk and workmanship of the older repositories. And not to speak of the collection of Historians, of which from my own connexion with it I am obliged to speak with modesty and reserve, the extracts and abstracts of public and private documents found in our Record offices and in those of Spain and Venice are rapidly filling our libraries with cases of stout green volumes from which the history of the most eventful of our years is being rewritten, and which will soon involve the necessity of a new Macaulay as they have already brought into being a new Burnet and a new Robertson.
From this sudden breaking up of the fountains of historical refreshment I dare not augur what results may follow, or what new worlds may be opening for other generations to exercise their logical acuteness and their historical perspicacity upon. We have our work set, in a literary point of view, in arranging, and bringing into bearing on one another, the masses of information that are threatening to overwhelm us. Happily, there is no lack of helpers; the great German hive of historical workers is busy as we are on our archives: such and so close are the ties which now, owing to the facilities of travelling and communication, the abundance of libraries and the accessibility of records, the extension of literary and investigative sympathies, and, I am happy to think, the extinction of literary jealousies, are now binding the historical scholars of Em-ope, that I think and hope that the day is coming when, although we may not cease to quarrel with and criticise one another, there will be a great republic of workers able and willing to assist one another; not working for party pm-poses, unfettered by political prejudices, and although as strong partizans and politicians as ever, anxious above all to find the truth, and to purify the cause that each loves best from every taint of falsehood, every inclination to calumny or concealment. I confess that it is towards this consummation that my dearest wishes as a student of History are directed; and that I anticipate with the greatest pleasure the prospect of being instrumental and able to assist in the founding of an historical school in England, which shall join with the other workers of Europe in a common task; which shall build, not upon Hallam and Palgrave and Kemble and Froude and Macaulay, but on the abundant collected and arranged materials on which those writers tried to build whilst they were scanty and scattered and in disorder. The time cannot be far off when all the records of the medieval world which are in existence will be in print either in full or in such abundant abstracts as will be thoroughly trustworthy representations of their contents; when every great Library will contain copies of them all, and when every town will contain a great Library. The seed sown by the old Record Commission, by presenting copies of their publications to the municipal corporations and principal provincial libraries, marks an era, as antiquaries well know, in the development of antiquarian study and the preservation of archaeological treasures. We may hope to see the same principle extended now, and although the chief labours of the historian must continue to find their place in his own study, as no library can supersede the need of books at home, still no man may be obliged to keep all his ideas in chronic effervescence and all his hopeful discoveries in a state of tantalising suspension, in the hope that once a year he can visit the Bodleian or the British Museum. For that day of many students, many books, many libraries, and many readers, I look with confidence; in the meantime I do hope and trust that my work here, although this may not be its primary aim or its most successful use, may help in a humble way to educate workers for the good time coming.
For I desire to introduce myself to you, not as a philosopher nor as a politician, but as a worker at history. Not that I have not strong views on politics, nor short and concise opinions on philosophy, but because this is my work, and I have taken it up in all sincerity and desire of truth, and wish to keep to my work and to the sort of truth that I can help on in the inquiry; because you have plenty of politicians and plenty of scholars to whom, if they wish to have it, I certainly win not begrudge the name of philosophers. I suppose that it is truth we are all seeking, and that though the sorts of truth are distinct and the ways that we work in are very different, when we have found what we seek for we shall find all our discoveries combine in harmony; and I trust and believe that the more sincerely, the more single-heartedly we work each of us, the nearer we consciously come to the state where we shall see the oneness and glory and beauty of the truth itself. So that the theologian, the naturalist, the historian, the philosopher, if he work honestly, is gaining each for his brother, and being worked for each by his brother, in the pursuit of the great end, the great consummation of all. We may all speak humbly, the theologian because of the excellence of his subject, the rest because of the vastness of our field of work, the length of our art and the shortness of our life; but we cannot afford to speak contemptuously of any sort of knowledge, and God forbid that we should speak contemptuously, or hypercritically of any honest worker.
