The Development of Modern European Historiography
So long as the student occupies himself with political history only, he may fail to perceive the unity of Europe ; he may think that each nation has followed its own course. But when he turns to pursue almost any branch of the history of civilization, and especially of the history of literature, he sees abundant evidences of a common European life, of a development proceeding contemporaneously by similar stages in the various countries. In the history of modern European historiography these are very plainly seen. The development is marked by a succession of phases, each of which, even if at first confined to one country, is rapidly propagated, and soon comes to be common to all Europe. Peculiarities of national character and situation have indeed their effect, and there is almost always a close connection between the course of a nation’s; political history and the development of its historiography; but the main currents are European and general.
It is modern historical literature of which we are speaking. But the sequence of phases common to the historiography of all Europe does not begin with the Renaissance. It is seen with more or less clearness in the Middle Ages. First, in the dark ages, we have the meagre annalists who followed Orosius and Eusebius ; we have, in the various barbarian kingdoms, that set of able historians who, renouncing the attempt to write universal history, devoted themselves each to the story of his own nation. At a later period, the metrical chronicle arises in each country, and is in each country followed by the metrical romance of chivalry and the romancing prose history. The monastic reforms of the succeeding age give everywhere new life and vogue to the monastic annals; the thirteenth century, an age of great men and of strong intellectual fermentation, produces monastic historians, who everywhere carry mediæval historical literature to its highwater mark, so far as Latin chronicles are concerned. The thirteenth century saw the beginning, the fourteenth the culmination, of the first great era of vernacular historical writing in prose. Later came a universal tendency toward the compilation of great general chronicles, lifeless but widely popular, in which might be incorporated bodily all accessible historical information out of all preceding chronicles. Finally, the fifteenth century may in general be characterized as the age of the municipal chronicle.
Yet the period of the Renaissance was very distinctly an epoch in the development of historiography. Many things joined to make it so. In the first place, the revival of letters brought forward the classical models of historical writing. Secondly, by its preoccupation with antiquity, it for the first time took the writers and readers of history out of the narrow circle of contemporary life and conditions, gave a standard of comparison between age and age, and thus made possible an objective view. These things, together with the general awakening of the European mind and that critical spirit which pervaded the Renaissance movement, induced a discrimination as to sources, a rational disposition of materials, a depth and freshness of thought, a care in respect to form, which were foreign to the mediæval historians, and were in fact the origins of modern methods. Moreover, the invention and use of printing made it for the first time possible to bring together a great number of books and to use them simultaneously ; and this of course enlarged the scholar’s opportunities of research and comparison far beyond those available in the age of manuscript chronicles. Again, since an insistence upon individual personality was one of the chief features of the Renaissance, it abounded in biographies and memoirs ; and these, too, of a superior type to those which had preceded. Finally, certain political characteristics of the age contributed powerfully toward giving to historical science and literature a new turn. It was at once the age of the despots and the age of national consolidation. Able monarchs and brilliant courts gave helpful patronage. The type of politics peculiar to the Renaissance, unscrupulous and cynical, but clear sighted and subtle, did much to develop intelligence, insight, and profundity in historians. The consolidation of nations gave a powerful impulse to the study of national history, though at the same time the strong national feeling which accompanied the movement imparted new strength and vitality to the fabulous legends with which the origin of each nation was surrounded.
First among the historical movements thus stimulated came that of the humanists. The vivid and continuous presence of the traditions of Rome, the prosperity and power of the Italian republics, made it natural that historical studies should first revive in Italy. What is more remarkable is the manner of their propagation thence. If one turns to almost any country in Europe, he finds the list of its modern historians headed by the name of some Italian scholar, who brought into the country of his adoption or sojourn the more developed literary ideals of his native land. In Germany it is the Emperor Frederick’s secretary, the learned, versatile, and acute Æneas Sylvius Piccolomini, afterward Pope Pius II.; in Hungary it is Antonio Bonfini; in Spain, Peter Martyr of Anghiera and Lucio Marineo ; in France, Paolo Emili; in England, Polydore Vergil, the friend of Erasmus.
