« AnteriorContinuar »
but announced as lasting truths, applicable to sion of ages, pressed upon and at last over every future generation and circumstances of turned the empire-of the Saracens, who men. In depth of view and justness of obser- issuing from the sands of Arabia, with the vation, these views of the Florentine statesman Koran in one hand and the cimeter in the never were surpassed. Bacon's essays relate, other, urged on their resistless course, till they for the most part, to subjects of morals, or do- were arrested by the Atlantic on the one side mestic and private life; but not unfrequently and the Indian ocean on the other-of the stern he touches on the general concerns of nations, crusaders, who, nursed amid the cloistered and with the same profound observation of the shades and castellated realms of Europe, strugpast, and philosophic anticipation of the future. gled with that devastating horde “when 'twas
Voltaire professed to elevate history in France strongest, and ruled it when 'twas wildest”from the jejune and trifling details of genealogy, of the long agony, silent decay, and ultimate courts, wars, and negotiations, in which it resurrection of the Eternal City-are so many had, hitherto, in his country, been involved, to immortal pictures, which, to the end of the the more general contemplation of arts and world, will fascinate every ardent and imaginphilosophy, and the progress of human affairs; ative mind. But, notwithstanding this incomand, in some respects, he certainly effected a parable talent for general and characteristic great reformation on the ponderous annalists description, he had not the mind necessary for who had preceded him. But the foundation a philosophical analysis of the series of causes of his history was still biography; he regarded which influence human events. He viewed human events only as they were grouped round religion with a jaundiced and prejudiced eyetwo or three great men, or as they were influ- the fatal bequest of his age and French educaenced by the speculations of men of letters and tion, unworthy alike of his native candour and science. The history of France he stigmatized inherent strength of understanding. He had as.savage and worthless till the reign of Louis profound philosophic ideas, and occasionally XIV.; the Russians he looked upon as no bet- let them out with admirable effect; but the turn ter than barbarians till the time of Peter the of his mind was essentially descriptive, and Great. He thought the philosophers alone all his powers were such in that brilliant departin all; till they arose, and a sovereign ap- ment, that they wiled him from the less inviting peared who collected them round his throne, contemplation of general causes. We turn and shed on them the rays of royal favour, over his fascinating pages without wearying; human events were not worth narrating; they but without ever discovering the general prowere merely the contests of one set of savages gress or apparent tendency of human affairs. plundering another. Religion, in his eyes, was We look in vain for the profound reflections a mere priestly delusion, to enslave and be- of Machiavel on the permanent results of cernighten mankind; from its oppression the tain political combinations or experiments. greatest miseries of modern times had flowed; He has led us through a "mighty maze," but the first step in the emancipation of the human he has made no attempt to show it“ not without mind was to chase for ever from the earth a plan.” chose sacerdotal tyrants. The most free- Hume is commonly called a philosophical thinking historian will now admit, that these historian, and so he is; but he has even less views are essentially erroneous; he will allow than Gibbon the power of unfolding the genethat, viewing Christianity merely as a human ral causes which influence the progress of institution, its effect in restraining the violence human events. He was not, properly speakof feudal anarchy was incalculable; long ante- ing, a philosophic historian, but a philosopher rior to the date of the philosophers, he will look writing history-and these are very different for the broad foundation on which national things. The experienced statesman will often character and institutions, for good or for evil, make a better delineator of the progress of have been formed. Voltaire was of great ser- human affairs than the philosophic recluse; vice to history, by turning it from courts and for he is more practically acquainted with camps to the progress of literature, science, their secret springs: it was not in the schools, and the arts-to the delineation of manners, but the forum or the palace, that Sallust, Taand the preparation of anecdotes descriptive citus, and Burke acquired their deep insight of character; but notwithstanding all his talent, into the human heart. Hume was gifted with ke never got a glimpse of the general causes admirable sagacity in political economy; and which influence society. He gave us the his- it is the good sense and depth of his views on tory of philosophy, but not the philosophy of that important subject, then for the first time history.
