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Title: Introduction to the Study of History
Author: Seignobos, Charles, 1854-1942, Langlois, Charles Victor, 1863-1929
Language: English
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It is a pleasure to recommend this useful and well-written little book
to English readers. It will both interest and help. There are, for
instance, a few pages devoted to the question of evidence that will be
an aid to every one desirous of getting at the truth respecting any
series of facts, as well as to the student of history. No one can read
it without finding out that to the historian history is not merely a
pretty but rather difficult branch of literature, and that a history
book is not necessarily good if it appears to the literary critic
'readable and interesting,' nor bad because it seems to him 'hard or
heavy reading.' The literary critic, in fact, is beginning to find out
that he reads a history as he might read a treatise on mathematics or
linguistics, at his peril, and that he is no judge of its value or lack
of value. Only the expert can judge that. It will probably surprise some
people to find that in the opinion of our authors (who agree with Mr.
Morse Stephens and with the majority of scholars here) the formation and
expression of ethical judgments, the approval or condemnation of Caius
Julius Cæsar, or of Cæsar Borgia, is not a thing within the historian's
province. His business is to find out what can be known about the
characters and situations with which he is engaged, to put what he can
ascertain before his readers in a clear form, and lastly to consider and
attempt to ascertain what scientific use can be made of these facts he
has ascertained. Ethic on its didactic side is outside his business
altogether. In fact MM. Langlois and Seignobos write for those "who
propose to deal with documents [especially written documents] with a
view to preparing or accomplishing historic work in a scientific way."
They have the temerity to view history as a scientific pursuit, and they
are endeavouring to explain to the student who intends to pursue this
branch of anthropologic science the best and safest methods of
observation open to him, hence they modestly term their little book "an
essay on the method of historic sciences." They are bold enough to look
forward to a day, as not far distant, when a sensible or honest man will
no more dare to write history unscientifically than he would to-day be
willing to waste his time and that of others on observing the heavens
unscientifically, and registering as trustworthy his unchecked and
untimed observations.

Whether we like it or not, history has got to be scientifically studied,
and it is not a question of style but of accuracy, of fulness of
observation, and correctness of reasoning, that is before the student.
Huxley and Darwin and Clifford have shown that a book may be good
science and yet good reading. Truth has not always been found repulsive
although she was not bedizened with rhetorical adornments; indeed, the
very pursuit of her has long been recognised as arduous but extremely
fascinating. _Toute trouvaille_, as our authors aptly remark, _procure
une jouissance_.

It will be a positive gain to have the road cleared of a mass of
rubbish, that has hindered the advance of knowledge. History must be
worked at in a scientific spirit, as biology or chemistry is worked at.
As M. Seignobos says, "On ne s'arrête plus guère aujourd'hui à discuter,
sous sa forme théologique la théorie de la Providence dans l'Histoire.
Mais la tendence à expliquer les faits historiques par les causes
transcendantes persiste dans des théories plus modernes où la
metaphysique se déguise sous des formes scientifiques." We should
certainly get rid in time of those curious Hegelianisms "under which in
lay disguise lurks the old theologic theory of final causes"; or the
pseudo-patriotic supposition of the "historic mission (Beruf) attributed
to certain people or persons." The study of historic facts does not even
make for the popular newspaper theory of the continuous and necessary
progress of humanity, it shows only "partial and intermittent advances,
and gives us no reason to attribute them to a permanent cause inherent
in collective humanity rather than to a series of local accidents." But
the historian's path is still like that of Bunyan's hero, bordered by
pitfalls and haunted by hobgoblins, though certain of his giant
adversaries are crippled and one or two slain. He has also his own
faults to master, or at least to check, as MM. Langlois and Seignobos
not infrequently hint, _e.g._ "Nearly all beginners have a vexatious
tendency to go off into superfluous digressions, heaping up reflexion
and information that have no bearing on the main subject. They will
recognise, if they think over it, that the causes of this leaning are
bad taste, a kind of naïve vanity, sometimes a disordered mind." Again:
"The faults of historic works intended for the general public ... are
the results of the insufficient preparation of the bad literary training
of the popularisers." What an admirable criticism there is too of that
peculiarly German shortcoming (one not, however, unknown elsewhere),
which results in men "whose learning is ample, whose monographs destined
for scholars are highly praiseworthy, showing themselves capable, when
they write for the public, of sinning heavily against scientific
methods," so that, in their determination to stir their public, "they
who are so scrupulous and particular when it is a question of dealing
with minutiæ, abandon themselves like the mass of mankind to their
natural inclinations when they come to set forth general questions. They
take sides, they blame, they praise, they colour, they embellish, they
allow themselves to take account of personal, patriotic, ethical, or
metaphysical considerations. Above all, they apply themselves with what
talent has fallen to their lot to the task of creating a work of art,
and, so applying themselves, those of them who lack talent become
ridiculous, and the talent of those who possess it is spoilt by their
anxiety for effect."

On the other hand, while the student is rejoicing at the smart raps
bestowed upon the Teutonic offender, he is warned against the error of
thinking that "provided he can make himself understood, the historian
has the right to use a faulty, low, careless, or clogged style....
Seeing the extreme complexity of the phenomena he must endeavour to
describe, he has not the privilege of writing badly. But he ought
_always_ to write well, and not to bedizen his prose with extra finery
once a week."

Of course much that is said in this book has been said before, but I do
not know any book wherein the student of history will find such an
organised collection of practical and helpful instructions. There are
several points on which one is unable to find oneself in agreement with
MM. Langlois and Seignobos, but these occur mainly where they are
dealing with theory; as far as practical work goes, one finds oneself in
almost perfect concurrence with them. That they know little of the way
in which history is taught and studied in England or Canada or the
United States is not at all an hindrance to the use of their book. The
student may enjoy the pleasure of making his own examples out of English
books to the rules they lay down. He may compare their cautions against
false reasoning and instances of fallacy with those set forth in that
excellent and concise essay of Bentham's, which is apparently unknown to
them. He will not fail to see that we in England have much to learn in
this subject of history from the French. The French archives are not so
fine as ours, but they take care to preserve their local and provincial
documents, as well as their national and central records; they give
their archivists a regular training, they calendar and make accessible
all that time and fate have spared of pre-revolutionary documents. We
have not got farther than the provision of a fine central Record Office
furnished with very inadequate means for calendaring the masses of
documents already stored and monthly accumulating there, though we have
lately set up at Oxford, Cambridge, and London the regular courses of
palæography, diplomatic, and bibliography, that constitute the
preliminary training of the archivist or historical researcher. We want
more: we must have county archives, kept by trained archivists. We must
have more trained archivists at the disposal of the Deputy Keeper of the
Rolls, we must have such means as the _Bibliothèque de l'École des
Chartes_ for full reports of special and minute investigations and
discoveries, for hand-lists and the like, before we can be considered as
doing as much for history as the heavily taxed French nation does
cheerfully, and with a sound confidence that the money it spends wisely
in science is in the truest sense money saved.

For those interested in the teaching of history, this book is one of the
most suggestive helps that has yet appeared. With a blackboard, a text
(such as are now cheap), or a text-book (such as Stubbs or Prothero or
Gardiner), an atlas, and access to a decent public library and an
average local museum, the teacher who has mastered its intent should
never be at a loss for an interesting catechetical lecture or exposition
to a class, whether of adults or of younger folk.

Not the least practical part of the work of MM. Langlois and Seignobos
has been the consideration they have given to such every-day issues as
the teacher is constantly called upon to face. History cannot safely be
neglected in schools, though it is by no means necessary that the
Universities should turn out large bodies of trained historians. It is
possible indeed that the serious study of history might gain were there
fewer external inducements at the Universities to lead to the popularity
of the History Schools. But in this very popularity there lies a great
opportunity for concerted efforts, not only to better the processes of
study, but also to clear off the vast arrears of classification and
examination of the erroneous historic material at our disposition in
this country.

The historian has been (as our authors hint) too much the ally of the
politician; he has used his knowledge as material for preaching
democracy in the United States, absolutism in Prussia, Orleanist
opposition in France, and so on (English readers will easily recall
examples from their own countrymen's work): in the century to come he
will have to ally himself with the students of physical science, with
whose methods his own have so much in common. It is not patriotism, nor
religion, nor art, but the attainment of truth that is and must be the
historian's single aim.

But it is also to be borne in mind that history is an excellent
instrument of culture, for, as our authors point out, "the practice and
method of historic investigation is a pursuit extremely healthful for
the mind, freeing it from the disease of credulity," and fortifying it
in other ways as a discipline, though precisely how to best use history
for this purpose is still in some ways uncertain, and after all it is a
matter which concerns Pædagogic and Ethic more than the student of
history, though it is plain that MM. Langlois and Seignobos have not
neglected to consider it.

One can hardly help thinking, too, that, in schools and places where the
young are trained, something might be gained by treating such books as
Plutarch's Lives not as history (for which they were never intended) but
as text-books of ethic, as examples of conduct, public or private. The
historian very properly furnishes the ethical student with material,
though it is not right to reckon the ethical student's judgment upon the
historian's facts as history in any sense. It is not an historian's
question, for instance, whether Napoleon was right or wrong in his
conduct at Jaffa, or Nelson in his behaviour at Naples; that is a matter
for the student of ethic or the religious dogmatist to decide: all that
the historian has to do is to get what conclusion he can out of the
conflict of evidence, and to decide whether Napoleon or Nelson actually
did that of which their enemies accused them, or, if he cannot arrive at
fact, to state probability, and the reasons that incline him to lean to
the affirmative or negative.

As to the possibility of a "philosophy of history," a real one, not the
mockeries that have long been discredited by scientific students, the
reader will find some pregnant remarks here in the epilogue and the
chapters that precede it. There is an absence of unreasonable optimism
in our authors' views. "It is probable that hereditary differences have
contributed to determine events; so that in part historic evolution is
produced by physiological and anthropologic causes. But history
furnishes no trustworthy process by which it may be possible to
determine the action of those hereditary differences between man and
man," _i.e._ she starts with races 'endowed' each with peculiarities
that make them 'disposed to act' somewhat differently under similar
pressure. "History is only able to grasp the conditions of their
existence." And what M. Seignobos calls the final problem--_Is evolution
produced merely by changed conditions?_--must according to him remain
insoluble by the legitimate processes of history. The student may accept
or reject this view as his notions of evidence prompt him to do. M.
Seignobos has at all events laid down a basis for discussion in
sufficiently clear terms.

As to the composition of the joint work we are told that M. Seignobos
has been especially concerned with the chapters that touch theory, and
M. Langlois with those that deal with practice. Both authors have
already proved their competence--M. Seignobos' labours on Modern History
have been widely appreciated, while M. Langlois' "Hand-book of Historic
Bibliography" is already a standard text-book, and bids fair to remain
so. We are grateful to both of them for the pains they have taken to be
clear and definite, and for their determination to shirk none of the
difficulties that have met them. They have produced a hand-book that
students will use and value in proportion to their use of it, a book
that will save much muddle of thought and much loss of time, a book
written in the right spirit to inspire its readers. We are not bound to
agree with all M. Seignobos' dogmas, and can hardly accept, for
instance, M. Langlois' apology for the brutal methods of controversy
that are an evil legacy from the theologian and the grammarian, and are
apt to darken truth and to cripple the powers of those who engage in
them. For though it is possible that the secondary effect of these
barbarous scuffles may sometimes have been salutary in deterring
impostors from 'taking up' history, I am not aware of any positive
examples to justify this opinion. There is this, however, to be said,
that fully conscious of their own fallibility, M. Langlois and his
excellent collaborator have supplied in their canons of criticism and
maxims the best corrections of any mistakes into which they may have
fallen by the way. Is not the House of Fame, as the poet tells us, a
more wonderful and quaintly wrought habitation than _Domus Dedali_
itself? And may not honest historians be pardoned if they are sometimes
confused for a brief moment by the never-ending noise and marvellous
motion of that deceptive mint and treasury, and fatigued by the
continual trial and examination of the material that issues therefrom?
The student will, at least, learn from MM. Langlois and Seignobos to
have no mercy on his own shortcomings, to spare no pains, to grudge no
expenditure of time or energy in the investigation of a carefully chosen
and important historical problem, to aim at doing the bit of work in
hand so thoroughly that it will not need to be done again.

It would be unjust to omit here to mention Dr. Bernheim's "Exposition of
Historic Method," or _Lehrbuch der historischen Methode_, so justly
praised and used by our authors, but I believe that as an introduction
to the subject, intended for the use of English or North American
students, this little volume will be found the handier and more
practical work. Of its value to English workers I can speak from
experience, and I know many teachers to whom it will be welcome in its
present form.

It would have been easy to 'adapt' this book by altering its examples,
by modifying its excellent plan, by cutting here and carving there to
the supposed convenience of an imaginary public, but the better part has
been chosen of giving English readers this manual precisely as it
appeared in French. And surely one would rather read what M. Langlois,
an experienced teacher and a tried scholar, thought on a moot point,
than be presented with the views of some English 'adaptor' who had read
his book, as to what he would have said had he been an Englishman
lecturing to English students. That the present translator has taken
much pains to faithfully report his authors, I know (though I have not
compared English and French throughout every page), so that I can
commend his honest work to the reader as I have already commended the
excellent matter that he has been concerned in preparing for a wider
public than the French original could command.







What this work is _not_ meant to be--Works on the Philosophy
of History                                                             1

What it _is_ meant to be                                               2

Existing works on Historical Methods--Droysen, Freeman,
Daunou, &c.                                                            3

Reasons why the study of method is useful                              7

Bernheim's _Lehrbuch_--In what way it leaves room for another
book                                                                  10

Need of warning to students                                           11

The general public                                                    13

Distribution of the work between the two authors                      13





Documents: their nature, use, necessity                               17

Utility of _Heuristic_, or the art of discovering documents           18

The difficulties of Heuristic--Ancient times--H. H. Bancroft--State
of things at the Renaissance                                          19

Growth of libraries--Collectors--Effects of revolutionary
confiscation in promoting the concentration and the
accessibility of documents                                            20

Possible future progress--Need for the cataloguing and indexing
of documents                                                          27

Students and bibliographical knowledge--Effect of present
conditions in deterring men from historical work                      32

The remedies--Official cataloguing of libraries--Activity of
learned societies--of governments                                     34

Different kinds of bibliographical works needed by students           37

Different degrees of difficulty of Heuristic in different parts of
History--to be kept in view when choosing a subject of
research                                                              38



Documents are raw material, and need a preliminary elaboration        42

Obsolete views on the historian's apprenticeship--Mably,
Daunou                                                                43

Commonplace and exaggeration on this subject--Freeman--Various
futilities                                                            45

The scientific conception of the historian's
apprenticeship--Palæography--Epigraphy--Philology--Diplomatic         48

History of Literature--Archæology                                     51

Criticism of phrase "auxiliary sciences"--The subjects not all
_sciences_--None of them auxiliary to the _whole_ of History          52

This scientific conception is of recent growth--The École des
Chartes--Modern manuals of Palæography, Epigraphy,
&c.--List of the chief of them                                        55





Direct and indirect knowledge of facts                                63

History not a science of direct observation--Its data obtained
by chains of reasoning                                                64

Twofold division of Historical Criticism: _External_, investigating
the transmission and origin of documents and the
statements in them; _Internal_, dealing with the content
of the statements and their probability                               66

Complexity of Historical Criticism                                    67

Necessity of Criticism--The human mind naturally uncritical           68




Errors in the reproduction of documents: their frequency
under the most favourable conditions--Mistakes of
copyists--"Sound" and "corrupt" texts                                 71

Necessity of emendation--The method subject to fixed rules            73

Methods of textual criticism: (_a_) original preserved; (_b_) a
single copy preserved, conjectural emendation; (_c_) several
copies preserved, comparison of errors, families of manuscripts       75

Different degrees of difficulty of textual criticism: its results
negative--The "emendation game"--What still remains
to be done                                                            83


Natural tendency to accept indications of authorship--Examples
of false attributions--Necessity of verification--Application
of internal criticism                                                 87

Interpolations and continuations--Evidence of style                   92

Plagiarism and borrowings by authors from each other--The
filiation of statements--The investigation of sources                 93

Importance of investigations of authorship--The extreme of
distrust to be avoided--Criticism only a means to an end              98



Importance of classification--The first impulse wrong--The
note-book system not the best--Nor the ledger-system--Nor
the "system" of trusting the memory                                  101

The system of slips the best--Its drawbacks--Means of
obviating them--The advantage of good "private librarianship"        103

Methods of work vary according to the object aimed at--The
compiling of _Regesta_ or of a _Corpus_--Classification by
time, place, species, and form                                       105

Chronological arrangement to be used when possible--Geographical
arrangement best for inscriptions--When these
fail, alphabetical order of "incipit"--Logical order useful
for some special purposes--Not for a _Corpus_ or for _Regesta_       107



Different opinions on the importance and dignity of external
criticism--It is justified by its necessity--But is only
preliminary to the higher part of historical work                    112

Distinction between "historians" and "critical scholars" [Fr.
"_érudite_"]--Expediency, within limits, of the division of
labour in this respect--The exceptional skill acquired by
specialists--Difference of work the corollary of difference
of natural aptitudes                                                 115

The natural aptitudes required for external criticism--Fondness
for the work, which is distasteful to the creative
genius--The puzzle-solving instinct--Accuracy and its
opposite--"Froude's Disease"--Patience, order, perseverance          121

The mental defects produced by devotion to external
criticism--Its paralysing effect on the
over-scrupulous--Hypercriticism--Dilettantism                        128

The "organisation of scientific labour"                              135

The harshness of judgment attributed to scholars, not always
rightly--Much of it a proper jealousy for historic truth--Bad
work nowadays soon detected                                          136




Internal criticism deals with the mental operations which
begin with the observation of a fact and end with the
writing of words in a document--It is divided into two
stages: the first concerned with what the author meant,
the second with the value of his statements                          141

Necessity of separating the two operations--Danger of reading
opinions into a text                                                 143

The analysis of documents--The method of slips--Completeness
necessary                                                            145

Necessity of linguistic study--General knowledge of a language
not enough--Particular variety of a language as used at a
given time, in a given country, by a given author--The
rule of context                                                      146

Different degrees of difficulty in interpretation                    149

Oblique senses: allegory, metaphor, &c.--How to detect them--Former
tendency to find symbolism everywhere--Modern
tendency to find allusion everywhere                                 151

Results of interpretation--Subjective inquiries                      153



Natural tendency to trust documents--Criticism originally due
to contradictions--The rule of methodical doubt--Defective
modes of criticism                                                   155

Documents to be analysed, and the irreducible elements
criticised separately                                                159

The "accent of sincerity"--No trust to be placed in impressions
produced by the form of statements                                   161

Criticism examines the conditions affecting (1) the composition
of the document as a whole; (2) the making of each particular
statement--In both cases using a previously made
list of possible reasons for distrust or confidence                  162

Reasons for doubting good faith: (1) the author's interest;
(2) the force of circumstances, official reports; (3) sympathy
and antipathy; (4) vanity; (5) deference to public
opinion; (6) literary distortion                                     166

Reasons for doubting accuracy: (1) the author a bad observer,
hallucinations, illusions, prejudices; (2) the author not
well situated for observing; (3) negligence and indifference;
(4) fact not of nature to be directly observed                       172

Cases where the author is not the original observer of the
fact--Tradition, written and oral--Legend--Anecdotes--Anonymous
statements                                                           177

Special reasons without which anonymous statements are not
to be accepted: (1) falsehood improbable because (_a_) the
fact is opposed to interest or vanity of author, (_b_) the fact
was generally known, (_c_) the fact was indifferent to the
author; (2) error improbable because the fact was too big
to mistake; (3) the fact seemed improbable or unintelligible
to the author                                                        185

How critical operations are shortened in practice                    189



The conceptions of authors, whether well or ill founded, are
the subject-matter of certain studies--They necessarily
contain elements of truth, which, under certain restrictions,
may sometimes be inferred from them                                  191

The statements of authors, taken singly, do not rise above
probability--The only _sure_ results of criticism are _negative_--To
establish facts it is necessary to compare different
statements                                                           194

Contradictions between statements, real and apparent                 198

Agreement of statements--Necessity of proving them to be
independent--Perfect agreement not so conclusive as
occasional coincidence--Cases where different observations
of the same fact are not independent--General facts
the easiest to prove                                                 199

Different facts, each imperfectly proved, corroborate each
other when they harmonise                                            204

Disagreement between documents and other sources of
knowledge--Improbable statements--Miracles--When science
and history conflict, history should give way                        205





The materials of Historical Construction are isolated facts,
of very different kinds, of very different degrees of
generality, each belonging to a definite time and place,
of different degrees of certainty                                    211

Subjectivity of History                                              214

The facts learnt from documents relate to (1) living beings
and material objects; (2) actions, individual and collective;
(3) motives and conceptions                                          217

The facts of the past must be imagined on the model of those
of the present--Danger of error especially in regard to
mental facts                                                         219

Some of the conditions of human life are permanent--The
study of these provides a framework into which details
taken from documents are to be fitted--For this purpose
systematic lists of questions are to be used, drawn up
beforehand, and relating to the universal conditions of life         224

Outline of Historical Construction--The division of
labour--Historians must use the works of their colleagues and
predecessors, but not without critical precautions                   228



Historical facts may be classified and arranged either according
to their time and place, or according to their nature--Scheme
for the _logical_ classification of general historical
facts                                                                232

The selection of facts for treatment--The history of civilisation
and "battle-history"--Both needed                                    236

The determination of groups of men--Precautions to be
observed--The notion of "race"                                       238

The study of institutions--Danger of being misled by metaphors--The
questions which should be asked                                      241

Evolutions: operations involved in the study of them--The
place of particular facts (events) in evolution--Important
and unimportant facts                                                244

Periods--How they should be defined                                  249



Incompleteness of the facts yielded by documents--Cautions
to be observed in filling up the gaps by reasoning                   252

The argument from silence--When admissible                           254

Positive reasoning based on documents--The general principles
employed must enter into details, and the particular
facts to which they are applied must not be taken in
isolation                                                            256



History, like every science, needs formulæ by which the facts
acquired may be condensed into manageable form                       262

Descriptive formulæ--Should retain characteristic features--Should
be as concrete as possible                                           264

Formulæ describing general facts--How constructed--Conventional
forms and realities--Mode of formulating an
evolution                                                            266

Formulæ describing unique facts--Principle of choice--"Character"
of persons--Precautions in formulating
them--Formulæ describing events                                      270

Quantitative formulæ--Operations by which they may be
obtained: measurement, enumeration, valuation, sampling,
generalisation--Precautions to be observed in generalising           274

Formulæ expressing relations--General conclusions--Estimation
of the extent and value of the knowledge acquired--Imperfection
of data not to be forgotten in construction                          279

Groups and their classification                                      282

The "solidarity" of social phenomena--Necessity of studying
causes--Metaphysical hypothesis--Providence--Conception
of events as "rational"--The Hegelian "ideas"--The
historical "mission"--The theory of the general
progress of humanity                                                 285

The conception of society as an organism--The comparative
method--Statistics--Causes cannot be investigated
directly, as in other sciences--Causation as exhibited in
the sequence of particular events                                    288

The study of the causes of social evolution must look beyond
abstractions to the concrete, acting and thinking men--The
place of hereditary characteristics in determining
evolution                                                            292



Former conceptions of history-writing--The ancient and
mediæval ideal--The "history of civilisation"--The
modern historical "manual"--The romantic ideal at the
beginning of the century--History regarded as a branch
of literature up to 1850                                             296

The modern scientific ideal--Monographs--Right choice of
subject--References--Chronological order--Unambiguous
titles--Economy of erudition                                         303

General works--_A._ meant for students and specialists--Works
of reference or "repertories" and scientific manuals of
special branches of history--Their form and style--Collaboration
in their production--Scientific general
histories                                                            307

_B._ Works intended for the public--The best kind of
popularisation--The inferior kind--Specialists who lower their
standard when they write for the public--The literary
style suitable for history                                           311


Summary description of the methods of history--The future
of history                                                           316

The utility of history--Not directly applicable to present
conditions--Affords an explanation of the present--Helps
(and is helped by) the social sciences--A means of intellectual
culture                                                              319



Late introduction of history as a subject of secondary
instruction--Defective methods employed up to the end of the
Second Empire                                                        325

The reform movement--Questions involved relating to general
organisation--Choice of subjects--Order of teaching--Methods
of instruction--These questions to be answered
in the way that will make history most useful as a means
of social culture                                                    328

Material aids--Engravings--Books--Methods of teaching                332



The different institutions--The Collège de France--The
Faculties of Letters--The École Normale--The École des
Chartes--The École pratique des hautes Études                        335

Reform of the Faculties--Preparation for degrees--The
Examination question--Principles on which it is to be
solved--The _Diplôme d'études supérieures_                           340

Influence of the movement on the other institutions--Co-operation
of the institutions                                                  345

INDEX OF PROPER NAMES                                                347


The title of this work is clear. However, it is necessary to state
succinctly both what our intention has, and what it has not been; for
under this same title, "Introduction to the Study of History," very
different books have already been published.

It has not been our intention to give, as Mr. W. B. Boyce[1] has done, a
summary of universal history for the use of beginners and readers of
scanty leisure.

Nor has it been our intention to add a new item to the abundant
literature of what is ordinarily called the "Philosophy of History."
Thinkers, for the most part not professed historians, have made history
the subject of their meditations; they have sought for its "analogies"
and its "laws." Some have supposed themselves to have discovered "the
laws which have governed the development of humanity," and thus to have
"raised history to the rank of a positive science."[2] These vast
abstract constructions inspire with an invincible _a priori_ mistrust,
not the general public only, but superior minds as well. Fustel de
Coulanges, as his latest biographer tells us, was severe on the
Philosophy of History; these systems were as repugnant to him as
metaphysics to the positivists. Rightly or wrongly (without doubt
wrongly), the Philosophy of History, not having been cultivated
exclusively by well-informed, cautious men of vigorous and sound
judgment, has fallen into disrepute. The reader will be reassured--or
disappointed, as the case may be--to learn that this subject will find
no place in the present work.[3]

We propose to examine the conditions and the methods, to indicate the
character and the limits, of historical knowledge. How do we ascertain,
in respect of the past, what part of it it is possible, what part of it
it is important, to know? What is a document? How are documents to be
treated with a view to historical work? What are historical facts? How
are they to be grouped to make history? Whoever occupies himself with
history performs, more or less unconsciously, complicated operations of
criticism and construction, of analysis and synthesis. But beginners,
and the majority of those who have never reflected on the principles of
historical methodology, make use, in the performance of these
operations, of instinctive methods which, not being, in general,
rational methods, do not usually lead to scientific truth. It is,
therefore, useful to make known and logically justify the theory of the
truly rational methods--a theory which is now settled in some parts,
though still incomplete in some points of capital importance.

The present "Introduction to the Study of History" is thus intended, not
as a summary of ascertained facts or a system of general ideas on
universal history, but as an essay on the method of the historical

We proceed to state the reasons why we have thought such a work
opportune, and to explain the spirit in which we have undertaken to
write it.


The books which treat of the methodology of the historical sciences are
scarcely less numerous, and at the same time not in much better favour,
than the books on the Philosophy of History. Specialists despise them. A
widespread opinion is expressed in the words attributed to a certain
scholar: "You wish to write a book on philology; you will do much better
to produce a book with some good philology in it. When I am asked to
define philology, I always answer that it is what I work at."[4] Again,
in reference to J. G. Droysen's _Précis of the Science of History_, a
certain critic expressed an opinion which was meant to be, and was, a
commonplace: "Generally speaking, treatises of this kind are of
necessity both obscure and useless: obscure, because there is nothing
more vague than their object; useless, because it is possible to be an
historian without troubling oneself about the principles of historical
methodology which they claim to exhibit."[5] The arguments used by these
despisers of methodology are strong enough in all appearance. They
reduce to the following. As a matter of fact, there are men who
manifestly follow good methods, and are universally recognised as
scholars or historians of the first order, without having ever studied
the principles of method; conversely, it does not appear that those who
have written on historical method from the logical point of view have in
consequence attained any marked superiority as scholars or historians:
some, indeed, have been known for their incompetence or mediocrity in
these capacities. In this there is nothing that need surprise us. Who
would think of postponing original research in chemistry, mathematics,
the sciences proper, until he had studied the methods employed in those
sciences? Historical criticism! Yes, but the best way to learn it is to
apply it; practice teaches all that is wanted.[6] Take, too, the extant
works on historical method, even the most recent of them, those of J. G.
Droysen, E. A. Freeman, A. Tardif, U. Chevalier, and others; the utmost
diligence will extract from them nothing in the way of clear ideas
beyond the most obvious and commonplace truisms.[7]

We willingly recognise that this manner of thinking is not entirely
wrong. The great majority of works on the method of pursuing historical
investigations and of writing history--what is called _Historic_ in
Germany and England--are superficial, insipid, unreadable, sometimes
ridiculous.[8] To begin with, those prior to the nineteenth century, a
full analysis of which is given by P. C. F. Daunou in the seventh volume
of his _Cours d'études historiques_,[9] are nearly all of them mere
treatises on rhetoric, in which the rhetoric is antiquated, and the
problems discussed are the oddest imaginable.[10] Daunou makes merry
over them, but he himself has shown good sense and nothing more in his
monumental work, which at the present time seems little better, and
certainly not more useful, than the earlier treatises.[11] As to the
modern ones, it is true that not all have been able to escape the two
dangers to which works of this character are exposed--that of being
obscure on the one hand, or commonplace on the other. J. G. Droysen's
_Grundriss der Historik_ is heavy, pedantic, and confused beyond all
imagination.[12] Freeman, Tardif, and Chevalier tell us nothing but what
is elementary and obvious. Their followers may still be observed
discussing at interminable length idle questions, such as: whether
history is a science or an art; what are the duties of history; what is
the use of history; and so on. On the other hand, there is incontestable
truth in the remark that nearly all the specialists and historians of
to-day are, as far as method goes, self-taught, with no training except
what they have gained by practice, or by imitating and associating with
the older masters of the craft.

But though many works on the principles of method justify the distrust
with which such works are generally regarded, and though most professed
historians have been able, apparently with no ill results, to dispense
with reflection upon historical method, it would, in our opinion, be a
strained inference to conclude that specialists and historians
(especially those of the future) have no need to make themselves
acquainted with the processes of historical work. The literature of
methodology is, in fact, not without its value: gradually there has been
formed a treasury of subtle observations and precise rules, suggested by
experience, which are something more than mere common sense.[13] And,
admitting the existence of those who, without having ever learnt to
reason, always reason well, by a gift of nature, it would be easy to set
against these exceptions innumerable cases in which ignorance of logic,
the use of irrational methods, want of reflection on the conditions of
historical analysis and synthesis, have robbed the work of specialists
and historians of much of its value.

The truth is, that, of all branches of study, history is without a doubt
the one in which it is most necessary for students to have a clear
consciousness of the methods they use. The reason is, that in history
instinctive methods are, as we cannot too often repeat, irrational
methods; some preparation is therefore required to counteract the first
impulse. Besides, the rational methods of obtaining historical knowledge
differ so widely from the methods of all other sciences, that some
perception of their distinctive features is necessary to avoid the
temptation of applying to history the methods of those sciences which
have already been systematised. This explains why mathematicians and
chemists can, more easily than historians, dispense with an
"introduction" to their subject. There is no need to insist at greater
length on the utility of historical methodology, for there is evidently
nothing very serious in the attacks which have been made on it. But it
behooves us to explain the reasons which have led to the composition of
the present work. For the last fifty years a great number of intelligent
and open-minded men have meditated on the methods of the historical
sciences. Naturally we find among them many historians, university
professors, whose position enables them to understand better than others
the intellectual needs of the young; but at the same time professed
logicians, and even novelists. In this connection, Fustel de Coulanges
left a tradition behind him at the University of Paris. "He
endeavoured," we are told,[14] "to reduce the rules of method to very
precise formulæ ...; in his view no task was more urgent than that of
teaching students how to attain truth." Among these men, some, like
Renan,[15] have been content to insert scattered observations in their
general works or their occasional writings;[16] others, as Fustel de
Coulanges, Freeman, Droysen, Laurence, Stubbs, De Smedt, Von
Pflugk-Harttung, and so on, have taken the trouble to express their
thoughts on the subject in special treatises. There are many books,
"inaugural lectures," "academic orations," and review-articles,
published in all countries, but especially in France, Germany, England,
the United States, and Italy, both on the whole subject of methodology
and on the different parts of it. It will occur to the reader that it
would be a far from useless labour to collect and arrange the
observations which are scattered, and, one might say, lost, in these
numerous books and minor writings. But it is too late to undertake this
pleasant task; it has been recently performed, and in the most
painstaking manner. Professor Ernst Bernheim, of the University of
Greifswald, has worked through nearly all the modern works on historical
method, and the fruit of his labours is an arrangement under appropriate
headings, most of them invented by himself, of a great number of
reflections and selected references. His _Lehrbuch der historischen
Methode_[17] (Leipzig, 1894, 8vo) condenses, in the manner of German
_Lehrbücher_, the special literature of the subject of which it treats.
It is not our intention to do over again what has already been done so
well. But we are of opinion that even after this laborious and
well-planned compilation something still remains to be said. In the
first place, Professor Bernheim deals largely with metaphysical problems
which we consider devoid of interest; while, conversely, he entirely
ignores certain considerations which appear to us to be, both
theoretically and practically, of the greatest importance. In the second
place, the teaching of the _Lehrbuch_ is sound enough, but lacks vigour
and originality. Lastly, the _Lehrbuch_ is not addressed to the general
public; both the language in which it is written and the form in which
it is composed render it inaccessible to the great majority of French
readers. This is enough to justify our undertaking to write a book of
our own, instead of simply recommending the book of Professor


This "Introduction to the Study of History" does not claim, like the
_Lehrbuch der historischen Methode_, to be a treatise on historical
methodology.[19] It is a sketch in outline. We undertook its
composition, at the beginning of the scholastic year 1896-97, in order
that the new students at the Sorbonne might be warned what the study of
history is and ought to be.

Long experience has taught us the necessity of such warnings. The
greater part of those who enter upon a career of historical study do so,
as a matter of fact, without knowing why, without having ever asked
themselves whether they are fitted for historical work, of the true
nature of which they are often ignorant. Generally their motives for
choosing an historical career are of the most futile character. One has
been successful in history at college;[20] another feels himself drawn
towards the past by the same kind of romantic attraction which, we are
told, determined the vocation of Augustin Thierry; some are misled by
the fancy that history is a comparatively easy subject. It is certainly
important that these irrational votaries should be enlightened and put
to the test as soon as possible.

Having given a course of lectures, to novices, by way of "Introduction
to the Study of History," we thought that, with a little revision, these
lectures might be made useful to others besides novices. Scholars and
professed historians will doubtless have nothing to learn from this
work; but if they should find in it a stimulus to personal reflection on
the craft which some of them practise in a mechanical fashion, that
would be something gained. As for the public, which reads the works of
historians, is it not desirable that it should know how these works are
produced, in order to be able to judge them better?

We do not, therefore, like Professor Bernheim, write exclusively for
present and future specialists, but also for the public interested in
history. We thus lay ourselves under an obligation to be as concise, as
clear, and as little technical as possible. But to be concise and clear
on subjects of this kind often means to appear superficial. Commonplace
on the one hand, obscurity on the other: these, as we have already seen,
are the evils between which we have the sorry privilege of choosing. We
admit the difficulty. But we do not think it insurmountable, and our
endeavour has been to say what we had to say in the clearest possible

The first half of the book has been written by M. Langlois, the second
by M. Seignobos; but the two collaborators have constantly aided,
consulted, and checked each other.[21]

PARIS, _August 1897_.






The historian works with documents. Documents are the traces which have
been left by the thoughts and actions of men of former times. Of these
thoughts and actions, however, very few leave any visible traces, and
these traces, when there are any, are seldom durable; an accident is
enough to efface them. Now every thought and every action that has left
no visible traces, or none but what have since disappeared, is lost for
history; is as though it had never been. For want of documents the
history of immense periods in the past of humanity is destined to remain
for ever unknown. For there is no substitute for documents: no
documents, no history.

In order to draw legitimate inferences from a document to the fact of
which it is the trace, numerous precautions are requisite which will be
indicated in the sequel. But it is clear that, prior to any critical
examination or interpretation of documents, the question presents itself
whether there are any documents at all, how many there are, and where
they are. If I undertake to deal with a point of history,[22] of
whatever nature, my first step will be to ascertain the place or places
where the documents necessary for its treatment, if any such exist, are
to be found. The search for and the collection of documents is thus a
part, logically the first and most important part, of the historian's
craft. In Germany it has received the convenient, because short, name of
_Heuristik_. Is there any need to prove the capital importance of
Heuristic? Assuredly not. It is obvious that if it is neglected, if the
student does not, before he sets to work on a point of history, place
himself in a position to command all accessible sources of information,
his risk (no small one at the best) of working upon insufficient data is
quite unnecessarily increased: works of erudition or history constructed
in accordance with the rules of the most exact method have been
vitiated, or even rendered worthless, by the accidental circumstance
that the author was unacquainted with the documents by which those which
he had within reach, and with which he was content, might have been
illustrated, supplemented, or discredited. The scholars and historians
of to-day, standing, as they do, in other respects on an equality with
their predecessors of the last few centuries, are only enabled to
surpass them by their possession of more abundant means of
information.[23] Heuristic is, in fact, easier to-day than it used to
be, although the honest Wagner has still good grounds for saying:

    "Wie schwer sind nicht die Mittel zu erwerben,
    Durch die man zu den Quellen steigt!"[24]

Let us endeavour to explain why the collection of documents, once so
laborious, is still no easy matter, in spite of the progress made in the
last century; and how this essential operation may, in the course of
continued progress, be still further simplified.

I. Those who first endeavoured to write history from the sources found
themselves in an embarrassing situation. Were the events they proposed
to relate recent, so that all the witnesses of them were not yet dead?
They had the resource of interviewing the witnesses who survived.
Thucydides, Froissart, and many others have followed this procedure.
When Mr. H. H. Bancroft, the historian of the Pacific Coast of
California, resolved to collect materials for the history of events many
of the actors in which were still alive, he mobilised a whole army of
reporters charged to extract conversations from them.[25] But when the
events to be related were ancient, so that no man then living could have
witnessed them, and no account of them had been preserved by oral
tradition, what then? Nothing was left but to collect documents of every
kind, principally written ones, relating to the distant past which was
to be studied. This was a difficult task at a time when libraries were
rare, archives secret, and documents scattered. About the year 1860, Mr.
Bancroft, in California, was in a situation analogous to that of the
earlier researchers in our part of the world. His plan was as follows:
He was rich; he cleared the market of all documents, printed or
manuscript; he negotiated with financially embarrassed families and
corporations for the purchase of their archives, or the permission to
have them copied by his paid agents. This done, he housed his collection
in premises built for the purpose, and classified it. Theoretically
there could not be a more rational procedure. But this rapid, American
method has only once been employed with sufficient resources and
sufficient consistency to ensure its success; at any other time, and in
any other place, it would have been out of the question. Nowhere else
have the circumstances been so favourable for it.

At the epoch of the Renaissance the documents of ancient and modern
history were scattered in innumerable private libraries and in
innumerable depositories of archives, almost all of them inaccessible,
not to mention those which lay hidden beneath the soil, their very
existence as yet unsuspected. It was at that time a physical
impossibility to procure a list of all the documents serving for the
elucidation of a question (for example, a list of all the manuscripts
still preserved of an ancient work); and if, by a miracle, such a list
was to be had, it was another impossibility to consult all these
documents except at the cost of journeys, expenses, and negotiations
without end. Consequences easy to foresee did, as a matter of fact,
ensue. Firstly, the difficulties of Heuristic being insurmountable, the
earliest scholars and historians--employing, as they did, not all the
documents, nor the best documents, but those documents on which they
could lay their hands--were nearly always ill-informed; and their works
are now without interest except so far as they are founded on documents
which have since been lost. Secondly, the first scholars and historians
to be relatively well-informed were those who, in virtue of their
profession, had access to rich storehouses of documents--librarians,
keepers of archives, monks, magistrates, whose order or whose
corporation possessed libraries or archives of considerable extent.[26]

It is true that collectors soon arose who, by money payments, or by more
questionable expedients, such as theft, formed, with more or less regard
for the interests of scientific study, "cabinets" of collections of
original documents, and of copies. But these European collectors, of
whom there has been a great number since the fifteenth century, differ
very noticeably from Mr. Bancroft. The Californian, in fact, only
collected documents relating to a particular subject (the history of
certain Pacific states), and his ambition was to make his collection
complete; most European collectors have acquired waifs and strays and
fragments of every description, forming, when combined, totals which
appear insignificant by the side of the huge mass of historical
documents which existed at the time. Besides, it was not, in general,
with any purpose of making them generally accessible that collectors
like Peiresc, Gaignières, Clairambault, Colbert, and many others,
withdrew from circulation documents which were in danger of being lost;
they were content (and it was creditable to do as much as this) to share
them, more or less freely, with their friends. But collectors (and their
heirs) are fickle people, and sometimes eccentric in their notions.
Certainly it is better that documents should be preserved in private
collections, than that they should be entirely unprotected and
absolutely inaccessible to the scientific worker; but in order that
Heuristic should be made really easier, the first condition is that all
collections of documents should be _public_.[27]

Now the finest private collections of documents--libraries and museums
combined--were naturally, in the Europe of the Renaissance, those
possessed by kings. And while other private collections were often
dispersed upon the death of their founders, these, on the contrary,
never ceased to grow; they were enriched, indeed, by the wreckage of all
the others. The _Cabinet des manuscrits de France_, for example, formed
by the French kings, and by them thrown open to the public, had, at the
end of the eighteenth century, absorbed the best part of the collections
which had been the personal work of the amateurs and scholars of the two
preceding centuries.[28] Similarly in other countries. The concentration
of a great number of historical documents in vast public (or
semi-public) establishments was the fortunate result of this spontaneous

The arbitrary proceedings of the Revolution were still more favourable,
and still more effective in securing the amelioration of the material
conditions of historical research. The Revolution of 1789 in France,
analogous movements in other countries, led to the violent confiscation,
for the profit of the state (that is, of everybody), of a host of
private archives and collections--the archives, libraries, and museums
of the crown, the archives and libraries of monasteries and suppressed
corporations, and so on. In France, in 1790, the Constituent Assembly
thus placed the state in possession of a great number of depositories of
historical documents, previously scattered, and guarded more or less
jealously from the curiosity of scholars; these treasures have since
been divided among four different national institutions. The same
phenomenon has been more recently observed, on a smaller scale, in
Germany, Spain, and Italy.

The confiscations of the revolutionary period, as well as the
collections of the period which preceded it, have both been productive
of serious damage. The collector is, or rather often was, a barbarian
who did not hesitate, when he saw a chance of adding to his collection
of specimens and rare remains, to mutilate monuments, to dissect
manuscripts, to break up whole archives, in order to possess himself of
the fragments. On this score many acts of vandalism were perpetrated
before the Revolution. Naturally, the revolutionary procedure of
confiscation and transference was also productive of lamentable
consequences; besides the destruction which was the result of negligence
and that which was due to the mere pleasure of destroying, the
unfortunate idea arose that collections might be systematically
_weeded_, those documents only to be preserved which were "interesting"
or "useful," the rest to be got rid of. The task of weeding was
entrusted to well-meaning but incompetent and overworked men, who were
thus led to commit irreparable havoc in our ancient archives. At the
present day there are workers engaged in the task, one requiring an
extraordinary amount of time, patience, and care, of restoring the
dismembered collections, and replacing the fragments which were then
isolated in so brutal a manner by these zealous but unreflecting
manipulators of historical documents. It must be recognised, moreover,
that the mutilations due to revolutionary activity and the
pre-revolutionary collectors are insignificant in comparison with those
which are the result of accident and the destructive work of time. But
had they been ten times as serious, they would have been amply
compensated by two advantages of the first importance, on which we
cannot lay too much stress: (1) the concentration, in a relatively small
number of depositories, of documents which were formerly scattered, and,
as it were, lost, in a hundred different places; (2) the opening of
these depositories to the public. The remnant of historical documents
which has survived the destructive effects of accident and vandalism is
now at last safely housed, classified, made accessible, and treated as
public property.

Ancient historical documents are now, as we have seen, collected and
preserved chiefly in those public institutions which are called
archives, libraries, and museums. It is true that this does not apply to
_all_ existing documents; in spite of the unceasing acquisitions by
purchase and gift which archives, libraries, and museums all over the
world have been making every year for a long time past, there still
exist private collections, dealers who supply them, and documents in
circulation. But the exceptions, which in this case are negligeable, do
not affect the general rule. Besides, all the ancient documents which,
in limited quantity, still range at large, are destined sooner or later
to find their way into the state institutions, whose doors are always
open to let in, but never to let out.[29]

It is to be desired, as a matter of principle, that the depositories of
documents (archives, libraries, and museums) should not be too numerous;
and we have pointed out that, fortunately, they are now beyond
comparison less numerous than they were a hundred years ago. Could not
the centralisation of documents, with its evident advantages for
researchers, be carried still further? Are there not still collections
of documents of which it would be hard to justify the separate
existence? Perhaps;[30] but the problem of the centralisation of
documents is no longer urgent, now that the processes of reproduction
have been perfected, especially as the inconveniences arising from a
multitude of depositories are met by the expedient, now in general use,
of allowing the documents to travel: it is now possible for the student
to consult, without expense, in the public library of the city where he
resides, documents belonging, say, to the libraries of St. Petersburg,
Brussels, and Florence; we now rarely meet with institutions like the
Archives Nationales at Paris, the British Museum at London, and the
Méjanes Library at Aix-en-Provence, whose statutes absolutely prohibit
all lending-out of their contents.[31]

II. It being granted that the majority of historical documents are now
preserved in public institutions (archives, libraries, and museums),
Heuristic would be very easy if only good descriptive catalogues had
been drawn up of all the existing collections of documents, if these
catalogues were furnished with indexes, or if general repertories
(alphabetical, systematic, &c.) had been made relating to them; lastly,
if there were some place where it was possible to consult the complete
collection of all these catalogues and their indexes. But Heuristic is
still difficult, because these conditions are, unfortunately, still very
far from being adequately realised.

Firstly, there are depositories of documents (archives, libraries, and
museums) whose contents have never been even partially catalogued, so
that no one knows what is in them. The depositories of which we possess
complete descriptive catalogues are rare; there are many collections
preserved in celebrated institutions which have only been catalogued in
part, and the bulk of which still remains to be described.[32] In the
second place, what a variety there is among existing catalogues! There
are some old ones which do not now correspond to the present
classification of documents, and which cannot be used without
reference-tables; there are new ones which are equally based on obsolete
systems, too detailed or too summary; some are printed, others in
manuscript, on registers or slips; some are carefully executed and
clear, many are scamped, inadequate, and provisional. Taking printed
catalogues alone, it requires a whole apprenticeship to learn to
distinguish, in this enormous mass of confusion, between what is
trustworthy and what is not; in other words, to make any use of them at
all. Lastly, where are the existing catalogues to be consulted? Most of
the great libraries only possess incomplete collections of them; there
is no general guide to them anywhere.

This is a deplorable state of things. In fact, the documents contained
in uncatalogued depositories and collections are practically
non-existent for researchers who have no leisure to work through the
whole of their contents for themselves. We have said before: no
documents, no history. But to have no good descriptive catalogues of
collections of documents means, in practice, to be unable to ascertain
the existence of documents otherwise than by chance. We infer that the
progress of history depends in great measure on the progress of the
general catalogue of historical documents which is still fragmentary and
imperfect. On this point there is general agreement. Père Bernard de
Montfaucon considered his _Bibliotheca bibliothecarum manuscriptarum
nova_, a collection of library catalogues, as "the most useful and most
interesting work he had produced in his whole life."[33] "In the present
state of science," wrote Renan in 1848,[34] "nothing is wanted more
urgently than a critical catalogue of the manuscripts in the different
libraries ... a humble task to all appearance; ... and yet the
researches of scholars are hampered and incomplete pending its
definitive completion." "We should have better books on our ancient
literature," says M. P. Meyer,[35] "if the predecessors of M. Delisle
[in his capacity of administrator of the Bibliothèque Nationale at
Paris] had applied themselves with equal ardour and diligence to the
cataloguing of the treasures committed to their care."

It will be well to indicate briefly the causes and state the exact
consequences of a state of things which has been deplored as long as
scholars have existed, and which is improving, though slowly. "I assure
you," said Renan,[36] "that the few hundred thousand francs a Minister
of Public Instruction might apply to the purpose [of preparing
catalogues] would be better employed than three-quarters of the sum now
devoted to literature." It is rare to find a minister, in France or
elsewhere, convinced of this truth, and resolute enough to act
accordingly. Besides, it has not always been true that, in order to
obtain good catalogues, it is sufficient, as well as necessary, to make
a pecuniary sacrifice: it is only recently that the best methods of
describing documents have been authoritatively fixed; the task of
recruiting competent workers--no great difficulty nowadays--would have
been neither easy nor free from anxiety at an epoch when competent
workers were rarer than they are now. So much for the material
obstacles--want of money and want of men. A cause of another kind has
not been without its influence. The functionaries charged with the
administration of depositories of documents have not always displayed
the zeal which they now display for making their collections accessible
by means of accurate catalogues. To prepare a catalogue (in the exact
and at the same time summary form which is now used) is a laborious
task, a task without joy and without reward. It has often happened that
such a functionary, living, in virtue of his office, in the midst of
documents which he is at liberty to consult at any moment, and placed in
a much more favourable position than the general public for utilising
the collection without the aid of a catalogue, and making discoveries in
the process, has preferred to work for himself rather than for others,
and made the tedious construction of a catalogue a secondary matter
compared with his personal researches.

Who are the persons that in our own day have discovered, published, and
annotated the greatest number of documents? The functionaries attached
to the depositories of documents. Without a doubt this circumstance has
retarded the progress of the general catalogue of historical documents.
The situation has been this: the persons who were the best able to
dispense with catalogues were precisely the persons whose duty it was to
make them.

