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    The Rise of Historical Criticism

    by Oscar Wilde
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    HISTORICAL criticism nowhere occurs as an isolated fact in the
    civilisation or literature of any people. It is part of that
    complex working towards freedom which may be described as the
    revolt against authority. It is merely one facet of that
    speculative spirit of an innovation, which in the sphere of action
    produces democracy and revolution, and in that of thought is the
    parent of philosophy and physical science; and its importance as a
    factor of progress is based not so much on the results it attains,
    as on the tone of thought which it represents, and the method by
    which it works.

    Being thus the resultant of forces essentially revolutionary, it is
    not to be found in the ancient world among the material despotisms
    of Asia or the stationary civilisation of Egypt. The clay
    cylinders of Assyria and Babylon, the hieroglyphics of the
    pyramids, form not history but the material for history.

    The Chinese annals, ascending as they do to the barbarous forest
    life of the nation, are marked with a soberness of judgment, a
    freedom from invention, which is almost unparalleled in the
    writings of any people; but the protective spirit which is the
    characteristic of that people proved as fatal to their literature
    as to their commerce. Free criticism is as unknown as free trade.
    While as regards the Hindus, their acute, analytical and logical
    mind is directed rather to grammar, criticism and philosophy than
    to history or chronology. Indeed, in history their imagination
    seems to have run wild, legend and fact are so indissolubly mingled
    together that any attempt to separate them seems vain. If we
    except the identification of the Greek Sandracottus with the Indian
    Chandragupta, we have really no clue by which we can test the truth
    of their writings or examine their method of investigation.

    It is among the Hellenic branch of the Indo-Germanic race that
    history proper is to be found, as well as the spirit of historical
    criticism; among that wonderful offshoot of the primitive Aryans,
    whom we call by the name of Greeks and to whom, as has been well
    said, we owe all that moves in the world except the blind forces of

    For, from the day when they left the chill table-lands of Tibet and
    journeyed, a nomad people, to AEgean shores, the characteristic of
    their nature has been the search for light, and the spirit of
    historical criticism is part of that wonderful Aufklarung or
    illumination of the intellect which seems to have burst on the
    Greek race like a great flood of light about the sixth century B.C.

    the first critic is perhaps as difficult to discover as the first
    man. It is from democracy that the spirit of criticism borrows its
    intolerance of dogmatic authority, from physical science the
    alluring analogies of law and order, from philosophy the conception
    of an essential unity underlying the complex manifestations of
    phenomena. It appears first rather as a changed attitude of mind
    than as a principle of research, and its earliest influences are to
    be found in the sacred writings.

    For men begin to doubt in questions of religion first, and then in
    matters of more secular interest; and as regards the nature of the
    spirit of historical criticism itself in its ultimate development,
    it is not confined merely to the empirical method of ascertaining
    whether an event happened or not, but is concerned also with the
    investigation into the causes of events, the general relations
    which phenomena of life hold to one another, and in its ultimate
    development passes into the wider question of the philosophy of

    Now, while the workings of historical criticism in these two
    spheres of sacred and uninspired history are essentially
    manifestations of the same spirit, yet their methods are so
    different, the canons of evidence so entirely separate, and the
    motives in each case so unconnected, that it will be necessary for
    a clear estimation of the progress of Greek thought, that we should
    consider these two questions entirely apart from one another. I
    shall then in both cases take the succession of writers in their
    chronological order as representing the rational order - not that
    the succession of time is always the succession of ideas, or that
    dialectics moves ever in the straight line in which Hegel conceives
    its advance. In Greek thought, as elsewhere, there are periods of
    stagnation and apparent retrogression, yet their intellectual
    development, not merely in the question of historical criticism,
    but in their art, their poetry and their philosophy, seems so
    essentially normal, so free from all disturbing external
    influences, so peculiarly rational, that in following in the
    footsteps of time we shall really be progressing in the order
    sanctioned by reason.


    AT an early period in their intellectual development the Greeks
    reached that critical point in the history of every civilised
    nation, when speculative invades the domain of revealed truth, when
    the spiritual ideas of the people can no longer be satisfied by the
    lower, material conceptions of their inspired writers, and when men
    find it impossible to pour the new wine of free thought into the
    old bottles of a narrow and a trammelling creed.

    From their Aryan ancestors they had received the fatal legacy of a
    mythology stained with immoral and monstrous stories which strove
    to hide the rational order of nature in a chaos of miracles, and to
    mar by imputed wickedness the perfection of God's nature - a very
    shirt of Nessos in which the Heracles of rationalism barely escaped
    annihilation. Now while undoubtedly the speculations of Thales,
    and the alluring analogies of law and order afforded by physical
    science, were most important forces in encouraging the rise of the
    spirit of scepticism, yet it was on its ethical side that the Greek
    mythology was chiefly open to attack.

    It is difficult to shake the popular belief in miracles, but no man
    will admit sin and immorality as attributes of the Ideal he
    worships; so the first symptoms of a new order of thought are shown
    in the passionate outcries of Xenophanes and Heraclitos against the
    evil things said by Homer of the sons of God; and in the story told
    of Pythagoras, how that he saw tortured in Hell the 'two founders
    of Greek theology,' we can recognise the rise of the Aufklarung as
    clearly as we see the Reformation foreshadowed in the INFERNO of

    Any honest belief, then, in the plain truth of these stories soon
    succumbed before the destructive effects of the A PRIORI ethical
    criticism of this school; but the orthodox party, as is its custom,
    found immediately a convenient shelter under the aegis of the
    doctrine of metaphors and concealed meanings.

    To this allegorical school the tale of the fight around the walls
    of Troy was a mystery, behind which, as behind a veil, were hidden
    certain moral and physical truths. The contest between Athena and
    Ares was that eternal contest between rational thought and the
    brute force of ignorance; the arrows which rattled in the quiver of
    the 'Far Darter' were no longer the instruments of vengeance shot
    from the golden bow of the child of God, but the common rays of the
    sun, which was itself nothing but a mere inert mass of burning

    Modern investigation, with the ruthlessness of Philistine analysis,
    has ultimately brought Helen of Troy down to a symbol of the dawn.
    There were Philistines among the Greeks also who saw in the [Greek
    text which cannot be reproduced] a mere metaphor for atmospheric

    Now while this tendency to look for metaphors and hidden meanings
    must be ranked as one of the germs of historical criticism, yet it
    was essentially unscientific. Its inherent weakness is clearly
    pointed out by Plato, who showed that while this theory will no
    doubt explain many of the current legends, yet, if it is to be
    appealed to at all, it must be as a universal principle; a position
    he is by no means prepared to admit.

    Like many other great principles it suffered from its disciples,
    and furnished its own refutation when the web of Penelope was
    analysed into a metaphor of the rules of formal logic, the warp
    representing the premises, and the woof the conclusion.

    Rejecting, then, the allegorical interpretation of the sacred
    writings as an essentially dangerous method, proving either too
    much or too little, Plato himself returns to the earlier mode of
    attack, and re-writes history with a didactic purpose, laying down
    certain ethical canons of historical criticism. God is good; God
    is just; God is true; God is without the common passions of men.
    These are the tests to which we are to bring the stories of the
    Greek religion.

    'God predestines no men to ruin, nor sends destruction on innocent
    cities; He never walks the earth in strange disguise, nor has to
    mourn for the death of any well-beloved son. Away with the tears
    for Sarpedon, the lying dream sent to Agamemnon, and the story of
    the broken covenant!' (Plato, REPUBLIC, Book ii. 380; iii. 388,

    Similar ethical canons are applied to the accounts of the heroes of
    the days of old, and by the same A PRIORI principles Achilles is
    rescued from the charges of avarice and insolence in a passage
    which may be recited as the earliest instance of that 'whitewashing
    of great men,' as it has been called, which is so popular in our
    own day, when Catiline and Clodius are represented as honest and
    far-seeing politicians, when EINE EDLE UND GUTE NATUR is claimed
    for Tiberius, and Nero is rescued from his heritage of infamy as an
    accomplished DILETTANTE whose moral aberrations are more than
    excused by his exquisite artistic sense and charming tenor voice.

    But besides the allegorising principle of interpretation, and the
    ethical reconstruction of history, there was a third theory, which
    may be called the semi-historical, and which goes by the name of
    Euhemeros, though he was by no means the first to propound it.

    Appealing to a fictitious monument which he declared that he had
    discovered in the island of Panchaia, and which purported to be a
    column erected by Zeus, and detailing the incidents of his reign on
    earth, this shallow thinker attempted to show that the gods and
    heroes of ancient Greece were 'mere ordinary mortals, whose
    achievements had been a good deal exaggerated and misrepresented,'
    and that the proper canon of historical criticism as regards the
    treatment of myths was to rationalise the incredible, and to
    present the plausible residuum as actual truth.

    To him and his school, the centaurs, for instance, those mythical
    sons of the storm, strange links between the lives of men and
    animals, were merely some youths from the village of Nephele in
    Thessaly, distinguished for their sporting tastes; the 'living
    harvest of panoplied knights,' which sprang so mystically from the
    dragon's teeth, a body of mercenary troops supported by the profits
    on a successful speculation in ivory; and Actaeon, an ordinary
    master of hounds, who, living before the days of subscription, was
    eaten out of house and home by the expenses of his kennel.

    Now, that under the glamour of myth and legend some substratum of
    historical fact may lie, is a proposition rendered extremely
    probable by the modern investigations into the workings of the
    mythopoeic spirit in post-Christian times. Charlemagne and Roland,
    St. Francis and William Tell, are none the less real personages
    because their histories are filled with much that is fictitious and
    incredible, but in all cases what is essentially necessary is some
    external corroboration, such as is afforded by the mention of
    Roland and Roncesvalles in the chronicles of England, or (in the
    sphere of Greek legend) by the excavations of Hissarlik. But to
    rob a mythical narrative of its kernel of supernatural elements,
    and to present the dry husk thus obtained as historical fact, is,
    as has been well said, to mistake entirely the true method of
    investigation and to identify plausibility with truth.

    And as regards the critical point urged by Palaiphatos, Strabo, and
    Polybius, that pure invention on Homer's part is inconceivable, we
    may without scruple allow it, for myths, like constitutions, grow
    gradually, and are not formed in a day. But between a poet's
    deliberate creation and historical accuracy there is a wide field
    of the mythopoeic faculty.

    This Euhemeristic theory was welcomed as an essentially
    philosophical and critical method by the unscientific Romans, to
    whom it was introduced by the poet Ennius, that pioneer of
    cosmopolitan Hellenicism, and it continued to characterise the tone
    of ancient thought on the question of the treatment of mythology
    till the rise of Christianity, when it was turned by such writers
    as Augustine and Minucius Felix into a formidable weapon of attack
    on Paganism. It was then abandoned by all those who still bent the
    knee to Athena or to Zeus, and a general return, aided by the
    philosophic mystics of Alexandria, to the allegorising principle of
    interpretation took place, as the only means of saving the deities
    of Olympus from the Titan assaults of the new Galilean God. In
    what vain defence, the statue of Mary set in the heart of the
    Pantheon can best tell us.

    Religions, however, may be absorbed, but they never are disproved,
    and the stories of the Greek mythology, spiritualised by the
    purifying influence of Christianity, reappear in many of the
    southern parts of Europe in our own day. The old fable that the
    Greek gods took service with the new religion under assumed names
    has more truth in it than the many care to discover.

    Having now traced the progress of historical criticism in the
    special treatment of myth and legend, I shall proceed to
    investigate the form in which the same spirit manifested itself as
    regards what one may term secular history and secular historians.
    The field traversed will be found to be in some respects the same,
    but the mental attitude, the spirit, the motive of investigation
    are all changed.

    There were heroes before the son of Atreus and historians before
    Herodotus, yet the latter is rightly hailed as the father of
    history, for in him we discover not merely the empirical connection
    of cause and effect, but that constant reference to Laws, which is
    the characteristic of the historian proper.

    For all history must be essentially universal; not in the sense of
    comprising all the synchronous events of the past time, but through
    the universality of the principles employed. And the great
    conceptions which unify the work of Herodotus are such as even
    modern thought has not yet rejected. The immediate government of
    the world by God, the nemesis and punishment which sin and pride
    invariably bring with them, the revealing of God's purpose to His
    people by signs and omens, by miracles and by prophecy; these are
    to Herodotus the laws which govern the phenomena of history. He is
    essentially the type of supernatural historian; his eyes are ever
    strained to discern the Spirit of God moving over the face of the
    waters of life; he is more concerned with final than with efficient

    Yet we can discern in him the rise of that HISTORIC SENSE which is
    the rational antecedent of the science of historical criticism, the
    [Greek text which cannot be reproduced], to use the words of a
    Greek writer, as opposed to that which comes either [Greek text
    which cannot be reproduced].

    He has passed through the valley of faith and has caught a glimpse
    of the sunlit heights of Reason; but like all those who, while
    accepting the supernatural, yet attempt to apply the canons of
    rationalism, he is essentially inconsistent. For the better
    apprehension of the character of this historic sense in Herodotus
    it will be necessary to examine at some length the various forms of
    criticism in which it manifests itself.

    Such fabulous stories as that of the Phoenix, of the goat-footed
    men, of the headless beings with eyes in their breasts, of the men
    who slept six months in the year ([Greek text which cannot be
    reproduced]), of the wer-wolf of the Neuri, and the like, are
    entirely rejected by him as being opposed to the ordinary
    experience of life, and to those natural laws whose universal
    influence the early Greek physical philosophers had already made
    known to the world of thought. Other legends, such as the suckling
    of Cyrus by a bitch, or the feather-rain of northern Europe, are
    rationalised and explained into a woman's name and a fall of snow.
    The supernatural origin of the Scythian nation, from the union of
    Hercules and the monstrous Echidna, is set aside by him for the
    more probable account that they were a nomad tribe driven by the
    Massagetae from Asia; and he appeals to the local names of their
    country as proof of the fact that the Kimmerians were the original

    But in the case of Herodotus it will be more instructive to pass on
    from points like these to those questions of general probability,
    the true apprehension of which depends rather on a certain quality
    of mind than on any possibility of formulated rules, questions
    which form no unimportant part of scientific history; for it must
    be remembered always that the canons of historical criticism are
    essentially different from those of judicial evidence, for they
    cannot, like the latter, be made plain to every ordinary mind, but
    appeal to a certain historical faculty founded on the experience of
    life. Besides, the rules for the reception of evidence in courts
    of law are purely stationary, while the science of historical
    probability is essentially progressive, and changes with the
    advancing spirit of each age.

    Now, of all the speculative canons of historical criticism, none is
    more important than that which rests on psychological probability.

    Arguing from his knowledge of human nature, Herodotus rejects the
    presence of Helen within the walls of Troy. Had she been there, he
    says, Priam and his kinsmen would never have been so mad ([Greek
    text which cannot be reproduced]) as not to give her up, when they
    and their children and their city were in such peril (ii. 118); and
    as regards the authority of Homer, some incidental passages in his
    poem show that he knew of Helen's sojourn in Egypt during the
    siege, but selected the other story as being a more suitable motive
    for an epic. Similarly he does not believe that the Alcmaeonidae
    family, a family who had always been the haters of tyranny ([Greek
    text which cannot be reproduced]), and to whom, even more than to
    Harmodios and Aristogeiton, Athens owed its liberty, would ever
    have been so treacherous as to hold up a shield after the battle of
    Marathon as a signal for the Persian host to fall on the city. A
    shield, he acknowledges, was held up, but it could not possibly
    have been done by such friends of liberty as the house of Alcmaeon;
    nor will he believe that a great king like Rhampsinitus would have
    sent his daughter [Greek text which cannot be reproduced].

    Elsewhere he argues from more general considerations of
    probability; a Greek courtesan like Rhodopis would hardly have been
    rich enough to build a pyramid, and, besides, on chronological
    grounds the story is impossible (ii. 134).

    In another passage (ii. 63), after giving an account of the
    forcible entry of the priests of Ares into the chapel of the god's
    mother, which seems to have been a sort of religious faction fight
    where sticks were freely used ([Greek text which cannot be
    reproduced]), 'I feel sure,' he says, 'that many of them died from
    getting their heads broken, notwithstanding the assertions of the
    Egyptian priests to the contrary.' There is also something
    charmingly naive in the account he gives of the celebrated Greek
    swimmer who dived a distance of eighty stadia to give his
    countrymen warning of the Persian advance. 'If, however,' he says,
    'I may offer an opinion on the subject, I would say that he came in
    a boat.'

    There is, of course, something a little trivial in some of the
    instances I have quoted; but in a writer like Herodotus, who stands
    on the borderland between faith and rationalism, one likes to note
    even the most minute instances of the rise of the critical and
    sceptical spirit of inquiry.

    How really strange, at base, it was with him may, I think, be shown
    by a reference to those passages where he applies rationalistic
    tests to matters connected with religion. He nowhere, indeed,
    grapples with the moral and scientific difficulties of the Greek
    Bible; and where he rejects as incredible the marvellous
    achievements of Hercules in Egypt, he does so on the express
    grounds that he had not yet been received among the gods, and so
    was still subject to the ordinary conditions of mortal life ([Greek
    text which cannot be reproduced]).

    Even within these limits, however, his religious conscience seems
    to have been troubled at such daring rationalism, and the passage
    (ii. 45) concludes with a pious hope that God will pardon him for
    having gone so far, the great rationalistic passage being, of
    course, that in which he rejects the mythical account of the
    foundation of Dodona. 'How can a dove speak with a human voice?'
    he asks, and rationalises the bird into a foreign princess.

    Similarly he seems more inclined to believe that the great storm at
    the beginning of the Persian War ceased from ordinary atmospheric
    causes, and not in consequence of the incantations of the MAGIANS.
    He calls Melampos, whom the majority of the Greeks looked on as an
    inspired prophet, 'a clever man who had acquired for himself the
    art of prophecy'; and as regards the miracle told of the AEginetan
    statues of the primeval deities of Damia and Auxesia, that they
    fell on their knees when the sacrilegious Athenians strove to carry
    them off, 'any one may believe it,' he says, 'who likes, but as for
    myself, I place no credence in the tale.'

    So much then for the rationalistic spirit of historical criticism,
    as far as it appears explicitly in the works of this great and
    philosophic writer; but for an adequate appreciation of his
    position we must also note how conscious he was of the value of
    documentary evidence, of the use of inscriptions, of the importance
    of the poets as throwing light on manners and customs as well as on
    historical incidents. No writer of any age has more vividly
    recognised the fact that history is a matter of evidence, and that
    it is as necessary for the historian to state his authority as it
    is to produce one's witnesses in a court of law.

    While, however, we can discern in Herodotus the rise of an historic
    sense, we must not blind ourselves to the large amount of instances
    where he receives supernatural influences as part of the ordinary
    forces of life. Compared to Thucydides, who succeeded him in the
    development of history, he appears almost like a mediaeval writer
    matched with a modern rationalist. For, contemporary though they
    were, between these two authors there is an infinite chasm of

    The essential difference of their methods may be best illustrated
    from those passages where they treat of the same subject. The
    execution of the Spartan heralds, Nicolaos and Aneristos, during
    the Peloponnesian War is regarded by Herodotus as one of the most
    supernatural instances of the workings of nemesis and the wrath of
    an outraged hero; while the lengthened siege and ultimate fall of
    Troy was brought about by the avenging hand of God desiring to
    manifest unto men the mighty penalties which always follow upon
    mighty sins. But Thucydides either sees not, or desires not to
    see, in either of these events the finger of Providence, or the
    punishment of wicked doers. The death of the heralds is merely an
    Athenian retaliation for similar outrages committed by the opposite
    side; the long agony of the ten years' siege is due merely to the
    want of a good commissariat in the Greek army; while the fall of
    the city is the result of a united military attack consequent on a
    good supply of provisions.

    Now, it is to be observed that in this latter passage, as well as
    elsewhere, Thucydides is in no sense of the word a sceptic as
    regards his attitude towards the truth of these ancient legends.

    Agamemnon and Atreus, Theseus and Eurystheus, even Minos, about
    whom Herodotus has some doubts, are to him as real personages as
    Alcibiades or Gylippus. The points in his historical criticism of
    the past are, first, his rejection of all extra-natural
    interference, and, secondly, the attributing to these ancient
    heroes the motives and modes of thought of his own day. The
    present was to him the key to the explanation of the past, as it
    was to the prediction of the future.

    Now, as regards his attitude towards the supernatural he is at one
    with modern science. We too know that, just as the primeval coal-
    beds reveal to us the traces of rain-drops and other atmospheric
    phenomena similar to those of our own day, so, in estimating the
    history of the past, the introduction of no force must be allowed
    whose workings we cannot observe among the phenomena around us. To
    lay down canons of ultra-historical credibility for the explanation
    of events which happen to have preceded us by a few thousand years,
    is as thoroughly unscientific as it is to intermingle preternatural
    in geological theories.

    Whatever the canons of art may be, no difficulty in history is so
    great as to warrant the introduction of a spirit of spirit [Greek
    text which cannot be reproduced], in the sense of a violation of
    the laws of nature.

    Upon the other point, however, Thucydides falls into an
    anachronism. To refuse to allow the workings of chivalrous and
    self-denying motives among the knights of the Trojan crusade,
    because he saw none in the faction-loving Athenian of his own day,
    is to show an entire ignorance of the various characteristics of
    human nature developing under different circumstances, and to deny
    to a primitive chieftain like Agamemnon that authority founded on
    opinion, to which we give the name of divine right, is to fall into
    an historical error quite as gross as attributing to Atreus the
    courting of the populace ([Greek text which cannot be reproduced])
    with a view to the Mycenean throne.

    The general method of historical criticism pursued by Thucydides
    having been thus indicated, it remains to proceed more into detail
    as regards those particular points where he claims for himself a
    more rational method of estimating evidence than either the public
    or his predecessors possessed.

    'So little pains,' he remarks, 'do the vulgar take in the
    investigation of truth, satisfied with their preconceived
    opinions,' that the majority of the Greeks believe in a Pitanate
    cohort of the Spartan army and in a double vote being the
    prerogative of the Spartan kings, neither of which opinions has any
    foundation in fact. But the chief point on which he lays stress as
    evincing the 'uncritical way with which men receive legends, even
    the legends of their own country,' is the entire baselessness of
    the common Athenian tradition in which Harmodios and Aristogeiton
    were represented as the patriotic liberators of Athens from the
    Peisistratid tyranny. So far, he points out, from the love of
    freedom being their motive, both of them were influenced by merely
    personal considerations, Aristogeiton being jealous of Hipparchos'
    attention to Harmodios, then a beautiful boy in the flower of Greek
    loveliness, while the latter's indignation was aroused by an insult
    offered to his sister by the prince.

    Their motives, then, were personal revenge, while the result of
    their conspiracy served only to rivet more tightly the chains of
    servitude which bound Athens to the Peisistratid house, for
    Hipparchos, whom they killed, was only the tyrant's younger
    brother, and not the tyrant himself.

    To prove his theory that Hippias was the elder, he appeals to the
    evidence afforded by a public inscription in which his name occurs
    immediately after that of his father, a point which he thinks shows
    that he was the eldest, and so the heir. This view he further
    corroborates by another inscription, on the altar of Apollo, which
    mentions the children of Hippias and not those of his brothers;
    'for it was natural for the eldest to be married first'; and
    besides this, on the score of general probability he points out
    that, had Hippias been the younger, he would not have so easily
    obtained the tyranny on the death of Hipparchos.

    Now, what is important in Thucydides, as evinced in the treatment
    of legend generally, is not the results he arrived at, but the
    method by which he works. The first great rationalistic historian,
    he may be said to have paved the way for all those who followed
    after him, though it must always be remembered that, while the
    total absence in his pages of all the mystical paraphernalia of the
    supernatural theory of life is an advance in the progress of
    rationalism, and an era in scientific history, whose importance
    could never be over-estimated, yet we find along with it a total
    absence of any mention of those various social and economical
    forces which form such important factors in the evolution of the
    world, and to which Herodotus rightly gave great prominence in his
    immortal work. The history of Thucydides is essentially one-sided
    and incomplete. The intricate details of sieges and battles,
    subjects with which the historian proper has really nothing to do
    except so far as they may throw light on the spirit of the age, we
    would readily exchange for some notice of the condition of private
    society in Athens, or the influence and position of women.

    There is an advance in the method of historical criticism; there is
    an advance in the conception and motive of history itself; for in
    Thucydides we may discern that natural reaction against the
    intrusion of didactic and theological considerations into the
    sphere of the pure intellect, the spirit of which may be found in
    the Euripidean treatment of tragedy and the later schools of art,
    as well as in the Platonic conception of science.

    History, no doubt, has splendid lessons for our instruction, just
    as all good art comes to us as the herald of the noblest truth.
    But, to set before either the painter or the historian the
    inculcation of moral lessons as an aim to be consciously pursued,
    is to miss entirely the true motive and characteristic both of art
    and history, which is in the one case the creation of beauty, in
    the other the discovery of the laws of the evolution of progress:

    Herodotus wrote to illustrate the wonderful ways of Providence and
    the nemesis that falls on sin, and his work is a good example of
    the truth that nothing can dispense with criticism so much as a
    moral aim. Thucydides has no creed to preach, no doctrine to
    prove. He analyses the results which follow inevitably from
    certain antecedents, in order that on a recurrence of the same
    crisis men may know how to act.

    His object was to discover the laws of the past so as to serve as a
    light to illumine the future. We must not confuse the recognition
    of the utility of history with any ideas of a didactic aim. Two
    points more in Thucydides remain for our consideration: his
    treatment of the rise of Greek civilisation, and of the primitive

    condition of Hellas, as well as the question how far can he be said
    really to have recognised the existence of laws regulating the
    complex phenomena of life.


    THE investigation into the two great problems of the origin of
    society and the philosophy of history occupies such an important
    position in the evolution of Greek thought that, to obtain any
    clear view of the workings of the critical spirit, it will be
    necessary to trace at some length their rise and scientific
    development as evinced not merely in the works of historians
    proper, but also in the philosophical treatises of Plato and
    Aristotle. The important position which these two great thinkers
    occupy in the progress of historical criticism can hardly be over-
    estimated. I do not mean merely as regards their treatment of the
    Greek Bible, and Plato's endeavours to purge sacred history of its
    immorality by the application of ethical canons at the time when
    Aristotle was beginning to undermine the basis of miracles by his
    scientific conception of law, but with reference to these two wider
    questions of the rise of civil institutions and the philosophy of

    And first, as regards the current theories of the primitive
    condition of society, there was a wide divergence of opinion in
    Hellenic society, just as there is now. For while the majority of
    the orthodox public, of whom Hesiod may be taken as the
    representative, looked back, as a great many of our own day still
    do, to a fabulous age of innocent happiness, a BELL' ETE DELL'
    AURO, where sin and death were unknown and men and women were like
    Gods, the foremost men of intellect such as Aristotle and Plato,
    AEschylus and many of the other poets (1) saw in primitive man 'a
    few small sparks of humanity preserved on the tops of mountains
    after some deluge,' 'without an idea of cities, governments or
    legislation,' 'living the lives of wild beasts in sunless caves,'
    'their only law being the survival of the fittest.'

    And this, too, was the opinion of Thucydides, whose ARCHAEOLOGIA as
    it is contains a most valuable disquisition on the early condition
    of Hellas, which it will be necessary to examine at some length.