It has been suggested that, in the change which polities had undergone, the old-fashioned native chroniclers, accustomed to record external events, — wars, rebellions, and the like,—found themselves puzzled by the new order of things, and unable to give satisfactory accounts of reigns marked mainly by events of another sort, or of kings politic, secret, and diplomatic. For penetrating into and describing the newer statecraft Italians were more apt. But it was not long before a similar dexterity in politics, and the literary effects of such dexterity, were developed in other nations. Thus arose the political historians of the Renaissance, the observant and thoughtful expounders of its intellectual but corrupt politics. Among these the foremost were Comines, Machiavelli, and Guicciardini. Machiavelli, applying profound insight to the problems of the growth and decay of states, has earned the praise of having founded the scientific study of modern political history. Sir Thomas More’s vivid and sagacious History of Richard III. is another example of the work of the political historians of the Renaissance, — work usually bearing upon contemporary history. At the same time, the geographical discoveries of the age were calling into existence, in Spain and Portugal, a brilliant school of historians of the Indies, mostly actors in the great scenes of discovery and conquest, or witnesses of them ; and France was maintaining that preëminence in respect to memoirs which had already been acquired for it in the Middle Ages by Villehardouin and Joinville, and which it has retained ever since.
Doubtless our own century has been the greatest age of historical composition, both in respect to abundance of production and as regards the scientific quality of the average product. But it may fairly be argued that the period from 1550 to 1625 was the age of great historians. The public life of the time was exceptionally brilliant and vivid; and never since, unless in the period from 1815 to 1850, have so large a number of the chief historians been also men highly distinguished in public affairs. Probably there was a similar reason in both cases. Apparently, the Renaissance and the Reformation had much the same stimulating effect upon the historical activities of the succeeding generation which, as we shall see later, must be ascribed to the French Revolution. At all events, in England the two foremost historical books of the age — Lord Bacon’s profound study of the reign of Henry VII. and Raleigh’s noble fragment of a history of the world — were the work of two of its greatest statesmen. Fra Paolo Sarpi, the greatest of the historians of Italy, was the guiding statesman of Venice in her successful struggle against the papacy. Gerónimo de Zurita, the most conscientious and reliable of historical writers, had had much experience in public affairs, and so had Ægidius Tschudi, the most eminent historian of Switzerland. The chief historians of France were two noted statesmen, Agrippa d’Aubigné and President de Thou. Few names in Europe were more famous either in public life or in the held of historical literature than that of Hugo Grotius. Sicilian had had considerable diplomatic experience. Nikolaus Istvánfi was at once the greatest historian and one of the greatest statesmen of Hungary.
Contact with affairs, in influential positions, had given to all these writers an insight and a sagacity in the treatment of political history which go far to explain the eminence of this particular period. Another element in its greatness was contributed by the labors of the official historiographers, now at their best. Their office had for some time been in existence. Monarchs, cities, civil and religious bodies, had their historiographers. The office of historiographer royal had in most cases been called into existence by the movement toward royal aggrandizement and national consolidation which marked the fifteenth century. Sometimes it was united with the office of royal librarian ; sometimes, as in Portugal, with that of keeper of the royal archives. Frequently the work of the historiographers was purely antiquarian, or consisted simply in collection and compilation ; but in not a few cases they were historians of the highest order of merit.
It is easier to speak of the great historical writers of an age individually than to describe its contribution to the growth of historical science, which advances by the slow and gradual diffusion of juster ideals and more refined methods. The structure of the science has been built up by the labors of quarrymen and masons, as well as of architects. Antiquaries and collectors having preceded, pioneer work in the early history of national institutions was begun. Often it was done with what seems to us absurd ignorance of the actual conditions of primitive sociology, and with entire failure to imagine any environment differing from that of the writer. Yet it was accomplished with so much industrious research, learning, and accuracy that the advancement of the science was maintained. The studies of chronology and of historical geography were actively pursued. A remarkable group of Protestant or Gallican lawyers in France, of the party of the politiques, began the scientific study of French antiquities, of the philosophy of history, and of critical methods. Spelman and Selden followed them in England.