brought to bear on the annals of man, that has The ardent genius and pictorial eye of Gib chiefly gained for him, and with justice, the bon rendered him an incomparable delineator character of a philosophic historian. To this of events; and his powerful mind made him may be added the inimitable clearness and seize the general and characteristic features of rhetorical powers with which he has stated. society and manners, as they appear in dif- the principal arguments for and against the ferent parts of the world, as well as the traits great changes in the English institutions of individual greatness. His descriptions of which it fell to his lot to recount_arguments the Roman Empire, in the zenith of its power, far abler than were either used by, or occurred as it existed in the time of Augustus-of its de- to, the actors by whom they were brought cline and long-protracted old age, under Con- about; for it is seldom that a Hume is found stantine and his successors on the Byzantine in the councils of men. With equal ability throne
of the manners of the pastoral nations, too, he has given periodical sketches of man. who, under different names, and for a succes- ners, customs, and habits, mingled with valu.
able details on finance, commerce, and prices | love of system, an obvious partiality for fan all elements, and most important ones, in ciful analogies, and, not unfrequently, concluthe formation of philosophical history. We sions hastily deduced from insufficient data. owe a deep debt of gratitude to the man who These errors, the natural result of a philosohas rescued these valuable facts from the phic and profound mind wandering without a ponderous folios where they were slumbering guide in the mighty maze of human transacin forgotten obscurity, and brought them into tions, are entirely avoided in the Grandeur et the broad light of philosophic observation and Decadence des Romains, where he was retained popular narrative. But, notwithstanding all by authentic history to a known train of this, Hume is far from being gifted with the events, and where his imaginative spirit and philosophy of history. He has collected or marked turn for generalization found suffiprepared many of the facts necessary for the cient scope, and no more, to produce the science, but he has made little progress in it most perfect commentary on the annals of a himself. He was essentially a skeptic. He single people of which the human mind can aimed rather at spreading doubts than shed- boast. ding light. Like Voltaire and Gibbon, he was Bossuet, in his Universal History, aimed at a scandalously prejudiced and unjust on the higher object; he professed to give riothing subject of religion; and to write modern his less than a development of the plan of Provitory without correct views on that subject, is dence, in the government of human affairs, like playing Hamlet without the character of during the whole of antiquity, and down to the Prince of Denmark. He was too indolent the reign of Charlemagne. The idea was to acquire the vast store of facts indispensable magnificent, and the mental powers, as well for correct generalization on the varied theatre as eloquence, of the Bishop of Meaux proof human affairs, and often drew hasty and mised the greatest results from such an underincorrect conclusions from the events which taking. But the execution has by no means particularly came under his observation. Thus corresponded to the conception. Voltaire has the repeated indecisive battles between the said, that he professed to give a view of unifleets of Charles II. and the Dutch, drew from versal history, and he has only given the hishim the observation, apparently justified by tory of the Jews; and there is too much truth their results, that sea-fights are seldom so im- in the observation. He never got out of the portant or decisive as those at land. The fact fetters of his ecclesiastical education ; the is just the reverse. Witness the battle of Sa- Jews were the centre round which he suplamis, which repelled from Europe the tide of posed all other nations revolved. His mind Persian invasion; that of Actium, which gave was polemical, not philosophic; a great theoa master to the Roman world; that of Sluys, logian, he was but an indifferent historian. which exposed France to the dreadful English In one particular, indeed, his observations are invasions, tegun under Edward III.; that of admirable, and, at times, in the highest degree Lepanto, which rolled back from Christendom impressive. He never loses sight of the dithe wave of Mohammedan conquest; the defeat vine superintendence of human affairs; he of the Armada, which permanently established sees in all the revolutions of empires the the Reformation in Northern Europe; that of progress of a mighty plan for the ultimate La Hogue, which broke the maritime strength redemption of mankind; and he traces the of Louis XIV.; that of Trafalgar, which for workings of this superintending power in all ever took "ships, colonies, and commerce" the transactions of man. But it may be doubtfrom Napoleon, and spread them with the ed whether he took the correct view of this British colonial empire over half the globe. sublime but mysterious subject. He supposes
