Изображения страниц

Alexander, who loved wine, and was naturally choleric, had been bred under the severity of Roman discipline, it is probable he would neither have made a bonfire of Persepo-, lis for his whore, nor have killed his friend. If Scipio, who was naturally given to women, for which anecdote we have, if I mistake not, the authority of Polybius, as well as fome verses of Nævius preserved by A. Gellius, had been educated by 'Olympias at the court of Philip, it is improbable that he would have restored the beautiful Spaniard.

In short, if the renowned Socrates had not corrected nature by art, this first apostle of the Gentiles had been a very profligate fellow by his own confeffion; for he was inclined to all the vices Zopyrus imputed to him, as they say, on the observation of his physiognomy. :

« With him therefore who denies the effect of education, it would be in vain to dispute ; and with him who admits -them, there can be no dispute concerning that share which I aferibe to the study of history, in forming our moral characters, and making us better men. The very persons who pretend that inclinations cannot be restrained, nor habits corrected, against our natural bent, would be the fist perhaps to prove in certain cases the contrary. A fortune at court, or the favours of a lady, have prevailed on many to conceal, and they could not conceal without restraining, which is one step towards correcting, the vices they were by nature addicted to the most. Shall we imagine now that the beauty of virtue and the deformity of vice, the charms of a bright and lasting reputation, the terror of being delivered over as criminals to all pofterity, the real benefit a. rising from a conscientious discharge of the duty we owe to others, which benefit fortune can neither hinder nor take away, and the reasonableness of conforming ourselves to the designs of God manifested in the constitution of human nature ; fhall we imagine, I say, that all these are not able to acquire the same power over those who are continually called upon to a contemplation of them, and they who apply themselves to the study of history are fo called upon, as other motives mean and sordid, in comparison of these, can ufurp on other men ?

• That the study of hiftory, far from making us wiser, and more useful citizens, as well as better men, may be of no advantage whatsoever ; that it may serve to render us mere antiquaries and fcholars, or that it may help to make us forward coxcombs, and prating pedants, I have already allow. ed, but this is not the fault of history: and to convince


[ocr errors]

us that it is not, we need only contrast the true use of history with the use that is made of it by such men as these. We ought always to keep in mind, that history is philosophy teaching by examples how to conduct ourselves in all the situations of private and public life; that therefore we must apply ourselves to it in a philosophical spirit and manner ; that we must rise from particular to general knowledge ; and that we must fit ourselves for the society and business of mankind, by accuftoming our minds to reflect and meditate on the characters we find described, and the course of events we find related there. Particular examples may be of use sometimes in particular cases : but the application of them is dangerous. It must be done with the utmost circumspection, or it will be seldom done with success. And yet one would think that this was the principal use of the study of history, by what has been written on the subject. I know not whether Machiavel himself is quite free from defect on this account; he seems to carry the use and application of particular examples too far.'

Our author produces several instances from ancient and modern history, to fhew how dangerous it is to govern ourselves by particular examples; and observes, that if a general should now act the same part that Codrus and the Decii did formerly, and, in order to secure his victory get killed as fast as he could, though he might pass for an he ro, yet he would certainly pass for a madman.

• There are certain general principles, says he, and rules of life and conduct, which always must be true, because they are conformable to the invariable nature of things. He who studies history, as he would study philosophy, will soon distinguish and collect them, and by doing so will foon form to himself a general system of ethics and politics on the surest foundations, on the trial of these principles and rules in all ages,

and on the confirmation of them by universal experience. I said he will distinguish them; for once more I must say, that as to particular modes of actions, and measures of conduct, which the customs of different countries, the manners of different ages, and the circumstances of different conjunctures, have appropriated, as it were, it is always ridiculous, or imprudent and dangerous, to employ them. But this is not all. By contemplating the vast variety of particular characters and events; by examining the strange combinations of causes, different, remote, and seem.ingly opposite, that often concur in producing one effect; and the surprising fertility of one single and uniform cause in


[ocr errors]

the producing of a multitude of effects as different, as remote, and seemingly as opposite; by tracing carefully, as carefully as if the subject he considers were of personal and immediate concern to him, all the minute and sometimes scarce perceivable circumstances, either in the characters of actors, or in the course of actions, that history enables him to trace, and according to which the success of affairs, even the greatest, is mostly determined; by these, and such methods as these, for I might descend into a much greater detail, a man of parts may improve the study of history to its proper and principal use ; he may fharpen the penetration, fix the attention of his mind, and strengthen his judgment; he may acquire the faculty and the habit of discerning quicker and looking farther; and of exerting that flexibility, and steadiness, which are necessary to be joined in the conduct of all affairs that depend on the concurrence or opposition of other men.