The imperfection of descriptive catalogues has consequences which
deserve our attention. On the one hand, we can never be sure that we
have exhausted all the sources of information; who knows what may be
held in reserve by the uncatalogued collections?[37] On the other hand,
in order to obtain the maximum amount of information, it is necessary to
be thoroughly acquainted with the resources furnished by the existing
literature of Heuristic, and to devote a great deal of time to
preliminary researches. In point of fact, every one who proposes to
collect documents for the treatment of a point of history begins by
consulting indexes and catalogues.[38] Novices set about this important
operation so slowly, with so little skill, and with so much effort, as
to move more experienced workers to mirth or pity, according to their
disposition. Those who find amusement in watching novices stumble and
strain and waste their time in the labyrinth of catalogues, neglecting
those which are valuable, and thoroughly exploring those which are
useless, remember that they also have passed through similar
experiences: let every one have his turn. Those who observe with regret
this waste of time and strength consider that, while inevitable up to a
certain point, it serves no good purpose; they ask whether something
might not be done to mitigate the severity of this apprenticeship to
Heuristic, which at one time cost them so dear. Besides, is not
research, in the present condition of its material aids, difficult
enough whatever the experience of the researcher? There are scholars and
historians who devote the best part of their powers to material
searches. Certain branches of historical work, relating chiefly to
mediæval and modern subjects (the documents of ancient history are
fewer, have been more studied, and are better catalogued than the
others), imply not merely the assiduous use of catalogues, not all
furnished with indexes, but also the personal inspection of the whole
contents of immense collections which are either badly catalogued or not
catalogued at all. Experience proves beyond a doubt that the prospect of
these long searches, which must be performed before the more
intellectual part of the work can be begun, has deterred, and continues
to deter, men of excellent abilities from undertaking historical work.
They are, in fact, confronted with a dilemma: either they must work on a
supply of documents which is in all probability incomplete, or they must
spend themselves in unlimited searches, often fruitless, the results of
which seldom appear worth the time they have cost. It goes against the
grain to spend a great part of one's life in turning over catalogues
without indexes, or in passing under review, one after another, all the
items which go to form accumulations of uncatalogued _miscellanea_, in
order to obtain information (positive or negative) which might have been
obtained easily and instantaneously if the collections had been
catalogued and if the catalogues had been indexed. The most serious
consequence of the present imperfection of the material aids to
Heuristic is the discouragement which is sure to be felt by many able
men who know their worth, and have some sense of the due proportion of
effort and reward.[39]

If it lay in the nature of things that the search for historical
documents, in public depositories, must necessarily be as laborious as
it still is, we might resign ourselves to the inconvenience: no one
thinks of regretting the inevitable expenditure of time and labour which
is demanded by archæological research, whatever the results may prove to
be. But the imperfection of the modern instruments of Heuristic is quite
unnecessary. The state of things which existed for some centuries has
now been reformed indifferently; there is no valid reason why it should
not some day be reformed altogether. We are thus led, after treating of
the causes and the effects, to say a few words about the remedies.

The instruments of Heuristic are being continually perfected, before our
eyes, in two ways. Every year witnesses an increase in the number of
descriptive catalogues of archives, libraries, and museums, prepared by
the functionaries attached to these institutions. In addition to this,
powerful learned societies employ experts to pass from one depository
to another cataloguing the documents there, in order to pick out all the
documents of a particular class, or relating to a special subject: thus
the society of Bollandists caused a general catalogue of hagiographical
documents to be prepared by its emissaries, and the Imperial Academy of
Vienna catalogued in a similar manner the monuments of patristic
literature. The society of the _Monumenta Germanioe Historica_ has for
a long time been conducting vast searches of the same kind; and it was
by the same process of exploring the museums and libraries of the whole
of Europe that the construction of the _Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum_
was lately rendered possible. Lastly, several governments have taken the
initiative in sending abroad persons charged to catalogue, on their
behalf, documents in which they are interested: thus England, the
Netherlands, Switzerland, the United States, and other governments,
grant regular subsidies to agents of theirs occupied in cataloguing and
transcribing, in the great depositories of Europe, the documents which
relate to the history of England, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the
United States, and the rest.[40] With what rapidity and with what
perfection these useful labours can be conducted, provided that a
competent staff, suitably directed, can be had as well as the money to
pay it, is shown by the history of the _general catalogue of the
manuscripts in the public libraries of France_. This excellent
descriptive catalogue was begun in 1885, and now, in 1897, it extends to
nearly fifty volumes, and will soon be completed. The _Corpus
Inscriptionum Latinarum_ will have been produced in less than fifty
years. The results obtained by the Bollandists and the Imperial Academy
of Vienna are not less conclusive. Assuredly nothing is now lacking,
except funds, to secure the speedy endowment of historical study with
the indispensable instruments of research. The methods employed in the
construction of these instruments are now permanently fixed, and it is
an easy matter to recruit a trained staff. Such a staff must evidently
be largely composed of keepers of archives and professional librarians,
but it would also contain unattached workers with a decided vocation for
the construction of catalogues and indexes. Such workers are more
numerous than one would at first be inclined to think. Not that
cataloguing is easy: it requires patience, the most scrupulous
attention, and the most varied learning; but many minds are attracted by
tasks which, like this, are at once determinate, capable of being
definitely completed, and of manifest utility. In the large and
heterogeneous family of those who labour to promote the progress of
historical study, the makers of descriptive catalogues and indexes form
a section to themselves. When they devote themselves exclusively to
their art they acquire by practice, as one might expect, a high degree
of dexterity.

While waiting for the fact to be clearly recognised that the time is
opportune for pushing vigorously in every country the construction of a
general catalogue of historical documents, we may indicate a palliative:
it is important that scholars and historians, especially novices, should
be accurately informed of the state of the instruments of research which
are at their disposal, and be regularly apprised of any improvements
that from time to time may be made in them. Experience and accident have
been for a long time trusted to supply this information; but empirical
knowledge, besides being costly, as we have already pointed out, is
almost always imperfect. Recently the task has been undertaken of
constructing catalogues of catalogues--critical and systematic lists of
all the catalogues in existence. There can be no doubt that few
bibliographical enterprises have possessed, in so great a degree, the
character of general utility.

But scholars and historians often need, in respect of documents,
information not usually supplied by descriptive catalogues; they wish,
for example, to know whether such and such a document is known or not,
whether it has already been critically dealt with, annotated, or
utilised.[41] This information can only be found in the works of former
scholars and historians. In order to become acquainted with these
works, recourse must be had to those "bibliographical repertories,"
properly so called, of all kinds, compiled from very different points of
view, which have already been published. Among the indispensable
instruments of Heuristic must thus be reckoned bibliographical
repertories of historical literature, as well as repertories of
catalogues of original documents.

To supply the classified list of all those repertories (repertories of
catalogues, bibliographical repertories, properly so called), together
with other appropriate information, in order to save students from
mistakes and waste of time, is the object of what we are at liberty to
call the "science of repertories," or "historical bibliography."
Professor Bernheim has published a preliminary sketch[42] of it, which
we have endeavoured to expand.[43] The expanded sketch bears date April
1896: numerous additions, not to speak of revision, would already be
necessary, for the bibliographical apparatus of the historical sciences
is being renewed, at the present time, with astonishing rapidity. A book
on the repertories for the use of scholars and historians is, as a
general rule, out of date the day after it has been completed.

III. The knowledge of repertories is useful to all; the preliminary
search for documents is laborious to all; but not in the same degree.
Certain parts of history, which have been long cultivated, now enjoy
the advantage of having all their documents described, collected, and
classified in large publications devoted to the purpose, so that, in
dealing with these subjects, the historian can do all that need be done
at his desk. The study of local history does not generally require more
than local search. Some important monographs are based on a small number
of documents, all belonging to the same collection, and of such a nature
that it would be superfluous to look for others elsewhere. On the other
hand, a humble piece of work, such as a modest edition of a text of
which the ancient copies are not rare, and are to be found scattered in
several libraries of Europe, may have involved inquiries, negotiations,
and journeys without end. Since the majority of the documents of
mediæval and modern history are still unedited, or badly edited, it may
be laid down as a general principle that, in order to write a really new
chapter of mediæval or modern history, it is necessary to have long
haunted the great depositories of original documents, and to have, if we
may use the expression, worried their catalogues.

It is thus incumbent on every one to choose the subject of his labours
with the greatest care, instead of leaving it to be determined by pure
chance. There are some subjects which, in the present state of the
instruments of research, cannot be treated except at the cost of
enormous searches in which life and intellect are consumed without
profit. These subjects are not necessarily more interesting than others,
and some day, perhaps to-morrow, improvements in the aids to research
will make them easily manageable. It is necessary for the student
consciously and deliberately to make his choice between different
historical subjects depend on the existence or non-existence of
particular catalogues of documents and bibliographical repertories; on
his relative inclination for desk work on the one hand, and the labour
of exploring depositories on the other; even on the facilities he has
for making use of particular collections. "Is it possible to do work in
the provinces?" Renan asked at the congress of learned societies at the
Sorbonne in 1889; and gave a very good answer to his own question: "At
least half one's scientific work can be done at one's own desk ... Take
comparative philology, for example: with an initial outlay of some
thousands of francs, and subscriptions to three or four special
publications, a student would command all the tools of his trade ... The
same applies to universal philosophy ... Many branches of study can thus
be prosecuted quite privately, and in the closest retirement."[44]
Doubtless, but there are "rarities, specialities, researches which
require the aid of powerful machinery." One half of historical work may
now be done in private, with limited resources, but only half; the other
half still presupposes the employment of such resources, in the way of
repertories and documents, as can only be found in the great centres of
study; often, indeed, it is necessary to visit several of these centres
in succession. In short, the case stands with history much as it does
with geography: in respect of some portions of the globe, we possess
documents published in manageable form sufficiently complete and
sufficiently well classified to enable us to reason about them to good
purpose without leaving our fireside; while in the case of an unexplored
or badly explored region, the slightest monograph implies a considerable
expenditure of time and physical strength. It is dangerous to choose a
subject of study, as many do, without having first realised the nature
and extent of the preliminary researches which it demands; there are
instances of men struggling for years with such researches, who might
have been occupied to better advantage in work of another character. As
precautions against this danger, which is the more formidable to novices
the more active and zealous they are, an examination of the present
conditions of Heuristic in general, and positive notions of Historical
Bibliography, are certainly to be warmly recommended.



Let us suppose that the preliminary searches, treated of in the
preceding chapter, have been made methodically and successfully; the
greater part, if not the whole, of the documents bearing on a given
subject have been discovered and made available. Of two things one:
either these documents have been already subjected to critical
elaboration, or they are in the condition of raw material; this is a
point which must be settled by "bibliographical" researches, which also,
as we have already observed, form part of the inquiries which precede
the logical part of the work. In the first case, where the documents
have already gone through a process of elaboration, it is necessary to
be in a position to verify the accuracy of the critical work; in the
second case, where the documents are still raw material, the student
must do the critical work himself. In both cases certain antecedent and
auxiliary knowledge of a positive kind, _Vor-und Hülfskenntnisse_, as
they are called, are every whit as indispensable as the habit of
accurate reasoning; for if, in the course of critical work, it is
possible to go wrong through reasoning badly, it is also possible to go
wrong out of pure ignorance. The profession of a scholar or historian
is, moreover, similar in this respect to all other professions; it is
impossible to follow it without possessing a certain equipment of
technical notions, whose absence neither natural aptitude nor even
method can make good. In what, then, does the technical _apprenticeship_
of the scholar or the historian consist? Or, to employ language which,
though inappropriate, as we shall endeavour to show, is in more common
use: what, in addition to the knowledge of repertories, are the
"auxiliary sciences" of history?

Daunou, in his _Cours d'études historiques_,[45] has proposed a question
of the same kind. "What studies," says he, "will the intending historian
need to have gone through, what kinds of knowledge ought he to have
acquired, in order to begin writing a work with any hope of success?"
Before him, Mably, in his _Traité de l'étude de l'histoire_, had also
recognised that "there are preparatory studies with which no historian
can dispense." But on this subject Mably and Daunou entertained views
which nowadays seem singular enough. It is instructive to mark the exact
distance which separates their point of view from ours. "First of all,"
said Mably, "study the law of nature, public law, moral and political
science." Daunou, a man of great judgment, permanent secretary to the
Academy of Inscriptions and Belles-Lettres, writing about 1820, divides
the studies which, in his opinion, constitute "the apprenticeship of the
historian," into three classes--literary, philosophical, historical. On
the "literary" studies he expatiates at great length: to begin with,
the historian must "have read with attention the great models." Which
great models? Daunou "does not hesitate" to place in the front rank "the
masterpieces of epic poetry;" for "it is the poets who have created the
art of narrative, and whoever has not learnt it from them cannot have
more than an imperfect knowledge of it." He further recommends the
reading of modern novels; "they will teach the method of giving an
artistic pose to persons and events, of distributing details, of
skilfully carrying on the thread of the narrative, of interrupting it,
of resuming it, of sustaining the attention and provoking the curiosity
of the reader." Finally, good historical works should be read:
"Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Polybius, and Plutarch among the
Greeks; Cæsar, Sallust, Livy, and Tacitus among the Latins; and among
the moderns, Macchiavelli, Guicciardini, Giannone, Hume, Robertson,
Gibbon, the Cardinal de Retz, Vertot, Voltaire, Raynal, and Rulhière.
Not that I would exclude the others, but these will suffice to provide
all the styles which are suitable for history; for a great diversity of
form is to be met with in the works of these writers." In the second
place come philosophical studies; a thorough mastery of "ideology,
morals, and politics" is required. "As to the works from which knowledge
of this kind is to be obtained, Daguesseau has instanced Aristotle,
Cicero, Grotius: I should add the best ancient and modern moralists,
treatises on political economy published since the middle of the last
century, the writings on political science in general, and on its
details and application, of Macchiavelli, Bodin, Locke, Montesquieu,
Rousseau, Mably, and the most enlightened of their disciples and
commentators." In the third place, before writing history, "it is
evidently necessary to know it." "A writer will not give the world new
information on a subject like this unless he begins by making himself
master of what is already known of it." The future historian has already
made the acquaintance of the best historical works, and studied them as
models of style; "it will be to his advantage to read them a second
time, but endeavouring more particularly to grasp all the facts which
they contain, and to let them make so deep an impression on his mind
that they may be permanently fixed in his memory."

These are the "positive" notions which, eighty years ago, were
considered indispensable to the general historian. At the same time
there was a confused idea that "in order to acquire a profound knowledge
of particular subjects" there were yet other useful branches of study.
"The subjects of which historians treat," says Daunou, "the details
which they occasionally light upon, require very extensive and varied
attainments." He goes on to particularise, observe in what terms: "very
often a knowledge of several languages, sometimes too some notion of
physics and mathematics." And he adds: "On these subjects, however, the
general education which we may assume to be common to all men of letters
is sufficient for the writer who devotes himself to historical

All the authors who, like Daunou, have attempted to enumerate the
preliminary attainments, as well as the moral or intellectual aptitudes,
necessary for "writing history," have either fallen into commonplace or
pitched their requirements ridiculously high. According to Freeman, the
historian ought to know everything--philosophy, law, finance,
ethnography, geography, anthropology, natural science, and what not; is
not an historian, in point of fact, likely enough in the course of his
study of the past to meet with questions of philosophy, law, finance,
and the rest of the series? And if financial science, for example, is
necessary to a writer who treats of contemporary finance, is it less so
to the writer who claims to express an opinion on the financial
questions of the past? "The historian," Freeman declares, "may have
incidentally to deal with any subject whatever, and the more branches of
knowledge he is master of, the better prepared he is for his own work."
True, all branches of human knowledge are not equally useful; some of
them are only serviceable on rare occasions, and accidentally: "We could
hardly make it even a counsel of perfection to the historian to make
himself an accomplished chemist, on the chance of an occasion in which
chemistry might be of use to him in his study;" but other special
subjects are more closely related to history: "for example, geology and
a whole group of sciences which have a close connection with geology....
The historian will clearly do his own regular work better for being
master of them...."[46] The question has also been asked whether
"history is one of those studies anciently called _umbratiles_, for
which all that is wanted is a quiet mind and habits of industry," or
whether it is a good thing for the historian to have mingled in the
turmoil of active life, and to have helped to make the history of his
own time before sitting down to write that of the past. Indeed, what
questions have not been asked? Floods of ink have been poured out over
these uninteresting and unanswerable questions, the long and fruitless
debating of which has done not a little to discredit works on
methodology. Our opinion is that nothing relevant can be added to the
dictates of mere common sense on the subject of the apprenticeship to
the "art of writing history," unless perhaps that this apprenticeship
should consist, above everything, in the study, hitherto so generally
neglected, of the principles of historical method.

Besides, it is not the "literary historian," the moralising and
quill-driving "historians," as conceived by Daunou and his school, that
we have had in view; we are here only concerned with those scholars and
historians who intend to deal with documents in order to facilitate or
actually perform the scientific work of history. These stand in need of
a _technical apprenticeship_. What meaning are we to attach to this

Let us suppose we have before us a written document. What use can we
make of it if we cannot read it? Up to the time of François Champollion,
Egyptian documents, being written in hieroglyphics, were, without
metaphor, a dead-letter. It will be readily admitted that in order to
deal with ancient Assyrian history it is necessary to have learnt to
decipher cuneiform inscriptions. Similarly, whoever desires to do
original work from the sources, in ancient or mediæval history, will, if
he is prudent, learn to decipher inscriptions and manuscripts. We thus
see why Greek and Latin epigraphy and mediæval palæography--that is, the
sum of the various kinds of knowledge required for the deciphering of
ancient and mediæval manuscripts and inscriptions--are considered as
"auxiliary sciences" to history, or rather, the historical study of
antiquity and the middle ages. It is evident that mediæval Latin
palæography forms part of the necessary outfit of the mediævalist, just
as the palæography of hieroglyphics is essential to the Egyptologist.
There is, however, a difference to be observed. No one will ever think
of devoting himself to Egyptology without having first studied the
appropriate palæography. On the other hand, it is not very rare for a
man to undertake the study of local documents of the middle ages without
having learnt to date their forms approximately, and to decipher their
abbreviations correctly. The resemblance which most mediæval writing
bears to modern writing is sufficiently close to foster the illusion
that ingenuity and practice will be enough to carry him through. This
illusion is dangerous. Scholars who have received no regular
palæographical initiation can almost always be recognised by the gross
errors which they commit from time to time in deciphering--errors which
are sometimes enough to completely ruin the subsequent operations of
criticism and interpretation. As for the self-taught experts who acquire
their skill by dint of practice, the orthodox palæographic initiation
which they have missed would at least have saved them much groping in
the dark, long hours of labour, and many a disappointment.

Suppose a document has been deciphered. How is it to be turned to
account, unless it be first understood? Inscriptions in Etruscan and the
ancient language of Cambodia have been read, but no one understands
them. As long as this is the case they must remain useless. It is clear
that in order to deal with Greek history it is necessary to consult
documents in the Greek language, and therefore necessary to know Greek.
Rank truism, the reader will say. Yes, but many proceed as if it had
never occurred to them. Young students attack ancient history with only
a superficial tincture of Greek and Latin. Many who have never studied
mediæval French and Latin think they know them because they understand
classical Latin and modern French, and they attempt the interpretation
of texts whose literal meaning escapes them, or appears to be obscure
when in reality perfectly plain. Innumerable historical errors owe their
origin to false or inexact interpretations of quite straightforward
texts, perpetrated by men who were insufficiently acquainted with the
grammar, the vocabulary, or the niceties of ancient languages. Solid
philological study ought logically to precede historical research in
every instance where the documents to be employed are not to be had in a
modern language, and in a form in which they can be easily understood.

Suppose a document is intelligible. It would not be legitimate to take
it into consideration without having verified its authenticity, if its
authenticity has not been already settled beyond a doubt. Now in order
to verify the authenticity or ascertain the origin of a document two
things are required--reasoning power and knowledge. In other words, it
is necessary to reason from certain positive data which represent the
condensed results of previous research, which cannot be improvised, and
must, therefore, be learnt. To distinguish a genuine from a spurious
charter would, in fact, be often an impossible task for the best trained
logician, if he were unacquainted with the practice of such and such a
chancery, at such and such a date, or with the features common to all
the admittedly genuine charters of a particular class. He would be
obliged to do what the first scholars did--ascertain for himself, by the
comparison of a great number of similar documents, what features
distinguish the admittedly genuine documents from the others, before
allowing himself to pronounce judgment in any special instance. Will not
his task be enormously simplified if there is in existence a body of
doctrine, a treasury of accumulated observations, a system of results
obtained by workers who have already made, repeated, and checked the
minute comparisons he would otherwise have been obliged to make for
himself? This body of doctrines, observations, and results, calculated
to assist the criticism of diplomas and charters, does exist; it is
called Diplomatic. We shall, therefore, assign to Diplomatic, along with
Epigraphy, Palæography, and Philology, the character of a subject
auxiliary to historical research.

Epigraphy and Palæography, Philology, and Diplomatic with its adjuncts
(technical Chronology and Sphragistic) are not the only subjects of
study which subserve historical research. It would be extremely
injudicious to undertake to deal critically with literary documents on
which no critical work has as yet been done without making oneself
familiar with the results obtained by those who have already dealt
critically with documents of the same class: the sum of these results
forms a department to itself, which has a name--the History of
Literature.[47] The critical treatment of illustrative documents, such
as the productions of architecture, sculpture, and painting, objects of
all kinds (arms, dress, utensils, coins, medals, armorial bearings, and
so forth), presupposes a thorough acquaintance with the rules and
observations which constitute Archæology properly so called and its
detached branches--Numismatic and Heraldry.

We are now in a position to examine to some purpose the hazy notion
expressed by the phrase, "the sciences auxiliary to history." We also
read of "ancillary sciences," and, in French, "sciences satellites."
None of these expressions is really satisfactory.

First of all, the so-called "auxiliary sciences" are not all of them
_sciences_. Diplomatic, for example, and the History of Literature are
only systematised accumulations of facts, acquired by criticism, which
are of a nature to facilitate the application of critical methods to
documents hitherto untouched. On the other hand, Philology is an
organised science, and has its own laws.

In the second place, among the branches of knowledge auxiliary--properly
speaking, not to history, but to historical research--we must
distinguish between those which every worker in the field ought to
master, and those in respect of which he needs only to know where to
look when he has occasion to make use of them; between knowledge which
ought to become part of a man's self, and information which he may be
content to possess only in potentiality. A mediævalist should _know_ how
to read and understand mediæval texts; he would gain no advantage by
accumulating in his memory the mass of particular facts pertaining to
the History of Literature and Diplomatic which are to be found, in their
proper place, in well-constructed works of reference.

Lastly, there are no branches of knowledge which are auxiliary to
History (or even historical research) in general--that is, which are
useful to all students irrespectively of the particular part of history
on which they are engaged.[48] It appears, then, that there is no
general answer possible to the question raised at the beginning of this
chapter: in what should the technical apprenticeship of the scholar or
historian consist? In what does it consist? That depends. It depends on
the part of history he proposes to study. A knowledge of palæography is
quite useless for the purpose of investigating the history of the
French Revolution, and a knowledge of Greek is equally useless for the
treatment of a question in mediæval French history.[49] But we may go so
far as to say that the preliminary outfit of every one who wishes to do
original work in history should consist (in addition to the "common
education," that is, general culture, of which Daunou writes) in the
knowledge calculated to aid in the discovery, the understanding, and
the criticism of documents. The exact nature of this knowledge varies
from case to case according as the student specialises in one or another
part of universal history. The technical apprenticeship is relatively
short and easy for those who occupy themselves with modern or
contemporary history, long and laborious for those who occupy themselves
with ancient and mediæval history.

This reform of the historian's technical apprenticeship which consists
in substituting the acquisition of positive knowledge, truly auxiliary
to historical research, for the study of the "great models," literary
and philosophical, is of quite recent date. In France, for the greater
part of the present century, students of history received none but a
literary education, after Daunou's pattern. Almost all of them were
contented with such a preparation, and did not look beyond it; some few
perceived and regretted, when it was too late for a remedy, the
insufficiency of their early training; with a few illustrious
exceptions, the best of them never rose to be more than distinguished
men of letters, incapable of scientific work. There was at that time no
organisation for teaching the "auxiliary sciences" and the technique of
research except in the case of French mediæval history, and that in a
special school, the École des chartes. This simple fact, moreover,
secured for this school during a period of fifty years a marked
superiority over all the other French (or even foreign) institutions of
higher education; excellent workers were there trained who contributed
many new results, while elsewhere people were idly discussing
problems.[50] To-day it is still at the École des chartes that the
mediævalist has the opportunity of going through his technical
apprenticeship in the best and most complete manner, thanks to the
combined and progressive three-years courses of Romance philology,
palæography, archæology, historiography, and mediæval law. But the
"auxiliary sciences" are now taught everywhere more or less adequately;
they have been introduced into the university curricula. On the other
hand, students' handbooks of epigraphy, palæography, diplomatic, and so
forth, have multiplied during the last twenty-five years. Twenty-five
years ago it would have been vain to look for a good book which should
supply the want of oral instruction on these subjects; since the
establishment of professorships "manuals" have appeared[51] which would
almost make them superfluous were it not that oral instruction, based on
practical exercises, has here an exceptional value. Whether a student
does or does not enjoy the advantage of a regular drilling in an
institution for higher education, he has henceforth no excuse for
remaining in ignorance of those things which he ought to know before
entering upon historical work. There is, in fact, less of this kind of
neglect than there used to be. On this head, the success of the
above-mentioned "manuals," with their rapid succession of editions, is
very significant.[52]

Here, then, we have the future historian armed with the preliminary
knowledge, the neglect of which would have condemned him to
powerlessness or to continual mistakes. We suppose him protected from
the errors without number which have their origin in an imperfect
knowledge of the writing and the language of documents, in ignorance of
previous work and the results obtained by textual criticism; he has an
irreproachable _cognitio cogniti et cognoscendi_. A very optimistic
supposition, by the way, as we are bound to admit. We know but too well
that to have gone through a regular course of "auxiliary sciences," or
to have read attentively the best treatises on bibliography,
palæography, philology, and so on, or even to have acquired some
personal experience by practical exercises, is not enough to ensure that
a man shall always be well informed, still less to make him infallible.
In the first place, those who have for a long time studied documents of
a given class or of a given period possess, in regard to these,
incommunicable knowledge in virtue of which they are able to deal better
than others with new documents which they may meet with of the same
class or period; nothing can replace the "special erudition" which is
the specialist's reward for hard work.[53] And secondly, specialists
themselves make mistakes: palæographers must be perpetually on their
guard not to decipher falsely; is there a philologist who has not some
faults of construing on his conscience? Scholars usually well informed
have printed as unedited texts which had already been published, and
have neglected documents it was their business to know. Scholars spend
their lives in incessantly perfecting their "auxiliary" knowledge, which
they rightly regard as never perfect. But all this does not prevent us
from maintaining our hypothesis. Only let it be understood that in
practice we do not postpone work upon documents till we shall have
gained a serene and absolute mastery over all the "auxiliary branches of
knowledge:" we should never dare to begin.

It remains to know how to treat documents supposing one has successfully
passed through the preliminary apprenticeship.





We have already stated that history is studied from documents, and that
documents are the traces of past events.[54] This is the place to
indicate the consequences involved in this statement and this

Events can be empirically known in two ways only: by direct observation
while they are in progress; and indirectly, by the study of the traces
which they leave behind them. Take an earthquake, for example. I have a
direct knowledge of it if I am present when the phenomenon occurs; an
indirect knowledge if, without having been thus present, I observe its
physical effects (crevices, ruins), or if, after these effects have
disappeared, I read a description written by some one who has himself
witnessed the phenomenon or its effects. Now, the peculiarity of
"historical facts"[55] is this, that they are only known indirectly by
the help of their traces. Historical knowledge is essentially indirect
knowledge. The methods of historical science ought, therefore, to be
radically different from those of the direct sciences; that is to say,
of all the other sciences, except geology, which are founded on direct
observation. Historical science, whatever may be said,[56] is not a
science of observation at all.

The facts of the past are only known to us by the traces of them which
have been preserved. These traces, it is true, are directly observed by
the historian, but, after that, he has nothing more to observe; what
remains is the work of reasoning, in which he endeavours to infer, with
the greatest possible exactness, the facts from the traces. The document
is his starting-point, the fact his goal.[57] Between this
starting-point and this goal he has to pass through a complicated series
of inferences, closely interwoven with each other, in which there are
innumerable chances of error; while the least error, whether committed
at the beginning, middle, or end of the work, may vitiate all his
conclusions. The "historical," or indirect, method is thus obviously
inferior to the method of direct observation; but historians have no
choice: it is the _only_ method of arriving at past facts, and we shall
see later on[58] how, in spite of these disadvantages, it is possible
for this method to lead to scientific knowledge.

The detailed analysis of the reasonings which lead from the inspection
of documents to the knowledge of facts is one of the chief parts of
Historical Methodology. It is the domain of criticism. The seven
following chapters will be devoted to it. We shall endeavour, first of
all, to give a very summary sketch of the general lines and main
divisions of the subject.

I. We may distinguish two species of documents. Sometimes the past event
has left a material trace (a monument, a fabricated article). Sometimes,
and more commonly, the trace is of the psychological order--a written
description or narrative. The first case is much simpler than the
second. For there is a fixed relation between certain physical
appearances and the causes which produced them; and this relation,
governed by physical laws, is known to us.[59] But a psychological
trace, on the other hand, is purely symbolic: it is not the fact itself;
it is not even the immediate impression made by the fact upon the
witness's mind, but only a conventional symbol of that impression.
Written documents, then, are not, as material documents are, valuable
by themselves; they are only valuable as signs of psychological
operations, which are often complicated and hard to unravel. The immense
majority of the documents which furnish the historian with
starting-points for his reasonings are nothing else than traces of
psychological operations.

This granted, in order to conclude from a written document to the fact
which was its remote cause--that is, in order to ascertain the relation
which connects the document with the fact--it is necessary to reproduce
the whole series of intermediate causes which have given rise to the
document. It is necessary to revive in imagination the whole of that
series of acts performed by the author of the document which begins with
the fact observed by him and ends with the manuscript (or printed
volume), in order to arrive at the original event. Such is the aim and
such the process of critical analysis.[60]

First of all we observe the document. Is it now in the same state as
when it was produced? Has it deteriorated since? We endeavour to find
out how it was made in order to restore it, if need be, to its original
form, and to ascertain its origin. The first group of preliminary
investigations, bearing upon the writing, the language, the form, the
source, constitutes the special domain of EXTERNAL CRITICISM, or
critical scholarship. Next comes INTERNAL CRITICISM: it endeavours, by
the help of analogies mostly borrowed from general psychology, to
reproduce the mental states through which the author of the document
passed. Knowing what the author of the document has said, we ask (1)
What did he mean? (2) Did he believe what he said? (3) Was he justified
in believing whatever he did believe? This last step brings the document
to a point where it resembles the data of the objective sciences: it
becomes an observation; it only remains to treat it by the methods of
the objective sciences. Every document is valuable precisely to the
extent to which, by the study of its origin, it has been reduced to a
well-made observation.

II. Two conclusions may be drawn from what we have just said: the
extreme complexity and the absolute necessity of Historical Criticism.

Compared with other students the historian is in a very disagreeable
situation. It is not merely that he cannot, as the chemist does, observe
his facts directly; it very rarely happens that the documents which he
is obliged to use represent precise observations. He has at his disposal
none of those systematic records of observations which, in the
established sciences, can and do replace direct observation. He is in
the situation of a chemist who should know a series of experiments only
from the report of his laboratory-boy. The historian is compelled to
turn to account rough and ready reports, such as no man of science
would be content with.[61] All the more necessary are the precautions to
be taken in utilising these documents, the only materials of historical
science. It is evidently most important to eliminate those which are
worthless, and to ascertain the amount of correct observation
represented by those which are left.

All the more necessary, too, are cautions on this subject, because the
natural inclination of the human mind is to take no precautions at all,
and to treat these matters, which really demand the utmost obtainable
precision, with careless laxity. It is true that every one admits the
utility of criticism in theory; but this is just one of those principles
which are more easily admitted than put into practice. Many centuries
and whole eras of brilliant civilisation had to pass away before the
first dawn of criticism was visible among the most intellectual peoples
in the world. Neither the orientals nor the middle ages ever formed a
definite conception of it.[62] Up to our own day there have been
enlightened men who, in employing documents for the purpose of writing
history, have neglected the most elementary precautions, and
unconsciously assumed false generalisations. Even now most young
students would, if left to themselves, fall into the old errors. For
criticism is antagonistic to the normal bent of the mind. The
spontaneous tendency of man is to yield assent to affirmations, and to
reproduce them, without even clearly distinguishing them from the
results of his own observation. In every-day life do we not accept
indiscriminately, without any kind of verification, hearsay reports,
anonymous and unguaranteed statements, "documents" of indifferent or
inferior authority? It takes a special reason to induce us to take the
trouble to examine into the origin and value of a document on the
history of yesterday; otherwise, if there is no outrageous improbability
in it, and as long as it is not contradicted, we swallow it whole, we
pin our faith to it, we hawk it about, and, if need be, embellish it in
the process. Every candid man must admit that it requires a violent
effort to shake off _ignavia critica_, that common form of intellectual
sloth, that this effort must be continually repeated, and is often
accompanied by real pain.

The natural instinct of a man in the water is to do precisely that which
will infallibly cause him to be drowned; learning to swim means
acquiring the habit of suppressing spontaneous movements and performing
others instead. Similarly, criticism is not a natural habit; it must be
inculcated, and only becomes organic by dint of continued practice.

Historical work is, then, pre-eminently critical; whoever enters upon it
without having first been put on his guard against his instinct is sure
to be drowned in it. In order to appreciate the danger it is well to
examine one's conscience and analyse the causes of that _ignavia_ which
must be fought against till it is replaced by a critical attitude of
mind.[63] It is also very salutary to familiarise oneself with the
principles of historical method, and to analyse the theory of them, one
by one, as we propose to do in the present volume. "History, like every
other study, is chiefly subject to errors of fact arising from
inattention, but it is more exposed than any other study to errors due
to that mental confusion which produces incomplete analyses and
fallacious reasonings.... Historians would advance fewer affirmations
without proof if they had to analyse each one of their affirmations;
they would commit themselves to fewer false principles if they made it a
rule to formulate all their principles; they would be guilty of fewer
fallacies if they were obliged to set out all their arguments in logical




Let us suppose that an author of our own day has written a book: he
sends his manuscript to the printer; with his own hand he corrects the
proofs, and marks them "Press." A book which is printed under these
conditions comes into our hands in what is, for a document, a very good
condition. Whoever the author may be, and whatever his sentiments and
intentions, we can be certain--and this is the only point that concerns
us at present--that we have before us a fairly accurate reproduction of
the text which he wrote. We are obliged to say "fairly accurate," for if
the author has corrected his proofs badly, or if the printers have not
paid proper attention to his corrections, the reproduction of the
original text is imperfect, even in this specially favourable case.
Printers not unfrequently make a man say something which he never meant
to say, and which he does not notice till too late.

Sometimes it is required to reproduce a work the author of which is
dead, and the autograph manuscript of which cannot be sent to the
printer. This was the case with the _Mémoires d'outre-tombe_ of
Chateaubriand, for example; it is of daily occurrence in regard to the
familiar correspondence of well-known persons which is printed in haste
to satisfy the curiosity of the public, and of which the original
manuscript is very fragile. First the text is copied; it is then set up
by the compositor from the copy, which comes to the same thing as
copying it again; this second copy is lastly, or ought to be, collated
(in the proofs) with the first copy, or, better still, with the
original, by some one who takes the place of the deceased author. The
guarantees of accuracy are fewer in this case than in the first; for
between the original and the ultimate reproduction there is one
intermediary the more (the manuscript copy), and it may be that the
original is hard for anybody but the author to decipher. And, in fact,
the text of memoirs and posthumous correspondence is often disfigured by
errors of transcription and punctuation occurring in editions which at
first sight give the impression of having been carefully executed.[65]

Turning now to ancient documents, let us ask in what state they have
been preserved. In nearly every case the originals have been lost, and
we have nothing but copies. Have these copies been made directly from
the originals? No; they are copies of copies. The scribes who executed
them were not by any means all of them capable and conscientious men;
they often transcribed texts which they did not understand at all, or
which they understood incorrectly, and it was not always the fashion, as
it was in the time of the Carlovingian Renaissance, to compare the
copies with the originals.[66]

If our printed books, after the successive revisions of author and
printer's reader, are still but imperfect reproductions, it is only to
be expected that ancient documents, copied and recopied as they have
been for centuries with very little care, and exposed at every fresh
transcription to new risk of alteration, should have reached us full of

There is thus an obvious precaution to be taken. Before using a document
we must find out whether its text is "sound"--that is, in as close
agreement as possible with the original manuscript of the author; and
when the text is "corrupt" we must emend it. In using a text which has
been corrupted in transmission, we run the risk of attributing to the
author what really comes from the copyists. There are actual cases of
theories which were based on passages falsified in transmission, and
which collapsed as soon as the true readings were discovered or
restored. Printers' errors and mistakes in copying are not always
innocuous or merely diverting; they are sometimes insidious and capable
of misleading the reader.[67]

One would naturally suppose that historians of repute would always make
it a rule to procure "sound" texts, properly emended and restored, of
the texts they have to consult. That is a mistake. For a long time
historians simply used the texts which they had within easy reach,
without verifying their accuracy. And, what is more, the very scholars
whose business it is to edit texts did not discover the art of restoring
them all at once; not so very long ago, documents were commonly edited
from the first copies, good or bad, that came to hand, combined and
corrected at random. Editions of ancient texts are nowadays mostly
"critical;" but it is not yet thirty years since the publication of the
first "critical editions" of the great works of the middle ages, and the
critical text of some ancient classics (Pausanias, for example) has
still to be constructed.

Not all historical documents have as yet been published in a form
calculated to give historians the security they need, and some
historians still act as if they had not realised that an unsettled text,
as such, requires cautious handling. Still, considerable progress has
been made. From the experience accumulated by several generations of
scholars there has been evolved a recognised method of purifying and
restoring texts. No part of historical method has a more solid
foundation, or is more generally known. It is clearly explained in
several works of popular philology.[68] For this reason we shall here be
content to give a general view of its essential principles, and to
indicate its results.

I. We will suppose a document has not been edited in conformity with
critical rules. How are we to proceed in order to construct the best
possible text? Three cases present themselves.

(_a_) The most simple case is that in which we possess the original, the
author's autograph itself. There is then nothing to do but to reproduce
the text of it with absolute fidelity.[69] Theoretically nothing can be
easier; in practice this elementary operation demands a sustained
attention of which not every one is capable. If any one doubts it, let
him try. Copyists who never make mistakes and never allow their
attention to be distracted are rare even among scholars.

(_b_) Second case. The original has been lost; only a single copy of it
is known. It is necessary to be cautious, for the probability is that
this copy contains errors.

Texts degenerate in accordance with certain laws. A great deal of pains
has been taken to discover and classify the causes and the ordinary
forms of the differences which are observed between originals and
copies; and hence rules have been deduced which may be applied to the
conjectural restoration of those passages in a unique copy of a lost
original which are certainly corrupt (because unintelligible), or are so
in all probability.

Alterations of an original occurring in a copy--"traditional variants,"
as they are called--are due either to fraud or to error. Some copyists
have deliberately modified or suppressed passages.[70] Nearly all
copyists have committed errors of judgment or accidental errors. Errors
of judgment when half-educated and not wholly intelligent copyists have
thought it their duty to correct passages and words in the original
which they could not understand.[71] Accidental errors when they misread
while copying, or misheard while writing from dictation, or when they
involuntarily made slips of the pen.

Modifications arising from fraud or errors of judgment are often very
difficult to rectify, or even to discover. Some accidental errors (the
omission of several lines, for example) are irreparable in the case we
are considering, that of a unique copy. But most accidental errors can
be detected by any one who knows the ordinary forms: confusions of
sense, letters, and words, transpositions of words, letters, and
syllables, dittography (unmeaning repetition of letters or syllables),
haplography (syllables or words written once only where they should have
been written twice), false divisions between words, badly punctuated
sentences, and other mistakes of the same kind. Errors of these various
types have been made by the scribes of every country and every age,
irrespectively of the handwriting and language of the originals. But
some confusions of letters occur frequently in copies of uncial
originals, and others in copies of minuscule originals. Confusions of
sense and of words are explained by analogies of vocabulary or
pronunciation, which naturally vary from language to language and from
epoch to epoch. The general theory of conjectural emendation reduces to
the sketch we have just given; there is no general apprenticeship to the
art. What a man learns is not to restore any text that may be put before
him, but Greek texts, Latin texts, French texts, and so on, as the case
may be; for the conjectural emendation of a text presupposes, besides
general notions on the processes by which texts degenerate, a profound
knowledge of (1) a special language; (2) a special handwriting; (3) _the
confusions (of sense, letters, and words) which were habitual to those
who copied texts of that language written in that style of handwriting_.
To aid in the apprenticeship to the conjectural emendation of Greek and
Latin texts, tabulated lists (alphabetical and systematic) of various
readings, frequent confusions, and probable corrections, have been
drawn up.[72] It is true that they cannot take the place of practical
work, done under the guidance of experts, but they are of very great use
to the experts themselves.[73]

It would be easy to give a list of happy emendations. The most
satisfactory are those whose correctness is obvious palæographically, as
is the case with the classical emendation by Madvig of the text of
Seneca's Letters (89, 4). The old reading was: "Philosophia unde dicta
sit, apparet; ipso enim nomine fatetur. Quidam et sapientiam ita quidam
finierunt, ut dicerent divinorum et humanorum sapientiam ..."--which
does not make sense. It used to be supposed that words had dropped out
between _ita_ and _quidam_. Madvig pictured to himself the text of the
lost archetype, which was written in capitals, and in which, as was
usual before the eighth century, the words were not separated (_scriptio
continua_), nor the sentences punctuated; he asked himself whether the
copyist, with such an archetype before him, had not divided the words at
random, and he had no difficulty in reading: "...ipso enim nomine
fatetur quid amet. Sapientiam ita quidam finierunt...." Blass, Reinach,
and Lindsay, in the works referred to in the note, mention several other
masterly and elegant emendations. Nor have the Hellenists and Latinists
any monopoly; equally brilliant emendations might be culled from the
works of Orientalists, Romancists, and Germanists, now that texts of
Oriental, Romance, and Germanic languages have been subjected to verbal
criticism. We have already stated that scholarly corrections are
possible even in the text of quite modern documents, reproduced
typographically under the most favourable conditions.

Perhaps no one, in our day, has equalled Madvig in the art of
conjectural emendation. But Madvig himself had no high opinion of the
work of modern scholarship. He thought that the humanists of the
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were, in this respect, better
trained than modern scholars. The conjectural emendation of Greek and
Latin texts is, in fact, a branch of sport, success in which is
proportionate not only to a man's ingenuity and palæographical instinct,
but also to the correctness, rapidity, and delicacy of his appreciation
of the niceties of the classical languages. Now, the early scholars were
undoubtedly too bold, but they were more intimately familiar with the
classical languages than our modern scholars are.

However that may be, there can be no doubt that numerous texts which
have been preserved, in corrupt form, in unique copies, have resisted,
and will continue to resist, the efforts of criticism. Very often
criticism ascertains the fact of the text having been altered, states
what the sense requires, and then prudently stops, every trace of the
original reading having been obscured by a confused tangle of successive
corrections and errors which it is hopeless to attempt to unravel. The
scholars who devote themselves to the fascinating pursuit of conjectural
criticism are liable, in their ardour, to suspect perfectly innocent
readings, and, in desperate passages, to propose adventurous hypotheses.
They are well aware of this, and therefore make it a rule to draw a very
clear distinction, in their editions, between readings found in
manuscripts and their own restorations of the text.

(_c_) Third case. We possess several copies, which differ from each
other, of a document whose original is lost. Here modern scholars have a
marked advantage over their predecessors: besides being better informed,
they set about the comparison of copies more methodically. The object
is, as in the preceding case, to reconstruct the archetype as exactly as

The scholars of earlier days had to struggle, as novices have to
struggle now, in a case of this kind, against a very natural and a very
reprehensible impulse--to use the first copy that comes to hand,
whatever its character may happen to be. The second impulse is not much
better--to use the oldest copy out of several of different date. In
theory, and very often in practice, the relative age of the copies is of
no importance; a sixteenth-century manuscript which reproduces a good
lost copy of the eleventh century is much more valuable than a faulty
and retouched copy made in the twelfth or thirteenth century. The third
impulse is still far from being good; it is to count the attested
readings and decide by the majority. Suppose there are twenty copies of
a text; the reading A is attested eighteen times, the reading B twice.
To make this a reason for choosing A is to make the gratuitous
assumption that all the manuscripts have the same authority. This is an
error of judgment; for if seventeen of the eighteen manuscripts which
give the reading A have been copied from the eighteenth, the reading A
is in reality attested only once; and the only question is whether it is
intrinsically better or worse than the reading B.

It has been recognised that the only rational procedure is to begin by
determining in what relation the copies stand to each other. For this
purpose we adopt as our starting-point the incontrovertible axiom that
all the copies which contain the same mistakes in the same passages must
have been either copied from each other or all derived from a copy
containing those mistakes. It is inconceivable that several copyists,
independently reproducing an original free from errors, should all
introduce exactly the same errors; identity of errors attests community
of origin. We shall cast aside without scruple all the copies derived
from a single manuscript which has been preserved. Evidently they can
have no value beyond what is possessed by their common source; if they
differ from it, it can only be in virtue of new errors; it would be
waste of time to study their variations. Having eliminated these, we
have before us none but independent copies, which have been made
directly from the archetype, or secondary copies whose source (a copy
taken directly from the archetype) has been lost. In order to group the
secondary copies into _families_, each of which shall represent what is
substantially the same tradition, we again have recourse to the
comparison of errors. By this method we can generally draw up without
too much trouble a complete genealogical table (_stemma codicum_) of the
preserved copies, which will bring out very clearly their relative
importance. This is not the place to discuss the difficult cases where,
in consequence of too great a number of intermediaries having been lost,
or from ancient copyists having arbitrarily blended the texts of
different traditions, the operation becomes extremely laborious or
impracticable. Besides, in these extreme cases there is no new method
involved: the comparison of corresponding passages is a powerful
instrument, but it is the only one which criticism has at its disposal
for this task.

When the genealogical tree of the manuscripts has been drawn up, we
endeavour to restore the text of the archetype by comparing the
different traditions. If these agree and give a satisfactory text, there
is no difficulty. If they differ, we decide between them. If they
accidentally agree in giving a defective text, we have recourse to
conjectural emendation, as if there were only one copy.

It is, theoretically, much more advantageous to have several independent
copies of a lost original than to have only one, for the mere mechanical
comparison of the different readings is often enough to remove
obscurities which the uncertain light of conjectural criticism would
never have illuminated. However, an abundance of manuscripts is an
embarrassment rather than a help when the work of grouping them has been
left undone or done badly; nothing can be more unsatisfactory than the
arbitrary and hybrid restorations which are founded on copies whose
relations to each other and to the archetype have not been ascertained
beforehand. On the other hand, the application of rational methods
requires, in some cases, a formidable expenditure of time and labour.
Some works are preserved in hundreds of copies all differing from each
other; sometimes (as in the case of the Gospels) the variants of a text
of quite moderate extent are to be counted by thousands; several years
of assiduous labour are necessary for the preparation of a critical
edition of some mediæval romances. And after all this labour, all these
collations and comparisons, can we be sure that the text of the romance
is sensibly better than it would have been if there had been only two or
three manuscripts to work upon? No. Some critical editions, owing to the
apparent wealth of material applicable to the work, demand a mechanical
effort which is altogether out of proportion to the positive results
which are its reward.

"Critical editions" founded on several copies of a lost original ought
to supply the public with the means of verifying the "_stemma codicum_"
which the editor has drawn up, and should give the rejected variants in
the notes. By this means competent readers are, at the worst, put in
possession, if not of the best possible text, at least of the materials
for constructing it.[74]

II. The results of textual criticism--a kind of cleaning and
mending--are purely negative. By the aid of conjecture, or by the aid of
conjecture and comparison combined, we are enabled to construct, not
necessarily a good text, but the best text possible, of documents whose
original is lost. What we thus effect is the elimination of corrupt and
adventitious readings likely to cause error, and the recognition of
suspected passages as such. But it is obvious that no new information is
supplied by this process. The text of a document which has been restored
at the cost of infinite pains is not worth more than that of a document
whose original has been preserved; on the contrary, it is worth less. If
the autograph manuscript of the Æneid had not been destroyed, centuries
of collation and conjecture would have been saved, and the text of the
Æneid would have been better than it is. This is intended for those who
excel at the "emendation game,"[75] who are in consequence fond of it,
and would really be sorry to have no occasion to play it.

III. There will, however, be abundant scope for textual criticism as
long as we do not possess the exact text of every historical document.
In the present state of science few labours are more useful than those
which bring new texts to light or improve texts already known. It is a
real service to the study of history to publish unedited or badly edited
texts in a manner conformable to the rules of criticism. In every
country learned societies without number are devoting the greater part
of their resources and activity to this important work. But the immense
number of the texts to be criticised,[76] and the minute care required
by the operations of verbal criticism,[77] prevent the work of
publication and restoration from advancing at any but a slow pace.
Before all the texts which are of interest for mediæval and modern
history shall have been edited or re-edited _secundum artem_, a long
period must elapse, even supposing that the relatively rapid pace of the
last few years should be still further accelerated.[78]



It would be absurd to look for information about a fact in the papers of
some one who knew nothing, and could know nothing, about it. The first
questions, then, which we ask when we are confronted with a document is:
Where does it come from? who is the author of it? what is its date? A
document in respect of which we necessarily are in total ignorance of
the author, the place, and the date is good for nothing.

This truth, which seems elementary, has only been adequately recognised
in our own day. Such is the natural [Greek: hakrishia] of man, that those
who were the first to make a habit of inquiring into the authorship of
documents prided themselves, and justly, on the advance they had made.

Most modern documents contain a precise indication of their authorship:
in our days, books, newspaper articles, official papers, and even
private writings, are, in general, dated and signed. Many ancient
documents, on the other hand, are anonymous, without date, and have no
sufficient indication of their place of origin.

The spontaneous tendency of the human mind is to place confidence in the
indications of authorship, when there are any. On the cover and in the
preface of the _Châtiments_, Victor Hugo is named as the author;
therefore Victor Hugo is the author of the _Châtiments_. In such and
such a picture gallery we see an unsigned picture whose frame has been
furnished by the management with a tablet bearing the name of Leonardo
da Vinci; therefore Leonardo da Vinci painted this picture. A poem with
the title _Philomena_ is found under the name of Saint Bonaventura in M.
Clément's _Extraits des poètes chrétiens_, in most editions of Saint
Bonaventura's "works," and in a great number of mediæval manuscripts;
therefore _Philomena_ was written by Saint Bonaventura, and "we may
gather thence much precious knowledge of the very soul" of this holy
man.[79] Vrain-Lucas offered to M. Chasles autographs of Vercingetorix,
Cleopatra, and Saint Mary Magdalene, duly signed, and with the
flourishes complete:[80] here, thought M. Chasles, are autographs of
Vercingetorix, Cleopatra, and Saint Mary Magdalene. This is one of the
most universal, and at the same time indestructible, forms of public

Experience and reflection have shown the necessity of methodically
checking these instinctive impulses of confiding trust. The autographs
of Vercingetorix, Cleopatra, and Mary Magdalene had been manufactured by
Vrain-Lucas. The _Philomena_, attributed by mediæval scribes now to
Saint Bonaventura, now to Louis of Granada, now to John Hoveden, now to
John Peckham, is perhaps by none of these authors, and certainly not by
the first-named. Paintings in which there is not the least gleam of
talent have, in the most celebrated galleries of Italy, been tricked
out, without the least shadow of proof, with the glorious name of
Leonardo. On the other hand, it is perfectly true that Victor Hugo is
the author of the _Châtiments_. The conclusion is, that the most precise
indications of authorship are never sufficient _by themselves_. They
only afford a presumption, strong or weak--very strong, in general,
where modern documents are concerned, often very weak in the case of
ancient documents. False indications of authorship exist, some foisted
upon insignificant works in order to enhance their value, some appended
to works of merit in order to serve the reputation of a particular
person, or to mystify posterity; and there are a hundred other motives
which may easily be imagined, and of which a list has been drawn up:[81]
the "pseudepigraphic" literature of antiquity and the middle ages is
enormous. There are, in addition, documents which are forged from
beginning to end; the forgers have naturally furnished them with very
precise indications of their alleged authorship. Verification is
therefore necessary. But how is it to be had? When the apparent
authorship of a document is suspected, we use for its verification the
same method which serves to fix, as far as possible, the origin of
documents which are furnished with no indications at all on this head.
As the procedure is the same in both cases, it is not necessary to
distinguish further between them.

