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History
(Part 4)




History of History (Historiography)

A history is a desideratum in literature. The merit of such a work, if properly done, would consist, not only in criticism of particular authors, but in a comparison of their epochs and social surroundings, and pointing out how these influenced the character and quality of their historical writings. It is, for instance, worthy of notice that history is far more sensitive and dependent on public freedom than either poetry, science, philosophy, or jurisprudence. All these have flourished under governments more or less despotic, but history never. Tacitus seems to have felt this in the depth of his heart when he said that he was able to write as he did because of the "rara temporum ubi sentire quae sentias dicere licet."

Again, certain epochs are favourable to great soldiers. Rating the genius of the Greek historians as high as we please, and it is difficult to rate it too high, it is still manifest that they enjoyed exceptional advantages. The political condition of the Greek world in the 4th and 5th centuries B.C. was beyond measure stimulating to men of genuine historical power. That extraordinary collection of small states, full of the most active political life, full of wars, alliances, and brusque revolutions, was a scene of interest, of which no subsequent historian has ever seen the like. In this respect the Greek historians had privilege similar to that enjoyed by the Greek sculptors. As the gymnasia displayed the finest type of manly beauty and strength ever seen, so the fervent energy and activity of the Greek states presented in unparalleled variety and fulness the features of political life most capable of interesting an historical mind. And it is perhaps hardly too much to say that what the palaestra was to Phidias, that the Peloponnesian War was to Thucydides.





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