Montesquieu owes his colossal reputation the divine agency to influence directly the afchiefly to his Esprit des Loir ; but the Grandeur fairs of men not through the medium of geet Decadence des Romains is by much the greater neral laws, or the adaptation of our active work. It has never attained nearly the repu- propensities to the varying circumstances of tation in this country which it deserves, either our condition. Hence his views strike at the in consequence of the English mind being less freedom of human actions; he makes men partial than the French to the philosophy of and nations little more than the puppets by human affairs, or, as is more probable, from which the Deity works out the great drama the system of education at our universities of human affairs. Without disputing the rebeing so exclusively devoted to the study of ality of such immediate agency in some parwords, that our scholars seldom arrive at the ticular cases, it may safely be affirmed, that knowledge of things. It is impossible to ima- by far the greater part of the affairs of men gine a work in which the philosophy of his- are left entirely to their own guidance, and tory is more ably condensed, or where there that their actions are overruled, not directed, is exhibited, in a short space, a more profound by Almighty power to work out the purposes view of the general causes to which the long- of Divine beneficence. continued greatness and ultimate decline of that That which Bossuet left unaone, Robertson celebrated people were owing. It is to be re- did. The first volume of his Charles V. may gretted only that he did not come to modern justly be regarded as the greatest step which times and other ages with the same masterly the human mind had yet made in the philososurvey; the information collected in the Esprit phy of history. Extending his views beyond des Loix would have furnished him with ample the admirable survey which Montesquieu had materials for such a work. In that noble trea- given of the rise and decline of the Roman tise, the same philosophic and generalizing empire, he aimed at giving a view of the pro spirit is conspicuous; but there is too great a Igress of society in modern times. This matter
of the progress of society, was a favourite genius of Wellesley, in bringing to maturity subject at that period with political philoso- the British empire, and spreading the Anglophers; and by combining the speculations of Saxon race, in pursuance of its appointed these ingenious men with the solid basis of mission, over half the globe! What marvelfacts which his erudition and industry had lous effect had the heroism and skill of Robert worked out, Robertson succeeded in produc- Bruce upon the subsequent history of Scoting the most luminous, and at the same time land, and, through it, on the fortunes of the just, view of the progress of nations that had British race! Thus biography, or the deeds yet been exhibited among mankind. The phi- or thoughts of illustrious men, still forms a losophy of history here appeared in its full most important, and certainly the most intelustre. Men and nations were exhibited in resting, part even of general history; and the their just proportions. Society was viewed, perfection of that noble art consists, not in the not only in its details, but its masses; the exclusive delineation of individual achievegeneral causes which influence its progress, ment, or the concentration of attention on gerunning into or mutually affecting each other, neral causes, but in the union of the two in and yet all conspiring with more or less effi- due proportions, as they really exist in nature, cacy to bring about a general result, were ex- and determine, by their combined operation hibited in the most lucid and masterly manner. the direction of human affairs. The talent The great causes which have contributed to now required in the historian partakes, acform the elements of modern society—the de- cordingly, of this two-fold character. He is caying civilization of Rome-the irruption of expected to write at once philosophy and biothe northern nations--the prostration and de-graphy: to unite skill in drawing individual gradation of the conquered people the revival character, the power of describing individual of the military spirit with the private wars of achievements, with a clear perception of genethe nobles--the feudal system and institution ral causes, and the generalizing faculty of enof chivalry—the crusades, and revival of let- larged philosophy. He must combine in his ters following the capture of Constantinople mind the powers of the microscope and the by the Turks--the invention of printing, and telescope; be ready, like the steam-engine, at consequent extension of knowledge to the one time to twist a fibre, at another to propel great body of the people—the discovery of the an hundred-gun ship. Hence the rarity of compass, and, with it, of America, by Colum- eminence in this branch of knowledge ; and bus, and doubling of the Cape of Good Hope if we could conceive a writer who, to the arby Vasco de Gama--the invention of gunpow. dent genius and descriptive powers of Gibbon, der, and prodigious change thereby effected in should unite the lucid glance and just discrithe implements of human destruction are all mination of Robertson, and the calm sense there treated in the most luminous manner, and reasoning powers of Hume, he would and, in general, with the justest discrimina- form a more perfect historian than ever has, tion. The vast agency of general causes upon or probably ever will appear upon earth. the progress of mankind now became appa- With all his generalizing powers, however, rent: unseen powers, like the deities of Homer Robertson fell