Historical Essays
by James Ford Rhodes
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Mathematics beyond arithmetic are of no use to the historian and may be entirely discarded. I do not ignore John Stuart Mill's able plea for them, some words of which are worth quoting. "Mathematical studies," he said, "are of immense benefit to the student's education by habituating him to precision. It is one of the peculiar excellences of mathematical discipline that the mathematician is never satisfied with an a peu pres. He requires the exact truth.... The practice of mathematical reasoning gives wariness of the mind; it accustoms us to demand a sure footing."[12] Mill, however, is no guide except for exceptionally gifted youth. He began to learn Greek when he was three years old, and by the time he had reached the age of twelve had read a good part of Latin and Greek literature and knew elementary geometry and algebra thoroughly.

The three English historians who have most influenced thought from 1776 to 1900 are those whom John Morley called "great born men of letters"[13]—Gibbon, Macaulay, and Carlyle; and two of these despised mathematics. "As soon as I understood the principles," wrote Gibbon in his "Autobiography," "I relinquished forever the pursuit of the Mathematics; nor can I lament that I desisted before my mind was hardened by the habit of rigid demonstration, so destructive of the finer feelings of moral evidence, which must however determine the actions and opinions of our lives."[14] Macaulay, while a student at Cambridge, wrote to his mother: "Oh, for words to express my abomination of mathematics ... 'Discipline' of the mind! Say rather starvation, confinement, torture, annihilation!... I feel myself becoming a personification of Algebra, a living trigonometrical canon, a walking table of logarithms. All my perceptions of elegance and beauty gone, or at least going.... Farewell then Homer and Sophocles and Cicero."[15] I must in fairness state that in after life Macaulay regretted his lack of knowledge of mathematics and physics, but his career and Gibbon's demonstrate that mathematics need have no place on the list of the historian's studies. Carlyle, however, showed mathematical ability which attracted the attention of Legendre and deemed himself sufficiently qualified to apply, when he was thirty-nine years old, for the professorship of Astronomy at the University of Edinburgh. He did not succeed in obtaining the post but, had he done so, he "would have made," so Froude his biographer thinks, "the school of Astronomy at Edinburgh famous throughout Europe."[16] When fifty-two, Carlyle said that "the man who had mastered the first forty-seven propositions of Euclid stood nearer to God than he had done before."[17] I may cap this with some words of Emerson, who in much of his thought resembled Carlyle: "What hours of melancholy my mathematical works cost! It was long before I learned that there is something wrong with a man's brain who loves them."[18]

Mathematics are of course the basis of many studies, trades, and professions and are sometimes of benefit as a recreation for men of affairs. Devotion to Euclid undoubtedly added to Lincoln's strength, but the necessary range of knowledge for the historian is so vast that he cannot spend his evenings and restless nights in the solution of mathematical problems. In short, mathematics are of no more use to him than is Greek to the civil or mechanical engineer.

In the category with mathematics must be placed a detailed study of any of the physical or natural sciences. I think that a student during his college course should have a year's work in a chemical laboratory or else, if his taste inclines him to botany, geology, or zoology, a year's training of his observing powers in some one of these studies. For he ought to get, while at an impressible age, a superficial knowledge of the methods of scientific men, as a basis for his future reading. We all know that science is moving the world and to keep abreast with the movement is a necessity for every educated man. Happily, there are scientific men who popularize their knowledge. John Fiske, Huxley, and Tyndall presented to us the theories and demonstrations of science in a literary style that makes learning attractive. Huxley and Tyndall were workers in laboratories and gave us the results of their patient and long-continued experiments. It is too much to expect that every generation will produce men of the remarkable power of expression of Huxley and John Fiske, but there will always be clear writers who will delight in instructing the general public in language easily understood. In an address which I delivered eight or nine years ago before the American Historical Association, I cheerfully conceded that, in the realm of intellectual endeavor, the natural and physical sciences should have the precedence of history. The question with us now is not which is the nobler pursuit, but how is the greatest economy of time to be compassed for the historian. My advice is in the line of concentration. Failure in life arises frequently from intellectual scattering; hence I like to see the historical student getting his physical and natural science at second-hand.

The religious and political revolutions of the last four hundred years have weakened authority; but in intellectual development I believe that in general an important advantage lies in accepting the dicta of specialists. In this respect our scientific men may teach us a lesson. One not infrequently meets a naturalist or a physician, who possesses an excellent knowledge of history, acquired by reading the works of general historians who have told an interesting story. He would laugh at the idea that he must verify the notes of his author and read the original documents, for he has confidence that the interpretation is accurate and truthful. This is all that I ask of the would-be historian. For the sake of going to the bottom of things in his own special study, let him take his physical and natural science on trust and he may well begin to do this during his college course. As a manner of doing this, there occur to me three interesting biographies, the Life of Darwin, the Life of Huxley, and the Life of Pasteur, which give the important part of the story of scientific development during the last half of the nineteenth century. Now I believe that a thorough mastery of these three books will be worth more to the historical student than any driblets of science that he may pick up in an unsystematic college course.

With this elimination of undesirable studies—undesirable because of lack of time—there remains ample time for those studies which are necessary for the equipment of a historian; to wit, languages, histories, English, French, and Latin literature, and as much of economics as his experienced teachers advise. Let him also study the fine arts as well as he can in America, fitting himself for an appreciation of the great works of architecture, sculpture, and painting in Europe which he will recognize as landmarks of history in their potent influence on the civilization of mankind. Let us suppose that our hypothetical student has marked out on these lines his college course of four years, and his graduate course of three. At the age of twenty-five he will then have received an excellent college education. The university with its learned and hard-working teachers, its wealth, its varied and wholesome traditions has done for him the utmost possible. Henceforward his education must depend upon himself and, unless he has an insatiable love of reading, he had better abandon the idea of becoming a historian; for books, pamphlets, old newspapers, and manuscripts are the stock of his profession and to them he must show a single-minded devotion. He must love his library as Pasteur did his laboratory and must fill with delight most of the hours of the day in reading or writing. To this necessity there is no alternative. Whether it be in general preparation or in the detailed study of a special period, there is no end to the material which may be read with advantage. The young man of twenty-five can do no better than to devote five years of his life to general preparation. And what enjoyment he has before him! He may draw upon a large mass of histories and biographies, of books of correspondence, of poems, plays, and novels; it is then for him to select with discrimination, choosing the most valuable, as they afford him facts, augment his knowledge of human nature, and teach him method and expression. "A good book," said Milton, "is the precious life blood of a master spirit," and every good book which wins our student's interest and which he reads carefully will help him directly or indirectly in his career. And there are some books which he will wish to master, as if he were to be subjected to an examination on them. As to these he will be guided by strong inclination and possibly with a view to the subject of his magnum opus; but if these considerations be absent and if the work has not been done in the university, I cannot too strongly recommend the mastery of Gibbon's "Decline and Fall" and Bryce's "Holy Roman Empire." Gibbon merits close study because his is undoubtedly the greatest history of modern times and because it is, in the words of Carlyle, a splendid bridge from the old world to the new. He should be read in the edition of Bury, whose scholarly introduction gives a careful and just estimate of Gibbon and whose notes show the results of the latest researches. This edition does not include Guizot's and Milman's notes, which seem to an old-fashioned reader of Gibbon like myself worthy of attention, especially those on the famous Fifteenth and Sixteenth Chapters. Bryce's "Holy Roman Empire" is a fitting complement to Gibbon, and the intellectual possession of the two is an education in itself which will be useful in the study of any period of history that may be chosen.

The student who reads Gibbon will doubtless be influenced by his many tributes to Tacitus and will master the Roman historian. I shall let Macaulay furnish the warrant for a close study of Thucydides. "This day," Macaulay said, when in his thirty-fifth year, "I finished Thucydides after reading him with inexpressible interest and admiration. He is the greatest historian that ever lived." Again during the same year he wrote: "What are all the Roman historians to the great Athenian? I do assure you there is no prose composition in the world, not even the oration on the Crown, which I place so high as the seventh book of Thucydides. It is the ne plus ultra of human art. I was delighted to find in Gray's letters the other day this query to Wharton: 'The retreat from Syracuse—is or is it not the finest thing you ever read in your life?' ... Most people read all the Greek they ever read before they are five and twenty. They never find time for such studies afterwards until they are in the decline of life; and then their knowledge of the language is in great measure lost, and cannot easily be recovered. Accordingly, almost all the ideas that people have of Greek literature are ideas formed while they were still very young. A young man, whatever his genius may be, is no judge of such a writer as Thucydides. I had no high opinion of him ten years ago. I have now been reading him with a mind accustomed to historical researches and to political affairs and I am astonished at my own former blindness and at his greatness."[19]

I have borrowed John Morley's words, speaking of Gibbon, Macaulay, and Carlyle as "three great born men of letters." Our student cannot therefore afford to miss a knowledge of Macaulay's History, but the Essays, except perhaps three or four of the latest ones, need not be read. In a preface to the authorized edition of the Essays, Macaulay wrote that he was "sensible of their defects," deemed them "imperfect pieces," and did not think that they were "worthy of a permanent place in English literature." For instance, his essay on Milton contained scarcely a paragraph which his matured judgment approved. Macaulay's peculiar faults are emphasized in his Essays and much of the harsh criticism which he has received comes from the glaring defects of these earlier productions. His history, however, is a great book, shows extensive research, a sane method and an excellent power of narration; and when he is a partisan, he is so honest and transparent that the effect of his partiality is neither enduring nor mischievous.

