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shrewd old gentleman of the eighteenth century talking to you most sagaciously about a number of things which he has got carefully under lock and key, and will never let you get a glimpse of.
I forget who it is who says, that what is most visible in the history of every time, is the time of the historian writingthis, which is true of all the historians of the Voltairean school, is especially true of Voltaire. He looks at everything, and arguesupon every thing with the eyes and with the feelings, not merely of his own age, but of his own country and his own clique.
We know that Herodotus relates of the Babylonian ladies, that they were all obliged, once at least in their lives, to prostitute themselves to strangers in the Temple of Melita or Venus. “Can any one," cries Voltaire, “believe in such a story? Is it likely, is it possible, that such a custom should exist among a people in any state of refinement ? What is not natural is never true.” “Now,” says Grimm, “it would be
very difficult to say what is natural—and if we were to strike out from history every thing that seemed unnatural to us, there would only remain the chronicle of our own times.” Did Grimm say the truth ? Certainly, human sacrifices in any state of society are not very natural. Suicide, which was the fashion among one of the most sensible nations in the world, was one of the most unnatural fashions that can well be imagined. It was not very long ago that it was the fashion in England for all young ladies to wear pads in order to make them appear with child; which, among a people who set the highest value on female chastity, was also very unnatural, surely. The law of Babylon was at least as natural as the vow of celibacy; nor are we to suppose that, if the Babylonish ladies were refined, their notions of refinement must necessarily have resembled those of the Parisians. But the best part of the story is, that not above half a century after Voltaire wrote, a person appeared in France, actually in France, who preached nearly the same doctrines in the Chaussée d'Antin that, Herodotus says, were followed in Babylon.* Nay, there was even a moment of doubt as to whether the father of this creed was
not a true prophet-many have even still a faith in his success -so that, after all, what the Babylonian ladies practised as a solemn ceremony, the French ladies are not induced to shudder at from social usage. A man who says, “what is not natural cannot be true," and who looks at nature through the prism of his own epoch, cannot be a good historian ; and Voltaire, with the industry which Gibbon acknowledged, and the genius which no one disputes, was not a good historian.
But the chief portion of that public for which Voltaire wrote, was a knot of philosophers, who imagined the time in which they lived a golden climax in civilization ; who really thought that they could measure all things, past, present, and to come, by the ideal standard they had set up in their own minds ; who looked back to history, not to form their opinions, but to illustrate their doctrines, and who, when the facts which they read clashed with the theories they believed, denounced the facts to cherish the theories. These men had no idea of a virtue that was different from their virtue; of the power and the force of a genius which was not cast in the mould of their own minds. They were at once too speculative to be struck by a picture, and too proud to think that the darker ages were worth portraying: all they wished for was reasonings similar to their owo—the description of other times, which did not take them from theirs ;—and the writer who pleased them most was the one who took a lesson from the artist, and drew Hercules in the costume of Louis XIV. Such were the men who formed the chief part of that public for which Voltaire wrote—and to these men were joined others equally cold and equally fastidious— courtiers, whose ideas were in rows, stiff, and trim, like the trees at Versailles; who were easily shocked, who could not be astonished, who liked to fancy they were being instructed, and who only wished to be amused. of the
The populares day mirrored forth the taste of the popular critics of the day, and wit and dissertation were the combined materials to please the two classes of those critics.
But when a new school of history arose, it drew more especially from the stores which its predecessors bad cautiously neglected.
“ Time,” said the Encyclopedists, * “is too precious, and
the space of history too immense, to give the reader ridiculous fables and absurd theories of ignorant men.
“ Without crediting the fables of ancient writers," says M. Michaud, “I have not disdained to make use of them, for what these writers said, their contemporaries believed ; and in so much they show the manners, and the ideas, and the knowledge, which prevailed at the period they describe."* Here then are the two schools in direct opposition. The first brought a bastard kind of antiquity into your parlour; the second would carry you back into antiquity itself. Instead of reasoning upon the acts of your ancestors, the modern historian would show you those ancestors themselves, clad in the panoply, the passions, and the prejudices, of olden time. The writer of the “Crusades” does not coldly tell you that the religious adventurers who poured into Palestine were a set of superstitious soldiers clad in mail. No! you see the sun shine on their glittering harness ; you hear them shouting, “ Dieu le veut,” as they rush to battle. “Lo! there are the warlike fanatics marching upon Jerusalem! They have fasted for three days, and, sallying forth, at length they walk, their weapons in their hands, but their feet bare, and their heads uncovered. Thus they walk three times round the sacred city; and before them march their priests, robed in white, and carrying the images of saints, and singing psalms; and the banners are unfurled, and loud sound the timbrel and the trumpet ; for thus was it that the Israelites had thrice made the tour of Jericho, the walls of which crumbled to pieces at the sound of the warlike music.”+
" I have endeavoured,” says M. de Barante, "to restore to history the charm of romance, which romance had in fact borrowed from history;" and so, in a work, a model of its kind, this modern historian continually cites the old chronicles, and borrows himself something of their simple, and perhaps barbarous style of narrative, telling you things in a tone and with the colouring of a contemporary. The erudition which makes most works dry, makes his delightful. You see Charles the
* Michaud, Exposition de l'Histoire des Croisades. † Michaud, vol. i. p. 412. Hist. des Croisades.