I. The chief instrument used in the investigation of authorship is the
_internal analysis_ of the document under consideration, performed with
a view to bring out any indications it may contain of a nature to supply
information about the author, and the time and place in which he lived.

First of all we examine the handwriting of the document. Saint
Bonaventura was born in 1221; if poems attributed to him are contained
in manuscripts executed in the eleventh century, we have in this
circumstance an excellent proof that the attribution is ill-founded: no
document of which there exists a copy in eleventh-century handwriting
can be posterior in date to the eleventh century. Then we examine the
language. It is known that certain forms have only been used in certain
places and at certain dates. Most forgers have betrayed themselves by
ignorance of facts of this kind; they let slip modern words or phrases.
It has been possible to establish the fact that certain Phoenician
inscriptions, found in South America, were earlier than a certain German
dissertation on a point of Phoenician syntax. In the case of official
instruments we examine the formulæ. If a document which purports to be a
Merovingian charter does not exhibit the ordinary formulæ of genuine
Merovingian charters it must be spurious. Lastly, we note all the
positive data which occur in the document--the facts which are mentioned
or alluded to. When these facts are otherwise known, from sources which
a forger could not have had at his disposal, the _bonâ fides_ of the
document is established, and the date fixed approximately between the
most recent event of which the author shows knowledge, and the next
following event which he does not mention but would have done if he had
known of it. Arguments may also be founded on the circumstance that
particular facts are mentioned with approval, or particular opinions
expressed, and help us to make a conjectural estimate of the status, the
environment, and the character of the author.

When the internal analysis of a document is carefully performed, it
generally gives us a tolerably accurate notion of its authorship. By
means of a methodical comparison, instituted between the various
elements of the documents analysed and the corresponding elements of
similar documents whose authorship was known with certainty, the
detection of many a forgery[82] has been rendered possible, and
additional information acquired about the circumstances under which most
genuine documents have been produced.

The results obtained by internal analysis are supplemented and verified
by collecting all the external evidence relative to the document under
criticism which can be found scattered over the documents of the same or
later epochs--quotations, biographical details about the author, and so
on. Sometimes there is a significant absence of any such information:
the fact that an alleged Merovingian charter has not been quoted by
anybody before the seventeenth century, and has only been seen by a
seventeenth-century scholar who has been convicted of fraud, suggests
the thought that it is modern.

II. Hitherto we have considered only the simplest case, in which the
document under examination is the work of a single author. But many
documents have, at different times, received additions which it is
important to distinguish from the original text, in order that we may
not attribute to X, the author of the text, what really belongs to Y or
Z, his unforeseen collaborators.[83] There are two kinds of
additions--interpolations and continuations. To interpolate is to insert
into the text words or sentences which were not in the author's
manuscript.[84] Usually interpolations are accidental, due to the
negligence of the copyist, and explicable as the introduction into the
text of interlinear glosses or marginal notes; but there are cases where
some one has deliberately added to (or substituted for) the author's
text words or sentences out of his own head, for the sake of
completeness, ornament, or emphasis. If we had before us the manuscript
in which the deliberate interpolation was made, the appearance of the
added matter and the traces of erasure would make the case clear at
once. But the first interpolated copy has nearly always been lost, and
in the copies derived from it every trace of addition or substitution
has disappeared. There is no need to define "continuations." It is well
known that many chronicles of the middle ages have been "continued" by
various writers, none of whom took the trouble to indicate where his own
work began or ended.

Sometimes interpolations and continuations can be very readily
distinguished in the course of the operations for restoring a text of
which there are several copies, when it so happens that some of these
copies reproduce the primitive text as it was before any addition was
made to it. But if all the copies are founded on previous copies which
already contained the interpolations or continuations, recourse must be
had to internal analysis. Is the style uniform throughout the document?
Does the book breathe one and the same spirit from cover to cover? Are
there no contradictions, no gaps in the sequence of ideas? In practice,
when the continuators or interpolators have been men of well-marked
personality and decided views, analysis will separate the original from
the additions as cleanly as a pair of scissors. When the whole is
written in a level, colourless style, the lines of division are not so
easy to see; it is then better to confess the fact than to multiply

III. The critical investigation of authorship is not finished as soon as
a document has been accurately or approximately localised in space and
time, and as much information as possible obtained about the author or
authors.[85] Here is a book: we wish to ascertain the origin of the
information contained in it, that is, to be in a position to appreciate
its value; is it enough to know that it was written in 1890, at Paris,
by So-and-so? Perhaps So-and-so copied slavishly, without mentioning the
fact, an earlier work, written in 1850. The responsible guarantor of the
borrowed parts is not So-and-so, but the author of 1850. Plagiarism, it
is true, is now rare, forbidden by the law, and considered
dishonourable; formerly it was common, tolerated, and unpunished. Many
historical documents, with every appearance of originality, are nothing
but unavowed repetitions of earlier documents, and historians
occasionally experience, in this connection, remarkable disillusions.
Certain passages in Eginhard, a ninth-century chronicler, are borrowed
from Suetonius: they have nothing to do with the history of the ninth
century; how if the fact had not been discovered? An event is attested
three times, by three chroniclers; but these three attestations, which
agree so admirably, are really only one if it is ascertained that two of
the three chroniclers copied the third, or that the three parallel
accounts have been drawn from one and the same source. Pontifical
letters and Imperial charters of the middle ages contain eloquent
passages which must not be taken seriously; they are part of the
official style, and were copied word for word from chancery formularies.

It belongs to the investigation of authorship to discover, as far as
possible, the _sources_ utilised by the authors of documents.

The problem thus presented to us has some resemblance to that of the
restoration of texts of which we have already spoken. In both cases we
proceed on the assumption that identical readings have a common source:
a number of different scribes, in transcribing a text, will not make
exactly the same mistakes in exactly the same places; a number of
different writers, relating the same facts, will not have viewed them
from exactly the same standpoint, nor will they say the same things in
exactly the same language. The great complexity of historical events
makes it extremely improbable that two independent observers should
narrate them in the same manner. We endeavour to group the documents
into families in the same way as we make families of manuscripts.
Similarly, we are enabled in the result to draw up genealogical tables.
The examiners who correct the compositions of candidates for the
bachelor's degree sometimes notice that the papers of two candidates who
sat next each other bear a family likeness. If they have a mind to find
out which is derived from the other, they have no difficulty in doing
so, in spite of the petty artifices (slight modifications, expansions,
abstracts, additions, suppressions, transpositions) which the plagiarist
multiplies in order to throw suspicion off the scent The two guilty ones
are sufficiently betrayed by their common errors; the more culpable of
the two is detected by the slips he will have made, and especially by
the errors in his own papers which are due to peculiarities in those of
his accommodating friend. Similarly when two ancient documents are in
question: when the author of one has copied directly from the other, the
filiation is generally easy to establish; the plagiarist, whether he
abridges or expands, nearly always betrays himself sooner or later.[86]

When there are three documents in a family their mutual relationships
are sometimes harder to specify. Let A, B, and C be the documents.
Suppose A is the common source: perhaps B and C copied it independently;
perhaps C only knew A through the medium of B, or B knew it only through
C. If B and C have abridged the common source in different ways, they
are evidently independent. When B depends on C, or _vice versâ_, we have
the simplest case, treated in the preceding paragraph. But suppose the
author of C combined A and B, while B had already used A: the genealogy
begins to get complicated. It is more complicated still when there are
four, five, or more documents in a family, for the number of possible
combinations increases with great rapidity. However, if too many
intermediate links have not been lost, criticism succeeds in
disentangling the relationships by persistent and ingenious applications
of the method of repeated comparisons. Modern scholars (Krusch, for
example, who has made a speciality of Merovingian hagiography) have
recently constructed, by the use of this method, precise genealogies of
the utmost solidity.[87] The results of the critical investigation of
authorship, as applied to the filiation of documents, are of two kinds.
Firstly, lost documents are reconstructed. Suppose two chroniclers, B
and C, have used, each in his own way, a common source X, which has now
disappeared. We may form an idea of X by piecing together the fragments
of it which occur imbedded in B and C, just as we form an idea of a lost
manuscript by comparing the partial copies of it which have been
preserved. On the other hand, criticism destroys the authority of a host
of "authentic" documents--that is, documents which no one suspects of
having been falsified--by showing that they are derivative, that they
are worth whatever their sources may be worth, and that, when they
embellish their sources with imaginary details and rhetorical
flourishes, they are worth just nothing at all. In Germany and England
editors of documents have introduced the excellent system of printing
borrowed passages in small characters, and original passages whose
source is unknown in larger characters. Thanks to this system it is
possible to see at a glance that celebrated chronicles, which are often
(very wrongly) quoted, are mere compilations, of no value in themselves:
thus the _Flores historiarum_ of the self-styled Matthew of Westminster,
perhaps the most popular of the English mediæval chronicles, are almost
entirely taken from original works by Wendover and Matthew of Paris.[88]

IV. The critical investigation of authorship saves historians from huge
blunders. Its results are striking. By eliminating spurious documents,
by detecting false ascriptions, by determining the conditions of
production of documents which had been defaced by time, and by
connecting them with their sources,[89] it has rendered services of such
magnitude that to-day it is regarded as having a special right to the
name of "criticism." It is usual to say of an historian that he "fails
in criticism" when he neglects to distinguish between documents, when he
never mistrusts traditional ascriptions, and when he accepts, as if
afraid to lose a single one, all the pieces of information, ancient or
modern, good or bad, which come to him, from whatever quarter.[90]

This view is perfectly just. We must not, however, be satisfied with
this form of criticism, and we must not abuse it.

We must not abuse it. The extreme of distrust, in these matters, is
almost as mischievous as the extreme of credulity. Père Hardouin, who
attributed the works of Vergil and Horace to mediæval monks, was every
whit as ridiculous as the victim of Vrain-Lucas. It is an abuse of the
methods of this species of criticism to apply them, as has been done,
indiscriminately, for the mere pleasure of it. The bunglers who have
used this species of criticism to brand as spurious perfectly genuine
documents, such as the writings of Hroswitha, the _Ligurinus_, and the
bull _Unam Sanctam_,[91] or to establish imaginary filiations between
certain annals, on the strength of superficial indications, would have
discredited criticism before now if that had been possible. It is
praiseworthy, certainly, to react against those who never raise a doubt
about the authorship of a document; but it is carrying the reaction too
far to take an exclusive interest in periods of history which depend on
documents of uncertain authorship. The only reason why the documents of
modern and contemporary history are found less interesting than those of
antiquity and the early middle ages, is that the identity which nearly
always obtains between their apparent and their real authorship leaves
no room for those knotty problems of attribution in which the _virtuosi_
of criticism are accustomed to display their skill.[92]

Nor must we be content with it. The critical investigation of
authorship, like textual criticism, is preparatory, and its results
negative. Its final aim and crowning achievement is to get rid of
documents which are not documents, and which would have misled us; that
is all. "It teaches us not to use bad documents; it does not teach us
how to turn good ones to account."[93] It is not the whole of
"historical criticism;" it is only one stone in the edifice.[94]



By the help of the preceding operations the documents, all the
documents, let us suppose, of a given class, or relating to a given
subject, have been found. We know where they are; the text of each has
been restored, if necessary, and each has been critically examined in
respect of authorship. We know where they have come from. It remains to
combine and classify the materials thus verified. This is the last of
the operations which may be called preparatory to the work of higher (or
internal) criticism and construction.

Whoever studies a point of history is obliged, first of all, to classify
his sources. To arrange, in a rational and convenient manner, the
verified materials before making use of them, is an apparently humble,
but really very important, part of the historian's profession. Those who
have learnt how to do it possess, on that account alone, a marked
advantage: they give themselves less trouble, and they obtain better
results; the others waste their time and labour; they are smothered
sometimes under the disorderly mass of notes, extracts, copies, scraps,
which they themselves have accumulated. Who was it spoke of those busy
people who spend their lives lifting building-stones without knowing
where to place them, raising as they do so clouds of blinding dust?

I. Here, again, we have to confess that the first, the natural impulse,
is not the right one. The first impulse of most men who have to utilise
a number of texts is to make notes from them, one after another, in the
order in which they study them. Many of the early scholars (whose papers
we possess) worked on this system, and so do most beginners who are not
warned beforehand; the latter keep, as the former kept, note-books,
which they fill continuously and progressively with notes on the texts
they are interested in. This method is utterly wrong. The materials
collected must be classified sooner or later; otherwise it would be
necessary, when occasion arose, to deal separately with the materials
bearing on a given point, to read right through the whole series of
note-books, and this laborious process would have to be repeated every
time a new detail was wanted. If this method seems attractive at first,
it is because it appears to save time. But this is false economy; the
ultimate result is, an enormous addition to the labour of search, and
great difficulty in combining the materials.

Others, well understanding the advantages of systematic classification,
have proposed to fit their materials, as fast as collected, into their
appropriate places in a prearranged scheme. For this purpose they use
note-books of which every page has first been provided with a heading.
Thus all the entries of the same kind are close to one another. This
system leaves something to be desired; for additions will not always
fit without inconvenience into their proper place; and the scheme of
classification, once adopted, is rigid, and can only be modified with
difficulty. Many librarians used to draw up their catalogues on this
plan, which is now universally condemned.

There is a still more barbarous method, which need not receive more than
passing mention. This is simply to register documents in the memory
without taking written notes. This method has been used. Historians
endowed with excellent memories, and lazy to boot, have indulged this
whim, with the result that their quotations and references are mostly
inexact. The human memory is a delicate piece of registering apparatus,
but it is so little an instrument of precision that such presumption is

Every one admits nowadays that it is advisable to collect materials on
separate cards or slips of paper. The notes from each document are
entered upon a loose leaf furnished with the precisest possible
indications of origin. The advantages of this artifice are obvious: the
detachability of the slips enables us to group them at will in a host of
different combinations; if necessary, to change their places: it is easy
to bring texts of the same kind together, and to incorporate additions,
as they are acquired, in the interior of the groups to which they
belong. As for documents which are interesting from several points of
view, and which ought to appear in several groups, it is sufficient to
enter them several times over on different slips; or they may be
represented, as often as may be required, on reference-slips. Moreover,
the method of slips is the only one mechanically possible for the
purpose of forming, classifying, and utilising a collection of documents
of any great extent. Statisticians, financiers, and men of letters who
observe, have now discovered this as well as scholars.

The method of slips is not without its drawbacks. Each slip ought to be
furnished with precise references to the source from which its contents
have been derived; consequently, if a document has been analysed upon
fifty different slips, the same references must be repeated fifty times.
Hence a slight increase in the amount of writing to be done. It is
certainly on account of this trivial complication that some obstinately
cling to the inferior note-book system. Again, in virtue of their very
detachability, the slips, or loose leaves, are liable to go astray; and
when a slip is lost how is it to be replaced? To begin with, its
disappearance is not perceived, and, if it were, the only remedy would
be to go right through all the work already done from beginning to end.
But the truth is, experience has suggested a variety of very simple
precautions, which we need not here explain in detail, by which the
drawbacks of the system are reduced to a minimum. It is recommended to
use slips of uniform size and tough material, and to arrange them at the
earliest opportunity in covers or drawers or otherwise. Every one is
free to form his own habits in these matters. But it is well to realise
beforehand that these habits, according as they are more or less
rational and practical, have a direct influence on the results of
scientific work. Renan speaks of "these points of private librarianship
which make up the half of scientific work."[95] This is not too strong.
One scholar will owe a good part of his well-deserved reputation to his
method of collecting, while another will be, so to speak, paralysed by
his clumsiness in that particular.[96]

After having collected the documents, whether copied _in extenso_ or
abridged, on slips or loose leaves, we classify them. On what scheme? In
what order? Clearly different cases must be treated differently, and it
would not be reasonable to lay down precise formulæ to govern them all.
However, we may give a few general considerations.

II. We distinguish between the historian who classifies verified
documents for the purposes of historical work, and the scholar who
compiles "_Regesta_." By the words "_Regesta_" and "_Corpus_" we
understand methodically classified collections of historical documents.
In a "_Corpus_" documents are reproduced _in extenso_; in "_Regesta_"
they are analysed and described.

The use of these compilations is to assist researchers in collecting
documents. Scholars set themselves to perform, once for all, tasks of
search and classification from which, thanks to them, the public will
henceforth be free.

Documents may be grouped according to their date, according to their
place of origin, according to their contents, according to their
form.[97] Here we have the four categories of time, place, species, and
form; by superposing, then, we obtain divisions of smaller extent. We
may undertake, for example, to make a group of all the documents having
a given form, of a given country, and lying between two given dates
(French royal charters of the reign of Philip Augustus); or of all the
documents of a given form (Latin inscriptions); or of a given species
(Latin hymns); of a given epoch (antiquity, the middle ages). We may
recall, by way of illustration, the existence of a _Corpus Inscriptionum
Græcarum_, of a _Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum_, of a _Corpus
Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum_, the _Regesta Imperii_ of J. F.
Böhmer and his continuators, the _Regesta Pontificum Romanorum_ of P.
Jaffé and A. Potthast.

Whatever the division chosen, there are two alternatives: either the
documents to be placed in this division are dated or they are not.

If they are dated, as is the case, for example, with the charters issued
from the chancery of a prince, care will have been taken to place at the
head of each slip the date (expressed in modern reckoning) of the
document entered upon it. Nothing is then easier than to group in
chronological order all the slips, that is, all the documents, which
have been collected. The rule is to use chronological classification
whenever possible. There is only one difficulty, and that is of a
practical order. Even in the most favourable circumstances some of the
documents will have accidentally lost their dates; these dates the
compiler is bound to restore, or at least to attempt to restore; long
and patient research is necessary for the purpose.

If the documents are not dated, a choice must be made between the
alphabetical, the geographical, and the systematic order. The history of
the _Corpus_ of Latin inscriptions bears witness to the difficulty of
this choice. "The arrangement according to date was impossible, seeing
that most of the inscriptions are not dated. From the time of Smetius it
was usual to divide them into classes, that is, a distinction was made,
resting solely on the contents of the inscription, and having no regard
to their place of origin, between religious, sepulchral, military, and
poetical inscriptions, those which have a public character, and those
which only concern private persons, and so on. Boeckh, although he had
preferred the geographical arrangement for his _Corpus Inscriptionum
Græcarum_, was of opinion that the arrangement by subjects, which had
been hitherto employed, was the only possible one for a Latin
_Corpus_...." [Even those who, in France, proposed the geographical
arrangement] "wished to make an exception of texts relating to the
general history of a country, certainly, at any rate, in the case of the
Empire; in 1845 Zumpt defended a very complicated eclectic system of
this kind. In 1847 Mommsen still rejected the geographical arrangement
except for municipal inscriptions, and in 1852, when he published the
Inscriptions of the Kingdom of Naples, he had not entirely changed his
opinion. It was only on being charged by the Academy of Berlin with the
publication of the _Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum_, that, grown wise by
experience, he rejected even the exceptions proposed by Egger in the
case of the general history of a province, and thought it his duty to
keep to the geographical arrangement pure and simple."[98] And yet,
considering the nature of epigraphic documents, the arrangement
according to place was the only rational one. This has been amply
demonstrated for more than fifty years; but collectors of inscriptions
did not come to an agreement on the subject till after two centuries of
tentative efforts in different directions. For two centuries collections
of Latin inscriptions have been made without any perception of the fact
that "to group inscriptions according to their subjects is much the same
thing as to publish an edition of Cicero in which his speeches,
treatises, and letters should be cut up and the fragments arranged
according to their subject-matter;" that "epigraphic monuments belonging
to the same territory mutually explain each other when placed side by
side;" and, lastly, that "while it is all but impossible to range in
order of subject-matter a hundred thousand inscriptions nearly all of
which belong to several categories; on the other hand, each monument has
but one place, and a very definite place, in the geographical

The alphabetical arrangement is very convenient when the chronological
and geographical arrangements are unsuitable. There are documents, such
as the sermons, the hymns, and the secular songs of the middle ages,
which are not precisely dated or localised. They are arranged in the
alphabetical order of their _incipit_--that is, the words with which
they begin.[100]

The systematic order, or arrangement by subjects, is not to be
recommended for the compilation of a _Corpus_ or of _regesta_. It is
always arbitrary, and leads to inevitable repetition and confusion.
Besides, given collections arranged in chronological, geographical, or
alphabetical order, nothing more than the addition of a good table of
contents is needed to make them available for all the purposes which
would be served by a systematic arrangement. One of the chief rules of
the art of _Corpus_ and _regesta_-making, that great art which has been
carried to such perfection in the second half of the nineteenth
century,[101] is to provide these collections, whatever the grouping
adopted, with a variety of tables and indexes of a kind to facilitate
the use of them: _incipit_ tables in chronological _regesta_ which lend
themselves to such treatment, indexes of names and dates in _regesta_
arranged by order of _incipit_, and so on.

_Corpus_ and _regesta_-makers collect and classify for the use of others
documents in which, at any rate in _all_ of which, they have no direct
interest, and are absorbed in this labour. Ordinary workers, on the
other hand, only collect and classify materials useful for their
individual studies. Hence certain differences arise. For example, the
arrangement by subjects, on a predetermined system, which is so little
to be recommended for great collections, often provides those who are
composing monographs on their own account with a scheme of
classification preferable to any other. But it will always be well to
cultivate the mechanical habits of which professional compilers have
learnt the value by experience: to write at the head of every slip its
date, if there is occasion for it, and a heading[102] in any case; to
multiply cross-references and indices; to keep a record, on a separate
set of slips, of all the sources utilised, in order to avoid the danger
of having to work a second time through materials already dealt with.
The regular observance of these maxims goes a great way towards making
scientific historical work easier and more solid. The possession of a
well-arranged, though incomplete, collection of slips has enabled M. B.
Hauréau to exhibit to the end of his life an undeniable mastery over the
very special class of historical problems which he studied.[103]



The sum of the operations described in the preceding chapters
(restoration of texts, investigation of authorship, collection and
classification of verified documents) constitutes the vast domain of
external criticism, or critical scholarship.

The public at large, with its vulgar and superficial standards, has
nothing but disdain for the whole of critical scholarship. Some of its
votaries, on the other hand, are inclined to exalt it unduly. But there
is a happy medium between these extremes of over-appreciation and

The crude opinion of those who pity and despise the minute analysis of
external criticism hardly deserves refutation. There is only one
argument for the legitimacy and honourable character of the obscure
labours of erudition, but it is a decisive argument: it rests on their
indispensability. No erudition, no history. "_Non sunt contemnenda quasi
parva_," says St. Jerome, "_sine quibus magna constare non

On the other hand, scholars by profession, in their zeal to justify
their pride in their work, are not content with maintaining its
necessity; they allow themselves to be carried away into an exaggeration
of its merit and importance. It has been said that the sure methods of
external criticism have raised history to the dignity of a science, "of
an exact science;" that critical investigations of authorship "enable
us, better than any other study, to gain a profound insight into past
ages;" that the habit of criticising texts refines or even confers the
"historical sense." It has been tacitly assumed that external criticism
is the whole of historical criticism, and that beyond the purgation,
emendation, and classification of documents there is nothing left to do.
This illusion, common enough among specialists, is too crude to need
express refutation; the fact is, that it is the psychological criticism
which deals with interpretation and examines into the good faith and
accuracy of authors that has, better than any other study, enabled us to
gain a profound insight into past ages, not external criticism.[105] An
historian who should be fortunate enough to find all the documents
bearing on his studies already edited correctly, classified, and
critically examined as to authorship, would be in just as good a
position to use them for writing history as if he had performed all the
preliminary operations himself. It is quite possible, whatever may be
said, to have the historical sense in full measure without having ever,
both literally and figuratively, wiped away the dust from original
documents--that is, without having discovered and restored them for
oneself. We need not interpret in the Jewish or etymological sense the
dictum of Renan: "I do not think it possible for any one to acquire a
clear notion of history, its limits, and the amount of confidence to be
placed in the different categories of historical investigation, unless
he is in the habit of _handling_ original documents."[106] This is to be
understood as simply referring to the habit of going direct to the
sources, and treating definite problems.[107] Without doubt a day will
come when all the documents relating to the history of classical
antiquity shall have been edited and treated critically. There will then
be no more room, in this department of study, for textual criticism or
the investigation of sources; but, for all that, the conditions for the
treatment of general ancient history, or special parts of it, will be
then eminently favourable. External criticism, as we cannot too often
repeat, is entirely preparatory; it is a means, not an end; the ideal
state of things would be that it should have been already sufficiently
practised that we might dispense with it for the future; it is only a
temporary necessity. Theoretically, not only is it unnecessary for those
who wish to make historical syntheses to do for themselves the
preparatory work on the materials which they use, but we have a right to
ask, as has been often asked, whether there is any advantage in their
doing it.[108] Would it not be preferable that workers in the field of
history should specialise? On the one class--the specialists--would
devolve the absorbing tasks of external or erudite criticism; the
others, relieved of the weight of these tasks, would have greater
liberty to devote themselves to the work of higher criticism, of
combination and construction. Such was the opinion of Mark Pattison, who
said, _History cannot be written from manuscripts_, which is as much as
to say: "It is impossible for a man to write history from documents
which he is obliged to put for himself into a condition in which they
can be used."

Formerly the professions of "critical scholar" and "historian" were, in
fact, clearly distinguished. The "historians" cultivated the empty and
pompous species of literature which then was known as "history," without
considering themselves bound to keep in touch with the work of the
scholars. The latter, for their part, determined by their critical
researches the conditions under which history must be written, but were
at no pains to write it themselves. Content to collect, emend, and
classify historical documents, they took no interest in history, and
understood the past no better than did the mass of their contemporaries.
The scholars acted as though erudition were an end in itself, and the
historians as if they had been able to reconstruct vanished realities by
the mere force of reflection and ingenuity applied to the inferior
documents, which were common property. So complete a divorce between
erudition and history seems to-day almost inexplicable, and it was in
truth mischievous enough. We need not say that the present advocates of
the division of labour in history have nothing of the kind in view. It
is admittedly necessary that close relations should obtain between the
world of historians and that of critical scholars, for the work of the
latter has no reason for existence beyond its utility to the former. All
that is meant is, that certain analytical and all synthetic operations
are not necessarily better performed when they are performed by the same
person; that though the characters of historian and scholar may be
combined, there is nothing illegitimate in their separation; and that
perhaps this separation is desirable in theory, as, in practice, it is
often a necessity.

In practice, what happens is as follows. Whatever part of history a man
undertakes to study, there are only three possible cases. In the first
the sources have already been emended and classified; in the second the
preliminary work on the sources, which has been only partially done, or
not at all, offers no great difficulty; in the third the sources are in
a very bad state, and require a great deal of labour to fit them for
use. We may observe, in passing, that there is naturally no proportion
between the intrinsic importance of the subject and the amount of
preliminary work which must be done before it can be treated: there are
some subjects of the highest interest, for example the history of the
origin and early development of Christianity, which could not be
properly attacked till after the completion of investigations which
occupied several generations of scholars; but the material criticism of
the sources of the history of the French Revolution, another subject of
the first rank, gave much less trouble; and there are comparatively
unimportant problems in mediæval history which will not be solved till
after an immense amount of external criticism shall have been performed.

In the two first cases the expediency of a division of labour does not
come in question. But take the third case. A man of ability discovers
that the documents which are necessary for the treatment of a point of
history are in a very bad condition; they are scattered, corrupt, and
untrustworthy. He must take his choice; either he must abandon the
subject, having no taste for the mechanical operations which he knows to
be necessary, but which, as he foresees, would absorb the whole of his
energy; or else he resolves to enter upon the preparatory critical work,
without concealing from himself that in all probability he will never
have time to utilise the materials he has verified, and that he will
therefore be working for those who will come after him. If he adopts the
second alternative he becomes a critical scholar by profession, as it
were in spite of himself. _A priori_, it is true, there is nothing to
prevent those who make great collections of texts and publish critical
editions from using their own compilations and editions for the writing
of history; and we see, as a matter of fact, that several men have
divided themselves between the preparatory tasks of external criticism
and the more exalted labours of historical construction: it is enough to
mention the names of Waitz, Mommsen, and Hauréau. But this combination
is very rare, for several reasons. The first is the shortness of life;
there are catalogues, editions, _regesta_ on a great scale, the
construction of which entails so much mechanical labour as to exhaust
the strength of the most zealous worker. The second is the fact that,
for many persons, the tasks of critical scholarship are not without
their charm; nearly every one finds in them a singular satisfaction in
the long run; and some have confined themselves to these tasks who
might, strictly speaking, have aspired to higher things.

Is it a good thing in itself that some workers should, voluntarily or
not, confine themselves to the researches of critical scholarship? Yes,
without a doubt. In the study of history, the results of the division of
labour are the same as in the industrial arts, and highly
satisfactory--more abundant, more successful, better regulated
production. Critics who have been long habituated to the restoration of
texts restore them with incomparable dexterity and sureness; those who
devote themselves exclusively to investigations of authorship and
sources have intuitions which would not occur to others less versed in
this difficult and highly specialised branch; those who have spent
their lives in the construction of catalogues and the compilation of
_regesta_ construct and compile them more easily, more quickly, and
better than the man in the street. Thus, not only is there no special
reason for requiring every "historian" to be at the same time an active
worker in the field of critical scholarship, but even those scholars who
are engaged in the operations of external criticism come under different
categories. Similarly, in a stoneyard there is no point in the architect
being at the same time a workman, nor have all the workmen the same
functions. Although most critical scholars have not rigorously
specialised so far, and although they vary their pleasures by
voluntarily executing different kinds of critical work, it would be easy
to name some who are specialists in descriptive catalogues and indexes
(archivists, librarians, and the like), others who are more particularly
"critics" (purifiers, restorers, and editors of texts), and others who
are pre-eminently compilers of _regesta_. "The moment it is admitted
that erudition is only valuable for the sake of its results, it becomes
impossible to carry the division of scientific labour too far;"[109] and
the progress of the historical sciences corresponds to the narrower and
narrower specialisation of the workers. It was possible, not very long
ago, for the same man to devote himself successively to all the
operations of historical inquiry, but that was because he appealed to a
not very exacting public: nowadays we require of those who criticise
documents a minute accuracy and an absolute perfection which presuppose
real professional skill. The historical sciences have now reached a
stage in their evolution at which the main lines have been traced, the
great discoveries made, and nothing remains but a more precise treatment
of details. We feel instinctively that any further advance must be by
dint of investigations of such extent, and analyses of such depth, as
none but specialists are capable of.

But the best justification of the division of workers into "scholars"
and "historians" (and of the distribution of the former among the
various branches of external criticism) is to be found in the fact that
different persons have a natural vocation for different tasks. One of
the chief justifications of the institution of higher historical
teaching is, in our opinion, the opportunity afforded the teachers
(presumably men of experience) of discerning in the students, in the
course of their university career, either the germ of a vocation for
critical scholarship, or fundamental unfitness for critical work, as the
case may be.[110] _Criticus non fit, sed nascitur._ For one who is not
endowed by nature with certain aptitudes, a career of technical
erudition has nothing but disappointments in store: the greatest service
that can be rendered to young men hesitating whether to adopt such a
career or not is to warn them of the fact. Those who hitherto have
devoted themselves to the preparatory tasks of criticism have either
chosen them in preference to others because they had a taste for them,
or else have submitted to them because they knew they were necessary;
those who engaged in them by choice have less merit, from the ethical
point of view, than those who submitted to them, but, for all that, they
have mostly obtained better results, because they have worked, not as a
matter of duty, but joyfully and whole-heartedly. It is important that
every one should realise the situation, and, in his own as well as the
general interest, embrace the special work which suits him best.

We now propose to examine the natural aptitudes which fit, and the truly
prohibitory defects which disqualify, for the labours of external
criticism. We shall, then, devote a few words to the effects produced on
the character by professional habituation to the labours of critical

The chief condition of success in these labours is to like them. Those
who are exceptionally gifted as poets or thinkers--that is, those who
are endowed with creative power--have much difficulty in adapting
themselves to the technical drudgery of preparatory criticism: they are
far from despising it; on the contrary, they hold it in honour, if they
are clear-sighted; but they shrink from devoting themselves to it, for
fear of using a razor, as is said, to cut stones. "I have no mind,"
wrote Leibnitz to Basnage, who had exhorted him to compile an immense
_Corpus_ of unpublished and printed documents relating to the history of
the law of nations; "I have no mind to turn transcriber.... Does it not
occur to you that the advice you give me resembles that of a man who
should wish to marry his friend to a shrew? For to engage a man in a
lifelong work is much the same as to find him a wife."[111] And Renan,
speaking of those immense preliminary labours "which have rendered
possible the researches of the higher criticism" and attempts at
historical construction, says: "The man who, with livelier intellectual
needs [than those of the men who performed these labours], should now
accomplish such an act of abnegation, would be a hero...."[112] Although
Renan directed the publication of the _Corpus Inscriptionum
Semiticarum_, and Leibnitz was the editor of the _Scriptores rerum
Brunsvicensium_, neither Leibnitz, nor Renan, nor their peers have,
fortunately, had the heroism to sacrifice their higher faculties to
purely critical learning.

Outside the class of superior men (and the infinitely more numerous
class of those who wrongly think themselves such), nearly every one, as
we have already said, finds in the long run a kind of satisfaction in
the minutiæ of preparatory criticism. The reason is, that the practice
of this criticism appeals to and develops two very widespread
tastes--the taste for collecting and the taste for puzzles. The pleasure
of collecting is one which is felt not by children only, but by adults
as well, no matter whether the collection be one of various readings or
of postage-stamps. The deciphering of rebuses, the solution of small
problems of strictly definite scope, are occupations which attract many
able minds. Every find brings pleasure, and in the field of erudition
there are innumerable finds--some lying exposed and obvious, some
guarded by all but impenetrable barriers--to reward both those who do
and those who do not delight in surmounting difficulties. All the
scholars of any distinction have possessed in an eminent degree the
instincts of the collector and the puzzle-solver, and some of them have
been quite conscious of the fact. "The more difficulties we encountered
in our chosen path," says M. Hauréau, "the more the enterprise pleased
us. This species of labour, which is called bibliography [investigations
of authorship, principally from the point of view of pseudepigraphy],
could not aspire to the homage of the public, but it has a great
attraction for those who devote themselves to it. Yes, it is doubtless a
humble study, but how many others are there which so often compensate
the trouble they give by affording us opportunity to cry Eureka."[113]
Julien Havet, when he was "already known to the learned men of Europe,"
used to divert himself "by apparently frivolous amusements, such as
guessing square words or deciphering cryptograms."[114] Profound
instincts, and, for all the childish or ridiculous perversions which
they may exhibit in certain individuals, of the highest utility! After
all, these are forms, the most rudimentary forms, of the scientific
spirit. Those who are devoid of them have no place in the world of
critical scholarship. But those who aspire to be critical scholars will
always be numerous; for the labours of interpretation, construction, and
exposition require the rarest gifts: all those whom chance has thrown
into the study of history, who desire to do useful work in that
department, but are wanting in psychological tact, or find composition
irksome, will always allow themselves to be fascinated by the simple and
calm pleasures of the preliminary tasks.

But in order to succeed in critical labours it is not enough to like
them. It is necessary to possess qualifications "for which zeal is no
substitute." What qualifications? Those who have asked this question
have answered vaguely: "Qualifications of the moral rather than the
intellectual order, patience, intellectual honesty...." Is it not
possible to be more precise?

There are young students with no _a priori_ repugnance for the labours
of external criticism, who perhaps are even disposed to like them, who
yet are--experience has shown it--totally incapable of performing them.
There would be nothing perplexing in this if these persons were
intellectually feeble; this incapacity would then be but one
manifestation of their general weakness; nor yet if they had gone
through no technical apprenticeship. But we are concerned with men of
education and intelligence, sometimes of exceptional ability, who do not
labour under the above disadvantages. These are the people of whom we
hear: "He works badly, he has the genius of inaccuracy." Their
catalogues, their editions, their _regesta_, their monographs swarm with
imperfections, and never inspire confidence; try as they may, they
never attain, I do not say absolute accuracy, but any decent degree of
accuracy. They are subject to "chronic inaccuracy," a disease of which
the English historian Froude is a typical and celebrated case. Froude
was a gifted writer, but destined never to advance any statement that
was not disfigured by error; it has been said of him that he was
constitutionally inaccurate. For example, he had visited the city of
Adelaide in Australia: "We saw," says he, "below us, in a basin with a
river winding through it, a city of 150,000 inhabitants, none of whom
has ever known or will ever know one moment's anxiety as to the
recurring regularity of his three meals a day." Thus Froude, now for the
facts: Adelaide is built on an eminence; no river runs through it; when
Froude visited it the population did not exceed 75,000, and it was
suffering from a famine at the time. And more of the same kind.[115]
Froude was perfectly aware of the utility of criticism, and he was even
one of the first in England to base the study of history on that of
original documents, as well unpublished as published; but his mental
conformation rendered him altogether unfit for the emendation of texts;
indeed, he murdered them, unintentionally, whenever he touched them.
Just as Daltonism (an affection of the organs of sight which prevents a
man from distinguishing correctly between red and green signals)
incapacitates for employment on a railway, so chronic inaccuracy, or
"Froude's Disease" (a malady not very difficult to diagnose) ought to be
regarded as incompatible with the professional practice of critical

Froude's Disease does not appear to have ever been studied by the
psychologists, nor, indeed, is it to be considered as a separate
pathological entity. Every one makes mistakes "out of carelessness,"
"through inadvertence," and in many other ways. What is abnormal is to
make many mistakes, to be always making them, in spite of the most
persevering efforts to be exact. Probably this phenomenon is connected
with weakness of the attention and excessive activity of the involuntary
(or subconscious) imagination which the will of the patient, lacking
strength and stability, is unable sufficiently to control. The
involuntary imagination intrudes upon intellectual operations only to
vitiate them; its part is to fill up the gaps of memory by conjecture,
to magnify and attenuate realities, and to confuse them with the
products of pure invention. Most children distort everything by
inexactitude of this kind, and it is only after a hard struggle that
they ever attain to a scrupulous accuracy--that is, learn to master
their imagination. Many men remain children, in this respect, the whole
of their lives.

But, let the psychological causes of Froude's Disease be what they may,
another point claims our attention. The man of the sanest and
best-balanced mind is liable to bungle the simplest kinds of critical
work if he does not allow them the necessary time. In these matters
precipitancy is the source of innumerable errors. It is rightly said
that patience is the cardinal virtue of the scholar. Do not work too
fast, act as if there were always something to be gained by waiting,
leave work undone rather than spoil it: these are maxims easy enough to
pronounce, but not to be followed in practice by any but persons of
calm temperament. There are nervous, excitable persons, who are always
in a hurry to get to the end, always seeking variety in their
occupations, and always anxious to dazzle and astonish: these may
possibly find honourable employment in other careers; but if they
embrace erudition, they are doomed to pile up a mass of provisional
work, which is likely to do more harm than good, and is sure in the long
run to cause them many a vexation. The true scholar is cool, reserved,
circumspect. In the midst of the turmoil of life, which flows past him
like a torrent, he never hurries. Why should he hurry? The important
thing is, that the work he does should be solid, definitive,
imperishable. Better "spend weeks polishing a masterpiece of a score of
pages" in order to convince two or three among the scholars of Europe
that a particular charter is spurious, or take ten years to construct
the best possible text of a corrupt document, than give to the press in
the same interval volumes of moderately accurate _anecdota_ which future
scholars will some day have to put through the mill again from beginning
to end.

Whatever special branch of critical scholarship a man may choose, he
ought to be gifted with prudence, an exceptionally powerful attention
and will, and, moreover, to combine a speculative turn of mind with
complete disinterestedness and little taste for action; for he must make
up his mind to work for distant and uncertain results, and, in nearly
every case, for the benefit of others. For textual criticism and the
investigation of sources, it is, moreover, very useful to have the
puzzle-solving instinct--that is, a nimble, ingenious mind, fertile in
hypotheses, prompt to seize and even to guess the relations of things.
For tasks of description and compilation (the preparation of inventories
and catalogues, _corpus_ and _regesta_-making) it is absolutely
necessary to possess the collector's instinct, together with an
exceptional appetite for work, and the qualities of order, industry, and
perseverance.[116] These are the aptitudes required. The labours of
external criticism are so distasteful to those who lack these aptitudes,
and the results obtained are, in their case, so small in comparison with
the time expended, that it is impossible for a man to make too sure of
his vocation before entering upon a career of critical scholarship. It
is pitiful to see those who, for want of a wise word spoken in due
season, lose their way and vainly exhaust themselves in such a career,
especially when they have good reason for believing that they might have
employed their talents to better advantage in other directions.[117]

II. As critical and preparatory tasks are remarkably well suited to the
temperament of a very large number of Germans, and as the activity of
German erudition during the present century has been enormous, it is to
Germany that we must go for the best cases of those mental deformations
which are produced, in the long run, by the habitual practice of
external criticism. Hardly a year passes but complaints are heard, in
and about the German universities, of the ill effects produced on
scholars by the tasks of criticism.

In 1890, Herr Philippi, as Rector of the University of Giessen, forcibly
deplored the chasm which, as he said, is opening between preparatory
criticism and general culture: textual criticism loses itself in
insignificant minutiæ; scholars collate for the mere pleasure of
collating; infinite precautions are employed in the restoration of
worthless documents; it is thus evident that "more importance is
attached to the materials of study than to its intellectual results."
The Rector of Giessen sees in the diffuse style of German scholars and
in the bitterness of their polemical writings an effect of the habit
they have contracted of "excessive preoccupation with little
things."[118] In the same year the same note was sounded, at the
University of Bâle, by Herr J. v. Pflugk-Harttung. "The highest branches
of historical science are despised," says this author in his
_Geschichtsbetrachtungen_[119]: "all that is valued is microscopic
observations and absolute accuracy in unimportant details. The criticism
of texts and sources has become a branch of sport: the least breach of
the rules of the game is considered unpardonable, while conformity to
them is enough to assure the approval of connoisseurs, irrespectively of
the intrinsic value of the results obtained. Scholars are mostly
malevolent and discourteous towards each other; they make molehills and
call them mountains; their vanity is as comic as that of the citizen of
Frankfort who used complacently to observe, 'All that you can see
through yonder archway is Frankfort territory.'"[120] We, for our part,
are inclined to draw a distinction between three professional risks to
which scholars are subject: dilettantism, hypercriticism, and loss of
the power to work.

To take the last first: the habit of critical analysis has a relaxing
and paralysing action on certain intelligences. Men, of naturally timid
dispositions, discover that whatever pains they take with their critical
work, their editing or classifying of documents, they are very apt to
make slight mistakes, and these slight mistakes, as a result of their
critical education, fill them with horror and dread. To discover
blunders in their signed work when the time for correction is past,
causes them acute suffering. They reach at length a state of morbid
anxiety and scrupulosity which prevents them from doing anything at
all, for fear of possible imperfections. The _examen rigorosum_ to which
they are continually subjecting themselves brings them to a standstill.
They give the same measure to the productions of others, and in the end
they see in historical works nothing but the authorities and the notes,
the _apparatus criticus_, and in the _apparatus criticus_ they see
nothing but the faults in it which require correction.

_Hypercriticism._--The excess of criticism, just as much as the crudest
ignorance, leads to error. It consists in the application of critical
canons to cases outside their jurisdiction. It is related to criticism
as logic-chopping is to logic. There are persons who scent enigmas
everywhere, even where there are none. They take perfectly clear texts
and subtilise on them till they make them doubtful, under the pretext of
freeing them from imaginary corruptions. They discover traces of forgery
in authentic documents. A strange state of mind! By constantly guarding
against the instinct of credulity they come to suspect everything.[121]
It is to be observed that in proportion as the criticism of texts and
sources makes positive progress, the danger of hypercriticism increases.
When all the sources of history have been properly criticised (for
certain parts of ancient history this is no distant prospect), good
sense will call a halt. But scholars will refuse to halt; they will
refine, as they do already on the best established texts, and those who
refine will inevitably fall into hypercriticism. "The peculiarity of the
study of history and its auxiliary philological sciences," says Renan,
"is that as soon as they have attained their relative perfection they
begin to destroy themselves."[122] Hypercriticism is the cause of this.

_Dilettantism._--Scholars by profession and vocation have a tendency to
treat the external criticism of documents as a game of skill, difficult,
but deriving an interest, much as chess does, from the very complication
of its rules. Some of them are indifferent to the larger questions--to
history itself, in fact. They criticise for the sake of criticism, and,
in their view, the elegance of the method of investigation is much more
important than the results, whatever they may be. These _virtuosi_ are
not concerned to connect their labours with some general idea--to
criticise systematically, for example, all the documents relating to a
question, in order to understand it; they criticise indiscriminately
texts relating to all manner of subjects, on the one condition of being
sufficiently corrupt. Armed with their critical skill, they range over
the whole of the domain of history, and stop wherever a knotty problem
invites their services; this problem solved, or at least discussed, they
go elsewhere to look for others. They leave behind them no coherent
work, but a heterogeneous collection of memoirs on every conceivable
subject, which resembles, as Carlyle says, a curiosity shop or an
archipelago of small islands.

Dilettanti defend their dilettantism by sufficiently plausible
arguments. To begin with, say they, everything is important; in history
there is no document which has not its value: "No scientific work is
barren, no truth is without its use for science ...; in history there is
no such thing as a trivial subject;" consequently, "it is not the nature
of the subject which makes work valuable, but the method employed."[123]
The important thing in history is not "the ideas one accumulates; it is
the mental gymnastics, the intellectual training--in short, the
scientific spirit." Even supposing that there are degrees of importance
among the data of history, no one has a right to maintain _a priori_
that a document is "useless." What, pray, is the criterion of utility in
these matters? How many documents are there not which, after being long
despised, have been suddenly placed in the foreground by a change of
standpoint or by new discoveries? "All exclusion is rash; there is no
research which it is possible to brand beforehand as necessarily
sterile. That which has no value in itself may become valuable as a
necessary means." Perhaps a day may come when, science being in a sense
complete, indifferent documents and facts may be safely thrown
overboard; but we are not at present in a position to distinguish the
superfluous from the necessary, and in all probability the line of
demarcation will never be easy to trace. This justifies the most special
researches and the most futile in all appearance. And, if it come to the
worst, what does it matter if there is a certain amount of work wasted?
"It is a law in science, as in all human effort," and indeed in all the
operations of nature, "to work in broad outlines, with a wide margin of
what is superfluous."

We shall not undertake to refute these arguments to the full extent in
which this is possible. Besides, Renan, who has put the case for both
sides of the question with equal vigour, definitively closed the debate
in the following words: "It may be said that some researches are useless
in the sense of taking up time which would have been better spent on
more serious questions.... Although it is not necessary for an artisan
to have a complete knowledge of the work he is employed to execute, it
is still to be desired that those who devote themselves to special
labours should have some notion of the more general considerations which
alone give value to their researches. If all the industrious workers to
whom modern science owes its progress had had a philosophical
comprehension of what they were doing, how much precious time would have
been saved!... It is deeply to be regretted that there should be such an
immense waste of human effort, merely for want of guidance, and a clear
consciousness of the end to be pursued."[124]

Dilettantism is incompatible with a certain elevation of mind, and with
a certain degree of "moral perfection," but not with technical
proficiency. Some of the most accomplished critics merely make a trade
of their skill, and have never reflected on the ends to which their art
is a means. It would, however, be wrong to infer that science itself has
nothing to fear from dilettantism. The dilettanti of criticism who work
as fancy or curiosity bids them, who are attracted to problems not by
their intrinsic importance, but by their difficulty, do not supply
historians (those whose work it is to combine materials and use them for
the main purposes of history) with the materials of which the latter
have the most pressing need, but with others which might have waited. If
the activity of specialists in external criticism were exclusively
directed to questions whose solution is important, and if it were
regulated and guided from above, it would be more fruitful.

The idea of providing against the dangers of dilettantism by a rational
"organisation of labour" is already ancient. Fifty years ago it was
common to hear people talking of "supervision," of "concentrating
scattered forces;" dreams were rife of "vast workshops" organised on the
model of those of modern industry, in which the preparatory labours of
critical scholarship were to be performed on a great scale, in the
interests of science. In nearly all countries, in fact, governments
(through the medium of historical committees and commissions),
academies, and learned societies have endeavoured in our day, much as
monastic congregations did of old, to group professed scholars for the
purposes of vast collective enterprises, and to co-ordinate their
efforts. But this banding of specialists in external criticism for the
service and under the supervision of competent men presents great
mechanical difficulties. The problem of the "organisation of scientific
labour" is still the order of the day.[125]

III. Scholars are often censured for pride and excessive harshness in
the judgments which they pass on the labours of their colleagues; and
these faults, as we have seen, are often attributed to their excessive
"preoccupation with little things," especially by persons whose attempts
have been severely judged. In reality there do exist modest and kindly
scholars: it is a question of character; professional "preoccupation
with little things" is not enough to change natural disposition in this
respect. "Ce bon monsieur Du Cange," as the Benedictines said, was
modest to excess. "Nothing more is required," says he, in speaking of
his labours, "but eyes and fingers in order to do as much and more;" he
never blamed any one, on principle. "If I study it is for the pleasure
of studying, and not to give pain to any one else, any more than to
myself."[126] It is, however, true that most scholars have no
compunction in exposing each other's mistakes, and that their austere
zeal sometimes finds expression in harsh and overbearing language.
Barring the harshness they are quite right. Like physicians, chemists,
and other members of learned and scientific professions, they have a
keen appreciation of the value of scientific truth, and it is for this
reason that they make a point of calling offenders to account. They are
thus enabled to bar the door against the tribe of incapables and
charlatans who once infested their profession.