I must say further to the student: read either Carlyle's "French Revolution" or his "Frederick the Great," I care not which, although it is well worth one's while to read both. If your friends who maintain that history is a science convince you that the "French Revolution" is not history, as perhaps they may, read it as a narrative poem. Truly Carlyle spoke rather like a poet than a historian when he wrote to his wife (in his forty-first year): "A hundred pages more and this cursed book is flung out of me. I mean to write with force of fire till that consummation; above all with the speed of fire.... It all stands pretty fair in my head, nor do I mean to investigate much more about it, but to splash down what I know in large masses of colors, that it may look like a smoke-and-flame conflagration in the distance, which it is."[20] It was Carlyle's custom to work all of the morning and take a solitary walk in Hyde Park in the afternoon, when looking upon the gay scene, the display of wealth and fashion, "seeing," as he said, "all the carriages dash hither and thither and so many human bipeds cheerily hurrying along," he said to himself: "There you go, brothers, in your gilt carriages and prosperities, better or worse, and make an extreme bother and confusion, the devil very largely in it.... Not one of you could do what I am doing, and it concerns you too, if you did but know it."[21] When the book was done he wrote to his brother, "It is a wild, savage book, itself a kind of French Revolution."[22] From its somewhat obscure style it requires a slow perusal and careful study, but this serves all the more to fix it in the memory causing it to remain an abiding influence.

There are eight volumes of "Frederick the Great," containing, according to Barrett Wendell's computation, over one million words; and this eighteenth-century tale, with its large number of great and little characters, its "mass of living facts" impressed Wendell chiefly with its unity. "Whatever else Carlyle was," he wrote, "the unity of this enormous book proves him, when he chose to be, a Titanic artist."[23] Only those who have striven for unity in a narrative can appreciate the tribute contained in these words. It was a struggle, too, for Carlyle. Fifty-six years old when he conceived the idea of Frederick, his nervousness and irritability were a constant torment to himself and his devoted wife. Many entries in his journal tell of his "dismal continual wrestle with Friedrich,"[24] perhaps the most characteristic of which is this: "My Frederick looks as if it would never take shape in me; in fact the problem is to burn away the immense dungheap of the eighteenth century, with its ghastly cants, foul, blind sensualities, cruelties, and inanity now fallen putrid, rotting inevitably towards annihilation; to destroy and extinguish all that, having got to know it, and to know that it must be rejected for evermore; after which the perennial portion, pretty much Friedrich and Voltaire so far as I can see, may remain conspicuous and capable of being delineated."[25]

The student, who has become acquainted with the works of Gibbon, Macaulay, and Carlyle, will wish to know something of the men themselves and this curiosity may be easily and delightfully gratified. The autobiographies of Gibbon, the Life of Macaulay by Sir George Trevelyan, the History of Carlyle's Life by Froude, present the personality of these historians in a vivid manner. Gibbon has himself told of all his own faults and Froude has omitted none of Carlyle's, so that these two books are useful aids in a study of human nature, in which respect they are real adjuncts of Boswell's Johnson. Gibbon, Carlyle, and Macaulay had an insatiable love of reading; in their solitary hours they were seldom without books in their hands. Valuable instruction may be derived from a study of their lives from their suggestions of books, helpful in the development of a historian. They knew how to employ their odd moments, and Gibbon and Macaulay were adepts in the art of desultory reading. Sainte-Beuve makes a plea for desultory reading in instancing Tocqueville's lack of it, so that he failed to illustrate and animate his pages with its fruits, the result being, in the long run, great monotony.[26] As a relief to the tired brain, without a complete loss of time, the reading at hazard, even browsing in a library, has its place in the equipment of a historian. One of the most striking examples of self-education in literature is Carlyle's seven years, from the age of thirty-two to thirty-nine, passed at Craigenputtock where his native inclination was enforced by his physical surroundings. Craigenputtock, wrote Froude, is "the dreariest spot in all the British dominions. The nearest cottage is more than a mile from it; the elevation, 700 feet above the sea, stunts the trees and limits the garden produce to the hardiest vegetables. The house is gaunt and hungry-looking."[27] The place realized Tennyson's words, "O, the dreary, dreary moorland." Here Carlyle read books, gave himself over to silent meditation, and wrote for his bread, although a man who possessed an adequate income could not have been more independent in thought than he was, or more averse to writing to the order of editors of reviews and magazines. With no outside distractions, books were his companions as well as his friends. As you read Froude's intimate biography, it comes upon you, as you consider Carlyle's life in London, what a tremendous intellectual stride he had made while living in this dreary solitude of Craigenputtock. It was there that he continued his development under the intellectual influence of Goethe, wrote "Sartor Resartus" and conceived the idea of writing the story of the French Revolution. Those seven years, as you trace their influence during the rest of his life, will ever be a tribute to the concentrated, bookish labors of bookish men.

It is often said that some practical experience in life is necessary for the training of a historian; that only thus can he arrive at a knowledge of human nature and become a judge of character; that, while the theory is occasionally advanced that history is a series of movements which may be described without taking individuals into account, as a matter of fact, one cannot go far on this hypothesis without running up against the truth that movements have motors and the motors are men. Hence we are to believe the dictum that the historian needs that knowledge of men which is to be obtained only by practical dealings with them. It is true that Gibbon's service in the Hampshire militia and his membership in the House of Commons were of benefit to the historian of the Roman Empire. Grote's business life, Macaulay's administrative work in India, and the parliamentary experience of both were undoubtedly of value to their work as historians, but there are excellent historians who have never had any such training. Carlyle is an example, and Samuel R. Gardiner is another. Curiously enough, Gardiner, who was a pure product of the university and the library, has expressed sounder judgments on many of the prominent men of the seventeenth century than Macaulay. I am not aware that there is in historical literature any other such striking contrast as this, for it is difficult to draw the line closely between the historian and the man of affairs, but Gardiner's example is strengthened in other historians' lives sufficiently to warrant the statement that the historian need not be a man of the world. Books are written by men and treat of the thoughts and actions of men and a good study may be made of human character without going beyond the walls of a library.

Drawing upon my individual experience again I feel that the two authors who have helped me most in this study of human character are Shakespeare and Homer. I do not mean that in the modern world we meet Hamlet, Iago, Macbeth, and Shylock, but when we perceive "the native hue of resolution sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought," when we come in contact with the treachery of a seeming friend, with unholy ambition and insensate greed, we are better able to interpret them on the page of history from having grasped the lessons of Shakespeare to mankind. A constant reading of Shakespeare will show us unchanging passions and feelings; and we need not make literal contrasts, as did the British matron who remarked of "Antony and Cleopatra" that it was "so unlike the home life of our beloved queen." Bernard Shaw, who has said much in detraction of Shakespeare, writes in one of his admiring moods, "that the imaginary scenes and people he has created become more real to us than our actual life—at least until our knowledge and grip of actual life begins to deepen and glow beyond the common. When I was twenty," Shaw continues, "I knew everybody in Shakespeare from Hamlet to Abhorson, much more intimately than I knew my living contemporaries; and to this day, if the name of Pistol or Polonius catches my eye in a newspaper, I turn to the passage with curiosity."[28]

Homer's character of Ulysses is a link between the ancient and the modern world. One feels that Ulysses would be at home in the twentieth century and would adapt himself to the conditions of modern political life. Perhaps, indeed, he would have preferred to his militant age our industrial one where prizes are often won by craft and persuasive eloquence rather than by strength of arm. The story of Ulysses is a signal lesson in the study of human character, and receives a luminous commentary in Shakespeare's adaptation of it. The advice which Ulysses gives to Achilles[29] is a piece of worldly wisdom and may well be acted on by those who desire advancement in life and are little scrupulous in regard to means. The first part of Goethe's "Faust" is another book which has profoundly affected my view of life. I read it first when seventeen years old and have continually re-read it; and, while I fail to comprehend it wholly, and, although it does not give me the same kind of knowledge of human character that I derive from Shakespeare's plays, I carry away from it abiding impressions from the contact that it affords with one of the greatest of human minds.

All this counsel of mine, as to the reading of the embryo historian is, of course, merely supplementary, and does not pretend to be exhaustive. I am assuming that during his undergraduate and graduate course the student has been advised to read, either wholly or in part, most of the English, German, and French scientific historians of the past fifty years, and that he has become acquainted in a greater or less degree with all the eminent American historians. My own experience has been that a thorough knowledge of one book of an author is better than a superficial acquaintance with all of his works. The only book of Francis Parkman's which I have read is his "Montcalm and Wolfe," parts of which I have gone over again and again. One chapter, pervaded with the scenery of the place, I have read on Lake George, three others more than once at Quebec, and I feel that I know Parkman's method as well as if I had skimmed all his volumes. But I believe I was careful in my selection, for in his own estimation, and in that of the general public, "Montcalm and Wolfe" is his best work. So with Motley, I have read nothing but the "Dutch Republic," but that I have read through twice carefully. I will not say that it is the most accurate of his works, but it is probably the most interesting and shows his graphic and dashing style at its best. An admirer of Stubbs told me that his "Lectures and Addresses on Mediaeval and Modern History" would give me a good idea of his scholarship and literary manner and that I need not tackle his magnum opus. But those lectures gave me a taste for more and, undeterred by the remark of still another admirer that nobody ever read his "Constitutional History" through, I did read one volume with interest and profit, and I hope at some future time to read the other two. On the other hand, I have read everything that Samuel R. Gardiner has written except "What Gunpowder Plot Was." Readers differ. There are fast readers who have the faculty of getting just what they want out of a book in a brief time and they retain the thing which they have sought. Assuredly I envy men that power. For myself, I have never found any royal road to learning, have been a slow reader, and needed a re-reading, sometimes more than one, to acquire any degree of mastery of a book. Macaulay used to read his favorite Greek and Latin classics over and over again and presumably always with care, but modern books he turned off with extraordinary speed. Of Buckle's large volume of the "History of Civilization" Macaulay wrote in his journal: "I read Buckle's book all day, and got to the end, skipping, of course. A man of talent and of a good deal of reading, but paradoxical and incoherent."[30] John Fiske, I believe, was a slow reader, but he had such a remarkable power of concentration that what he read once was his own. Of this I can give a notable instance. At a meeting in Boston a number of years ago of the Military Historical Society of Massachusetts, Colonel William R. Livermore read a learned and interesting paper on Napoleon's Campaigns in Northern Italy, and a few men, among whom were Fiske and John C. Ropes, remained after supper to discuss the paper. The discussion went well into details and was technical. Fiske had as much to say as any one and met the military critics on their own ground, holding his own in this interchange of expert opinions. As we returned to Cambridge together, I expressed my surprise at his wide technical knowledge. "It is all due to one book," he said. "A few summers ago I had occasion to read Sir Edward Hamley's 'Operations of War' and for some reason or other everything in it seemed to sink into my mind and to be there retained, ready for use, as was the case to-night with his references to the Northern Italian campaigns."