into one defect-or rather, he in the war of Troy, were seen to mingle at was unable, in one respect, to extricate himevery step with the tide of sublunary affairs; self from the prejudices of his age and profesand so powerful and irresistible does their sion. He was not a freethinker-on the conagency, when once revealed, appear, that we trary, he was a sincere and pious divine; but are perhaps now likely to fall into the oppo- he lived in an age of freethinkers—they had site extreme, and to ascribe too little to indi- the chief influence in the formation of a wrividual effort or character. Men and nations ter's fame; and he was too desirous of literary seem to be alike borne forward on the surface reputation to incur the hazard of ridicule or of a mighty stream, which they are equally in- contempt, by assigning too prominent a place capable of arresting or directing; and, after to the obnoxious topic. Thence he has as surveying the vain and impotent attempts of cribed far too little influence to Christianity, in individuals to extricate themselves from the restraining the ferocity of savage manners, current, we are apt to exclaim with the philo- preserving alive the remains of ancient knowsopher," "He has dashed with his oar to ledge, and laying in general freedom the broad hasten the cataract; he has waved with his and deep foundations of European society. fan to give speed to the winds."
He has not overlooked these topics, but he has A nearer examination, however, will con- not given them their due place, nor assigned vince every candid inquirer, that individual them their proper weight. He lived and died character exercises, if not a paramount, yet a in comparative retirement; and he was never very powerful influence on human affairs. able to shake himself free from the prejudic66 Whoover investigates minutely any period of of his country and education, on the subject history will find, on the one hand, that general of Romish religion. Not that he exaggerated causes affecting the whole of society are in the abuses and enormities of the Roman Ca.constant operation; and on the other, that tholic superstition which brought about the these general causes themselves are often set Reformation, nor the vast benefits which Luin motion, or directed in their effects, by par-ther conferred upon mankind by bringing them ticular men. Thus, of what efficacy were the to light; both were so great, that they hardly constancy of Pitt, the foresight of Burke, the admitted of exaggeration. His error-and, in arm of Nelson, the wisdom of Wellington, the the delineation of the progress of society in
modern Europe, it was a very great one-con sisted in overlooking the beneficial effect of that very superstition, then so pernicious, in a the just conclusions from the results of his prior age of the world, when violence was uni- labours. versal, crime prevalent alike in high and low With all these merits, and they are great, placęs, and government impotent to check and with this rare combination of antiquarian either the tyranny of the great or the madness industry with philosophic generalization, Sisof the people. Then it was that superstition mondi is far from being a perfect historian. was the greatest blessing which Providence, He did well to abridge his great works; for he in mercy, could bestow on mankind; for it ef- will find few readers who will have perseverfected what the wisdom of the learned or the ance enough to go through them. An abridgefforts of the active were alike unable to effect; ment was tried of Gibbon; but it had little it restrained the violence by imaginary, which success, and has never since been attempted. was inaccessible to the force of real, terrors; You might as well publish an abridgment of and spread that protection under the shadow Waverley or Ivanhoe. Every reader of the of the Cross, which could never have been ob- Decline and Fall must feel that condensation is tained by the power of the sword. Robertson impossible, without an omission of interest or was wholly insensible to these early and in- a curtailment of beauty. Sismondi, with all estimable blessings of the Christian faith; he his admirable qualities as a general and philohas admirably delineated the beneficial influ- sophic historian, wants the one thing needful ence of the Crusades upon subsequent society, in exciting interest-descriptive and dramatic but on this all-important topic he' is silent. power. He was a man of great vigour of Yet, whoever has studied the condition of thought and clearness of observation, but little European society in the ninth, tenth, and ele- genius-at least of that kind of genius which venth centuries, as it has since been developed is necessary to move the feelings or warm the in the admirable works of Sismondi, Thierry, imagination. That was his principal defect; Michelet, and Guizot, must be aware that the and it will prevent his great works from ever services, not merely of Christianity, but of the commanding the attention of a numerous body superstitions which had usurped its place, of general readers, however much they may were, during that long period, incalculable; be esteemed by the learned and studious. and that, but for them, European society would Conscious of this deficiency, he makes scarce infallibly have sunk, as Asiatic in every age any attempt to make his narrative interesting; has done, beneath the desolating sword of bar- but, reserving his'whole strength for general barian power.