One of the chief tasks lying before the growing science of historical criticism was to clear away those legends of fabulous antiquity with which each nation had invested the story of its origin. Ocampo related the deeds of an uninterrupted succession of Spanish kings from Tubal, grandson of Noah. The annals of Portugal began with the Trojan War. Milton commences his history of Britain with the giant Albion and Brutus of Troy, with the stories of Locrine and Hudibras and Lear and Lud, “ wherto,” he says, " I neither oblige the beleif of other person, nor over-hastily subscribe mine own.” The Four Masters, surpassing all these, began their annals of Ireland at forty days before the Deluge. Higher claims of antiquity seem scarcely possible; yet, in the time of Sweden’s greatest glory, Olof Rudbeck argued that Paradise had been located in that country, and a certain church history insisted that Adam was bishop in the little Swedish town of Kälkstad! So firmly did such fables possess the general mind, and so intimately did they seem connected with the national glory, that great credit belongs to the historians who first ventured to attack them. Their task was a difficult one ; old Johan van der Does, who had been the heroic commander of Leyden during its famous siege, and afterward undertook to clear away the misty legends of the origins of Holland, probably found that it required as much obstinate courage to attack his countrymen’s historical fables as to defend their cities.
The violent religious and political contests of the time had much influence in quickening historical production. The Reformation excited great interest in the history of the Church. Luther always expressed the highest opinion of the value of history. " To despise such writings and the remembrance of histories and their order is,” he said, " not only a coarse Tartaric and Cyclopean barbarism, but also a devilish senselessness, whereby the Devil would more and more extinguish the right knowledge of God.” Melanchthon, " the the teacher of all Germany,” performed for history services of inestimable value. Most of the work done under these impulses had indeed a partisan purpose; yet the research of the Magdeburg Centuriators on the one side, or of Baronius on the other, was immensely fruitful, however far from disinterested. Early Protestantism was also serviceable by furthering the growth of vernacular literature and the consequent popularization of history. Especially was this true in some of the less advanced countries of Europe, which before the Reformation had had little or no vernacular literature. Kaspar Heltai in Hungary, Martin Bielski in Poland, Christian Pedersen in Denmark, did pioneer work of the utmost importance. Their Catholic countrymen, meantime, adhered to Latin.
The political conflicts of the period had similar effects, if we except those contests which resulted in national exhaustion, such as the Thirty Years’ War, with which the period ends. In England and France, in Germany and the Netherlands, the burning questions of the age were largely those of constitutional law. Parties eagerly appealed to history and legal antiquities for the solution of such questions, much as when, in the time of the barons’ opposition to King John, Stephen Langton sought out and produced in the memorable meeting at St. Paul’s the antique charter of Henry I. The school of legal antiquaries and historians of French and English institutions, already alluded to, had here one of its chief origins. In the Netherlands, the constitutional and religious struggle with Spain and the attainment of national unity called forth a burst of national feeling and brilliant ambition that showed itself in a great development, not only of painting and poetry, but of philological and historical studies. It is a significant fact that in the southern provinces, declining in prosperity and remaining subject to the repressive despotism of Spain, it was the early and remote periods of the national history to which historians turned, while in the United Netherlands, prosperous and free, they devoted themselves much more often to the recent glories of the war for independence.
If the period from about 1550 to about 1625 was emphatically an age of great historians, the second half of the seventeenth century and the beginning of the eighteenth formed the classical period of memoir-writing. It was not completely a European movement; few memoirs were written in Germany, for instance. It was strongest in France, and next strongest in England. Clarendon and Whitelocke and Burnet stood foremost in the latter country ; France produced, among a host of others, the admirable memoirs of Cardinal de Retz, of La Rochefoucauld, of “ Mademoiselle,” and of Saint-Simon. In general histories, and particularly in political histories, the age of Louis XIV., with all its brilliancy, was not fertile. When we are told that honest Mézeray was absolutely deprived of his salary as historiographer royal because he would not expunge certain statements respecting taxation from one of his books, we see one reason why it was not.
Few things, indeed, are made more clear by the study of the development of history than that it cannot produce its best fruits in the atmosphere of despotism. Not only are there individual instances of suppression, by author or by censor, as when Grafton, in treating of John’s reign, with timid subservience omitted all mention of Magna Charta, or as when the Austrian censors outrageously mutilated the text of Palacky’s great work ; the whole atmosphere of free government is stimulative to historical work, while that of despotism is full of discouragement. A curious piece of statistical evidence for such a proposition is furnished by Switzerland. An industrious antiquary, who has constructed a catalogue of 1313 Swiss writers upon Swiss history, notes the fact that, next after the three chief cities which have, naturally, been the three chief centres of civilization in Switzerland, the greatest abundance of historical work has proceeded from those cantons or districts in which from of old a free communal life existed, as for instance around the Lake of the Four Cantons or in the Grisons. On the other hand, in those towns and cantons which had a government of a military and aristocratic character, such as Bern, there was much less tendency toward historical studies; and production has been at a minimum in those parts of Switzerland which, before 1798, were subject lands to other cantons, such as were Thurgau and Ticino.
