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HISTORY, IT'S USE.
istics consists in his “looking before and after.” Now, unless he knows what his country has passed through, her trials, struggles, endeavours, how can he know what her liberties, her privileges, and her blessings are? The danger of a new or of an old country being represented and governed by an ignorant and unthinking class is this—that, looking chiefly to the present, forgetful of the landmarks of history, without any sense of danger, heedless, because ignorant, of the warnings around them, they drive the ship of the State on the rocks, and wreck her before they know where they are. Ignorant of the past, they are contentious, and ungrateful for the present; Utopian in their notions, they outreach possibility, and are causelessly and ceaselessly disappointed. To instance a case which will touch us all : Irish demagogues have appealed to the history of Ireland, saying that the people have been oppressed and dispossessed of their rights, and have talked of the glorious days of the old kings, as they now appeal to an imaginary republic. But Historythat of Giraldus Cambrensis as a chronicle, of Dr. Thomas Leland as a philosophic, or of Thomas Moore as a compendious narrative—tells us that Ireland never had a king, but merely a set of native chiefs, almost as savage as are the New Zealanders now; that the Septs ravaged and fought each other, sometimes eating their enemies in wild brutality, always at war, until they voluntarily called in the (English) Norman knights to pacify the land by making one party dominant; that government after government, from that of Henry II., who first of our kings called himself Lord of Ireland, to that of the wise Elizabeth, and thence to that of the stern Cromwell; from William III. to that of the just and generous Victoria, has always found the Irish turbulent, jealous of each other, distrustful of strangers, and hating even that clemency and mercy which they experience under an English government, and those civilising laws and civic rights which they never enjoyed under their own. Contemporary history again, and the knowledge obtained by travelling, will help us to know, and in our case to understand and to love, our own land; for everything in this world is comparative, and it is the greatest proof of ignorance that any one can give, to disparage institutions without understanding them, to attempt matters which are impossible, to render men discontented with that which no State can alter, and to sow discord between class and class, when true knowledge has declared that progress can spring from peace alone. Therefore it is that “histories,” says Lord Bacon, “make men wise;" and he adds that, in proportion as we love our country, we shall desire to know its origin, progress, and its steps towards civilisation, and that which has led to its present importance or degradation in the scale of nations.
The readiest way to acquire this knowledge and we are writing especially for self-improvers--is to begin first with little books. Thomas à Kempis said that he was fond of two things, from which he got much of his humble wisdom; and these were
“ little corners and little books.” Now, not only are great books great evils, but they often are so diffuse in style, and so wanting in arrangement, that they confuse instead of teach. Our student's first plan should be to survey the country, and to survey the history of the country: some such hand-books as Goldsmith's “ England," the “ Victoria History of England," or Ince's
“ Outlines of English History,” should be read. Let him write out an account of the number of sovereigns, the extent and duration of their reigns, and a list of the great “ houses” or families, and get from the books before him a bird's-eye view of the whole matter. He will know how long such a king has reigned and such a dynasty has lasted, and will have acquainted himself with some of the landmarks of history. At the same time the reader will do well to guard himself against making any more use of a sovereign than as a landmark, except under particular circumstances. The great fault of certain histories is that they are the histories of wars, battles, and intrigues, of the Court, but not of the people, religion, manners, and laws. Still it must be distinctly understood that, while the people have been too generally neglected, there are some reigns—let us instance those of Alfred, Edward I., Henry VII., and Queen Elizabeth —where the life and actions of the sovereign are the very centre of interest, and the actions of the people are little else than a generous and impulsive attempt to follow the leadings of a great mind, or a struggle against that great mind. Because we are of the people, we must not entertain that common and foolish error that the people is all and all. One great ma every now and then arises, and is sent, fashioned, and instructed by God for His own purposes, to whom the whole of that noun of multitude, the people, that “many-headed monster," is but a heap of dust or a hill of ants. True it is, that, like the poor wise man in Ecclesiastes, this great man may save his city, save his nation, make it, as did Alfred and Cromwell, what it was and what it is, and he may be utterly forgotten and overlooked by the people; but he is the great man still. The student of history will recognize such men in every age, standing up like solitary towers in the city of God; and he will study them with as much interest as he will study the constitution, religion, government, and laws of the people.
The first clear step in advance in reading history is for the student to get a general idea of what he is going to read about. Having set his face towards a country, a map or a guide-book may be very usefully studied; then let him take up the great history, and learn what he can from it. Now the histories of England are altogether too many, and too few. There are too many small précis, or catechismal histories, and not enough exhaustive and excellent histories. Perhaps, indeed, as we are said to have only one sauce, which is melted butter, so we may plead guilty to having only one general history, which is “Hume and Smollett's, with Hughes's Continuation;" a curious admixture it is admitted to be on all hands, a bookseller's “make up," as it stands, but still, on the whole, a useful book for the general reader. There is another very attractive and good book, which may be used to supplement this, which is Knight's “ Pictorial History of England," being a history of the people as well as of their kings; and there is a history of England by Mr. Charles Knight himself, called the " Popular History of England,” itself again abridged into a bulky volume of more than nine hundred pages, as the “School Higtory of England,” well worth studying. I purposely abstain from mentioning here the translation of Rapin's “ History of England, with Continuation by Tindal ;" also Carte's “ History of England," and those of
17 Guthrie, Ralph, Brady, Tyrrell, Oldmixon, or Bishop White Kennett. These are for the matured student, as are also the more elaborate histories of England commenced, but left unfinished, by Dr. Henry, Sharon Turner, and Dr. Lingard; or that, still in progress, from the pen of Mr. Froude. Beyond these, there are many fragments of history—histories of the Anglo-Saxons, of the Roman settlers, of the Norman Conquest, of certain reigns of queens and kings, all useful to be studied. Of these I shall speak further on. They are of course particularly useful to the student of history, or of certain periods of history; but they should not be consulted before a general view has been taken up by the reader. There are Lord Macaulay, Earl Russell, Lord Mahon, Horace Walpole, Father Newman, Sir Francis Palgrave, and many others, who have illustrated periods, and who are entitled to our gratitude and admiration. But to read these before we have read a systematic history would be folly. We should have all our thoughts scattered, so to express it, before they were collected; for we must remember, with Mr. Froude, that in history “the most careful investigations are diverging roads; the farther men travel upon them, the greater the interval by which they are divided." In the eyes of David Hume, the history of the Saxon princes is "the scuffling of kites and crows." Father Newman would mortify the conceit of a degenerate modern England by pointing to the sixty saints and the hundred confessors who were trained in the royal palaces of her early princes for the calendar of the blessed. How vast a chasm yawns between the two conceptions of the same era !
But beyond this conception, which is easily accounted