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guish the peculiar end, object, and function of History from that of Biography.
In history all that belongs to the individual is exhibited in subordinate relation to the commonwealth ; in biography, the acts, and accidents of the commonwealth are considered in their relation to the individual, as influences by which his character is formed or modified, -as circumstances amid which he is placed, -as the sphere in which he moves, or the material he works with. The man, with his works, his words, his affections, his fortunes, is the end and aim of all. He does not, indeed, as in a panegyric, stand alone like a statue, but like the central figure of a picture, around which others are grouped in due subordination and perspective, the general circumstances of his times forming the back and fore ground. In history, the man, like the earth on the Copernican hypothesis, is part of a system ; in Biography, he is like the earth in the ancient Cosmogony, the centre and the final cause of the system.
There is one species of history which may with great propriety be called biographical, to which we do not remember to have heard the term applied ;-we mean that wherein an order, institution, or people, are invested with personality, and described as possessing an unity of will, conscience, and responsibility ;-as sinning, repenting, believing, apostatizing, &c. Of this, the first and finest sample is in the Old Testament, where Israel is constantly addressed, and frequently spoken of, as an individual ; and the final restoration of the descendants of Abraham is treated as the redemption of ONE body from disease, of ONE soul from perdition. The Scripture personality of Israel is something far other, and infinitely more real, than the personification of Britannia ; and points at a profounder mystery than human sense can ever interpret.
Much has been said about the usefulness of history, meaning thereby the history of nations ; and hardly too much can be said, if regard be had to the community and its rulers; for it makes the Past a factor to buy up experience for the Present; and enables the purged eye to “ look into the seeds of time.” But if the consideration be private, fireside, moral usefulness, we think the benefits of historical reading as a necessary department of education, or a profitable employment of leisure hours, have been very much exaggerated. It may, indeed, do no harm, for the same reason that it does no good, viz. because it takes no hold; it glides away like globules of crude quicksilver over a smooth surface, or at most is deposited in the shewroom of the memory :— because no conclusions, applicable to common life, can be drawn from it; because it excites no sense of reality. It is gone through as a task,-by children on compulsion, by young people as a merit. The most remarkable thing about your history-reading young ladies, is the self-satisfaction with which they turn over the pages; and in truth, they might be doing much worse, but might they not also be doing much better? To make this sort of reading available for any purpose, requires very deep and wide research, and harder thinking than we would gladly see young brows furrowed withal; for not one man in a thousand, not one woman in a million, is called on to make any use of their politic wisdom when they have got it, and nothing is more likely to delude and puzzle simple persons in the exercise of their political rights, than a superficial acquaintance with the heads of history. But this same politic wisdom itself, even when genuine, and not a puffed conceit, is one of the most unwholesome fruits of the tree of knowledge, and if the mind be not fortified with good and sufficient antidotes, is a moral poison. Why is the “ murderous Machiavél” a by-word of abhorrence ? Whence is it, that while the bloody deeds of conquerors shine fair in story and in song, as the wounds of the Faithful in Moslem Paradise, the master-strokes of the subtle politicians, of the Richelieus and Bedomars, only appear as letters of sulphurous flame, writing their own condemnation ? Because the heart of man gives honour to bravery, which is nature's gift, but has no respect for the wisdom which grows of experience in evil ways. Now the study of history in books can give only the same kind of knowledge, and the same habits of mind, as men long versed in public affairs gain by actual experience; the impression will, indeed, be much fainter, the effect for good or ill much less potent, but it is the same as far as it goes. It is like the knowledge of the world acquired by keeping bad company. Now the study of Biography has at least this advantage, that it enables the student to select his companions. If he
chooses Colonel Jack, or Moll Flanders, it is his own fault. But history not only continually exhibits the doings of bad men, but it exhibits only the bad, or at any rate the worse, acts of good ones : for most men are better in their private than in their public relations.
Frail and corrupt as human nature is, it is by no means so hateful, so utterly forsaken of Heaven, as the transactions of kingdoms and republics (there is little difference between the two) would incline us to think. The best part, even of the most conspicuous characters, is that which makes the least shew and the least noise. And after all, the history of nations is only the history of a small portion of the life of a very few men.
We cannot be supposed to censure the study of history: we only wish it to be properly balanced by studies which tend to keep the eye
of man upon his own heart, upon the sphere of his immediate duties, of those duties, where his affections are to be exercised and regulated, and which, considering man as a person, consider him as sentient, intelligent, moral, and immortal. For simply to think of a man as a sentient being, is inconsistent with that hard-hearted policy which would employ him, reckless of his suffering or enjoyment, like a wedge or a rivet, to build up the idol temple of a false national greatness; to regard him as intelligent, or rather as capable of intelligence, condemns the system that would keep him in ignorance to serve the purposes of his rulers, as game cocks are penned up in the dark that they may fight the better; to regard him as moral, corrects the primary conception of national prosperity; and to revere him as immortal, commands peremptorily that he shall never be made a tool or instrument to any end in which his own permanent welfare is not included.
It is in all these capacities that the biographer considers his subjects. He speaks of actions, not as mere links in the concatenation of events, but as the issues of a responsible will. He endeavours to place himself at the exact point, in relation to general objects, in which his subject was placed, and to see things as he saw them—not, indeed, neglecting to avail himself of the vantage-ground which time or circumstances may have given him to correct what was delusive in the partial aspect, but never forgetting, while he exposes the error, to explain its cause.
The work to which these remarks are prefixed is purely biographical. It professes no more than to introduce the reader to an acquaintance with the several Worthies that may drop in upon him during the course of publication. As it will comprise characters in every profession, of all parties, and many religious denominations, the author cannot in all cases undertake to decide upon the professional merits of those whose lives he has endeavoured to depict; or to criticise purely professional works, such as relate to physic, engineering, &c.; but will faithfully detail the judgments which have obtained public credit. As to matters of opinion, whether political or religious, his rule has been, to make each speak for himself in his own words, or by his own actions, taking care, as far as possible, to represent the opinions that men or sects have actually held, in the light in which they have been held by their professors-not in the distorted perspective of their adversaries. He enters into no engagement to withhold his own sentiments; but he will not judge, much less condemn, the sentiments of others.
A work of this nature necessarily borrows much, but wherever original matter was attainable, it has been gladly used, and in the proper place, thankfully acknowledged. And so far we have discharged our duty as chairman to the combined meeting of the great Counties of Yorkshire and Lancashire.