views on the progress of society, or philoSismondi-if the magnitude, and in many sophic observations on its most important respects the merit, of his works be considered changes, he fills up the intermediate space must be regarded as one of the greatest with long quotations from chronicles, men historians of modern times. His “History of moirs, and state papers--a sure way, if the the Italian Republics” in sixteen, of the "Mo- selection is not made with great judgment, of narchy of France” in thirty volumes, attest the rendering the whole insupportably tedious. variety and extent of his antiquarian researches, Every narrative, to be interesting, should be as well as the indefatigable industry of his given in the writer's own words, unless on those pen: his “Literature of the South of Europe” occasions, by no means frequent, when some in four, and “Miscellaneous Essays,” in three striking or remarkable expressions of a speakvolumes, show how happily he has blended er, or contemporary writer, are to be preserved. these weighty investigations with the lighter Unity of style and expression is as indispentopics of literature and poetry, and the politi- sable in a history which is to move the heart, cal philosophy which, in recent times, has or fascinate the imagination, as in a tragedy, come to occupy so large a place in the study a painting, or an epic poem. of all who have turned their mind to the pro- But, in addition to this, Sismondi's general gress of human affairs. Nor is the least part views, though ordinarily just, and always exof his merit to be found in the admirable skill pressed with clearness and precision, are not with which he has condensed, each in two always to be taken without examination Like volumes, his great histories, for the benefit of Robertson, he was never able to extricall himthat numerous class of readers, who unable or self entirely from the early prejudices oi his unwilling to face the formidable undertaking country and education; hardly any of the Geof going through his massy works, are de- neva school of philosophers have been able to sirous of obtaining such a brief summary of do so. Brought up in that learned and able, their leading events as may suffice for persons but narrow, and in some respects bigoted comof ordinary perseverance or education. His munity, he was early engaged in the vast mind was essentially philosophical; and it is undertaking of the History of the Italian Rethe philosophy of modern history, accordingly, publics. Thus, before he was well aware of which he has exerted himself so strenuously it, and at a time of life, when the opinions are to unfold. He views society at a distance, and flexible, and easily moulded by external imexhibits its great changes in their just propor- pressions, he became irrevocably enamoured tions, and, in general, with their true effects. of such little communities as he had lived in, His success in this arduous undertaking has or was describing, and imbibed all the preju been great indeed. He has completed the pic- dices against the Church of Rome, which have ture of which Robertson had only formed the naturally, from close proximity, and the ensketch-and completed it with such a prodigi- durance of unutterable evils at its hands, been ous collection of materials, and so lucid an ar- ever prevalent among the Calvinists of Gerangement of them in their appropriate places, neva. These causes have tinged his otherwise as to have left future ages little to do but draw | impartial views with two signal prejudices,
which appear in all his writings where, these world have good cause to thank M. Guizot for subjects are even remotely alluded to. His saving it from a contest as vehement, as perilous, partiality for municipal institutions, and the and probably as disastrous to all concerned, as social system depending on them, is as extra- that which followed the French Revolution. vagant, as his aversion to the Church of Rome Our present business is with M. Guizot as an is conspicuous and intemperate. His idea of historian and a philosopher; a character in a perfect society would be a confederacy of which he will be remembered, long after his little republics, governed by popularly elected services to humanity as a statesman and a magistrates, holding the scarlet old lady of minister have ceased to attract the attention Rome in utter abomination, and governed of men. In those respects, we place him in in matters of religion by the Presbyterian the very highest rank among the writers of forms, and the tenets of Calvin. It is not to modern Europe. It must be understood, howbe wondered at, that the annalist of the coun.. ever, in what his greatness consists, lest the tries of Tasso and Dante, of Titian and Ma- readers, expecting what they will not find, exchiavel, of Petrarch and Leonardo da Vinci, perience disappointment, when they begin the of Galileo and Michael Angelo, should con- study of his works. He is neither imaginative ceive, that in no other state of society is such nor pictorial; he seldom aims at the pathetic, scope afforded for mental cultivation and the and has little eloquence. 'He is not a Livy nor development of the highest efforts of genius. a Gibbon. Nature has not given him either still less is it surprising, that the historian of dramatic or descriptive powers. He is a man the crusades against the Albigenses, of the un- of the highest genius; but it consists not in heard of atrocities of Simon de Montfort