The subject-matter of Modern Historical inquiry has peculiar advantages for the training of the powers most constantly in exercise in a practical generation. Compared with the study of Ancient History it is like the study of life compared with that of death, the view of the living body compared with that of the skeleton. The student of Ancient History has his advantages; he can speculate on his skeleton, he can penetrate more deeply into the framework of ancient society, so far as his materials allow him; he can handle the different parts and form his political hypotheses as it pleases him, according to the various ways in which his skeleton can be put together; he is little troubled by the fear of new facts, or new developments making their appearance suddenly to put to flight his calculations; he has all the existing materials for his investigation before him, or within easy reach; he has for the geographical area of his work a portion of the earth and its peoples that has had, since the roll of its own historians was closed, little to do with the active work of the world. He can work out principles at his will; he can educate his taste and analyse and experiment to the very ne plus ultra of critical subtilty. But the principles he works out and the results of his criticism are alike things that give the world no new knowledge, or exercise no direct influence on the interests of real life. And in this is one of the great incidental uses of classical training as an engine of education. You have in its languages and histories and philosophies, the most elegant, the most compact, the most ingenious systems on which the mind of man can be exercised; and you have them in such isolation, so set apart altogether from personal or party or national or scholastic propensions, that the lessons to be drawn from them are for the most part as safe, as unexciting, as far removed from the heart and interests of life, as any proposition in mathematics.
In Modern History, on the contrary, you are dealing with the living subject: your field of examination is the living, working, thinking, growing world of to-day; as distinguished from the dead world of Greece and Rome, by the life that is in it, as it is in geographical area and in the embarrassing abundance of the data from which only in their full integrity it is safe, or ever will be safe, to attempt to philosophise. England, France, Germany, the East, regions that have but a shadowy existence in the background of the pictures in which living Egypt, Rome, and Asia stand before us, after thousands of years of death, in the bright colouring and lifelike grouping of yesterday; these are the area in which the modern historian seeks and finds the interests of his pursuit. Italy, the common ground of the sister studies, the strange borderland between light and darkness, in which alone the past seems to live and the present for the most part to be a living death, has a double existence that fits and unfits her for the free handling of either.
And in this new and modern and living world there has been since the era began, such a continuity of life and development that hardly one point in its earliest life can be touched without the awakening some chord in the present. Scarcely a single movement now visible in the current of modern affairs but can be traced back with some distinctness to its origin in the early middle ages; scarcely a movement that has disturbed the world since the invasion of our barbarian ancestors but has its representative in the chart of law or thoughts or territory to this day. Not a dynasty that is trembling out its little span of days now, but represents in its shattered tottering throne some great hero, some great heroic movement, that has won the gratitude of the medieval world. Not a country revolutionised and levelled until it hardly knew itself, until it scarcely remembered the names of its rivers and mountains, has been able utterly to obliterate the boundaries, or the customs, or the affinities of its old divisions. The dynastic traditions of Europe are rooted and grounded in the distant past: the principle of nationalities, new in its fashion of announcement and most unlucky in its prophet, is rooted and grounded in a past more distant still; the principle of freedom, in their effect on which only the dynastic and national ideas have their true political value, rests on a yet more ancient foundation, but on one that is peculiar to the modern field of study, for it was brought into the world and proclaimed and made possible by the Church.
It is Christianity that gives to the modern world its living unity and at the same time cuts it off from the death of the past. The Church in its spiritual work, the Church in its intellectual work, the Church in its work with the sword, or with the plough, or with the axe; the soul and spirit of all true civilisation, of all true liberty, of all true knowledge; the Church in its work of evil, in the abasement of its divine energies, in the vile fetters of priest-craft, in the blind paroxysms of popular fanaticism, in the strange varying fortunes that allies Ireland with Rome, Scotland with Geneva, setting father against son, and husband against wife, the herald of peace with a sword; such an influence so wide in its extension, so deep in its penetration, so ancient in the past, and in the future eternal, could by itself account for the unity, the life of modern history: the life, the soul of a body which thrills at every touch. The student cannot handle his subject-matter as he can a skeleton; if he is a true student he knows himself to be at work among living influences, some active, some slumbering, but all of which are so vital and so entangled that he cannot move without making someone feel, or without being himself affected in his process and in his judgment by the system of which he is himself a part. Modern History is the history of ourselves, of the way in which we came to be what we are, of the education of our nation, of the development of our government, of the fortunes of our fathers, that caused us to be taught and governed and placed as we are, and formed our minds and habits by that teaching, government, and position; and as for the soul, that other portion of us,—unchanged by education, government or fortune, unchanged and untrained in the development and education of the world, unchanged except by the Spirit of God beginning at the beginning in every one that is new born of Him,—that gift in which almost alone we trace the unity of our nature with that of the ancient world, in its waywardness, and short-sightedness, and self-will, what can all history tell us other or more than this, how God sent light into the world and men loved darkness rather than light, how they have perverted, but not closed the way of eternal life?