The writing of memoirs was not the only, indeed not the chief, distinguishing characteristic of these years. The publication of documents bearing upon contemporary history, as in the collections of Rushworth and Aitzema, had an important place; and Pufendorf, in his two Commentaries, endeavored to inaugurate a profounder and more scientific use of them. There were also more general signs of advance, such as the abandonment of the practice of dividing universal history into the history of the four great monarchies. Such a scheme of division did not spring from independent scientific considerations, but rested on assumptions borrowed from without. Its abandonment in favor of the division into ancient, mediæval, and modern history indicated an important step in advance. This was likewise the age of the founding of historical jurisprudence, by Hermann Conring in Germany, and by Gravina in Italy, where also Vico, with profound insight, was laying a new foundation for the philosophy of history. Classical philology stood high, especially in the Netherlands, and a few bold scholars began that destructive criticism of the early Roman history which reached its maturity in Niebuhr.
But above all else, this period, or, more exactly, the period from about 1650 to about 1750, is to be characterized as the age of erudition. All over Europe scholars devoted themselves to the laborious search for additional materials, to the erudite labors of investigation and criticism, and to the publication of chronicles and documents. Enormous additions were made to the sum of accessible knowledge respecting history. Giants of erudition sprang up almost simultaneously in all countries. It was as if all Europe had joined in an effort to provide materials in advance for a coming period of scientific historical work. The age had not the boldness, originality, and fire which marked the sixteenth century, but in scholarship, as in the political world, there was a gain in orderliness and method ; a gain, by consequence, in laboriousness and in criticism.
Much of the impulse toward such work came from the Church, and especially from the regular clergy in France and Belgium. One of the results of the Catholic counter-reformation had been the reform of the monastic orders, of which an important element had been the revival of monastic studies. The religious houses preserved great accumulations of manuscripts. The monastic principles of humility and obedience placed the services of all at the disposal of the gifted few, and made those few willing to labor, year after year, at tasks which could be finished only by the toil of successive generations. Great numbers of historical works, some of them prodigious in extent, were produced in peaceful seclusion by scholars thus devoted, laboring patiently and self-forgetfully for the glory of God and of their order. The Bollandist Acta Sanctorum was begun, that stupendous work which, at the end of two centuries and a half of almost continuous labor, is still far from completion. Numerous editions of the writings of the fathers, works upon palæography, vast collections of chronicles, of saints’ lives, of charters and documents, ponderous works of antiquities, histories of religious houses and bodies, provincial histories, chronologies, and great repositories of miscellaneous mediæval literature proceeded from other similar companies, and especially from the Benedictines of the congregation of St. Maur.
From France and the Spanish Netherlands the zeal for collection and erudite publication spread to other countries. In Germany, Leibnitz eagerly advocated such work, and set examples of it in two great collections. On the model of one of these, Thomas Rymer compiled his Fœdera. Strype and Tanner, Birch and Carte, were of the same school. Muratori, the greatest of Italian historical scholars, with Mansi and Tiraboschi, did for Italy what the Benedictines of St. Maur had done or were doing for France. Even in Iceland, in Denmark, in Hungary, and in Russia (now just entering the circle of Occidental historical work), one finds the same school prevailing. We may even say that it crossed the Atlantic to our own shores ; for the Rev. Thomas Prince, of Boston, and the Rev. William Stith, of Virginia, are almost typical examples of the school.
Closely connected with the general tendency to labors of erudition were the establishment and work of learned academies,—another phase common to various countries. Between 1699 and 1726, the academies of Berlin and St. Petersburg came into existence, and the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres began its publications. Between 1719 and 1745, the Royal Academy of Portuguese History, the Royal Academy of History at Madrid, and the Royal Society of History and Danish Language at Copenhagen were founded. All these were of course devoted to learned publication. The bent of the times in this direction is curiously shown in the remark of the Leipzig Acta Eruditorum upon Mascou’s masterly Teutsche Geschichte, — that it was so good that one might wish it had been written in Latin !
