CHAPTER THIRTEEN LITERARY ASPECTS OF HISTORY

THERE ARE twenty different ways, says Kipling, of writing tribal lays, and every single one of them is right. The same assertion may happily be made of history, which is one of the most variegated departments of literature. Yet certain elements do give a common stamp to the work of the greatest historians, certain touchstones make the reader aware when he is in the presence of a master. Perhaps the chief is suggested by Thackeray in his well-known comment on the genius of Lord Macaulay. He praises Macaulay for his enormous erudition--but also for a much rarer quality than erudition.

"Take at hazard," writes Thackeray, "any three pages of his Essays or History; and, glimmering below the stream of the narrative, you, an average reader, see one, two, three, a half score of allusions to other historic facts, characters, literature, poetry, with which you are acquainted. Your neighbor, who has his reading and his little stock of literature stored away in his mind, shall detect more points, allusions, happy touches, indicating, not only the prodigious memory and learnings of this master, but the wonderful industry, the honest, humble, previous toil of this great scholar. He reads twenty books to write a sentence, he travels a hundred miles to make a line of description."

Be it noted that it was not merely Macaulay's vast learning and toil of research which stirred Thackeray's admiration; it was his ability to distil this learning and toil into tiny compass, and his readiness to present it without ostentation. "He reads

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