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bus numeris absoluta, the former will differ from it rather in degree than in kind; since history ought certainly to be at least Narratio compluribus numeris absoluta. The merit to which we allude, is that of joining apparent slenderness of promise with disproportionate greatness of result. In this point of view, we may observe, without trifling, that the subject of History derives an advantage from the conciseness with which it
be enunciated. Thus, the subject of the Iliad is the Wrath of Achilles ; that of Mr. Gibbon's work, the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Though the former has in this respect a manifest superiority, yet, even the latter does not in its enunciation imply much magnificence of promise. And yet, as either subject is made to open upon us by the poet, and by the historian, respectively, what vast--what speciosa miracula unexpectedly start up before our astonished senses! The one, as well as the other, proceeds with wonderful success,
• Non fumum ex fulgore, sed ex fumo dare fulgus.' Mr. Hume's history, on the other hand, like the first production of his brother historian and countryman, derives the unity, as well as chief interest of its subject, from its being a national one. It is a history of England. The continuity of the scene on which the various events take place, is the principal bond by which they are linked together.
It would be mere waste of time, to do more than solicit the attention of our readers to the question, in order to convince them how far a history of England, or that of a single though striking reign in the annals of Scotland, or even that of the hero Charles V. and the Reformation, with the noble appendage of America,how far such subjects are excelled in grandeur by the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Whatever relates to the fortunes of that immense political fabric, must necessarily command the attention of every reader, merely because it does relate to it.
For, should we even suppose one so ignorant, as barely to know, in general, that so vast and powerful an empire did once exist in a state of enviable prosperity, and that at present scarce a vestige of it remains,-- with what silent attention would he listen to the narration of that man, who should engage to lead him, step by step, through every intermediate scene of decay, from the one state to the other ! But, if we suppose
the reader to be possessed of some literature, who then can describe with what breathless eagerness of expectation such a one would attend a companion, who should offer to conduct him in safety, through the, almost chaotic gulf which separates the two smiling regions of Ancient and Modern History?
And, what adds much to our Author's merit in this instance, Jis subject did not fall to him by chance. It was his own deli;
berate choice. It will appear from the publication now before us, how long be hesitated, how profoundly he meditated, how often he tried, how many other subjects he adopted and rejected, before he finally fixed upon that which now furnishes so solid a foundation for his fame. A devout mind may even be pardoned for starting the question, whether the subject were not designed him hy Divine Providence, so evidently were his studies directed to bis great object, long before it became his decided choice. And, as the accidental fall of an apple supplied our immortal philosopher with the first germ of his theory of universal gravitation, so did the accidental contemplation of the Eternal City in ruins, generate in the mind of our great historian, the first clear hint of pursuing her through her gradual fall from the height of power and majesty, to that state of feebleness and neglect in which he then hebeld her.
The first principles of our judgement, when treating of the best manner of writing history, must be sought for in the manner in which an interesting anecdote is related by an entertaining companion. The talent of the historian is evidently the sanie in kind, with that of the skilful story-t ller. Accordingly, though there are many who are able to tell a story well, without being able to compose a good history, because, while the greater contains the less, the inverse position would clearly imply an absurdity, yet, we believe, none can write a good history, who does not excel in the art of telling a story. That Dr. Robertson possessed the latter talent in an eminent degree, is a well-known fact. And if our other two historians are not equally celebrated in the same way, the cause of this difference will be found in the difference between speaking and writing. A man may write well, without being fluent in conversation,
or possessing the ready elocution of the orator. That Mr. Gibbon had not the talent of rapid elocution, is confessed by himself. in numberless passages of the present work ; and it appears, indeed, as a fact, from the circumstance of his having had a seat in parliament for several years, without having ever proceeded beyond the exercise of a silent vote.
And of Mr. Hume we are informed, that while he regularly attended the meetings of a celebrated debating society at Edinburgh, of which Dr. Robertson was likewise a shining member, he was never known to open bis lips there;- for what other reason, than because he felt himself unequal to it, it is not easy to conjecture.
Now, what is it that constitutes the proper charm of a welltold story? Is it not, that on the part of the hearer, the attention is fixed without an effort, as the mere effect of delight ? And what is it that enables the narrator to exert this magical power over the imagination of his hearer? The truth of the narrative, together with some degree of inherent interest, being
pre-supposed, it is the liveliness with which the story is related. This again supposes in the speaker, besides a natural genius for narration, an intimate acquaintance with every particular of his subject, with the whole scenery, and with every individual agent concerned in it. In the case of a story, these essential requisites result naturally from the relater having generally to do with familiar scenes, and with what he has himself seen and heard. But farther : He who would interest his hearers in what he is relating, must himself feel a warm interest in what he relates; and, either as an immediate consequence of this interest, or by the help of previous reflection, have all the circumstances of the story so present to the mind, that he can readily sort and group them to the best advantage, place them in such positions, and throw upon each of them just such a proportion of light, as will most certainly and effectually make upon the hearer the intended impression.
The historian of his own times will, consequently, have prodigious advantage over every other species of historical writer, while he relates
. Quæque ipse miserrima vidit ;' especially if he can add— Et quorum pars magna fui.' This is probably one reason that biography in general, and auto-biography especially, is so peculiarly captivaing: a remark, by the by, of the truth of which we have never met with a more conyincing proof, than that exhibited by Mr, Gibbon himself in the Memoirs of his own life, which make a part of the work before us. But few bistorians have possessed this advantage, and fewer still have united with it all the other qualifications which belong to the character of the perfect historian. Among those few, every scholar will gratefully remember the names of Xenophon, Cæsar, and Herodian.