Enormous as was the labor bestowed in collecting and editing historical materials during this period, in respect to the composition of histories it takes but a low rank. Dr. Johnson’s open contempt for history, Sir Robert Walpole’s scornful rejection of it, were not unjustified. The histories current in their time were mostly dull and unprofitable. It seems at first somewhat surprising that this should have been the case, for in literature generally the period, including as it did the age of Louis XIV. and the age of Queen Anne, was one of exceptional and famous brilliancy, — and this as well in prose as in poetry ; indeed, to the minds of our time, with more especial success in prose than in poetry.
But, while the pursuit of history has many motives, the main incentive to it is, after all, the desire to utilize the experience of the past for the improvement of the present; and in the first half of the eighteenth century both the desire for present improvement and the conviction that the past could teach were at a minimum. Seldom has there been a time when the desire for social regeneration was more remote from the general mind, and when even the desire for minor improvements was so languid. Again, the age was singularly self-centred : indisposed to believe that there was anything it could learn from preceding ages ; inclined to regard them as barbarous, as in every way manifestly surpassed. It is an interesting sign of this preoccupation with existing conditions that the romance, chivalric or other, was at just about this time supplanted, as the main imaginative reading of Europe, by the novel of contemporary manners.
The change from this indifferent attitude was swift in arriving, and was of momentous consequence. It involved nothing less than a revolution in the methods of historical writing, the inauguration of that scientific study of the development of humanity and of civilization which has been the characteristic note of all subsequent schools of any considerable importance. In all the development of historiography, from Herodotus and Thucydides down, there had been no transition so important as that which was thus effected by the advent of the sociological school. The philosophical impulse toward its creation came in part from Scotland, but its fundamental ideas were much more fully and effectively stated in France, where deep and increasing hatred of existing institutions was inducing a new interest in the study of the past, and a new catholicity in respect to other times and nations. The humanitarianism and rationalism of the age cooperated with this cosmopolitan spirit to stimulate studies of general history and of the history of civilization. Before the first half of the century had ended, Montesquieu had made his fruitful attempt to exhibit the relation of human laws to the laws of nature and the arrangements of the social environment. Then, Turgot, in his Second address before the Sorbonne, went a step farther, not only recognizing the operation of law in the institutions and movements of human society, but discerning in history an ordered movement of growth and advance among societies, with regular laws of development. Finally, Voltaire, in his Essai sur les Mœurs, did inestimable service by showing the world, with inimitable literary skill, that laws, institutions, arts, and manners, and not kings, courts, and wars, should be made the chief concern of history; that history needed to be looked at with enlarged view, from the point of view of social generalization.
The fundamental ideas of the school were expounded by the writers of France; their practical application was mostly the work of other nations. Hume, Robertson, and Gibbon imparted new life to historical writing in England, giving practical demonstration of the utility of general ideas to history. A little earlier, Denmark had her Hume (as well as her Molière and her Swift) in Ludwig Holberg. Mascou and Bünau in Germany belonged to the same general class. The foundation of the scientific study of statistics was evidently part of this same movement. With Mosheim the wider ideas of the eighteenth century began to penetrate church history; and Johannes von Müller, whom the general voice pronounced to be the greatest of the German historians in the last years of the century, named Montesquieu and Voltaire as two of the three men who had chiefly influenced his historical thought.
With Johannes von Müller, however, we come within the verge of another climate of historical ideas. He was the herald of the romantic movement in historical work. The earlier expressions of that movement, in the knightly drama and romance of the Sturm und Drang period, though they often fixed false conceptions of mediæval life in the popular mind, were beneficial in so far as they excited greater interest in mediæval history. The current of thought thus started came violently into collision with that conviction of the uselessness of history, that ardent desire to return to nature and govern human life without regard to the abhorred and despised past, which animated the partisans of the Revolution. The Middle Ages were regarded by them with peculiar hostility, as the source of all those privileges and inequalities, those political and religious superstitions and trammels, which it was their especial aim to remove. Wherever the Revolution prevailed, the learned mediæval work of the academies and the monastic establishments was rudely broken up, and the revulsion against history had full sway. But with the outward fall of the Revolution the competing tendency took new life. An appreciative, and indeed over-enthusiastic, study of the Middle Ages began. From it, and from the remarkable development of classical philology among the generation of German scholars just preceding, came the rise of modern Teutonic philology, with its wide-reaching effects upon historiography.
