1902 Encyclopedia > History > Early History Never a Critical Investigation of Facts

(Part 2)

Early History Never a Critical Investigation of Facts

Early history is never critical and painstaking in the investigation of facts. Neither the historian nor his readers of hearers have reached a stage of culture in which accuracy is highly valued. Early history is essentially artistic, its object is much more to charm the fancy and warm the emotions than to instruct the understanding. A good story, pathetic to humorous, is appreciated for its own sake independently of its truth. Striking pictures, dramatic situations, often told in dialogue, scenes in which virtues and vice are depicted on a colossal scale – these are the chief objects of the early historical writers, who mingles fact and fiction with the same naiveté as his brethren, the writers of the early epos and drama. Indeed, their subjects are often the same, -- the heroes whose prowess saved or achieved the national existence, the odious foreign foe who was beaten back; in either case characters appealing strongly to the imagination and the feelings, which would resent cold criticism, but gladly welcome eloquence and passion. History written under these circumstances has much of the character of the prose poem, -- Carmen solutum, as Quintilian called it. The artistic or imaginative element predominates in it rather to excess. Such is history as written by Herodotus and Froissart. The growth of accurate knowledge in other departments, the increased practice of affairs, the substitution of the political for the heroic and chivalrous sentiments, lead to a more sober and scrutinizing style of history without sacrifice of artistic form. Such in history as written by Thucydides and Tacitus.

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