    Now, as regards the means employed generally by Thucydides for the
    elucidation of ancient history, I have already pointed out how
    that, while acknowledging that 'it is the tendency of every poet to
    exaggerate, as it is of every chronicler to seek to be attractive
    at the expense of truth; he yet assumes in the thoroughly
    euhemeristic way, that under the veil of myth and legend there does
    yet exist a rational basis of fact discoverable by the method of
    rejecting all supernatural interference as well as any
    extraordinary motives influencing the actors. It is in complete
    accordance with this spirit that he appeals, for instance, to the
    Homeric epithet of [Greek text which cannot be reproduced], as
    applied to Corinth, as a proof of the early commercial prosperity
    of that city; to the fact of the generic name HELLENES not
    occurring in the ILIAD as a corroboration of his theory of the
    essentially disunited character of the primitive Greek tribes; and
    he argues from the line 'O'er many islands and all Argos ruled,' as
    applied to Agamemnon, that his forces must have been partially
    naval, 'for Agamemnon's was a continental power, and he could not
    have been master of any but the adjacent islands, and these would
    not be many but through the possession of a fleet.'

    Anticipating in some measure the comparative method of research, he
    argues from the fact of the more barbarous Greek tribes, such as
    the AEtolians and Acarnanians, still carrying arms in his own day,
    that this custom was the case originally over the whole country.
    'The fact,' he says, 'that the people in these parts of Hellas are
    still living in the old way points to a time when the same mode of
    life was equally common to all.' Similarly, in another passage, he
    shows how a corroboration of his theory of the respectable
    character of piracy in ancient days is afforded by 'the honour with
    which some of the inhabitants of the continent still regard a
    successful marauder,' as well as by the fact that the question,
    'Are you a pirate?' is a common feature of primitive society as
    shown in the poets; and finally, after observing how the old Greek
    custom of wearing belts in gymnastic contests still survived among
    the more uncivilised Asiatic tribes, he observes that there are
    many other points in which a likeness may be shown between the life
    of the primitive Hellenes and that of the barbarians to-day.'

    As regards the evidence afforded by ancient remains, while adducing
    as a proof of the insecure character of early Greek society the
    fact of their cities (2) being always built at some distance from
    the sea, yet he is careful to warn us, and the caution ought to be
    borne in mind by all archaeologists, that we have no right to
    conclude from the scanty remains of any city that its legendary
    greatness in primitive times was a mere exaggeration. 'We are not
    justified,' he says, 'in rejecting the tradition of the magnitude
    of the Trojan armament, because Mycenae and the other towns of that
    age seem to us small and insignificant. For, if Lacedaemon was to
    become desolate, any antiquarian judging merely from its ruins
    would be inclined to regard the tale of the Spartan hegemony as an
    idle myth; for the city is a mere collection of villages after the
    old fashion of Hellas, and has none of those splendid public
    buildings and temples which characterise Athens, and whose remains,
    in the case of the latter city, would be so marvellous as to lead
    the superficial observer into an exaggerated estimate of the
    Athenian power.' Nothing can be more scientific than the
    archaeological canons laid down, whose truth is strikingly
    illustrated to any one who has compared the waste fields of the
    Eurotas plain with the lordly monuments of the Athenian acropolis.

    On the other hand, Thucydides is quite conscious of the value of
    the positive evidence afforded by archaeological remains. He
    appeals, for instance, to the character of the armour found in the
    Delian tombs and the peculiar mode of sepulture, as corroboration
    of his theory of the predominance of the Carian element among the
    primitive islanders, and to the concentration of all the temples
    either in the Acropolis, or in its immediate vicinity, to the name
    of [Greek text which cannot be reproduced] by which it was still
    known, and to the extraordinary sanctity of the spring of water
    there, as proof that the primitive city was originally confined to
    the citadel, and the district immediately beneath it (ii. 16). And
    lastly, in the very opening of his history, anticipating one of the
    most scientific of modern methods, he points out how in early
    states of civilisation immense fertility of the soil tends to
    favour the personal aggrandisement of individuals, and so to stop
    the normal progress of the country through 'the rise of factions,
    that endless source of ruin'; and also by the allurements it offers
    to a foreign invader, to necessitate a continual change of
    population, one immigration following on another. He exemplifies
    his theory by pointing to the endless political revolutions that
    characterised Arcadia, Thessaly and Boeotia, the three richest
    spots in Greece, as well as by the negative instance of the
    undisturbed state in primitive time of Attica, which was always
    remarkable for the dryness and poverty of its soil.

    Now, while undoubtedly in these passages we may recognise the first
    anticipation of many of the most modern principles of research, we
    must remember how essentially limited is the range of the
    ARCHAEOLOGIA, and how no theory at all is offered on the wider
    questions of the general conditions of the rise and progress of
    humanity, a problem which is first scientifically discussed in the
    REPUBLIC of Plato.

    And at the outset it must be premised that, while the study of
    primitive man is an essentially inductive science, resting rather
    on the accumulation of evidence than on speculation, among the
    Greeks it was prosecuted rather on deductive principles.
    Thucydides did, indeed, avail himself of the opportunities afforded
    by the unequal development of civilisation in his own day in
    Greece, and in the places I have pointed out seems to have
    anticipated the comparative method. But we do not find later
    writers availing themselves of the wonderfully accurate and
    picturesque accounts given by Herodotus of the customs of savage
    tribes. To take one instance, which bears a good deal on modern
    questions, we find in the works of this great traveller the gradual
    and progressive steps in the development of the family life clearly
    manifested in the mere gregarious herding together of the
    Agathyrsi, their primitive kinsmanship through women in common, and
    the rise of a feeling of paternity from a state of polyandry. This
    tribe stood at that time on that borderland between umbilical
    relationship and the family which has been such a difficult point
    for modern anthropologists to find.

    The ancient authors, however, are unanimous in insisting that the
    family is the ultimate unit of society, though, as I have said, an
    inductive study of primitive races, or even the accounts given of
    them by Herodotus, would have shown them that the [Greek text which
    cannot be reproduced] of a personal household, to use Plato's
    expression, is really a most complex notion appearing always in a
    late stage of civilisation, along with recognition of private
    property and the rights of individualism.

    Philology also, which in the hands of modern investigators has
    proved such a splendid instrument of research, was in ancient days
    studied on principles too unscientific to be of much use.
    Herodotus points out that the word ERIDANOS is essentially Greek in
    character, that consequently the river supposed to run round the
    world is probably a mere Greek invention. His remarks, however, on
    language generally, as in the case of PIROMIS and the ending of the
    Persian names, show on what unsound basis his knowledge of language

    In the BACCHAE of Euripides there is an extremely interesting
    passage in which the immoral stories of the Greek mythology are
    accounted for on the principle of that misunderstanding of words
    and metaphors to which modern science has given the name of a
    disease of language. In answer to the impious rationalism of
    Pentheus - a sort of modern Philistine - Teiresias, who may be
    termed the Max Muller of the Theban cycle, points out that the
    story of Dionysus being inclosed in Zeus' thigh really arose from
    the linguistic confusion between [Greek text which cannot be
    reproduced] and [Greek text which cannot be reproduced].

    On the whole, however - for I have quoted these two instances only
    to show the unscientific character of early philology - we may say
    that this important instrument in recreating the history of the
    past was not really used by the ancients as a means of historical
    criticism. Nor did the ancients employ that other method, used to
    such advantage in our own day, by which in the symbolism and
    formulas of an advanced civilisation we can detect the unconscious
    survival of ancient customs: for, whereas in the sham capture of
    the bride at a marriage feast, which was common in Wales till a
    recent time, we can discern the lingering reminiscence of the
    barbarous habit of exogamy, the ancient writers saw only the
    deliberate commemoration of an historical event.

    Aristotle does not tell us by what method he discovered that the
    Greeks used to buy their wives in primitive times, but, judging by
    his general principles, it was probably through some legend or myth
    on the subject which lasted to his own day, and not, as we would
    do, by arguing back from the marriage presents given to the bride
    and her relatives. (4)

    The origin of the common proverb 'worth so many beeves,' in which
    we discern the unconscious survival of a purely pastoral state of
    society before the use of metals was known, is ascribed by Plutarch
    to the fact of Theseus having coined money bearing a bull's head.
    Similarly, the Amathusian festival, in which a young man imitated
    the labours of a woman in travail, is regarded by him as a rite
    instituted in Ariadne's honour, and the Carian adoration of
    asparagus as a simple commemoration of the adventure of the nymph
    Perigune. In the first of these WE discern the beginning of
    agnation and kinsmanship through the father, which still lingers in
    the 'couvee' of New Zealand tribes: while the second is a relic of
    the totem and fetish worship of plants.

    Now, in entire opposition to this modern inductive principle of
    research stands the philosophic Plato, whose account of primitive
    man is entirely speculative and deductive.

    The origin of society he ascribes to necessity, the mother of all
    inventions, and imagines that individual man began deliberately to
    herd together on account of the advantages of the principle of
    division of labour and the rendering of mutual need.

    It must, however, be borne in mind that Plato's object in this
    whole passage in the REPUBLIC was, perhaps, not so much to analyse
    the conditions of early society as to illustrate the importance of
    the division of labour, the shibboleth of his political economy, by
    showing what a powerful factor it must have been in the most
    primitive as well as in the most complex states of society; just as
    in the LAWS he almost rewrites entirely the history of the
    Peloponnesus in order to prove the necessity of a balance of power.
    He surely, I mean, must have recognised himself how essentially
    incomplete his theory was in taking no account of the origin of
    family life, the position and influence of women, and other social
    questions, as well as in disregarding those deeper motives of
    religion, which are such important factors in early civilisation,
    and whose influence Aristotle seems to have clearly apprehended,
    when he says that the aim of primitive society was not merely life
    but the higher life, and that in the origin of society utility is
    not the sole motive, but that there is something spiritual in it
    if, at least, 'spiritual' will bring out the meaning of that
    complex expression [Greek text which cannot be reproduced].
    Otherwise, the whole account in the REPUBLIC of primitive man will
    always remain as a warning against the intrusion of A PRIORI
    speculations in the domain appropriate to induction.

    Now, Aristotle's theory of the origin of society, like his
    philosophy of ethics, rests ultimately on the principle of final
    causes, not in the theological meaning of an aim or tendency
    imposed from without, but in the scientific sense of function
    corresponding to organ. 'Nature maketh no thing in vain' is the
    text of Aristotle in this as in other inquiries. Man being the
    only animal possessed of the power of rational speech is, he
    asserts, by nature intended to be social, more so than the bee or
    any other gregarious animal.

    He is [Greek text which cannot be reproduced], and the national
    tendency towards higher forms of perfection brings the 'armed
    savage who used to sell his wife' to the free independence of a
    free state, and to the [Greek text which cannot be reproduced],
    which was the test of true citizenship. The stages passed through
    by humanity start with the family first as the ultimate unit.

    The conglomeration of families forms a village ruled by that
    patriarchal sway which is the oldest form of government in the
    world, as is shown by the fact that all men count it to be the
    constitution of heaven, and the villages are merged into the state,
    and here the progression stops.

    For Aristotle, like all Greek thinkers, found his ideal within the
    walls of the [Greek text which cannot be reproduced], yet perhaps
    in his remark that a united Greece would rule the world we may
    discern some anticipation of that 'federal union of free states
    into one consolidated empire' which, more than the [Greek text
    which cannot be reproduced], is to our eyes the ultimately perfect

    How far Aristotle was justified in regarding the family as the
    ultimate unit, with the materials afforded to him by Greek
    literature, I have already noticed. Besides, Aristotle, I may
    remark, had he reflected on the meaning of that Athenian law which,
    while prohibiting marriage with a uterine sister, permitted it with
    a sister-german, or on the common tradition in Athens that before
    the time of Cecrops children bore their mothers' names, or on some
    of the Spartan regulations, could hardly have failed to see the
    universality of kinsmanship through women in early days, and the
    late appearance of monandry. Yet, while he missed this point, in
    common, it must be acknowledged, with many modern writers, such as
    Sir Henry Maine, it is essentially as an explorer of inductive
    instances that we recognise his improvement on Plato. The treatise
    [Greek text which cannot be reproduced], did it remain to us in its
    entirety, would have been one of the most valuable landmarks in the
    progress of historical criticism, and the first scientific treatise
    on the science of comparative politics.

    A few fragments still remain to us, in one of which we find
    Aristotle appealing to the authority of an ancient inscription on
    the 'Disk of Iphitus,' one of the most celebrated Greek
    antiquities, to corroborate his theory of the Lycurgean revival of
    the Olympian festival; while his enormous research is evinced in
    the elaborate explanation he gives of the historical origin of
    proverbs such as [Greek text which cannot be reproduced], of
    religious songs like the [Greek text which cannot be reproduced] of
    the Botticean virgins, or the praises of love and war.

    And, finally, it is to be observed how much wider than Plato's his
    theory of the origin of society is. They both rest on a
    psychological basis, but Aristotle's recognition of the capacity
    for progress and the tendency towards a higher life shows how much
    deeper his knowledge of human nature was.

    In imitation of these two philosophers, Polybius gives an account
    of the origin of society in the opening to his philosophy of
    history. Somewhat in the spirit of Plato, he imagines that after
    one of the cyclic deluges which sweep off mankind at stated periods
    and annihilate all pre-existing civilisation, the few surviving
    members of humanity coalesce for mutual protection, and, as in the
    case with ordinary animals, the one most remarkable for physical
    strength is elected king. In a short time, owing to the workings
    of sympathy and the desire of approbation, the moral qualities
    begin to make their appearance, and intellectual instead of bodily
    excellence becomes the qualification for sovereignty.