Among the youths who propose to devote themselves to the study of
history there are some in whom the commercial spirit and vulgar ambition
are stronger than the love of science. These are apt to say to
themselves: "Historical work, if it is to be done according to the rules
of method, requires an infinite amount of labour and caution. But do we
not see historical writings whose authors have more or less seriously
violated the rules? Are these authors thought any the less of on this
account? Is it always the most conscientious writer who enjoys the
highest consideration? Cannot tact supply the place of knowledge?" If
tact really could supply the place of knowledge, then, as it is easier
to do bad work than good, and as the important thing with these people
is success, they might be tempted to conclude that it does not matter
how badly they work as long as they succeed. Why should not things go in
these matters as they do in life, where it is not necessarily the best
men that get on best? Well, it is due to the pitiless severity of the
critics that calculations of this kind would be as disastrous as they
are despicable.

Towards the end of the Second Empire there was in France no enlightened
public opinion on the subject of historical work. Bad books of
historical erudition were published with impunity, and sometimes even
procured undeserved rewards for their authors. It was then that the
founders of the _Revue Critique d'histoire et de littérature_ undertook
to combat a state of things which they lightly deemed demoralising.
With this object they administered public chastisement to those scholars
who showed lack of conscience or method, in a manner calculated to
disgust them with erudition for ever. They performed sundry notable
executions, not for the pleasure of it, but with the firm resolve to
establish a censorship and a wholesome dread of justice, in the domain
of historical study. Bad workers henceforth received no quarter, and
though the _Revue_ did not exert any great influence on the public at
large, its police-operations covered a wide enough radius to impress
most of those concerned with the necessity of sincerity and respect for
method. During the last twenty-five years the impulse thus given has
spread beyond all expectation.

It is now a matter of great difficulty to impose on the world of
scholars, in matters connected with their studies, or at least to keep
up the deception for any length of time. In the case of the historical
sciences, as well as the sciences proper, it is now too late to found a
new error or to discredit an old truth. It may be a few months, possibly
a few years, before a bungled experiment in chemistry or a scamped
edition is recognised as such; but inexact results, though temporarily
accepted under reserve, are always sooner or later, and generally very
soon, discovered, denounced, and eliminated. The theory of the
operations of external criticism is now so well established, the number
of specialists thoroughly versed in them is now so great in every
country, that, with rare exceptions, descriptive catalogues of
documents, editions, _regesta_, monographs, are scrutinised, dissected,
and judged as soon as they appear. It is well to be warned. It will for
the future be the height of imprudence to risk publishing a work of
erudition without having first done everything possible to make it
unassailable; otherwise it will immediately, or after brief delay, be
attacked and demolished. Not knowing this, certain well-meaning persons
still show themselves, from time to time, simple enough to enter the
lists of critical scholarship insufficiently prepared; they are filled
with a desire to be useful, and are apparently convinced that here, as
in politics and elsewhere, it is possible to work by extemporised and
approximate methods without any "special knowledge." They are sorry
afterwards. The knowing ones do not take the risk; the tasks of critical
scholarship have no seductions for them, for they are aware that the
labour is great and the glory moderate, and that the field is engrossed
by clever specialists not too well disposed towards intruders. They see
plainly there is no room for them here. The blunt uncompromising honesty
of the scholars thus delivers them from undesirable company of a kind
which the "historians" proper have still occasionally to put up with.

Bad workers, in fact, on the hunt for a public less closely critical
than the scholars, are very ready to take refuge in historical
exposition. The rules of method are here less obvious, or, rather, not
so well known. While the criticism of texts and sources has been placed
on a scientific basis, historical synthesis is still performed
haphazard. Mental confusion, ignorance, negligence--faults which stand
out so clearly in works of critical scholarship--may in historical
works be disguised up to a certain point by literary artifices, and the
public at large, which is not well educated in this respect, is not
shocked.[127] In short, there is still, in this department, a certain
chance of impunity. This chance, however, is diminishing, and a day will
come, before so very long, when the superficial writers who make
incorrect syntheses will be treated with as little consideration as is
now received by those who show themselves unscrupulous or unskilful in
the technique of preparatory criticism. The works of the most celebrated
historians of the nineteenth century, those who died but yesterday,
Augustin Thierry, Ranke, Fustel de Coulanges, Taine, and others, are
already battered and riddled with criticism. The faults of their methods
have already been seen, defined, and condemned.

Those who are insensible to other considerations ought to be moved to
honesty in historical work by the reflection that the time is now past,
or nearly so, when it was possible to do bad work without having to
suffer for it.




I. When a zoologist describes the form and situation of a muscle, when a
physiologist gives the curve of a movement, we are able to accept their
results without reserve, because we know by what method, by what
instruments, by what system of notation they have obtained them.[128]
But when Tacitus says of the Germans, _Arva per annos mutant_, we do not
know beforehand whether he took the right method to inform himself, nor
even in what sense he used the words _arva_ and _mutant_; to ascertain
this a preliminary operation is required.[129] This operation is
internal criticism.

The object of criticism is to discover what in a document may be
accepted as true. Now the document is only the final result of a long
series of operations, on the details of which the author gives us no
information. He had to observe or collect facts, to frame sentences, to
write down words; and these operations, which are perfectly distinct one
from another, may not all have been performed with the same accuracy. It
is therefore necessary to _analyse_ the product of the author's labour
in order to distinguish which operations have been incorrectly
performed, and reject their _results_. _Analysis_ is thus necessary to
criticism; all criticism begins with analysis.

In order to be logically complete, the analysis ought to reconstruct
_all_ the operations which the author must have performed, and to
examine them _one by one_, to see whether each has been performed
correctly. It would be necessary to pass in review all the successive
acts by which the document was produced, from the moment when the author
observed the fact which is its subject up to the movements of his hand
by which he traced the letters of the document; or, rather, it would be
necessary to proceed in the opposite direction, step by step, from the
movements of the hand back to the observation. This method would be so
long and so tedious that no one would ever have the time or the patience
to apply it.

Internal criticism is not, like external criticism, an instrument used
for the mere pleasure of using it;[130] it yields no immediate
satisfaction, because it does not definitively solve any problem. It is
only applied because it is necessary, and its use is restricted to a
bare minimum. The most exacting historian is satisfied with an abridged
method which concentrates all the operations into two groups: (1) the
analysis of the contents of the document, and the positive
interpretative criticism which is necessary for ascertaining what the
author meant; (2) the analysis of the conditions under which the
document was produced, and its negative criticism, necessary for the
verification of the author's statements. This twofold division of the
labour of criticism is, moreover, only employed by a select few. The
natural tendency, even of historians who work methodically, is to read
the text with the object of extracting information directly from it,
without any thought of first ascertaining what exactly was in the
author's mind.[131] This procedure is excusable at most in the case of
nineteenth-century documents, written by men whose language and mode of
thought are familiar to us, and then only when there is not more than
one possible interpretation. It becomes dangerous as soon as the
author's habits of language or thought begin to differ from those of the
historian who reads him, or when the meaning of the text is not obvious
and indisputable. Whoever, in reading a text, is not exclusively
occupied with the effort to understand it, is sure to read impressions
of his own into it; he is struck by phrases or words in the document
which correspond to his own ideas, or agree with his own _a priori_
notion of the facts; unconsciously he detaches these phrases or words,
and forms out of them an imaginary text which he puts in the place of
the real text of the author.[132]

II. Here, as always in history, method consists in repressing the first
impulse. It is necessary to be penetrated by the principle, sufficiently
obvious but often forgotten, that a document only contains the ideas of
the man who wrote it, and to make it a rule to begin by understanding
the text by itself, _before_ asking what can be extracted from it for
the purposes of history. We thus arrive at this general rule of method:
the study of every document should begin with an analysis of its
contents, made with the sole aim of determining the real meaning of the

This analysis is a preliminary operation, distinct and independent.
Experience here, as in the tasks of critical scholarship,[133] has
decided in favour of the system of slips. Each slip will contain the
analysis of a document, of a separate part of a document, or of an
episode in a narrative; the analysis ought to indicate not only the
general sense of the text, but also, as far as possible, the object and
views of the author. It will be well to reproduce verbally any
expressions which may seem characteristic of the author's thought.
Sometimes it will be enough to have analysed the text mentally: it is
not always necessary to put down in black and white the whole contents
of a document; in such cases we simply enter the points of which we
intend to make use. But against the ever-present danger of substituting
one's personal impressions for the text there is only one real
safeguard; it should be made an invariable rule never on any account to
make an extract from a document, or a partial analysis of it, without
having _first_ made a comprehensive analysis[134] of it mentally, if not
on paper.

To analyse a document is to discern and isolate all the ideas expressed
by the author. Analysis thus reduces to _interpretative criticism_.

Interpretation passes through two stages: the first is concerned with
the literal, the second with the real meaning.

III. The determination of the literal meaning of a document is a
linguistic operation; accordingly, Philology (in the narrow sense) has
been reckoned among the auxiliary sciences of history. To understand a
text it is first necessary to know the language. But a _general_
knowledge of the language is not enough. In order to interpret Gregory
of Tours, it is not enough to know Latin in a general way; it is
necessary to add a special study of the particular kind of Latin written
by Gregory of Tours.

The natural tendency is to attribute the same meaning to the same word
wherever it occurs. We instinctively treat a language as if it were a
fixed system of signs. Fixity, indeed, is a characteristic of the signs
which have been expressly invented for scientific use, such as
algebraical notation or the nomenclature of chemistry. Here every
expression has a single precise meaning, which is absolute and
invariable; it expresses an accurately analysed and defined idea, only
one such idea, and that always the same in whatever context the
expression may occur, and by whatever author it may be used. But
ordinary language, in which documents are written, fluctuates: each word
expresses a complex and ill-defined idea; its meanings are manifold,
relative, and variable; the same word may stand for several different
things, and is used in different senses by the same author according to
the context; lastly, the meaning of a word varies from author to author,
and is modified in the course of time. _Vel_, which in classical Latin
only has the meanings _or_ and _even_, means _and_ in certain epochs of
the middle ages; _suffragium_, which is classical Latin for _suffrage_,
takes in mediæval Latin the sense of _help_. We have, then, to learn to
resist the instinct which leads us to explain all the expressions of a
text by their classical or ordinary meanings. The grammatical
interpretation, based on the general rules of the language, must be
supplemented by an historical interpretation founded on an examination
of the particular case.

The method consists in determining the special meaning of the words in
the document; it rests on a few very simple principles.

(1) Language changes by continuous evolution. Each epoch has a language
of its own, which must be treated as a separate system of signs. In
order to understand a document we must know the _language of the
time_--that is, the meanings of words and forms of expression in use at
the time when the text was written. The meaning of a word is to be
determined by bringing together the passages where it is employed: it
will generally be found that in one or other of these the remainder of
the sentence leaves no doubt as to the meaning of the word in
question.[135] Information of this kind is given in historical
dictionaries, such as the _Thesaurus Linguæ Latinæ_; or the glossaries
of Du Cange. In these compilations the article devoted to each word is a
collection of the passages in which the word occurs, accompanied by
indications of authorship which fix the epoch.

When the author wrote in a dead language which he had learnt out of
books--this is the case with the Latin texts of the earlier middle
ages--we must be on our guard against words used in an arbitrary sense,
or selected for the sake of elegance: for example, _consul_ (count,
earl), _capite census_ (censitary), _agellus_ (grand domain).

(2) Linguistic usage may vary from one region to another; we have, then,
to know the _language of the country_ where the document was
written--that is, the peculiar meanings current in the country.

(3) Each author has his own manner of writing; we have, then, to study
the _language of the author_, the peculiar senses in which he used
words.[136] This purpose is served by lexicons to a single author, as
Meusel's _Lexicon Cæsarianum_, in which are brought together all the
passages in which the author used each word.

(4) An expression changes its meaning according to the passage in which
it occurs; we must therefore interpret each word and sentence not as if
it stood isolated, but with an eye to the general sense of the context.
This is the _rule of context_,[137] a fundamental rule of
interpretation. Its meaning is that, before making use of a phrase taken
from a text, we must have read the text in its entirety; it prohibits
the stuffing of a modern work with _quotations_--that is, shreds of
phrases torn from passages without regard to the special sense given to
them by the context.[138]

These rules, if rigorously applied, would constitute an exact method of
interpretation which would hardly leave any chance of error, but would
require an enormous expenditure of time. What an immense amount of
labour would be necessary if, in the case of _each_ word, we had to
determine by a special operation its meaning in the language of the
time, of the country, of the author, and in the context! Yet this is the
labour demanded by a well-made translation: in the case of some ancient
works of great literary value it has been submitted to; for the mass of
historical documents we content ourselves, in practice, with an abridged

All words are not equally subject to variations of meaning; most of them
keep a fairly uniform meaning in all authors and in all periods. We may
therefore be satisfied to study specially those expressions which, from
their nature, are liable to take different meanings: first, ready-made
expressions which, being fixed, do not follow the evolution of the words
of which they are composed; secondly, and chiefly, words denoting things
which are in their nature subject to evolution; classes of men (_miles_,
_colonus_, _servus_); institutions (_conventus_, _justitia_, _judex_);
usages (_alleu_, _bénéfice_, _élection_); feelings, common objects. In
the case of all words of such classes it would be imprudent to assume a
fixed meaning; it is an absolutely necessary precaution to ascertain
what is the sense in which they are used in the text to be interpreted.
"These studies of words," said Fustel de Coulanges, "have a great
importance in historical science. A badly interpreted term may be the
source of serious error."[139] And, in fact, simply by a methodical
application of interpretative criticism to a hundred words or so, he
succeeded in revolutionising the study of the Merovingian epoch.

IV. When we have analysed the document and determined the literal
meaning of its phrases, we cannot even yet be sure that we have reached
the real thoughts of the author. It is possible that he may have used
some expressions in an oblique sense; there are several kinds of cases
where this occurs: allegory and symbolism, jests and hoaxes, allusion
and implication, even the ordinary figures of speech, metaphor,
hyperbole, litotes.[140] In all these cases it is necessary to pierce
through the literal meaning to the real meaning, which the author has
purposely disguised under an inexact form.

Logically the problem is very embarrassing: there is no fixed external
criterion by which we can make sure of detecting an oblique sense; in
the case of the hoax, which in the present century has become a branch
of literature, it is an essential part of the author's plan to leave no
indication which would betray the jest. In practice we may be morally
certain that an author is not using an oblique sense wherever his prime
object is to be understood; we are therefore not likely to meet with
difficulties of this kind in official documents, in charters, and in
historical narratives. In all these cases the general form of the
document permits us to assume that it is written in the literal sense of
the words.

On the other hand, we must be prepared for oblique senses when the
author had other interests than that of being understood, or when he
wrote for a public which could understand his allusions and read between
the lines, or when his readers, in virtue of a religious or literary
initiation, might be expected to understand his symbolisms and figures
of speech. This is the case with religious texts, private letters, and
all those literary works which form so large a part of the documents on
antiquity. Thus the art of recognising and determining hidden meanings
in texts has always occupied a large space in the theory of
_hermeneutic_[141] (which is Greek for interpretative criticism), and in
the _exegesis_ of the sacred texts and of classical authors.

The different modes of introducing an oblique sense behind the literal
sense are too varied, and depend too much on special circumstances, for
it to be possible to reduce the art of detecting them to definite rules.
Only one general principle can be laid down, and that is, that when the
literal sense is absurd, incoherent, or obscure, or in contradiction
with the ideas of the author or the facts known to him, then we ought to
presume an oblique sense.

In order to determine this sense, the procedure is the same as for
studying the language of an author: we compare the passages in which the
expressions occur in which we suspect an oblique sense, and look to see
whether there is not one where the meaning may be guessed from the
context. A celebrated instance of this procedure is the discovery of the
allegorical meaning of the Beast in the Apocalypse. But as there is no
certain method of solving these problems, we never have a right to say
we have discovered all the hidden meanings or seized all the allusions
contained in a text; and even when we think we have found the sense, we
shall do well to draw no inferences from a necessarily conjectural

On the other hand, it is necessary to guard against the temptation to
look for allegorical meanings everywhere, as the neo-Platonists did in
Plato's works and the Swedenborgians in the Bible. This attack of
_hyper-hermeneutic_ is now over, but we are not yet safe from the
analogous tendency to look for allusions everywhere. Investigations of
this kind are always conjectural, and are better calculated to flatter
the vanity of the interpreter than to furnish results of which history
can make use.

V. When we have at length reached the real sense of the text, the
operation of positive analysis is concluded. Its result is to make us
acquainted with the author's conceptions, the images he had in his mind,
the general notions in terms of which he represented the world to
himself. This information belongs to a very important branch of
knowledge, out of which is constituted a whole group of historical
sciences:[142] the history of the illustrative arts and of literature,
the history of science, the history of philosophical and moral
doctrine, mythology and the history of dogmas (wrongly called religious
beliefs, because here we are studying official doctrines without
inquiring whether they are believed), the history of law, the history of
official institutions (so far as we do not inquire how they were applied
in practice), the assemblage of popular legends, traditions, opinions,
conceptions (inexactly called beliefs) which are comprised under the
name of folk-lore.

All these studies need only the external criticism which investigates
authorship and origin and interpretative criticism; they require one
degree less elaboration than the history of objective facts, and
accordingly they have been earlier established on a methodical basis.



I. Analysis and positive interpretative criticism only penetrate as far
as the inward workings of the mind of the author of a document, and only
help us to know his ideas. They give no direct information about
external facts. Even when the author was able to observe them, his text
only indicates how he wished to represent them, not how he really saw
them, still less how they really happened. What an author expresses is
not always what he believed, for he may have lied; what he believed is
not necessarily what happened, for he may have been mistaken. These
propositions are obvious. And yet a first and natural impulse leads us
to accept as true every statement contained in a document, which is
equivalent to assuming that no author ever lied or was deceived; and
this spontaneous credulity seems to possess a high degree of vitality,
for it persists in spite of the innumerable instances of error and
mendacity which daily experience brings before us.

Reflection has been forced on historians in the course of their work by
the circumstance of their finding documents which contradicted each
other; in such cases they have been obliged to doubt, and, after
examination, to admit the existence of error or mendacity; thus negative
criticism has appeared as a practical necessity for the purpose of
eliminating statements which are obviously false or erroneous. But the
instinct of confidence is so indestructible that it has hitherto
prevented even those professionally concerned from systematising the
internal criticism of statements in the same way as the external
criticism which deals with the origin of documents has been
systematised. Historians, in their works, and even theoretical writers
on historical method,[143] have been satisfied with common notions and
vague formulæ in striking contrast with the precise terminology of the
critical investigation of sources. They are content to examine whether
the author was roughly _contemporary_ with the events, whether he was an
ocular _witness_, whether he was _sincere_ and _well-informed_, whether
he knew the truth and desired to tell it, or even--summing up the whole
question in a single formula--whether he was _trustworthy_.

This superficial criticism is certainly better than no criticism at all,
and has sufficed to give those who have applied it the consciousness of
incontestable superiority. But it is only a halfway-house between common
credulity and scientific method. Here, as in every science, the
starting-point must be methodical doubt.[144] All that has not been
proved must be temporarily regarded as doubtful; no proposition is to
be affirmed unless reasons can be adduced in favour of its truth.
Applied to the statements contained in documents, methodical doubt
becomes _methodical distrust_.

The historian ought to distrust _a priori_ every statement of an author,
for he cannot be sure that it is not mendacious or mistaken. At the best
it affords a presumption. For the historian to adopt it and affirm it
afresh on his own account implies that he regards it as a scientific
truth. To take this decisive step is what he has no right to do without
good reasons. But the human mind is so constituted that this step is
often taken unconsciously (cf. book ii. chap. i.). Against this
dangerous tendency criticism has only one means of defence. We must not
postpone doubt till it is forced upon us by conflicting statements in
documents; we must _begin_ by doubting. We must never forget the
interval which separates a statement made by any author whatsoever from
a scientifically established truth, so that we may continually keep in
mind the responsibility which we assume when we reproduce a statement.

Even after we have accepted the principle and resolved to apply this
unnatural distrust in practice, we tend instinctively to free ourselves
from it as soon as possible. The natural impulse is to perform the
criticism of the whole of an author, or at least of the whole of a
document, in the lump; to divide authorities into two categories, the
sheep on the right, the goats on the left; on the one side trustworthy
authors and good documents, on the other suspected authors and bad
documents. Having thus exhausted our powers of distrust, we proceed to
reproduce without discussion all the statements contained in the "good
document." We consent to distrust suspected authors such as Suidas or
Aimo, but we affirm as established truth everything that has been said
by Thucydides or Gregory of Tours.[145] We apply to authors that
judicial procedure which divides witnesses into admissible and
inadmissible: having once accepted a witness, we feel ourselves bound to
admit all his testimony; we dare not doubt any of his statements without
a special reason. Instinctively we take sides with the author on whom we
have bestowed our approval, and we go so far as to say, as in the law
courts, that the burden of proof rests with those who reject valid

The confusion is still further increased by the use of the word
_authentic_, borrowed from judicial language. It has reference to the
origin only, not to the contents; to say that a document is authentic is
merely to say that its origin is certain, not that its contents are free
from error. But authenticity inspires a degree of respect which disposes
us to accept the contents without discussion. To doubt the statements of
an authentic document would seem presumptuous, or at least we think
ourselves bound to wait for overwhelming proof before we impeach the
testimony of the author.

II. These natural instincts must be methodically resisted. A document
(still more a literary work) is not all of a piece; it is composed of a
great number of independent statements, any one of which may be
intentionally or unintentionally false, while the others are _bonâ fide_
and accurate, or conversely, since each statement is the outcome of a
mental operation which may have been incorrectly performed, while others
were performed correctly. It is not, therefore, enough to examine a
document as a whole; each of the statements in it must be examined
separately; _criticism_ is impossible without _analysis_.

Thus internal criticism conducts us to two general rules.

(1) A scientific truth is not established by _testimony_. In order to
affirm a proposition we must have special reasons for believing it
true. It may happen in certain cases that an author's statement is a
sufficient reason for belief; but we cannot know that beforehand. The
rule, then, will be to examine each separate statement in order to make
sure whether it is of a nature to constitute a sufficient reason for

(2) The criticism of a document is not to be performed _en bloc_. The
rule will be to _analyse_ the document into its elements, in order to
isolate the different statements of which it is composed and to examine
each of them separately. Sometimes a single sentence contains several
statements; they must be separated and criticised one by one. In a sale,
for example, we distinguish the date, the place, the vendor, the
purchaser, the object, the price, and each one of the conditions.

In practice, criticism and analysis are performed simultaneously, and,
except in the case of texts in a difficult language, may proceed _pari
passu_ with interpretative analysis and criticism. As soon as we
understand a phrase we analyse it and criticise each of its elements.

It thus appears that _logically_ criticism comprises an enormous number
of operations. In describing them, with all the details necessary for
the understanding of their mechanism and the reasons for their
employment, we are likely to give the impression of a procedure too slow
to be practicable. Such an impression is inevitably produced by every
verbal description of a complicated process. Compare the time occupied
in describing a movement in fencing with that required to execute it;
compare the tedium of the grammar and dictionary with the rapidity of
reading. Like every practical art, criticism consists in the habit of
performing certain acts. In the period of apprenticeship, before the
habit is acquired, we are obliged to think of each act separately before
performing it, and to analyse the movements; accordingly we perform them
all slowly and with difficulty; but the habit once acquired, the acts,
which have now become instinctive and unconscious, are performed with
ease and rapidity. The reader must therefore not be uneasy about the
slowness of the critical processes; he will see later on how they are
abridged in practice.

III. The problem of criticism may be stated as follows. Given a
statement made by a man of whose mental operations we have no
experience, and the value of the statement depending exclusively on the
manner in which these operations were performed; to ascertain whether
these operations were performed correctly. The mere statement of the
problem shows that we cannot hope for any direct or definitive solution
of it; we lack the essential datum, namely, the manner in which the
author performed the mental operations concerned. Criticism therefore
does not advance beyond indirect and provisional solutions, and does no
more than furnish data which require a final elaboration.

A natural instinct leads us to judge of the value of statements by their
form. We think we can tell at a glance whether an author is sincere or a
narrative accurate. We seek for what is called "the accent of
sincerity," or "an impression of truth." This impression is almost
irresistible, but it is none the less an illusion. There is no external
criterion either of good faith or of accuracy. "The accent of sincerity"
is the appearance of conviction; an orator, an actor, an habitual liar
will put more of it into his lies than an undecided man into his
statement of what he believes to be the truth. Energy of affirmation
does not always mean strength of conviction, but sometimes only
cleverness or effrontery.[147] Similarly, abundance and precision of
detail, though they produce a vivid impression on unexperienced readers,
do not guarantee the accuracy of the facts;[148] they give us no
information about anything but the imagination of the author when he is
sincere, or his impudence when he is the reverse. We are apt to say of a
circumstantial narrative: "Things of this kind are not invented." They
are not invented, but they are very easy to transfer from one person,
country, or time to another. There is thus no external characteristic of
a document which can relieve us of the obligation to criticise it.

The value of an author's statement depends solely on the conditions
under which he performed certain mental operations. Criticism has no
other resource than the examination of these conditions. But it is not
a case of reconstructing all of them; it is enough to answer a single
question: did the author perform these operations correctly or not? The
question may be approached on two sides.

(1) The critical investigation of authorship has often taught us the
_general_ conditions under which the author operated. It is probable
that some of these influenced each one of the operations. We ought
therefore to begin by studying the information we possess about the
author and the composition of the document, taking particular pains to
look in the habits, sentiments, and personal situation of the author, or
in the circumstances in which he composed, for all the reasons which
could have existed for incorrectness on the one hand, or exceptional
accuracy on the other. In order to perceive these reasons it is
necessary to be on the lookout for them beforehand. The only method,
therefore, is to draw up a general set of questions having reference to
the possible causes of inaccuracy. We shall then apply it to the general
conditions under which the document was composed, in order to discover
those causes which may have rendered the author's mental operations
incorrect and vitiated the results. But all that we shall thus
obtain--even in the exceptionally favourable cases in which the
conditions of origin are well known--will be _general_ indications,
which will be insufficient for the purposes of criticism, for criticism
must always deal with each separate statement.

(2) The criticism of particular statements is confined to the use of a
single method, which, by a curious paradox, is the study of the
_universal_ conditions under which documents are composed. The
information which is not furnished by the general study of the author
may be sought for by a consideration of the necessary processes of the
human mind; for, since these are universal, they must appear in each
particular case. We know what are the cases in which men in general are
inclined to alter or distort facts. What we have to do in the case of
each statement is to examine whether it was made under such
circumstances as to lead us to suspect, from our knowledge of the habits
of normal humanity, that the operations implied in the making of it were
incorrectly performed. The practical procedure will be to draw up a set
of questions relating to the habitual causes of inaccuracy.

The whole of criticism thus reduces to the drawing up and answering of
two sets of questions: one for the purpose of bringing before our minds
those general conditions affecting the composition of the document, from
which we may deduce general motives for distrust or confidence; the
other for the purpose of realising the special conditions of each
statement, from which special motives may be drawn for distrust or
confidence. These two sets of questions ought to be drawn up beforehand
in such a form as may enable us to examine methodically both the
document in general and each statement in particular; and as they are
the same for all documents, it is useful to formulate them once for all.

IV. The critical process comprises two series of questions, which
correspond to the two series of operations by which the document was
produced. All that interpretative criticism tells us is what the author
meant; it remains to determine (1) what he really believed, for he may
not have been sincere; (2) what he really knew, for he may have been
mistaken. We may therefore distinguish a _critical examination of the
author's good faith_, by which we seek to determine whether the author
of the document lied or not, and a _critical examination_ of his
_accuracy_, by which we seek to determine whether he was or was not

In practice we rarely need to know what an author believed, unless we
are making a special study of his character. We have no direct interest
in the author; he is merely the medium through which we reach the
external facts he reports. The aim of criticism is to determine whether
the author has reported the facts correctly. If he has given inexact
information, it is indifferent whether he did so intentionally or not;
to draw a distinction would complicate matters unnecessarily. There is
thus little occasion to make a separate examination of an author's good
faith, and we may shorten our labours by including in a single set of
questions all the causes which lead to misstatement. But for the sake of
clearness it will be well to discuss the questions to be asked in two
separate series.

The questions in the first series will help us to inquire whether we
have any reason to distrust the sincerity of a statement. We ask whether
the author was in any of those situations which normally incline a man
to be insincere. We must ask what these situations are, both as
affecting the general composition of a document, and as affecting each
particular statement. Experience supplies the answer. Every violation of
truth, small or great, is due to a wish on the part of the author to
produce a particular impression upon the reader. Our set of questions
thus reduces to a list of the motives which may, in the general case,
lead an author to violate truth. The following are the most important

(1) The author seeks to gain a practical advantage for himself; he
wishes to deceive the reader of the document, in order to persuade him
to an action, or to dissuade him from it; he knowingly gives false
information: we then say the author has an interest in deceiving. This
is the case with most official documents. Even in documents which have
not been composed for a practical purpose, every interested statement
has a chance of being mendacious. In order to determine which statements
are to be suspected, we are to ask what _can_ have been the general aim
of the author in writing the document as a whole; and again, what can
have been his particular purpose in making each of the separate
statements which compose the document. But there are two natural
tendencies to be resisted. The first is, to ask what interest the author
could have _had_ in lying, meaning what interest should _we_ have had in
his place; we must ask instead what interest can he have _thought_ he
had in lying, and we must look for the answer in his tastes and ideals.
The other tendency is to take sole account of the _individual_ interest
of the author; we ought, however, to remember that the author may have
given false information in order to serve a _collective_ interest. This
is one of the difficulties of criticism. An author is a member at one
and the same time of several different groups, a family, a province, a
country, a religious denomination, a political party, a class in
society, whose interests often conflict; we have to discover the group
in which he took most interest, and for which he worked.

(2) The author was placed in a situation which compelled him to violate
truth. This happens whenever he has to draw up a document in conformity
with rule or custom, while the actual circumstances are in some point or
other in conflict with rule or custom; he is then obliged to state that
the conditions were normal, and thus make a false declaration in respect
of all the irregularities. In nearly every report of proceedings there
is some slight deviation from truth as to the day, the hour, the place,
the number or the names of those present. Most of us have observed, if
not taken part in, some of these petty fictions. But we are too apt to
forget them when we come to criticise documents relating to the past.
The _authentic_ character of the documents contributes to the illusion;
we instinctively make _authentic_ a synonym of _sincere_. The rigid
rules which govern the composition of every authentic document seem to
guarantee sincerity; they are, on the contrary, an incentive to falsify,
not the main facts, but the accessory circumstances. From the fact of a
person having signed a report we may infer that he agreed to it, but not
that he was actually present at the time when the report mentions him as
having been present.

(3) The author viewed with sympathy or antipathy a group of men (nation,
party, denomination, province, city, family), or an assemblage of
doctrines or institutions (religion, school of philosophy, political
theory), and was led to distort facts in such a manner as to represent
his friends in a favourable and his opponents in an unfavourable light.
These are instances of a general bias which affects all the statements
of an author, and they are so obvious that the ancients perceived them
and gave them names (_studium_ and _odium_); from ancient times it has
been a literary commonplace for historians to protest that they have
steered clear of both.

(4) The author was induced by private or collective vanity to violate
truth for the purpose of exalting himself or his group. He made such
statements as he thought likely to give the reader the impression that
he and his possessed qualities deserving of esteem. We have therefore to
inquire whether a given statement may not be influenced by vanity. But
we must take care not to represent the author's vanity to ourselves as
being exactly like our own vanity or that of our contemporaries.
Different people are vain for different reasons; we must inquire what
was our author's particular vanity; he may have lied in order to
attribute to himself or his friends actions which we should consider
dishonourable. Charles IX. falsely boasted of having organised the
Massacre of St. Bartholomew. There is, however, a kind of vanity which
is universal, and that is, the desire to appear to be a person of
exalted rank playing an important part in affairs. We must, therefore,
always distrust a statement which attributes to the author or his group
a high place in the world.[149]

(5) The author desired to please the public, or at least to avoid
shocking it. He has expressed sentiments and ideas in harmony with the
morality or the fashion of his public; he has distorted facts in order
to adapt them to the passions and prejudices of his time, even those
which he did not share. The purest types of this kind of falsehood are
found in ceremonial forms, official formulæ, declarations prescribed by
etiquette, set speeches, polite phrases. The statements which come under
this head are so open to suspicion that we are unable to derive from
them any information about the facts stated. We are all aware of this so
far as relates to the contemporary formulæ of which we see instances
every day, but we often forget it in the criticism of documents,
especially those belonging to an age from which few documents have come
down to us. No one would think of looking for the real sentiments of a
man in the assurances of respect with which he ends his letters. But
people believed for a long time in the humility of certain
ecclesiastical dignitaries of the middle ages, because, on the day of
their election, they began by refusing an office of which they declared
themselves unworthy, till at last comparison showed that this refusal
was a mere conventional form. And there are still scholars who, like the
Benedictines of the eighteenth century, look in the chancery-formulæ of
a prince for information as to his piety or his liberality.[150]

In order to recognise these conventional declarations there are two
lines of general study to be pursued: the one is directed to the author,
and seeks to discover what was the public he addressed, for in one and
the same country there are usually several different publics, each of
which has its own code of morals or propriety; the other is directed
towards the public, and seeks to determine its morals or its manners.

(6) The author endeavoured to please the public by literary artifices.
He distorted facts in order to embellish them according to his own
æsthetic notions. We have therefore to look for the ideal of the author
or of his time, in order to be on our guard against passages distorted
to suit that ideal. But without special study we may calculate on the
common kinds of literary distortion. Rhetorical distortion consists in
attributing to persons noble attitudes, acts, sentiments, and, above
all, words: this is a natural tendency in young boys who are beginning
to practise the art of composition, and in writers still in a
semi-barbarous stage; it is the common defect of the mediæval
chroniclers.[151] Epic distortion embellishes the narrative by adding
picturesque details, speeches delivered by the persons concerned,
numbers, sometimes names of persons; it is dangerous, because the
precision of the details produces an illusive appearance of truth.[152]
Dramatic distortion consists in grouping the facts in such a way as to
enhance the dramatic effect by concentrating facts, which in reality
were separate, upon a single moment, a single person, or a single group.
Writing of this kind is what we call "truer than the truth." It is the
most dangerous form of distortion, the form employed by artistic
historians, by Herodotus, Tacitus, the Italians of the Renaissance.
Lyrical distortion exaggerates the intensity of the sentiments and the
emotions of the author and his friends: we should remember this when we
attempt to reconstruct "the psychology" of a person.

Literary distortion does not much affect archives (though instances of
it are found in most charters of the eleventh century); but it
profoundly modifies all literary texts, including the narratives of
historians. Now, the natural tendency is to trust writers more readily
when they have talent, and to admit statements with less difficulty when
they are presented in good literary form. Criticism must counteract this
tendency by the application of the paradoxical rule, that the more
interesting a statement is from the artistic point of view,[153] the
more it ought to be suspected. We must distrust every narrative which
is very picturesque or very dramatic, in which the personages assume
noble attitudes or manifest great intensity of feeling.

This first series of questions will yield the _provisional_ result of
enabling us to note the statements which have a _chance_ of being

V. The second series of questions will be of use in determining whether
there is any reason to distrust the accuracy of a statement. Was the
author in one of those situations which cause a man to make mistakes? As
in dealing with good faith, we must look for these conditions both as
affecting the document as a whole, and as affecting each of the
particular statements in it.

The practice of the established sciences teaches us the conditions of an
exact knowledge of facts. There is only one scientific procedure for
gaining knowledge of a fact, namely, _observation_; every statement,
therefore, must rest, directly or indirectly, upon an observation, and
this observation must have been made correctly.

The set of questions by the aid of which we investigate the
probabilities of error may be drawn up in the light of experience, which
brings before us the most common cases of error.

(1) The author was in a situation to observe the fact, and supposed he
really had observed it; he was, however, prevented from doing so by some
interior force of which he was unconscious, an hallucination, an
illusion, or a mere prejudice. It would be useless, as well as
impossible, to determine which of these agencies was at work; it is
enough to ascertain whether the author had a tendency to observe badly.
It is scarcely possible in the case of a particular statement to
recognise that it was the result of an hallucination or an illusion. At
the most we may learn, either from information derived from other
sources or by comparison, that an author had a _general_ propensity to
this kind of error.

There is a better chance of recognising whether a statement was due to
prejudice. In the life or the works of an author we may find the traces
of his dominant prejudices. With reference to each of his particular
statements, we ought to ask whether it is not the result of a
preconceived idea of the author on a class of men or a kind of facts.
This inquiry partly coincides with the search for motives of falsehood:
interest, vanity, sympathy, and antipathy give rise to prejudices which
alter the truth in the same manner as wilful falsehood. We therefore
employ the questions already formulated for the purpose of testing good
faith. But there is one to be added. In putting forward a statement has
the author been led to distort it unconsciously by the circumstance that
he was answering a question? This is the case of all statements obtained
by interrogating witnesses. Even apart from the cases where the person
interrogated seeks to please the proposer of the question by giving an
answer which he thinks will be agreeable to him, every question suggests
its own answer, or at least its form, and this form is dictated
beforehand by some one unacquainted with the facts. It is therefore
necessary to apply a special criticism to every statement obtained by
interrogation; we must ask what was the question put, and what were the
preconceptions to which it may have given rise in the mind of the person

(2) The author was badly situated for observing. The practice of the
sciences teaches us what are the conditions for correct observation. The
observer ought to be placed where he can see correctly, and should have
no practical interest, no desire to obtain a particular result, no
preconceived idea about the result. He ought to record the observation
immediately, in a precise system of notation; he ought to give a precise
indication of his method. These conditions, which are insisted on in the
sciences of observation, are never completely fulfilled by the authors
of documents.

It would be useless, therefore, to ask whether there have been chances
of inaccuracy; _there always have been_, and it is just this that
distinguishes a _document_ from an _observation_. It only remains to
look for the obvious causes of error in the conditions of observation:
to inquire whether the observer was in a place where he could not see or
hear well, as would be the case, for example, with a subordinate who
should presume to narrate the secret deliberations of a council of
dignitaries; whether his attention was greatly distracted by the
necessity for action, as it would be on the field of battle, for
example; whether he was inattentive because the facts had little
interest for him; whether he lacked the special experience or general
intelligence necessary for understanding the facts; whether he analysed
his impressions badly, or confused different events. Above all, we must
ask when he _wrote down_ what he saw or heard. This is the most
important point: the only exact observation is the one which is
recorded immediately it is made; such is the constant procedure in the
established sciences; an impression committed to writing later on is
only a recollection, liable to be confused in the memory with other
recollections. _Memoirs_ written several years after the facts, often at
the very end of the author's career, have introduced innumerable errors
into history. It must be made a rule to treat _memoirs_ with special
distrust as second-hand documents, in spite of their appearance of being
contemporary testimony.

(3) The author states facts which he could have observed, but to which
he did not take the trouble to attend. From idleness or negligence he
reported details which he has merely inferred, or even imagined at
random, and which turn out to be false. This is a common source of
error, though it does not readily occur to one, and is to be suspected
wherever the author was obliged to procure information in which he took
little interest, in order to fill up a blank form. Of this kind are
answers to questions put by an authority (it is enough to observe how
most official inquiries are conducted in our own day), and detailed
accounts of ceremonies or public functions. There is too strong a
temptation to write the account from the programme, or in agreement with
the usual order of the proceedings. How many accounts of meetings of all
kinds have been published by reporters who were not present at them!
Similar efforts of imagination are suspected--sometimes, it is thought,
clearly recognised--in the writings of mediæval chroniclers.[154] The
rule, then, will be to distrust all narratives conforming too closely to
a set formula.

(4) The fact stated is of such a nature that it could not have been
learnt by observation alone. It may be a hidden fact--a private secret,
for example. It may be a fact relating to a collectivity, and applying
to an extensive area or a long period of time; for example, the common
act of a whole army, a custom common to a whole people or a whole age, a
statistical total obtained by the addition of numerous items. It may be
a comprehensive judgment on the character of a man, a group, a custom,
an event. Here we have to do with propositions derived from observations
by synthesis or inference: the author can only have arrived at them
indirectly; he began with data furnished by observation, and elaborated
them by the logical processes of abstraction, generalisation, reasoning,
calculation. Two questions arise. Does it appear that the author had
sufficient data to work upon? Was he accurate, or the reverse, in his
use of the data he had?

On the probable inaccuracies of an author, general indications may be
obtained from an examination of his writings. This examination will show
us how he worked: whether he was capable of abstraction, reasoning,
generalisation, and what were the mistakes he was in the habit of
making. In order to determine the value of the data, we must criticise
each statement separately; we must imagine the conditions under which
the author observed, and ask ourselves whether he was able to procure
the necessary data for his statement. This is an indispensable
precaution in dealing with large totals in statistics and descriptions
of popular usages; for it is possible that the author may have obtained
the total he gives by a process of conjectural valuation (this is the
ordinary practice in stating the number of combatants or killed in a
battle), or by combining subsidiary totals, all of which were not
accurate; it is possible that he may have extended to a whole people, a
whole country, a whole period, that which was true only of a small group
known to him.[155]

VI. These two first series of questions bearing on the good faith and
the accuracy of the statements in the document are based on the
supposition that the author has observed the fact himself. This is a
feature common to all reports of observations in the established
sciences. But in history there is so great a dearth of direct
_observations_, of even moderate value, that we are obliged to turn to
account documents which every other science would reject.[156] Take any
narrative at random, even if it be the work of a contemporary, it will
be found that the facts observed by the author are never more than a
part of the whole number. In nearly every document the majority of the
statements do not come from the author at first hand, but are
reproductions of the statements of others. Even where a general relates
a battle in which he commanded, he does not communicate his own
observations, but those of his officers; his narrative is in a large
measure a "second-hand document."[157]

In order to criticise a second-hand statement it is no longer enough to
examine the conditions under which the author of the document worked:
this author is, in such a case, a mere agent of transmission; the true
author is the person who supplied him the information. The critic,
therefore, must change his ground, and ask whether the informant
observed and reported correctly; and if he too had the information from
some one else (the commonest case), the chase must be pursued from one
intermediary to another, till the person is found who first launched the
statement on its career, and with regard to him the question must be
asked: Was he an accurate observer?

Logically such a search is not inconceivable; ancient collections of
Arab traditions give lists of their successive guarantors. But, in
practice, lack of documents nearly always prevents us from getting as
far as the observer of a fact; the observation remains anonymous. A
general question then presents itself: How are we to criticise an
anonymous statement? It is not only "anonymous documents" with which we
are concerned, where the composition as a whole is the work of an
unknown author; even when the author is known, this question arises with
respect to each statement of his drawn from an unknown source.

Criticism works by reproducing the conditions under which an author
wrote, and has hardly anything to take hold of where a statement is
anonymous. The only method left is to examine the general conditions of
the document. We may inquire whether there is any feature common to all
the statements of a document indicating that they all proceed from
persons having the same prejudices or passions: in this case the
tradition followed by the author is biassed; the tradition followed by
Herodotus has both an Athenian bias and a Delphic bias. In respect of
each fact derived from such a tradition we must ask whether it has not
been distorted by the interest, the vanity, or the prejudices of the
group concerned. We may even ignore the author, and ask whether there
was anything likely to make for or against correct observation, common
to all the men of the time and country in which the observation must
have been made: for example, what means of information, and what
prejudices, had the Greeks of Herodotus' time with respect to the

The most useful of all these general inquiries has reference to that
mode of transmitting anonymous statements which is called _tradition_.
No second-hand statement has any value except in so far as it reproduces
its source; every addition is an alteration, and ought to be eliminated.
Similarly, all the intermediary sources are valueless except as copies
of the original statement founded directly on observation. The critic
needs to know whether this transmission from hand to hand has preserved
or distorted the original statement; above all, whether the tradition
embodied in the document was _written_ or _oral_. Writing fixes a
statement, and ensures its being transmitted faithfully; when a
statement is communicated orally, the impression in the mind of the
hearer is apt to be modified by confusion with other impressions; in
passing from one intermediary to another the statement is modified at
every step,[158] and as these modifications arise from different causes,
there is no possibility of measuring or correcting them.

Oral tradition is by its nature a process of continual alteration; hence
in the established sciences only written transmission is accepted.
Historians have no avowable motive for proceeding differently, at any
rate when it is a case of establishing a particular fact. We must
therefore search documents for statements derived from oral tradition in
order that we may suspect them. We rarely have direct information as to
statements being thus derived; authors who borrow from oral tradition
are not anxious to proclaim the fact.[159] There is thus only an
indirect method, and that is to ascertain that written transmission was
impossible; we may then be sure that the fact reached the author only by
oral tradition. We have therefore to ask the question: In this period
and in this group of men was it customary to commit to writing facts of
this kind? If the answer is negative, the fact considered rests on oral
tradition alone.

The most striking form of oral tradition is _legend_. It arises among
groups of men with whom the spoken word is the only means of
transmission, in barbarous societies, or in classes of little culture,
such as peasants or soldiers. In this case it is the whole group of
facts which is transmitted orally and assumes the legendary form. There
is a legendary period in the early history of every people: in Greece,
at Rome, among the Germanic and Slavonic races, the most ancient
memories of the people form a stratum of legend. In periods of
civilisation popular legends continue to exist in reference to events
which strike the imagination of the people.[160] Legend is exclusively
oral tradition.

When a people has emerged from the legendary period and begun to commit
its history to writing, oral tradition does not come to an end, but only
applies to a narrower sphere; it is now restricted to facts which are
not registered, whether because they are by their nature secret, or
because no one takes the trouble to record them, such as private
actions, words, the details of events. Thus arise _anecdotes_, which
have been named "the legends of civilised society." Like legends they
have their origin in confused recollections, allusions, mistaken
interpretations, imaginings of all kinds which fasten upon particular
persons and events.

Legends and anecdotes are at bottom mere popular beliefs, arbitrarily
attached to historical personages; they belong to folk-lore, not to
history.[161] We must therefore guard against the temptation to treat
legend as an alloy of accurate facts and errors out of which it is
possible by analysis to extract grains of historical truth. A legend is
a conglomerate in which there may be some grains of truth, and which may
even be capable of being analysed into its elements; but there is no
means of distinguishing the elements taken from reality from those which
are the work of imagination. To use Niebuhr's expression, a legend is "a
mirage produced by an invisible object according to an unknown law of

The crudest analytical procedure consists in rejecting those details in
the legendary narrative which appear impossible, miraculous,
contradictory, or absurd, and retaining the rational residue as
historical. This is how the Protestant rationalists of the eighteenth
century treated biblical narratives. One might as well amputate the
marvellous part of a fairy tale, suppress Puss in Boots, and keep the
Marquis of Carabas as an historical character. A more refined but no
less dangerous method is to compare different legends in order to deduce
their common historical basis. Grote[162] has shown, with reference to
Greek tradition, that it is impossible to extract any trustworthy
information from legend by any process whatever.[163] We must make up
our minds to treat legend as a product of imagination; we may look in it
for a people's conceptions, not for the external facts in that people's
history. The rule will be to reject every statement of legendary origin;
nor does this apply only to narratives in legendary form: a narrative
which has an historical appearance, but is founded on the data of
legend, the opening chapters of Thucydides for example, ought equally to
be discarded.

In the case of written transmission it remains to inquire whether the
author reproduced his source without altering it. This inquiry forms
part of the critical investigation of the sources,[164] so far as it can
be pursued by a comparison of texts. But when the source has disappeared
we are reduced to internal criticism. We ask, first of all, whether the
author can have had exact information, otherwise his statement is
valueless. We next put to ourselves the general question: Was the author
in the habit of altering his sources, and in what manner? And in regard
to each separate second-hand statement we ask whether it has the
appearance of being an exact reproduction or an arrangement. We judge by
the form: when we meet with a passage whose style is out of harmony with
the main body of the composition, we have before us a fragment of an
earlier document; the more servile the reproduction the more valuable is
the passage, for it can contain no exact information beyond what was
already in the source.

VII. In spite of all these investigations, criticism never succeeds in
determining the parentage of all the statements to the extent of finding
out who it was that observed, or even recorded, each fact. In most cases
the inquiry ends in leaving the statement anonymous.

We are thus confronted with a fact, observed we know not by whom nor
how, recorded we know not when nor how. No other science accepts facts
which come in such a condition, without possibility of verification,
subject to incalculable chances of error. But history can turn them to
account, because it does not, like the other sciences, need a supply of
facts which are difficult to ascertain.

The notion of a _fact_, when we come to examine it precisely, reduces to
an affirmative judgment having reference to external reality. The
operations by which we arrive at such a judgment are more or less
difficult, and the risk of error is greater or smaller according to the
nature of the realities investigated and the degree of precision with
which we wish to formulate them. Chemistry and biology need to discern
facts of a delicate order, rapid movements, transient states, and to
measure them in exact figures. History can work with facts of a much
coarser kind, spread over a large extent of space or time, such as the
existence of a custom, of a man, of a group, even of a people; and these
facts may be roughly expressed in vague words conveying no idea of
accurate measurement. With such easily observed facts as these to deal
with, history can afford to be much less exacting with regard to the
conditions of observation. The imperfection of the means of information
is compensated by a natural faculty of being satisfied with information
which can easily be obtained.

Documents supply little else besides ill-verified facts, subject to many
risks of falsehood or error. But there are some facts in respect of
which it is very difficult to lie or be mistaken. The last series of
questions which the critic should ask is intended to distinguish, in the
mass of alleged facts, those which by their nature are little subject to
the risk of alteration, and which are therefore very probably correct.
We know what, in general, are the classes of facts which enjoy this
privilege; we are thus enabled to draw up a list of questions for
general use, and in applying them to any particular case we ask whether
the fact in question comes under any of the heads specified in advance.

(1) The fact is of a nature to render falsehood improbable. A man lies
in order to produce an impression, and has no motive to lie in a case
where he believes that the false impression would be of no use, or that
the falsehood would be ineffectual. In order to determine whether the
author was in such a situation there are several questions to be asked.

(_a_) Is the fact stated manifestly prejudicial to the effect which the
author wished to produce? Does it run counter to the interest, the
vanity, the sentiments, the literary tastes of the author and his group;
or to the opinions which he made a point of not offending? In such a
case there is a probability of good faith. But in the application of
this criterion there is danger; it has often been wrongly used, and in
two ways. One of these is to take for a confession what was meant for a
boast, as the declaration of Charles IX. that he was responsible for the
Massacre of St. Bartholomew. Or again, we trust without examination an
Athenian who speaks ill of the Athenians, or a Protestant who accuses
other Protestants. But it is quite possible the author's notions of his
interest or honour were very different from ours;[165] or he may have
wished to calumniate fellow-citizens who did not belong to his own
party, or co-religionists who did not belong to his own sect. This
criterion must therefore be restricted to cases where we know exactly
what _effect_ he wished to produce, and in what _group_ he was mainly

(_b_) Was the fact stated so obviously known to the public that the
author, even if tempted to falsehood, would have been restrained by the
certainty of being detected? This is the case with facts which are easy
to verify, which are not remote in point of time or space, which apply
to a wide area or a long period, especially if the public had any
interest in verifying them. But the fear of detection is only an
intermittent check, opposed by interest whenever the author has any
motive for deceiving. It acts unequally on different minds--strongly on
men of culture and self-control who understand their public, feebly in
barbarous ages and on passionate men.[166] This criterion, therefore, is
to be restricted to cases where we know what idea the author had of his
readers, and whether he was dispassionate enough to keep them in mind.