Outside of ordinary historical reading, a book occurs to me which is well worth a historian's mastery. I am assuming that our hypothetical student has read Goethe's "Faust," "Werther," and "Wilhelm Meister," and desires to know something of the personality of this great writer. He should, therefore, read Eckermann's "Conversations with Goethe," in which he will find a body of profitable literary criticism, given out in a familiar way by the most celebrated man then living. The talks began when he was seventy-three and continued until near his death, ten years later; they reveal his maturity of judgment. Greek, Roman, German, English, French, Spanish, and Italian authors are taken up from time to time and discussed with clearness and appreciation, running sometimes to enthusiasm. As a guide to the best reading extant up to 1832 I know nothing better. Eckermann is inferior as a biographer to Boswell, and his book is neither so interesting nor amusing; but Goethe was far greater than Johnson, and his talk is cosmopolitan and broad, while Johnson's is apt to be insular and narrow. "One should not study contemporaries and competitors," Goethe said, "but the great men of antiquity, whose works have for centuries received equal homage and consideration.... Let us study Moliere, let us study Shakespeare, but above all things, the old Greeks and always the Greeks."[31] Here is an opinion I like to dwell upon: "He who will work aright must never rail, must not trouble himself at all about what is ill done, but only to do well himself. For the great point is, not to pull down, but to build up and in this humanity finds pure joy."[32] It is well worth our while to listen to a man so great as to be free from envy and jealousy, but this was a lesson Carlyle could not learn from his revered master. It is undoubtedly his broad mind in connection with his wide knowledge which induced Sainte-Beuve to write that Goethe is "the greatest of modern critics and of critics of all time."[33]

All of the conversations did not run upon literature and writers. Although Goethe never visited either Paris or London, and resided for a good part of his life in the little city of Weimar, he kept abreast of the world's progress through books, newspapers, and conversations with visiting strangers. No statesman or man of business could have had a wider outlook than Goethe, when on February 21, 1827, he thus spoke: "I should wish to see England in possession of a canal through the Isthmus of Suez.... And it may be foreseen that the United States, with its decided predilection to the West will, in thirty or forty years, have occupied and peopled the large tract of land beyond the Rocky Mountains. It may furthermore be foreseen that along the whole coast of the Pacific Ocean where nature has already formed the most capacious and secure harbors, important commercial towns will gradually arise, for the furtherance of a great intercourse between China and the East Indies and the United States. In such a case, it would not only be desirable, but almost necessary, that a more rapid communication should be maintained between the eastern and western shores of North America, both by merchant ships and men-of-war than has hitherto been possible with the tedious, disagreeable, and expensive voyage around Cape Horn.... It is absolutely indispensable for the United States to effect a passage from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean, and I am certain that they will do it. Would that I might live to see it!"[34]

"Eckermann's book," wrote Sainte-Beuve, "is the best biography of Goethe; that of Lewes, for the facts; that of Eckermann, for the portrait from the inside and the physiognomy. The soul of a great man breathes in it."[35]

I have had frequent occasion to speak of Sainte-Beuve and I cannot recommend our student too strongly to read from time to time some of his critical essays. His best work is contained in the fifteen volumes of "Causeries du Lundi" and in the thirteen volumes of "Nouveaux Lundis" which were articles written for the daily newspapers, the Constitutionnel, the Moniteur, and the Temps, when, between the ages of forty-five and sixty-five, he was at the maturity of his powers. Considering the very high quality of the work, the quantity is enormous, and makes us call to mind the remark of Goethe that "genius and fecundity are very closely allied." Excluding Goethe, we may safely, I think, call Sainte-Beuve the greatest of modern critics, and there is enough of resemblance between historical and literary criticism to warrant a study by the historian of these remarkable essays. "The root of everything in his criticism," wrote Matthew Arnold, "is his single-hearted devotion to truth. What he called 'fictions' in literature, in politics, in religion, were not allowed to influence him." And Sainte-Beuve himself has said, "I am accustomed incessantly to call my judgments in question anew and to recast my opinions the moment I suspect them to be without validity."[36] The writer who conforms to such a high standard is an excellent guide for the historian and no one who has made a study of these Causeries can help feeling their spirit of candor and being inspired to the attempt to realize so high an ideal.

Sainte-Beuve's essays deal almost entirely with French literature and history, which were the subjects he knew best. It is very desirable for us Anglo-Saxons to broaden our minds and soften our prejudices by excursions outside of our own literature and history, and with Goethe for our guide in Germany, we can do no better than to accept Sainte-Beuve for France. Brunetiere wrote that the four literary men of France in the nineteenth century who had exercised the most profound influence were Sainte-Beuve, Balzac, Victor Hugo, and Auguste Comte.[37] I have already recommended Balzac, who portrays the life of the nineteenth century; and Sainte-Beuve, in developing the thought of the same period, gives us a history of French literature and society. Moreover, his volumes are valuable to one who is studying human character by the means of books. "Sainte-Beuve had," wrote Henry James, "two passions which are commonly assumed to exclude each other, the passion for scholarship and the passion for life. He valued life and literature equally for the light they threw on each other; to his mind, one implied the other; he was unable to conceive of them apart."[38]

Supposing the student to have devoted five years to this general preparation and to have arrived at the age of thirty, which Motley, in similar advice to an aspiring historian, fixed as the earliest age at which one should devote himself to his special work, he is ready to choose a period and write a history, if indeed his period has not already suggested itself during his years of general preparation. At all events it is doubtless that his own predilection will fix his country and epoch and the only counsel I have to offer is to select an interesting period. As to this, opinions will differ; but I would say for example that the attractive parts of German history are the Reformation, the Thirty Years' War, the epoch of Frederick the Great, and the unification of Germany which we have witnessed in our own day. The French Revolution is to me the most striking period in modern annals, whilst the history of the Directory is dull, relieved only by the exploits of Napoleon; but when Napoleon becomes the chief officer of state, interest revives and we follow with unflagging attention the story of this master of men, for which there is a superabundance of material, in striking contrast with the little that is known about his Titanic predecessors, Alexander and Caesar, in the accounts of whose careers conjecture must so frequently come to the aid of facts to construct a continuous story. The Restoration and the reign of Louis Philippe would for me be dull periods were they not illumined by the novels of Balzac; but from the Revolution of 1848 to the fall of the Second Empire and the Commune, a wonderful drama was enacted. In our own history the Revolutionary War, the framing of the Constitution, and Washington's administrations seem to me replete with interest which is somewhat lacking for the period between Washington and the slavery conflict. "As to special history," wrote Motley to the aspiring historian, "I should be inclined rather to direct your attention to that of the last three and a half centuries."[39] Discussing the subject before the advanced historical students of Harvard a number of years ago, I gave an extension to Motley's counsel by saying that ancient history had better be left to the Germans. I was fresh from reading Holm's History of Greece and was impressed with his vast learning, elaboration of detail, and exhaustive treatment of every subject which seemed to me to require a steady application and patience, hardly consonant with the American character. But within the past five years Ferrero, an Italian, has demonstrated that others besides Germans are equal to the work by writing an interesting history of Rome, which intelligent men and scholars discuss in the same breath with Mommsen's. Courageously adopting the title "Grandeur and Decadence of Rome" which suggests that of Montesquieu, Ferrero has gleaned the well-reaped field from the appearance of Julius Caesar to the reign of Augustus[40] in a manner to attract the attention of the reading public in Italy, France, England, and the United States. There is no reason why an American should not have done the same. "All history is public property," wrote Motley in the letter previously referred to. "All history may be rewritten and it is impossible that with exhaustive research and deep reflection you should not be able to produce something new and valuable on almost any subject."[41]

After the student has chosen his period I have little advice to offer him beyond what I have previously given in two formal addresses before the American Historical Association, but a few additional words may be useful. You will evolve your own method by practice and by comparison with the methods of other historians. "Follow your own star." If you feel impelled to praise or blame as do the older historians, if it is forced upon you that your subject demands such treatment, proceed fearlessly, so that you do nothing for effect, so that you do not sacrifice the least particle of truth for a telling statement. If, however, you fall naturally into the rigorously judicial method of Gardiner you may feel your position sure. It is well, as the scientific historians warn you, to be suspicious of interesting things, but, on the other hand, every interesting incident is not necessarily untrue. If you have made a conscientious search for historical material and use it with scrupulous honesty, have no fear that you will transgress any reasonable canon of historical writing.