    Other points, as the rise of law and the like, are dwelt on in a
    somewhat modern spirit, and although Polybius seems not to have
    employed the inductive method of research in this question, or
    rather, I should say, of the hierarchical order of the rational
    progress of ideas in life, he is not far removed from what the
    laborious investigations of modern travellers have given us.

    And, indeed, as regards the working of the speculative faculty in
    the creation of history, it is in all respects marvellous how that
    the most truthful accounts of the passage from barbarism to
    civilisation in ancient literature come from the works of poets.
    The elaborate researches of Mr. Tylor and Sir John Lubbock have
    done little more than verify the theories put forward in the
    PROMETHEUS BOUND and the DE NATURA RERUM; yet neither AEschylus nor
    Lucretias followed in the modern path, but rather attained to truth
    by a certain almost mystic power of creative imagination, such as
    we now seek to banish from science as a dangerous power, though to
    it science seems to owe many of its most splendid generalities. (5)

    Leaving then the question of the origin of society as treated by
    the ancients, I shall now turn to the other and the more important
    question of how far they may he said to have attained to what we
    call the philosophy of history.

    Now at the outset we must note that, while the conceptions of law
    and order have been universally received as the governing
    principles of the phenomena of nature in the sphere of physical
    science, yet their intrusion into the domain of history and the
    life of man has always been met with a strong opposition, on the
    ground of the incalculable nature of two great forces acting on
    human action, a certain causeless spontaneity which men call free
    will, and the extra-natural interference which they attribute as a
    constant attribute to God.

    Now, that there is a science of the apparently variable phenomena
    of history is a conception which WE have perhaps only recently
    begun to appreciate; yet, like all other great thoughts, it seems
    to have come to the Greek mind spontaneously, through a certain
    splendour of imagination, in the morning tide of their
    civilisation, before inductive research had armed them with the
    instruments of verification. For I think it is possible to discern
    in some of the mystic speculations of the early Greek thinkers that
    desire to discover what is that 'invariable existence of which
    there are variable states,' and to incorporate it in some one
    formula of law which may serve to explain the different
    manifestations of all organic bodies, MAN INCLUDED, which is the
    germ of the philosophy of history; the germ indeed of an idea of
    which it is not too much to say that on it any kind of historical
    criticism, worthy of the name, must ultimately rest.

    For the very first requisite for any scientific conception of
    history is the doctrine of uniform sequence: in other words, that
    certain events having happened, certain other events corresponding
    to them will happen also; that the past is the key of the future.

    Now at the birth of this great conception science, it is true,
    presided, yet religion it was which at the outset clothed it in its
    own garb, and familiarised men with it by appealing to their hearts
    first and then to their intellects; knowing that at the beginning
    of things it is through the moral nature, and not through the
    intellectual, that great truths are spread.

    So in Herodotus, who may be taken as a representative of the
    orthodox tone of thought, the idea of the uniform sequence of cause
    and effect appears under the theological aspect of Nemesis and
    Providence, which is really the scientific conception of law, only
    it is viewed from an ETHICAL standpoint.

    Now in Thucydides the philosophy of history rests on the
    probability, which the uniformity of human nature affords us, that
    the future will in the course of human things resemble the past, if
    not reproduce it. He appears to contemplate a recurrence of the
    phenomena of history as equally certain with a return of the
    epidemic of the Great Plague.

    Notwithstanding what German critics have written on the subject, we
    must beware of regarding this conception as a mere reproduction of
    that cyclic theory of events which sees in the world nothing but
    the regular rotation of Strophe and Antistrophe, in the eternal
    choir of life and death.

    For, in his remarks on the excesses of the Corcyrean Revolution,
    Thucydides distinctly rests his idea of the recurrence of history
    on the psychological grounds of the general sameness of mankind.

    'The sufferings,' he says, 'which revolution entailed upon the
    cities were many and terrible, such as have occurred and always
    will occurs as long as human nature remains the same, though in a
    severer or milder form, and varying in their symptoms according to
    the variety of the particular cases.

    'In peace and prosperity states and individuals have better
    sentiments, because they are not confronted with imperious
    necessities; but war takes away the easy supply of men's wants, and
    so proves a hard taskmaster, which brings most men's characters to
    a level with their fortunes.'


    IT is evident that here Thucydides is ready to admit the variety of
    manifestations which external causes bring about in their workings
    on the uniform character of the nature of man. Yet, after all is
    said, these are perhaps but very general statements: the ordinary
    effects of peace and war are dwelt on, but there is no real
    analysis of the immediate causes and general laws of the phenomena
    of life, nor does Thucydides seem to recognise the truth that if
    humanity proceeds in circles, the circles are always widening.

    Perhaps we may say that with him the philosophy of history is
    partly in the metaphysical stage, and see, in the progress of this
    idea from Herodotus to Polybius, the exemplification of the Comtian
    Law of the three stages of thought, the theological, the
    metaphysical, and the scientific: for truly out of the vagueness
    of theological mysticism this conception which we call the
    Philosophy of History was raised to a scientific principle,
    according to which the past was explained and the future predicted
    by reference to general laws.

    Now, just as the earliest account of the nature of the progress of
    humanity is to be found in Plato, so in him we find the first
    explicit attempt to found a universal philosophy of history upon
    wide rational grounds. Having created an ideally perfect state,
    the philosopher proceeds to give an elaborate theory of the complex
    causes which produce revolutions, of the moral effects of various
    forms of government and education, of the rise of the criminal
    classes and their connection with pauperism, and, in a word, to
    create history by the deductive method and to proceed from A PRIORI
    psychological principles to discover the governing laws of the
    apparent chaos of political life.

    There have been many attempts since Plato to deduce from a single
    philosophical principle all the phenomena which experience
    subsequently verifies for us. Fichte thought he could predict the
    world-plan from the idea of universal time. Hegel dreamed he had
    found the key to the mysteries of life in the development of
    freedom, and Krause in the categories of being. But the one
    scientific basis on which the true philosophy of history must rest
    is the complete knowledge of the laws of human nature in all its
    wants, its aspirations, its powers and its tendencies: and this
    great truth, which Thucydides may be said in some measure to have
    apprehended, was given to us first by Plato.

    Now, it cannot be accurately said of this philosopher that either
    his philosophy or his history is entirely and simply A PRIORI. ON
    EST DE SON SIECLE MEME QUAND ON Y PROTESTE, and so we find in him
    continual references to the Spartan mode of life, the Pythagorean
    system, the general characteristics of Greek tyrannies and Greek
    democracies. For while, in his account of the method of forming an
    ideal state, he says that the political artist is indeed to fix his
    gaze on the sun of abstract truth in the heavens of the pure
    reason, but is sometimes to turn to the realisation of the ideals
    on earth: yet, after all, the general character of the Platonic
    method, which is what we are specially concerned with, is
    essentially deductive and A PRIORI. And he himself, in the
    building up of his Nephelococcygia, certainly starts with a [Greek
    text which cannot be reproduced], making a clean sweep of all
    history and all experience; and it was essentially as an A PRIORI
    theorist that he is criticised by Aristotle, as we shall see later.

    To proceed to closer details regarding the actual scheme of the
    laws of political revolutions as drawn out by Plato, we must first
    note that the primary cause of the decay of the ideal state is the
    general principle, common to the vegetable and animal worlds as
    well as to the world of history, that all created things are fated
    to decay - a principle which, though expressed in the terms of a
    mere metaphysical abstraction, is yet perhaps in its essence
    scientific. For we too must hold that a continuous redistribution
    of matter and motion is the inevitable result of the nominal
    persistence of Force, and that perfect equilibrium is as impossible
    in politics as it certainly is in physics.

    The secondary causes which mar the perfection of the Platonic 'city
    of the sun' are to be found in the intellectual decay of the race
    consequent on injudicious marriages and in the Philistine elevation
    of physical achievements over mental culture; while the
    hierarchical succession of Timocracy and Oligarchy, Democracy and
    Tyranny, is dwelt on at great length and its causes analysed in a
    very dramatic and psychological manner, if not in that sanctioned
    by the actual order of history.

    And indeed it is apparent at first sight that the Platonic
    succession of states represents rather the succession of ideas in
    the philosophic mind than any historical succession of time.

    Aristotle meets the whole simply by an appeal to facts. If the
    theory of the periodic decay of all created things, he urges, be
    scientific, it must be universal, and so true of all the other
    states as well as of the ideal. Besides, a state usually changes
    into its contrary and not to the form next to it; so the ideal
    state would not change into Timocracy; while Oligarchy, more often
    than Tyranny, succeeds Democracy. Plato, besides, says nothing of
    what a Tyranny would change to. According to the cycle theory it
    ought to pass into the ideal state again, but as a fact one Tyranny
    is changed into another as at Sicyon, or into a Democracy as at
    Syracuse, or into an Aristocracy as at Carthage. The example of
    Sicily, too, shows that an Oligarchy is often followed by a
    Tyranny, as at Leontini and Gela. Besides, it is absurd to
    represent greed as the chief motive of decay, or to talk of avarice
    as the root of Oligarchy, when in nearly all true oligarchies
    money-making is forbidden by law. And finally the Platonic theory
    neglects the different kinds of democracies and of tyrannies.

    Now nothing can be more important than this passage in Aristotle's
    POLITICS (v. 12.), which may he said to mark an era in the
    evolution of historical criticism. For there is nothing on which
    Aristotle insists so strongly as that the generalisations from
    facts ought to be added to the data of the A PRIORI method - a
    principle which we know to be true not merely of deductive
    speculative politics but of physics also: for are not the residual
    phenomena of chemists a valuable source of improvement in theory?

    His own method is essentially historical though by no means
    empirical. On the contrary, this far-seeing thinker, rightly
    styled IL MAESTRO DI COLOR CHE SANNO, may be said to have
    apprehended clearly that the true method is neither exclusively
    empirical nor exclusively speculative, but rather a union of both
    in the process called Analysis or the Interpretation of Facts,
    which has been defined as the application to facts of such general
    conceptions as may fix the important characteristics of the
    phenomena, and present them permanently in their true relations.
    He too was the first to point out, what even in our own day is
    incompletely appreciated, that nature, including the development of
    man, is not full of incoherent episodes like a bad tragedy, that
    inconsistency and anomaly are as impossible in the moral as they
    are in the physical world, and that where the superficial observer
    thinks he sees a revolution the philosophical critic discerns
    merely the gradual and rational evolution of the inevitable results
    of certain antecedents.

    And while admitting the necessity of a psychological basis for the
    philosophy of history, he added to it the important truth that man,
    to be apprehended in his proper position in the universe as well as
    in his natural powers, must be studied from below in the
    hierarchical progression of higher function from the lower forms of
    life. The important maxim, that to obtain a clear conception of
    anything we must 'study it in its growth from the very beginning,'
    is formally set down in the opening of the POLITICS, where, indeed,
    we shall find the other characteristic features of the modern
    Evolutionary theory, such as the 'Differentiation of Function' and
    the 'Survival of the Fittest' explicitly set forth.

    What a valuable step this was in the improvement of the method of
    historical criticism it is needless to point out. By it, one may
    say, the true thread was given to guide one's steps through the
    bewildering labyrinth of facts. For history (to use terms with
    which Aristotle has made us familiar) may be looked at from two
    essentially different standpoints; either as a work of art whose
    [Greek text which cannot be reproduced] or final cause is external
    to it and imposed on it from without; or as an organism containing
    the law of its own development in itself, and working out its
    perfection merely by the fact of being what it is. Now, if we
    adopt the former, which we may style the theological view, we shall
    be in continual danger of tripping into the pitfall of some A
    PRIORI conclusion - that bourne from which, it has been truly said,
    no traveller ever returns.

    The latter is the only scientific theory and was apprehended in its
    fulness by Aristotle, whose application of the inductive method to
    history, and whose employment of the evolutionary theory of
    humanity, show that he was conscious that the philosophy of history
    is nothing separate from the facts of history but is contained in
    them, and that the rational law of the complex phenomena of life,
    like the ideal in the world of thought, is to be reached through
    the facts, not superimposed on them - [Greek text which cannot be

    And finally, in estimating the enormous debt which the science of
    historical criticism owes to Aristotle, we must not pass over his
    attitude towards those two great difficulties in the formation of a
    philosophy of history on which I have touched above. I mean the
    assertion of extra-natural interference with the normal development
    of the world and of the incalculable influence exercised by the
    power of free will.

    Now, as regards the former, he may be said to have neglected it
    entirely. The special acts of providence proceeding from God's
    immediate government of the world, which Herodotus saw as mighty
    landmarks in history, would have been to him essentially disturbing
    elements in that universal reign of law, the extent of whose
    limitless empire he of all the great thinkers of antiquity was the
    first explicitly to recognise.

    Standing aloof from the popular religion as well as from the deeper
    conceptions of Herodotus and the Tragic School, he no longer
    thought of God as of one with fair limbs and treacherous face
    haunting wood and glade, nor would he see in him a jealous judge
    continually interfering in the world's history to bring the wicked
    to punishment and the proud to a fall. God to him was the
    incarnation of the pure Intellect, a being whose activity was the
    contemplation of his own perfection, one whom Philosophy might
    imitate but whom prayers could never move, to the sublime
    indifference of whose passionless wisdom what were the sons of men,
    their desires or their sins? While, as regards the other
    difficulty and the formation of a philosophy of history, the
    conflict of free will with general laws appears first in Greek
    thought in the usual theological form in which all great ideas seem
    to be cradled at their birth.