• Mr. Locke, I think, recommends the study of geometry even to those who have no design of being geometricians : and he gives a reason for it, that may be applied to the present cafe. Such persons may forget every problem that has been proposed, and every solution that they or others have given ; but the habit of pursuing long trains of ideas will remain with them, and they will pierce through the mazes of sophism, and discover a latent truth, where perfons who have not this habit will never find it.

• In this manner the study of history will prepare us for action and observation. History is the ancient author: experience is the modern language. We form our taste on the first; we translate the sense and reason, we transfuse the spirit and force; but we imitate only the particular graces of the original ; we imitate them according to the idiom of our own tongue, that is, we substitute often equivalents in the lieu of them, and are far from affecting to copy

them servilely. To conclude, as experience is conversant about the present, and the present enables us to guess at the future ; lo history is conversant about the past, and by knowing the things that have been, we become better able to judge of the things that are.'

The subsequent part of this letter, which is a very long one, confifts of reflexions on the state of ancient history, both profane and sacred. His lordthip is at great pains to shew that we have neither in profane nor in facred authors, such authentic, clear, distinct and full accounts of the originals of ancient nations, and of the great events of those VOL. VI. T


ages that are commonly called the first ages, as deserve to go by the name of history, or as afford fufficient materials for chronology and history. In regard to ancient profane hiftory, he tells us that there is no pretence to place the beginning of the historical age so high as Varro placed it, by five hundred years; and he endeavours to fhew, that even the historical part of the old teftament is insufficient to give us light into the originals of ancient nations. He makes a distinction between the historical parts of the old teftament, and the legal, doctrinal, and prophetical parts; and seems to allow the infallibility of scripture authority with regard to the latter, though he denies it to the former.

I may deny, says he, that the old testament is transmitted to us under all the conditions of an authentic history, and yet be at liberty to maintain that the passages in it, which establish original fin, which seem favourable to the doctrine of the trinity, which foretell the coming of the Messiah, and all others of similar kind, are come down to us, as they were originally dictated, by the Holy Ghoft,

In attributing the whole credibility of the old teftament to the authority of the new, and, and in limiting the authenticity of the Jewish scriptures to those parts alone that concern law, doctrine, and prophecy, by which their chronology and the far greatest part of their history are excluded, I will venture to affure your lordship that I do not affume so much as is assumed in every hypothesis, that affixes the divine seal of inspiration to the whole canon, that refts the whole proof on Jewish veracity, and that pretends to account particularly and positively for the descent of these ancient writings in their present state.

Another reason, for which I have insisted the rather on the distinction so often mentioned, is this. I think we may find very good foundation for it even in the bible:: and tho’ this be a point very little attended to, and much difguised, it would not be hard to fhew, upon great inducements of probability, that the law and the history were far from being blended together as they now stand in the Pentateuch, even from the time of Moses down to that of Efdras. But the principal and decisive reason for separating in such manner the legal, doctrinal, and prophetical parts, from the historical, is the necessity of having fome rule to go by : and I protest I know of none that is yet agreed up

I content myself, therefore, to fix my opinion concerning the authority of the old testament in this manner, and carry it thus far only. We must do so, or we must en



ter into that labyrinth of dispute and contradiction, wherein even the most orthodox Jews and Christians have wandered so many ages, and still wander. It is strange, but it is true ; not only the Jews differ from the Christians, but Jews and Christians both differ among themselves, concerning almost every point that is necessary to be certainly known and agreed upon, in order to establish the authority of books which both have received already as authentic and sacred. So that whoever takes the pains to read what learned men have writ on this subject, will find that they leave the matter as doubtful as they took it up. Who were the authors of these scriptures when they were published, how they were composed and preserved, or renewed, to use a remarkable expression of the famous Huet in his demonstration ; in fine, how they were loft during the captivity, and how they were retrieved after it, are all matters of controversy to this day.”

Towards the conclusion of this letter his lord hip observes, that if the history of the old teftament was as exact and authentic, as the ignorance and impudence of some rabbies have made them affert that it is, yet still he who expects to find a system of chronology, or a thread of history, or fufficient materials for either, in the books of the old testament, expects to find what the authors of these books, whoever they were, never intended.

In the fourth letter our noble author fhews the folly of endeavouring to establish universal pyrrhonism in matters of hiftory, because there are few histories without fome lies, and none without some mistakes; and proves that the body of history which we possess, since ancient memorials have been fo critically examined, and modern memorials have been fo multiplied, contains in it such a probable series of events, easily distinguishable from the improbable, as force the affent of every man who is in his senses, and are suffi. cient to answer all the purposes of the study of history.

In the fifth letter, his lordship, after considering the great use of history, properly so called, as diftinguished from the writings of mere annalists and antiquaries, and observing the progress that the Romans and the Greeks made towards history, proceeds to shew what use is to be made of it by divines, and those who are called to the service of their country;

. I have said so much, says he, concerning the share which divines of all religions have taken in the corruption of history, that I should have anatbemas pronounced againit me, no doubt, in the east and the west,

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »