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destinies of nations have been decided : Chalons, Tours, Hastings,—for us they are speechless. We may walk through streets that have echoed to flying feet, or to the martial tread of the returning conqueror, and see but the men of to-day. We may stand where a nation has buried her great dead, in Santa Croce, or Westminster Abbey,--for us they can be but cathedrals and tombs, or, if more, mere sphynxes.
To be cut off from the life of the past is to make us vain and narrow-minded, if not intolerant and bigoted. The historian takes us up into a high mountain and shows us the world for long ages past, spread out at our feet. It is then that we come to realize the insignificance of the present period in comparison with all that have preceded it; our vanity is humbled, our minds expanded and liberalized.
“To converse with historians,” says Lord Bolingbroke, “is to keep good company.” In the realm of history we may have the great and good of all the ages as our associates, and they can hardly fail to leave a permanent impress on our characters. The impress thus given should grow deeper with the years; the germ thus implanted, with time and opportunity, may be developed and brought into action.
It has already been intimated that history tends strongly to develop a spirit of patriotism ; it is also a potent nurse of virtue. Virtuous deeds are the most eloquent sermons; noble, exalted lives teach the most impressive moral lessons. It ministers, too, to our noblest intellectual wants, and contributes very largely toward that higher culture which is the efflorescence of civilization. As a disciplinary science, history is justly accorded a very high, though not the first rank. Now by expanding the intelligence, by humbling vanity and false pride, by developing a spirit of patriotism, and nursing virtue, history aids greatly in forming good citizens, and in a republic good citizenship is next to godliness.
In the higher education, then, it would seem that history should hold a very important place. Besides a familiarity with the history of our own country, the graduate of a high school or academy should have a good knowledge of the history of England, as well as of the outlines of general history. In addition to this, the college graduate should be well acquainted with the histories of Greece, Rome, France, and Germany.
As regards the extent of the field which should chiefly claim our attention, there is a general agreement. It is limited to our own country and Europe, rejecting almost entirely all other history as not being of a character to be fully comprehended, and not calculated to be of the highest value.
I now pass to methods of study and instruction, where opinions widely differ. After taking the history of our own country, some hold that by working backward the subject may be much more easily understood. There are certainly some advantages in this method, but it has grave disadvantages; it is, in fact, very like walking backward. History is a connected chain of events, the last growing in some sense out of all that have preceded; and to und erstand the present, we must have a knowledge of the past. Many, perhaps the majority, would begin with the history of Greece and Rome. But the life of these nations was so unlike that of to-day, the mythology underlying their civilization so at variance with Christianity, that it is difficult for us to form any correct idea of the state of affairs, and more difficult still to gain any adequate conception of the motives that prompted to action. For these reasons we should not begin with Greece and Rome, but, as it would seem, at the dividing line between ancient and modern civilization. It is true that the old is so gradually shaded off into the new, that it is somewhat difficult to fix a line of demarcation; yet at the fall of the Western Empire in 476 A. D., the change was well-nigh complete. The barbarians had inundated the Roman world, and but little of former systems was left behind. A new and nobler civilization now begins, and we see men moved by new impulses and loftier motives, and acting under conditions hitherto unknown. When the outlines of mediæval and modern history are well mastered, we may turn to Greece and Rome; but here, as always, we should remember that “a live dog is better than a dead lion.” Whether we know little or much of the facts, we can certainly all recall the time we spent among the petty States of Greece, and in the tanglewood of the Middle Ages. To many
the recollection is by no means cheering, as our devious wanderings ended ingloriously; but the achievements of some were marvelous in our own eyes, and a source of pride to teachers and friends. Well started at any point, we could rattle, on almost like a perpetual motion, and had more dates at command than Hume or Macaulay mastered, in a life-time devoted to historic study. It was wonderful indeed “ that one small bread could carry all we knew.” But how about our splendid acquirements a few months later ? Alas! we could say of them solemnly, they were, but they are not. In later years, the time has come to many
when should be glad to convert these early phantoms into realities. We have bought Hume, Bancroft, and Gibbon.
Ambitious, fired with zeal, we resolved to master them in our leisure hours. That, perhaps, was long ago, but how few have accomplished their purpose! Our excuse is lack of time, and yet we read the popular novels, and daily spend an hour over the sensational trash of the average newspaper.
Even those of us who teach history are, for the most part, content with mastering that which is contained in the text-book in hand. There are certainly many reasons why we should do more, but the fact remains. Had we taken instead of an extended work, a brief compend, the result would have been no better. In literature, if we are wise, we read but few authors; and if we grow wiser, the number increases very slowly. If we are to visit a great picture gallery, we mark in our catalogue those works mast worthy of study, and before these we linger, but glancing at the rest. A great artist is to paint on canvas the glories of France. He does not make the attempt to give the whole, but fixes on certain grand scenes, and we have a series of magnificent pictures.
It is in this way, I believe, that histories for the young
should be written. We should have some great event, — the Massacre of St. Bartholomew, or some heroic figure, - Alfred the Great, Charlemagne, Martin Luther, as the central point; and about this group men and events, and in the background, the men and women of the period, in their homes, at their toil, and at their sports. A book written substantially in this manner is Green's History of the English People.
But if our author has given us a connected narrative, kings, parliaments, battles, intrigues, and the rest,what then? The pioneers in our primeval forests blazed certain trees : we must do a similar work as we enter the tanglewood of history, or after almost fruitless wanderings we shall only be too glad to come out weary and disheartened.
The teacher of history in the district school, as well as in the academy or college, should first of all seek to make himself in some good sense master of his subject,I mean as far as the grand, prominent features and underlying principles are concerned. Bare facts, mere external occurrences, are not worthy the name of history, and very many of them simply as facts have for us little value. Of what use for us to know that
“ The king of France, with forty thousand men,
Went up a hill, and so came down again ?" We should seek the impulse, the soul of which the fact is the manifestation. Says the great Montaigne, “Let not the tutor so much imprint on his pupil's memory the date of the ruin of Carthage, as the manners of Hannibal and Scipio; nor so much where Marcellus died, as why it was unworthy of his duty that he died there."
Very many details, important locally and temporarily, are well-nigh worthless to succeeding ages, and we should not burden our minds with them, since to do so is to run the risk of neglecting matters which are of far greater importance. It is enough to know where to find them, and in regard to many minor points we should never be ashamed to answer, I cannot tell.
But it is the secret confession of many teachers that they cannot interest themselves in history. If we enter on the work without any adequate preparation, or if we try to gain that preparation from some dry manual or from a single extended work, this is easily conceivable.
But suppose we select a list of topics.covering the entire field, gather about us the necessary books, and