1902 Encyclopedia > History > The Rise of Sociological History. Inferiority of 17th Century Historians.

(Part 7)

The Rise of Sociological History. Inferiority of 17th Century Historians.

We have now to advert to the causes which led to the transformation of history from the old to the new type.

The inferior quality of history in the 17th century and the first half of the 18th is the more remarkable from the contrast presented by the brilliancy of contemporary literature in other departments. The age of Louis XIV in France, as already remarked, and the age of Anne in England produced no histories of superior merit. Bossuet’s famous discourse on universal history is no exception, being much more and eloquent sermon than a history in the true sense of the word. Written by inferior men from a low point of view, or no point of view at all, history at last sank to such a degree in the public esteem as to be spoken of in a tone of contempt. Dr Johnson openly despised it, and D’Alembert did nearly the same. And yet the time produced great antiquaries -- Madox and Rymer in England, D’Achery and Mabillon in France, Maratori in Italy, Leibnitz in Germany. But history had no stamina or muscle. It was also from our point of view blind and utterly stupid : it could not see the plainest facts, and it perverted the facts it did see. Not only the inferior men whose names are barely remembered and whose works are entirely forgotten, the Daniels, the Valleys, the Creviers, the Hooks, the Eckards, but men of such magnitude as Hume and Robertson, Gibbon and Voltaire, often show such an unintelligence as to the past that this unintelligence itself becomes an interesting historical phenomenon, casting no slur on the great writers who displayed it, but deserving consideration for its own sake.

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