An obvious question to be put to a historian is, What plan do you follow in making notes of your reading? Langlois, an experienced teacher and tried scholar, in his introduction to the "Study of History," condemns the natural impulse to set them down in notebooks in the order in which one's authorities are studied, and says, "Every one admits nowadays that it is advisable to collect materials on separate cards or slips of paper,"[42] arranging them by a systematic classification of subjects. This is a case in point where writers will, I think, learn best from their own experience. I have made my notes mainly in notebooks on the plan which Langlois condemns, but by colored pencil-marks of emphasis and summary, I keep before me the prominent facts which I wish to combine; and I have found this, on the whole, better than the card system. For I have aimed to study my authorities in a logical succession. First I go over the period in some general history, if one is to be had; then I read very carefully my original authorities in the order of their estimated importance, making copious excerpts. Afterwards I skim my second-hand materials. Now I maintain that it is logical and natural to have the extracts before me in the order of my study. When unusually careful and critical treatment has been required, I have drawn off my memoranda from the notebooks to cards, classifying them according to subjects. Such a method enables me to digest thoroughly my materials, but in the main I find that a frequent re-perusal of my notes answers fully as well and is an economy of time.

Carlyle, in answer to an inquiry regarding his own procedure, has gone to the heart of the matter. "I go into the business," he said, "with all the intelligence, patience, silence, and other gifts and virtues that I have ... and on the whole try to keep the whole matter simmering in the living mind and memory rather than laid up in paper bundles or otherwise laid up in the inert way. For this certainly turns out to be a truth; only what you at last have living in your own memory and heart is worth putting down to be printed; this alone has much chance to get into the living heart and memory of other men. And here indeed, I believe, is the essence of all the rules I have ever been able to devise for myself. I have tried various schemes of arrangement and artificial helps to remembrance," but the gist of the matter is, "to keep the thing you are elaborating as much as possible actually in your own living mind; in order that this same mind, as much awake as possible, may have a chance to make something of it!"[43]

The objection may be made to my discourse that I have considered our student as possessing the purse of Fortunatus and have lost sight of Herbert Spencer's doctrine that a very important part of education is to fit a man to acquire the means of living. I may reply that there are a number of Harvard students who will not have to work for their bread and whose parents would be glad to have them follow the course that I have recommended. It is not too much to hope, therefore, that among these there are, to use Huxley's words, "glorious sports of nature" who will not be "corrupted by luxury" but will become industrious historians. To others who are not so fortunately situated, I cannot recommend the profession of historian as a means of gaining a livelihood. Bancroft and Parkman, who had a good deal of popularity, spent more money in the collection and copying of documents than they ever received as income from their histories. A young friend of mine, at the outset of his career and with his living in part to be earned, went for advice to Carl Schurz, who was very fond of him. "What is your aim?" asked Mr. Schurz. "I purpose being a historian," was the reply. "Aha!" laughed Schurz, "you are adopting an aristocratic profession, one which requires a rent-roll." Every aspiring historian has, I suppose, dreamed of that check of L20,000, which Macaulay received as royalty on his history for its sale during the year 1856,[44] but no such dream has since been realized.

Teaching and writing are allied pursuits. And the teacher helps the writer, especially in history, through the necessary elaboration and digestion of materials. Much excellent history is given to the world by college professors. Law and medicine are too exacting professions with too large a literature of their own to leave any leisure for historical investigation. If one has the opportunity to get a good start, or, in the talk of the day, the right sort of a "pull," I can recommend business as a means of gaining a competence which shall enable one to devote one's whole time to a favorite pursuit. Grote was a banker until he reached the age of forty-nine when he retired from the banking house and began the composition of the first volume of his history. Henry C. Lea was in the active publishing business until he was fifty-five, and as I have already frequently referred to my own personal experience, I may add that I was immersed in business between the ages of twenty-two and thirty-seven. After three years of general and special preparation I began my writing at forty. The business man has many free evenings and many journeys by rail, as well as a summer vacation, when devotion to a line of study may constitute a valuable recreation. Much may be done in odd hours in the way of preparation for historical work, and a business life is an excellent school for the study of human character.

[3] Conversations of Goethe, Eng. trans., 230.

[4] Trevelyan, I, 86.

[5] Life of Gladstone, II, 181.

[6] III, 51.

[7] Talks with Emerson, 23.

[8] My Vol. II, 142, n. 2.

[9] Curtis, I, 250.

[10] Ibid., I, 252.

[11] Miscellanies, I, 275.

[12] Exam. of Sir W. Hamilton's Philosophy, II, 310, 311.

[13] Gladstone, I, 195.

[14] p. 142.

[15] Trevelyan, I, 91.

[16] Froude, II, 317.

[17] Nichol, 20.

[18] Talks with Emerson, 162.

[19] Trevelyan, I, 379, 387, 409.

[20] Froude, III, 64, 65.

[21] Ibid., II, 385; III, 59.

[22] Ibid., III, 73.

[23] English Composition, 158.

[24] Letters of Jane Carlyle, II, 31.

[25] Froude's Carlyle, IV, 125.

[26] Causeries du Lundi, XV, 95.

[27] Froude, II, 19.

[28] Dramatic Opinions, II, 53.

[29] "Time hath, my lord, a wallet at his back Wherein he puts alms for oblivion, A great-sized monster of ingratitudes:" etc.

[30] Trevelyan, II, 388, n.

[31] Eng. trans., 236.

[32] Ibid., 115.

[33] Nouveaux Lundis, III, 265.

[34] Eng. trans., 222.

[35] Nouveaux Lundis, III, 328.

[36] Enc. Brit.

[37] Balzac, 309.

[38] Brander Matthews, Cent. Mag., 1901.

[39] Letter of April 4, 1864, Harper's Mag., June, 1889.

[40] I speak of the first four volumes.

[41] L.c.

[42] p. 103.

[43] New Letters, II, 11.

[44] Life, II, 345.


A paper read before the American Historical Association in Washington on December 29, 1908; printed in the Atlantic Monthly, May, 1909.


The impulse of an American writer in justifying the use of newspapers as historical materials is to adopt an apologetic tone. It is somewhat curious that such should be the case, for newspapers satisfy so many canons of historical evidence. They are contemporary, and, being written without knowledge of the end, cannot bolster any cause without making a plain showing of their intent. Their object is the relation of daily events; and if their relation is colored by honest or dishonest partisanship, this is easily discernible by the critic from the internal evidence and from an easily acquired knowledge of a few external facts. As the journals themselves say, their aim is to print the news; and much of the news is present politics. Moreover, the newspaper itself, its news and editorial columns, its advertisements, is a graphic picture of society.

When Aulard, in his illuminating criticism of Taine, writes that the journals are a very important source of the history of the French Revolution, provided they are revised and checked by one another, the statement seems in accordance with the canons of historical writing; and when he blames Taine for using two journals only and neglecting ten others which he names, the impression on the mind is the same as if Taine were charged with the neglect of evidence of another class. One would hardly attempt to justify Taine by declaring that all journals are inaccurate, partisan, and dishonest, and that the omission was a merit, not a defect. Leaving out of account the greater size and diffuseness of the modern journal, the dictum of Aulard would seem to apply to any period of history.

Why is it then that some American students fall consciously or unconsciously into an apologetic tone when they attempt to justify the use of newspapers as historical sources? I suppose it is because of the attitude of cultivated society to the newspaper of to-day. Society calls the ordinary newspaper sensational and unreliable; and, if neither, its accounts are so diffuse and badly proportioned as to weary the seeker after the facts of any given transaction. Despite the disfavor into which the American newspaper has fallen in certain circles, I suspect that it has only exaggerated these defects, and that the journals of different democracies have more resemblances than diversities. The newspaper that caters to the "masses" will never suit the "classes," and the necessity for a large circulation induces it to furnish the sheet which the greatest number of readers desire.

But this does not concern the historian. He does not make his materials. He has to take them as they are. It would undoubtedly render his task easier if all men spoke and wrote everywhere with accuracy and sincerity; but his work would lose much of its interest. Take the newspaper for what it is, a hasty gatherer of facts, a hurried commentator on the same, and it may well constitute a part of historical evidence.

When, in 1887, I began the critical study of the History of the United States from 1850 to 1860, I was struck with the paucity of material which would serve the purpose of an animated narrative. The main facts were to be had in the state papers, the Statutes, the Congressional Globe and documents, the records of national conventions and platforms, and the tabulated results of elections. But there was much less private correspondence than is available for the early history of our country; and, compared with the period of the Civil War and later, a scarcity of biographies and reminiscences, containing personal letters of high historical value. Since I wrote my first two volumes, much new matter concerning the decade of 1850 to 1860 has been published. The work of the American Historical Association, and of many historical societies, the monographs of advanced university students, have thrown light upon this, as they have upon other periods, with the result that future delvers in this field can hardly be so much struck with the paucity of material as I was twenty-one years ago.

Boy though I was during the decade of 1850 to 1860, I had a vivid remembrance of the part that the newspaper played in politics, and the thought came to me that the best way to arrive at the spirit of the times was to steep my mind in journalistic material; that there was the secret of living over again that decade, as the Abolitionist, the Republican, the Whig, and the Democrat had actually lived in it. In the critical use of such sources, I was helped by the example of von Holst, who employed them freely in his volumes covering the same period, and by the counsel and collaboration of my friend Edward G. Bourne, whose training was in the modern school. For whatever training I had beyond that of self came from the mastery, under the guidance of teachers, of certain general historians belonging to an epoch when power of expression was as much studied as the collecting and sifting of evidence.

