It has been my purpose, in the preparation of these volumes, to popularize the subject without losing sight of the dignity and importance of the historian's office. The People are as much entitled to accurate information, concisely and graphically conveyed, as scholars are entitled to elaborate dissertation. It is a most pernicious error to admit that a true epitome of History can be hastily and easily prepared. Such a work, when conscientiously undertaken, requires the greatest care and the highest skill in execution.
The writing of History exercises' a powerful influence in subduing the irrational prejudices and passions of human nature. The writer, if actuated by motives that may be openly avowed, will not have proceeded far until the truth-telling impulse becomes dominant over every other disposition of mind. To ascertain the truth, and to speak it with out fear or favor, kindles a torch in which all minor considerations are consumed as moths in a flame. The eager preference which the historian feels at the beginning to have events result in this way or in that expires in the glow of a nobler enthusiasm. The original anxiety to find things other than they are is first neglected and then forgotten.
The tyro in History feels that, whatever else may be at fault, his own party, his own sect, his own country, are, and have ever been, infallible. Soon, however, he begins to be disabused. He sees the cause to which he has been so ardently attached infected with the same weakness as the other cause which he has so vehemently opposed. He beholds his party deliberately espousing the wrong principle, simply because that principle promises success; his sect, revamping a dogma because it is expedient; his country, narrowing the limits of human liberty because it is profitable.
At first the writer is shocked at these discoveries. To find that the cherished is no longer the true seems to be the proclamation of returning chaos-the moral and political ruin of the world. For the moment, the writer is ready to condemn himself as the chief of sinners, simply because he has made a discovery. Anon the sky begins to clear. Facts, principles, events, begin to appear in a new Vol. I
light. The historian becomes willing to learn. He sits down patiently at the feet of the Past. Soon his agitated nature feels no further alarm. His discoveries trouble him no more. He becomes calm and confident. He reverses his long-cherished convictions and feels no horror. He finds himself able to say without a shudder that Caesar the patriot was killed by Brutus the parricide. He writes without compunction that the Reformation was mixed with dross, afraid to avow its own principles of action, content to stop with a half-emancipation of the human mind. He recites without alarm the coarseness and brutality of the sterling Cromwell and the elegant philanthropy of the profligate Charles II. He fearlessly writes that the French Revolution, with all of its bravado and frenzy, was the grandest event of modern times-the Renaissance of Man; and that the old Slave holders of the South were provoked and tantalized by those who were not slave-holders themselves only because they were born and bred in a happier latitude. To admit all this, and a thousand things still more appalling, is not to introduce a social and moral chaos into the world, not to reverse or confound the principles of right and wrong, not to despair of the grandeur and glory of human nature. It is merely to be taught instead of to teach; to hear instead of to speak; to accept fallibility as the law of human intelligence and character; to cast the demi-gods and devils out of the historic drama, and to accept Man as the actor.
The historian must either lay down his pen or cease to be a partisan. The alternative is before him. The two qualities of partisan ship and historical truthfulness can not long co-exist in the same mind. The one will expel the other. In such a case a divided sovereignty is impossible.
As with the writer, so with the reader of History. A certain kind of literature tends to excite in the minds of both author and reader those very prejudices and passions which ought to be allayed. Of such sort is the American party newspaper, whose motto is to concede nothing and to speak the truth when it is necessary. A little above this level is the independent journal or magazine, whose independence is generally maintained