Histoire des Ducs de Bourgogne : Preface. $ M. de Barante is called a copyist; and so he is, a copyist of the old writers, from whom he has taken his materials. But, if an historian has any
Bold, his long black hair floating in the wind, his proud lip trembling, and his swart face pale with passion. You know the very name of his coal-black charger; and before him are the Swiss on their knees, and the heavens clearing at their prayer; and there you read how the Burgundians beseeched their prince to remember “ his poor people,” and how the clergy told him that he was defeated because he taxed the church. The age speaks to you in its own language, and expresses its own ideas.
You make acquaintance with its personages, as they existed in flesh and blood ; you learn its manners, without knowing you have been taught them. The first author of this school that I read was M. Thierry, and I yet remember the pleasure I felt at the following simple, but,' I think, very admirable passage, in that part of his history which relates to the Norman descent.
“ And now there arrived from Rome the consecrated flag, and the bull which authorized the descent upon England. The eagerness increased. Every one contributed to the enterprise, as best he could, and even mothers sent their favourite children to enlist, for the sake of their souls. William published his war-ban in the countries adjacent: he offered a large sum, and the pillage of England, to every man of tall and robust stature, who would serve, either with the lance, the sword, or the cross-bow; and a multitude poured in from all parts, from far and near, from north and from south, from Maine and from Anjou, from Poitou and from Brittany, from France and from Flanders, from Aquitaine and from Burgundy, from Piedmont and the borders of the Rhine; all adventurers by profession, all the brave and vagabond spirits of Europe, came eagerly and gladly at his call. Some were knights and captains of war; simple foot-soldiers, and servants at arms,-such was the phrase of the time. These demanded money in hand; those, their passage and all the booty they could gain. Many wished for an estate in England, a domain, a castle, a town--or simply bargained for a Saxon wife.
merit in infusing into you the spirit of the times whose actions he is narrating, to copy the writers of those times is a necessity and not a fault.
“And during the spring and the summer, in all parts of Normandy, workmen of all kinds were employed in constructing and in equipping vessels. Here were the blacksmiths and the armourers fabricating lances and coats of mail—and there were the porters incessantly carrying arms from the workshops to the ships—and during these preparations William presented himself at St. Germain's to the King of the French, and saluting him with a deference which his ancestors, had not always paid to the Kings of France, You are my seigneur, said he; 'if it please you to aid me, and that God give me grace to obtain my right in England, I promise to do homage to you for that realm, as if I held it of you.' Philip assembled his council of barons and freemen, without whom he could decide no important affair, and the barons were of opinion that he could in no wise aid William in his conquest.
“You know,' said they to their king, 'how little the Normans obey you now-they will obey you less if they have England. Besides, it will a great expense to aid the duke in his enterprise ; and if it fail we shall have the English for our mortal enemies."
William, thus treated, retired ill contented from Philip.
“ The rendezvous for the vessels and men at arms was at the mouth of the Dive, a river which falls into the sea between the Seine and the Orne. For a month, the winds were contrary, and the Norman fleet was retained in the harbour. At length a southern breeze carried it to St. Valery near Dieppe. There the bad weather recommenced, and it was necessary to cast anchor and wait for several days.-During this delay, the tempest shattered several vessels, and many of their crews perished. And at this accident murmurings arose among the troops, already fatigued with their long encampment. The soldiers, idle in their tents, passed the day in conversing upon the dangers of the voyage and the difficulties of the enterprise they were undertaking.
« • There has yet been no battle, they said, and already several of our companions are no more ;' and then they calculated and examined the number of dead bodies which the sea had thrown upon the sands. And these reports abated the