While considering my materials, I was struck with a statement cited by Herbert Spencer as an illustration in his "Philosophy of Style": "A modern newspaper statement, though probably true, if quoted in a book as testimony, would be laughed at; but the letter of a court gossip, if written some centuries ago, is thought good historical evidence." At about the same time, I noticed that Motley used as one of his main authorities for the battle of St. Quentin the manuscript of an anonymous writer. From these two circumstances, it was a logical reflection that some historians might make an exaggerated estimate of the value of manuscript material because it reposed in dusty archives and could be utilized only by severe labor and long patience; and that, imbued with this idea, other historians for other periods might neglect the newspaper because of its ready accessibility.

These several considerations justified a belief, arrived at from my preliminary survey of the field, that the use of newspapers as sources for the decade of 1850 to 1860 was desirable. At each step of my pretty thorough study of them, I became more and more convinced that I was on the right track. I found facts in them which I could have found nowhere else. The public meeting is a great factor in the political life of this decade, and is most fully and graphically reported in the press. The newspaper, too, was a vehicle for personal accounts of a quasi-confidential nature, of which I can give a significant example. In an investigation that Edward Bourne made for me during the summer of 1889, he came across in the Boston Courier an inside account of the Whig convention of 1852, showing, more conclusively than I have seen elsewhere, the reason of the failure to unite the conservative Whigs, who were apparently in a majority, on Webster. From collateral evidence we were convinced that it was written by a Massachusetts delegate; and the Springfield Republican, which copied the account, furnished a confirmation of it. It was an interesting story, and I incorporated it in my narrative.

I am well aware that Dr. Dryasdust may ask, What of it? The report of the convention shows that Webster received a very small vote and that Scott was nominated. Why waste time and words over the "might have been"? I can plead only the human interest in the great Daniel Webster ardently desiring that nomination, Rufus Choate advocating it in sublime oratory, the two antislavery delegates from Massachusetts refusing their votes for Webster, thus preventing a unanimous Massachusetts, and the delegates from Maine, among whom was Webster's godson William P. Fessenden, coldly refusing their much-needed aid.

General Scott, having received the nomination, made a stumping tour in the autumn through some of the Western States. No accurate account of it is possible without the newspapers, yet it was esteemed a factor in his overwhelming defeat, and the story of it is well worth preserving as data for a discussion of the question, Is it wise for a presidential candidate to make a stumping tour during his electoral campaign?

The story of the formation of the Republican party, and the rise of the Know-nothings, may possibly be written without recourse to the newspapers, but thorough steeping in such material cannot fail to add to the animation and accuracy of the story. In detailed history and biographical books, dates, through mistakes of the writer or printer, are frequently wrong; and when the date was an affair of supreme importance, I have sometimes found a doubt resolved by a reference to the newspaper, which, from its strictly contemporary character, cannot in such a matter lead one astray.

I found the newspapers of value in the correction of logical assumptions, which frequently appear in American historical and biographical books, especially in those written by men who bore a part in public affairs. By a logical assumption, I mean the statement of a seemingly necessary consequence which apparently ought to follow some well-attested fact or condition. A striking instance of this occurred during the political campaign of 1856, when "bleeding Kansas" was a thrilling catchword used by the Republicans, whose candidate for president was Fremont. In a year and a half seven free-state men had been killed in Kansas by the border ruffians, and these outrages, thoroughly ventilated, made excellent campaign ammunition. But the Democrats had a tu quoque argument which ought to have done much towards eliminating this question from the canvass.

On the night of May 24, 1856, five pro-slavery men, living on the Pottawatomie Creek, were deliberately and foully murdered by John Brown and seven of his disciples; and, while this massacre caused profound excitement in Kansas and Missouri, it seems to have had no influence east of the Mississippi River, although the fact was well attested. A Kansas journalist of 1856, writing in 1879, made this logical assumption: "The opposition press both North and South took up the damning tale ... of that midnight butchery on the Pottawatomie.... Whole columns of leaders from week to week, with startling headlines, liberally distributed capitals, and frightful exclamation points, filled all the newspapers." And it was his opinion that, had it not been for this massacre, Fremont would have been elected.

But I could not discover that the massacre had any influence on the voters in the pivotal states. I examined, or had examined, the files of the New York Journal of Commerce, New York Herald, Philadelphia Pennsylvanian, Washington Union, and Cleveland Plain Dealer, all Democratic papers except the New York Herald, and I was struck with the fact that substantially no use was made of the massacre as a campaign argument. Yet could anything have been more logical than the assumption that the Democrats would have been equal to their opportunity and spread far and wide such a story? The facts in the case show therefore that cause and effect in actual American history are not always the same as the statesman may conceive them in his cabinet or the historian in his study.

In the newspapers of 1850 to 1860 many speeches, and many public, and some private, letters of conspicuous public men are printed; these are valuable material for the history of the decade, and their use is in entire accordance with modern historical canons.

I have so far considered the press in its character of a register of facts; but it has a further use for historical purposes, since it is both a representative and guide of public sentiment. Kinglake shows that the Times was the potent influence which induced England to invade the Crimea; Bismarck said in 1877 that the press "was the cause of the last three wars"; Lord Cromer writes, "The people of England as represented by the press insisted on sending General Gordon to the Soudan, and accordingly to the Soudan he was sent;" and it is current talk that the yellow journals brought on the Spanish-American War. Giving these statements due weight, can a historian be justified in neglecting the important influence of the press on public opinion?

As reflecting and leading popular sentiment during the decade of 1850 to 1860, the newspapers of the Northern States were potent. I own that many times one needs no further index to public sentiment than our frequent elections, but in 1854 conditions were peculiar. The repeal of the Missouri Compromise had outraged the North and indicated that a new party must be formed to resist the extension of slavery. In the disorganization of the Democratic party, and the effacement of the Whig, nowhere may the new movement so well be traced as in the news and editorial columns of the newspapers, and in the speeches of the Northern leaders, many of these indeed being printed nowhere else than in the press. What journals and what journalists there were in those days! Greeley and Dana of the New York Tribune; Bryant and Bigelow of the Evening Post; Raymond of the Times; Webb of the Courier and Enquirer; Bowles of the Springfield Republican; Thurlow Weed of the Albany Journal; Schouler of the Cincinnati Gazette,—all inspired by their opposition to the spread of slavery, wrote with vigor and enthusiasm, representing the ideas of men who had burning thoughts without power of expression, and guiding others who needed the constant iteration of positive opinions to determine their political action.

The main and cross currents which resulted in the formation of the compact Republican party of 1856 have their principal record in the press, and from it, directly or indirectly, must the story be told. Unquestionably the newspapers had greater influence than in an ordinary time, because the question was a moral one and could be concretely put. Was slavery right or wrong? If wrong, should not its extension be stopped? That was the issue, and all the arguments, constitutional and social, turned on that point.

The greatest single journalistic influence was the New York Weekly Tribune which had in 1854 a circulation of 112,000, and many times that number of readers. These readers were of the thorough kind, reading all the news, all the printed speeches and addresses, and all the editorials, and pondering as they read. The questions were discussed in their family circles and with their neighbors, and, as differences arose, the Tribune, always at hand, was consulted and re-read. There being few popular magazines during this decade, the weekly newspaper, in some degree, took their place; and, through this medium, Greeley and his able coadjutors spoke to the people of New York and of the West, where New England ideas predominated, with a power never before or since known in this country. When Motley was studying the old letters and documents of the sixteenth century in the archives of Brussels, he wrote: "It is something to read the real bona fide signs manual of such fellows as William of Orange, Count Egmont, Alexander Farnese, Philip the Second, Cardinal Granville and the rest of them. It gives a 'realizing sense,' as the Americans have it." I had somewhat of the same feeling as I turned over the pages of the bound volumes of the Weekly Tribune, reading the editorials and letters of Greeley, the articles of Dana and Hildreth. I could recall enough of the time to feel the influence of this political bible, as it was termed, and I can emphatically say that if you want to penetrate into the thoughts, feelings, and ground of decision of the 1,866,000 men who voted for Lincoln in 1860, you should study with care the New York Weekly Tribune.

One reason why the press was a better representative of opinion during the years from 1854 to 1860 than now is that there were few, if any, independent journals. The party man read his own newspaper and no other; in that, he found an expression of his own views. And the party newspaper in the main printed only the speeches and arguments of its own side. Greeley on one occasion was asked by John Russell Young, an associate, for permission to reprint a speech of Horatio Seymour in full as a matter of news. "Yes," Greeley said, "I will print Seymour's speech when the World will print those of our side."

Before the war, Charleston was one of the most interesting cities of the country. It was a small aristocratic community, with an air of refinement and distinction. The story of Athens proclaims that a large population is not necessary to exercise a powerful influence on the world; and, after the election of Lincoln in 1860, the 40,000 people of Charleston, or rather the few patricians who controlled its fate and that of South Carolina, attracted the attention of the whole country. The story of the secession movement of November and December, 1860, cannot be told with correctness and life without frequent references to the Charleston Mercury and the Charleston Courier. The Mercury especially was an index of opinion, and so vivid is its daily chronicle of events that the historian is able to put himself in the place of those ardent South Carolinians and understand their point of view.

For the history of the Civil War, newspapers are not so important. The other material is superabundant, and in choosing from the mass of it, the newspapers, so-far as affairs at the North are concerned, need only be used in special cases, and rarely for matters of fact. The accounts of campaigns and battles, which filled so much of their space, may be ignored, as the best possible authorities for these are the one hundred and twenty-eight volumes of the United States government publication, the "Official Records of the Union and Confederate armies." The faithful study of the correspondence and the reports in these unique volumes is absolutely essential to a comprehension of the war; and it is a labor of love. When one thinks of the mass of manuscripts students of certain periods of European history have been obliged to read, the American historian is profoundly grateful to his government, that at a cost to itself of nearly three million dollars,[45] it has furnished him this priceless material in neatly printed volumes with excellent indexes. The serious student can generally procure these volumes gratis through the favor of his congressman; or, failing in this, may purchase the set at a moderate price, so that he is not obliged to go to a public library to consult them.