    It was such legends as those of OEdipus and Adrastus, exemplifying
    the struggles of individual humanity against the overpowering force
    of circumstances and necessity, which gave to the early Greeks
    those same lessons which we of modern days draw, in somewhat less
    artistic fashion, from the study of statistics and the laws of

    In Aristotle, of course, there is no trace of supernatural
    influence. The Furies, which drive their victim into sin first and
    then punishment, are no longer 'viper-tressed goddesses with eyes
    and mouth aflame,' but those evil thoughts which harbour within the
    impure soul. In this, as in all other points, to arrive at
    Aristotle is to reach the pure atmosphere of scientific and modern

    But while he rejected pure necessitarianism in its crude form as
    essentially a REDUCTIO AD ABSURDUM of life, he was fully conscious
    of the fact that the will is not a mysterious and ultimate unit of
    force beyond which we cannot go and whose special characteristic is
    inconsistency, but a certain creative attitude of the mind which
    is, from the first, continually influenced by habits, education and
    circumstance; so absolutely modifiable, in a word, that the good
    and the bad man alike seem to lose the power of free will; for the
    one is morally unable to sin, the other physically incapacitated
    for reformation.

    And of the influence of climate and temperature in forming the
    nature of man (a conception perhaps pressed too far in modern days
    when the 'race theory' is supposed to be a sufficient explanation
    of the Hindoo, and the latitude and longitude of a country the best
    guide to its morals(6)) Aristotle is completely unaware. I do not
    allude to such smaller points as the oligarchical tendencies of a
    horse-breeding country and the democratic influence of the
    proximity of the sea (important though they are for the
    consideration of Greek history), but rather to those wider views in
    the seventh book of his POLITICS, where he attributes the happy
    union in the Greek character of intellectual attainments with the
    spirit of progress to the temperate climate they enjoyed, and
    points out how the extreme cold of the north dulls the mental
    faculties of its inhabitants and renders them incapable of social
    organisation or extended empire; while to the enervating heat of
    eastern countries was due that want of spirit and bravery which
    then, as now, was the characteristic of the population in that
    quarter of the globe.

    Thucydides has shown the causal connection between political
    revolutions and the fertility of the soil, but goes a step farther
    and points out the psychological influences on a people's character
    exercised by the various extremes of climate - in both cases the
    first appearance of a most valuable form of historical criticism.

    To the development of Dialectic, as to God, intervals of time are
    of no account. From Plato and Aristotle we pass direct to

    The progress of thought from the philosopher of the Academe to the
    Arcadian historian may be best illustrated by a comparison of the
    method by which each of the three writers, whom I have selected as
    the highest expression of the rationalism of his respective age,
    attained to his ideal state: for the latter conception may be in a
    measure regarded as representing the most spiritual principle which
    they could discern in history.

    Now, Plato created his on A PRIORI principles; Aristotle formed his
    by an analysis of existing constitutions; Polybius found his
    realised for him in the actual world of fact. Aristotle criticised
    the deductive speculations of Plato by means of inductive negative
    instances, but Polybius will not take the 'Cloud City' of the
    REPUBLIC into account at all. He compares it to an athlete who has
    never run on 'Constitution Hill,' to a statue so beautiful that it
    is entirely removed from the ordinary conditions of humanity, and
    consequently from the canons of criticism.

    The Roman state had attained in his eyes, by means of the mutual
    counteraction of three opposing forces, (7) that stable equilibrium
    in politics which was the ideal of all the theoretical writers of
    antiquity. And in connection with this point it will be convenient
    to notice here how much truth there is contained in the accusation
    often brought against the ancients that they knew nothing of the
    idea of Progress, for the meaning of many of their speculations
    will be hidden from us if we do not try and comprehend first what
    their aim was, and secondly why it was so.

    Now, like all wide generalities, this statement is at least
    inaccurate. The prayer of Plato's ideal City - [Greek text which
    cannot be reproduced], might be written as a text over the door of
    the last Temple to Humanity raised by the disciples of Fourier and
    Saint-Simon, but it is certainly true that their ideal principle
    was order and permanence, not indefinite progress. For, setting
    aside the artistic prejudices which would have led the Greeks to
    reject this idea of unlimited improvement, we may note that the
    modern conception of progress rests partly on the new enthusiasm
    and worship of humanity, partly on the splendid hopes of material
    improvements in civilisation which applied science has held out to
    us, two influences from which ancient Greek thought seems to have
    been strangely free. For the Greeks marred the perfect humanism of
    the great men whom they worshipped, by imputing to them divinity
    and its supernatural powers; while their science was eminently
    speculative and often almost mystic in its character, aiming at
    culture and not utility, at higher spirituality and more intense
    reverence for law, rather than at the increased facilities of
    locomotion and the cheap production of common things about which
    our modern scientific school ceases not to boast. And lastly, and
    perhaps chiefly, we must remember that the 'plague spot of all
    Greek states,' as one of their own writers has called it, was the
    terrible insecurity to life and property which resulted from the
    factions and revolutions which ceased not to trouble Greece at all
    times, raising a spirit of fanaticism such as religion raised in
    the middle ages of Europe.

    These considerations, then, will enable us to understand first how
    it was that, radical and unscrupulous reformers as the Greek
    political theorists were, yet, their end once attained, no modern
    conservatives raised such outcry against the slightest innovation.
    Even acknowledged improvements in such things as the games of
    children or the modes of music were regarded by them with feelings
    of extreme apprehension as the herald of the DRAPEAU ROUGE of
    reform. And secondly, it will show us how it was that Polybius
    found his ideal in the commonwealth of Rome, and Aristotle, like
    Mr. Bright, in the middle classes. Polybius, however, is not
    content merely with pointing out his ideal state, but enters at
    considerable length into the question of those general laws whose
    consideration forms the chief essential of the philosophy of

    He starts by accepting the general principle that all things are
    fated to decay (which I noticed in the case of Plato), and that 'as
    iron produces rust and as wood breeds the animals that destroy it,
    so every state has in it the seeds of its own corruption.' He is
    not, however, content to rest there, but proceeds to deal with the
    more immediate causes of revolutions, which he says are twofold in
    nature, either external or internal. Now, the former, depending as
    they do on the synchronous conjunction of other events outside the
    sphere of scientific estimation, are from their very character
    incalculable; but the latter, though assuming many forms, always
    result from the over-great preponderance of any single element to
    the detriment of the others, the rational law lying at the base of
    all varieties of political changes being that stability can result
    only from the statical equilibrium produced by the counteraction of
    opposing parts, since the more simple a constitution is the more it
    is insecure. Plato had pointed out before how the extreme liberty
    of a democracy always resulted in despotism, but Polybius analyses
    the law and shows the scientific principles on which it rests.

    The doctrine of the instability of pure constitutions forms an
    important era in the philosophy of history. Its special
    applicability to the politics of our own day has been illustrated
    in the rise of the great Napoleon, when the French state had lost
    those divisions of caste and prejudice, of landed aristocracy and
    moneyed interest, institutions in which the vulgar see only
    barriers to Liberty but which are indeed the only possible defences
    against the coming of that periodic Sirius of politics, the [Greek
    text which cannot be reproduced].

    There is a principle which Tocqueville never wearies of explaining,
    and which has been subsumed by Mr. Herbert Spencer under that
    general law common to all organic bodies which we call the
    Instability of the Homogeneous. The various manifestations of this
    law, as shown in the normal, regular revolutions and evolutions of
    the different forms of government, (8) are expounded with great
    clearness by Polybius, who claimed for his theory, in the
    Thucydidean spirit, that it is a [Greek text which cannot be
    reproduced], not a mere [Greek text which cannot be reproduced],
    and that a knowledge of it will enable the impartial observer (9)
    to discover at any time what period of its constitutional evolution
    any particular state has already reached and into what form it will
    be next differentiated, though possibly the exact time of the
    changes may be more or less uncertain. (10)

    Now in this necessarily incomplete account of the laws of political
    revolutions as expounded by Polybius enough perhaps has been said
    to show what is his true position in the rational development of
    the 'Idea' which I have called the Philosophy of History, because
    it is the unifying of history. Seen darkly as it is through the
    glass of religion in the pages of Herodotus, more metaphysical than
    scientific with Thucydides, Plato strove to seize it by the eagle-
    flight of speculation, to reach it with the eager grasp of a soul
    impatient of those slower and surer inductive methods which
    Aristotle, in his trenchant criticism of his greater master, showed
    were more brilliant than any vague theory, if the test of
    brilliancy is truth.

    What then is the position of Polybius? Does any new method remain
    for him? Polybius was one of those many men who are born too late
    to be original. To Thucydides belongs the honour of being the
    first in the history of Greek thought to discern the supreme calm
    of law and order underlying the fitful storms of life, and Plato
    and Aristotle each represents a great new principle. To Polybius
    belongs the office - how noble an office he made it his writings
    show - of making more explicit the ideas which were implicit in his
    predecessors, of showing that they were of wider applicability and
    perhaps of deeper meaning than they had seemed before, of examining
    with more minuteness the laws which they had discovered, and
    finally of pointing out more clearly than any one had done the
    range of science and the means it offered for analysing the present
    and predicting what was to come. His office thus was to gather up
    what they had left, to give their principles new life by a wider

    Polybius ends this great diapason of Greek thought. When the
    Philosophy of history appears next, as in Plutarch's tract on 'Why
    God's anger is delayed,' the pendulum of thought had swung back to
    where it began. His theory was introduced to the Romans under the
    cultured style of Cicero, and was welcomed by them as the
    philosophical panegyric of their state. The last notice of it in
    Latin literature is in the pages of Tacitus, who alludes to the
    stable polity formed out of these elements as a constitution easier
    to commend than to produce and in no case lasting. Yet Polybius
    had seen the future with no uncertain eye, and had prophesied the
    rise of the Empire from the unbalanced power of the ochlocracy
    fifty years and more before there was joy in the Julian household
    over the birth of that boy who, born to power as the champion of
    the people, died wearing the purple of a king.

    No attitude of historical criticism is more important than the
    means by which the ancients attained to the philosophy of history.
    The principle of heredity can be exemplified in literature as well
    as in organic life: Aristotle, Plato and Polybius are the lineal
    ancestors of Fichte and Hegel, of Vico and Cousin, of Montesquieu
    and Tocqueville.

    As my aim is not to give an account of historians but to point out
    those great thinkers whose methods have furthered the advance of
    this spirit of historical criticism, I shall pass over those
    annalists and chroniclers who intervened between Thucydides and
    Polybius. Yet perhaps it may serve to throw new light on the real
    nature of this spirit and its intimate connection with all other
    forms of advanced thought if I give some estimate of the character
    and rise of those many influences prejudicial to the scientific
    study of history which cause such a wide gap between these two

    Foremost among these is the growing influence of rhetoric and the
    Isocratean school, which seems to have regarded history as an arena
    for the display either of pathos or paradoxes, not a scientific
    investigation into laws.

    The new age is the age of style. The same spirit of exclusive
    attention to form which made Euripides often, like Swinburne,
    prefer music to meaning and melody to morality, which gave to the
    later Greek statues that refined effeminacy, that overstrained
    gracefulness of attitude, was felt in the sphere of history. The
    rules laid down for historical composition are those relating to
    the aesthetic value of digressions, the legality of employing more
    than one metaphor in the same sentence, and the like; and
    historians are ranked not by their power of estimating evidence but
    by the goodness of the Greek they write.

    I must note also the important influence on literature exercised by
    Alexander the Great; for while his travels encouraged the more
    accurate research of geography, the very splendour of his
    achievements seems to have brought history again into the sphere of
    romance. The appearance of all great men in the world is followed
    invariably by the rise of that mythopoeic spirit and that tendency
    to look for the marvellous, which is so fatal to true historical
    criticism. An Alexander, a Napoleon, a Francis of Assisi and a
    Mahomet are thought to be outside the limiting conditions of
    rational law, just as comets were supposed to be not very long ago.
    While the founding of that city of Alexandria, in which Western and
    Eastern thought met with such strange result to both, diverted the
    critical tendencies of the Greek spirit into questions of grammar,
    philology and the like, the narrow, artificial atmosphere of that
    University town (as we may call it) was fatal to the development of
    that independent and speculative spirit of research which strikes
    out new methods of inquiry, of which historical criticism is one.

    The Alexandrines combined a great love of learning with an
    ignorance of the true principles of research, an enthusiastic
    spirit for accumulating materials with a wonderful incapacity to
    use them. Not among the hot sands of Egypt, or the Sophists of
    Athens, but from the very heart of Greece rises the man of genius
    on whose influence in the evolution of the philosophy of history I
    have a short time ago dwelt. Born in the serene and pure air of
    the clear uplands of Arcadia, Polybius may be said to reproduce in
    his work the character of the place which gave him birth. For, of
    all the historians - I do not say of antiquity but of all time -
    none is more rationalistic than he, none more free from any belief
    in the 'visions and omens, the monstrous legends, the grovelling
    superstitions and unmanly craving for the supernatural' ([Greek
    text that cannot be reproduced](11)) which he himself is compelled
    to notice as the characteristics of some of the historians who
    preceded him. Fortunate in the land which bore him, he was no less
    blessed in the wondrous time of his birth. For, representing in
    himself the spiritual supremacy of the Greek intellect and allied
    in bonds of chivalrous friendship to the world-conqueror of his
    day, he seems led as it were by the hand of Fate 'to comprehend,'
    as has been said, 'more clearly than the Romans themselves the
    historical position of Rome,' and to discern with greater insight
    than all other men could those two great resultants of ancient
    civilisation, the material empire of the city of the seven hills,
    and the intellectual sovereignty of Hellas.

