A History of Historical Writing - Vol. 1

A History of Historical Writing - Vol. 1

A History of Historical Writing - Vol. 1

A History of Historical Writing - Vol. 1

Excerpt

I was tempted to entitle this book The Bridge of Clio, which would have been a more imaginative and a statelier title than the one used. History may be regarded as a great bridge which arches the stream of Time and links the Past and the Present together. The approach to this Bridge is shrouded in the mists of antiquity. Herodotus is the first clearly visible arch in this impressive structure which bears the name of the Muse of History and is dedicated to her honor. In nearer vision, yet still older than yesteryear or even than yestercentury, Montesquieu and Gibbon loom like towers. With their appearance the Bridge of Clio broadens into a noble highway which henceforth is well posted. It is an old Bridge, a brave Bridge, a beautiful Bridge, this Bridge of Clio.

From the Greeks to the present, European culture has ever been alert to new intellectual attitudes and sensitive to new interpretation or new criticism. Western society has always been historically minded, and possesses a mass of literary evidence on its past which differs in quality and quantity from that of any other culture known. The primary force in this direction came from the Greek genius. The next factor has been the influence of Christianity, which has always been history-conscious, unlike Buddhism and Brahmanism, or any other oriental religion, ancient or modern. Finally, the advance of modern science and the material progress achieved in the last two centuries have profoundly affected the thinking of the Western world. Occidental history has developed from a branch of literature into a field of scholarship; its preservation and increase has become an established academic profession.

How far the study of history is really a study of historians, and how far history is what the historians have said it was, are questions to which the answers are not clear. But, except for that narrow school of historians who still adhere to the ancient maxim: Sczibitur ad narrandum, non ad probandum, it is generally agreed that the high function of the historian is interpretation. It is from this viewpoint that these volumes offer a survey of the changing conceptions of history, and of the various fashions of writing it, from earliest antiquity to the outbreak of the First World War.

No living historian is included, and of set intention no American writer has been mentioned. There is a limit to what can be crowded between four covers, and an extensive and growing literature on Amer-

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