Next to manuscript material, the physical and mental labor of turning over and reading bound volumes of newspapers is the most severe, and I remember my feeling of relief at being able to divert my attention from what Edward L. Pierce called this back-breaking and eye-destroying labor, much of it in public libraries, to these convenient books in my own private library. A mass of other materials, notably Nicolay and Hay's contributions, military narratives, biographies, private correspondence, to say nothing of the Congressional publications, render the student fairly independent of the newspapers. But I did myself make, for certain periods, special researches among them to ascertain their influence on public sentiment; and I also found them very useful in my account of the New York draft riots of 1863. It is true the press did not accurately reflect the gloom and sickness of heart at the North after the battle of Chancellorsville, for the reason that many editors wrote for the purpose of keeping up the hopes of their readers. In sum, the student may congratulate himself that a continuous study of the Northern newspapers for the period of the Civil War is unnecessary, for their size and diffuseness are appalling.

But what I have said about the press of the North will not apply to that of the South. Though strenuous efforts have been made, with the diligent cooperation of Southern men, to secure the utmost possible amount of Confederate material for the "Official Records," it actually forms only about twenty-nine per cent of the whole matter. Other historical material is also less copious. For example, there is no record of the proceedings of the Confederate Congress, like the Globe; there are no reports of committees, like that of the Committee on the Conduct of the War; and even the journal of the Congress was kept on loose memoranda, and not written up until after the close of the war. With the exception of this journal, which has been printed by our government, and the "Statutes at Large," our information of the work of the Confederate Congress comes from the newspapers and some books of biography and recollections. The case of the Southern States was peculiar, because they were so long cut off from intercourse with the outer world, owing to the efficient Federal blockade; and the newspaper in its local news, editorials, and advertisements, is important material for portraying life in the Confederacy during the Civil War. Fortunately for the student, the Southern newspaper was not the same voluminous issue as the Northern, and, if it had not been badly printed, its use would be attended with little difficulty. Owing to the scarcity of paper, many of the newspapers were gradually reduced in size, and in the end were printed on half-sheets, occasionally one on brown paper, and another on wall paper; even the white paper was frequently coarse, and this, with poor type, made the news-sheet itself a daily record of the waning fortunes of the Confederacy.

In the history of Reconstruction the historian may be to a large extent independent of the daily newspaper. For the work of reconstruction was done by Congress, and Congress had the full support of the Northern people, as was shown by the continuous large Republican majority which was maintained. The debates, the reports, and the acts of Congress are essential, and little else is required except whatever private correspondence may be accessible. Congress represented public sentiment of the North, and if one desires newspaper opinion, one may find it in many pithy expressions on the floor of the House or the Senate. For the congressman and the senator are industrious newspaper readers. They are apt to read some able New York journal which speaks for their party, and the congressman will read the daily and weekly newspapers of his district, and the senator the prominent ones of his state which belong to his party.

For the period which covered Reconstruction, from 1865 to 1877, I used the Nation to a large extent. Its bound volumes are convenient to handle in one's own library, and its summary of events is useful in itself, and as giving leads to the investigation of other material. Frequently its editorials have spoken for the sober sense of the people with amazing success. As a constant reader of the Nation since 1866, I have felt the fascination of Godkin, and have been consciously on guard against it. I tried not to be led away by his incisive statements and sometimes uncharitable judgments. But whatever may be thought of his bias, he had an honest mind, and was incapable of knowingly making a false statement; and this, with his other qualities, makes his journal excellent historical material. After considering with great care some friendly criticism, I can truly say that I have no apology to make for the extent to which I used the Nation.

Recurring now to the point with which I began this discussion,—that learned prejudice against employing newspapers as historical material,—I wish to add that, like all other evidence, they must be used with care and skepticism, as one good authority is undoubtedly better than a dozen poor ones. An anecdote I heard years ago has been useful to me in weighing different historical evidence. A Pennsylvania-Dutch justice of the peace in one of the interior townships of Ohio had a man arraigned before him for stealing a pig. One witness swore that he distinctly saw the theft committed; eight swore that they never saw the accused steal a pig, and the verdict was worthy of Dogberry. "I discharge the accused," said the justice. "The testimony of eight men is certainly worth more than the testimony of one."

Private and confidential correspondence is highly valuable historical material, for such utterances are less constrained and more sincere than public declarations; but all men cannot be rated alike. Some men have lied as freely in private letters as in public speeches; therefore the historian must get at the character of the man who has written the letter and the influences surrounding him; these factors must count in any satisfactory estimate of his accuracy and truth. The newspaper must be subjected to similar tests. For example, to test an article or public letter written by Greeley or Godkin, the general situation, the surrounding influences, and the individual bias must be taken into account, and, when allowance is made for these circumstances, as well as for the public character of the utterance, it may be used for historical evidence. For the history of the last half of the nineteenth century just such material—the material of the fourth estate—must be used. Neglect of it would be like neglect of the third estate in the history of France for the eighteenth century.

In the United States we have not, politically speaking, either the first or second estates, but we have the third and fourth estates with an intimate connection between the two. Lord Cromer said, when writing of the sending of Gordon to the Soudan, "Newspaper government has certain disadvantages;" and this he emphasized by quoting a wise remark of Sir George Cornewall Lewis, "Anonymous authorship places the public under the direction of guides who have no sense of personal responsibility." Nevertheless this newspaper government must be reckoned with. The duty of the historian is, not to decide if the newspapers are as good as they ought to be, but to measure their influence on the present, and to recognize their importance as an ample and contemporary record of the past.

[45] $2,858,514, without including the pay of army officers detailed from time to time for duty in connection with the work. Official Records, 130, V.


June 26, 1901 (not delivered).


Thanking heartily the governing boards of Harvard College for the honor conferred upon me, I shall say, on this my first admission to the circle of the Harvard alumni, a word on the University as it appears to one whose work has lain outside of it. The spirit of the academy in general and especially of this University impels men to get to the bottom of things, to strive after exact knowledge; and this spirit permeates my own study of history in a remarkable degree. "The first of all Gospels is this," said Carlyle, "that a lie cannot endure forever." This is the gospel of historical students. A part of their work has been to expose popular fallacies, and to show up errors which have been made through partiality and misguided patriotism or because of incomplete investigation. Men of my age are obliged to unlearn much. The youthful student of history has a distinct advantage over us in that he begins with a correct knowledge of the main historical facts. He does not for example learn what we all used to learn—that in the year 1000 the appearance of a fiery comet caused a panic of terror to fall upon Christendom and gave rise to the belief that the end of the world was at hand. Nor is he taught that the followers of Peter the Hermit in the first crusade were a number of spiritually minded men and women of austere morality. It is to the University that we owe it that we are seeing things as they are in history, that the fables, the fallacies, and the exaggerations are disappearing from the books.

To regard the past with accuracy and truth is a preparation for envisaging the present in the same way. For this attitude towards the past and the present gained by college students of history, and for other reasons which it is not necessary here to detail, the man of University training has, other things being equal, this advantage over him who lacks it, that in life in the world he will get at things more certainly and state them more accurately.

"A university," said Lowell, "is a place where nothing useful is taught." By utility Lowell undoubtedly meant, to use the definition which Huxley puts into the average Englishman's mouth, "that by which we get pudding or praise or both." A natural reply to the statement of Lowell is that great numbers of fathers every year, at a pecuniary sacrifice, send their sons to college with the idea of fitting them better to earn their living, in obedience to the general sentiment of men of this country that there is a money value to college training. But the remark of Lowell suggests another object of the University which, to use the words of Huxley again, is "to catch the exceptional people, the glorious sports of nature, and turn them to account for the good of society." This appeals to those imbued with the spirit of the academy who frankly acknowledge, in the main, our inferiority in the scholarship, which produces great works of literature and science, to England, Germany, and France, and who with patriotic eagerness wish that we may reach the height attained in the older countries. To recur to my own study again, should we produce a historian or historical writer the equal of Gibbon, Mommsen, Carlyle, or Macaulay there would be a feeling of pride in our historical genius which would make itself felt at every academical and historical gathering. We have something of that sentiment in regard to Francis Parkman, our most original historian. But it may be that the historical field of Parkman is too narrow to awaken a world-wide interest and I suspect that the American who will be recognized as the equal of Gibbon, Mommsen, Carlyle, or Macaulay must secure that recognition by writing of some period of European history better than the Englishman, German, or Frenchman has written of it. He must do it not only in the way of scientific history, in which in his field Henry Charles Lea has won so much honor for himself and his country, but he must bring to bear on his history that quality which has made the historical writings of Gibbon, Carlyle, and Macaulay literature.


Lecture read at Harvard University, April 6, 1908, and printed in Scribner's Magazine, June, 1909.