    Before his own day, he says, (12) the events of the world were
    unconnected and separate and the histories confined to particular
    countries. Now, for the first time the universal empire of the
    Romans rendered a universal history possible. (13) This, then, is
    the august motive of his work: to trace the gradual rise of this
    Italian city from the day when the first legion crossed the narrow
    strait of Messina and landed on the fertile fields of Sicily to the
    time when Corinth in the East and Carthage in the West fell before
    the resistless wave of empire and the eagles of Rome passed on the
    wings of universal victory from Calpe and the Pillars of Hercules
    to Syria and the Nile. At the same time he recognised that the
    scheme of Rome's empire was worked out under the aegis of God's
    will. (14) For, as one of the Middle Age scribes most truly says,
    the [Greek text which cannot be reproduced] of Polybius is that
    power which we Christians call God; the second aim, as one may call
    it, of his history is to point out the rational and human and
    natural causes which brought this result, distinguishing, as we
    should say, between God's mediate and immediate government of the

    With any direct intervention of God in the normal development of
    Man, he will have nothing to do: still less with any idea of
    chance as a factor in the phenomena of life. Chance and miracles,
    he says, are mere expressions for our ignorance of rational causes.
    The spirit of rationalism which we recognised in Herodotus as a
    vague uncertain attitude and which appears in Thucydides as a
    consistent attitude of mind never argued about or even explained,
    is by Polybius analysed and formulated as the great instrument of
    historical research.

    Herodotus, while believing on principle in the supernatural, yet
    was sceptical at times. Thucydides simply ignored the
    supernatural. He did not discuss it, but he annihilated it by
    explaining history without it. Polybius enters at length into the
    whole question and explains its origin and the method of treating
    it. Herodotus would have believed in Scipio's dream. Thucydides
    would have ignored it entirely. Polybius explains it. He is the
    culmination of the rational progression of Dialectic. 'Nothing,'
    he says, 'shows a foolish mind more than the attempt to account for
    any phenomena on the principle of chance or supernatural
    intervention. History is a search for rational causes, and there
    is nothing in the world - even those phenomena which seem to us the
    most remote from law and improbable - which is not the logical and
    inevitable result of certain rational antecedents.'

    Some things, of course, are to be rejected A PRIORI without
    entering into the subject: 'As regards such miracles,' he says,
    (15) 'as that on a certain statue of Artemis rain or snow never
    falls though the statue stands in the open air, or that those who
    enter God's shrine in Arcadia lose their natural shadows, I cannot
    really be expected to argue upon the subject. For these things are
    not only utterly improbable but absolutely impossible.'

    'For us to argue reasonably on an acknowledged absurdity is as vain
    a task as trying to catch water in a sieve; it is really to admit
    the possibility of the supernatural, which is the very point at

    What Polybius felt was that to admit the possibility of a miracle
    is to annihilate the possibility of history: for just as
    scientific and chemical experiments would be either impossible or
    useless if exposed to the chance of continued interference on the
    part of some foreign body, so the laws and principles which govern
    history, the causes of phenomena, the evolution of progress, the
    whole science, in a word, of man's dealings with his own race and
    with nature, will remain a sealed book to him who admits the
    possibility of extra-natural interference.

    The stories of miracles, then, are to be rejected on A PRIORI
    rational grounds, but in the case of events which we know to have
    happened the scientific historian will not rest till he has
    discovered their natural causes which, for instance, in the case of
    the wonderful rise of the Roman Empire - the most marvellous thing,
    Polybius says, which God ever brought about (16) - are to be found
    in the excellence of their constitution ([Greek text which cannot
    be reproduced]), the wisdom of their advisers, their splendid
    military arrangements, and their superstition ([Greek text which
    cannot be reproduced]). For while Polybius regarded the revealed
    religion as, of course, objective reality of truth, (17) he laid
    great stress on its moral subjective influence, going, in one
    passage on the subject, even so far as almost to excuse the
    introduction of the supernatural in very small quantities into
    history on account of the extremely good effect it would have on
    pious people.

    But perhaps there is no passage in the whole of ancient and modern
    history which breathes such a manly and splendid spirit of
    rationalism as one preserved to us in the Vatican - strange
    resting-place for it! - in which he treats of the terrible decay of
    population which had fallen on his native land in his own day, and
    which by the general orthodox public was regarded as a special
    judgment of God sending childlessness on women as a punishment for
    the sins of the people. For it was a disaster quite without
    parallel in the history of the land, and entirely unforeseen by any
    of its political-economy writers who, on the contrary, were always
    anticipating that danger would arise from an excess of population
    overrunning its means of subsistence, and becoming unmanageable
    through its size. Polybius, however, will have nothing to do with
    either priest or worker of miracles in this matter. He will not
    even seek that 'sacred Heart of Greece,' Delphi, Apollo's shrine,
    whose inspiration even Thucydides admitted and before whose wisdom
    Socrates bowed. How foolish, he says, were the man who on this
    matter would pray to God. We must search for the rational causes,
    and the causes are seen to be clear, and the method of prevention
    also. He then proceeds to notice how all this arose from the
    general reluctance to marriage and to bearing the expense of
    educating a large family which resulted from the carelessness and
    avarice of the men of his day, and he explains on entirely rational
    principles the whole of this apparently supernatural judgment.

    Now, it is to be borne in mind that while his rejection of miracles
    as violation of inviolable laws is entirely A PRIORI - for
    discussion of such a matter is, of course, impossible for a
    rational thinker - yet his rejection of supernatural intervention
    rests entirely on the scientific grounds of the necessity of
    looking for natural causes. And he is quite logical in maintaining
    his position on these principles. For, where it is either
    difficult or impossible to assign any rational cause for phenomena,
    or to discover their laws, he acquiesces reluctantly in the
    alternative of admitting some extra-natural interference which his
    essentially scientific method of treating the matter has logically
    forced on him, approving, for instance, of prayers for rain, on the
    express ground that the laws of meteorology had not yet been
    ascertained. He would, of course, have been the first to welcome
    our modern discoveries in the matter. The passage in question is
    in every way one of the most interesting in his whole work, not, of
    course, as signifying any inclination on his part to acquiesce in
    the supernatural, but because it shows how essentially logical and
    rational his method of argument was, and how candid and fair his

    Having now examined Polybius's attitude towards the supernatural
    and the general ideas which guided his research, I will proceed to
    examine the method he pursued in his scientific investigation of
    the complex phenomena of life. For, as I have said before in the
    course of this essay, what is important in all great writers is not
    so much the results they arrive at as the methods they pursue. The
    increased knowledge of facts may alter any conclusion in history as
    in physical science, and the canons of speculative historical
    credibility must be acknowledged to appeal rather to that
    subjective attitude of mind which we call the historic sense than
    to any formulated objective rules. But a scientific method is a
    gain for all time, and the true if not the only progress of
    historical criticism consists in the improvement of the instruments
    of research.

    Now first, as regards his conception of history, I have already
    pointed out that it was to him essentially a search for causes, a
    problem to be solved, not a picture to be painted, a scientific
    investigation into laws and tendencies, not a mere romantic account
    of startling incident and wondrous adventure. Thucydides, in the
    opening of his great work, had sounded the first note of the
    scientific conception of history. 'The absence of romance in my
    pages,' he says, 'will, I fear, detract somewhat from its value,
    but I have written my work not to be the exploit of a passing hour
    but as the possession of all time.' (18) Polybius follows with
    words almost entirely similar. If, he says, we banish from history
    the consideration of causes, methods and motives ([Greek text which
    cannot be reproduced]), and refuse to consider how far the result
    of anything is its rational consequent, what is left is a mere
    [Greek text which cannot be reproduced], not a [Greek text which
    cannot be reproduced], an oratorical essay which may give pleasure
    for the moment, but which is entirely without any scientific value
    for the explanation of the future. Elsewhere he says that 'history
    robbed of the exposition of its causes and laws is a profitless
    thing, though it may allure a fool.' And all through his history
    the same point is put forward and exemplified in every fashion.

    So far for the conception of history. Now for the groundwork. As
    regards the character of the phenomena to be selected by the
    scientific investigator, Aristotle had laid down the general
    formula that nature should be studied in her normal manifestations.
    Polybius, true to his character of applying explicitly the
    principles implicit in the work of others, follows out the doctrine
    of Aristotle, and lays particular stress on the rational and
    undisturbed character of the development of the Roman constitution
    as affording special facilities for the discovery of the laws of
    its progress. Political revolutions result from causes either
    external or internal. The former are mere disturbing forces which
    lie outside the sphere of scientific calculation. It is the latter
    which are important for the establishing of principles and the
    elucidation of the sequences of rational evolution.

    He thus may be said to have anticipated one of the most important
    truths of the modern methods of investigation: I mean that
    principle which lays down that just as the study of physiology
    should precede the study of pathology, just as the laws of disease
    are best discovered by the phenomena presented in health, so the
    method of arriving at all great social and political truths is by
    the investigation of those cases where development has been normal,
    rational and undisturbed.

    The critical canon that the more a people has been interfered with,
    the more difficult it becomes to generalise the laws of its
    progress and to analyse the separate forces of its civilisation, is
    one the validity of which is now generally recognised by those who
    pretend to a scientific treatment of all history: and while we
    have seen that Aristotle anticipated it in a general formula, to
    Polybius belongs the honour of being the first to apply it
    explicitly in the sphere of history.

    I have shown how to this great scientific historian the motive of
    his work was essentially the search for causes; and true to his
    analytical spirit he is careful to examine what a cause really is
    and in what part of the antecedents of any consequent it is to be
    looked for. To give an illustration: As regards the origin of the
    war with Perseus, some assigned as causes the expulsion of
    Abrupolis by Perseus, the expedition of the latter to Delphi, the
    plot against Eumenes and the seizure of the ambassadors in Boeotia;
    of these incidents the two former, Polybius points out, were merely
    the pretexts, the two latter merely the occasions of the war. The
    war was really a legacy left to Perseus by his father, who was
    determined to fight it out with Rome. (19)

    Here as elsewhere he is not originating any new idea. Thucydides
    had pointed out the difference between the real and the alleged
    cause, and the Aristotelian dictum about revolutions, [Greek text
    which cannot be reproduced], draws the distinction between cause
    and occasion with the brilliancy of an epigram. But the explicit
    and rational investigation of the difference between [Greek text
    which cannot be reproduced], and [Greek text which cannot be
    reproduced] was reserved for Polybius. No canon of historical
    criticism can be said to be of more real value than that involved
    in this distinction, and the overlooking of it has filled our
    histories with the contemptible accounts of the intrigues of
    courtiers and of kings and the petty plottings of backstairs
    influence - particulars interesting, no doubt, to those who would
    ascribe the Reformation to Anne Boleyn's pretty face, the Persian
    war to the influence of a doctor or a curtain-lecture from Atossa,
    or the French Revolution to Madame de Maintenon, but without any
    value for those who aim at any scientific treatment of history.

    But the question of method, to which I am compelled always to
    return, is not yet exhausted. There is another aspect in which it
    may be regarded, and I shall now proceed to treat of it.

    One of the greatest difficulties with which the modern historian
    has to contend is the enormous complexity of the facts which come
    under his notice: D'Alembert's suggestion that at the end of every
    century a selection of facts should be made and the rest burned (if
    it was really intended seriously) could not, of course, be
    entertained for a moment. A problem loses all its value when it
    becomes simplified, and the world would be all the poorer if the
    Sibyl of History burned her volumes. Besides, as Gibbon pointed
    out, 'a Montesquieu will detect in the most insignificant fact
    relations which the vulgar overlook.'

    Nor can the scientific investigator of history isolate the
    particular elements, which he desires to examine, from disturbing
    and extraneous causes, as the experimental chemist can do (though
    sometimes, as in the case of lunatic asylums and prisons, he is
    enabled to observe phenomena in a certain degree of isolation). So
    he is compelled either to use the deductive mode of arguing from
    general laws or to employ the method of abstraction, which gives a
    fictitious isolation to phenomena never so isolated in actual
    existence. And this is exactly what Polybius has done as well as
    Thucydides. For, as has been well remarked, there is in the works
    of these two writers a certain plastic unity of type and motive;
    whatever they write is penetrated through and through with a
    specific quality, a singleness and concentration of purpose, which
    we may contrast with the more comprehensive width as manifested not
    merely in the modern mind, but also in Herodotus. Thucydides,
    regarding society as influenced entirely by political motives, took
    no account of forces of a different nature, and consequently his
    results, like those of most modern political economists, have to be
    modified largely (20) before they come to correspond with what we
    know was the actual state of fact. Similarly, Polybius will deal
    only with those forces which tended to bring the civilised world
    under the dominion of Rome (ix. 1), and in the Thucydidean spirit
    points out the want of picturesqueness and romance in his pages
    which is the result of the abstract method ([Greek text which
    cannot be reproduced]) being careful also to tell us that his
    rejection of all other forces is essentially deliberate and the
    result of a preconceived theory and by no means due to carelessness
    of any kind.

    Now, of the general value of the abstract method and the legality
    of its employment in the sphere of history, this is perhaps not the
    suitable occasion for any discussion. It is, however, in all ways
    worthy of note that Polybius is not merely conscious of, but dwells
    with particular weight on, the fact which is usually urged as the
    strongest objection to the employment of the abstract method - I
    mean the conception of a society as a sort of human organism whose
    parts are indissolubly connected with one another and all affected
    when one member is in any way agitated. This conception of the
    organic nature of society appears first in Plato and Aristotle, who
    apply it to cities. Polybius, as his wont is, expands it to be a
    general characteristic of all history. It is an idea of the very
    highest importance, especially to a man like Polybius whose
    thoughts are continually turned towards the essential unity of
    history and the impossibility of isolation.

    Farther, as regards the particular method of investigating that
    group of phenomena obtained for him by the abstract method, he will
    adopt, he tells us, neither the purely deductive nor the purely
    inductive mode but the union of both. In other words, he formally
    adopts that method of analysis upon the importance of which I have
    dwelt before.