(_c_) Was the fact stated _indifferent_ to the author, so that he had no
temptation to misrepresent it? This is the case with facts of a general
kind, usages, institutions, objects, persons, which the author mentions
incidentally. A narrative, even a false one, cannot be composed
exclusively of falsehoods; the author must localise his facts, and needs
to surround them with a framework of truth. The facts which form this
framework had no interest for him; at that time every one knew them. But
for us they are instructive, and we can depend on them, for the author
had no intention of deceiving us.

(2) The fact was of a kind to render error improbable. Numerous as the
chances of error are, still there are facts so "big" it is hard to be
mistaken about them. We have, then, to ask whether the alleged fact was
easy to ascertain: (_a_) Did it cover a long period of time, so that it
must have been frequently observed? Take, for example, the case of a
monument, a man, a custom, an event which was in progress for a
considerable time. (_b_) Did it cover a wide area, so that many people
observed it?--as, for example, a battle, a war, a custom common to a
whole people. (_c_) Is it expressed in such general terms that
superficial observation was enough to discover it?--as the mere
existence of a man, a city, a people, a custom. Facts of this large and
general kind make up the bulk of historical knowledge.

(3) The fact was of such a nature that it would not have been stated
unless it was true. A man does not declare that he has seen something
contrary to his expectations and habits of mind unless observation has
compelled him to admit it. A fact which seems very improbable to the man
who relates it has a good chance of being true. We have, then, to ask
whether the fact stated was in contradiction with the author's opinions,
whether it is a phenomenon of a kind unknown to him, an action or a
custom which seems unintelligible to him; whether it is a saying whose
import transcends his intelligence, such as the sayings of Christ
reported in the Gospels, or the answers made by Joan of Arc to questions
put to her in the course of her trial. But we must guard against judging
of the author's ideas by our own standards: when men who are accustomed
to believe in the marvellous speak of monsters, of miracles, of wizards,
there is nothing in these to contradict their expectations, and the
criterion does not apply.

VIII. We have at last reached the end of this description of the
critical operations; its length is due to the necessity of describing
successively operations which are performed simultaneously. We will now
consider how these methods are applied in practice.

If the text be one whose interpretation is debatable, the examination is
divided into two stages: the first comprises the reading of the text
with a view to the determination of the meaning, without attempting to
draw any information from it; the second comprises the critical study of
the facts contained in the document. In the case of documents whose
meaning is clear, we may begin the critical examination on the first
reading, reserving for separate study any individual passages of
doubtful meaning.

We begin by collecting the _general_ information we possess about the
document and the author, with the special purpose of discovering the
conditions which may have influenced the production of the document--the
epoch, the place, the purpose, the circumstances of its composition; the
author's social status, country, party, sect, family, interests,
passions, prejudices, linguistic habits, methods of work, means of
information, culture, abilities, and mental defects; the nature of the
facts and the mode of their transmission. Information on all these
points is supplied by the preparatory critical investigation of
authorship and sources. We now combine the different heads, mentally
applying the set of general critical questions; this should be done at
the outset, and the results impressed on the memory, for they will need
to be present to the mind during the remainder of the operations.

Thus prepared, we attack the document. As we read we mentally analyse
it, destroying all the author's combinations, discarding all his
literary devices, in order to arrive at the facts, which we formulate in
simple and precise language. We thus free ourselves from the deference
imposed by artistic form, and from all submission to the author's
ideas--an emancipation without which criticism is impossible.

The document thus analysed resolves into a long series of the author's
conceptions and statements as to facts.

With regard to each statement, we ask ourselves whether there is a
probability of their being false or erroneous, or whether, on the other
hand, there are exceptional chances in favour of good faith and
accuracy, working through the list of critical questions prepared for
particular cases. This list of questions must be always present to the
mind. At first it may seem cumbersome, perhaps pedantic; but as it will
be applied more than a hundred times in each page of the document, it
will in the end be used unconsciously. As we read a text, all the
reasons for distrust or confidence will occur to the mind
simultaneously, combined into a single impression.

Analysis and critical questioning will then have become a matter of
instinct, and we shall have acquired for ever that methodically
analytical, distrustful, not too respectful turn of mind which is often
mystically called "the critical sense," but which is nothing else than
an unconscious _habit_ of criticism.



Critical analysis yields in the result a number of conceptions and
statements, accompanied by comments on the probability of the facts
stated being accurate. It remains to examine how we can deduce from
these materials those particular historical facts which are to form the
basis of scientific knowledge. Conceptions and statements are two
different kinds of results, and must be treated by different methods.

I. Every conception which is expressed in writing or by any illustrative
representation is in itself a definite, unimpeachable fact That which is
expressed must have first been present in the mind of some one--if not
in that of the author, who may have reproduced a formula he did not
understand, then in the mind of the man who originated the formula. The
existence of a conception may be learnt from a single instance and
proved from a single document. Analysis and interpretation are thus
sufficient for the purpose of drawing up the complete list of those
facts which form the basis of the history of the arts, the sciences, or
of doctrines.[167] It is the task of external criticism to localise
these facts by determining the epoch, the country, the author of each
conception. The duration, geographical distribution, origin, and
filiation of conceptions belong to historical synthesis. Internal
criticism has nothing to do here; the fact is taken directly from the

We may advance a step farther. In themselves conceptions are nothing but
facts in psychology; but imagination does not create its objects, it
takes the elements of them from reality. Descriptions of imaginary facts
are constructed out of the real facts which the author has observed in
his experience. These elements of knowledge, the raw material of the
imaginary description, may be sought for and isolated. In dealing with
periods and with classes of facts for which documents are
rare--antiquity, for example, and the usages of private life--the
attempt has been made to lay under contribution works of literature,
epic poems, novels, plays.[168] The method is legitimate, but only
within the limits of certain restrictions which one is very apt to

(1) It does not apply to social facts of a psychological order, the
moral or artistic standards of a society; the moral and æsthetic
conceptions in a document give at most the individual standards of the
author; we have no right to conclude from these to the morals or the
æsthetic tastes of the age. We must at least wait till we have compared
several different authors of the same period.

(2) Descriptions even of physical facts and objects may be products of
the author's imagination. It is only the _elements_ of them which we
know to be certainly real; all that we can assert is the separate
existence of the irreducible elements, form, material, colour, number.
When the poet speaks of golden gates or silver bucklers, we cannot infer
that golden gates and silver bucklers ever existed in reality; nothing
is certain beyond the separate existence of gates, bucklers, gold, and
silver. The analysis must therefore be carried to the point of
distinguishing those elements which the author must necessarily have
taken from experience: objects, their purpose, ordinary actions.

(3) The conception of an object or an action proves that it existed, but
not that it was common; the object or action may have been unique, or
restricted to a very small circle; poets and novelists are fond of
taking their models from an exceptional world.

(4) The facts yielded by this method are not localised in space or time;
the author may have taken them from a time or country not his own.

All these restrictions may be summarised as follows: before drawing any
inference from a work of literature as to the state of the society in
which the author lived, we should ask ourselves what would be the worth
of a similar inference as to contemporary manners drawn from a modern

With the facts yielded by conceptions we may join those indifferent
facts of an obvious and elementary character which the author has
stated almost without thinking. Logically we have no right to call them
certain, for we do sometimes meet with men who make mistakes about
obvious and elementary facts, and others who lie even on indifferent
matters. But such cases are so rare that there is not much danger in
admitting as certain facts of this kind which are supported by a single
document, and this is how we deal, in practice, with periods of which
little is known. The institutions of the Gauls and Germans are described
from the unique texts of Cæsar and Tacitus. Facts so easy to discover
are forced upon the authors of descriptions much as realities are forced
upon poets.

II. On the other hand, a statement in a document as to an objective fact
is never enough to establish that fact. The chances of falsehood or
error are so many, the conditions which gave rise to the statement are
so little known, that we cannot be sure that none of these chances has
taken effect. The critical examination provides no definitive solution;
it is indispensable if we are to avoid error, but it is insufficient to
conduct us to truth.

Criticism can _prove_ no fact; it only yields probabilities. Its end and
result is to decompose documents into statements, each labelled with an
estimate of its value--worthless statement, statement open to suspicion
(strong or weak), statement probably (or, very probably) true, statement
of unknown value.

Of all these different kinds of results one only is definitive--_the
statement of an author who can have had no information on the fact he
states is null and void_; it is to be rejected as we reject an
apocryphal document.[169] But criticism here merely destroys illusory
sources of information; it supplies nothing certain to take their place.
The only sure results of criticism are _negative_. All the positive
results are subject to doubt; they reduce to propositions of the form:
"There are chances for or against the truth of such and such a
statement." Chances only. A statement open to suspicion may turn out to
be true; a statement whose truth is probable may, after all, be false.
Instances occur continually, and we are never sufficiently well
acquainted with the conditions under which the observation was made to
_know_ whether it was made ill or well.

In order to obtain a definitive result we require a final operation.
After passing through the ordeal of criticism, statements present
themselves as probable or improbable. But even the most probable of
them, taken by themselves, remain mere probabilities: to pass from them
to categorical propositions in scientific form is a step we have no
right to take; a proposition in a science is an assertion not open to
debate, and that is what the statements we have before us are not. It is
a principle common to all sciences of observation not to base a
scientific conclusion on a single observation; the fact must have been
corroborated by several independent observations before it is affirmed
categorically. History, with its imperfect modes of acquiring
information, has less right than any other science to claim exemption
from this principle. An historical statement is, in the most favourable
case, but an indifferently made observation, and needs other
observations to corroborate it.

It is by combining observations that every science is built up: a
scientific fact is a centre on which several different observations
converge.[170] Each observation is subject to chances of error which
cannot be entirely eliminated; but if several observations agree, this
can hardly be in virtue of a common error: the more probable explanation
of the agreement is that the observers have all seen the same reality
and have all described it correctly. Errors are personal and tend to
diverge; it is the correct observations that agree.

Applied to history, this principle leads to a last series of operations,
intermediate between purely analytical criticism and the synthetic
operations--the comparison of statements.

We begin by classifying the results yielded by critical analysis in such
a way as to bring together those statements which relate to the same
fact. The operation is facilitated mechanically by the method of slips.
Either each statement has been entered on a separate slip, or else a
single slip has been assigned for each fact, and the different
statements relating to it entered upon the slip as met with in the
course of reading. By bringing the statements together we learn the
extent of our information on the fact; the definitive conclusion depends
on the relation between the statements. We have, then, to study
separately the different cases which may occur.

III. Most frequently, except in contemporary history, the documents only
supply a single statement on a given fact. In such a case all the other
sciences follow an invariable rule: an isolated observation is not
admitted into science; it is quoted (with the observer's name), but no
conclusions are drawn from it. Historians have no avowable motive for
proceeding otherwise. When a fact is supported by no more than the
statement of a single man, however honest he may be, historians ought
not to assert it, but to do as men of science do--give the reference
(Thucydides states, Cæsar says that ...); this is all they have a right
to affirm. In reality they all retain the habit of stating facts, as was
done in the middle ages, on the _authority_ of Thucydides or of Cæsar;
many are simple enough to do so in express terms. Thus, allowing
themselves to be guided by natural credulity, unchecked by science,
historians end by admitting, on the insufficient presumption afforded by
a unique document, any statement which does not happen to be
contradicted by another document. Hence the absurd consequence that
history is more positive, and seems better established in regard to
those little known periods which are represented by a single writer than
in regard to facts known from thousands of documents which contradict
each other. The wars of the Medes known to Herodotus alone, the
adventures of Fredegonda related by none but Gregory of Tours, are less
subject to discussion than the events of the French Revolution, which
have been described by hundreds of contemporaries. This is a
discreditable state of things which cannot be ended except by a
revolution in the minds of historians.

IV. When we have several statements relating to the same fact, they may
contradict each other or they may agree. In order to be certain that
they really do contradict each other, we have to make sure that they do
actually relate to the same fact. Two apparently contradictory
statements may be merely parallel; they may not relate exactly to the
same moment, the same place, the same persons, the same episodes of an
event, and they may be both correct.[171] We must not, however, infer
that they confirm each other; each comes under the category of unique

If the contradiction is real, at least one of the statements is false.
In such cases it is a natural tendency to seek to reconcile them by a
compromise--to split the difference. This peace-making spirit is the
reverse of scientific. A says two and two make four; B says they make
five. We are not to conclude that two and two make four and a half; we
must examine and see which is right. This examination is the work of
criticism. Of two contradictory statements, it nearly always happens
that one is open to suspicion; this should be rejected if the competing
statement has been judged very probably true. If both are open to
suspicion, we abstain from drawing any conclusion. We do the same if
several statements open to suspicion agree together as against a single
statement which is not suspected.[172]

V. When several statements agree, it is still necessary to resist the
natural tendency to believe that the fact has been demonstrated. The
first impulse is to count each document as one source of information. We
are well aware in matters of every-day life that men are apt to copy
each other, that a single narrative often serves the turn of several
narrators, that several newspapers sometimes happen to publish the same
correspondence, that several reporters sometimes agree to let one of
their number do the work for all. We have, in such a case, several
documents, several statements--have we the same number of observations?
Obviously not. When one statement reproduces another, it does not
constitute a new observation, and even if an observation were to be
reproduced by a hundred different authors, these hundred copies would
amount to no more than one observation. To count them as a hundred would
be the same thing as to count a hundred printed copies of the same book
as a hundred different documents. But the respect paid to "historical
documents" is sometimes stronger than obvious truth. The same statement
occurring in several different documents by different authors has an
illusory appearance of multiplicity; an identical fact related in ten
different documents at once gives the impression of being established by
ten agreeing observations. This impression is to be distrusted. An
agreement is only conclusive when the agreeing statements represent
_observations_ which are independent of each other. Before we draw any
conclusion from an agreement we must examine whether it is an agreement
between _independent_ observations. Two operations are thus required.

(1) We begin by inquiring whether the statements are independent, or are
reproductions of one and the same observation. This inquiry is partly
the work of that part of external criticism which deals with the
investigation of sources;[173] but that investigation only touches the
relations between written documents, and stops short when it has
determined which passages of an author are borrowed from other authors.
Borrowed passages are to be rejected without discussion. But the same
work remains to be done in reference to statements which were not
committed to writing. We have to compare the statements which relate to
the same fact, in order to find out whether they proceeded originally
from different observers, or at least from different observations.

The principle is analogous to that employed in the investigation of
sources. The details of a social fact are so manifold, and there are so
many different ways of looking at the same fact, that two independent
observers cannot possibly give completely coincident accounts; if two
statements present the same details in the same order, they must be
derived from a common observation; different observations are bound to
diverge somewhere. We may often apply an _a priori_ principle: if the
fact was of such a nature that it could only be observed or reported by
a single observer, then all the accounts of it must be derived from a
single observation. These principles[174] enable us to recognise many
cases of different observations, and still more numerous cases of
observations being reproduced.

There remains a great number of doubtful cases. The natural tendency is
to treat them as if they were cases of independent observation. But the
scientific procedure would be the exact reverse of this: as long as the
statements are not proved to be independent we have no right to assume
that their agreement is conclusive.

It is only after we have determined the relations between the different
statements that we can begin to count them and examine into their
agreement. Here again we have to distrust the first impulse; the kind of
agreement which is really conclusive is not, as one would naturally
imagine, a perfect similarity between two narratives, but an occasional
coincidence between two narratives which only partially resemble each
other. The natural tendency is to think that the closer the agreement
is, the greater is its demonstrative power; we ought, on the contrary,
to adopt as a rule the paradox that an agreement proves more when it is
confined to a small number of circumstances. It is at such points of
coincidence between diverging statements that we are to look for
scientifically established historical facts.

(2) Before drawing any conclusions it remains to make sure whether the
_different_ observations of the same fact are entirely _independent_;
for it is possible that one may have influenced another to such a degree
that their agreement is inconclusive. We have to guard against the
following cases:--

(_a_) The different observations have been made by the same author, who
has recorded them either in the same or in different documents; special
reasons must then be had before it can be assumed that the author really
made the observation afresh, and did not content himself with merely
repeating a single observation.

(_b_) There were several observers, but they commissioned one of their
number to write a single document. We have to ascertain whether the
document merely gives the statements of the writer, or whether the other
observers checked his work.

(_c_) Several observers recorded their observations in different
documents, but under similar conditions. We must apply the list of
critical questions in order to ascertain whether they were not all
subject to the same influences, predisposing to falsehood or error;
whether, for example, they had a common interest, a common vanity, or
common prejudices.

The only observations which are certainly independent are those which
are contained in different documents, written by different authors, who
belonged to different groups, and worked under different conditions.
Cases of perfectly conclusive agreement are thus rare, except in
reference to modern periods.

The possibility of proving an historical fact depends on the number of
independent documents relating to it which have been preserved, and the
preservation of the documents is a matter of chance; this explains the
share which chance has in the formation of historical science.

The facts which it is possible to establish are chiefly those which
cover a large extent of space or time (sometimes called _general_
facts), customs, doctrines, institutions, great events; they were easier
to observe than the others, and are now easier to prove. Historical
method is not, however, essentially powerless to establish facts of
short duration and limited extent (those which are called _particular
facts_), such as a saying, a momentary act. It is enough that several
persons should have been present when the fact occurred, that they
should have recorded it, and that their writings should have come down
to us. We know what were the words which Luther uttered at the Diet of
Worms; we know that he did not say what tradition puts in his mouth.
This concurrence of favourable conditions becomes more and more frequent
with the organisation of newspapers, of shorthand writers, and of
depositories of documents.

In the case of antiquity and the middle ages historical knowledge is
limited to general facts by the scarcity of documents. In dealing with
contemporary history it is possible to include more and more particular
facts. The general public supposes the opposite of this; it is
suspicious about contemporary facts, with reference to which it sees
contradictory narratives circulating, and believes without hesitation
ancient facts, which it does not see contradicted anywhere. Its
confidence is at its greatest in respect of that history which we have
not the means of knowing, and its scepticism increases with the means of

VI. _Agreement between documents_ leads to conclusions which are not all
of them definitive. In order to complete and rectify our conclusions we
have still to study _the harmony of the facts_.

Several facts which, taken in isolation, are only imperfectly proved,
may confirm each other in such a manner as to produce a collective
certainty. The facts which the documents present in isolation have
sometimes been in reality sufficiently near each other to be connected.
Of this kind are the successive actions of the same man or of the same
group of men, the habits of the same group at different epochs separated
by short intervals, or of similar groups at the same epoch. It is no
doubt possible that one of several analogous facts may be true and
another false; the certainty of the first does not justify the
categorical assertion of the second. But yet the harmony of several such
facts, each proved imperfectly, yields a kind of certainty; the facts do
not, in the strict sense of the word, prove, but they _confirm_[175]
each other. The doubt which attached to each one of them disappears; we
obtain that species of certainty which is produced by the
interconnection of facts. Thus the comparison of conclusions which are
separately doubtful yields a whole which is morally certain. In an
itinerary of a sovereign, the days and the places confirm each other
when they harmonize so as to form a coherent whole. An institution or a
popular usage is established by the harmony of accounts, each of which
is no more than probable, relating to different times and places.

This method is a difficult one to apply. The notion of harmony is a much
vaguer one than that of agreement. We cannot assign any precise general
rules for distinguishing facts which are sufficiently connected to form
a whole, the harmony of whose parts would be conclusive; nor can we
determine beforehand the duration and extent of that which may be taken
to form a whole. Facts separated by half a century of time and a hundred
leagues of space may confirm each other in such a way as to establish a
popular usage (for example, among the ancient Germans); but they would
prove nothing if they were taken from a heterogeneous society subject to
rapid evolution (take, for example, French society in 1750, and again in
1800, in Alsace and in Provence). Here we have to study the relation
between the facts. This brings us to the beginnings of historical
construction; here is the transition from analytical to synthetic

VII. But it remains to consider cases of discordance between facts
established by documents and other facts established by other methods.
It happens sometimes that a fact obtained as an historical conclusion is
in contradiction with a body of known historical facts, or with the sum
of our knowledge of humanity founded on direct observation, or with a
scientific law established by the regular method of an established
science. In the first two cases the fact is only in conflict with
history, psychology, or sociology, all imperfectly established sciences;
we then simply call the fact _improbable_. If it is in conflict with a
true science it becomes a _miracle_. What are we to do with an
improbable or miraculous fact? Are we to admit it after examination of
the documents, or are we to pass on and shelve the question?

_Improbability_ is not a scientific notion; it varies with the
individual. Each person finds improbable what he is not accustomed to
see: a peasant would think the telephone much more improbable than a
ghost; a king of Siam refused to believe in the existence of ice. It is
important to know who precisely it is to whom the fact appears to be
improbable. Is it to the mass who have no scientific culture? For these,
science is more improbable than miracle, physiology than spiritualism;
their notions of improbability are worthless. Is it to the man who
possesses scientific culture? If so, we have to deal with that which
seems improbable to a scientific mind, and it would be more accurate to
say that the fact is contrary to the results of science--that there is
disagreement between the direct observations of men of science and the
indirect testimony of the documents.

How is this conflict to be decided? The question has no great practical
interest; nearly all the documents which relate miraculous facts are
already open to suspicion on other grounds, and would be discarded by a
sound criticism. But the question of miracles has raised such passions
that it may be well to indicate how it affects the historian.[176]

The general tendency to believe in the marvellous has filled with
miraculous facts the documents of nearly every people. Historically the
existence of the devil is much better proved than that of Pisistratus:
there has not been preserved a single word of a contemporary of
Pisistratus saying that he has seen him; thousands of "ocular witnesses"
declare they have seen the devil; few historical facts have been
established by so great a number of independent testimonies. However, we
do not hesitate to reject the devil and to accept Pisistratus. For the
existence of the devil would be irreconcilable with the laws of all the
established sciences.

For the historian the solution of the problem is obvious.[177] The
observations whose results are contained in historical documents are
never of equal value with those of contemporary scientists; we have
already shown why. The indirect method of history is always inferior to
the direct methods of the sciences of observation. If its results do not
harmonise with theirs, it is history which must give way; historical
science, with its imperfect means of information, cannot claim to check,
contradict, or correct the results of other sciences, but must rather
use their results to correct its own. The progress of the direct
sciences sometimes modifies the results of historical interpretation; a
fact established by direct observation aids in the comprehension and
criticism of documents. Cases of stigmata and nervous anæsthesia which
have been scientifically observed have led to the admission as true of
historical narratives of analogous facts, as in the case of the stigmata
of certain saints and the possessed nuns of Loudun. But history cannot
aid the progress of the direct sciences. It is kept at a distance from
reality by its indirect means of information, and must accept the laws
that are established by those sciences which come into immediate contact
with reality. In order to reject one of these laws new direct
observations are necessary. Such revolutions are possible, but they must
be brought about from within. History has no power to take the
initiative in them.

The solution is not so clear in the case of facts which do not harmonise
with a body of historical knowledge or with the sciences, still in the
embryonic stage, which deal with man. It depends on the opinion we form
as to the value of such knowledge. We can at least lay down the
practical rule that in order to contradict history, psychology, or
sociology, we must have very strong documents, and this is a case which
hardly ever occurs.





The criticism of documents only yields isolated facts. In order to
organise them into a body of science it is necessary to perform a series
of synthetic operations. The study of these processes of historical
construction forms the second half of Methodology.

The mode of construction cannot be regulated by the ideal plan of the
science we desire to construct; it depends on the materials we have at
our disposal. It would be chimerical to formulate a scheme which the
materials would not allow us to carry out; it would be like proposing to
construct an Eiffel tower with building-stones. The fundamental defect
of philosophies of history is that they forget this practical necessity.

I. Let us begin by considering the materials of history. What is their
form and their nature? How do they differ from the materials of other

Historical facts are derived from the critical analysis of the
documents. They issue from this process in the form to which analysis
has reduced them, chopped small into individual statements; for a
single sentence contains several statements: we have often accepted some
and rejected others; each of these statements represents a fact.

Historical facts have the common characteristic of having been taken
from documents; but they differ greatly among themselves.

(1) They represent phenomena of very different nature. From the same
document we derive facts bearing on handwriting, language, style,
doctrines, customs, events. The Mesha inscription furnishes facts
bearing on Moabite handwriting and language, the belief in the god
Chemosh, the practices belonging to his cult, the war between the
Moabites and Israel. Thus the facts reach us pell-mell, without
distinction of nature. This mixture of heterogeneous facts is one of the
characteristics which differentiate history from the other sciences. The
sciences of direct observation choose the facts to be studied, and
systematically limit themselves to the observation of facts of a single
species. The documentary sciences receive the facts, already observed,
at the hands of authors of documents, who supply them in disorder. For
the purpose of remedying this disorder it is necessary to sort the facts
and group them by species. But, for the purpose of sorting them, it is
necessary to know precisely what it is that constitutes a _species_ of
historical facts; in order to group them we need a principle of
classification applicable to them. But on these two questions of capital
importance historians have not as yet succeeded in formulating precise

(2) Historical facts present themselves in very different degrees of
generality, from the highly general facts which apply to a whole people
and which lasted for centuries (institutions, customs, beliefs), down to
the most transient actions of a single man (a word, a movement). Here
again history differs from the sciences of direct observation, which
regularly start from particular facts and labour methodically to
condense them into general facts. In order to form groups the facts must
be reduced to a common degree of generality, which makes it necessary to
inquire to what degree of generality we can and ought to reduce the
different species of facts. And this is what historians do not agree
about among themselves.

(3) Historical facts are localised; each belongs to a given time and a
given country. If we suppress the time and place to which they belong,
they lose their historical character; they now contribute only to the
knowledge of universal humanity, as is the case with facts of folk-lore
whose origin is unknown. This necessity of localisation is also foreign
to the general sciences; it is confined to the descriptive sciences,
which deal with the geographical distribution and with the evolution of
phenomena. It obliges the historian to study separately the facts
belonging to different countries and different epochs.

(4) The facts which have been extracted from documents by critical
analysis present themselves accompanied by a critical estimate of their
probability.[178] In every case where we have not reached complete
certainty, whenever the fact is merely probable--still more when it is
open to suspicion--criticism supplies the fact to the historian
accompanied by a label which he has no right to remove, and which
prevents the fact from being definitively admitted into the science.
Even those facts which, after comparison with others, end by being
established, are subject to temporary exclusion, like the clinical cases
which accumulate in the medical reviews before they are considered
sufficiently proved to be received as scientific facts.

Historical construction has thus to be performed with an incoherent mass
of minute facts, with detail-knowledge reduced as it were to a powder.
It must utilise a heterogeneous medley of materials, relating to
different subjects and places, differing in their degree of generality
and certainty. No method of classifying them is provided by the practice
of historians; history, which began by being a form of literature, has
remained the least methodical of the sciences.

II. In every science the next step after observing the facts is to
formulate a series of questions according to some methodical
system;[179] every science is composed of the answers to such a series
of questions. In all the sciences of direct observation, even if the
questions to be answered have not been put down in advance, the facts
which are observed suggest questions, and require them to be formulated
precisely. But historians have no discipline of this kind; many of them
are accustomed to imitate artists, and do not even think of asking
themselves what they are looking for. They take from their documents
those parts which strike them, often for purely personal reasons, and
reproduce them, changing the language and adding any miscellaneous
reflections which come into their minds.

If history is not to be lost in the confusion of its materials, it must
be made a rule to proceed here, as in the other sciences, by way of
question and answer.[180] But how are the questions to be chosen in a
science so different from the others? This is the fundamental problem of
method. The only way to solve it is to begin by determining the
essential characteristic of historical facts by which they are
differentiated from the facts of the other sciences.

The sciences of direct observation deal with _realities_, taken in their
entirety. The science which borders most closely on history in respect
of its subject-matter, descriptive zoology, proceeds by the examination
of a real and complete animal. This animal is first observed, as a
whole, by actual vision; it is then dissected into its parts; this
dissection is _analysis_ in the original sense of the word ([Greek:
hanalhyein], to break up into parts). It is then possible to put the parts
together again in such a way as to exhibit the structure of the whole;
this is _real_ synthesis. It is possible to watch the _real_ movements
which are the functions of the organs in such a way as to observe the
mutual actions and reactions of the different parts of the organism. It
is possible to compare _real_ wholes and see what are the parts in
which they resemble each other, so as to be able to classify them
according to real points of resemblance. The science is a body of
objective knowledge founded on _real_ analysis, synthesis, and
comparison; actual sight of the things studied guides the scientific
researcher and dictates the questions he is to ask himself.

In history there is nothing like this. One is apt to say that history is
the "vision" of past events, and that it proceeds by "analysis": these
are two metaphors, dangerous if we suffer ourselves to be misled by
them.[181] In history we see nothing real except paper with writing on
it--and sometimes monuments or the products of art or industry. The
historian has nothing before him which he can analyse physically,
nothing which he can destroy and reconstruct. "Historical analysis" is
no more real than is the vision of historical facts; it is an abstract
process, a purely intellectual operation. The analysis of a document
consists in a _mental_ search for the items of information it contains,
with the object of criticising them one by one. The analysis of a fact
consists in the process of distinguishing _mentally_ between its
different details (the various episodes of an event, the characteristics
of an institution), with the object of paying special attention to each
detail in turn; that is what is called examining the different "aspects"
of a fact,--another metaphor. The human mind is vague by nature, and
spontaneously revives only vague collective impressions; to impart
clearness to these it is necessary to ask what individual impressions go
to form a given collective impression, in order that precision may be
attained by a successive consideration of them. This is an indispensable
operation but we must not exaggerate its scope. It is not an objective
method which yields a knowledge of real objects; it is only a subjective
method which aims at detecting those abstract elements which compose our
impressions.[182] From the very nature of its materials history is
necessarily a subjective science. It would be illegitimate to extend to
this intellectual analysis of subjective impressions the rules which
govern the real analysis of real objects.

History, then, must guard against the temptation to imitate the method
of the biological sciences. Historical facts are so different from the
facts of the other sciences that their study requires a different

III. Documents, the sole source of historical knowledge, give
information on three categories of facts:

(1) _Living beings and material objects._ Documents make us acquainted
with the existence of human beings, physical conditions, products of art
and industry. In all these cases physical facts have been brought
before the author by physical perception. But we have before us nothing
but intellectual phenomena, facts seen "through the author's
imagination," or, to speak accurately, mental images representative of
the author's impressions--images which we form on the _analogy_ of the
images which were in his mind. The Temple at Jerusalem was a material
object which men saw, but we cannot see it now; all we can now do is to
form a mental image of it, analogous to that which existed in the minds
of those who saw and described it.

(2) _Actions of men._ Documents relate the actions (and words) of men of
former times. Here, too, are physical facts which were known to the
authors by sight and hearing, but which are now for us no more than the
author's recollections, subjective images which are reproduced in our
minds. When Cæsar was stabbed the dagger-thrusts were seen, the words of
the murderers were heard; we have nothing but mental images. Actions and
words all have this characteristic, that each was the action or the word
of an individual; the imagination can only represent to itself
_individual_ acts, copied from those which are brought before us by
direct physical observation. As these are the actions of men living in a
society, most of them are performed simultaneously by several
individuals, or are directed to some common end. These are collective
acts; but, in the imagination as in direct observation, they always
reduce to a sum of individual actions. The "social fact," as recognised
by certain sociologists, is a philosophical construction, not an
historical fact.

(3) Motives and conceptions. Human actions do not contain their own
cause within themselves; they have _motives_. This vague word denotes
both the stimulus which occasions the performance of an action, and the
_representation_ of the action which is in the mind of a man at the
moment when he performs it. We can imagine motives only as existing in a
man's mind, and in the form of vague interior representations, analogous
to those which we have of our own inward states; we can express them
only by words, generally metaphorical. Here we have _psychic_ facts,
generally called feelings and ideas. Documents exhibit three kinds of
such facts: (_a_) motives and conceptions in the authors' minds and
expressed by them; (_b_) motives and ideas attributed by the authors to
contemporaries of theirs whose actions they have seen; (_c_) motives
which we ourselves may suppose to have influenced the actions related in
the documents, and which we represent to ourselves on the model of our
own motives.

Physical facts, human actions (both individual and collective), psychic
facts--these form the objects of historical knowledge; they are none of
them observed directly, they are all _imagined_. Historians--nearly all
of them unconsciously and under the impression that they are observing
realities--are occupied solely with images.

IV. How, then, is it possible to imagine facts without their being
wholly imaginary? The facts, as they exist in the historian's mind, are
necessarily subjective; that is one of the reasons given for refusing to
recognise history as a science. But subjective is not a synonym of
unreal. A recollection is only an image; but it is not therefore a
chimera, it is the representation of a vanished reality. It is true that
the historian who works with documents has no personal recollections of
which he can make direct use; but he forms mental images on the model of
his own recollections. He assumes that realities (objects, actions,
motives), which have now disappeared, but were formerly observed by the
authors of the documents, resembled the realities of his own day which
he has himself seen and which he retains in his memory. This is the
postulate of all the documentary sciences. If former humanity did not
resemble the humanity of to-day, documents would be unintelligible.
Starting from this assumed resemblance, the historian forms a mental
representation of the bygone facts of history similar to his own
recollection of the facts he has witnessed.

This operation, which is performed unconsciously, is one of the
principal sources of error in history. The things of the past which are
to be pictured in imagination were not wholly similar to the things of
the present which we have seen; we have never seen a man like Cæsar or
Clovis, and we have never experienced the same mental states as they. In
the established sciences it is equally true that one man will work on
facts which another has observed, and which he must therefore represent
to himself by analogy; but these facts are defined by precise terms
which indicate what invariable elements ought to appear in the image.
Even in physiology the notions which occur are sufficiently clear and
fixed for the same word to evoke in the minds of all naturalists similar
images of an organ or a movement. The reason is that each notion which
has a name has been formed by a method of observation and abstraction in
the course of which all the characteristics which belong to the notion
have been precisely determined and described.

But in proportion as a body of knowledge is more nearly concerned with
the invisible facts of the mind, its notions become more confused and
its language less precise. Even the most ordinary facts of human life,
social conditions, actions, motives, feelings, can only be expressed by
vague terms (_king_, _warrior_, _to fight_, _to elect_). In the case of
more complex phenomena, language is so indefinite that there is no
agreement even as to the essential elements of the phenomena. What are
we to understand by a tribe, an army, an industry, a market, a
revolution? Here history shares the vagueness common to all the sciences
of humanity, psychological or social. But its indirect method of
representation by mental images renders this vagueness still more
dangerous. The historical images in our minds ought, then, to reproduce
at least the essential features of the images which were in the minds of
the direct observers of past facts; but the terms in which they
expressed their mental images never tell us exactly what these essential
elements were.

Facts which we did not see, described in language which does not permit
us to represent them in our minds with exactness, form the data of
history. The historian, however, is obliged to picture the facts in his
imagination, and he should make it his constant endeavour to construct
his mental images out of none but correct elements, so that he may
imagine the facts as he would have seen them if he had been able to
observe them personally.[183] But the formation of a mental image
requires more elements than the documents supply. Let any one endeavour
to form a mental representation of a battle or a ceremony out of the
data of a narrative, however detailed; he will see how many features he
is compelled to add. This necessity becomes physically perceptible in
attempts to restore monuments in accordance with descriptions (for
example, the Temple at Jerusalem), in pictures which claim to be
representations of historical scenes, in the drawings of illustrated

Every historical image contains a large part of fancy. The historian
cannot get rid of it, but he can take stock of the real elements which
enter into his images and confine his constructions to these; they are
the elements which he has derived from the documents. If, in order to
understand the battle between Cæsar and Ariovistus, he finds it
necessary to make a mental picture of the two opposing armies, he will
be careful to draw no conclusions from the general aspect under which he
imagines them; he will base his reasonings exclusively on the real
details furnished by the documents.

V. The problem of historical method may be finally stated as follows.
Out of the different elements we find in documents we form mental
images. Some of these, relating entirely to physical objects, are
furnished to us by illustrative monuments, and they directly represent
some of the physical aspects of the things of the past. Most of them,
however, including all the images we form of psychic facts, are
constructed on the model either of ancient representations, or, more
frequently, of the facts we have observed in our own experience. Now,
the things of the past were only partially similar to the things of the
present, and it is precisely the points of difference which make history
interesting. How are we to represent to ourselves these elements of
difference for which we have no model? We have never seen a company of
men resembling the Frankish warriors, and we have never personally
experienced the feelings which Clovis had when setting out to fight
against the Visigoths. How are we to make our imagination of facts of
this kind harmonise with the reality?

Practically, what happens is as follows. Immediately on the reading of a
sentence in a document an image is formed in our minds by a spontaneous
operation beyond our control. This image is based on a superficial
analogy, and is, as a rule, grossly inaccurate. Any one who searches his
memory may recall the absurd manner in which he first represented to
himself the persons and scenes of the past. It is the task of history to
rectify these images gradually, by eliminating the false elements one by
one, and replacing them by true ones. We have seen red-haired people,
bucklers, and Frankish battle-axes (or at least drawings of these
objects); we bring these elements together, in order to correct our
first mental image of the Frankish warriors. The historical image thus
ends by becoming a combination of features borrowed from different

It is not enough to represent to oneself isolated persons, objects, and
actions. Men and their actions form part of a whole, of a society and of
a process of evolution. It is, therefore, further necessary to represent
to oneself the relations between different men and different actions
(nations, governments, laws, wars).

But in order to imagine relations it is necessary to have a conception
of collectivities or wholes, and the documents only give isolated
elements. Here again the historian is obliged to use a subjective
method. He imagines a society or a process of evolution, and in this
imaginary framework he disposes the elements furnished by the documents.
Thus, whereas biological classification is guided by the objective
observation of physical units, historical classification can only be
effected upon subjective units existing in the imagination.

The realities of the past are things which we do not observe, and which
we can only know in virtue of their resemblance to the realities of the
present. In order to realise the conditions under which past events
happened, we must observe the humanity of to-day, and look for the
conditions under which analogous events happen now. History thus becomes
an application of the descriptive sciences which deal with humanity,
descriptive psychology, sociology or social science; but all these
sciences are still but imperfectly established, and their defects retard
the establishment of a science of history.

Some of the conditions of human life are, however, so necessary and so
obvious that the most superficial observation is enough to establish
them. These are the conditions common to all humanity; they have their
origin either in the physiological organisation which determines the
material needs of men, or in the psychological organisation which
determines their habits in matters of conduct. These conditions can
therefore be provided for by the use of a set of general questions
applicable to all the cases that may occur. It is with historical
construction as with historical criticism--the impossibility of direct
observation compels the use of prearranged sets of questions.

The human actions which form the subject-matter of history differ from
age to age and from country to country, just as men and societies have
differed from each other; and, indeed, it is the special aim of history
to study these differences. If men had always had the same form of
government or spoken the same language, there would be no occasion to
write the history of forms of government or the history of languages.
But these differences are comprised within limits imposed by the general
conditions of human life; they are but varieties of certain modes of
being and doing which are common to the whole of humanity, or at least
to the great majority of men. We cannot know _a priori_ what was the
mode of government or the language of an historical people; it is the
business of history to tell us. But that a given people had a language
and had a form of government is something which we are entitled to
assume, before examination, in every possible case.

By drawing up the list of the fundamental phenomena which we may expect
to find in the life of every individual and every people, we shall have
suggested to us a set of general questions which will be summary, but
still sufficient to enable us to arrange the bulk of historical facts in
a certain number of natural groups, each of which will form a special
branch of history. This scheme of general classification will supply the
scaffolding of historical construction.

The set of general questions will only apply to phenomena of constant
occurrence: it cannot anticipate the thousands of local or accidental
events which enter into the life of an individual or a nation; it will,
therefore, not contain all the questions which the historian must answer
before he can give a complete picture of the past. The detailed study of
the facts will require the use of lists of questions entering more into
detail, and differing according to the nature of the events, the men, or
the societies studied. In order to frame these lists, we begin by
setting down those questions or matters of detail which are suggested by
the mere reading of the documents; but for the purpose of arranging
these questions, often indeed for the purpose of making the list
complete, recourse must be had to the systematic _a priori_ method.
Among the classes of facts, the persons, and the societies with which we
are well acquainted (either from direct observation or from history), we
look for those which resemble the facts, the persons, or the societies
which we wish to study. By analysing the scheme of arrangement used in
the scientific treatment of these familiar cases we shall learn what
questions ought to be asked in reference to the analogous cases which we
propose to investigate. Of course the model must be chosen
intelligently; we must not apply to a barbarous society a list of
questions framed on the study of a civilised nation, and ask with regard
to a feudal domain what agents corresponded to each of our ministers of
state--as Boutaric did in his study of the administration of Alphonse of

This method of drawing up lists of questions which bases all historical
construction on an _a priori_ procedure, would be objectionable if
history really were a science of observation; and perhaps some will
think it compares very unfavourably with the _a posteriori_ methods of
the natural sciences. But its justification is simple: it is the only
method which it is possible to employ, and the only method which, as a
matter of fact, ever has been employed. The moment an historian attempts
to put in order the facts contained in documents, he constructs out of
the knowledge he has (or thinks he has) of human affairs a scheme of
arrangement which is the equivalent of a list of questions--unless,
perhaps, he adopts a scheme which one of his predecessors has
constructed in a similar manner. But when this work has been performed
unconsciously, the scheme of arrangement remains incomplete and
confused. Thus it is not a case of deciding whether to work with or
without an _a priori_ set of questions--we must work with such a set in
any case--the choice merely lies between the unconscious use of an
incomplete and confused set of questions and the conscious use of a
precise and complete set.

VI. We can now sketch the plan of historical construction in a way which
will determine the series of synthetic operations necessary to raise the

The critical analysis of the documents has supplied the
materials--historical facts still in a state of dispersion. We begin by
_imagining_ these facts on the model of what we suppose to be the
analogous facts of the present; by combining elements taken from reality
at different points, we endeavour to form a mental image which shall
resemble as nearly as possible that which would have been produced by
direct observation of the past event. This is the first operation,
inseparable in practice from the reading of the documents. Considering
that it will be enough to have indicated its nature here,[184] we have
refrained from devoting a special chapter to it.

The facts having been thus imagined, we _group_ them according to
schemes of classification devised on the model of a body of facts which
we have observed directly, and which we suppose analogous to the body of
past facts under consideration. This is the second operation; it is
performed by the aid of systematic questions, and its result is to
divide the mass of historical facts into homogeneous portions which we
afterwards form into groups until the entire history of the past has
been systematically arranged according to a general scheme.

When we have arranged in this scheme the facts taken from the documents,
there remain gaps whose extent is always considerable, and is enormous
for those parts of history in regard to which documents are scanty. We
endeavour to fill some of these gaps by _reasoning_ based on the facts
which are known. This is (or should be) the third operation; it
increases the sum of historical knowledge by an application of logic.

We still possess nothing but a mass of facts placed side by side in a
scheme of classification. We have to condense them into _formulæ_, in
order to deduce their general characteristics and their relation to each
other. This is the fourth operation; it leads to the final conclusions
of history, and crowns the work of historical construction from the
scientific point of view.

But as historical knowledge, which is by nature complex and unwieldy, is
exceptionally difficult to communicate, we still have to look for the
methods of expounding historical results in appropriate form.

VII. This series of operations, easy to conceive in the mind, has never
been more than imperfectly performed. It is beset by material
difficulties which theories of methodology do not take into account, but
which it would be better to face, with the purpose of discovering
whether they are after all insurmountable.

The operations of history are so numerous, from the first discovery of
the document to the final formula of the conclusion, they require such
minute precautions, so great a variety of natural gifts and acquired
habits, that there is no man who can perform _by himself_ all the work
on any one point. History is less able than any other science to
dispense with the division of labour; but there is no other science in
which labour is so imperfectly divided. We find specialists in critical
scholarship writing general histories in which they let their
imagination guide them in the work of construction;[185] and, on the
other hand, there are constructive historians who use for their work
materials whose value they have not tested.[186] The reason is that the
division of labour implies a common understanding among the workers, and
in history no such understanding exists. Except in the preparatory
operations of external criticism, each worker follows the guidance of
his own private inspiration; he is at no pains to work on the same lines
as the others, nor does he pay any regard to the whole of which his own
work is to form a part. Thus no historian can feel perfectly safe in
adopting the results of another's work, as may be done in the
established sciences, for he does not know whether these results have
been obtained by trustworthy methods. The most scrupulous go so far as
to admit nothing until they have done the work on the documents over
again for themselves. This was the attitude adopted by Fustel de
Coulanges. It is barely possible to satisfy this exacting standard in
the case of little-known periods, the documents relating to which are
confined to a few volumes; and yet some have gone so far as to maintain
the dogma that no historian should ever work at second hand.[187] This,
indeed, is what an historian is compelled to do when the documents are
too numerous for him to be able to read them all; but he does not say
so, to avoid scandal.

It would be better to acknowledge the truth frankly. So complex a
science as history, where facts must ordinarily be accumulated by the
million before it is possible to formulate conclusions, cannot be built
up on this principle of continually beginning afresh. Historical
construction is not work that can be done with documents, any more than
history can be "written from manuscripts," and for the same reason--the
shortness of time. In order that science may advance it is necessary to
combine the results of thousands of detail-researches.

But how are we to proceed in view of the fact that most researches have
been conducted upon methods which, if not defective, are at least open
to suspicion? Universal confidence would lead to error as surely as
universal distrust would make progress impossible. One useful rule, at
any rate, may be stated, as follows: The works of historians should be
read with the same critical precautions which are observed in the
reading of documents. A natural instinct impels us to look principally
for the conclusions, and to accept them as so much established truth; we
ought, on the contrary, to be continually applying analysis, we ought to
look for the facts, the _proofs_, the fragments of documents--in short,
the materials. We shall be doing the author's work over again, but we
shall do it very much faster than he did, for that which takes up time
is the collection and combination of the materials; and we shall accept
no conclusions but those we consider to have been proved.



I. The prime necessity for the historian, when confronted with the chaos
of historical facts, is to limit the field of his researches. In the
ocean of universal history what facts is he to choose for collection?
Secondly, in the mass of facts so chosen he will have to distinguish
between different groups and make subdivisions. Lastly, within each of
these subdivisions he will have to arrange the facts one by one. Thus
all historical construction should begin with the search for a principle
to guide in the selection, the grouping, and the arrangement of facts.
This principle may be sought either in the external conditions of the
facts or in their intrinsic nature.

The simplest and easiest mode of classification is that which is founded
on external conditions. Every historical fact belongs to a definite time
and a definite place, and relates to a definite man or group of men: a
convenient basis is thus afforded for the division and arrangement of
facts. We have the history of a period, of a country, of a nation, of a
man (biography); the ancient historians and those of the Renaissance
used no other type. Within this general scheme the subdivisions are
formed on the same principle, and facts are arranged in chronological
and geographical order, or according to the groups to which they
relate. As to the selection of facts to be arranged in this scheme, for
a long time it was made on no fixed principle; historians followed their
individual fancy, and chose from among the facts relating to a given
period, country, or nation all that they deemed interesting or curious.
Livy and Tacitus mingle accounts of floods, epidemics, and the birth of
monsters with their narratives of wars and revolutions.

Classification of facts by their intrinsic nature was introduced very
late, and has made way but slowly and imperfectly. It took its rise
outside the domain of history, in certain branches of study dealing with
special human phenomena--language, literature, art, law, political
economy, religion; studies which began by being dogmatic, but gradually
assumed an historical character. The principle of this mode of
classification is to select and group together those facts which relate
to the same species of actions; each of these groups becomes the
subject-matter of a special branch of history. The totality of facts
thus comes to be arranged in compartments which may be constructed _a
priori_ by the study of the totality of human activities; these
correspond to the set of general questions of which we have spoken in
the preceding chapter.

In the following table we have attempted to provide a general scheme for
the classification[188] of historical facts, founded on the nature of
the _conditions_ and of the _manifestations_ of activity.

I. MATERIAL CONDITIONS. (1) _Study of the body_: _A._ Anthropology
(ethnology), anatomy, and physiology, anomalies and pathological
peculiarities. _B._ Demography (number, sex, age, births, deaths,
diseases). (2) _Study of the environment_: _A._ Natural geographical
environment (orographic configuration, climate, water, soil, flora, and
fauna). _B._ Artificial environment, forestry (cultivation, buildings,
roads, implements, &c.).

II. INTELLECTUAL HABITS (not obligatory). (1) _Language_ (vocabulary,
syntax, phonetics, semasiology). Handwriting. (2) _Arts_: _A._ Plastic
arts (conditions of production, conceptions, methods, works). _B._ Arts
of expression, music, dance, literature. (3) _Sciences_ (conditions of
production, methods, results). (4) _Philosophy and Morals_ (conceptions,
precepts, actual practice). (5) _Religion_ (beliefs, practices).[189]

III. MATERIAL CUSTOMS (not obligatory). (1) _Material life_: _A._ Food
(materials, modes of preparing, stimulants). _B._ Clothes and personal
adornment. _C._ Dwellings and furniture. (2) _Private life_: _A._
Employment of time (toilette, care of the person, meals). _B._ Social
ceremonies (funerals and marriages, festivals, etiquette). _C._
Amusements (modes of exercise and hunting, games and spectacles, social
meetings, travelling).

IV. ECONOMIC CUSTOMS. (1) _Production_: _A._ Agriculture and
stock-breeding. _B._ Exploitation of minerals. (2) _Transformation,
Transport and industries_:[190] technical processes, division of labour,
means of communication. (3) _Commerce_: exchange and sale, credit. (4)
_Distribution_: system of property, transmission, contracts,

V. SOCIAL INSTITUTIONS. (1) _The family_: _A._ Constitution, authority,
condition of women and children. _B._ Economic organisation.[191] Family
property, succession. (2) _Education and instruction_ (aim, methods,
_personnel_). (3) _Social classes_ (principle of division, rules
regulating intercourse).

VI. PUBLIC INSTITUTIONS (obligatory). (1) _Political institutions_: _A._
Sovereign (_personnel_, procedure). _B._ Administration, services (war,
justice, finance, &c.). _C._ Elected authorities, assemblies, electoral
bodies (powers, procedure). (2) _Ecclesiastical institutions_ (the same
divisions). (3) _International institutions_: _A._ Diplomacy. _B._ War
(usages of war and military arts). _C._ Private law and commerce.

This grouping of facts according to their nature is combined with the
system of grouping by time and place; we thus obtain chronological,
geographical, or, national sections in each branch. The history of a
species of activity (language, painting, government) subdivides into the
history of periods, countries, and nations (history of the ancient Greek
language, history of the government of France in the nineteenth

The same principles aid in determining the order in which the facts are
to be arranged. The necessity of presenting facts one after another
obliges us to adopt some methodical rule of succession. We may describe
successively either all the facts which relate to a given place, or
those which relate to a given country, or all the facts of a given
species. All historical matter can be distributed in three different
kinds of order: _chronological_ order, _geographical_ order, that kind
of order which is governed by the nature of actions and is generally
called _logical_ order. It is impossible to use any of these orders
exclusively: in every chronological exposition there necessarily occur
geographical or logical cross-divisions, transitions from one country to
another, or from one species of facts to a different species, and
conversely. But it is always necessary to decide which shall be the main
order into which the others enter as subdivisions.