No English or American lover of history visits Rome without bending reverent footsteps to the Church of Santa Maria in Ara Coeli. Two visits are necessary, as on the first you are at once seized by the sacristan, who can conceive of no other motive for entering this church on the Capitol Hill than to see the miraculous Bambino—the painted doll swaddled in gold and silver tissue and "crusted over with magnificent diamonds, emeralds, and rubies." When you have heard the tale of what has been called "the oldest medical practitioner in Rome," of his miraculous cures, of these votive offerings, the imaginary picture you had conjured up is effaced; and it is better to go away and come a second time when the sacristan will recognize you and leave you to yourself. Then you may open your Gibbon's Autobiography and read that it was the subtle influence of Italy and Rome that determined the choice, from amongst many contemplated subjects of historical writing, of "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire." "In my Journal," wrote Gibbon, "the place and moment of conception are recorded; the 15th of October, 1764, in the close of the evening, as I sat musing in the Church of the Franciscan friars while they were singing vespers in the Temple of Jupiter on the ruins of the Capitol."[46] Gibbon was twenty-seven when he made this fruitful visit of eighteen weeks to Rome, and his first impression, though often quoted, never loses interest, showing, as it does, the enthusiasm of an unemotional man. "At the distance of twenty-five years," he wrote, "I can neither forget nor express the strong emotions which agitated my mind as I first approached and entered the Eternal City. After a sleepless night, I trod with a lofty step the ruins of the Forum; each memorable spot where Romulus stood or Cicero spoke or Caesar fell was at once present to my eye."

The admirer of Gibbon as he travels northward will stop at Lausanne and visit the hotel which bears the historian's name. Twice have I taken luncheon in the garden where he wrote the last words of his history; and on a third visit, after lunching at another inn, I could not fail to admire the penetration of the Swiss concierge. As I alighted, he seemed to divine at once the object of my visit, and before I had half the words of explanation out of my mouth, he said, "Oh, yes. It is this way. But I cannot show you anything but a spot." I have quoted from Gibbon's Autobiography the expression of his inspiration of twenty-seven; a fitting companion-piece is the reflection of the man of fifty. "I have presumed to mark the moment of conception," he wrote; "I shall now commemorate the hour of my final deliverance. It was on the day, or rather the night, of the 27th of June, 1787, between the hours of eleven and twelve, that I wrote the last lines of the last page in a summer-house in my garden.... I will not dissemble the first emotions of joy on the recovery of my freedom and perhaps the establishment of my fame. But my pride was soon humbled, and a sober melancholy was spread over my mind by the idea that I had taken my everlasting leave of an old and agreeable companion."[47]

Although the idea was conceived when Gibbon was twenty-seven, he was thirty-one before he set himself seriously at work to study his material. At thirty-six he began the composition, and he was thirty-nine, when, in February, 1776, the first quarto volume was published. The history had an immediate success. "My book," he wrote, "was on every table and almost on every toilette; the historian was crowned by the taste or fashion of the day."[48] The first edition was exhausted in a few days, a second was printed in 1776, and next year a third. The second and third volumes, which ended the history of the Western empire, were published in 1781, and seven years later the three volumes devoted to the Eastern empire saw the light. The last sentence of the work, written in the summer-house at Lausanne, is, "It was among the ruins of the Capitol that I first conceived the idea of a work which has amused and exercised near twenty years of my life, and which, however inadequate to my own wishes, I finally deliver to the curiosity and candor of the public."

This is a brief account of one of the greatest historical works, if indeed it is not the greatest, ever written. Let us imagine an assemblage of English, German, and American historical scholars called upon to answer the question, Who is the greatest modern historian? No doubt can exist that Gibbon would have a large majority of the voices; and I think a like meeting of French and Italian scholars would indorse the verdict. "Gibbon's work will never be excelled," declared Niebuhr.[49] "That great master of us all," said Freeman, "whose immortal tale none of us can hope to displace."[50] Bury, the latest editor of Gibbon, who has acutely criticised and carefully weighed "The Decline and Fall," concludes "that Gibbon is behind date in many details. But in the main things he is still our master, above and beyond date."[51] His work wins plaudits from those who believe that history in its highest form should be literature and from those who hold that it should be nothing more than a scientific narrative. The disciples of Macaulay and Carlyle, of Stubbs and Gardiner, would be found voting in unison in my imaginary Congress. Gibbon, writes Bury, is "the historian and the man of letters," thus ranking with Thucydides and Tacitus. These three are put in the highest class, exemplifying that "brilliance of style and accuracy of statement are perfectly compatible in an historian."[52] Accepting this authoritative classification it is well worth while to point out the salient differences between the ancient historians and the modern. From Thucydides we have twenty-four years of contemporary history of his own country. If the whole of the Annals and History of Tacitus had come down to us, we should have had eighty-three years; as it is, we actually have forty-one of nearly contemporary history of the Roman Empire. Gibbon's tale covers 1240 years. He went far beyond his own country for his subject, and the date of his termination is three centuries before he was born. Milman spoke of "the amplitude, the magnificence, and the harmony of Gibbon's design,"[53] and Bury writes, "If we take into account the vast range of his work, his accuracy is amazing."[54] Men have wondered and will long wonder at the brain with such a grasp and with the power to execute skillfully so mighty a conception. "The public is seldom wrong" in their judgment of a book, wrote Gibbon in his Autobiography,[55] and, if that be true at the time of actual publication to which Gibbon intended to apply the remark, how much truer it is in the long run of years. "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" has had a life of over one hundred and thirty years, and there is no indication that it will not endure as long as any interest is taken in the study of history. "I have never presumed to accept a place in the triumvirate of British historians," said Gibbon, referring to Hume and Robertson. But in our day Hume and Robertson gather dust on the shelf, while Gibbon is continually studied by students and read by serious men.

A work covering Gibbon's vast range of time would have been impossible for Thucydides or Tacitus. Historical skepticism had not been fully enough developed. There had not been a sufficient sifting and criticism of historical materials for a master's work of synthesis. And it is probable that Thucydides lacked a model. Tacitus could indeed have drawn inspiration from the Greek, while Gibbon had lessons from both, showing a profound study of Tacitus and a thorough acquaintance with Thucydides.

If circumstances then made it impossible for the Greek or the Roman to attempt history on the grand scale of Gibbon, could Gibbon have written contemporary history with accuracy and impartiality equal to his great predecessors? This is one of those delightful questions that may be ever discussed and never resolved. When twenty-three years old, arguing against the desire of his father that he should go into Parliament, Gibbon assigned, as one of the reasons, that he lacked "necessary prejudices of party and of nation";[56] and when in middle life he embraced the fortunate opportunity of becoming a member of the House of Commons, he thus summed up his experience, "The eight sessions that I sat in Parliament were a school of civil prudence, the first and most essential virtue of an historian."[57] At the end of this political career, Gibbon, in a private letter to an intimate Swiss friend, gave the reason why he had embraced it. "I entered Parliament," he said, "without patriotism, and without ambition, and I had no other aim than to secure the comfortable and honest place of a Lord of Trade. I obtained this place at last. I held it for three years, from 1779 to 1782, and the net annual product of it, being L750 sterling, increased my revenue to the level of my wants and desires."[58] His retirement from Parliament was followed by ten years' residence at Lausanne, in the first four of which he completed his history. A year and a half after his removal to Lausanne, he referred, in a letter to his closest friend, Lord Sheffield, to the "abyss of your cursed politics," and added: "I never was a very warm patriot and I grow every day a citizen of the world. The scramble for power and profit at Westminster or St. James's, and the names of Pitt and Fox become less interesting to me than those of Caesar and Pompey."[59]

These expressions would seem to indicate that Gibbon might have written contemporary history well and that the candor displayed in "The Decline and Fall" might not have been lacking had he written of England in his own time. But that subject he never contemplated. When twenty-four years old he had however considered a number of English periods and finally fixed upon Sir Walter Raleigh for his hero; but a year later, he wrote in his journal: "I shrink with terror from the modern history of England, where every character is a problem, and every reader a friend or an enemy; where a writer is supposed to hoist a flag of party and is devoted to damnation by the adverse faction.... I must embrace a safer and more extensive theme."[60]

How well Gibbon knew himself! Despite his coolness and candor, war and revolution revealed his strong Tory prejudices, which he undoubtedly feared might color any history of England that he might undertake. "I took my seat," in the House of Commons, he wrote, "at the beginning of the memorable contest between Great Britain and America; and supported with many a sincere and silent vote the rights though perhaps not the interests of the mother country."[61] In 1782 he recorded the conclusion: "The American war had once been the favorite of the country, the pride of England was irritated by the resistance of her colonies, and the executive power was driven by national clamor into the most vigorous and coercive measures." But it was a fruitless contest. Armies were lost; the debt and taxes were increased; the hostile confederacy of France, Spain and Holland was disquieting. As a result the war became unpopular and Lord North's ministry fell. Dr. Johnson thought that no nation not absolutely conquered had declined so much in so short a time. "We seem to be sinking," he said. "I am afraid of a civil war." Dr. Franklin, according to Horace Walpole, said "he would furnish Mr. Gibbon with materials for writing the History of the Decline of the British Empire." With his country tottering, the self-centered but truthful Gibbon could not avoid mention of his personal loss, due to the fall of his patron, Lord North. "I was stripped of a convenient salary," he said, "after having enjoyed it about three years."[62]

The outbreak of the French Revolution intensified his conservatism. He was then at Lausanne, the tranquillity of which was broken up by the dissolution of the neighboring kingdom. Many Lausanne families were terrified by the menace of bankruptcy. "This town and country," Gibbon wrote, "are crowded with noble exiles, and we sometimes count in an assembly a dozen princesses and duchesses."[63] Bitter disputes between them and the triumphant Democrats disturbed the harmony of social circles. Gibbon espoused the cause of the royalists. "I beg leave to subscribe my assent to Mr. Burke's creed on the Revolution of France," he wrote. "I admire his eloquence, I approve his politics, I adore his chivalry, and I can almost excuse his reverence for Church establishments."[64] Thirteen days after the massacre of the Swiss guard in the attack on the Tuileries in August, 1792, Gibbon wrote to Lord Sheffield, "The last revolution of Paris appears to have convinced almost everybody of the fatal consequences of Democratical principles which lead by a path of flowers into the abyss of hell."[65] Gibbon, who was astonished by so few things in history, wrote Sainte-Beuve, was amazed by the French Revolution.[66] Nothing could be more natural. The historian in his study may consider the fall of dynasties, social upheavals, violent revolutions, and the destruction of order without a tremor. The things have passed away. The events furnish food for his reflections and subjects for his pen, while sanguine uprisings at home or in a neighboring country in his own time inspire him with terror lest the oft-prophesied dissolution of society is at hand. It is the difference between the earthquake in your own city and the one 3000 miles away. As Gibbon's pocket-nerve was sensitive, it may be he was also thinking of the L1300 he had invested in 1784 in the new loan of the King of France, deeming the French funds as solid as the English.[67]