    And lastly, while, without doubt, enormous simplicity in the
    elements under consideration is the result of the employment of the
    abstract method, even within the limit thus obtained a certain
    selection must be made, and a selection involves a theory. For the
    facts of life cannot be tabulated with as great an ease as the
    colours of birds and insects can be tabulated. Now, Polybius
    points out that those phenomena particularly are to be dwelt on
    which may serve as a [Greek text which cannot be reproduced] or
    sample, and show the character of the tendencies of the age as
    clearly as 'a single drop from a full cask will be enough to
    disclose the nature of the whole contents.' This recognition of
    the importance of single facts, not in themselves but because of
    the spirit they represent, is extremely scientific; for we know
    that from the single bone, or tooth even, the anatomist can
    recreate entirely the skeleton of the primeval horse, and the
    botanist tell the character of the flora and fauna of a district
    from a single specimen.

    Regarding truth as 'the most divine thing in Nature,' the very 'eye
    and light of history without which it moves a blind thing,'
    Polybius spared no pains in the acquisition of historical materials
    or in the study of the sciences of politics and war, which he
    considered were so essential to the training of the scientific
    historian, and the labour he took is mirrored in the many ways in
    which he criticises other authorities.

    There is something, as a rule, slightly contemptible about ancient
    criticism. The modern idea of the critic as the interpreter, the
    expounder of the beauty and excellence of the work he selects,
    seems quite unknown. Nothing can be more captious or unfair, for
    instance, than the method by which Aristotle criticised the ideal
    state of Plato in his ethical works, and the passages quoted by
    Polybius from Timaeus show that the latter historian fully deserved
    the punning name given to him. But in Polybius there is, I think,
    little of that bitterness and pettiness of spirit which
    characterises most other writers, and an incidental story he tells
    of his relations with one of the historians whom he criticised
    shows that he was a man of great courtesy and refinement of taste -
    as, indeed, befitted one who had lived always in the society of
    those who were of great and noble birth.

    Now, as regards the character of the canons by which he criticises
    the works of other authors, in the majority of cases he employs
    simply his own geographical and military knowledge, showing, for
    instance, the impossibility in the accounts given of Nabis's march
    from Sparta simply by his acquaintance with the spots in question;
    or the inconsistency of those of the battle of Issus; or of the
    accounts given by Ephorus of the battles of Leuctra and Mantinea.
    In the latter case he says, if any one will take the trouble to
    measure out the ground of the site of the battle and then test the
    manoeuvres given, he will find how inaccurate the accounts are.

    In other cases he appeals to public documents, the importance of
    which he was always foremost in recognising; showing, for instance,
    by a document in the public archives of Rhodes how inaccurate were
    the accounts given of the battle of Lade by Zeno and Antisthenes.
    Or he appeals to psychological probability, rejecting, for
    instance, the scandalous stories told of Philip of Macedon, simply
    from the king's general greatness of character, and arguing that a
    boy so well educated and so respectably connected as Demochares
    (xii. 14) could never have been guilty of that of which evil rumour
    accused him.

    But the chief object of his literary censure is Timaeus, who had
    been unsparing of his strictures on others. The general point
    which he makes against him, impugning his accuracy as a historian,
    is that he derived his knowledge of history not from the dangerous
    perils of a life of action but in the secure indolence of a narrow
    scholastic life. There is, indeed, no point on which he is so
    vehement as this. 'A history,' he says, 'written in a library
    gives as lifeless and as inaccurate a picture of history as a
    painting which is copied not from a living animal but from a
    stuffed one.'

    There is more difference, he says in another place, between the
    history of an eye-witness and that of one whose knowledge comes
    from books, than there is between the scenes of real life and the
    fictitious landscapes of theatrical scenery. Besides this, he
    enters into somewhat elaborate detailed criticism of passages where
    he thought Timaeus was following a wrong method and perverting
    truth, passages which it will be worth while to examine in detail.

    Timaeus, from the fact of there being a Roman custom to shoot a
    war-horse on a stated day, argued back to the Trojan origin of that
    people. Polybius, on the other hand, points out that the inference
    is quite unwarrantable, because horse-sacrifices are ordinary
    institutions common to all barbarous tribes. Timaeus here, as was
    common with Greek writers, is arguing back from some custom of the
    present to an historical event in the past. Polybius really is
    employing the comparative method, showing how the custom was an
    ordinary step in the civilisation of every early people.

    In another place, (21) he shows how illogical is the scepticism of
    Timaeus as regards the existence of the Bull of Phalaris simply by
    appealing to the statue of the Bull, which was still to be seen in
    Carthage; pointing out how impossible it was, on any other theory
    except that it belonged to Phalaris, to account for the presence in
    Carthage of a bull of this peculiar character with a door between
    his shoulders. But one of the great points which he uses against
    this Sicilian historian is in reference to the question of the
    origin of the Locrian colony. In accordance with the received
    tradition on the subject, Aristotle had represented the Locrian
    colony as founded by some Parthenidae or slaves' children, as they
    were called, a statement which seems to have roused the indignation
    of Timaeus, who went to a good deal of trouble to confute this
    theory. He does so on the following grounds:-

    First of all, he points out that in the ancient days the Greeks had
    no slaves at all, so the mention of them in the matter is an
    anachronism; and next he declares that he was shown in the Greek
    city of Locris certain ancient inscriptions in which their relation
    to the Italian city was expressed in terms of the position between
    parent and child, which showed also that mutual rights of
    citizenship were accorded to each city. Besides this, he appeals
    to various questions of improbability as regards their
    international relationship, on which Polybius takes diametrically
    opposite grounds which hardly call for discussion. And in favour
    of his own view he urges two points more: first, that the
    Lacedaemonians being allowed furlough for the purpose of seeing
    their wives at home, it was unlikely that the Locrians should not
    have had the same privilege; and next, that the Italian Locrians
    knew nothing of the Aristotelian version and had, on the contrary,
    very severe laws against adulterers, runaway slaves and the like.
    Now, most of these questions rest on mere probability, which is
    always such a subjective canon that an appeal to it is rarely
    conclusive. I would note, however, as regards the inscriptions
    which, if genuine, would of course have settled the matter, that
    Polybius looks on them as a mere invention on the part of Timaeus,
    who, he remarks, gives no details about them, though, as a rule, he
    is over-anxious to give chapter and verse for everything. A
    somewhat more interesting point is that where he attacks Timaeus
    for the introduction of fictitious speeches into his narrative; for
    on this point Polybius seems to be far in advance of the opinions
    held by literary men on the subject not merely in his own day, but
    for centuries after.

    Herodotus had introduced speeches avowedly dramatic and fictitious.
    Thucydides states clearly that, where he was unable to find out
    what people really said, he put down what they ought to have said.
    Sallust alludes, it is true, to the fact of the speech he puts into
    the mouth of the tribune Memmius being essentially genuine, but the
    speeches given in the senate on the occasion of the Catilinarian
    conspiracy are very different from the same orations as they appear
    in Cicero. Livy makes his ancient Romans wrangle and chop logic
    with all the subtlety of a Hortensius or a Scaevola. And even in
    later days, when shorthand reporters attended the debates of the
    senate and a DAILY NEWS was published in Rome, we find that one of
    the most celebrated speeches in Tacitus (that in which the Emperor
    Claudius gives the Gauls their freedom) is shown, by an inscription
    discovered recently at Lugdunum, to be entirely fabulous.

    Upon the other hand, it must be borne in mind that these speeches
    were not intended to deceive; they were regarded merely as a
    certain dramatic element which it was allowable to introduce into
    history for the purpose of giving more life and reality to the
    narration, and were to be criticised, not as we should, by arguing
    how in an age before shorthand was known such a report was possible
    or how, in the failure of written documents, tradition could bring
    down such an accurate verbal account, but by the higher test of
    their psychological probability as regards the persons in whose
    mouths they are placed. An ancient historian in answer to modern
    criticism would say, probably, that these fictitious speeches were
    in reality more truthful than the actual ones, just as Aristotle
    claimed for poetry a higher degree of truth in comparison to
    history. The whole point is interesting as showing how far in
    advance of his age Polybius may be said to have been.

    The last scientific historian, it is possible to gather from his
    writings what he considered were the characteristics of the ideal
    writer of history; and no small light will be thrown on the
    progress of historical criticism if we strive to collect and
    analyse what in Polybius are more or less scattered expressions.
    The ideal historian must be contemporary with the events he
    describes, or removed from them by one generation only. Where it
    is possible, he is to be an eye-witness of what he writes of; where
    that is out of his power he is to test all traditions and stories
    carefully and not to be ready to accept what is plausible in place
    of what is true. He is to be no bookworm living aloof from the
    experiences of the world in the artificial isolation of a
    university town, but a politician, a soldier, and a traveller, a
    man not merely of thought but of action, one who can do great
    things as well as write of them, who in the sphere of history could
    be what Byron and AEschylus were in the sphere of poetry, at once

    He is to keep before his eyes the fact that chance is merely a
    synonym for our ignorance; that the reign of law pervades the
    domain of history as much as it does that of political science. He
    is to accustom himself to look on all occasions for rational and
    natural causes. And while he is to recognise the practical utility
    of the supernatural, in an educational point of view, he is not
    himself to indulge in such intellectual beating of the air as to
    admit the possibility of the violation of inviolable laws, or to
    argue in a sphere wherein argument is A PRIORI annihilated. He is
    to be free from all bias towards friend and country; he is to be
    courteous and gentle in criticism; he is not to regard history as a
    mere opportunity for splendid and tragic writing; nor is he to
    falsify truth for the sake of a paradox or an epigram.

    While acknowledging the importance of particular facts as samples
    of higher truths, he is to take a broad and general view of
    humanity. He is to deal with the whole race and with the world,
    not with particular tribes or separate countries. He is to bear in
    mind that the world is really an organism wherein no one part can
    be moved without the others being affected also. He is to
    distinguish between cause and occasion, between the influence of
    general laws and particular fancies, and he is to remember that the
    greatest lessons of the world are contained in history and that it
    is the historian's duty to manifest them so as to save nations from
    following those unwise policies which always lead to dishonour and
    ruin, and to teach individuals to apprehend by the intellectual
    culture of history those truths which else they would have to learn
    in the bitter school of experience,

    Now, as regards his theory of the necessity of the historian's
    being contemporary with the events he describes, so far as the
    historian is a mere narrator the remark is undoubtedly true. But
    to appreciate the harmony and rational position of the facts of a
    great epoch, to discover its laws, the causes which produced it and
    the effects which it generates, the scene must be viewed from a
    certain height and distance to be completely apprehended. A
    thoroughly contemporary historian such as Lord Clarendon or
    Thucydides is in reality part of the history he criticises; and, in
    the case of such contemporary historians as Fabius and Philistus,
    Polybius in compelled to acknowledge that they are misled by
    patriotic and other considerations. Against Polybius himself no
    such accusation can be made. He indeed of all men is able, as from
    some lofty tower, to discern the whole tendency of the ancient
    world, the triumph of Roman institutions and of Greek thought which
    is the last message of the old world and, in a more spiritual
    sense, has become the Gospel of the new.

    One thing indeed he did not see, or if he saw it, he thought but
    little of it - how from the East there was spreading over the
    world, as a wave spreads, a spiritual inroad of new religions from
    the time when the Pessinuntine mother of the gods, a shapeless mass
    of stone, was brought to the eternal city by her holiest citizen,
    to the day when the ship CASTOR AND POLLUX stood in at Puteoli, and
    St. Paul turned his face towards martyrdom and victory at Rome.
    Polybius was able to predict, from his knowledge of the causes of
    revolutions and the tendencies of the various forms of governments,
    the uprising of that democratic tone of thought which, as soon as a
    seed is sown in the murder of the Gracchi and the exile of Marius,
    culminated as all democratic movements do culminate, in the supreme
    authority of one man, the lordship of the world under the world's
    rightful lord, Caius Julius Caesar. This, indeed, he saw in no
    uncertain way. But the turning of all men's hearts to the East,
    the first glimmering of that splendid dawn which broke over the
    hills of Galilee and flooded the earth like wine, was hidden from
    his eyes.

    There are many points in the description of the ideal historian
    which one may compare to the picture which Plato has given us of
    the ideal philosopher. They are both 'spectators of all time and
    all existence.' Nothing is contemptible in their eyes, for all
    things have a meaning, and they both walk in august reasonableness
    before all men, conscious of the workings of God yet free from all
    terror of mendicant priest or vagrant miracle-worker. But the
    parallel ends here. For the one stands aloof from the world-storm
    of sleet and hail, his eyes fixed on distant and sunlit heights,
    loving knowledge for the sake of knowledge and wisdom for the joy
    of wisdom, while the other is an eager actor in the world ever
    seeking to apply his knowledge to useful things. Both equally
    desire truth, but the one because of its utility, the other for its
    beauty. The historian regards it as the rational principle of all
    true history, and no more. To the other it comes as an all-
    pervading and mystic enthusiasm, 'like the desire of strong wine,
    the craving of ambition, the passionate love of what is beautiful.'

    Still, though we miss in the historian those higher and more
    spiritual qualities which the philosopher of the Academe alone of
    all men possessed, we must not blind ourselves to the merits of
    that great rationalist who seems to have anticipated the very
    latest words of modern science. Nor yet is he to be regarded
    merely in the narrow light in which he is estimated by most modern
    critics, as the explicit champion of rationalism and nothing more.
    For he is connected with another idea, the course of which is as
    the course of that great river of his native Arcadia which,
    springing from some arid and sun-bleached rock, gathers strength
    and beauty as it flows till it reaches the asphodel meadows of
    Olympia and the light and laughter of Ionian waters.

    For in him we can discern the first notes of that great cult of the
    seven-hilled city which made Virgil write his epic and Livy his
    history, which found in Dante its highest exponent, which dreamed
    of an Empire where the Emperor would care for the bodies and the
    Pope for the souls of men, and so has passed into the conception of
    God's spiritual empire and the universal brotherhood of man and
    widened into the huge ocean of universal thought as the Peneus
    loses itself in the sea.

