The Roman Republic - Vol. 1

By W. E. Heitland | Go to book overview

BOOK I
INTRODUCTORY

CHAPTER I
GENERAL REMARKS
1. 1. MUCH is made nowadays of the proposition that History is a Science, and I have been at some pains to make out what this means. Science is a word that now conveys very different ideas from those present to Gray when he used it to connote the Classical culture of Eton. There hangs about it the flavour of certainty, of knowledge that gives the power of foretelling exactly what will happen to various things at certain times or under certain conditions. Thus the astronomer predicts an eclipse. The chemist knows that if a certain substance be treated in a certain way certain results will follow: if the results do not follow the treatment, he infers that the substance is other than it was supposed to be, and continued experiment at last enables him to identify it as something else. Year by year new facts are ascertained and new principles evolved, and the Sciences that deal with living things are busy with experiments, in the hope that they too may attain equally certain results. And among these last is the group of Sciences that study the human individual as a living being, and like the rest are straining after certainties. How far can History, in the usual limited sense, the study of Man in communities, be compared with these Natural Sciences? I do not think anyone will maintain that History is a Science so exact that it is in a fair way to engage in successful prophecy. Neither is it experimental, for it can neither reproduce nor reverse the processes and situations of the past. Its matter, the doings of man in common life, is always changing. Difference of circumstances creates a real difference between phenomena that appear at first sight identical. It is this fact that renders the use of analogies for illustrative purposes painfully misleading, and it exposes the futile error that 'History repeats itself.' An analogy guarded by saving clauses enough to make it harmless is more likely to obscure than to illustrate. It is well that a writer

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