It is a delicate matter to choose between these three orders; our choice
will be decided by different reasons according to the subject, and
according to the public for whom we are working. That is to say, it will
depend on the method of exposition; it would take up too much space to
give the theory of it.

II. When we come to the selection of historical facts for classification
and arrangement, a question is raised which has been disputed with
considerable warmth.

Every human action is by its nature an individual transient phenomenon
which is confined to a definite time and a definite place. Strictly
speaking, every fact is unique. But every action of a man resembles
other actions of the same man, or of other members of the same group,
and often to so great a degree that the whole group of actions receives
a common name, in which their individuality is lost. These groups of
similar actions, which the human mind is irresistibly impelled to form,
are called habits, usages, institutions. These are merely constructions
of the mind, but they are imposed so forcibly on our intellect that many
of them must be recognised and constantly employed; habits are
collective facts, possessing extension in time and space. Historical
facts may therefore be considered under two different aspects: we may
regard either the individual, particular, and transient elements in
them, or we may look for what is collective, general, and durable.
According to the first conception, history is a continuous narrative of
the incidents which have happened among men in the past; according to
the second, it is the picture of the successive habits of humanity.

On this subject there has been a contest, especially in Germany, between
the partisans of the history of civilisation (_Kulturgeschichte_)[192]
and the historians who remain faithful to ancient tradition; in France
we have had the struggle between the history of institutions, manners,
and ideas, and political history, contemptuously nicknamed
"battle-history" by its opponents.

This opposition is explained by the difference between the documents
which the workers on either side were accustomed to deal with. The
historians, principally occupied with political history, read of
individual and transient acts of rulers in which it was difficult to
detect any common feature. In the special histories, on the contrary
(except that of literature), the documents exhibit none but general
facts, a linguistic form, a religious rite, a rule of law; an effort of
imagination is required to picture the man who pronounced the word, who
performed the rite, or who applied the rule in practice.

There is no need to take sides in this controversy. Historical
construction in its completeness implies the study of facts under both
aspects. The representation of men's habits of thought, life, and action
is obviously an important part of history. And yet, supposing we had
brought together all the acts of all individuals for the purpose of
extracting what is common to them, there would still remain a residue
which we should have no right to reject, for it is the distinctively
historical element--the circumstance that a particular action was the
action of a given man, or group of men, at a given moment. In a scheme
of classification which should only recognise the general facts of
political life there would be no place for the victory of Pharsalia or
the taking of the Bastille--accidental and transient facts, but without
which the history of Roman and French institutions would be

History is thus obliged to combine with the study of general facts the
study of certain particular facts. It has a mixed character, fluctuating
between a science of generalities and a narrative of adventures. The
difficulty of classing this hybrid under one of the categories of human
thought has often been expressed by the childish question: Is history a
science or an art?

III. The general table given above may be used for the determination of
all the species of habits (usages or institutions) of which the history
may be written. But before applying this general scheme to the study of
any particular group of habits, language, religion, private usages, or
political institutions, there is always a preliminary question to be
answered: Whose were the habits we are about to study? They were common
to a great number of individuals; and a collection of individuals with
the same habits is what we call a _group_. The first condition, then,
for the study of a habit is the determination of the group which has
practised it. At this point we must beware of the first impulse; it
leads to a negligence which may ruin the whole of our historical

The natural tendency is to conceive the human group on the model of the
zoological species--as a body of men who all resemble each other. We
take a group united by a very obvious common characteristic, a nation
united by a common official government (Romans, English, French), a
people speaking the same language (Greeks, ancient Germans), and we
proceed as if all the members of this group resembled each other at
every point and had the same usages.

As a matter of fact, no real group, not even a centralised society, is a
homogeneous whole. For a great part of human activity--language, art,
science, religion, economic interests--the group is constantly
fluctuating. What are we to understand by the group of those who speak
Greek, the Christian group, the group of modern science? And even those
groups to which some precision is given by an official organisation,
States and Churches, are but superficial unities composed of
heterogeneous elements. The English nation comprises Welsh, Scotch, and
Irish; the Catholic Church is composed of adherents scattered over the
whole world, and differing in everything but religion. There is no
group whose members have the same habits in every respect. The same man
is at the same time a member of several groups, and in each group he has
companions who differ from those he has in the others. A French Canadian
belongs to the British Empire, the Catholic Church, the group of
French-speaking people. Thus the different groups overlap each other in
a way that makes it impossible to divide humanity into sharply distinct
societies existing side by side.

In historical documents we find the contemporary names of groups, many
of them resting on mere superficial resemblances. It must be made a rule
not to adopt popular notions of this kind without criticising them. We
must accurately determine the nature and extent of the group, asking: Of
what men was it composed? What bond united them? What habits had they in
common? In what species of activity did they differ? Not till after such
criticism shall we be able to tell what are the habits in respect of
which the group in question may be used as a basis of study. In order to
study intellectual habits (language, religion, art, science) we shall
not take a political unit, the nation, but the group consisting of those
who shared the habit in question. In order to study economic facts we
shall choose a group united by a common economic interest; we shall
reserve the political group for the study of social and political facts,
and we shall discard _race_[193] altogether.

Even in those points in which a group is homogeneous it is not entirely
so; it is divided into sub-groups, the members of which differ in
secondary habits; a language is divided into dialects, a religion into
sects, a nation into provinces. Conversely, one group resembles other
groups in a way that justifies its being regarded as contiguous with
them; in a general classification we may recognise "families" of
languages, arts, and peoples. We have, then, to ask: How was a given
group sub-divided? Of what larger group did it form a part?

It then becomes possible to study methodically a given habit, or even
the totality of the habits belonging to a given time and place, by
following the table given above. The operation presents no difficulties
of method in the case of those species of facts which appear as
individual and voluntary habits--language, art, sciences, conceptions,
private usages; here it is enough to ascertain in what each habit
consisted. It is merely necessary to distinguish carefully between those
who originated or maintained habits (artists, the learned, philosophers,
introducers of fashions) and the mass who accepted them.

But when we come to social or political habits (what we call
institutions), we meet with new conditions which produce an inevitable
illusion. The members of the same social or political group do not
merely habitually perform _similar_ actions; they influence each other
by _reciprocal_ actions, they command, coerce, pay each other. Habits
here take the form of _relations_ between the different members; when
they are of old standing, formulated in official rules, imposed by a
visible authority, maintained by a special set of persons, they occupy
so important a place in life, that, to the persons under their
influence, they appear as external realities. The men, too, who
specialise in an occupation or a function which becomes the dominating
habit of their lives, appear as grouped in distinct categories (classes,
corporations, churches, governments); and these categories are taken for
real existences, or at least for organs of various functions in a real
existence, namely, society. We follow the analogy of an animal's body so
far as to describe the "structure" and the "functions" of a society,
even its "anatomy" and "physiology." These are pure metaphors. By the
structure of a society we mean the rules and the customs by which
occupations and enjoyments are distributed among its members; by its
functions we mean the habitual actions by which each man enters into
relations with the others. It may be convenient to use these terms, but
it should be remembered that the underlying reality is composed entirely
of habits and customs.

The study of institutions, however, obliges us to ask special questions
about persons and their functions. In respect of social and economic
institutions we have to ask what was the principle of the division of
labour and of the division into classes, what were the professions and
classes, how were they recruited, what were the relations between the
members of the different professions and classes. In respect of
political institutions, which are sanctioned by obligatory rules and a
visible authority, two new series of questions arise. (1) Who were the
persons invested with authority? When authority is divided we have to
study the division of functions, to analyse the _personnel_ of
government into its different groups (supreme and subordinate, central
and local), and to distinguish each of the special bodies. In respect of
each class of men concerned in the government we shall ask: How were
they recruited? What was their official authority? What were their real
powers? (2) What were the official rules? What was their form (custom,
orders, law, precedent)? What was their content (rules of law)? What was
the mode of application (procedure)? And, above all, how did the rules
differ from the practice (abuse of power, exploitation, conflicts
between executive agents, non-observance of rules)?

After the determination of all the facts which constitute a society, it
remains to find the place which this society occupies among the total
number of the societies contemporary with it. Here we enter upon the
study of international institutions, intellectual, economic, and
political (diplomacy and the usages of war); the same questions apply as
in the study of political institutions. A study should also be made of
the habits common to several societies, and of those relations which do
not assume an official form. This is one of the least advanced parts of
historical construction.

IV. The outcome of all this labour is a tabulated view of human life at
a given moment; it gives us the knowledge of a _state_ of society (in
German, _Zustand_). But history is not limited to the study of
simultaneous facts, taken in a state of rest, to what we may call the
_statics_ of society. It also studies the states of society at different
moments, and discovers the differences between these states. The habits
of men and the material conditions under which they live change from
epoch to epoch; even when they appear to be constant they do not remain
unaltered in every respect. There is therefore occasion to investigate
these changes; thus arises the study of successive facts.

Of these changes the most interesting for the work of historical
construction are those which tend in a common direction,[194] so that in
virtue of a series of gradual differentiations a usage or a state of
society is transformed into a different usage or state, or, to speak
without metaphor, cases where the men of a given period practise a habit
very different from that of their predecessors without any abrupt change
having taken place. This is _evolution_.

Evolution occurs in all human habits. In order to investigate it,
therefore, it is enough to turn once more to the series of questions
which we used in constructing a tabulated view of society. In respect of
each of the facts, conditions, usages, persons invested with authority,
official rules, the question is to be asked: What was the evolution of
this fact?

This study will involve several operations: (1) the determination of the
fact whose evolution is to be studied; (2) the fixing of the duration of
the time during which the evolution took place (the period should be so
chosen that while the transformation is obvious, there yet remains a
connecting link between the initial and the final condition); (3) the
establishing of the different stages of the evolution; (4) the
investigation of the means by which it was brought about.

V. A series, even a complete series, of all the states of all societies
and of all their evolutions would not be enough to exhaust the
subject-matter of history. There remains a number of unique facts which
we cannot pass over, because they explain the origin of certain states
of society, and form the starting-points of evolutions. How could we
study the institutions or the evolution of France if we ignored the
conquest of Gaul by Cæsar and the invasion of the Barbarians?

This necessity of studying unique facts has caused it to be said that
history cannot be a science, for every science has for its object that
which is general. History is here in the same situation as cosmography,
geology, the science of animal species: it is not the abstract knowledge
of the general relations between facts, it is a study which aims at
_explaining_ reality. Now, reality exists but once. There has been but a
single evolution of the world, of animal life, of humanity. In each of
these evolutions the successive facts have not been the product of
abstract laws, but of the concurrence, at each moment, of several
circumstances of different nature. This concurrence, sometimes called
chance, has produced a series of accidents which have determined the
particular course taken by evolution.[195] Evolution can only be
understood by the study of these accidents; history is here on the same
footing as geology or palæontology.

Thus scientific history may go back to the accidents, or events, which
traditional history collected for literary reasons, because they struck
the imagination, and employ them for the study of evolution. We may thus
look for the facts which have influenced the evolution of each one of
the habits of humanity. Each event will be arranged under its date in
the evolution which it is supposed to have influenced. It will then
suffice to bring together the events of every kind, and to arrange them
in chronological and geographical order, to have a representation of
historical evolution as a whole.

Then, over and above the _special_ histories in which the facts are
arranged under purely abstract categories (art, religion, private life,
political institutions), we shall have constructed a concrete _general_
history, which will connect together the various special histories by
exhibiting the main stream of evolution which has dominated all the
special evolutions. None of the species of facts which we study apart
(religion, art, law, constitutions) forms a closed world within which
evolution takes place in obedience to a kind of internal impulse, as
specialists are prone to imagine. The evolution of a usage or of an
institution (language, religion, church, state) is only a metaphor; a
usage is an abstraction, abstractions do not evolve; it is only
_existences_ that evolve, in the strict sense of the word.[196] When a
change takes place in a usage, this means that the men who practise it
have changed. Now, men are not built in water-tight compartments
(religious, juridical, economic) within which phenomena can occur in
isolation; an event which modifies the condition of a man changes his
habits in a great variety of respects. The invasion of the Barbarians
influenced alike language, private life, and political institutions. We
cannot, therefore, understand evolution by confining ourselves to a
special branch of history; the specialist, even for the purpose of
writing the complete history of his own branch, must look beyond the
confines of his own subject into the field of general events. It is the
merit of Taine to have asserted, with reference to English literature,
that literary evolution depends, not on literary events, but on facts of
a general character.

The general history of individual facts was developed before the special
histories. It contains the residue of facts which have not found a place
in the special histories, and has been reduced in extent by the
formation and detachment of special branches. As general facts are
principally of a political nature, and as it is more difficult to
organise these into a special branch, general history has in practice
been confounded with political history (_Staatengeschichte_).[197] Thus
political historians have been led to make themselves the champions of
general history, and to retain in their constructions all the general
facts (migrations of peoples, religious reforms, inventions, and
discoveries) necessary for the understanding of political evolution.

In order to construct general history it is necessary to look for all
the facts which, because they have produced changes, can explain either
the state of a society or one of its evolutions. We must search for them
among all classes of facts, displacements of population, artistic,
scientific, religious, technical innovations, changes in the _personnel_
of government, revolutions, wars, discoveries of countries.

That which is important is that the fact should have had a decisive
influence. We must therefore resist the natural temptation to divide
facts into great and small. It goes against the grain to admit that
great effects may have had small causes, that Cleopatra's nose may have
made a difference to the Roman Empire. This repugnance is of a
metaphysical order; it springs from a preconceived opinion on the
government of the world. In all the sciences which deal with an
evolution we find individual facts which serve as starting-points for
series of vast transformations. A drove of horses brought by the
Spanish has stocked the whole of South America. In a flood a branch of
a tree may dam a current and transform the aspect of a valley.

In human evolution we meet with great transformations which have no
intelligible cause beyond an individual accident.[198] In the sixteenth
century England changed its religion three times on the death of a
sovereign (Henry VIII., Edward VI., Mary). Importance not to be measured
by the initial fact, but by the facts which resulted from it. We must
not, therefore, deny _a priori_ the action of individuals and discard
individual facts. We must examine whether a given individual was in a
position to make his influence strongly felt. There are two cases in
which we may assume that he was: (1) when his action served as an
example to a mass of men and created a tradition, a case frequent in
art, science, religion, and technical matters; (2) when he had power to
issue commands and direct the actions of a mass of men, as is the case
with the heads of a state, an army, or a church. The episodes in a man's
life may thus become important facts.

Accordingly, in the scheme of historical classification a place should
be assigned for persons and events.

VI. In every study of successive facts it is necessary to provide a
number of halting-places, to distinguish beginnings and ends, in order
that chronological divisions may be made in the enormous mass of facts.
These divisions are _periods_; the use of them is as old as history. We
need them, not only in general history, but in the special branches of
history as well, whenever we study an extent of time long enough for an
evolution to be sensible. It is by means of events that we fix their

In the special branches of history, after having decided what changes of
habits are to be considered as reaching deepest, we adopt them as
marking _dates_ in the evolution; we then inquire what event produced
them. The event which led to the formation or the change of a habit
becomes the beginning or the end of a period. Sometimes these boundary
events are of the same species as the facts whose evolution we are
studying--literary facts in the history of literature, political facts
in political history. But more often they belong to a different species,
and the special historian is obliged to borrow them from general

In general history the periods should be divided according to the
evolution of several species of phenomena; we look for events which mark
an epoch simultaneously in several branches (the Invasion of the
Barbarians, the Reformation, the French Revolution). We may thus
construct periods which are common to several branches of evolution,
whose beginning and whose end are each marked by a single event. It is
thus that the traditional division of universal history into periods has
been effected. The sub-periods are obtained by the same process, by
taking for limits events which have produced consequences of secondary

The periods which are thus constructed according to the events are of
unequal duration. We must not be troubled by this want of symmetry; a
period ought not to be a fixed number of years, but the time occupied by
a distinct phase of evolution. Now, evolution is not a regular movement;
sometimes a long series of years passes without notable change, then
come moments of rapid transformation. On this difference Saint-Simon has
founded a distinction between _organic_ periods (of slow change) and
_critical_ periods (of rapid change).



I. The historical facts supplied by documents are never enough to fill
all the blanks in such schemes of classification and arrangement as we
have been considering. There are many questions to which no direct
answer is given by the documents; many features are lacking without
which the complete picture of the various states of society, of
evolutions and events, cannot be given. We are irresistibly impelled to
endeavour to fill up these gaps.

In the sciences of direct observation, when a fact is missing from a
series, it is sought for by a new observation. In history, where we have
not this resource, we seek to extend our knowledge by the help of
reasoning. Starting from facts known to us from the documents, we
endeavour to reach new facts by inference. If the reasoning be correct,
this method of acquiring knowledge is legitimate.

But experience shows that of all the methods of acquiring historical
knowledge, reasoning is the most difficult to employ correctly, and the
one which has introduced the most serious errors. It should not be used
without the safeguard of a number of precautions calculated to keep the
danger continually before the mind.

(1) Reasoning should never be combined with the analysis of a document.
The reader who allows himself to introduce into a text what the author
has not expressly put there ends by making him say what he never
intended to say.[199]

(2) Facts obtained by the direct examination of documents should never
be confused with the results obtained by reasoning. When we state a fact
known to us by reasoning only, we must not allow it to be supposed that
we have found it in the documents; we must disclose the method by which
we have obtained it.

(3) Unconscious reasoning must never be allowed; there are too many
chances of error. It will be enough to make a point of putting every
argument into logical form; in the case of bad reasoning the major
premiss is generally monstrous to an appalling degree.

(4) If the reasoning leaves the least doubt, no attempt must be made to
draw a conclusion; the point treated must be left in the conjectural
stage, clearly distinguished from the definitively established results.

(5) It is not permissible to return to a conjecture and endeavour to
transform it into a certainty. Here the first impression is most likely
to be right. By reflection upon a conjecture we familiarise ourselves
with it, and end by thinking it better established; while the truth is,
we are merely more accustomed to it. This is a frequent mishap with
those who devote themselves to long meditation on a small number of

There are two ways of employing reasoning, one negative, the other
positive; we shall examine them separately.

II. The negative mode of reasoning, called also the "argument from
silence," is based on the absence of indications with regard to a
fact.[200] From the circumstance of the fact not being mentioned in any
document it is inferred that there was no such fact; the argument is
applied to all kinds of subjects, usages of every description,
evolutions, events. It rests on a feeling which in ordinary life is
expressed by saying: "If it were true, we should have heard of it;" it
implies a general proposition which may be formulated thus: "If an
alleged event really had occurred, there would be some document in
existence in which it would be referred to."

In order that such reasoning should be justified it would be necessary
that every fact should have been observed and recorded in writing, and
that all the records should have been preserved. Now, the greater part
of the documents which have been written have been lost, and the greater
part of the events which happen are not recorded in writing. In the
majority of cases the argument would be invalid. It must therefore be
restricted to the cases where the conditions implied in it have been

(1) It is necessary not only that there should be now no documents in
existence which mention the fact in question, but that there should
never have been any. If the documents are lost we can conclude nothing.
The argument from silence ought, therefore, to be employed the more
rarely the greater the number of documents that have been lost; it is of
much less use in ancient history than in dealing with the nineteenth
century. Some, desiring to free themselves from this restriction, are
tempted to assume that the lost documents contained nothing interesting;
if they were lost, say they, the reason was that they were not worth
preserving. But the truth is, every manuscript is at the mercy of the
least accident; its preservation or destruction is a matter of pure

(2) The fact must have been of such a kind that it could not fail to be
observed and recorded. Because a fact has not been recorded it does not
follow that it has not been observed. Any one who is concerned in an
organisation for the collection of a particular species of facts knows
how much commoner those facts are than people think, and how many cases
pass unnoticed or without leaving any written trace. It is so with
earthquakes, cases of hydrophobia, whales stranded on the shore.
Besides, many facts, even those which are well known to those who are
contemporary with them, are not recorded, because the official
authorities prevent their publication; this is what happens to the
secret acts of governments and the complaints of the lower classes. This
silence, which proves nothing, greatly impresses unreflecting
historians; it is the origin of the widespread sophism of the "good old
times." No document relates any abuse of power by officials or any
complaints made by peasants; therefore, everything was regular and
nobody was suffering. Before we argue from silence we should ask: Might
not this fact have failed to be recorded in any of the documents we
possess? That which is conclusive is not the absence of any document on
a given fact, but silence as to the fact in a document in which it would
naturally be mentioned.

The negative argument is thus limited to a few clearly defined cases.
(1) The author of the document in which the fact is not mentioned had
the intention of systematically recording all the facts of the same
class, and must have been acquainted with all of them. (Tacitus sought
to enumerate the peoples of Germany; the _Notitia dignitatum_ mentioned
all the provinces of the Empire; the absence from these lists of a
people or a province proves that it did not then exist.) (2) The fact,
if it was such, must have affected the author's imagination so forcibly
as necessarily to enter into his conceptions. (If there had been regular
assemblies of the Frankish people, Gregory of Tours could not have
conceived and described the life of the Frankish kings without
mentioning them.)

III. The positive mode of reasoning begins with a fact established by
the documents, and infers some other fact which the documents do not
mention. It is an application of the fundamental principle of history,
the _analogy_ between present and past humanity. In the present we
observe that the facts of humanity are connected together. Given one
fact, another fact accompanies it, either because the first is the cause
of the second, or because the second is the cause of the first, or
because both are effects of a common cause. We assume that in the past
similar facts were connected in a similar manner, and this assumption is
corroborated by the direct study of the past in the documents. From a
given fact, therefore, which we find in the past, we may infer the
existence of the other facts which were connected with it.

This reasoning applies to facts of all kinds, usages, transformations,
individual incidents. We may begin with any known fact and endeavour to
infer unknown facts from it. Now the facts of humanity, having a common
centre, man, are all connected together, not merely facts of the same
class, but facts belonging to the most widely different classes. There
are connections, not merely between the different facts relating to art,
to religion, to manners, to politics, but between the facts of religion
on the one hand and the facts of art, of politics, and of manners on the
other; thus from a fact of one species we may infer facts of all the
other species.

To examine those connections between facts on which reasonings may be
founded would mean tabulating all the known relations between the facts
of humanity, that is, giving a full account of all the empirical laws of
social life. Such a labour would provide matter for a whole book.[201]
Here we shall content ourselves with indicating the general rules
governing this kind of reasoning, and the precautions to be taken
against the most common errors.

The argument rests on two propositions: one is general, and is derived
from experience of human affairs; the other is particular, and is
derived from the documents. In practice, we begin with the particular
proposition, the historical fact: Salamis bears a Phoenician name. We
then look for a general proposition: the language of the name of a city
is the language of the people which founded it. And we conclude:
Salamis, bearing a Phoenician name, was founded by the Phoenicians.

In order that the conclusion may be certain, two conditions are

(1) The general proposition must be accurately true; the two facts which
it declares to be connected must be connected in such a way that the one
is never found without the other. If this condition were completely
satisfied we should have a _law_, in the scientific sense of the word;
but in dealing with the facts of humanity--apart from those physical
conditions whose laws are established by the regular sciences--we can
only work with empirical laws obtained by rough determinations of
general facts which are not analysed in such a manner as to educe their
true causes. These empirical laws are approximately true only when they
relate to a numerous body of facts, for we can never quite know how far
each is necessary to produce the result. The proposition relating to the
language of the name of a city does not go enough into detail to be
always true. Petersburg is a German name, Syracuse in America bears a
Greek name. Other conditions must be fulfilled before we can be sure
that the name is connected with the nationality of the founders. We
should, therefore, only employ such propositions as go into detail.

(2) In order to employ a general proposition which goes into detail, we
must have a detailed knowledge of the particular fact; for it is not
till after this fact has been established that we look for an empirical
general law on which to found an argument. We shall begin, then, by
studying the particular conditions of the case (the situation of
Salamis, the habits of the Greeks and Phoenicians); we shall not work
on a single detail, but on an assemblage of details.

Thus, in historical reasoning it is necessary to have (1) an accurate
general proposition; (2) a detailed knowledge of a past fact. It is bad
workmanship to assume a false general proposition--to suppose, for
example, as Augustin Thierry did, that every aristocracy had its origin
in a conquest. It is bad workmanship, again, to found an argument on an
isolated detail (the name of a city). The nature of these errors
indicates the precautions to be taken.

(1) The spontaneous tendency is to take as a basis of reasoning those
"common-sense truths" which form nearly the whole of our knowledge of
social life. Now, the greater part of these are to some extent false,
for the science of social life is still imperfect. And the chief danger
in them lies in the circumstance that we use them unconsciously. The
safest precaution will be always to formulate the supposed law on which
we propose to base an argument. In every instance where such and such a
fact occurs, it is certain that such and such another fact occurs also.
If this proposition is obviously false, we shall at once see it to be
so; if it is too general, we shall inquire what new conditions may be
introduced to make it accurate.

(2) A second spontaneous impulse leads us to draw consequences from
isolated facts, even of the slightest kind (or rather, the idea of each
fact awakens in us, by association, the idea of other facts). This is
the natural procedure in the history of literature. Each circumstance in
the life of an author supplies material for reasoning; we construct by
conjecture all the influences which could have acted upon him, and we
assume that they did act upon him. All the branches of history which
study a single species of facts, isolated from every other species
(language, arts, private law, religion), are exposed to the same danger,
because they deal with fragments of human life, not with comprehensive
collections of phenomena. But few conclusions are firmly established
except those which rest on a comprehensive body of data. We do not make
a diagnosis from a single symptom, but from a number of concurrent
symptoms. The precaution to be taken will be to avoid working with an
isolated detail or an abstract fact. We must have before our minds
actual men, as affected by the principal conditions under which they

We must be prepared to realise but rarely the conditions of a certain
inference; we are too little acquainted with the laws of social life,
and too seldom know the precise details of an historical fact. Thus most
of our reasonings will only afford presumptions, not certainties. But it
is with reasonings as with documents.[202] When several presumptions
all point in the same direction they confirm each other, and end by
producing a legitimate certitude. History fills up some of its gaps by
an accumulation of reasonings. Doubts remain as to the Phoenician
origin of various Greek cities, but there is no doubt about the presence
of the Phoenicians in Greece.



I. Suppose we had methodically arranged all the historical facts
established by the analysis of documents, or by reasoning; we should
possess a systematised inventory of the whole of history, and the work
of construction would be complete. Ought history to stop at this point?
The question is warmly debated, and we cannot avoid giving an answer,
for it is a question with a practical bearing.

Critical scholars, who are accustomed to collect all the facts relating
to their speciality, without any personal preference, are inclined to
regard a complete, accurate, and objective collection of facts as the
prime requisite. All historical facts have an equal right to a place in
history; to retain some as being of greater importance, and reject the
rest as comparatively unimportant, would be to introduce the subjective
element of choice, variable according to individual fancy; history
cannot sacrifice a single fact.

Against this very reasonable view there is nothing to be urged except a
material difficulty; this, however, is enough, for it is the practical
motive of all the sciences: we mean the impossibility of acquiring or
communicating complete knowledge. A body of history in which no fact
was sacrificed would have to contain all the actions, all the thoughts,
all the adventures of all men at all times. It would form a total which
no one could possibly make himself master of, not for want of materials,
but for want of time. This, indeed, applies, as things are, to certain
voluminous collections of documents: the collected reports of
parliamentary debates contain the whole history of the various
assemblies, but to learn their history from these sources would require
more than a lifetime.

Every science must take into consideration the practical conditions of
life, at least so far as it claims to be a real science, a science which
it is possible to know. Any ideal which ends by making knowledge
impossible impedes the establishment of the science.

Science is a saving of time and labour, effected by a process which
provides a rapid means of learning and understanding facts; it consists
in the slow collection of a quantity of details and their condensation
into portable and incontrovertible formulæ. History, which is more
encumbered with details than any other science, has the choice between
two alternatives: to be complete and unknowable, or to be knowable and
incomplete. All the other sciences have chosen the second alternative;
they abridge and they condense, preferring to take the risk of
mutilating and arbitrarily combining the facts to the certainty of being
unable either to understand or communicate them. Scholars have preferred
to confine themselves to the periods of ancient history, where chance,
which has destroyed nearly all the sources of information, has freed
them from the responsibility of choosing between facts by depriving them
of nearly all the means of knowing them.

History, in order to constitute itself a science, must elaborate the raw
material of facts. It must condense them into manageable form by means
of descriptive formulæ, qualitative and quantitative. It must search for
those connections between facts which form the ultimate conclusions of
every science.

II. The facts of humanity, with their complex and varied character,
cannot be reduced like chemical facts to a few simple formulæ. Like the
other sciences which deal with life, history needs descriptive formulæ
in order to express the nature of the different phenomena.

In order to be manageable, a formula must be short; in order to give an
exact idea of the facts, it must be precise. Now, in the knowledge of
human affairs, precision can only be obtained by attention to
characteristic details, for these alone enable us to understand how one
fact differed from others, and what there was in it peculiar to itself.
There is thus a conflict between the need of brevity, which leads us to
look for concrete formulæ, and the necessity of being precise, which
requires us to adopt detailed formulæ. Formulæ which are too short make
science vague and illusory, formulæ which are too long encumber it and
make it useless. This dilemma can only be evaded by a perpetual
compromise, the principle of which is to compress the facts by omitting
all that is not necessary for the purpose of representing them to the
mind, and to stop at the point where omission would suppress some
characteristic feature.

This operation, which is difficult in itself, is still further
complicated by the state in which the facts which are to be condensed
into formulæ present themselves. According to the nature of the
documents from which they are derived, they come to us in all the
different degrees of precision: from the detailed narrative which
relates the smallest episodes (the battle of Waterloo) down to the
barest mention in a couple of words (the victory of the Austrasians at
Testry). On different facts of the same kind we possess an amount of
details which is infinitely variable according as the documents give us
a complete description or a mere mention. How are we to organise into a
common whole, items of knowledge which differ so widely in point of
precision? When facts are known to us from a vague word of general
import, we cannot reduce them to a less degree of generality and a
greater degree of precision; we do not know the details. If we add them
conjecturally we shall produce an historical novel. This is what
Augustin Thierry did in the case of his _Récits mérovingiens_. When
facts are known in detail, it is always easy to reduce them to a greater
degree of generality by suppressing characteristic details; this is what
is done by the authors of abridgements. But the result of this procedure
would be to reduce history to a mass of vague generalities, uniform for
the whole of time except for the proper names and the dates. It would be
a dangerous method of introducing symmetry, to bring all facts to a
common degree of generality by levelling them all to the condition of
those which are the most imperfectly known. In those cases, therefore,
where the documents give details, our descriptive formulæ should always
retain the characteristic features of the facts.

In order to construct these formulæ we must return to the set of
questions which we employed in grouping the facts, we must answer each
question, and compare the answers. We shall then combine them into as
condensed and as precise a formula as possible, taking care to keep a
fixed sense for every word. This may appear to be a matter of style, but
what we have in view here is not merely a principle of exposition,
necessary for the sake of being intelligible to the reader, it is a
precaution which the author ought to take on his own account. The facts
of society are of an elusive nature, and for the purpose of seizing and
expressing them, fixed and precise language is an indispensable
instrument; no historian is complete without good language.

It will be well to make the greatest possible use of concrete and
descriptive terms: their meaning is always clear. It will be prudent to
designate collective groups only by collective, not by abstract names
(royalty, State, democracy, Reformation, Revolution), and to avoid
personifying abstractions. We think we are simply using metaphors, and
then we are carried away by the force of the words. Certainly abstract
terms have something very seductive about them, they give a scientific
appearance to a proposition. But it is only an appearance, behind which
scholasticism is apt to be concealed; the word, having no concrete
meaning, becomes a purely verbal notion (like the soporific virtue of
which Molière speaks). As long as our notions on social phenomena have
not been reduced to truly scientific formulæ, the most scientific course
will be to express them in terms of every-day experience.

In order to construct a formula, we should know beforehand what elements
ought to enter into it. We must here make a distinction between general
facts (habits and evolutions) and unique facts (events).

III. General facts consist in actions which are often repeated, and are
common to a number of men. We have to determine their _character_,
_extent_, and _duration_.

In order to formulate their character, we combine all the features which
constitute a fact (habit, institution) and distinguish it from all
others. We unite under the same formula all the individual cases which
greatly resemble each other, by neglecting the individual differences.

This concentration is performed without effort in the case of habits
which have to do with forms (language, handwriting), and in the case of
all intellectual habits; those who practised these habits have already
given them expression in formulæ, which we have only to collect. The
same holds of these institutions which are sanctioned by expressly
formulated rules (regulations, laws, private statutes). Accordingly the
special branches of history were the first to yield methodical formulæ.
On the other hand, these special branches do not go beyond superficial
and conventional facts, they do not reach the real actions and thoughts
of men: in language they deal with written words, not the real
pronunciation; in religion with official dogmas and rites, not with the
real beliefs of the mass of the people; in morals with avowed precepts,
not with the effective ideals; in institutions with official rules, not
with the real practice. On all these subjects the knowledge of
conventional forms must some day be supplemented by a parallel study of
the real habits.

It is much more difficult to embrace in a single formula a habit which
is composed of real actions, as is the case with economic phenomena,
private life, politics; for we have to find in the different actions
those common characteristics which constitute the habit; or, if this
work has already been done in the documents, and condensed into a
formula (the most common case), we must criticise this formula in order
to make sure that it really represents a homogeneous habit.

The same difficulty occurs in constructing the formula for a group; we
have to describe the characteristic common to all the members of the
group and to find a collective name which shall exactly designate it. In
documents there is no lack of names of groups; but, as they have their
origin in usage, many of them correspond but ill to the real groups; we
have to criticise these names to fix their precise meaning, sometimes to
correct their application.

This first operation should yield formulæ expressive of the conventional
and real characteristics of all the habits of the different groups.

In order to fix the precise _extent_ of a habit we shall seek the most
distant points where it appears (this will give the area of
distribution), and the region where it is most common (the centre).
Sometimes the operation takes the form of a map (for example the map of
the _tumuli_ and the _dolmens_ of France). It will also be necessary to
indicate the groups of men who practised each habit, and the sub-groups
in which it was most pronounced.

The formula should also indicate the _duration_ of the habit. We shall
look for the extreme cases, the first and the last appearance of the
form, the doctrine, the usage, the institution, the group. But it will
not be enough to note the two isolated cases, the earliest and the most
recent; we must ascertain the period in which it was really active.

The formula of an evolution ought to indicate the successive variations
in the habit, giving in each case precise limits of extent and duration.
Then, by comparing all the variations, it will be possible to determine
the general course of the evolution. The general formula will indicate
when and where the evolution began and ended, and the nature of the
change which it effected. All evolutions present common features which
enable them to be divided into stages. Every habit (usage or
institution) begins by being the spontaneous act of several individuals;
when others imitate them it becomes a usage. Similarly social functions
are in the first instance performed by persons who undertake them
spontaneously, when these persons are recognised by others they acquire
an official status. This is the first stage; individual initiative
followed by general imitation and recognition. The usage becomes
traditional and is transformed into an obligatory custom or rule; the
persons acquire a permanent status and are invested with powers of
material or moral constraint. This is the stage of tradition and
authority; very often it is the last stage, and continues till the
society is destroyed. The usage is relaxed, the rules are violated, the
persons in authority cease to be obeyed; this is the stage of revolt and
decomposition. Finally, in certain civilised societies, the rule is
criticised, the persons in authority are censured, by the action of a
part of the subjects a rational change is effected in the composition of
the governing body, which is subjected to supervision; this is the stage
of reform and of checks.

IV. In the case of unique facts we cannot expect to bring several
together under a common formula, for the nature of these facts is to
occur but once. However, it is imperatively necessary to abridge, we
cannot preserve all the acts of all the members of an assembly or of all
the officers of a state. Many individuals and many facts must be

How are we to choose? Personal tastes and patriotism give rise to
preferences for congenial characters and for local events; but the only
principle of selection which can be employed by all historians in common
is that which is based on the part played in the evolution of human
affairs. We ought to retain those persons and those events which have
visibly influenced the course of an evolution. We may recognise them by
our inability to describe the evolution without mentioning them. The men
are those who have modified the state of a society either by the
creation or the introduction of a habit (artists, men of science,
inventors, founders, apostles), or as directors of a movement, heads of
states, of parties, of armies. The events are those which have brought
about changes in the habits or the state of societies.

In order to construct a formula descriptive of an historical person, we
must take particulars from his biography and his habits. From his
biography we shall take those facts which determined his career, formed
his habits, and occasioned the actions by which he influenced society.
These comprise physiological conditions (physique, temperament, state of
health),[203] the educational influences, the social conditions to which
he was subject. The history of literature has accustomed us to
researches of this kind.

Among the habits of a man it is necessary to determine his fundamental
conceptions relating to the class of facts in which his influence was
felt, his conception of life, his knowledge, his predominating tastes,
his habitual occupations, his principles of conduct. From these details,
in which there is infinite variety, an impression is formed of the man's
"character," and the collection of these characteristic features
constitutes his "portrait," or, to use a favourite phrase of the day,
his "psychology." This exercise, which is still held in great esteem,
dates from the time when history was still a branch of literature; it is
doubtful whether it can ever become a scientific process. There is
perhaps no sure method of summing up the character of a man, even in his
lifetime, still less when we can only know him indirectly through the
medium of documents. The controversies relative to the interpretation of
the conduct of Alexander are a good example of this uncertainty.

If, however, we take the risk of seeking a formula to describe a
character, there are two natural temptations against which we must
guard: (I) We must not construct the formula out of the person's
assertions in regard to himself. (2) The study of imaginary personages
(dramas and novels) has accustomed us to seek a logical connection
between the various sentiments and the various acts of a man; a
character, in literature, is constructed logically. This search for
coherency must not be transferred to the study of real men. We are less
likely to do so in the case of those whom we observe in their lifetime,
because we see too many characteristics in them which could not enter
into a coherent formula. But the absence of documents, by suppressing
those characteristics which would have checked us, encourages us to
arrange the very small number of those which remain in the form of a
stage-character. This is why the great men of antiquity seem to us to
have been much more logical than our contemporaries are.

How are we to construct a formula for an event? The imperative need of
simplification causes us to combine under a single name an enormous mass
of minute facts which are perceived in the lump, and between which we
vaguely feel that there is a connection (a battle, a war, a reform).
The facts which are thus combined are such facts as have conduced to a
common result. That is how the common notion of an event arises, and
there is no more scientific conception to put in its place. Facts, then,
are to be grouped according to their consequences; those which have had
no visible consequences disappear, the others are fused into a certain
number of aggregates which we call events.

In order to describe an event, it is necessary to give precise
indications (I) of its character, (2) of its extent.

(I) By the character of an event we mean the features which distinguish
it from every other event, not merely the external conditions of date
and place, but the manner in which it occurred, and its immediate
causes. The following are the items of information which the formula
should contain. One or more men, in such and such mental states
(conceptions, motives of the action), working under such and such
material conditions (locality, instrument), performed such and such
actions, which had for their result such and such a modification. For
the determination of the motives of the actions, the only method is to
compare the actions, firstly, with the declarations of those who
performed them; secondly, with the interpretation of those who witnessed
their performance. There is often a doubt remaining: this is the field
of party polemics; every one attributes noble motives to the actions of
his own party and discreditable motives to those of the opposite party.
But actions described without any indication of motive would be

(2) The extension of the event will be indicated both in space (the
place where it happened, and the region in which its immediate effects
were felt) and in time, the moment when its realisation began, and the
moment when the result was brought about.

V. Descriptive formulæ relating to characters, being merely qualitative,
only give an abstract idea of the facts; in order to realise the place
they occupied in reality, quantity is necessary. It is not a matter of
indifference whether a given usage was practised by a hundred men or by

For the purpose of introducing quantity into formulæ we have at our
disposal several methods, of various degrees of imperfection, which help
us to attain the end in view with various degrees of precision. Arranged
in descending order of precision they are as follows:--

(1) _Measurement_ is a perfectly scientific procedure, for equal numbers
represent absolutely identical values. But a common unit is necessary,
and that can only be had for time and for physical phenomena (lengths,
surfaces, weights). Figures relating to production and sums of money are
the essential elements in the statement of economic and financial facts.
But facts of the psychological order remain inaccessible to measurement.

(2) _Enumeration_, which is the process employed in statistics,[204] is
applicable to all the facts which have in common a definite
characteristic which can be made use of for counting them. The facts
which are thus comprehended under a single number do not all belong to
the same species, they may have in common but a single characteristic,
abstract (crime, lawsuit) or conventional (workman, lodging); the
figures merely indicate the number of cases in which a given
characteristic is met with; they do not represent a homogeneous whole. A
natural tendency is to confuse number with measurement, and to suppose
that facts are known with scientific precision because it has been
possible to apply number to them; this is an illusion to be guarded
against, we must not take the figures which give the number of a
population or an army for the measure of its importance.[205] Still,
enumeration yields results which are necessary for the construction of
formulæ relating to groups. But the operation is restricted to those
cases in which it is possible to know all the units of a given species
lying within given limits, for it is performed by first ticking off,
then adding. Before undertaking a retrospective enumeration, therefore,
it will be well to make sure that the documents are complete enough to
exhibit all the units which are to be enumerated. As to figures given in
documents, they are to be distrusted.

(3) _Valuation_ is a kind of incomplete enumeration applying to a
portion of the field, and made on the supposition that the same
proportions hold good through the whole of the field. It is an expedient
to which, in history, it is often necessary to have recourse when
documents are unequally abundant for the different divisions of the
subject. The result is open to doubt, unless we are sure that the
portion to which enumeration was applied was exactly similar to the

(4) _Sampling_ is a process of enumeration restricted to a few units
taken at different points in the field of investigation; we calculate
the proportion of cases (say 90 per cent.) where a given characteristic
occurs, we assume that the same proportion holds throughout, and if
there are several categories we obtain the proportion between them. In
history this procedure is applicable to facts of every kind, for the
purpose of determining either the proportion between the different forms
or usages which occur within a given region or period, or the proportion
which obtains, within a heterogeneous group, between members belonging
to different classes. This procedure gives us an approximate idea of the
frequency of facts and the proportion between the different elements of
a society; it can even show what species of facts are most commonly
found together, and are therefore probably connected. But in order that
the method may be employed correctly it is necessary that the samples
should be representative of the whole, and not of a part which might
possibly be exceptional in character. They should therefore be chosen at
very different points, and under very different conditions, in order
that the exceptions may compensate each other. It is not enough to take
them at points which are _distant_ from each other; for example, on the
different frontiers of a country, for the very circumstance of
situation on a frontier is an exceptional condition. Verification may be
had by following the methods by which anthropologists obtain averages.

(5) _Generalisation_ is only an instinctive process of simplification.
As soon as we perceive a certain characteristic in an object, we extend
this characteristic to all other objects which at all resemble it. In
all human concerns, where the facts are always complex, we make
generalisations unconsciously; we attribute to a whole people the habits
of a few individuals, or those of the first group forming part of the
people which comes within our knowledge; we extend to a whole period
habits which are ascertained to have existed at a given moment. This is
the most active of all the causes of historical error, and one whose
influence is felt in every department, in the study of usages and of
institutions, even in the appreciation of the morality of a people.[206]
Generalisation rests on a vague idea that all facts which are contiguous
to each other, or which resemble each other in some point, are similar
at all points. It is an unconscious and ill-performed process of
sampling. It may therefore be made correct by being subjected to the
conditions of a well-performed process of sampling. We must examine the
cases on which we propose to found a generalisation and ask ourselves.
What right have we to generalise? That is, what reason have we for
assuming that the characteristic discovered in these cases will occur in
the remaining thousands of cases? that the cases chosen resemble the
average? The only valid reason would be that these cases are
representative of the whole. We are thus brought back to the process of
methodical sampling.

The right method of conducting the operation is as follows: (1) We must
fix the precise limits of the field within which we intend to generalise
(that is, to assume the similarity of all the cases), we must determine
the country, the group, the class, the period as to which we are to
generalise. Care must be taken not to make the field too large by
confusing a part with the whole (a Greek or Germanic people with the
whole Greek or Germanic race). (2) We must make sure that the facts
lying within the field resemble each other in the points on which we
wish to generalise, and therefore we have to distrust those vague names
under which are comprehended groups of very different character
(Christians, French, Aryans, Romans). (3) We must make sure that the
facts from which we propose to generalise are representative samples,
that they really belong to the field of investigation, for it does
happen sometimes that men or facts are taken as specimens of one group
when they really belong to another. Nor must they be exceptional, as is
to be presumed in all cases when the conditions are exceptional; authors
of documents tend to record by preference those facts which surprise
them, hence exceptional cases occupy in documents a space which is out
of proportion to their real number; this is one of the chief sources of
error. (4) The number of samples necessary to support a generalisation
is the greater the less ground there is for supposing a resemblance
between all the cases occurring within the field of investigation. A
small number may suffice in treating of points in which men tend to bear
a strong resemblance to each other, either by imitation and convention
(language, rites, ceremonies), or from the influence of custom and
obligatory regulations (social institutions, political institutions in
countries where the authorities are obeyed). A large number is requisite
for facts where individual initiative plays a more important part (art,
science, morality), and sometimes, as in respect of private conduct, all
generalisation is as a rule impossible.

VI. Descriptive formulæ are in no science the final result of the work.
It still remains to group the facts in such a way as to bring out their
collective import, it still remains to search for their mutual
relations; these are the general conclusions. History, by reason of the
imperfection of its mode of acquiring knowledge, needs, in addition, a
preliminary operation for determining the bearing of the knowledge

The work of criticism has supplied us with nothing but a number of
isolated remarks on the value of the knowledge which the documents have
permitted us to acquire. These must be combined. We shall therefore take
a whole group of facts entered under a common heading--a particular
class of facts, a country, a period, an event--and we shall summarise
the results yielded by the criticism of particular facts so as to obtain
a general formula. We shall have to take into consideration: (1) the
extent, (2) the value of our knowledge.

(1) We shall ask ourselves what are the blanks left by the documents. By
working through the scheme used for the grouping of facts it is easy to
discover what are the classes of facts on which we lack information. In
the case of evolution, we notice which links are missing in the chain of
successive modifications; in the case of events, what episodes, what
groups of actors are still unknown to us; what facts enter or disappear
from the field of our knowledge without our being able to trace their
beginning or end. We ought to construct, mentally at any rate, a
tabulated scheme of the points on which we are ignorant, in order to
keep before our minds the distance separating the knowledge we have from
a perfect knowledge.

(2) The value of our knowledge depends on the value of our documents.
Criticism has given us indications on this point in each separate case,
these indications, so far as relating to a given body of facts, must be
summarised under a few heads. Does our knowledge come originally from
direct observation, from written tradition, or from oral tradition? Do
we possess several traditions of different bias, or a single tradition?
Do we possess documents of different classes or of one single class? Is
our information vague or precise, detailed or summary, literary or
positive, official or confidential?

The natural tendency is to forget, in construction, the results yielded
by criticism, to forget the incompleteness of our knowledge and the
elements of doubt in it. An eager desire to increase to the greatest
possible extent the amount of our information and the number of our
conclusions impels us to seek emancipation from all negative
restrictions. We thus run a great risk of using fragmentary and
suspicious sources of information for the purpose of forming general
impressions, just as if we were in possession of a complete record. It
is easy to forget the existence of those facts which the documents do
not describe (economic facts, slaves in antiquity), it is easy to
exaggerate the space occupied by facts which are known to us (Greek art,
Roman inscriptions, mediæval monasteries). We instinctively estimate the
importance of facts by the number of the documents which mention them.
We forget the peculiar character of the documents, and, when they all
have a common origin, we forget that they have all subjected the facts
to the same distortions, and that their community of origin renders
verification impossible; we submissively reproduce the bias of the
tradition (Roman, orthodox, aristocratic).

In order to resist these natural tendencies, it is enough to pass in
review the whole body of facts and the whole body of tradition, before
attempting to draw any general conclusion.

VII. Descriptive formulæ give the particular character of each small
group of facts. In order to obtain a general conclusion, we must combine
these detailed results into a general formula. We must not compare
together isolated details or secondary characteristics,[208] but groups
of facts which resemble each other in a whole set of characteristics.

We thus form an aggregate (of institutions, of groups of men, of
events). Following the method indicated above, we determine its
distinguishing characteristics, its extent, its duration, its quantity
or importance.

As we form groups of greater and greater generality we drop, with each
new degree of generality, those characteristics which vary, and retain
those which are common to all the members of the new group. We must stop
at the point where nothing is left except the characteristics common to
the whole of humanity. The result is the condensation into a single
formula of the general character of an order of facts, of a language, a
religion, an art, an economic organisation, a society, a government, a
complex event (such as the Invasion or the Reformation).

As long as these comprehensive formulæ remain isolated the conclusion is
incomplete. And as it is no longer possible to fuse them into higher
generalisations, we feel the need of comparing them for the purpose of
classification. This classification may be attempted by two methods.

(1) We may compare together similar categories of special facts,
language, religions, arts, governments, taking them from the whole of
humanity, and classifying together those which most resemble each other.
We obtain families of languages, religions, and governments, which we
may again classify and arrange among themselves. This is an abstract
kind of classification; it isolates one species of facts from all the
others, and thus renounces all claim to exhibit causes. It has the
advantage of being rapidly performed and of yielding a technical
vocabulary which is useful for designating facts.

(2) We may compare real groups of real individuals, we may take
societies which figure in history and classify them according to their
similarities. This is a concrete classification analogous to that of
zoology, in which, not functions, but whole animals are classified. It
is true that the groups are less clearly marked than in zoology; nor is
there a general agreement as to the characteristics in respect of which
we are to look for resemblances. Are we to choose the economic or the
political organisation of the groups, or their intellectual condition?
No principle of choice has as yet become obligatory.

History has not yet succeeded in establishing a scientific system of
comprehensive classification. Possibly human groups are not sufficiently
homogeneous to furnish a solid basis of comparison, and not sharply
enough divided to be treated as comparable units.

VIII. The study of the relations between simultaneous facts consists in
a search for the connections between all the facts of different species
which occur in a given society. We have a vague consciousness that the
different habits which are separated by abstraction and ranged under
different categories (art, religion, political institutions), are not
isolated in reality, that they have common characteristics, and that
they are closely enough connected for a change in one of them to bring
about a change in another. This is a fundamental idea of the _Esprit des
Lois_ of Montesquieu. This bond of connection, sometimes called
_consensus_, has received the name of _Zusammenhang_ from the German
school. From this conception has arisen the theory of the _Volksgeist_
(the mind of a people), a counterfeit of which has within the last few
years been introduced into France under the name of "âme nationale."
This conception is also at the bottom of the theory regarding the soul
of society which Lamprecht has expounded.