    Polybius is the last scientific historian of Greece. The writer
    who seems fittingly to complete the progress of thought is a writer
    of biographies only. I will not here touch on Plutarch's
    employment of the inductive method as shown in his constant use of
    inscription and statue, of public document and building and the
    like, because it involves no new method. It is his attitude
    towards miracles of which I desire to treat.

    Plutarch is philosophic enough to see that in the sense of a
    violation of the laws of nature a miracle is impossible. It is
    absurd, he says, to imagine that the statue of a saint can speak,
    and that an inanimate object not possessing the vocal organs should
    be able to utter an articulate sound. Upon the other hand, he
    protests against science imagining that, by explaining the natural
    causes of things, it has explained away their transcendental
    meaning. 'When the tears on the cheek of some holy statue have
    been analysed into the moisture which certain temperatures produce
    on wood and marble, it yet by no means follows that they were not a
    sign of grief and mourning set there by God Himself.' When Lampon
    saw in the prodigy of the one-horned ram the omen of the supreme
    rule of Pericles, and when Anaxagoras showed that the abnormal
    development was the rational resultant of the peculiar formation of
    the skull, the dreamer and the man of science were both right; it
    was the business of the latter to consider how the prodigy came
    about, of the former to show why it was so formed and what it so
    portended. The progression of thought is exemplified in all
    particulars. Herodotus had a glimmering sense of the impossibility
    of a violation of nature. Thucydides ignored the supernatural.
    Polybius rationalised it. Plutarch raises it to its mystical
    heights again, though he bases it on law. In a word, Plutarch felt
    that while science brings the supernatural down to the natural, yet
    ultimately all that is natural is really supernatural. To him, as
    to many of our own day, religion was that transcendental attitude
    of the mind which, contemplating a world resting on inviolable law,
    is yet comforted and seeks to worship God not in the violation but
    in the fulfilment of nature.

    It may seem paradoxical to quote in connection with the priest of
    Chaeronea such a pure rationalist as Mr. Herbert Spencer; yet when
    we read as the last message of modern science that 'when the
    equation of life has been reduced to its lowest terms the symbols
    are symbols still,' mere signs, that is, of that unknown reality
    which underlies all matter and all spirit, we may feel how over the
    wide strait of centuries thought calls to thought and how Plutarch
    has a higher position than is usually claimed for him in the
    progress of the Greek intellect.

    And, indeed, it seems that not merely the importance of Plutarch
    himself but also that of the land of his birth in the evolution of
    Greek civilisation has been passed over by modern critics. To us,
    indeed, the bare rock to which the Parthenon serves as a crown, and
    which lies between Colonus and Attica's violet hills, will always
    be the holiest spot in the land of Greece: and Delphi will come
    next, and then the meadows of Eurotas where that noble people lived
    who represented in Hellenic thought the reaction of the law of duty
    against the law of beauty, the opposition of conduct to culture.
    Yet, as one stands on the [Greek text which cannot be reproduced]
    of Cithaeron and looks out on the great double plain of Boeotia,
    the enormous importance of the division of Hellas comes to one's
    mind with great force. To the north are Orchomenus and the Minyan
    treasure-house, seat of those merchant princes of Phoenicia who
    brought to Greece the knowledge of letters and the art of working
    in gold. Thebes is at our feet with the gloom of the terrible
    legends of Greek tragedy still lingering about it, the birthplace
    of Pindar, the nurse of Epaminondas and the Sacred Band.

    And from out of the plain where 'Mars loved to dance,' rises the
    Muses' haunt, Helicon, by whose silver streams Corinna and Hesiod
    sang; while far away under the white aegis of those snow-capped
    mountains lies Chaeronea and the Lion plain where with vain
    chivalry the Greeks strove to check Macedon first and afterwards
    Rome; Chaeronea, where in the Martinmas summer of Greek
    civilisation Plutarch rose from the drear waste of a dying religion
    as the aftermath rises when the mowers think they have left the
    field bare.

    Greek philosophy began and ended in scepticism: the first and the
    last word of Greek history was Faith.

    Splendid thus in its death, like winter sunsets, the Greek religion
    passed away into the horror of night. For the Cimmerian darkness
    was at hand, and when the schools of Athens were closed and the
    statue of Athena broken, the Greek spirit passed from the gods and
    the history of its own land to the subtleties of defining the
    doctrine of the Trinity and the mystical attempts to bring Plato
    into harmony with Christ and to reconcile Gethsemane and the Sermon
    on the Mount with the Athenian prison and the discussion in the
    woods of Colonus. The Greek spirit slept for wellnigh a thousand
    years. When it woke again, like Antaeus it had gathered strength
    from the earth where it lay; like Apollo it had lost none of its
    divinity through its long servitude.

    In the history of Roman thought we nowhere find any of those
    characteristics of the Greek Illumination which I have pointed out
    are the necessary concomitants of the rise of historical criticism.
    The conservative respect for tradition which made the Roman people
    delight in the ritual and formulas of law, and is as apparent in
    their politics as in their religion, was fatal to any rise of that
    spirit of revolt against authority the importance of which, as a
    factor in intellectual progress, we have already seen.

    The whitened tables of the Pontifices preserved carefully the
    records of the eclipses and other atmospherical phenomena, and what
    we call the art of verifying dates was known to them at an early
    time; but there was no spontaneous rise of physical science to
    suggest by its analogies of law and order a new method of research,
    nor any natural springing up of the questioning spirit of
    philosophy with its unification of all phenomena and all knowledge.
    At the very time when the whole tide of Eastern superstition was
    sweeping into the heart of the Capital the Senate banished the
    Greek philosophers from Rome. And of the three systems which did
    at length take some root in the city, those of Zeno and Epicurus
    were used merely as the rule for the ordering of life, while the
    dogmatic scepticism of Carneades, by its very principles,
    annihilated the possibility of argument and encouraged a perfect
    indifference to research.

    Nor were the Romans ever fortunate enough like the Greeks to have
    to face the incubus of any dogmatic system of legends and myths,
    the immoralities and absurdities of which might excite a
    revolutionary outbreak of sceptical criticism. For the Roman
    religion became as it were crystallised and isolated from progress
    at an early period of its evolution. Their gods remained mere
    abstractions of commonplace virtues or uninteresting
    personifications of the useful things of life. The old primitive
    creed was indeed always upheld as a state institution on account of
    the enormous facilities it offered for cheating in politics, but as
    a spiritual system of belief it was unanimously rejected at a very
    early period both by the common people and the educated classes,
    for the sensible reason that it was so extremely dull. The former
    took refuge in the mystic sensualities of the worship of Isis, the
    latter in the Stoical rules of life. The Romans classified their
    gods carefully in their order of precedence, analysed their
    genealogies in the laborious spirit of modern heraldry, fenced them
    round with a ritual as intricate as their law, but never quite
    cared enough about them to believe in them. So it was of no
    account with them when the philosophers announced that Minerva was
    merely memory. She had never been much else. Nor did they protest
    when Lucretius dared to say of Ceres and of Liber that they were
    only the corn of the field and the fruit of the vine. For they had
    never mourned for the daughter of Demeter in the asphodel meadows
    of Sicily, nor traversed the glades of Cithaeron with fawn-skin and
    with spear.

    This brief sketch of the condition of Roman thought will serve to
    prepare us for the almost total want of scientific historical
    criticism which we shall discern in their literature, and has,
    besides, afforded fresh corroboration of the conditions essential
    to the rise of this spirit, and of the modes of thought which it
    reflects and in which it is always to be found. Roman historical
    composition had its origin in the pontifical college of
    ecclesiastical lawyers, and preserved to its close the uncritical
    spirit which characterised its fountain-head. It possessed from
    the outset a most voluminous collection of the materials of
    history, which, however, produced merely antiquarians, not
    historians. It is so hard to use facts, so easy to accumulate

    Wearied of the dull monotony of the pontifical annals, which dwelt
    on little else but the rise and fall in provisions and the eclipses
    of the sun, Cato wrote out a history with his own hand for the
    instruction of his child, to which he gave the name of Origines,
    and before his time some aristocratic families had written
    histories in Greek much in the same spirit in which the Germans of
    the eighteenth century used French as the literary language. But
    the first regular Roman historian is Sallust. Between the
    extravagant eulogies passed on this author by the French (such as
    De Closset), and Dr. Mommsen's view of him as merely a political
    pamphleteer, it is perhaps difficult to reach the VIA MEDIA of
    unbiassed appreciation. He has, at any rate, the credit of being a
    purely rationalistic historian, perhaps the only one in Roman
    literature. Cicero had a good many qualifications for a scientific
    historian, and (as he usually did) thought very highly of his own
    powers. On passages of ancient legend, however, he is rather
    unsatisfactory, for while he is too sensible to believe them he is
    too patriotic to reject them. And this is really the attitude of
    Livy, who claims for early Roman legend a certain uncritical homage
    from the rest of the subject world. His view in his history is
    that it is not worth while to examine the truth of these stories.

    In his hands the history of Rome unrolls before our eyes like some
    gorgeous tapestry, where victory succeeds victory, where triumph
    treads on the heels of triumph, and the line of heroes seems never
    to end. It is not till we pass behind the canvas and see the
    slight means by which the effect is produced that we apprehend the
    fact that like most picturesque writers Livy is an indifferent
    critic. As regards his attitude towards the credibility of early
    Roman history he is quite as conscious as we are of its mythical
    and unsound nature. He will not, for instance, decide whether the
    Horatii were Albans or Romans; who was the first dictator; how many
    tribunes there were, and the like. His method, as a rule, is
    merely to mention all the accounts and sometimes to decide in
    favour of the most probable, but usually not to decide at all. No
    canons of historical criticism will ever discover whether the Roman
    women interviewed the mother of Coriolanus of their own accord or
    at the suggestion of the senate; whether Remus was killed for
    jumping over his brother's wall or because they quarrelled about
    birds; whether the ambassadors found Cincinnatus ploughing or only
    mending a hedge. Livy suspends his judgment over these important
    facts and history when questioned on their truth is dumb. If he
    does select between two historians he chooses the one who is nearer
    to the facts he describes. But he is no critic, only a
    conscientious writer. It is mere vain waste to dwell on his
    critical powers, for they do not exist.

    In the case of Tacitus imagination has taken the place of history.
    The past lives again in his pages, but through no laborious
    criticism; rather through a dramatic and psychological faculty
    which he specially possessed.

    In the philosophy of history he has no belief. He can never make
    up his mind what to believe as regards God's government of the
    world. There is no method in him and none elsewhere in Roman

    Nations may not have missions but they certainly have functions.
    And the function of ancient Italy was not merely to give us what is
    statical in our institutions and rational in our law, but to blend
    into one elemental creed the spiritual aspirations of Aryan and of
    Semite. Italy was not a pioneer in intellectual progress, nor a
    motive power in the evolution of thought. The owl of the goddess
    of Wisdom traversed over the whole land and found nowhere a
    resting-place. The dove, which is the bird of Christ, flew
    straight to the city of Rome and the new reign began. It was the
    fashion of early Italian painters to represent in mediaeval costume
    the soldiers who watched over the tomb of Christ, and this, which
    was the result of the frank anachronism of all true art, may serve
    to us as an allegory. For it was in vain that the Middle Ages
    strove to guard the buried spirit of progress. When the dawn of
    the Greek spirit arose, the sepulchre was empty, the grave-clothes
    laid aside. Humanity had risen from the dead.

    The study of Greek, it has been well said, implies the birth of
    criticism, comparison and research. At the opening of that
    education of modern by ancient thought which we call the
    Renaissance, it was the words of Aristotle which sent Columbus
    sailing to the New World, while a fragment of Pythagorean astronomy
    set Copernicus thinking on that train of reasoning which has
    revolutionised the whole position of our planet in the universe.
    Then it was seen that the only meaning of progress is a return to
    Greek modes of thought. The monkish hymns which obscured the pages
    of Greek manuscripts were blotted out, the splendours of a new
    method were unfolded to the world, and out of the melancholy sea of
    mediaevalism rose the free spirit of man in all that splendour of
    glad adolescence, when the bodily powers seem quickened by a new
    vitality, when the eye sees more clearly than its wont and the mind
    apprehends what was beforetime hidden from it. To herald the
    opening of the sixteenth century, from the little Venetian printing
    press came forth all the great authors of antiquity, each bearing
    on the title-page the words [Greek text which cannot be
    reproduced]; words which may serve to remind us with what wondrous
    prescience Polybius saw the world's fate when he foretold the
    material sovereignty of Roman institutions and exemplified in
    himself the intellectual empire of Greece.

    The course of the study of the spirit of historical criticism has
    not been a profitless investigation into modes and forms of thought
    now antiquated and of no account. The only spirit which is
    entirely removed from us is the mediaeval; the Greek spirit is
    essentially modern. The introduction of the comparative method of
    research which has forced history to disclose its secrets belongs
    in a measure to us. Ours, too, is a more scientific knowledge of
    philology and the method of survival. Nor did the ancients know
    anything of the doctrine of averages or of crucial instances, both
    of which methods have proved of such importance in modern
    criticism, the one adding a most important proof of the statical
    elements of history, and exemplifying the influences of all
    physical surroundings on the life of man; the other, as in the
    single instance of the Moulin Quignon skull, serving to create a
    whole new science of prehistoric archaeology and to bring us back
    to a time when man was coeval with the stone age, the mammoth and
    the woolly rhinoceros. But, except these, we have added no new
    canon or method to the science of historical criticism. Across the
    drear waste of a thousand years the Greek and the modern spirit
    join hands.

    In the torch race which the Greek boys ran from the Cerameician
    field of death to the home of the goddess of Wisdom, not merely he
    who first reached the goal but he also who first started with the
    torch aflame received a prize. In the Lampadephoria of
    civilisation and free thought let us not forget to render due meed
    of honour to those who first lit that sacred flame, the increasing
    splendour of which lights our footsteps to the far-off divine event
    of the attainment of perfect truth.
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