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there is really no such thing as an elementary study of history. It is not worth while to study it at all, unless it be thoroughly studied. A thorough knowledge of it cannot, however, be imparted in the lecture room; it must be acquired by the student himself in the solitary labor of the closet. The most accomplished instructer can do nothing more than to assist him in pursuing his investigations for himself. He must study special histories. He must carefully examine the best sources,—if possible, the original sources. He must make himself familiar with the details, at least of all the most important portions of the history of the world. This is the work of
years. It is obvious, therefore, that a thorough knowledge of history can never be acquired in the time allowed for its study in the usual course of public instruction. The same thing may perhaps be said to hold true of other studies. To a certain extent it does. Still, in regard to most of the other studies, more can be done within the allotted time towards acquiring a competent knowledge of them, than can be done in regard to history. A good foundation may be laid ; a successful beginning may be made. In respect to history it is far more difficult.
In what way, therefore, to occupy the time allotted to history to the best advantage, is a perplexing problem.
To devote the whole period to the study of some compend of universal history, containing a summary or abridgment of all the special histories of the world, is a very common inethod. Yet such works, from the nature of the case, can be but little more to the young student than a barren mass of dates, names, and dead facts. We might as well expect to gain a correct and lively impression of the form, features, and expression of a living man from the contemplation of the human skeleton, as to acquire a true knowledge of history from such abridgments alone. “ Abridgments,” as Professor Smyth well remarks,“ have their use, but to read them as a
more summary method of acquiring historical knowledge, is not their use, nor can be. When the detail is tolerably known, the summary can then be understood, but not before. Summaries may always serve most usefully to revive the knowledge which has been before acquired, may throw it into proper shapes and proportions, and leave it in this state upon the memory, to supply the materials of subsequent reflection. But general histories, if they are read first, and before the particular history is known, are a sort of chain, of which the links seem not connected; contain representations and statements, which cannot be understood, and therefore cannot be remembered ; and exhibit to the mind a succession of objects and images, each of which appears and retires too rapidly to be surveyed; and, when the whole vision has passed by, as soon it does, a trace of it is scarcely found to remain. Were I to look from an eminence over a country which I had never before seen, I should discover only the principal objects; the villa, the stream, the lawn, or the wood. But if the landscape before me had been the scene of my childhood, or lately of my residence, every object would bring along with it all its attendant associations, and the picture that was presented to the eye would be the least part of the impression that was received by the mind. Such is the difference between reading general histories before, or after, the particular histories to which they refer.”
“I must not, indeed, omit to observe," continues the same writer, “ that there are some parts of history so obscure and of so little importance, that general accounts of them are all that can either be expected or acquired. Abridgments and general histories must here be used. Not that much can be thus received, but that much is not wanted, and that what little is necessary may be thus obtained.
“I must also confess that general histories may in like manner be resorted to, for the purpose of acquiring a general notion of the great leading features of any particular history;
they may be to the student what maps are to the traveller, and give an idea of the nature of the country, and of the magnitude and situation of the towns through which he is to pass ; they may teach him what he is to expect, and at what points he is to be the most diligent in his inquiries.
“ Viewed in this light, general histories may be considered as of great importance, and that even before the perusal of the particular histories to which they refer ; but they must never be resorted to except in the instances, and for the purposes just mentioned ;—they must not be read as substitutes for more minute and regular histories, nor as short methods of quiring knowledge. "*
While, therefore, the time devoted to history in our usual course of public instruction may not be altogether lost, even if wholly employed in the study of some general compendium, there is yet great danger that its fruit will be merely the mechanical acquisition of a mass of dead facts, soon forgotten.
The zealous teacher will naturally feel a strong desire to lead his pupils to a more intimate acquaintance with the living spirit of history, the true meaning and significance of its mere facts. In this view resort is often had to such works as this of Guizot and others, which treat of what is called the philosophy of history. But in such works a knowledge. of the facts which are made the basis of generalization and reflection, is almost wholly presumed; while the young student, from ignorance of the details of history, or a too slight acquaintance with them, may not be in a condition to understand, much less to judge for himself of the force and justness of, the general views presented to him,-at all events, posed to the danger of getting the habit of too easily taking upon trust, of acquiescence without insight. Against all these dangers the faithful teacher must do his best to protect the student. The most proper time to study such works is un
* Smyth's Lectures ou Modern History, vol. I. p. 6.-Am. ed.
doubtedly when a thorough historical knowledge of the facts upon which they rest is acquired. Some one such work
may, however, under the guidance of a competent teacher, be read with benefit by the young student. Even if there be some things which he cannot adequately appreciate till he shall have gained a more minute knowledge of the historical details ; even if there be some things which for the present he must leave unsettled or take upon trust,-he will still gain the advantage of having his attention directed to the great problems which history presents for solution ; he will form an idea of what is meant by the most general spirit of history; he will have learned that the mere external events of history are worthy of record only as significant of the moral spirit of humanity; and he will be guided in his future study of the facts and details of special histories by a more determinate aim, and a more enlightened interest.
At the same time it is extremely desirable that the student should in the course of his elementary education be led to accomplish thoroughly some portion, however small, of the great task of the historical scholar ; that some epoch, or portion of an epoch, some interesting and important event, at least, forming a sort of historical whole, should be selected and minutely studied, till he is thoroughly familiar with all its details, and perfectly comprehends the connexion, meaning, and consequences, of all the facts. This should be done for the purpose of teaching him how to investigate and compare, combine and reflect for himself.
In the impossibility, then, of communicating a thorough knowledge of history during the usual course of public instruction, thus much, it is conceived, should be attemptedto add to the study of some judicious compend of universal history, that of some good specimen of philosophical generalization of historical facts, and the thorough investigation of some small portion of special history.
The present work by M. Guizot may be recommended as
an excellent specimen of the sort of books which may aid the student in forming the habit of reflecting upon the facts of history, and in awakening and directing an intelligent interest in the study of those facts. Its generalizations, it is true, are often extremely rapid, and presume a vast amount of historical knowledge ; but with the guidance of a competent teacher, the diligent student may supply for himself the needful information ; while the clearness and liveliness of the style render it an attractive work, and the general justness of its thought, the moderation and candor of its spirit, make it for the most part a safe and salutary work.
In the occasional notes added to this edition—and which are referred to by numerals—the editor has had no regular plan of elucidating the work. He has sometimes made a critical or qualifying remark simply because it could be done in a short space, and at other times has omitted to say any thing, because he would otherwise have been led into too extended a disquisition. So, likewise, in some places he has given historical or chronological statements of facts where he thought he could do so to any good purpose within a moderate compass, and in other places, which might seem equally or more to require similar illustration, he has added nothing, because he could not save the student the trouble of looking elsewhere without increasing too much the size of the volume. In short, they are what they are
e_here and there a note; and the editor would fain hope that they will not detract from the value of the work in the view of any readers, and that to some they may be of use.
C. S. H. UNIVERSITY OF NEW-YORK,