Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub
[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors]

PREFACE.

The present volume completes a History of France, written after a careful study of every available original source, with the sole desire of ascertaining the truth, and without

any

bias of party policy or contemporaneous fashion. As the author announced in the first volume, his aim was to write French history from a point of view which should be English in its spirit, principles, and judgment, yet without jealousy or enmity towards a nation running the same race with ourselves, although in a different path. It is surely possible to be just and even friendly towards our neighbours, without adopting their opinions wholesale, and taking their rule as the measure not only of their merits but of our own. This nevertheless is what Englishmen have long been in the habit of doing. Of the histories of England which preceded that of Hume, the most popular and the most highly esteemed was written by a Frenchman. But although Hume's work displaced that of Rapin, Hume's views of England were taken altogether from the banks of the Seine, and his opinions were but the echoes of opinions current in French circles and saloons. What, again, is the new English school of thought which expresses sympathy with the acts of the French Revo

[blocks in formation]

lution, and an unbounded approbation of its results i We may admit that it was justly provoked by the shallow judgment which anathematised every liberal movement under the name of Revolution, until the public became first sated and at last disgusted. Still, what is the sympathy for Jacobinism but the echo of the opinions of those clever Frenchmen, who have contrived not only to excuse but to sanctify the Revolution by representing its cause as holy, its career as inevitable, its crimes as attributable to circumstances, not to persons, and its results as sufficiently glorious to cover any amount of meanness or of atrocity? It may be natural for Frenchmen to take this view, but it is obsequious folly on the part of Englishmen to adopt it. There is good and there is bad in the French Revolution. It

may be more poetical to condemn it or laud it in the mass; but discrimination, though doubtless prosaic, is demanded by truth, morality, and sound judgment.

No more miserable and pernicious doctrine has ever been preached, than that which represents revolution as the result of an irresistible impulse, which it is treason to doubt and madness to resist. The era of revolutions is far from being closed; that of class struggles has indeed only recommenced. To enter upon such a period with the belief that the victory is reserved for those classes which stand lowest in the scale of education and resources, and that the excesses in which they indulge are to be patiently and submissively endured, is puerile and pusillanimous. Far more truly might it be said, that the physical force of multitudes, although it may for a time overbear intelligence and moderation, can always be resisted. If

the supremacy of intellect were never doubted by those who possessed it, that diminution or exhaustion of power which marked the last years of the great French Revolution would never have been experienced. In speaking thus it is far from the author's intention to make any allusion to the present, or to profess himself in the least an alarmist. His object throughout has been to write rather for the learner than for the partisan, for those who still have to form their opinions than for readers of a more mature age whose sentiments have assumed the hardened form of prejudice or passion. His aim has been to instruct, to make truthful representations, to pronounce just decisions, rather than to please the ear with the eloquence of the orator or the poet.

Some critics, indeed, insist peremptorily that a history should be either philosophic, or pictorial, or both. To the advantage or fairness of preaching philosophy under the guise of history, I must demur. To write a history in behalf of Deism, of Catholicism, of Benthamism, or of Socialism, is to take facts for counters and play a skilful game with them. To narrate the world's events after the manner of Bossuet, and see the hand of Providence directing and ordering all, would be to compose a homily. To follow Buckle in regarding man as the slave of clime, soil and circumstances, would lead us to a dead and dull materialism. There is no science so fleeting or ephemeral as the philosophy of history. Each generation forms one for itself, and expounds its theory—to be repudiated by the generation which follows. The power of producing

of producing lifelike pictorial effects is as valuable as it is delightful in the chronicler of

cotemporary life, in the man who designs what he sees, and portrays what he contemplates. But vivid description and dramatic personification, at second-hand, made up of old materials and filled up by modern imagination, constitute romance, not history. Such devices may captivate and impose upon the ignorant and careless reader; but these are the achievements of the dramatist, not of the honest narrator. Scanty as are the records and dry the details of Roman history, for example, we find in the clever modern histories of that celebrated city a lavish elaboration of detail in the narrative of events, with full-length portraits of personages stippled with all the minuteness of Dutch painters. The design is admirable, the colouring just. One quality alone is wanting to its perfection, and that is truth.

I discuss these questions as generalities; myself they can scarcely concern. One of my reviewers, to be sure, is just enough to say that I have not done for France what Macaulay has done for England and Motley is doing for the Netherlands. I admit the truth of the charge. Macaulay devotes a volume to every

three years. Motley not much less. A history of France on the same scale, and with the same space for portraiture and description, would require a room to hold and a horse to carry it. To give a clear yet succinct, a well studied and digested history of a great European country in a few volumes is a more useful, although it may be a more humble, task.

PARIS: February 1868.

« AnteriorContinuar »