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in the sepulchre of its own research. But when a man comes who has the power, he bids the dead Lazarus of a life of labor come forth and talk to the masses of mankind.
A first-rate historian requires powers seldom found in one man. A deficiency of any of these qualities is more apparent and deteriorates the whole, more than the absence of any single faculty in the poet, the philosopher, or the novelist. A poet may be of first-rate excellence without the possession of a philosophical mind : he may be unapproached as a lyrical writer. The philosopher may be great, and yet altogether destitute of poetical imagination. The metaphysician may be a pioneer into a new world of thought, and yet be devoid of imagination or command of language. It is only a great dramatist, like Shakspeare or Schiller, who enjoys so large a combination of opposite qualities. In like manner, the great historian is in the world of fact what the dramatist is in the world of fiction. He requires a philosophical mind ; a keen insight into human nature; a patient investigation of conflicting testimonies ; a power of judging from the context, and in seizing upon the most probable fact, out of the very instinct which always accompanies a large and accurate knowledge of human nature ; and above all, he must possess the Promethean spark of imagination to put all this into coherent life and motion, when he has gathered the dead materials of the past. He must satisfactorily answer the question, “ Can these dry bones live ?"
A great merit in Mr. Prescott is the total absence he displays of all onesidedness. He is less subjective than any prominent historian we are aequainted with. This is a rare virtue. A glance at the most celebrated authors will prove this. While Lingard's statements must be received with caution whenever his Romanist prejudices come into play, Gibbon is not to be trusted on account of his hatred of Christianity. Hume, without any dislike to Christianity in particular, has a strong tendency to infidelity in general. These objections apply only to religious opinions ; but when we come to a political bias the disturbing influences are enormous. Who can trust Robertson, where the evidence conflicts, on the Queen of Scotland ?—and few can receive the special-pleading of Hume, as conclusive, on the civil war in England. Even Macintosh and Macaulay are swayed by these elements, and it is, perhaps, difficult to find any entirely free from them. Now we claim for Mr. Prescott a great exemption from this evil; he is decidedly an objective writer ; there is the eloquence of the pleader, and the impartiality of the judge; and we feel, as we proceed in his details, that we can place confidence in his verdicts.
Another distinguishing trait is in his endeavor to throw his readers back into the times he is treating on. He is not content with considering the past as the past, but he endeavors to carry us back to the time itself. Many, consequently, consider the commencement of his histories tedious, but we feel glad afterwards that we have listened to the exordium. Coleridge was in the habit of observing that it is said, any fool can ask a question, but it takes a wise man to answer it; his version was, it also took a wise man to put the question aright. We have, therefore, often heard common-place men accuse Coleridge of never giving a direct answer. When this was named
to him one day, by a “yes and no" man, the great logician smiled at the ignorance and folly of the objector; and began forthwith to explain to the bewildered blockhead that it required also a wise man to put a question in a proper shape. There is scarcely an inquiry in the world, either metaphysical, circumstantial, or personal, that is capable of being directly answered. It requires a thorough investigation of all points connected with the subject to be able to master what the interrogator wants.
This applies in an eminent manner to history. It is not enough to narrate the actions just as they happened, or to report the speeches just as they were said. It is indispensably necessary that the starting-ground should be thoroughly reconnoitred. Without this we answer, just as men walk in the dark over a field they are ignorant of; they may put their foot on firm ground, or fall headlong down some yawning chasm. It is absolutely requisite that some insight should be had into the history, pursuits, and designs of the actors, and some personal knowledge of the man. Then we are better able to judge how far the historian puts true motives for this or that equivocal act. Many deeds, now apparently obscure or startling, are perfectly intelligible when judged in context with others; but taken singly and alone they are enough to damn a man's reputation and contradict his whole career. We need only glance at this ; to insist upon it would be a waste of time. We leave every reader to fill up the sketch out of his own experience.
Now it occurs to us that the author before us feels this necessity in all its force, and that he does his best to remedy the
defect. Not content with starting at the beginning of the drama, he very properly gives us a history of the characters before the commencement, so that we are prepared, as the pageant of fate moves on, to recognise the æsthetic truth of each man's life. Nor does this destroy the interest of the denouement; it greatly adds to it. A personal knowledge of any one always enhances the interest we feel in his fortunes, and it is half the task of a writer to enlist the attention of his readers. This is a hard labor to accomplish, but it ought to be done, otherwise the relator of the event is a narrator, and not a historian. Another besetting sin with this class of writers is their liability to overestimate the importance of some particular event. How easy is it to exaggerate this fact and diminish that? An undue prominence is thus given to a secondary idea, and so far history is falsified. The historian lies as much by the concealment of a fact, or even of an extenuating motive, as though he boldly stated the reverse of the case.
Properly treated, history should be a plain, ungarbled account of events as they really happened, accompanied with as much light as can be thrown upon the public stage by the private biographies of the actors themselves. In addition to this we should have the abuses of the time, and the irritative causes conspiring to rouse the masses calmly placed before us, so that a reason should be given for every result. To complete all, a careful summary should be drawn up, to show the amount of human advancement in the progress of this great spectacle, where nations are actors, empires scenes, crowns baubles, and revolutions the denouement.
This is the cause why romance is devoured in preference to history. We are chilled into apathy by the generalization of the latter, while the personal specialties of the former are enchaining to old and young. Yet a moment's reflection is sufficient to convince all that the excitement of the one is far superior to the other. What can exceed the magnificence of a drama when kings are actors ? And yet so badly managed is history generally that every lesson is received with lassitude.
When Mr. Prescott has prepared the argument of his works he becomes graphic. Till then there may appear too great an anxiety for every one to know everything. This is, however, a fault on the right side.
While he has a proper horror of tyranny, we observe a charity extending even to the perpetrator of the outrage ; action and reaction follow each other in natural steps. The French Revolution, dreadful as were its excesses, was created by the enormities of the ancient regime; centuries of wrong-doing were heaped into one measure, and poured out at once on the devoted heads of the offending class. The narrator who regards the vengeance as distinct from the provocation, only sees one half the question, and his opinion is worthless. The true philosopher is sensible they are inseparable, and would be more astonished at the absence of the catastrophe than that it occurred.
Mr. Prescott's first work was the result of a labor of many years, and was called “ The History of the Reign of Ferdinand and Isabella.” It displays many faults which a young writer would naturally fall into—an ostentatious display at word painting, and an attempt at fine writing. This censure, however,