Ten Master Historians

Ten Master Historians

Ten Master Historians

Ten Master Historians

Excerpt

While it is evident that the modern conception of history is far removed from the kind of record made by the early English and French chroniclers, there can be no doubt that the work of the "historians" of antiquity is vastly more remote again. If we consider, for example, the Greek writers in this field, we find that their limitations were extreme. Thucydides took the Peloponnesian war for his subject and excluded everything else. J. B. Bury says of Xenophon that his mind was essentially mediocre, and incapable of penetrating beneath the surface of things. But the essence of the matter is expressed by the American authoress Miss Bessie Graham, when she says of Herodotus that, "He had no conception of the modern idea of investigating sources and evidence. The study of archaeology was unknown, so he relied on folk tales and early poetic accounts, and adapted what he heard or read to his own interpretation. The histories form a story book, written in the style of artless conversation." Primitive conditions caused a broad comprehensive outlook to be lacking, for the rich scope and global range of modern knowledge were absent. Resources of learning which we now accept as normal were then nonexistent.

Chroniclers fulfilled an essential historical function in recording important events in which they had taken part or about which they had heard from eye-witnesses. They were among the forerunners of historians, but the conception is a very different one, and we can trace a distinct evolution from them. There are few more fascinating figures than Sir John Froissart, of the latter part of the fourteenth and early part of the fifteenth centuries: the value of his work is immense, yet we cannot regard him as other than purely a chronicler. By the seventeenth century we have in Clarendon the chronicler-historian, who retains many of the characteristics of the old type of chronicler while going some way towards meeting the exacting demands now made upon the historian. Even in the twentieth century . . .

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