But if the student of Modern History finding himself at work among such subjects misses the facility with which Ancient History may be handled, he has the advantage to begin with, that the interest of his own department is unflagging and inexhaustible: every day adds a new development of the old elements, he feels that he is living in his subject, it is living all around him. And this being so, he is conscious that he is working with a different set of mental powers from those which he works with on the old world; 1 speak under correction, for I do not pretend to look at the subject as a question of psychology, simply for the moment as one of education. It is in a manner analogous to a training for association with men in the world; the student must look for Truth, and work for Justice, but he must work for such truth and justice as is attainable. He must not, as in Ancient History, amuse himself with principles however valuable or however generally applicable, because he has to deal with rights: his inquiry is more into laws than into principles, more into facts than into laws. He must act as a judge not as a philosopher, all the better judge for being somewhat of a philosopher, but never in the philosopher forgetting that he is a judge. And as in practical matters we, ordinary men that is, are seldom called upon to act as judges except in questions where their own sympathies or interests are concerned; the faculty to be trained is the judgment, the practical judgment at work among matters in which its possessor is deeply interested, not from the desire of Truth only, but from his own involution in the matters of which he is to judge.
I think that there are few lessons more necessary for men to learn, not merely who are going to take to public life, but who are going to live and move as men among their fellows, than these:—that there are few questions on which as much may not be said on one side as on the other: that there are none at all on which all the good are on one side, all the bad on the other, or all the wise on one and all the fools on the other; that the amount of dead weight in human affairs, call it stupidity or what you will, is pretty equally divided between the advocates of order and the advocates of change, giving to the one party much of its stability and to the other much of its momentum: that intolerance is no prerogative of heterodoxy, nor tolerance the inseparable accompaniment of the conscious possession of truth, a condition which, might oi all others the best afford to be tolerant, the most merciful and pitiful of error: that all generalisations, however sound m logic, are in morals and practical matters ipso facto false; that there is no room for sweeping denunciations, or trenchant criticisms in the dealings of a world whose falsehoods and veracities are separated by so very thin a barrier: to learn that simple assertion however reiterated can never make proof: that a multitude of half believers can never make faith: that argument never convinces any man against his will: that silence is not acquiescence: that the course of this world is anything but even and uniform: that such by-words as reaction and progress are but the political slang which each side uses to express their aversions and their propensions; above all, that no material success, no energy of development, no eventual progress or consolidation, can atone for the mischief done by one act of falsehood, treachery or cruelty. Most of these lessons are truisms. Yes, but there are no truisms in facts: there are no truths which may not be stated as truisms, but there are no truths which a sound judgment can be warranted in despising.
When the student comes to apply these lessons to the judgment of the characters and events of the history that he is studying, and to carry his experience of the past into the present, he finds, if his study has taught him facts as well as maxims, that the great necessity of practical judgment is patience and tolerance, and that the highest justice must rest content for a time to see many things continue wrong that cannot be righted without a greater wrong.
The stock of information from which the student draws these practical lessons is itself the matter on which in the further stages of present history he is called upon to exercise them. He has a part to play in the politics of his own age: he must have made himself acquainted with the national identity of nations, the rights and claims, the sins and punishments and probations of dynasties; the origins and accretions of parties; the growth of the influences to which their owners give the name of principles. The stock of information accumulated is only secondary in importance to the habits of judgment formed by the study of it. For we want to train not merely students but citizens; and citizens of the great communities—the church and the civilised world; to be fitted not for criticism or for authority in matters of memory, but for action. And so it is not views of men and states that are to be taught them, but the power of judging that is to be cultivated, and the information on which that power is to be exercised that is to be imparted, and the faculty of accumulation to be directed to good and pure sources. It is not to make proselytes to one system of politics or another that the work of education is to be directed; a university is no political club or propaganda; I desire to use my office as a teacher of facts and of the right habit of using them.
And to do this we must begin at the right end, work from the past forwards, not backwards from the present. Our students ought not to go into the world a prey to newspaper correspondents: they ought not to go into public life ready to be moulded to the political views of the first clique that may catch hold of them. So far as the fundamental principles of politics go, that is indeed impossible, for men are born most certainly with constitutional inclinations, some to order and others to change; and the power of the earliest education is exerted to direct those inclinations into channels most in accordance with the views of the educators: so by attraction or repulsion, by reaction or by hereditary succession, not by the lessons of books or views of philosophers, young men's sides are taken in life before they know it. But there is still far more in common between the wise and sound of opposing parties than there is between the sound and the corrupt of the same; between the thinkers of opposite parties and the thinkers and the fools of the same. We should teach both sides to teach themselves.
