History of the Byzantine Empire

History of the Byzantine Empire

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History of the Byzantine Empire

History of the Byzantine Empire

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Excerpt

"I would rather," said a former president of Harvard University, Professor Felton, "be the author of your histories than Prime Minister of England." This was said in a letter to Finlay, reassuring and solacing him in his day of dejection. So Atticus once comforted Cicero; but it is to be feared that Finlay's case was one of another order, less consolable. His misgivings were due to a sense of disillusion over that very cause, the renaissance of a new Greece, to which he had devoted his life with unswerving mind and singleness of purpose. And even that was not all. For his disappointment coincided with the beginning of his own physical decline, and with the apparent signs too, for so he read them, that his services to his day and generation had been in vain.

Now, we who look back along the steadfast line of his achievement, recognise how eminent it was, and how true was the prophecy of his friend Felton, uttered almost fifty years ago. We see the continuing effects of his labour, forty years long, as an historian, and the heroic difficulty of his work as an active and practical Philhellene. To gain an estimate of its force and quality, it is almost enough to read the books of his Byzantine history that follow; but they ought to be read with the radiant hope of Finlay's youth and his first great ardour in the Hellenic cause gleaming upon the page.

Finlay, who died in Athens in 1875, was born at Faversham, Kent, in 1799; that is a few months before Macaulay, a very different master of history. His early circumstances were hardly such as to foster his special qualities. He went to no university until he was twenty, and had spent some months in a writer's office at Glasgow; and of his schooldays, three years in a Liverpool boarding-school were, on his own showing, a lost and useless period. But he was fortunate in having a mother who both loved history herself and had the art of making it alive to the imagination of her boy. When, then, Finlay went from Glasgow to Göttingen to study Roman law, he was better primed than the mere chart of his early years would seem to show. Moreover, he reached Germany at a time when the promise of the new awakening of Greece was . . .

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