, of narrating particular events, or describing inthe wholesale massacres, burnings, and tortur- dividual achievement. It is in the discovery ings, which have brought such indelible dis- of general causes; in tracing the operation grace on the Roman priesthood, should feel of changes in society, which escape ordinary deeply interested in a faith which has extri- observation ; in seeing whence man has come, cated his own country from the abominable and whither he is going, that his greatness persecution. But still, this indulgence of these consists; and in that loftiest of the regions natural, and in some respects praiseworthy, of history, he is unrivalled. We know of feelings, has blinded Sismondi to the insur- no author who has traced the changes of mountable evils of a confederacy of small society, and the general causes which derepublics at this time, amidst surrounding, termine the fate of nations, with such just powerful, and monarchical states; and to the views and so much sagacious discrimination. inappreciable blessings of the Christian faith, He is not, properly speaking, an historian ; his and even of the Romish superstition, before vocation and object were different. He is a the period when these infamous cruelties be- great discourser on history. If ever the phi.ogan, when their warfare was only with the op- sophy of history was imbodied in a human pressor, their
struggles with the destroyers of being, it is in M. Guizot. the human race.
The style of this great author is, in every But truth is great, and will prevail. Those respect, suited to his subject. He does not just views of modern society, which neither aim at the highest flights of fancy; makes no the luminous eye of Robertson, nor the learned attempt to warm the soul or melt the feelings; research and philosophic mind of Sismondi is seldom imaginative, and never descriptive. could reach, have been brought forward by a But he is uniformly lucid, sagacious, and diswriter of surpassing ability, whose fame as criminating; deduces his conclusions with an historian and a philosopher is for the time admirable clearness from his premises, and overshadowed by the more fleeting celebrity occasionally warms from the innate grandeur of the statesman and the politician. We will of his subject into a glow of fervent eloquence. not speak of M. Guizor in the latter character, He seems to treat of human affairs, as if he much as we are tempted to do so, by the high viewed them from a loftier sphere than other and honourable part which he has long borne men; as if he were elevated above the usual in European diplomacy, and the signal ability struggles and contests of humanity; and a suwith which, in the midst of a short-sighted and perior power had withdrawn the veil which rebellious generation, clamouring, as the Ro- shrouds their secret causes and course from mans of old, for the multis utile bellum, he has the gaze of sublunary beings. He cares not sustained his sovereign's wise and magnani- to dive into the secrets of cabinets ; attaches mous resolution to maintain peace. We are little, perhaps too little, importance to indivitoo near the time to appreciate the magnitude dual character; but fixes his steady gaze on of these blessings; men would not now be the great and lasting causes which, in a durlieve through what a crisis the British empire, able manner, influence human affairs. He unconscious of its danger, passed, when M. views them not from year to year but from Thiers was dismissed, three years and a half century to century; and, when considered in ago, by Louis Philippe, and M. Guizot called that view, it is astonishing how much the to the helm.' But when the time arrives, as importance of individual agency disappears. arrive it will, that the diplomatic secrets of that Important in their generation-sometimes alperiod are brought to light; when the instruc- most omnipotent for good or for evil while tions of the revolutionary minister to the ad- they live particular men, how great soever, miral of the Toulon fleet are made known, and rarely leave any very important consequences the marvellous chance which prevented their behind them; or at least rarely do what other being acted upon by him, has become matter men might not have done as effèctually as of history; it will be admitted, that the civilized them, and which was not already determined