Am I to be understood as stating the purpose of the study of History to be the production of scepticism in politics? Surely not. Rather I maintain that there is so much of good in both the opposing views that good men are pretty equally divided between the two; and that there is so much, I will not say evil, but questionable and debateable, that thoughtless and interested men make their capital of, that thoughtless and interested men are equally divided too; and so much that is obvious to the meanest sense, that stupidity and intolerance are in much the same proportion. What we want to see is men applying to history and politics the same spirit m which wise men act in their discipline of themselves: not to cease to be partisans, not to cease to hold and utter strong opinions, but to be as careful in their party behaviour and in their support of their opinions, as they are in their behaviour in social circles, their conversation in social life. The first object of the true politician, as of the true patriot, is to keep himself and his party true, and then to look for success: to keep himself and his party pure, and then to secure victory: to abolish meanness and corruption where he has influence, rather than to make capital by denouncing it where his denunciation can only provoke a retort. The sound politician, on whichever side he may be and however thorough he may be, believes that his scheme of politics is the one in which the benefit of his country is most entirely involved, and he wishes the position of his country to be impregnable; to be impregnable it must be sound: if his party represents to him his country, his party must be sound, and it concerns him much more closely to purify his own ranks than those of his enemy. Success is certain to the pure and true: success to falsehood and corruption, tyranny and aggression, is only the prelude to a greater and an irremediable fall.
If our students go from us with the certainty of this lesson impressed on them, with information to guide and cultivated power enough to form judgment, we, whatever our private convictions may be, may rest assured both that our own duty has been done, and that the best has been done for the world in which they are to act. Politicians, happily, seldom live to see the final outcome of their aspirations; life is too short to witness a constitutional struggle in all its growth, and, as matters approach the compromise, the minds of the actors modify, or new, more moderate, counsellors see in the process of circumstances grounds for receding somewhat from the rigorous line drawn by the less practical design of their elders. So the world moves on in a line straighter than the rules of either party would have made it; and it is well that it is so, the education of a political life is long, and the time for active work in it, for the most part, extremely short. A good deal of enthusiasm is worn out before the action begins, or else the difference between the result and the design would be intolerable to a sincere believer in his own system.
We must, I repeat, if we are to qualify ourselves for forming a sound judgment on these matters, begin at the beginning. We must not work back from popular prejudices, or from philosophic ideas, or from the prominent subject of to-day. The history of Poland cannot be truly viewed by one who starts from the Partition; the history of Turkey cannot be truly read from the standing point of the balance of power; that of Germany does not begin, as politicians nowadays join in insisting, from the treaties of Vienna. There are rights that are not turned into wrongs, and wrongs that cannot be turned into rights, by any treaties. There are hopes that cannot, ought not to, be dashed into despair by any pacifications. There are sentiments, if you please to call. them so, which depend on long ages of deeply implanted sympathies, of long experience of common suffering and common success, on a firm basis of right and popular love, that may be dismissed by an aggressive politician as emptiness and vanity, but which are the only true basis of free government, the only safe support of thrones, the only true tie of nationalities.
With these things and the deep wide range of facts from which they spring, the student of history must make himself acquainted, and being acquainted he learns to sympathise. Unlike the genealogist and the local antiquary, he does not work back from the particular sympathy to the old foundation, but begins with the beginning and works up to the situation, the sentiment, the sympathy, or the antipathy of the day. Need I adduce the parallel from the sacred sister study? Who ever became a theologian by working back from the doctrinal or ritual questions of yesterday? Nay, who is qualified to give an opinion above that of a newspaper letter-writer on such subjects, who has not begun from the Uppar Chamber at Jerusalem and worked his way from the coming of the day-star, through the gloom and twilight of the ages, towards the bright shining, such shining as it is, of these days, before he ventures to apply the spectrum analysis to the doctrinal light of the nineteenth century?
There is a contrary error; the true student has learned that the past is no more a whole without the present than the present without the past; that the past has no claim to infallibility any more than the present, that the past has had no power, no moral right to dispose of the present by a deed in mortmain. To be a slave of old traditions is as great a folly as to be a slave of new quackeries; but the fault is in the slavish use, not in the old traditions nor in the modern nostrums; and the former error is perhaps the less pardonable as it is a sin against greater light.