After the rejection of these mystical conceptions there remains a vague
but incontrovertible fact, the "solidarity" which exists between the
different habits of one and the same people. In order to study it with
precision it would be necessary to analyse it, and a connecting bond
cannot be analysed. It is thus quite natural that this part of social
science should have remained a refuge for mystery and obscurity.

By the comparison of different societies which resemble or differ from
each other in a given department (religion or government), with the
object of discovering in what other departments they resemble or differ
from each other, it is possible that interesting empirical results might
be obtained. But, in order to _explain_ the _consensus_, it is necessary
to work back to the facts which have produced it, the common causes of
the various habits. We are thus obliged to undertake the investigation
of causes, and we enter the province of what is called _philosophical_
history, because it investigates what was formerly called the
_philosophy_ of facts--that is to say, their permanent relations.

IX. The necessity of rising above the simple determination of facts in
order to _explain_ them by their _causes_, a necessity which has
governed the development of all the sciences, has at length been felt
even in the study of history. Hence have arisen systematic philosophies
of history, and attempts to discover historical laws and causes. We
cannot here enter into a critical examination of these attempts, which
the nineteenth century has produced in so great number; we shall merely
indicate what are the ways in which the problem has been attacked, and
what obstacles have prevented a scientific solution from being reached.

The most natural method of explanation consists in the assumption that a
transcendental cause, Providence, guides the whole course of events
towards an end which is known to God.[209] This explanation can be but a
metaphysical doctrine, crowning the work of science; for the
distinguishing feature of science is that it only studies efficient
causes. The historian is not called upon to investigate the first cause
or final causes any more than the chemist or the naturalist. And, in
fact, few writers on history nowadays stop to discuss the theory of
Providence in its theological form.

But the tendency to explain historical facts by transcendental causes
survives in more modern theories in which metaphysic is disguised under
scientific forms. The historians of the nineteenth century have been so
strongly influenced by their philosophical education that most of them,
sometimes unconsciously, introduce metaphysical formulæ into the
construction of history. It will be enough to enumerate these systems,
and point out their metaphysical character, so that reflecting
historians may be warned to distrust them.

The theory of the rational character of history rests on the notion that
every real historical fact is at the same time "rational"--that is, in
conformity with an intelligible comprehensive plan; ordinarily it is
tacitly assumed that every social fact has its _raison d'être_ in the
development of society--that is, that it ends by turning to the
advantage of society; hence the cause of every institution is sought for
in the social need it was originally meant to supply.[210] This is the
fundamental idea of Hegelianism, if not with Hegel, at least with the
historians who have been his disciples (Ranke, Mommsen, Droysen, in
France Cousin, Taine, and Michelet). This is a lay disguise of the old
theological theory of final causes which assumes the existence of a
Providence occupied in guiding humanity in the direction of its
interests. This is a consoling, but not a scientific _a priori_
hypothesis; for the observation of historical facts does not indicate
that things have always happened in the most rational way, or in the way
most advantageous to men, nor that institutions have had any other cause
than the interest of those who established them; the facts, indeed,
point rather to the opposite conclusion.

From the same metaphysical source has also sprung the Hegelian theory of
the _ideas_ which are successively realised in history through the
medium of successive peoples. This theory, which has been popularised in
France by Cousin and Michelet, has had its day, even in Germany, but it
has been revived, especially in Germany, in the form of the historical
mission (_Beruf_) which is attributed to peoples and persons. It will
here be enough to observe that the very metaphors of "idea" and
"mission" imply a transcendental anthropomorphic cause.

From the same optimistic conception of a rational guidance of the world
is derived the theory of the continuous and necessary _progress_ of
humanity. Although it has been adopted by the positivists, this is
merely a metaphysical hypothesis. In the ordinary sense of the word,
"progress" is merely a subjective expression denoting those changes
which follow the direction of our preferences. But, even taking the word
in the objective sense given to it by Spencer (an increase in the
variety and coordination of social phenomena), the study of historical
facts does not point to a _single_ universal and continuous progress of
humanity, it brings before us a _number_ of partial and intermittent
progressive movements, and it gives us no reason to attribute them to a
permanent cause inherent in humanity as a whole rather than to a series
of local accidents.[211]

Attempts at a more scientific form of explanation have had their origin
in the special branches of history (of languages, religion, law). By the
separate study of the succession of facts of a single species,
specialists have been enabled to ascertain the regular recurrence of the
same successions of facts, and these results have been expressed in
formulæ which are sometimes called laws (for example, the law of the
tonic accent); these are never more than empirical laws which merely
indicate successions of facts without explaining them, for they do not
reveal the efficient cause. But specialists, influenced by a natural
metaphor, and struck by the regularity of these successions, have
regarded the evolution of usages (of a word, a rite, a dogma, a rule of
law), as if it were an organic development analogous to the growth of a
plant; we hear of the "life of words," of the "death of dogmas," of the
"growth of myths." Then, in forgetfulness of the fact that all these
things are pure abstractions, it has been tacitly assumed that there is
a force inhering in the word, the rite, the rule, which produces its
evolution. This is the theory of the development (_Entwickelung_) of
usages and institutions; it was started in Germany by the "historical"
school, and has dominated all the special branches of history. The
history of languages alone has succeeded in shaking off its
influence.[212] Just as usages have been treated as if they were
existences possessing a separate life of their own, so the succession of
individuals composing the various bodies within a society (royalty,
church, senate, parliament) has been personified by the attribution to
it of a will, which is treated as an active cause. A world of imaginary
beings has thus been created behind the historical facts, and has
replaced Providence in the explanation of them. For our defence against
this deceptive mythology a single rule will suffice: Never seek the
causes of an historical fact without having first expressed it
concretely in terms of acting and thinking individuals. If abstractions
are used, every metaphor must be avoided which would make them play the
part of living beings.

By a comparison of the evolutions of the different species of facts
which coexist in one and the same society, the "historical" school was
led to the discovery of solidarity (_Zusammenhang_).[213] But, before
attempting to discover its causes by analysis, the adherents of this
school assumed the existence of a permanent general cause residing in
the society itself. And, as it was customary to personify society, a
special temperament was attributed to it, the peculiar genius of the
nation or the race, manifesting itself in the different social
activities and explaining their solidarity.[214] This was simply an
hypothesis suggested by the animal world, in which each species has
permanent characteristics. It would have been inadequate, for in order
to explain how a given society comes to change its character from one
epoch to another (the Greeks between the seventh and the fourth
centuries, the English between the fifteenth and the nineteenth), it
would have been necessary to invoke the aid of external causes. And the
theory is untenable, for all the societies known to history are groups
of men without anthropological unity and without common hereditary

In addition to these metaphysical or metaphorical explanations, attempts
have been made to apply to the investigation of causes in history the
classical procedure of the natural sciences: the comparison of parallel
series of successive phenomena in order to discover those which always
appear together. The "comparative method" has assumed several different
forms. Sometimes the subject of study has been a detail of social life
(a usage, an institution, a belief, a rule), defined in abstract terms;
its evolutions in different societies have been compared with a view to
determine the common evolution which is to be attributed to one and the
same general cause. Thus have arisen comparative philology, mythology,
and law. It has been proposed (in England) to give precision to the
comparative method by applying "statistics"; this would mean the
systematic comparison of all known societies and the enumeration of all
the cases where two usages are found together. This is the principle of
Bacon's tables of agreement; it is to be feared that it will be no more
fertile in results. The defect of all such methods is that they apply to
abstract and partly arbitrary notions, sometimes merely to verbal
resemblances, and do not rest on a knowledge of the whole of the
conditions under which the facts occur.

We can conceive a more concrete method which, instead of comparing
fragments, should compare wholes, that is entire societies, either the
same society at different stages of its evolution (England in the
sixteenth, and again in the nineteenth century), or else the general
evolution of several societies, contemporary with each other (England
and France), or existing at different epochs (Rome and England). Such a
method might be useful negatively, for the purpose of ascertaining that
a given fact is not the necessary effect of another, since they are not
always found together (for example, the emancipation of women and
Christianity). But positive results are hardly to be expected of it, for
the concomitance of two facts in several series does not show whether
one is the cause of the other, or whether both are joint effects of a
single cause.

The methodical investigation of the causes of a fact requires an
analysis of the conditions under which the fact occurs, performed so as
to isolate the necessary condition which is its cause; it presupposes,
therefore, the complete knowledge of these conditions. But this is
precisely what we never have in history. We must therefore renounce the
idea of arriving at causes by direct methods such as are used in the
other sciences.

As a matter of fact, however, historians often do employ the notion of
cause, which, as we have shown above, is indispensable for the purpose
of formulating events and constructing periods. They know causes partly
from the authors of documents who observed the facts, partly from the
analogy of the causes which we all observe at the present day. The whole
history of events is a chain of obviously and incontrovertibly connected
incidents, each one of which is the determining cause of another. The
lance-thrust of Montgomery is the cause of the death of Henry II.; this
death is the cause of the accession to power of the Guises, which again
is the cause of the rising of the Protestants.

The observation of causes by the authors of documents is limited to the
interconnection of the accidental facts observed by them; these are, in
truth, the causes which are known with the greatest certainty. Thus
history, unlike the other sciences, is better able to ascertain the
causes of particular incidents than those of general transformations,
for the work is found already done in the documents.

In the investigation of the causes of general facts, historical
construction is reduced to the analogy between the past and the present.
Whatever chance there is of finding the causes which explain the
evolution of past societies must lie in the direct observation of the
transformations of present societies.

This is a branch of study which is not yet firmly established; here we
can only state the principles of it.

(1) In order to ascertain the causes of the solidarity between the
different habits of one and the same society, it is necessary to look
beyond the abstract and conventional form which the facts assume in
language (dogma, rule, rite, institution), and attend to the real
concrete centres, which are always thinking and acting men. Here only
are found together the different species of activity which language
separates by abstraction. Their solidarity is to be sought for in some
dominating feature in the character or the environment of the men which
influences all the different manifestations of their activity. We must
not expect the same degrees of solidarity in all the species of
activity; there will be most of it in those species where each
individual is in close dependence on the actions of the mass (economic,
social, political life); there will be less of it in the intellectual
activities (arts, sciences), where individual initiative has freer
play.[215] Documents mention most habits (beliefs, customs,
institutions) in the lump, without distinguishing individuals; and yet,
in one and the same society, habits vary considerably from one man to
another. It is necessary to take account of these differences, otherwise
there is a danger of explaining the actions of artists and men of
science by the beliefs and the habits of their prince or their

(2) In order to ascertain the causes of an evolution, it is necessary to
study the only beings which can evolve--men. Every evolution has for its
cause a change in the material conditions or in the habits of certain
men. Observation shows us two kinds of change. In the one case, the men
remain the same, but change their manner of acting or thinking, either
voluntarily through imitation, or by compulsion. In the other, the men
who practised the old usage disappear and are replaced by others who do
not practise it; these may be strangers, or they may be the descendants
of the first set of men, but educated in a different manner. This
renewing of the generations seems, in our day, to be the most active
cause of evolution. It is natural to suppose that the same holds good of
the past; evolution has been slower, the more exclusively each
generation has been formed by the imitation of its forerunners.

There is still one more question to ask. Are men all alike, differing
merely in the _conditions_ under which they live (education, resources,
government), and is evolution produced solely by changes in these
_conditions_? Or are there groups of men with _hereditary differences_,
born with tendencies to different activities and with aptitudes leading
to different evolutions, so that evolution may be the product, in part
at least, of the increase, the diminution, and the displacement of these
groups? Taking the extreme cases, the white, black, and yellow races of
mankind, the differences in aptitude are obvious; no black people has
ever developed a civilisation. It is thus probable that smaller
hereditary differences may have had their share in the determination of
events. If so, historical evolution would be partly produced by
physiological and anthropological causes. But history provides us with
no sure means of determining the action of these hereditary differences
between men; it goes no further than the conditions of their existence.
The last question of history remains insoluble by historical methods.



We have still to study a question whose practical interest is obvious:
What are the forms in which historical works present themselves? These
forms are, in fact, very numerous. Some of them are antiquated; not all
are legitimate; the best have their drawbacks. We should ask, therefore,
not only what are the forms in which historical works appear, but also
which of these represent truly rational types of exposition.

By "historical works" we mean here all those which are intended to
communicate results obtained by the labour of historical construction,
whatever may be the nature, the extent, and the bearing of these
results. The critical elaboration of documents, which is treated of in
Book II., and which is preparatory to historical construction, is
naturally excluded.

Historians may differ, and up to the present have differed, on several
essential points. They have not always had, nor have they all now, the
same conception of the end aimed at by historical work; hence arise
differences in the nature of the facts chosen, the manner of dividing
the subject, that is, of co-ordinating the facts, the manner of
presenting them, the manner of proving them. This would be the place to
indicate how "the mode of writing history" has evolved from the
beginning. But as the history of the modes of writing history has not
yet been written well,[216] we shall here content ourselves with some
very general remarks on the period prior to the second half of the
nineteenth century, confining ourselves to what is strictly necessary
for the understanding of the present situation.

I. History was first conceived as the narration of memorable events. To
preserve the memory and propagate the knowledge of glorious deeds, or of
events which were of importance to a man, a family, or a people; such
was the aim of history in the tune of Thucydides and Livy. In addition,
history was early considered as a collection of precedents, and the
knowledge of history as a practical preparation for life, especially
political life (military and civil). Polybius and Plutarch wrote to
instruct, they claimed to give recipes for action. Hence in classical
antiquity the subject-matter of history consisted chiefly of political
incidents, wars, and revolutions. The ordinary framework of historical
exposition (within which the facts were usually arranged in
chronological order) was the life of a person, the whole life of a
people, or a particular period in it; there were in antiquity but few
essays in general history. As the aim of the historian was to please or
to instruct, or to please and instruct at the same time, history was a
branch of literature: there were not too many scruples on the score of
proofs; those who worked from written documents took no care to
distinguish the text of such documents from their own text; in
reproducing the narratives of their predecessors they adorned them with
details, and sometimes (under pretext of being precise) with numbers,
with speeches, with reflections, and elegances. We can in a manner see
them at work in every instance where it is possible to compare Greek and
Roman historians, Ephorus and Livy, for example, with their sources.

The writers of the Renaissance directly imitated the ancients. For them,
too, history was a literary art with apologetic aims or didactic
pretensions. In Italy it was too often a means of gaining the favour of
princes, or a theme for declamations. This state of affairs lasted a
long time. Even in the seventeenth century we find, in Mézeray, an
historian of the ancient classical pattern.

However, in the historical literature of the Renaissance, two novelties
claim our attention, in which the mediæval influence is incontrovertibly
manifest. On the one hand we see the retention of a form of exposition
which was unusual in antiquity, which was created by the Catholic
historians of the later ages (Eusebius, Orosius), and which enjoyed
great favour in the Middle Ages,--that which, instead of embracing only
the history of a single man, family, or people, embraces universal
history. On the other hand there was introduced a mechanical artifice of
exposition, having its origin in a practice common in the mediæval
schools (the gloss), which had far-reaching consequences. The custom
arose of adding notes to printed books of history.[217] Notes have made
it possible to distinguish between the historical narrative and the
documents which support it, to give references to sources, to
disencumber and illustrate the text. It was in collections of documents,
and in critical dissertations, that the artifice of annotation was first
employed; thence it penetrated, slowly, into historical works of other

A second period begins in the eighteenth century. The "philosophers"
then began to conceive history as the study, not of events for their own
sakes, but of the habits of men. They were thus led to take an interest,
not only in facts of a political order, but in the evolution of the
arts, the sciences, of industry, and in manners. Montesquieu and
Voltaire personified these tendencies. The _Essai sur les moeurs_ is
the first sketch, and, in some respects, the masterpiece of history thus
conceived. The detailed narration of political and military events was
still regarded as the main work of history, but to this it now became
customary to add, generally by way of supplement or appendix, a sketch
of the "progress of the human mind." The expression "history of
civilisation" appears before the end of the eighteenth century. At the
same time German university professors, especially at Göttingen, were
creating, in order to supply educational needs, the new form of the
historical "manual," a methodical collection of carefully justified
facts, with no literary or other pretensions. Collections of historical
facts, made with a view to aid in the interpretation of literary texts,
or out of mere curiosity in regard to the things of the past, had
existed from ancient times; but the medleys of Athenæus and Aulus
Gellius, or the vaster and better arranged compilations of the Middle
Ages and the Renaissance, are by no means to be compared with the
"scientific manuals" of which the German professors then gave the
models. These professors, moreover, contributed towards the clearing up
of the vague, general notion which the philosophers had of
"civilisation," for they applied themselves to the organisation of the
history of languages, of literatures, of the arts, of religions, of law,
of economic phenomena, and so on, as so many separate branches of study.
Thus the domain of history was greatly enlarged, and scientific, that
is, simple and objective, exposition began to compete with the
rhetorical or sententious, patriotic or philosophical ideals of

This competition was at first timid and obscure, for the beginning of
the nineteenth century was marked by a literary renaissance which
renovated historical literature. Under the influence of the romantic
movement historians sought for more vivid methods of exposition than
those employed by their predecessors, methods better adapted to strike
the imagination and rouse the emotions of the public, by filling the
mind with poetical images of vanished realities. Some endeavoured to
preserve the peculiar colouring of the original documents, which they
adapted: "Charmed with the contemporary narratives," says Barante, "I
have endeavoured to write a consecutive account which should borrow from
them their animation and interest." This leads directly to the neglect
of criticism, and to the reproduction of whatever is effective from the
literary point of view. Others declared that the facts of the past ought
to be recounted with all the emotions of a spectator. "Thierry," says
Michelet, praising him, "in telling us the story of Klodowig, breathes
the spirit and shows the emotion of recently invaded France...."
Michelet "stated the problem of history as the resuscitation of integral
life in the inmost parts of the organism." With the romantic historians
the choice of subject, of plan, of the proofs, of the style, is
dominated by an engrossing desire to produce an effect--a literary, not
a scientific ambition. Some romantic historians have slid down this
inclined plane to the level of the "historical novel." We know the
nature of this species of literature, which flourished so vigorously
from the Abbé Barthélemy and Chateaubriand down to Mérimée and Ebers,
and which some are now vainly attempting to rejuvenate. The object is to
"make the scenes of the past live again" in dramatic pictures
artistically constructed with "true" colours and details. The obvious
object of the method is that it does not provide the reader with any
means of distinguishing between the elements borrowed from the
documents and the imaginary elements, not to mention the fact that
generally the documents used are not all of the same origin, so that
while the colour of each stone may be "true" that of the mosaic is
false. Dezobry's _Rome au siècle d'Auguste_, Augustin Thierry's _Récits
mérovingiens_, and other "pictures" produced at the same epoch were
constructed on the same principle, and are subject to the same drawbacks
as the historical novels properly so-called.[218]

We may summarise what precedes by saying that, up to about 1850, history
continued to be, both for historians and the public, a branch of
literature. An excellent proof of this lies in the fact that up till
then historians were accustomed to publish new editions of their works,
at intervals of several years, without making any change in them, and
that the public tolerated the practice. Now every scientific work needs
to be continually recast, revised, brought up to date. Scientific
workers do not claim to give their works an immutable form, they do not
expect to be read by posterity or to achieve personal immortality; it is
enough for them if the results of their researches, corrected, it may
be, and possibly transformed by subsequent researches, should be
incorporated in the fund of knowledge which forms the scientific
heritage of mankind. No one reads Newton or Lavoisier; it is enough for
their glory that their labours should have contributed to the
production of works by which their own have been superseded, and which
will be, sooner or later, superseded in their turn. It is only works of
art that enjoy perpetual youth. And the public is well aware of the
fact; no one would ever think of studying natural history in Buffon,
whatever his opinion might be of the merits of this stylist. But the
same public is quite ready to study history in Augustin Thierry, in
Macaulay, in Carlyle, in Michelet, and the books of the great writers
who have treated historical subjects are reprinted, fifty years after
the author's death, in their original form, though they are manifestly
no longer on a level with current knowledge. It is clear that, for many,
form counts before matter in history, and that an historical work is
primarily, if not exclusively, a work of art.[219]

II. It is within the last fifty years that the scientific forms of
historical exposition have been evolved and settled, in accordance with
the general principle that the aim of history is not to please, nor to
give practical maxims of conduct, nor to arouse the emotions, but
knowledge pure and simple.

We begin by distinguishing between (1) monographs and (2) works of a
general character.

(1) A man writes a monograph when he proposes to elucidate a special
point, a single fact, or a limited body of facts, for example the whole
or a portion of the life of an individual, a single event or a series of
events between two dates lying near together. The types of possible
subjects of a monograph cannot be enumerated, for the subject-matter of
history can be divided indefinitely, and in an infinite number of ways.
But all modes of division are not equally judicious, and, though the
reverse has been maintained, there are, in history as in all the
sciences, subjects which it would be stupid to treat in monographs, and
monographs which, though well executed, represent so much useless
labour.[220] Persons of moderate ability and no great mental range,
devoted to what is called "curious" learning, are very ready to occupy
themselves with insignificant questions;[221] indeed, for the purpose of
making a first estimate of an historian's intellectual power, a fairly
good criterion may be had in the list of the monographs he has
written.[222] It is the gift of seeing the important problems, and the
taste for their treatment, as well as the power of solving them, which,
in all the sciences, raise men to the first rank. But let us suppose the
subject has been rationally chosen. Every monograph, in order to be
useful--that is, capable of being fully turned to account--should
conform to three rules: (1) in a monograph every historical fact derived
from documents should only be presented accompanied by a reference to
the documents from which it is taken, and an estimate of the value of
these documents;[223] (2) chronological order should be followed as far
as possible, because this is the order in which we know that the facts
occurred, and by which we are guided in searching for causes and
effects; (3) the title of the monograph must enable its subject to be
known with exactitude: we cannot protest too strongly against those
incomplete or fancy titles which so unnecessarily complicate
bibliographical searches. A fourth rule has been laid down; it has been
said "a monograph is useful only when it exhausts the subject"; but it
is quite legitimate to do temporary work with documents which one has at
one's disposal, even when there is reason to believe that others exist,
provided always that precise notice is given as to what documents have
been employed.

Any one who has tact will see that, in a monograph, the apparatus of
demonstration, while needing to be complete, ought to be reduced to what
is strictly necessary. Sobriety is imperative; all parading of erudition
which might have been spared without inconvenience is odious.[224] In
history it often happens that the best executed monographs furnish no
other result than the proof that knowledge is impossible. It is
necessary to resist the desire which leads some to round off with
subjective, ambitious, and vague conclusions monographs which will not
bear them.[225] The proper conclusion of a good monograph is the
balance-sheet of the results obtained by it and the points left
doubtful. A monograph made on these principles may grow antiquated, but
it will not fall to pieces, and its author will never need to blush for

(2) Works of a general character are addressed either to students or to
the general public.

_A._ General works intended principally for students and specialists now
appear in the form of "repertories," "manuals," and "scientific
histories." In a repertory a number of verified facts belonging to a
given class are collected and arranged in an order which makes it easy
to refer to them. If the facts thus collected have precise dates,
chronological order is adopted: thus the task has been undertaken of
compiling "Annals" of German history, in which the summary entry of the
events, arranged by dates, is accompanied by the texts from which the
events are known, with accurate references to the sources and the works
of critics; the collection of the _Jahrbücher der deutschen Geschichte_
has for its object the elucidation, as far as is possible, of the facts
of German history, including all that is susceptible of scientific
discussion and proof, but omitting all that belongs to the domain of
appreciation and general views. When the facts are badly dated, or are
simultaneous, alphabetical arrangement must be employed; thus we have
Dictionaries: dictionaries of institutions, biographical dictionaries,
historical encyclopædias, such as the _Realencyclopædie_ of
Pauly-Wissowa. These alphabetical repertories are, in theory, just as
the _Jahrbücher_, collections of proved facts; if, in practice, the
references in them are less rigorous, if the apparatus of texts
supporting the statements is less complete, the difference is without
justification.[226] _Scientific manuals_ are also, properly speaking,
repertories, since they are collections in which established facts are
arranged in systematic order, and are exhibited objectively, with their
proofs, and without any literary adornment. The authors of these
"manuals," of which the most numerous and the most perfect specimens
have been composed in our days in the German universities, have no
object in view except to draw up minute inventories of the acquisitions
made by knowledge, in order that workers may be enabled to assimilate
the results of criticism with greater ease and rapidity, and may be
furnished with starting-points for new researches. Manuals of this kind
now exist for most of the special branches of the history of
civilisation (languages, literature, religion, law, _Alterthümer_, and
so on), for the history of institutions, for the different parts of
ecclesiastical history. It will suffice to mention the names of
Schoemann, of Marquardt and Mommsen, of Gilbert, of Krumbacher, of
Harnack, of Möller. These works are not marked by the dryness of the
majority of the primitive "manuals," which were published in Germany a
hundred years ago, and which were little more than tables of subjects,
with references to the books and documents to be consulted; in the
modern type the exposition and discussion are no doubt terse and
compact, but yet not abbreviated beyond a point at which they may be
tolerated, even preferred by cultivated readers. They take away the
taste for other books, as G. Paris very well says:[227] "When one has
feasted on these substantial pages, so full of facts, which, with all
their appearance of impersonality, yet contain, and above all suggest,
so many thoughts, it is difficult to read books, even books of
distinction, in which the subject is cut up symmetrically to fit in with
a preconceived system, is coloured by fancy, and is, so to speak,
presented to us in disguise, books in which the author continually comes
between us and the spectacle which he claims to make intelligible to us,
but which he never allows us to see." The great historical "manuals,"
uniform with the treatises and manuals of the other sciences (with the
added complication of authorities and proofs), ought to be, and are,
continually improved, emended, corrected, brought up to date: they are,
by definition, works of science and not of art.

The earliest repertories and the earliest scientific "manuals" were
composed by isolated individuals. But it was soon recognised that a
single man cannot correctly arrange, or have the proper mastery over a
vast collection of facts. The task has been divided. Repertories are
executed, in our days, by collaborators in association (who are
sometimes of different nationalities and write in different languages).
The great manuals (of I. von Müller, of G. Gröber, of H. Paul, and
others) are collections of special treatises each written by a
specialist. The principle of collaboration is excellent, but on
condition (1) that the collective work is of a nature to be resolved
into great independent, though co-ordinated, monographs; (2) that the
section entrusted to each collaborator has a certain extent; if the
number of collaborators is too great and the part of each too limited,
the liberty and the responsibility of each are diminished or disappear.

_Histories_, intended to give a narrative of events which happened but
once, and to state the general facts which dominate the whole course of
special evolutions, still have a reason for existence, even after the
multiplication of methodical manuals. But scientific methods of
exposition have been introduced into them, as into monographs and
manuals, and that by imitation. The reform has consisted, in every case,
in the renunciation of literary ornaments and of statements without
proof. Grote produced the first model of a "history" thus defined. At
the same time certain forms which once had a vogue have now fallen into
disuse: this is the case with the "Universal Histories" with continuous
narrative, which were so much liked, for different reasons, in the
Middle Ages and in the eighteenth century; in the present century
Schlosser and Weber in Germany, Cantù in Italy, have produced the last
specimens of them. This type has been abandoned for historical reasons,
because we have ceased to regard humanity as a whole, bound together by
a single evolution; and for practical reasons, because we have
recognised the impossibility of collecting so overwhelming a mass of
facts in a single work. The Universal Histories which are still
published in collaboration (the Oncken collection is the best type of
them), are, like the great manuals, composed of independent sections,
each treated by a different author; they are publishers' combinations.
Historians have in our days been led to adopt the division by states
(national histories) and by epochs.[228]

_B._ There is in theory no reason why historical works intended
principally for the public should not be conceived in the same spirit as
works designed for students and specialists, nor why they should not be
composed in the same manner, apart from simplifications and omissions
which readily suggest themselves. And, in fact, there are in existence
succinct, substantial, and readable summaries, in which no statement is
advanced which is not tacitly supported by solid references, in which
the acquisitions of science are precisely stated, judiciously
explained, their significance and value clearly brought out. The French,
thanks to their natural gifts of tact, dexterity, and accuracy of mind,
excel, as a rule, in this department. There have been published in our
country review-articles and works of higher popularisation in which the
results of a number of original works have been cleverly condensed, in a
way that has won the admiration of the very specialists who, by their
heavy monographs, have rendered these works possible. Nothing, however,
is more dangerous than popularisation. As a matter of fact, most works
of popularisation do not conform to the modern ideal of historical
exposition; we frequently find in them survivals of the ancient ideal,
that of antiquity, the Renaissance, and the romantic school.

The explanation is easy. The defects of the historical works designed
for the general public--defects which are sometimes enormous, and have,
with many able minds, discredited popular works as a class--are the
consequences of the insufficient preparation or of the inferior literary
education of the "popularisers."

A populariser is excused from original research; but he ought to know
everything of importance that has been published on his subject, he
ought to be up to date, and to have thought out for himself the
conclusions reached by the specialists. If he has not personally made a
special study of the subject he proposes to treat, he must obviously
read it up, and the task is long. For the professional populariser there
is a strong temptation to study superficially a few recent monographs,
to hastily string together or combine extracts from them, and, in order
to render this medley more attractive, to deck it out, as far as is
possible, with "general ideas" and external graces. The temptation is
all the stronger from the circumstance that most specialists take no
interest in works of popularisation, that these works are, in general,
lucrative, and that the public at large is not in a position to
distinguish clearly between honest and sham popularisation. In short,
there are some, absurd as it may seem, who do not hesitate to summarise
for others what they have not taken the trouble to learn for themselves,
and to teach that of which they are ignorant. Hence, in most works of
historical popularisation, there inevitably appear blemishes of every
kind, which the well-informed always note with pleasure, but with a
pleasure in which there is some touch of bitterness, because they alone
can see these faults: unacknowledged borrowings, inexact references,
mutilated names and texts, second-hand quotations, worthless hypotheses,
imprudent assertions, puerile generalisations, and, in the enunciation
of the most false or the most debatable opinions, an air of tranquil

On the other hand, men whose information is all that could be desired,
whose monographs intended for specialists are full of merit, sometimes
show themselves capable, when they write for the public, of grave
offences against scientific method. The Germans are habitual offenders:
consider Mommsen, Droysen, Curtius, and Lamprecht. The reason is that
these authors, when they address the public, wish to produce an effect
upon it. Their desire to make a strong impression leads them to a
certain relaxation of scientific rigour, and to the old rejected habits
of ancient historiography. These men, scrupulous and minute as they are
when they are engaged in establishing details, abandon themselves, in
their exposition of general questions, to their natural impulses, like
the common run of men. They take sides, they censure, they extol; they
colour, they embellish; they allow themselves to be influenced by
personal, patriotic, moral, or metaphysical considerations. And, over
and above all this, they apply themselves, with their several degrees of
talent, to the task of producing works of art; in this endeavour those
who have no talent make themselves ridiculous, and the talent of those
who have any is spoilt by their preoccupation with the effect they wish
to produce.

Not, let it be well understood, that "form" is of no importance, or
that, provided he makes himself intelligible, the historian has a right
to employ incorrect, vulgar, slovenly, or clumsy language. A contempt
for rhetoric, for paste diamonds and paper flowers, does not exclude a
taste for a pure and strong, a terse and pregnant style. Fustel de
Coulanges was a good writer, although throughout his life he recommended
and practised the avoidance of metaphor. On the contrary we see no harm
in repeating[230] that the historian, considering the extreme complexity
of the phenomena he undertakes to describe, is under an obligation not
to write badly. But he should write _consistently_ well, and never
bedeck himself with finery.


I. History is only the utilisation of documents. But it is a matter of
chance whether documents are preserved or lost. Hence the predominant
part played by chance in the formation of history.

The quantity of documents in existence, if not of known documents, is
given; time, in spite of all the precautions which are taken nowadays,
is continually diminishing it; it will never increase. History has at
its disposal a limited stock of documents; this very circumstance limits
the possible progress of historical science. When all the documents are
known, and have gone through the operations which fit them for use, the
work of critical scholarship will be finished. In the case of some
ancient periods, for which documents are rare, we can now see that in a
generation or two it will be time to stop. Historians will then be
obliged to take refuge more and more in modern periods. Thus history
will not fulfil the dream which, in the nineteenth century, inspired the
romantic school with so much enthusiasm for the study of history: it
will not penetrate the mystery of the origin of societies; and, for want
of documents, the beginnings of the evolution of humanity will always
remain obscure.

The historian does not collect by his own observation the materials
necessary for history as is done in the other sciences: he works on
facts the knowledge of which has been transmitted by former observers.
In history knowledge is not obtained, as in the other sciences, by
direct methods, it is indirect. History is not, as has been said, a
science of observation, but a science of reasoning.

In order to use facts which have been observed under unknown conditions,
it is necessary to apply criticism to them, and criticism consists in a
series of reasonings by analogy. The facts as furnished by criticism are
isolated and scattered; in order to organise them into a structure it is
necessary to imagine and group them in accordance with their
resemblances to facts of the present day, an operation which also
depends on the use of analogies. This necessity compels history to use
an exceptional method. In order to frame its arguments from analogy, it
must always combine the knowledge of the particular conditions under
which the facts of the past occurred with an understanding of the
general conditions under which the facts of humanity occur. Its method
is to draw up special _tables_ of the facts of an epoch in the past, and
to apply to them sets of _questions_ founded on the study of the

The operations which must necessarily be performed in order to pass from
the inspection of documents to the knowledge of the facts and evolutions
of the past are very numerous. Hence the necessity of the division and
organisation of labour in history. It is requisite, on the one hand,
that those specialists who occupy themselves with the search for
documents, their restoration and preliminary classification, should
co-ordinate their efforts, in order that the preparatory work of
critical scholarship may be finished as soon as possible, under the best
conditions as to accuracy and economy of labour. On the other hand,
authors of partial syntheses (monographs) designed to serve as materials
for more comprehensive syntheses ought to agree among themselves to work
on a common method, in order that the results of each may be used by the
others without preliminary investigations. Lastly, workers of experience
should be found to renounce personal research and devote their whole
time to the study of these partial syntheses, in order to combine them
scientifically in comprehensive works of historical construction. And if
the result of these labours were to bring out clear and certain
conclusions as to the nature and the causes of social evolution, a truly
scientific "philosophy of history" would have been created, which
historians might acknowledge as legitimately crowning historical

Conceivably a day may come when, thanks to the organisation of labour,
all existing documents will have been discovered, emended, arranged, and
all the facts established of which the traces have not been destroyed.
When that day comes, history will be established, but it will not be
fixed: it will continue to be gradually modified in proportion as the
direct study of existing societies becomes more scientific and permits a
better understanding of social phenomena and their evolution; for the
new ideas which will doubtless be acquired on the nature, the causes,
and the relative importance of social facts will continue to transform
the ideas which will be formed of the societies and events of the

II. It is an obsolete illusion to suppose that history supplies
information of practical utility in the conduct of life (_Historia
magistra vitæ_), lessons directly profitable to individuals and peoples;
the conditions under which human actions are performed are rarely
sufficiently similar at two different moments for the "lessons of
history" to be directly applicable. But it is an error to say, by way of
reaction, that "the distinguishing feature of history is to be good for
nothing."[232] It has an indirect utility.

History enables us to understand the present in so far as it explains
the origin of the existing state of things. Here we must admit that
history does not offer an equal interest through the whole extent of
time which it covers; there are remote generations whose traces are no
longer visible in the world as it now is; for the purpose of explaining
the political constitution of contemporary England, for example, the
study of the Anglo-Saxon witangemot is without value, that of the events
of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is all-important. The
evolution of the civilised societies has within the last hundred years
been accelerated to such a degree that, for the understanding of their
present form, the history of these hundred years is more important than
that of the ten preceding centuries. As an explanation of the present,
history would almost reduce to the study of the contemporary period.

History is also indispensable for the completion of the political and
social sciences, which are still in process of formation; for the direct
observation of social phenomena (in a state of rest) is not a sufficient
foundation for these sciences--there must be added a study of the
development of these phenomena in time, that is, their history.[233]
This is why all the sciences which deal with man (linguistic, law,
science of religions, political economy, and so on) have in this century
assumed the form of historical sciences.

But the chief merit of history is that of being an instrument of
intellectual culture; it is so in several ways. Firstly, the practice
of the historical method of investigation, of which the principles have
been sketched in the present volume, is very hygienic for the mind,
which it cures of credulity. Secondly, history, by exhibiting to us a
great number of differing societies, prepares us to understand and
tolerate a variety of usages; by showing us that societies have often
been transformed, it familiarises us with variation in social forms, and
cures us of a morbid dread of change. Lastly, the contemplation of past
evolutions, which enables us to understand how the transformations of
humanity are brought about by changes of habits and the renewal of
generations, saves us from the temptation of applying biological
analogies (selection, struggle for existence, inherited habits, and so
on) to the explanation of social evolution, which is not produced by the
operation of the same causes as animal evolution.




I. The teaching of history is a recent addition to secondary education.
Formerly history was taught to the sons of kings and great persons, in
order to give them a preparation in the art of governing, according to
the ancient tradition, but it was a sacred science reserved for the
future rulers of states, a science for princes, not for subjects. The
secondary schools which have been organised since the sixteenth century,
ecclesiastical or secular, Catholic or Protestant, did not admit history
into their plan of study, or only admitted it as an appendage to the
study of the ancient languages. This was the tradition of the Jesuits in
France; it was adopted by the University of Napoleon.

History was only introduced into secondary education in the nineteenth
century, under the pressure of public opinion; and although it has been
allotted more space in France than in England, or even in Germany, it
has continued to be a subsidiary subject, not taught in a special class
(as philosophy is), nor always by a special professor, and counting for
very little in examinations.

Historical instruction has for a long time felt the effects of the
manner in which it was introduced. The subject was imposed by the
authorities on teachers trained exclusively in the study of literature,
and could find no suitable place in a system of classical education
based on the study of forms, and indifferent to the knowledge of social
phenomena. History was taught because it was prescribed by the
programme; but this programme, the sole motive and guide of the
instruction, was always an accident, and varied with the preferences, or
even the personal studies of those who framed it. History formed part of
the social conventions; there are, it was said, names and facts "of
which it is not permissible to be ignorant"; but the things of which
ignorance was not permitted varied greatly, from the names of the
Merovingian kings and the battles of the Seven Years' War to the Salic
Law and the work of Saint Vincent de Paul.

The improvised staffs which, in order to carry out the programme, had to
furnish impromptu instruction in history, had no clear idea either of
the reasons for such instruction, or of its place in general education,
or of the technical methods necessary for giving it. With this lack of
tradition, of pedagogic preparation, and even of mechanical aids, the
professor of history found himself carried back to the ages before
printing, when the teacher had to supply the pupil with all the facts
which formed the subject-matter of instruction, and he adopted the
mediæval procedure. Armed with a note-book in which he had written down
the list of facts to be taught, he read it out to the pupils, sometimes
making a pretence of extemporising; this was the "lesson," the
corner-stone of historical instruction. The whole series of lessons,
determined by the programme, formed the "course." The pupil was expected
to write as he listened (this was called "taking notes") and to compose
a written account of what he had heard (this was the _rédaction_). But
as the pupils were not taught how to take notes, nearly all of them were
content to write very rapidly, from the professor's dictation, a rough
draft, which they copied out at home in the form of a _rédaction_,
without any endeavour to grasp the meaning either of what they heard or
what they transcribed. To this mechanical labour the most zealous added
extracts copied from books, generally with just as little reflection.

In order to get the facts judged essential into the pupils' heads, the
professor used to make a very short version of the lesson, the "summary"
or "abstract," which he dictated openly, and caused to be learnt by
heart. Thus of the two written exercises which occupied nearly the whole
time of the class, one (the summary) was an overt dictation, the other
(the _rédaction_) an unavowed dictation.

The only means adopted to check the pupils' work was to make them repeat
the summary word for word, and to question them on the _rédaction_, that
is to make them repeat approximately the words of the professor. Of the
two oral exercises one was an overt, the other an unavowed repetition.

It is true the pupil was given a book, the _Précis d'histoire_,[234] but
this book had the same form as the professor's course, and instead of
serving as a basis for the oral instruction, merely duplicated it, and,
as a rule, duplicated it badly, for it was not intelligible to the
pupil. The authors of these text-books,[235] adopting the traditional
methods of "abridgments," endeavoured to accumulate the greatest
possible number of facts by omitting all their characteristic details
and summarising them in the most general, and therefore vague,
expressions. In the elementary books nothing was left but a residue of
proper names and dates connected by formulæ of a uniform type; history
appeared as a series of wars, treaties, reforms, revolutions, which only
differed in the names of peoples, sovereigns, fields of battle, and in
the figures giving the years.[236]

Such, down to the end of the Second Empire, was historical instruction
in all French institutions, both secular and ecclesiastical--with a few
exceptions, whose merit is measured by their rarity, for in those days a
professor of history needed a more than common share of energy and
initiative to rise above the routine of _rédaction_ and summary.

II. In recent times the general movement of educational reform, which
began in the Department and the Faculties, has at last extended to
secondary instruction. The professors of history have been emancipated
from the jealous supervision which weighed on their teaching under the
government of the Empire, and have taken the opportunity to make trial
of new methods. A system of historical pedagogy has been devised. It has
been revealed with the approbation of the Department in the discussions
of the society for the study of questions of secondary education, in the
_Revue de l'enseignement secondaire_, and in the _Revue universitaire_.
It has received official sanction in the _Instructions_ appended to the
programme of 1890; the report on history, the work of M. Lavisse, has
become the charter which protects the professors who favour reform in
their struggle against tradition.[237]

Historical instruction will no doubt issue from this crisis of
renovation organised and provided with a rational pedagogic and
technical system, such as is possessed by the older branches of
instruction in languages, literature, and philosophy. But it is only to
be expected that the reform should be much slower than in the case of
the higher instruction. The _personnel_ is much more numerous, and takes
longer to train or to renew; the pupils are less zealous and less
intelligent; the routine of the parents opposes to the new methods a
force of inertia which is unknown to the Faculties; and the
Baccalaureate, that general obstacle to all reform, is particularly
mischievous in its effect on historical instruction, which it reduces to
a set of questions and answers.

III. It is now possible, however, to indicate what is the direction in
which historical instruction is likely to develop in France[238] and the
questions which will need to be solved for the purpose of introducing a
rational technical system. Here we shall endeavour to formulate these
questions in a methodical table.

(1) _General Organisation._--What object should historical instruction
aim at? What services can it render to the culture of the pupil? What
influence can it have upon his conduct? What facts ought it to enable
him to understand? And, consequently, what principles ought to guide the
choice of subjects and methods? Ought the instruction to be spread over
the whole duration of the classes, or should it be concentrated in a
special class? Should it be given in one-hour or two-hour classes?
Should history be distributed into several cycles, as in Germany, so as
to cause the pupil to return several times to the same subject at
different periods of his studies? Or should it be expounded in a single
continuous course, beginning with the commencement of study, as in
France? Should the professor give a complete course, or should he select
a few questions and leave the pupil to study the others by himself?
Should he expound the facts orally, or should he require the pupils to
learn them in the first instance from a book, so as to make the course a
series of explanations?

(2) _Choice of Subjects._--What proportion should be observed between
home and foreign history? between ancient and contemporary history?
between the special branches of history (art, religion, customs,
economics) and general history? between institutions or usages, and
events? between the evolution of material usages, intellectual history,
social life, political life? between the study of particular incidents,
of biography, of dramatic episodes, and the study of the interconnection
of events and general evolutions? What place should be assigned to
proper names and dates? Should we profit by the opportunities afforded
by legends to arouse the critical spirit? or should we avoid legends?

(3) _Order._--In what order should the subjects be attacked? Should
instruction begin with the most ancient periods and the countries with
the most ancient civilisations in order to follow chronological order
and the order of evolution? or should it begin with the periods and the
countries which are nearest to us so as to proceed from the better known
to the less known? In the exposition of each period, should the
chronological, geographical, or logical order be followed? Should the
teacher begin by describing conditions or by narrating events?

(4) _Methods of Instruction._--Should the pupil be given general formulæ
first or particular images? Should the professor state the formulæ
himself or require the pupil to search for them? Should formulæ be
learnt by heart? In what cases? How are images of historical facts to be
produced in the pupils' minds? What use is to be made of engravings? of
reproductions and restorations? of imaginary scenes? What use is to be
made of narratives and descriptions? of authors' texts? of historical
novels? To what extent ought words and formulæ to be quoted? How are
facts to be localised? What use is to be made of chronological tables?
of synchronical tables? of geographical sketches? of statistical and
graphic tables? What is the way to make comprehensible the character of
events and customs? the motives of actions? the conditions of customs?
How are the episodes of an event to be chosen? and the examples of a
custom? How is the interconnection of facts and the process of evolution
to be made intelligible? What use is to be made of comparison? What
style of language is to be employed? To what extent should concrete,
abstract, and technical terms be used? How is it to be verified that the
pupil has understood the terms and assimilated the facts? Can exercises
be organised in which the pupil may do original work on the facts? What
instruments of study should the pupil have? How should school-books be
compiled, with a view to giving the pupil practice in original work?

For the purpose of stating and justifying the solutions of all these
problems, a special treatise would not be too much.[239] Here we shall
merely indicate the general principles on which a tolerable agreement
seems to have been now reached in France.

We no longer go to history for lessons in morals, nor for good examples
of conduct, nor yet for dramatic or picturesque scenes. We understand
that for all these purposes legend would be preferable to history, for
it presents a chain of causes and effects more in accordance with our
ideas of justice, more perfect and heroic characters, finer and more
affecting scenes. Nor do we seek to use history, as is done in Germany,
for the purpose of promoting patriotism and loyalty; we feel that it
would be illogical for different persons to draw opposite conclusions
from the same science according to their country or party; it would be
an invitation to every people to mutilate, if not to alter, history in
the direction of its preferences. We understand that the value of every
science consists in its being true, and we ask from history truth and
nothing more.[240]

The function of history in education is perhaps not yet clearly apparent
to all those who teach it. But all those who reflect are agreed to
regard it as being principally an instrument of social culture. The
study of the societies of the past causes the pupil to understand, by
the help of actual instances, what a society is; it familiarises him
with the principal social phenomena and the different species of usages,
their variety and their resemblances. The study of events and evolutions
familiarises him with the idea of the continual transformation which
human affairs undergo, it secures him against an unreasoning dread of
social changes; it rectifies his notion of progress. All these
acquisitions render the pupil fitter for public life; history thus
appears as an indispensable branch of instruction in a democratic

The guiding principle of historical pedagogy will therefore be to seek
for those subjects and those methods which are best calculated to
exhibit social phenomena and give an understanding of their evolution.
Before admitting a fact into the plan of instruction, it should be asked
first of all what educational influence it can exercise; secondly,
whether there are adequate means of bringing the pupil to see and
understand it. Every fact should be discarded which is instructive only
in a low degree, or which is too complicated to be understood, or in
regard to which we do not possess details enough to make it

IV. To make rational instruction a reality it is not enough to develop a
theory of historical pedagogy. It is necessary to renew the material
aids and the methods.

History necessarily involves the knowledge of a great number of facts.
The professor of history, with no resources but his voice, a blackboard,
and abridgments which are little better than chronological tables, is in
much the same situation as a professor of Latin without texts or
dictionary. The pupil in history needs a repertory of historical facts
as the Latin pupil needs a repertory of Latin words; he needs
collections of _facts_, and the school text-books are mostly collections
of _words_.

There are two vehicles of facts, engravings and books. Engravings
exhibit material objects and external aspects, they are useful
principally for the study of material civilisation. It is some time
since the attempt was first made in Germany to put in the hands of the
pupil a collection of engravings arranged for the purposes of historical
instruction. The same need has, in France, produced the _Album
historique_, which is published under the direction of M. Lavisse.

The book is the chief instrument. It ought to contain all the
characteristic features necessary for forming mental representations of
the events, the motives, the habits, the institutions studied; it will
consist principally in narratives and descriptions, to which
characteristic sayings and formulæ may be appended. For a long time it
was endeavoured to construct those books out of extracts selected from
ancient authors; they were compiled in the form of collections of
texts.[241] Experience seems to indicate that this method must be
abandoned; it has a scientific appearance, it is true, but is not
intelligible to children. It is better to address pupils in contemporary
language. It is in this spirit that, pursuant to the _Instructions_ of
1890,[242] collections of _Historical Readings_ have been compiled, of
which the most important has been published by the firm of Hachette.

The pupils' methods of work still bear witness to the late introduction
of historical teaching. In most historical classes methods still prevail
which only exercise the pupils' receptivity: the course of lectures, the
summary, reading, questioning, the _rédaction_, the reproduction of
maps. It is as if a Latin pupil were to confine himself to repeating
grammar-lessons and extracts from authors, without ever doing
translation or composition.

In order that the teaching may make an adequate impression, it is
necessary, if not to discard all these passive methods, at least to
supplement them by exercises which call out the activity of the pupil.
Some such exercises have already been experimented with, and others
might be devised.[243] The pupil may be set to analyse engravings,
narratives, and descriptions in such a way as to bring out the character
of the facts: the short written or oral analysis will guarantee that he
has seen and understood, it will be an opportunity to inculcate the
habit of using only precise terms. Or the pupil may be asked to furnish
a drawing, a geographical sketch, a synchronical table. He may be
required to draw up tables of comparison between different societies,
and tables showing the interconnection of facts.

A book is needed to supply the pupil with the materials for these
exercises. Thus the reform of methods is connected with the reform of
the instruments of work. Both reforms will progress according as the
professors and the public perceive more clearly the part played by
historical instruction in social education.



The higher teaching of history has been in a great measure transformed,
in our country, within the last thirty years. The process has been
gradual, as it ought to have been, and has consisted in a succession of
slight modifications. But although a rational continuity has been
observed in the steps taken, the great number of these steps has not
failed, in these last days, to astonish, and even to offend, the public.
Public opinion, to which appeal has been made in favour of reforms, has
been somewhat surprised by being appealed to so often, and perhaps it is
not superfluous to indicate here, once more, the general significance
and the inner logic of the movement which we are witnessing.

I. Before the last years of the Second Empire, the higher teaching of
the historical sciences was organised in France on no coherent

There were chairs of history in different institutions, of different
types: at the Collège de France, in the Faculties of Letters, and in the
"special schools," such as the École normale supérieure and the École
des chartes.

The Collège de France was a relic of the institutions of the _ancien
régime_. It was founded in the sixteenth century in opposition to the
scholastic Sorbonne, to be a refuge for the new sciences, and had the
glorious privilege of representing historically the higher speculative
studies, the spirit of free inquiry, and the interests of pure science.
Unfortunately, in the domain of the historical sciences, the Collège de
France had allowed its traditions to be obliterated up to a certain
point. The great men who taught history in this illustrious institution
(J. Michelet, for example), were not technical experts, nor even men of
learning, in the proper sense of the word. The audiences which they
swayed by their eloquence were not composed of students of history.

