Artistic History vs Sociological History. Ancient Greeks Masters of Artistic History.
Even a most hasty survey of so vast a subject as the historical literature of the world will be helped by its division.
History is of two kinds, -- the old or artistic type of history, and the new or sociological type. The artistic type, invested by the Greeks, remained the ideal of history literary form, weight and dignity of language, depth of moral an sagacity of political reflexion. It was habitually careless and indifferent as regards research. But its chief distinction from the new history was a negative one ; it had no conception of society as an organism, no suspicion of the depth and variety of the Social forces which underlie and originate the visible events which it describes, often with admirable power. The new history is to a great extent characterized by opposite qualities. Its preoccupation about literary form is secondary, moral reflexion it rather it rather avoids, but it is laborious beyond precedent in research, and above all it is pregnant with the notion that society is a great aggregate of forces moving according to laws special to it, and similar to those producing evolution and growth analogous to what we see in other forms of life. The remainder of this article could not perhaps be better employed than by a short examination of these two types of history, including some reference to the causes which brought about a transition from one to the other.
The Greeks were the inventors, and remain the unsurpassed masters, of the artistic form of history. That extraordinary insight into the true conditions of harmony, proportion, and grace which guided them in other departments of literature and art did not forsake them in this. As in the drama of a few tentative and experimental essays soon led to the master works of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Aristophanes, so a few precursors were sufficient to direct Herodotus to the main outlines of historical composition. By one of those mysterious accidents, not to be accounted for, which produce genius, Herodotus was closely followed by the greatest mind that ever applied itself to history. Thucydides remains the unsurpassed ideal of artistic history. As the famous statue of Polycletus, called the Doryphorus, represented the proportions of the human body in such complete beauty "that it was regarded by the ancient artists as a canon of the rules on this point." so the Peloponnesian War may serve, as its author seemed to know it would, as a model which all may copy but more may equal. Art, differing from science, allows of something like final perfection. Scientific work, however admirable, is always speedily superseded. Great artistic works remain perfect in their kind, and such was the work of Thucydides. History never deviated from the lines laid down by the Greeks till the advent of the modern school towards the end of the last and the beginning of this century. Between Thucydides and Gibbon there is no change of the ideal plan on which history should be written, thought of course there is every degree of success and failure in striving after its realization.
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