I am aware that there are great difficulties; if there were not History would be no matter of study, politics would be no ground of controversy. There is the great question, where does fact end and opinion begin? there is the great question, at what point in the study of modern and medieval history does the sympathy of his own day force itself into the judgment of the student? There is the question, can any length of acquiescence turn a wrong thing into a right one; any length of prescription turn an abuse into a right? How far are men bound by the acts of their fathers, or by their own acts when deceived or ill-informed? Then there is the further question, how far is the moralist—righteous, free, unprejudiced as he may be—qualified to answer these questions off-hand? Each application of each question has its own modifying circumstances. I can only say that the man who knows the facts and has formed the habit of judging on them, is better able and more likely to answer them rightly than the man who has not. Some people will call him dogmatic, but he who has read and thought ought to be able to have an opinion, and he who has one of his own will always be deemed dogmatic by the many who take theirs from the newspapers. He is dogmatic if he ventures to express a doubt where the infallible of the time being has laid down a certainty.
To turn for a moment to the general question. I should not like to be thought to be advocating my study on the mere grounds of utility; although I believe that utility, both as regards the training of the study and the information attained in it, to be the highest, humanly speaking, of all utilities; it helps to qualify a man to act in his character of a politician as a Christian man should. But this is not all; beyond the educational purpose, beyond the political purpose, beyond the philosophical use of history and its training, it has something of the preciousness of everything that is clearly true. In common with Natural Philosophy it has its value, I win not say as Science, for that would be to use a term which has now become equivocal, but it has a value analogous to the value of science; a value as something that is worth knowing and retaining in the knowledge for its own and for the truth's sake. And in this consists its especial attraction for its own votaries. It is not the pleasure of knowing something that the world does not know,—that doubtless is a motive that weighs with many minds, a motive to be accepted as a fact, though it may not be worth analysis. It is not the mere pleasure of investigating and finding with every step of investigation new points of view open out, and new fields of labour, new characters of interest;—that investigating instinct of human nature is not one to be ignored, and the exercise of it on such inexhaustible materials as are before us now is a most healthy exercise, one that cannot but strengthen and develope the whole mind of the man who uses it, urging him on to new studies, new languages, new discoveries in geography and science. But even this is not all. There is, I speak humbly, in common with Natural Science, in the study of living History, a gradual approximation to a consciousness that we are growing into a perception of the workings of the Almighty Ruler of the world; that we are growing able to justify the Eternal Wisdom, and by that justification to approve ourselves His children; that we are coming to see, not only in His ruling of His Church in her spiritual character but in His overruling of the world to which His act of redemption has given a new and all-interesting character to His own people, a hand of justice and mercy, a hand of progress and order, a kind and wise disposition ever leading the world on to the better, but never forcing, and out of the evil of man's working bringing continually that which is good. I do not fear to put it before you in this shape; I state my own belief, and it is well that you should know it from the first.
The study of History is in this respect, as Coleridge said of Poetry, its own great reward, a thing to be loved and cultivated for its own sake. If there are few who do really love and care for history, and I remember with sorrow that such was the remark of Dr. Shirley the last time that I had any lengthened conversation with him, is it not the result of a neglect of the principles which I have tried to express to you as the ideal of the study to my mind? It has not been well used of late years; it has been taught as a task to children; it has been valued only as an instrument to strengthen the memory; it has been under- valued in its true character of mental training; it has been learned to qualify men to make effective speeches to ignorant hearers, and to indite brilliant articles for people who only read periodicals; it has been begun from the standing point of popular infatuation; it has been begun from the advanced ground of ecclesiastical or political partisanship; it has been made an embellishment for wordy eloquence, a source of subjects for pictorial talent that has evolved grouping, features and circumstances, from its own consciousness; it has been written as a poem, but without the inspiration of poetry, as philosophy without the thoughtfulness or humility of the true philosophic spirit; it has been written for readers already known, counted and pandered to. What wonder that there are few who love it for its own sake, when there are so few who know it as it is! In this respect, as I have said, I hope and trust that the better time is coming, when the universality of the training and the outpouring of the sources of knowledge will make imposture futile, and adulteration unprofitable. I hope and trust that in that good time our training here will he found to be a part of the true higher training, and the knowledge acquired in it to lead up to the true and highest Knowledge.