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A History of Nineteenth Century Literature (1780-1

Froude twelve to cover fifty or sixty


It

has been shown, in the chapter devoted to the subject, how this school of documentary historians grew and flourished in England itself, from the days of Turner and Palgrave to those of Froude and Freeman. Certainly there could not, at least for some time, be said to be any very sensible tendency in history to dispense with the historian, or, in other and perhaps rather more intelligible words, of history ceasing to be literary. No historians have been more omnilegent, more careful of the document, than Carlyle and Macaulay, much as they differed in other respects, and in no histories has the "historian"--that is to say, the personal writer as opposed to the mere "diplomatist"--been more evident than he is in theirs. Nor is it very easy to see why the mere study of the document, still less why the mere accumulation of the document, should ever render superfluous the intelligent shaping which the historian alone can give. In the first place, documents are contradictory and want shifting and harmonising; in the second they want grasping and interpreting; in the third (and most important of all) they need to be made alive.

Nevertheless Lord Acton's somewhat enigmatic utterance points, however vaguely, to real dangers, and it would be idle to say that these dangers have not been exemplified in the period and department we are considering. In the first place, the ever-increasing burden of the documents to be consulted is more and more crushing, and

more and more likely to induce any one but a mere drudge either to relinquish the task in despair, or to perform it with a constant fear before his eyes, which prevents freedom and breadth of work. In the second it leads, on the one hand, to enormous extension of the scale of histories, on the other to an undue restraining and limiting of their subjects. Macaulay took four large volumes to do, nominally at least, not more than a dozen years; Froude twelve to cover fifty or sixty; Grote as many to deal with the important, but neither long nor richly documented, period of Greek, or rather Athenian, flourishing. To this has to be added the very serious drawback that when examination of documents is ranked before everything, even the slightest questioning of that examination becomes fatal, and a historian is discredited because some one of his critics has found a document unknown to him, or a flaw, possibly of the slightest importance, in his interpretation of the texts.

Nevertheless it is necessary to lay our account with this new style of history, and it is fortunately possible to admit that the gains of it have not been small. Thanks to its practitioners, we know infinitely more than our fathers did, though it may not be so certain that we make as good a use of our knowledge. And the evil of multiplication of particulars, like other evils, brings its own cure. The work of mere rough-hewing, of examination into the brute facts, is being done--has to no small extent actually been done--as it never was done before. The "inedited" has ceased to be inedited--is put on record for anybody to examine with little trouble. The mere loss of valuable material, which has gone on in former ages to an extent only partially compensated by the welcome destruction of material that has no value at all, has been stopped. The pioneers of the historical summer (to borrow a decorative phrase from Charles of Orleans) have been very widely abroad, and there is no particular reason why the summer itself should not come.


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