It is well now to repeat our dictum that Gibbon is the greatest modern historian, but, in reasserting this, it is no more than fair to cite the opinions of two dissentients—the great literary historians of the nineteenth century, Macaulay and Carlyle. "The truth is," wrote Macaulay in his diary, "that I admire no historians much except Herodotus, Thucydides, and Tacitus.... There is merit no doubt in Hume, Robertson, Voltaire, and Gibbon. Yet it is not the thing. I have a conception of history more just, I am confident, than theirs."[68] "Gibbon," said Carlyle in a public lecture, is "a greater historian than Robertson but not so great as Hume. With all his swagger and bombast, no man ever gave a more futile account of human things than he has done of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire; assigning no profound cause for these phenomena, nothing but diseased nerves, and all sorts of miserable motives, to the actors in them."[69] Carlyle's statement shows envious criticism as well as a prejudice in favor of his brother Scotchman. It was made in 1838, since when opinion has raised Gibbon to the top, for he actually lives while Hume is read perfunctorily, if at all. Moreover among the three—Gibbon, Macaulay, and Carlyle—whose works are literature as well as history, modern criticism has no hesitation in awarding the palm to Gibbon.

Before finally deciding upon his subject Gibbon thought of "The History of the Liberty of the Swiss" and "The History of the Republic of Florence under the House of Medicis,"[70] but in the end, as we have seen, he settled on the later history of the Roman Empire, showing, as Lowell said of Parkman, his genius in the choice of his subject. His history really begins with the death of Marcus Aurelius, 180 A.D., but the main narrative is preceded by three excellent introductory chapters, covering in Bury's edition eighty-two pages. After the completion of his work, he regretted that he had not begun it at an earlier period. On the first page of his own printed copy of his book where he announces his design, he has entered this marginal note: "Should I not have given the history of that fortunate period which was interposed between two iron ages? Should I not have deduced the decline of the Empire from the Civil Wars that ensued after the Fall of Nero or even from the tyranny which succeeded the reign of Augustus? Alas! I should; but of what avail is this tardy knowledge?"[71] We may echo Gibbon's regret that he had not commenced his history with the reign of Tiberius, as, in his necessary use of Tacitus, we should have had the running comment of one great historian on another, of which we have a significant example in Gibbon's famous sixteenth chapter wherein he discusses Tacitus's account of the persecution of the Christians by Nero. With his power of historic divination, he would have so absorbed Tacitus and his time that the history would almost have seemed a collaboration between two great and sympathetic minds. "Tacitus," he wrote, "very frequently trusts to the curiosity or reflection of his readers to supply those intermediate circumstances and ideas, which, in his extreme conciseness, he has thought proper to suppress."[72] How Gibbon would have filled those gaps! Though he was seldom swayed by enthusiasm, his admiration of the Roman historian fell little short of idolatry. His references in "The Decline and Fall" are many, and some of them are here worth recalling to mind. "In their primitive state of simplicity and independence," he wrote, "the Germans were surveyed by the discerning eye and delineated by the masterly pencil of Tacitus, the first of historians who applied the science of philosophy to the study of facts."[73] Again he speaks of him as "the philosophic historian whose writings will instruct the last generation of mankind."[74] And in Chapter XVI he devoted five pages to citation from, and comment on, Tacitus, and paid him one of the most splendid tributes one historian ever paid another. "To collect, to dispose, and to adorn a series of fourscore years in an immortal work, every sentence of which is pregnant with the deepest observations and the most lively images, was an undertaking sufficient to exercise the genius of Tacitus himself during the greatest part of his life."[75] So much for admiration. That, nevertheless, Gibbon could wield the critical pen at the expense of the historian he rated so highly, is shown by a marginal note in his own printed copy of "The Decline and Fall." It will be remembered that Tacitus published his History and wrote his Annals during the reign of Trajan, whom he undoubtedly respected and admired. He referred to the reigns of Nerva and Trajan in suggested contrast to that of Domitian as "times when men were blessed with the rare privilege of thinking with freedom, and uttering what they thought."[76] It fell to both Tacitus and Gibbon to speak of the testament of Augustus which, after his death, was read in the Senate: and Tacitus wrote, Augustus "added a recommendation to keep the empire within fixed limits," on which he thus commented, "but whether from apprehension for its safety, or jealousy of future rivals, is uncertain."[77] Gibbon thus criticised this comment: "Why must rational advice be imputed to a base or foolish motive? To what cause, error, malevolence, or flattery, shall I ascribe the unworthy alternative? Was the historian dazzled by Trajan's conquests?"[78]

The intellectual training of the greatest modern historian is a matter of great interest. "From my early youth," wrote Gibbon in his Autobiography, "I aspired to the character of an historian."[79] He had "an early and invincible love of reading" which he said he "would not exchange for the treasures of India" and which led him to a "vague and multifarious" perusal of books. Before he reached the age of fifteen he was matriculated at Magdalen College, giving this account of his preparation. "I arrived at Oxford," he said, "with a stock of erudition that might have puzzled a Doctor and a degree of ignorance of which a schoolboy would have been ashamed."[80] He did not adapt himself to the life or the method of Oxford, and from them apparently derived no benefit. "I spent fourteen months at Magdalen College," he wrote; "they proved the fourteen months the most idle and unprofitable of my whole life."[81] He became a Roman Catholic. It was quite characteristic of this bookish man that his conversion was effected, not by the emotional influence of some proselytizer, but by the reading of books. English translations of two famous works of Bossuet fell into his hands. "I read," he said, "I applauded, I believed ... and I surely fell by a noble hand." Before a priest in London, on June 8, 1753, he privately "abjured the errors of heresy" and was admitted into the "pale of the church." But at that time this was a serious business for both priest and proselyte. For the rule laid down by Blackstone was this, "Where a person is reconciled to the see of Rome, or procures others to be reconciled, the offence amounts to High-Treason." This severe rule was not enforced, but there were milder laws under which a priest might suffer perpetual imprisonment and the proselyte's estate be transferred to his nearest relations. Under such laws prosecutions were had and convictions obtained. Little wonder was it when Gibbon apprised his father in an "elaborate controversial epistle" of the serious step which he had taken, that the elder Gibbon should be astonished and indignant. In his passion he divulged the secret which effectually closed the gates of Magdalen College to his son,[82] who was packed off to Lausanne and "settled under the roof and tuition" of a Calvinist minister.[83] Edward Gibbon passed nearly five years at Lausanne, from the age of sixteen to that of twenty-one, and they were fruitful years for his education. It was almost entirely an affair of self-training, as his tutor soon perceived that the student had gone beyond the teacher and allowed him to pursue his own special bent. After his history was published and his fame won, he recorded this opinion: "In the life of every man of letters there is an aera, from a level, from whence he soars with his own wings to his proper height, and the most important part of his education is that which he bestows on himself."[84] This was certainly true in Gibbon's case. On his arrival at Lausanne he hardly knew any French, but before he returned to England he thought spontaneously in French and understood, spoke, and wrote it better than he did his mother tongue.[85] He read Montesquieu frequently and was struck with his "energy of style and boldness of hypothesis." Among the books which "may have remotely contributed to form the historian of the Roman Empire" were the Provincial Letters of Pascal, which he read "with a new pleasure" almost every year. From them he said, "I learned to manage the weapon of grave and temperate irony, even on subjects of ecclesiastical solemnity." As one thinks of his chapters in "The Decline and Fall" on Julian, one is interested to know that during this period he was introduced to the life and times of this Roman emperor by a book written by a French abbe. He read Locke, Grotius, and Puffendorf, but unquestionably his greatest knowledge, mental discipline, and peculiar mastery of his own tongue came from his diligent and systematic study of the Latin classics. He read nearly all of the historians, poets, orators, and philosophers, going over for a second or even a third time Terence, Virgil, Horace, and Tacitus. He mastered Cicero's Orations and Letters so that they became ingrained in his mental fiber, and he termed these and his other works, "a library of eloquence and reason." "As I read Cicero," he wrote, "I applauded the observation of Quintilian, that every student may judge of his own proficiency by the satisfaction which he receives from the Roman orator." And again, "Cicero's epistles may in particular afford the models of every form of correspondence from the careless effusions of tenderness and friendship to the well-guarded declaration of discreet and dignified resentment."[86] Gibbon never mastered Greek as he did Latin; and Dr. Smith, one of his editors, points out where he has fallen into three errors from the use of the French or Latin translation of Procopius instead of consulting the original.[87] Indeed he himself has disclosed one defect of self-training. Referring to his youthful residence at Lausanne, he wrote: "I worked my way through about half the Iliad, and afterwards interpreted alone a large portion of Xenophon and Herodotus. But my ardor, destitute of aid and emulation, was gradually cooled and, from the barren task of searching words in a lexicon, I withdrew to the free and familiar conversation of Virgil and Tacitus."[88]

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