As far as mere liveliness of narration is concerned, the next place to that of the historian of his own times, will be occupied by him, who, by frequent reading and meditation, has made himself so intimately acquainted with his subject, that he can treat it as if it were an occurrence to which he had been a witness, proceeding in his narrative, whether written or orally delivered, without being under the necessity of consulting any other materials, than those which he finds collected in his own capacious mind. Of this nature are some of Voltaire's more general attempts at history, some historical pieces of Lord Bolingbroke, and the sketches of Roman history, which Lord Chesterfield drew up in his letters for the instruction of his son. But, unfortunately, from the weakness of human nature, what narratives of this description gain in ease and liveliness, they unavoidably lose in accuracy and particularity; and in the case
of extensive histories, involving a multiplicity of details, such as are the productions of our three modern eminent historians, the thing is, in its very nature, absolutely impossible.
Whenever any thing in itself desirable, becomes, through the imperfection of our nature, nnattainable, common sense directs us to pursue and be satisfied with approximation. The nearer an historian approaches, in acquaintance with his subject, to the information of an eye or ear-witness, the better will he be prepared, provided the other qualifications before specified are not wanting, to compose a good history. Hence, the importance of industry to the character we are investigating of the finished historian it may well be said,-
• Multa tulit fecitque puer, sudavit et alsit,
• Abstinuit venere et vino.' And surely, in this part of his duty, the historian of the Roman Empire may, without derogating from the merit of his illustrious rivals, notwithstanding that one of them is Principal Robertson, of notoriously indefatigable memory, be pronounced superior to either. Indeed, his more affluent lot by birth, gave him a decided advantage over them; especially after bis false step at Oxford had excluded him, in early youth, from the present full enjoyment and probable abuse of his paternal wealth. His studies were never disturbed by any anxieties about his future subsistence. He had no sisters, like Robertson, to support by his labour, nor was he constrained like Hume, to pursue a distant independence, by making a rigid frugality supply the place of fortune. His means, though not rendered ample, until somewhat late in life, by the death of his Aunt Hester, whom he generally calls the Saint, and who left him a considerable estate, were yet from the first above mediocrity, and always equal to his wants. He could afford to possess a select library consisting of more than six thousand, books. What a treasure to a student !
Mr. Gibbon's mind was at once ardent and persevering; and even before a literary education had given it a more useful direction, his curiosity urged him to indulge in desultory reading, with an eager though childish avidity. The unwelcome leisure attending his banishment to Lausanne, for the purpose of being recovered from his papistical errors, together with the judicious instruction he there received, gradually regulated without abating the ardour of his curiosity; so that he at last became, as his posthumous works abundantly testify, one of the most rapid, and, at the same time, observing and retentive readers of ancient, and especially classical works, that history has to record, notwithstanding that when he went from England the first time, his attainments in Latin were very slender, and of the Greek
language he was absolutely ignorant; so ignorant, as not to be able even to distinguish the letters. But,
“Nil mortalibus arduum est,' if there be but a sufficient spur to exertion. That spur, in the case of Mr. Gibbon, arose not from his love of learning only. In that respect he might possibly have been originally inferior; he could not well have been superior to the two Scotch historians. For, of these, the one assures us himself, that he ever found an unsurmountable aversion to every thing but the pursuits of philosophy and general learning. And the other has betrayed his truly burning love of letters, by choosing for the motto of his commonplace books, written in the seclusion of a north-country living, words which shew learning to have been in possession of the very citadel of his heart : Vitu sine litteris mors est.
Mr. Gibbon's naturally studious turn, was often aided, especially in the beginning of his career, by a kind of necessity; not indeed the necessity of writing for bread; but that of consoling hiinself in solitude with some active and cheering pursuit. But on this part of his own mental history he is so very interesting and satisfactory, that we shall make no apology for introducing his own words. Speaking of his first residence at Lausanne, he says,
• Whatever have been the fruits of my education, they must be ascribed to the fortunate banishment, which placed me at Lausanne It my childish revolt against the religion of my country had not stripped me in time of my academical gown, the five important years, so liberally improved in the studies and conversation of Lausanne, would have been steeped in port and prejudice among the monks of Oxford. But my religious error fixed me at Lausanne, in a state of banishment and disgrace.'
And when he is afterwards treating of his situation in London, during the winter which followed his first return to England, after stating how painfully, he felt the want of a more extensive introduction to the first families in his native country,-
My progress,' he proceeds, ' in the English world, was iu general left to my own efforts, and those efforts were languid and slow. I had not been endowed by art or nature, with those happy gifts of confidence and address, which unlock every door and bosom; nor would it be reasonable to complain of the just consequences of my sickly childhood, foreign education, and reserved temper. While coaches were rattling through Bond-street, I have passed many a solitary evening, in my lodging, with my books.'
Whoever has himself laboured under that tormenting disease of the mind, a passion for the current diversions of genteel society, and has felt what a damp it strikes to the heart of the poor deluded worldling, when upon inquiry he finds the ex