But it was not simply by finally inducing a reaction from its unhistorical attitude that the Revolution was of service to the progress of historical studies. It seemed to have cut at one blow a great abyss between old Europe and new, which made it possible to judge the past with a greater sense of distance, with more impartiality, with a truer perspective. Old things had passed away, and all things had become new. Moreover, in the period succeeding 1815, the strong desire in the political world to do everything that could be done to strengthen legitimate monarchy was an incitement to the examination of all the old institutions and forms of social life by which it had been surrounded. Of still more importance, however, was the improvement brought to historical studies, in respect to depth and thoughtfulness and insight, by the experiences through which the generation had passed. Almost all political speculation, almost all historical writing, since the French Revolution, have borne the impress of that tremendous event. The problems of human life in the present and the past seemed radically different to those before whose eyes had appeared revelations of popular forces so gigantic and so unsuspected underlying the surface of society. The volcanic upheaval which revealed those forces brought to light facts of collective human nature which could never again be ignored, and a deeper study of the phenomena of society in the present and in the past was an inevitable result. “ Whenever,” said Niebuhr, in that very age, “a historian is reviving past times, his interest in them and sympathy with them will be the deeper the greater the events he has witnessed with a bleeding or a rejoicing heart.” The post-Napoleonic generation had had in a peculiar degree this stimulus to the deepening and broadening of historical work. The result was a great activity in historical studies, and new and profounder conceptions of what historical studies should be.
It is not at all surprising, therefore, that the period from 1815 to 1848 should have been one of the most brilliant in the annals of historiography. Yet we should hardly be prepared to expect the instant production of so remarkable a crop of historians as at once sprang up in France. Seven great French historians, on the whole the greatest of the century, if living ones be left out of the account, — Guizot, the two Thierrys, Mignet, Thiers, Michelet, and Lamartine, — were all born in the eleven years from 1787 to 1798, and Comte in the latter year. Born thus in the time of the Revolution, their earliest recollections were either of its events, or of the Empire and its tremendous struggle against allied Europe. One or two of them — Augustin Thierry, for example — derived their impulse toward historical studies from the romantic school, to whose influence the revival of Anglo-Saxon studies in England was largely owing, and to which the great historians of Norway, Sweden, and Russia belonged completely. But a much more general characteristic of the period, both in France and elsewhere, is that nearly all of them were, in a more or less important degree, engaged in public life. Here the experience of the sixteenth century was repeated. In both cases an age of great events gave rise to a remarkable activity in historical work ; and in both cases those most conspicuous in performing that work were also men Conspicuous in political affairs. There is obviously another connection here than that of mere coincidence. The events of the French Revolution, as of the Reformation, had been such as to force historical studies upon minds of the very highest class, upon the very directors of national life.
The part which Guizot, Thiers, and Lamartine played in public life is familiar; and Mignet and Amédée Thierry were not without political influence and administrative experience. But in other countries a similar generalization holds true. A closer connection subsisted between the political and the historical careers in England at this time than has been seen before or since ; few Englishmen were more deeply engaged in public affairs than Mackintosh, James Mill, Macaulay, and Grote. Herculano and Lafuente, the chief historians of the two nations of the Peninsula, had a similar prominence in their countries, Van der Palm in the Netherlands, Lelewel and Palacky in the polities of Poland and Bohemia. The long political experience of Niebuhr contributed no small part to the wonderful endowment with which he approached the task of examining the development of the Roman nation; and the constitutional conflict in Hungary was fought out in historical writings by some of the same men who afterward directed the struggle in arms or the departments of the revolutionary government.
Accompanying all this literary activity of great historians was a general scientific activity not less remarkable. A striking sign of such a movement was the multiplication of historical societies during this period, — societies organized by private means, not founded by the munificence of princes, as the academies of a hundred years before had been. For instance, in Great Britain, we have, in the thirty years from 1812 to 1842, the foundation of nearly a dozen important societies devoted to publication wholly or largely historical. Within very nearly the same period falls the foundation of several French, German, and Italian societies ; of the first general historical society for all Switzerland; of the chief Dutch historical society; of the Icelandic Literary Society ; of the Royal Society of Northern Antiquaries; and of the principal Russian historical and antiquarian association.
The scientific activity of that generation has been maintained in those succeeding ; has, indeed, been prodigiously increased, and has assumed the leading place in the historiography of recent years. Critical investigation is the most salient feature of the work of the present age. It has sometimes been said that its peculiar task has been the investigation of origines. But this is because it has been preëminently an age of historical criticism, and the origines of nations needed the application of criticism more urgently than any other part of their history. In this particular, the Germans have, as is familiar, been the teachers of all Europe. The age of erudition, as we have called it, had been succeeded by a generation whose main interest was in the philosophical treatment of historical questions, and in the presentation of broad and general views. The time had come when men might resume the labors of pure scholarship with a far greater richness of thought. The awakening of German patriotism through the War of Liberation supplied the needed impulse. It aroused an unparalleled activity in national history; it established the Monumenta; it infused into the science of history so vigorous a life that it could henceforth assume a more independent attitude, — no longer ancillary to philology, or antiquities, or theology, or jurisprudence, or political science, but occupying rather a position central to them all. Before the period of the statesmen-historians formed by the Revolution had ended, the great German investigators had made ready, for the use of a new generation of historical workers, enormous amounts of new material and critical weapons of a constantly increasing strength and keenness ; and their extraordinary wealth of learning and technical skill were employed with a thoroughly objective and scientific spirit.
It was because he possessed these gifts in a supreme degree that Ranke was, for more than a generation, recognized as the chief of German historians and historical scholars. When his first book appeared, in 1824, his breadth of view, sagacity, and unprecedented command over the resources of his art made an immediate impression, which his subsequent works, prepared with completer materials from archives, only deepened. Moreover, he was emphatically the founder of a school, nearly all of the older historical scholars of Germany who are at all distinguished having been pupils of his.
It is interesting to note, in view of the lines of influence we have suggested in other cases, how great a number of the chief German historical works of the century appeared soon after the events of the year 1848. Since then the tendency has been toward more and more minute specialization ; and the eminent general historians of the present time are mostly to be found among the older scholars. There are suspicions that devotion to minute criticism has been somewhat overdone. But the influence of German scholarship upon historical work in other lands has been highly beneficial. In France it has created a school of able and thorough students of institutions, who have been doing much to redeem French historical work from the charge of superficiality. At the same time, improvements in the organization of superior instruction have made it possible for historical scholars to receive adequate special training where their predecessors were mostly self-taught.
The new German scholarship may roughly be said to have come into England with Kemble. Carlyle, who introduced so much of German thought into England, would none of this. Indeed, it is not a little remarkable how entirely averse to the growing scientific tendency were the two most popular historians of that generation, Carlyle and Macaulay. Carlyle despised it; Macaulay’s mind, powerful but not profound, was insensible to its value. The historical labors of the present generation in England owe little to these two historians. They are far more indebted to those who have built up the science of sociology and the group of comparative sciences which have become so prominent during the nineteenth century. Broader and deeper views of collective human life have been derived from the work of Darwin and Comte and Spencer, and from the advance of comparative philology, political economy, the comparative study of religions, and comparative jurisprudence. The last two have within the past thirty years thrown a flood of new light upon human history, and their writings may perhaps be said to have been, with the general opening of archives and the increased volume of governmental publication, the most potent causes of the recent expansion of historical work.
One of the most interesting elements in the development of historical work during the present century has been the activity shown by European governments (not, alas, by that of the United States) in fostering it. The tendency has, like so many others which we have successively noted, shown itself in all parts of Europe at once. England has spent great sums of money upon the publications of the old Record Commission and the two series directed by the Master of the Rolls; Franco, upon the enterprises inaugurated by M. Guizot; Germany, upon the Monumenta. Indeed, it has been for the interest of governments to do so; for historical work, vividly recalling the glories of the past, has often contributed immensely to the quickening of national patriotism. After 1848 the Prussian government ardently favored historical studies, and found its account in doing so. The patriotic party in Italy used them as a means toward awakening national sentiment. With wise enthusiasm they turned to the historical study of Dante, in which all could unite, and which brought into prominence a life filled with ideas and purposes and hopes embracing all Italy. The governments of minor nationalities, the preservation of whose independence depends upon the ardency of national feeling, have been especially active in such assistance. The government of the new kingdom of the Netherlands began such work at once after 1815 ; that of Belgium, at once after 1830. It seems not unfair to say that the governments of the Netherlands and Belgium and Sweden and Portugal, and even Roumania, have done more for history, in proportion, than those of more important nations. The great weight which considerations of nationality have in the present politics of Europe, and which has been increasing throughout the century, is in no small degree due to such historical efforts of states and individuals.
J. F. Jameson.