The Faculties of Letters formed part of a system established by the
Napoleonic legislator. This legislator, in creating the Faculties, by no
means entertained the design of encouraging scientific research. He had
no great love for science. The Faculties of Law, of Medicine, and so on,
were intended by him to be professional schools supplying society with
the lawyers, physicians, and so on, which it needs. But three of the
five Faculties were unable, from the beginning, to perform the part
allotted them, while the other two, Law and Medicine, successfully
performed theirs. The Faculties of Catholic Theology did not train the
priests needed by society, because the State consented to the education
of the priests being conducted in the diocesan seminaries. The Faculties
of Sciences and of Letters did not train the professors for secondary
education, the engineers, and so on, needed by society, because they
were here met by the triumphant competition of "special schools"
previously instituted: the École normale, the École polytechnique. The
Faculties of Catholic Theology, of Sciences, and of Letters were
therefore obliged to justify their existence by other modes of activity.
In particular, the professors of history in the Faculties of Letters
could not undertake the instruction of the young men who were destined
to teach history in the _lycées_. Deprived of these special pupils, they
found themselves in a situation analogous to that of those charged with
historical instruction at the Collège de France. They too were not, as a
rule, technical experts. For half a century they carried on the work of
higher popularisation in lectures delivered to large audiences of
leisured persons (since much abused), who were attracted by the force,
the elegance, and the pleasing style of their diction.

The function of training the future teachers for secondary education was
reserved for the École normale supérieure. Now at this epoch it was an
admitted principle that to be a good secondary teacher it is necessary
for a man to know, and sufficient to know perfectly, the subject he is
charged to teach. The one is certainly necessary, but the other is not
sufficient: knowledge of a different, of a higher, order is no less
indispensable than the regular "scholastic" equipment. At the École
there was never any question of such higher knowledge, but, in
accordance with the prevailing theory, preparation was made for
secondary teaching simply by imparting it. However, as the École normale
has always been excellently recruited, the system in vogue has not
prevented it from numbering among its former pupils men of the first
order, not only as professors, thinkers, or writers, but even as
critical scholars. But it must be recognised that they made their way
for themselves, in spite of the system, not thanks to it, after, not
during, their pupilage, and principally when they had the advantage,
during a stay at the French School at Athens, of the wholesome contact
with documents which they had not enjoyed at the Rue d'Ulm. "Does it not
seem strange," it has been said, "that so many generations of professors
should have been turned out by the École normale incapable of utilising
documents?... Formerly, in short, students of history, on leaving the
École, were not prepared either to teach history, which they had learned
in a great hurry, or to investigate difficult questions."[245]

As for the École des chartes, which was founded under the Restoration,
it was, from a certain point of view, a special school like the others,
designed in theory to train those useful functionaries, archivists and
librarians. But professional instruction was early reduced to a strict
minimum, and the École des chartes was organised on a very original
plan, with a view to provide a rational and complete apprenticeship for
the young men who proposed to study mediæval French history. The pupils
of the École des chartes did not follow any course of "mediæval
history," but they learnt all that is necessary for doing work on the
solution of the still open questions of mediæval history. Here alone, in
virtue of an accidental anomaly, the subjects which are preliminary and
auxiliary to historical research were systematically taught. We have
already had occasion to note the effects of this circumstance.[246]

This was the state of affairs when, towards the end of the Second
Empire, a vigorous reform movement set in. Some young Frenchmen had
visited Germany; they had been struck by the superiority of the German
university system over the Napoleonic system of Faculties and special
schools. Certainly France, with its defective organisation, had produced
many men and many works, but it now began to be held that "in all kinds
of enterprises the least possible part should be left to chance," and
that "when an institution proposes to train professors of history and
historians, it ought to supply them with the means of becoming what it
intends them to be."

M. V. Duruy, minister of Public Education, supported the partisans of a
renaissance of the higher studies. But he did not think it practicable
to interfere, for the purpose either of remodelling, of fusing, or of
suppressing them, with the existing institutions,--the Collège de
France, the Faculties of Letters, the École normale supérieure, the
École des chartes, all of which were consecrated by the services they
had rendered, and by the lustre they received from the eminent men who
had been, or were, connected with them. He changed nothing, he added. He
crowned the somewhat heterogeneous edifice of existing institutions by
the creation of an "École pratique des hautes études," which was
established at the Sorbonne in 1868.

The École pratique des hautes études (historical and philological
section) was intended by those who founded it to prepare young men for
research of a scientific character. It was not meant to be subservient
to the interests of the professions, and there was to be no
popularisation. Students were not to go there to learn the results
obtained by science, but, for the same purpose which takes the chemical
student to the laboratory, to be initiated into the technical methods by
which new results can be obtained. Thus the spirit of the new
institution was not without some analogy to that of the primitive
tradition of the Collège de France. It was endeavoured to do there, for
all the branches of universal history and philology, what had long been
done at the École des chartes for the limited domain of French mediæval

II. As long as the Faculties of Letters were satisfied to be as they
were (that is, without students), and as long as their ambition did not
go beyond their traditional functions (the holding of public lectures,
the conferring of degrees), the organisation of the higher teaching of
the historical sciences in France remained in the condition which we
have described. When the Faculties of Letters began to seek a new
justification for their existence and new functions, changes became

This is not the place to explain why and how the Faculties of Letters
were led to desire to work more actively, or rather in other ways than
in the past, for the promotion of the historical sciences. M. V. Duruy,
in inaugurating the École des hautes études at the Sorbonne, had
declared that this young and vigorous plant would thrust asunder the old
stones; and, without a doubt, the spectacle of the fruitful activity of
the École des hautes études has contributed not a little to awaken the
conscience of the Faculties. On the other hand the liberality of the
public authorities, which have increased the _personnel_ of the
Faculties, which have built palaces for them, and liberally endowed them
with the materials required by their work, has imposed new duties on
these privileged institutions.

It is about twenty-five years since the Faculties of Letters began to
transform themselves, and during this period their progressive
transformation has occasioned changes in the whole fabric of the higher
teaching of historical science in France, which up to that time had
remained unshaken, even by the ingenious addition of 1868.

III. The first care of the Faculties was to provide themselves with
students. This was not, to be sure, the main difficulty, for the École
normale supérieurs (in which twenty pupils are admitted every year,
chosen from among hundreds of candidates) was no longer sufficient for
the recruiting of the now numerous body of professors engaged in
secondary education. Many young men who had been candidates (along with
the pupils of the École normale supérieure) for the degrees which give
access to the scholastic profession, were thrown on their own resources.
Here was an assured supply of students. At the same time the military
laws, by attaching much-prized immunities to the title of _licencié ès
lettres_, were calculated to attract to the Faculties, if they prepared
students for the licentiate, a large and very interesting class of young
men. Lastly, the foreigners (so numerous at the École des hautes
études), who come to France to complete their scientific education, and
who up to that time were surprised to have no opportunity of profiting
by the Faculties, were sure to go to them as soon as they found there
something analogous to what they had been accustomed to find in the
German universities, and the kind of instruction they wanted.

Before students in any great number could be taught the way to the
Faculties, great efforts were necessary and several years passed; but it
was after the Faculties obtained the students they desired that the real
problems presented themselves for solution.

The great majority of the students in the Faculties of Letters have been
originally candidates for degrees, for the licentiate, and for
_agrégation_, who entered with the avowed intention of "preparing" for
the licentiate and for _agrégation_. The Faculties have not been able to
escape the obligation of helping them in this "preparation." But, twenty
years ago, examinations were still conceived in accordance with ancient
formulæ. The licentiate was an attestation of advanced secondary study,
a kind of "higher baccalaureate"; for the _agrégation_ in the classes of
history and geography (which became the real _licentia docendi_), the
candidates were required to show that they "had a very good knowledge of
the subjects they would be charged to teach." Henceforth there was a
danger lest the teaching of the Faculties, which must, like that of the
École normale supérieure, be preparatory for the examinations for the
licentiate and for _agrégation_, should be compelled by the force of
circumstances to assume the same character. Note that a certain
emulation could not fail to arise between the pupils of the École
normale and those of the Faculties in the competitions for _agrégation_.
The _agrégation_ programmes being what they were, this emulation seemed
likely to have the result of engaging the rival teachers and students
more and more in school work, not of a scientific kind, equally devoid
of dignity and real utility.

The danger was very serious. It was perceived from the first by those
clear-sighted promoters of the reform of the Faculties, MM. A. Dumont,
L. Liard, E. Lavisse. M. Lavisse wrote in 1884: "To maintain that the
Faculties have for their chief object the preparation for examinations
is to substitute drill for scientific culture: this is the serious
grievance which able men have against the partisans of innovation....
The partisans of innovation reply that they have seen the drawbacks of
the new departure from the beginning, but that they are convinced that a
modification of the examination-system will follow the reform of higher
education; that a reconciliation will be found between scientific work
and the preparation for examinations; and that thus the only grievance
their opponents have against them will fall to the ground." It is only
doing justice to the foremost champion of reform to acknowledge that he
was never tired of insisting on the weak point; and in order to convince
oneself that the _examination question_ has always been considered the
key-stone of the problem of the organisation of higher education in
France, it is only necessary to look through the speeches and the
articles entitled "Education and Examinations," "Examinations and
Study," "Study and Examinations," &c., which M. Lavisse has collected in
his three volumes published at intervals of five years from 1885
onwards: _Questions d'enseignement national, Études et étudiants, A
propos de nos écoles._

Thus the question of the reform of the examinations connected with
higher education (licentiate, _agrégation_, doctorate) has been placed
on the order of the day. It was then in 1884; it is still there in 1897.
But, during the interval, visible progress has been made in the
direction which we consider the right one, and now a solution seems

IV. The old examination-system required candidates for degrees to show
that they had received an excellent secondary education. As it condemned
those candidates, students receiving higher instruction, to exercises of
the same kind as those of which they had already had their fill in the
_lycées_, it was a simple matter to attack it. It was defended feebly,
and has been demolished.

But how was it to be replaced? The problem was very complex. Is it any
wonder that it was not solved at a stroke?

First of all, it was important to come to an agreement on this
preliminary question: What are the capacities and what is the knowledge
students should be required to give proof of possessing? General
knowledge? Technical knowledge and the capacity of doing original
research (as at the École des chartes and the École des hautes études)?
Pedagogic capacity? It came gradually to be recognised that, considering
the great extent and variety of the class from which the students are
drawn, it is necessary to draw distinctions.

From candidates for the licentiate it is enough to require that they
should give proof of good general culture, permitting them at the same
time, if they wish, to show that they have a taste for, and some
experience in, original research.

From the candidates for _agrégation_ (_licentia docendi_) who have
already obtained the licentiate, there will be required (1) formal proof
that they know, by experience, what it is to study an historical
problem, and that they have the technical knowledge necessary for such
studies; (2) proof of pedagogic capacity, which is a professional
necessity for this class.

The students who are not candidates for anything, neither for the
licentiate nor for _agrégation_, and who are simply seeking to obtain
scientific initiation--the old programmes did not contemplate the
existence of such a class of students--will merely be required to prove
that they have profited by the tuition and the advice they have

This settled, a great stride has been made. For programmes, as we know,
regulate study. By virtue of the authority of the programmes historical
studies in the Faculties will now have the threefold character which it
is desirable that they should have. General culture will not cease to be
held in honour. Technical exercises in criticism and research will have
their legitimate place. Lastly, pedagogy (theoretical and practical)
will not be neglected.

The difficulties begin when it is attempted to determine the tests
which, in each department, are the best, that is, the most conclusive.
On this subject opinions differ. Though no one now contests the
principles, the modes of application which have hitherto been tried or
suggested do not meet with unanimous approval. The organisation of the
licentiate has been revised three times; the statute relating to the
_agrégation_ in history has been reformed or amended five times. And
this is not the end. New simplifications are imperative. But what is the
importance of this instability--of which, however, complaints begin to
be heard[247]--if it is established, as we believe it is, that progress
towards a better state of things has been continuous through all these
changes, without any notable retrogression?

There is no need to explain here in detail the different transitory
systems which have been put into practice. We have had occasion to
criticise them elsewhere.[248] Now that most of what we objected to has
been abolished, what is the use of reviving old controversies? We shall
not even mention the points in which the present system seems to us to
be still capable of improvement, for there is reason to hope that it
will soon be modified, and in a very satisfactory manner. Let it suffice
to say that the Faculties now confer a new diploma, the _Diplôme
d'études supérieures_, which all the students have a right to seek, but
which the candidates for _agrégation_ are obliged to obtain. This
diploma of higher studies, analogous to that of the École des hautes
études, the _brevet_ of the École des chartes, and the doctorate in
philosophy at the German universities, is given to those students of
history who, qualified by a certain academical standing, have passed an
examination in which the principal tests are, besides questions on the
"sciences" auxiliary to historical research, the composition and the
defence of an original monograph. Every one now recognises that "the
examination for the diploma of studies will yield excellent fruit, if
the vigilance and conscientiousness of examiners maintain it at its
proper value."[249]

V. To sum up, the attractions of preparation for degrees have brought
the Faculties a host of students. But, under the old system of
examinations for the licentiate and for _agrégation_, preparation for
degrees was a task which did not harmonise very well with the work which
the Faculties deemed suitable for themselves, useful to their pupils,
and advantageous to science. The examination-system has therefore been
perseveringly reformed, not without difficulty, into conformity with a
certain ideal of what the higher teaching of history ought to be. The
result is that the Faculties have taken rank among the institutions
which contribute to the positive progress of the historical sciences. An
enumeration of the works which have appeared under their auspices during
the last few years would, if necessary, bear witness to the fact.

This evolution has already produced satisfactory results, and will
produce more if it goes on as well as it has begun. To begin with, the
transformation of historical instruction in the Faculties has brought
about a corresponding transformation at the École normale supérieure.
The École normale has also, for two years, been awarding a "_Diplôme
d'études_"; original researches, pedagogic exercises, and general
culture are encouraged there in the same degree as by the new Faculties.
It now differs from the Faculties only in being a close institution,
recruited under certain precautions; practically it is a Faculty like
the others, but with a small number of select students. Secondly, the
École des hautes études and the École des chartes, both of which will be
installed at the end of 1897, in the renovated Sorbonne, have still
their justification for existence; for many specialists are represented
at the École des hautes études which are not, and doubtless never will
be, represented in the Faculties; and, in the case of the studies
bearing on mediæval history, the body of converging instruction given at
the École des chartes will always be incomparable. But the old
antagonism between the École des hautes études and the École des chartes
on the one hand, and the Faculties on the other, has disappeared. All
these institutions, lately so dissimilar, will henceforth co-operate for
the purpose of carrying on a common work in a common spirit. Each of
these retains its name, its autonomy, and its traditions; but together
they form a whole: the historical section of an ideal University of
Paris, much vaster than the one which was sanctioned by the law in 1896.
Of this "greater" University, the École des chartes, the École des
hautes études, the École normale supérieure, and the whole body of
historical instruction given by the Faculty of Letters, are now
practically so many independent "_instituts_."


Abd-el-Kader, 282

Aimo, 158

Alexander the Great, 272

Alphonse of Poitiers, 227

Altamira, R., 328

Anselme, Père, 303

Ariovistus, 222

Aristophanes, 171

Aristotle, 44

Athenæus, 300

Bacon, Francis, 291

Bancroft, H. H., 19, 20, 22, 31

Barthélemy, Abbé, 301

Bast, F. J., 78

Bédier, J., 85, 112

Bernheim, E., 6, 7, 10, 13, 38, 56, 74, 91, 99, 100, 156, 182, 198,
237, 297

Blanchère, R., de la, 319

Blass, F., 74, 78, 79, 89, 92

Bodin, Jean, 44

Boeckh, A., 107, 152

Böhmer, J. F., 106

Bollandists, Society of, 35

Bonaventura, St., 88, 90

Bouché-Leclercq, A., 158

Boucherie, A., 113

Bourdeau, L., 275

Boutaric, E., 227

Boyce, W. B., 1

Bréquigny, L. G. O. F. de, 106

Broglie, E. de, 29

Brugière de Barante, A. G. P., 301

Brunetière, F., 113

Buchez, P. J. B., 1

Bühler, G., 56

Cæsar, Julius, 44, 194, 197, 218, 220, 222, 245

Cagnat, R., 57

Cantù, C., 311

Carlyle, Thomas, 132, 230, 303

Champollion, F., 48

Charles IX. of France, 168, 186

Chasles, M., 88

Chateaubriand, F. A. de, 72, 301

Chemosh, the god, 212

Chérot, H., 7

Chevalier, U., 5, 7

Chladenius, J. M., 6

Cicero, 44, 108

Cleopatra, 88, 248

Clovis, 158, 220, 223, 301

Cobet, C. C., 78

Coulanges, Fustel de, 1, 9, 10, 64, 140, 144,
148, 149, 150, 158, 170, 215, 216, 230

Cournot, A. A., 246, 249

Cousin, V., 286, 287

Curtius, G., 230, 314

Daniel, Père, 303

Daremberg, C. V., 308

Darius Hystaspes, 151

Daunou, P. C. F., 5, 6, 43, 47, 54, 55

Delisle, L., 23, 97

Deloche, J. E. M., 148

Demosthenes, 171

Dezobry, C. L., 302

Droysen, J. G., 3, 5, 7, 10, 106, 156, 158, 286, 314

Du Cange, C. du F., 105, 136, 148

Dumont, A., 341

Duruy, V., 327, 338, 339

Ebers, G., 301

Edward VI. of England, 249

Egger, E., 108

Eginhard, 94

Ephorus, 298

Eusebius, 298

Feillet, A., 162

Feugère, L., 105, 136

Fisher, H. A. L., 125

Flaubert, G., 5, 32, 304, 319

Flint, R., 2, 6, 8, 285

France, A., 319

Fredegonda, 197

Freeman, E. A., 5, 7, 10, 46

Froissart, Jean, 19

Froude, J. A., 125, 126

Geiger, W., 56

Gellius, Aulus, 300

Georgisch, P., 106

Giannone, Pietro, 104

Gibbon, E., 44

Gilbert, Gustav, 309

Giry, A., 57

Glasson, E., 149

Goethe, J. W. von, 19, 319

Gow, J., 75

Graux, C., 123

Gregory of Corinth, 78

Gregory of Tours, 144, 146, 158, 180, 198, 256

Gröber, G., 57, 310

Grote, G., 183, 310

Grotius, Hugo, 44

Guicciardini, Francesco, 44

Guiraud, P., 230

Hagen, H., 78

Hardouin, Père, 99

Harnack, A., 309

Havet, Julien, 12, 56, 97, 123, 128

Havet, Louis, 12

Hauréau, B., 84, 111, 118, 123

Hegel, G. W. F., 286

Henry VIII. of England, 249

Henry II. of France, 292

Henry, V., 289

Herodotus, 44, 171, 179, 197

Horace, 99

Hoveden, John, 88

Hroswitha, 99

Hugo, Victor, 88, 89

Hume, D., 44

Jaffé, P., 106

Jameson, J. F., 136

Jerome, St., 112

Jesus Christ, 188

Joan of Arc, 188

John, King of England, 187

Jullian, C., 297

Krumbacher, K., 309

Kuhn, E., 56

Lacombe, T., 2, 233, 241, 277, 288

Lamprecht, K., 230, 247, 284, 290, 314

Langlois, Ch. V., 19, 38, 111, 135, 192, 345

Lasch, B., 68

Laurent, F., 285

Lavisse, E., 134, 328, 333, 337, 341, 342

Lavoisier, A. L., 302

Leibnitz, G. W., 121, 122

Lee, Sidney, 308

Le Moyne, Père, 7

Lenglet de Fresnoy, N., 6

Leonardo da Vinci, 88, 89

Liard, L., 335, 341

Lindner, T., 81

Lindsay, W. M., 78, 79, 84

Livy, 44, 178, 180, 233, 297, 298

Locke, John, 44

Loebell, J. W., 180

Lorenz, O., 10

Loudun, the nuns of, 208

Louis VIII. of France, 187

Louis of Granada, 88

Luard, H. R., 98

Luther, Martin, 203

Mably, G. B. De, 43, 44

Macaulay, Lord, 303

Macchiavelli, N., 44

Madvig, J. N., 78

Mariani, L., 4

Marquardt, J., 309

Marselli, N., 2

Mary Magdalene, St., 88

Mary, Queen, 249

Matthew of Paris, 98

Matthew of Westminster, 97

Mayr, J. von, 274

Mérimée, P., 301

Mesha Inscription, the, 212

Meusel, H., 148

Meyer, E., 158

Meyer, P., 29

Mézeray, F. E. de, 298

Michelet, J., 230, 271, 286, 287, 301, 303, 327, 336

Möller, W., 309

Mommsen, T., 108, 118, 230, 286, 309, 314

Monod, G., 100, 144, 297, 302

Montesquieu, C. de S., 44, 257, 284, 299

Montfaucon, Père Bernard de, 29

Montgomery, Gabriel de, 292

Mortet, Ch. and V., 11

Mourin, E., 302

Müller, I. von, 56, 74, 310

Mylaeus, 6

Napoleon I., 26, 282

Newton, Isaac, 302

Niebuhr, B. G., 158, 182

Nietzsche, F., 319

Nitzsch, C. W., 180

Oncken, W., 311

Orosius, 298

Ossian, 91

Otto I., 175

Paris, G., 309

Patrizzi, Francesco, 6

Pattison, Mark, 115

Paul, H., 75, 310

Pauly, A., 308

Pausanias, 74

Peckham, John, 88

Peiresc, N. F. C. de, 22

Pflugk-Harttung, J. von, 10, 130

Philippi, A., 129

Piaget, A., 91

Pisistratus, 207

Plato, 153

Plutarch, 44, 297

Polybius, 44, 279, 297

Potthast, A., 106

Prou, M., 57

Ranke, L., 140, 286

Raynal, J., 44

Reinach, S., 75, 79

Renan, E., 9, 29, 30, 40, 105, 114, 119, 122, 132, 134, 183

Retz, Cardinal de, 44, 162, 169

Rilliet, A., 162

Robertson, J. M., 115, 241

Robertson, W., 44

Rocholl, R., 285

Rousseau, J. J., 44

Rulhière, C. C. de, 44

Saglio, E., 308

Saint-Simon, C. H. de, 251

Sallust, 44

Sanchoniathon, 91

Schiller, J. C. F. von, 162

Schlosser, F. C., 311

Schoemann, G. F., 309

Séguier, J. F., 109

Seignobos, Ch., 11, 66, 196, 257, 333, 334

Seneca, 78

Sforza, Ludovico, 282

Sickel, T. von, 56

Simmel, G., 217

Smedt, Père de, 10, 156, 207, 254

Spencer, Herbert, 287

Stephen, Leslie, 308

Stubbe, W., 10

Suetonius, 94

Suger, Abbot, 170

Suidas, 158

Sully, M., 169

Surville, Clotilde de, 91

Tacitus, 44, 141, 144, 171, 177, 194, 233, 256

Taine, H. A., 140, 143, 247, 286

Tardif, A., 5, 7, 156

Taylor, J., 75

Thierry, Augustin, 98, 140, 230, 259, 265, 301, 302, 303

Thomas, A., 73

Thucydides, 19, 44, 158, 183, 197, 297

Tobler, A., 75

Tschudi, J. H., 162, 171

Turenne, H. de la T. d'A., 162

Vercingetorix, 88

Vergil, 84, 99

Vertot, R. A. de, 44

Villemarqué, H. de, 181

Vincent de Paul, St. 326

Voltaire, F. M. A. de, 44, 299

Vrain-Lucas, 88

Waitz, G., 110, 118

Wallace, A. R., 207

Waltzing, J. P., 108

Wattenbach, W., 73

Wauters, A. C., 106

Weber, G., 311

Wegele, F. X. von, 122, 297

Wendover, Roger de, 98

Wissowa, G., 308

Wittekind, 175

Wright, T., 84

Xenophon, 44

Zumpt, A. W., 108


[1] W. B. Boyce, "Introduction to the Study of History, Civil,
Ecclesiastical, and Literary," London, 1894, 8vo.

[2] For example, P. J. B. Buches, in his _Introduction à la science de
l'histoire_, Paris, 1842, 2 vols. 8vo.

[3] The history of the attempts which have been made to understand and
explain philosophically the history of humanity has been undertaken, as
is well known, by Robert Flint. Mr. Flint has already given the history
of the Philosophy of History in French-speaking countries: "Historical
Philosophy in France and French Belgium and Switzerland," Edinburgh and
London, 1893, 8vo. It is the first volume of the expanded re-edition of
his "History of the Philosophy of History in Europe," published
twenty-five years ago. Compare the retrospective (or historical) part of
the work of N. Marselli, _La scienza della storia_, i., Torino, 1873.

The most important original work which has appeared in France since the
publication of the analytical repertory of R. Flint is that of P.
Lacombe, _De l'histoire considérée comme science_, Paris, 1894, 8vo. Cf.
_Revue Critique_, 1895, i. p. 132.

[4] _Revue Critique d'histoire et de littérature_, 1892, i. p. 164.

[5] _Revue Critique d'histoire et de littérature_, 1888, ii. p. 295. Cf.
_Le Moyen Age_, x. (1897), p. 91: "These books [treatises on historical
method] are seldom read by those to whom they might be useful, amateurs
who devote their leisure to historical research; and as to professed
scholars, it is from their masters' lessons that they have learnt to
know and handle the tools of their trade, leaving out of consideration
the fact that the method of history is the same as that of the other
sciences of observation, the gist of which can be stated in a few words.

[6] In accordance with the principle that historical method can only be
taught by example, L. Mariani has given the humorous title _Corso
pratico di metodologia della storia_ to a dissertation on a detail in
the history of Fermo. See the _Archivio della Società romana di storia
patria_, xiii. (1890), p. 211.

[7] See an account of Freeman's work, "The Methods of Historical Study,"
in the _Revue Critique_, 1887, i. p. 376. This work, says the critic, is
empty and commonplace. We learn from it "that history is not so easy a
study as many fondly imagine, that it has points of contact with all the
sciences, and that the historian truly worthy of the name ought to know
everything; that historical certitude is unattainable, and that, in
order to make the nearest approach to it, it is necessary to have
constant recourse to the original sources; that it is necessary to know
and use the best modern historians, but never to take their word for
gospel. That is all." He concludes: Freeman "without a doubt taught
historical method far better by example than he ever succeeded in doing
by precept."

Compare _Bouvard et Pécuchet_, by G. Flaubert. Here we have two
simpletons who, among other projects, propose to write history. In order
to help them, one of their friends sends them (p. 156) "rules of
criticism taken from the _Cours_ of Daunou," such as: "It is no proof to
appeal to rumour and common opinion; the witnesses cannot appear. Reject
impossibilities: Pausanias was shown the stone swallowed by Saturn. Keep
in mind the skill of forgers, the interest of apologists and
calumniators." Daunou's work contains a number of truisms quite as
obvious, and still more comic than the above.

[8] Flint (ibid. p. 15) congratulates himself on not having to study the
literature of _Historic_, for "a very large portion of it is so trivial
and superficial that it can hardly ever have been of use even to persons
of the humblest capacity, and may certainly now be safely confined to
kindly oblivion." Nevertheless, Flint has given in his book a summary
list of the principal works of this kind published in French-speaking
countries from the earliest times. A more general and complete account
(though still a summary one) of the literature of this subject in all
countries is furnished by the _Lehrbuch der historischen Methode_ of E.
Bernheim (Leipzig, 1894, 8vo), pp. 143 _sqq._ Flint (who was acquainted
with several works unknown to Bernheim) stops at 1893, Bernheim at 1894.
Since 1889 the _Jahresberichte der Geschichtswissenschaft_ have
contained a periodical account of recent works on historical

[9] This seventh volume was published in 1844. But Daunou's celebrated
_Cours_ was delivered at the Collège de France in the years 1819-30.

[10] The Italians of the Renaissance (Mylæns, Francesco Patrizzi, and
others), and after them the writers of the last two centuries, ask what
is the relation of history to dialectic and rhetoric; to how many laws
the historical branch of literature is subject; whether it is right for
the historian to relate treasons, acts of cowardice, crimes, disorders;
whether history is entitled to use any style other than the sublime; and
so on. The only books on _Historic_, published before the nineteenth
century, which give evidence of any original effort to attack the real
difficulties, are those of Lenglet de Fresnoy (_Méthode pour étudier
l'histoire_, Paris, 1713), and of J. M. Chladenius (_Allgemeine
Geschichtswissenschaft_, Leipzig, 1752). The work of Chladenius has been
noticed by Bernheim (ibid. p. 166).

[11] He has not always shown even good sense, for, in the _Cours
d'études historiques_ (vii. p. 105), where he treats of a work, _De_
_l'histoire_, published in 1670 by Père Le Moyne, a feeble production,
to say the least, bearing evident traces of senility, he expresses
himself as follows: "I cannot adopt all the maxims and precepts
contained in this treatise; but I believe that, after that of Lucian, it
is the best we have yet seen, and I greatly doubt whether any of those
whose acquaintance we have still to make has risen to the same height of
philosophy and originality." Père H. Chérot has given a sounder estimate
of the treatise _De l'histoire_ in his _Étude sur la vie et les
oeuvres du P. Le Moyne_ (Paris, 1887, 8vo), pp. 406 _sqq._

[12] Bernheim declares, however (ibid. p. 177), that this little work
is, in his opinion, the only one which stands at the present level of

[13] Flint says very well (ibid. p. 15): "The course of Historic has
been, on the whole, one of advance from commonplace reflection on
history towards a philosophical comprehension of the conditions and
processes on which the formation of historical science depends.

[14] By P. Guiraud, in the _Revue des Deux Mondes_, March 1896, p. 75.

[15] Renan has said some of the truest and best things that have ever
been said on the historical sciences in _L'Avenir de la science_ (Paris,
1890, 8vo), written in 1848.

[16] Some of the most ingenious, some of the most logical, and some of
the most widely applicable observations, on the method of the historical
sciences, have so far appeared, not in books on methodology, but in the
reviews--of which the _Revue Critique d'histoire et de littérature_ is
the type--devoted to the criticism of new works of history and
erudition. It is a very useful exercise to run through the file of the
_Revue Critique_, founded, at Paris, in 1867, "to enforce respect for
method, to execute justice upon bad books, to check misdirected and
superfluous work."

[17] The first edition of the _Lehrbuch_ is dated 1889.

[18] The best work that has hitherto been published (in French) on
historical method is a pamphlet by MM. Ch. and V. Mortet, _La Science de
l'histoire_ (Paris, 1894, 8vo), 88 pp., extracted from vol. xx. of the
_Grande Encyclopédie_.

[19] One of us, M. Seignobos, proposes to publish later on a complete
treatise of Historical Methodology, if there appears to be a public for
this class of work.

[20] It cannot be too often stated that the study of history, as it is
prosecuted at school, does not presuppose the same aptitudes as the same
study when prosecuted at the university or in after life. Julien Havet,
who afterwards devoted himself to the (critical) study of history, found
history wearisome at school. "I believe," says M. L. Havet, "that the
teaching of history [in schools] is not organised in such a manner as to
provide sufficient nourishment for the scientific spirit.... Of all the
studies comprised in our school curricula, history is the only one in
which the pupil is not being continually called upon to verify
something. When he is learning Latin or German, every sentence in a
translation requires him to verify a dozen different rules. In the
various branches of mathematics the results are never divorced from
their proofs; the _problems_, too, compel the pupil to think through the
whole for himself. Where are the _problems_ in history, and what
schoolboy is ever trained to gain by independent effort an insight into
the interconnection of events?" (_Bibliothèque de l'École des chartes_,
1896, p. 84).

[21] M. Langlois wrote Book I., Book II. as far at Chapter VI., the
second Appendix, and this Preface; M. Seignobos the end of Book II.,
Book III., and the first Appendix. Chapter I. in the second book,
Chapter V. of the third book, and the Conclusion, were written in

[22] In practice one does not as a rule resolve to treat a point of
history before knowing whether there are or are not documents in
existence which enable it to be studied. On the contrary, it is the
accidental discovery of a document which suggests the idea of thoroughly
elucidating the point of history to which it relates, and thus leads to
the collection, for this purpose, of other documents of the same class.

[23] It is pitiable to see how the best of the early scholars struggled
bravely, but vainly, to solve problems which would not even have existed
for them if their collections had not been so incomplete. This lack of
material was a disadvantage for which the most brilliant ingenuity could
not compensate.

[24] "How hard it is to gain the means whereby we mount to the sources"
(Goethe, _Faust_, i. 3).

[25] See C. V. Langlois, _H. H. Bancroft et Cie._, in the _Revue
universitaire_, 1894, i. p. 233.

[26] The earlier scholars were conscious of the unfavourable character
of the conditions under which they worked. They suffered keenly from the
insufficiency of the instruments of research and the means of
comparison. Most of them made great efforts to obtain information. Hence
these voluminous correspondences between scholars of the last few
centuries, of which our libraries preserve so many precious fragments,
and these accounts of scientific searches, of journeys undertaken for
the discovery of historical documents, which, under the name of _Iter_
(_Iter Italicum_, _Iter Germanicum_, &c.), were formerly fashionable.

[27] We may remark, in passing, a delusion which is childish enough but
very natural, and very common among collectors: they all tend to
exaggerate the intrinsic value of the documents they possess, simply
because they themselves are the possessors. Documents have been
published with a sumptuous array of commentaries by persons who had
accidentally acquired them, and who would, quite rightly, have attached
no importance to them if they had met with them in public collections.
This is, we may add, merely a manifestation, in a somewhat crude form,
of a general tendency against which it is always necessary to guard: a
man readily exaggerates the importance of the documents he possesses,
the documents he has discovered, the texts he has edited, the persons
and the questions he has studied.

[28] See L. Delisle, _Le Cabinet des manuscrits de la Bibliothèque
nationale_, Paris, 1868-81, 3 vols. 4to. The histories of ancient
depositories of documents, which have been recently published in
considerable number, have been modelled on this admirable work.

[29] Many of the ancient documents still in circulation are the proceeds
of ancient thefts from state institutions. The precautions now taken
against a recurrence of such depredations are stringent, and, in nearly
every instance, as effective as could be desired.

As to modern (printed) documents, the rule of legal deposit [compulsory
presentation of copies to specified libraries], which has now been
adopted by nearly all civilised countries, guarantees their preservation
in public institutions.

[30] It is known that Napoleon I. entertained the chimerical design of
concentrating at Paris the archives of the whole of Europe, and that,
for a beginning, he conveyed to that city the archives of the Vatican,
the Holy Roman Empire, the crown of Castile, and others, which later on
the French were compelled to restore. Confiscation is now out of the
question. But the ancient archives of the notaries might be centralised
everywhere, as in some countries they are already, in public
institutions. It is not easy to explain why at Paris the departments of
Foreign Affairs, of War, and of Marine preserve ancient papers whose
natural place would be at the Archives Nationales. A great many more
anomalies of this kind might be mentioned, which in certain cases
impede, where they do not altogether preclude, research; for the small
collections, whose existence is not required, are precisely those whose
regulations are the most oppressive.

[31] The international exchange of documents is worked in Europe
(without charge to the public) by the agency of the various Foreign
Offices. Besides this, most of the great institutions have agreements
with each other for mutual loans; this system is as sure and sometimes
more rapid in its operation than the diplomatic system. The question of
lending original documents for use outside the institution where they
are preserved has of late years been frequently mooted at congresses of
historians and librarians. The results so far obtained are eminently

[32] These are sometimes large collections of formidable bulk; it is
more natural to undertake the cataloguing of small accumulations which
demand less labor. It is for the same reason that many insignificant but
short cartularies have been published, while several cartularies of the
highest importance, being voluminous, have still to be edited.

[33] See his autobibliography, published by E. de Broglie, _Bernard de
Montfaucon et les Bernardins_, ii. (Paris, 1891, 8vo), p. 323.

[34] E. Renan, _L'Avenir de la science_, p. 217.

[35] _Romania_, xxi. (1892), p. 625.

[36] In the passage quoted above.

[37] Mr. H. H. Bancroft, in his Memoirs, entitled "Literary Industries"
(New York, 1891, 16mo), analyses with sufficient minuteness some
practical consequences of the imperfection of the methods of research.
He considers the case of an industrious writer proposing to write the
history of California. He easily procures a few books, reads them, takes
notes; these books refer him to others, which he consults in the public
libraries of the city where he resides. Several years are passed in this
manner, at the end of which he perceives that he has not a tenth part of
the resources in his hands; he travels, maintains correspondences, but,
finally despairing of exhausting the subject, he comforts his conscience
and pride with the reflection that he has done much, and that many of
the works he has not seen, like many of those he has, are probably of
very slight historic value. As to newspapers and the myriads of United
States government reports, all of them containing facts bearing on
Californian history; being a sane man, he has never dreamed of searching
them from beginning to end: he has turned over a few of them, that is
all; he knows that each of these fields of research would afford a
labour of several years, and that all of them would fill the better part
of his life with drudgery. As for oral testimony and manuscripts, he
will gather a few unpublished anecdotes in chance conversations; he will
obtain access to a few family papers; all this will appear in his book
as notes and authorities. Now and again he will get hold of a few
documentary curiosities among the state archives, but as it would take
fifteen years to master the whole collection, he will naturally be
content to glean a little here and there. Then he begins to write. He
does not feel called upon to inform the public that he has not seen
_all_ the documents; on the contrary, he makes the most of what he has
been able to procure in the course of twenty-five years of industrious

[38] Some dispense with personal search by invoking the assistance of
the functionaries charged with the administration of depositories of
documents; the indispensable search is, in these cases, conducted by the
functionaries instead of by the public. Cf. _Bouvard et Pécuchet_, p.
158. Bouvard and Pécuchet resolve to write the life of the Duke of
Angoulême; for this purpose "they determined to spend several days at
the municipal library of Caen to make researches. The librarian placed
general histories and pamphlets at their disposal...."

[39] These considerations have already been presented and developed in
the _Revue universitaire_, 1894, i. p. 321 _sqq._

[40] It is well known that, since the opening of the Papal Archives,
several governments and learned societies have established Institutes at
Rome, the members of which are, for the most part, occupied in
cataloguing and making known the documents of these archives, in
co-operation with the functionaries of the Vatican. The French School at
Rome, the Austrian Institute, the Prussian Institute, the Polish
Mission, the Institute of the "Goerresgesellschaft," Belgian, Danish,
Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, and other scholars, have performed, and
are performing, cataloguing work of considerable extent in the archives
of the Vatican.

[41] Catalogues of documents sometimes, but not always, mention the fact
that such and such a document has been edited, dealt with critically,
utilised. The generally received rule is that the compiler mentions
circumstances of this kind when he is aware of them, without imposing on
himself the enormous task of ascertaining the truth on this head[sic] in
every instance where he is ignorant of it.

[42] E. Bernheim, _Lehrbuch der historischen Methode_, 2nd ed., pp.

[43] C. V. Langlois, _Manuel de Bibliographie historique_: I.
_Instruments bibliographiques_, Paris, 1896, 16mo.

[44] E. Renan, _Feuilles détachées_ (Paris, 1892, 8vo), pp. 96 _sqq._

[45] vii. p. 228 _sqq._

[46] E. A. Freeman, _The Methods of Historical Study_ (London, 1885,
8vo), p. 45.

In France geography has long been regarded as a science closely related
to history. An _Agrégation_, which combines history and geography,
exists at the present day, and in the _lycées_ history and geography are
taught by the same professors. Many people persist in asserting the
legitimacy of this combination, and even take umbrage when it is
proposed to separate two branches of knowledge united, as they say, by
many essential connecting links. But it would be hard to find any good
reason, or any facts of experience, to prove that a professor of
history, or an historian, is so much the better the more he knows of
geology, oceanography, climatology, and the whole group of geographical
sciences. In fact, it is with some impatience, and to no immediate
advantage, that students of history work through the courses of
geography which their curricula force upon them; and those students who
have a real taste for geography would be very glad to throw history
overboard. The artificial union of history with geography dates back, in
France, to an epoch when geography was an ill-defined and ill-arranged
subject, regarded by all as a negligeable branch of study. It is a relic
of antiquity that we ought to get rid of at once.

[47] "Historiography" is a branch of the "History of Literature;" it is
the sum of the results obtained by the critics who have hitherto studied
ancient historical writings, such as annals, memoirs, chronicles,
biographies, and so forth.

[48] This is only true under reservation; there is an instrument of
research which is indispensable to all historians, to all students,
whatever be the subject of their special study. History, moreover, is
here in the same situation as the majority of the other sciences: all
who prosecute original research, of whatever kind, need to know several
living languages, those of countries where men think and work, of
countries which, from the point of view of science, stand in the
forefront of contemporary civilisation.

In our days the cultivation of the sciences is not confined to any
single country, or even to Europe. It is international. All problems,
the same problems, are being studied everywhere simultaneously. It is
difficult to-day, and to-morrow it will be impossible, to find a subject
which can be treated without taking cognisance of works in a foreign
language. Henceforth, for ancient history, Greek and Roman, a knowledge
of German will be as imperative as a knowledge of Greek and Latin.
Questions of strictly local history are the only ones still accessible
to those who do not possess the key to foreign literatures. The great
problems are beyond their reach, for the wretched and ridiculous reason
that works on these problems in any language but their own are sealed
books to them.

Total ignorance of the languages which have hitherto been the ordinary
vehicles of science (German, English, French, Italian) is a disease
which age renders incurable. It would not be exacting too much to
require every candidate for a scientific profession to be at least
_trilinguis_--that is, to be able to understand, fairly easily, two
languages besides his mother-tongue. This is a requirement to which
scholars were not subject formerly, when Latin was still the common
language of learned men, but which the conditions of modern scientific
work will henceforth cause to press with increasing weight upon the
scholars of every country.[*]

[*] Perhaps a day will come when it will be necessary to know the most
important Slavonic language; there are already scholars who are setting
themselves to learn Russian. The idea of restoring Latin to its old
position of universal language is chimerical. See the file of the
_Phoenix, seu nuntius latinus universalis_ (London, 1891, 4to).

The French scholars who are unable to read German and English are
thereby placed in a position of permanent inferiority as compared with
their better instructed colleagues in France and abroad; whatever their
merit, they are condemned to work with insufficient means of
information, to work badly. They know it. They do their best to hide
their infirmity, as something to be ashamed of, except when they make a
cynical parade of it and boast of it; but this boasting, as we can
easily see, is only shame showing itself in a different way. Too much
stress cannot be laid upon the fact that a practical knowledge of
foreign languages is auxiliary in the first degree to all historical
work, as indeed it is to scientific work in general.

[49] When the "auxiliary sciences" were first inserted in the curricula
of French universities, it was observed that some students whose special
subject was the French Revolution, and who had no interest whatever in
the middle ages, took up palæography as an "auxiliary science," and that
some students of geography, who were in no way interested in antiquity,
took up epigraphy. Evidently they had failed to understand that the
study of the "auxiliary sciences" is recommended, not as an end in
itself, but because it is of practical utility to those who devote
themselves to certain special subjects. See the _Revue universitaire_,
1895, ii. p. 123.

[50] On this point note the opinions of T. von Sickel and J. Havet,
quoted in the _Bibliothèque l'École des chartes_, 1896, p. 87. In 1854
the Austrian Institute "für österreichische Geschichtsforschung" was
organised on the model of the French École des chartes. Another
institution of the same type has lately been created in the "Istituto di
studi superiori" at Florence. "We are accustomed," we read in England,
"to hear the complaint that there is not in this country any institution
resembling the École des chartes" (_Quarterly Review_, July 1896, p.

[51] This is a suitable place to enumerate the principal "manuals"
published in the last twenty-five years. But a list of them, ending at
1894, will be found in Bernheim's _Lehrbuch_, pp. 206 sqq. We will only
refer to the great "manuals" of "Philology" (in the comprehensive sense
of the German "Philologie," which includes the history of language and
literature, epigraphy, palæography, and all that pertains to textual
criticism) now in course of publication: the _Grundriss far
indo-arischen Philologie und Altertumskunde_, edited by G. Bühler; the
_Grundriss der iranischen Philologie_, edited by W. Geiger and E. Kuhn;
the _Handbuch der classichen Altertumswissenschaft_, edited by I. von
Müller; the _Grundriss der germanischen Philologie_, edited by H. Paul,
the second edition of which began to appear in 1896; the _Grundriss der
romanischen Philologie_, edited y G. Gröber. In these vast repertories
there will be found, along with a short presentment of the subject,
complete bibliographical references, direct as well as indirect.

[52] The French "manuals" of MM. Prou (Palæography), Giry (Diplomatic),
Cagnat (Latin Epigraphy), and others, have diffused among the public the
idea and knowledge of the auxiliary subjects of study. New editions have
enabled, and will enable, them to be kept up to date--a very necessary
operation, for most of these subjects, though now settled in the main,
are being enriched and made more precise every day. Cf. _supra_, p. 38.

[53] What exactly are we to understand by this "incommunicable
knowledge," of which we speak? When a specialist is very familiar with
the documents of a given class or period, associations of ideas are
formed in his brain; and when he examines a new document of the same
class or species, analogies suddenly dawn upon him which would escape
any one of less experience, however well furnished he might be with the
most perfect repertories. The fact is, that not all the peculiarities of
documents can be isolated; there are some which cannot be classified
under any intelligible head, and which, therefore, cannot be found in
any tabulated list. But the human memory, when it is good, retains the
impression of these peculiarities, and even a faint and distant stimulus
suffices to revive the apprehension of them.

[54] _Supra_, p. 17.

[55] This expression, which frequently occurs, needs explanation. It is
not to be taken to apply to a _species_ of facts. There are no
historical facts in the sense in which we speak of chemical facts. The
same fact is or is not historical according to the manner in which it is
known. It is only the mode of acquiring knowledge that is historical. A
sitting of the Senate is a fact of direct observation for one who takes
part in it; it becomes historical for the man who reads about it in a
report. The eruption of Vesuvius in the time of Pliny is a geological
fact which is known historically. The historical character is not in the
facts, but in the manner of knowing them.

[56] Fustel de Coulanges has said it. Cf. _supra_, p. 4, note 1.

[57] In the sciences of observation it is the fact itself, observed
directly, which is the starting-point.

[58] _Infra_, ch. vii.

[59] We shall not treat specially of the criticism of material documents
(objects, monuments, &c.) where it differs from the criticism of written

[60] For the details and the logical justification of this method see
Seignobos, _Les Conditions psychologiques de la connaissance en
histoire_, in the _Revue philosophique_, 1887, ii. pp. 1, 168.

[61] The most favourable case, that in which the document has been drawn
up by what is called an ocular "witness," is still far short of the
ideal required for scientific knowledge. The notion of _witness_ has
been borrowed from the procedure of the law-courts; reduced to
scientific terms, it becomes that of an _observer_. A testimony is an
observation. But, in point of fact, historical testimony differs
materially from scientific observation. The observer proceeds by fixed
rules, and clothes his report in language of rigorous precision. On the
other hand, the "witness" observes without method, and reports in
unprecise language; it is not known whether he has taken the necessary
precautions. It is an essential attribute of historical documents that
they come before us as the result of work which has been done without
method and without guarantee.

[62] See B. Lasch, _Das Erwachen und die Entwickelung der historischen
Kritik im Mittelalter_ (Breslan, 1887, 8vo).

[63] Natural credulity is deeply rooted in indolence. It is easier to
believe than to discuss, to admit than to criticise, to accumulate
documents than to weigh them. It is also pleasanter; he who criticises
documents must sacrifice some of them, and such a sacrifice seems a dead
loss to the man who has discovered or acquired the document.

[64] _Revue philosophique_, l.c., p. 178.

[65] A member of the _Société des humanistes français_ (founded at Paris
in 1894) amused himself by pointing out, in the _Bulletin_ of this
society, certain errors amenable to verbal criticism which occur in
various editions of posthumous works, especially the _Mémoires
d'outre-tombe_. He showed that it is possible to remove obscurities in
the most modern documents by the same methods which are used in
restoring ancient texts.

[66] On the habits of the mediæval copyists, by whose intermediate
agency most of the literary works of antiquity have come down to us, see
the notices collected by W. Wattenbach, _Das Schriftwesen im
Mittelalter_, 3rd ed. (Berlin, 1896, 8vo).

[67] See, for example, the _Coquilles lexicographiques_ which have been
collected by A. Thomas, in _Romania_, xx. (1891), pp. 464 _sqq._

[68] See E. Bernheim, _Lehrbuch der historischen Methode_, 2nd ed., pp.
341-54. Also consult F. Blass, in the _Handbuch der klassischen
Altertumswissenschaft_, edited by I. von Müller, I., 2nd ed. (1892), pp.
249-89 (with a detailed bibliography); A. Tobler, in the _Grundriss der
romanischen Philologie_, I. (1888), pp. 253-63; H. Paul, in the
_Grundriss der germanischen Philologie_, I., 2nd ed. (1896), pp. 184-96.

In French read the section _Critique des textes, in Minerva,
Introduction à l'étude des classiques scolaires grecs et latins_, by J.
Gow and S. Reinach (Paris, 1890, 16mo), pp. 50-65.

The work of J. Taylor, "History of the Transmission of Ancient Books to
Modern Times" (Liverpool, 1889, 16mo), is of no value.

[69] This rule is not absolute. The editor is generally accorded the
right of unifying the spelling of an autograph document--provided that
he informs the public of the fact--wherever, as in most modern
documents, the orthographical vagaries of the author possess no
philological interest. See the _Instructions pour la publication des
textes historiques_, in the _Bulletin de la Commission royale d'histoire
de Belgique_, 5th series, vi. (1896); and the _Grundsätze für die
Herausgabe von Actenstücken zur neueren Geschichte_, laboriously
discussed by the second and third Congresses of German historians, in
1894 and 1895, in the Deutsche _Zeitschrift für Geschichtswissenschaft_,
xi. p. 200, xii. p. 364. The last Congresses of Italian historians, held
at Genoa (1893) and at Rome (1895), have also debated this question, but
without result. What are the liberties which it is legitimate to take in
reproducing autograph texts? The question is more difficult than is
imagined by those who are not professionally concerned with it.

[70] Interpolations will be treated of in chapter iii p. 92.

[71] The scribes of the Carlovingian Renaissance and of the Renaissance
proper of the fifteenth century endeavoured to furnish intelligible
texts. They therefore corrected everything they did not understand.
Several ancient works have been in this manner irretrievably ruined.

[72] The principal of these are, for the classical languages, besides
the above-mentioned work of Blass (_supra_, p. 74, note), the
_Adversaria critica_ of Madvig (Copenhagen, 1871-74, 3 vols. 8vo). For
Greek, the celebrated _Commentatio palæographica_ of F. J. Bast,
published as an appendix to an edition of the grammarian Gregory of
Corinth (Leipzig, 1811, 8vo), and the _Variæ lectiones_ of Cobet
(Leiden, 1873, 8vo). For Latin, H. Hagen, _Gradus ad criticen_ (Leipzig,
1879, 8vo), and W. M. Lindsay, "An Introduction to Latin Textual
Emendation based on the Text of Plautus" (London, 1896, 16mo). A
contributor to the _Bulletin de la Société des humanistes français_ has
expressed, in this publication, a wish that a similar collection might
be compiled for modern French.

[73] Cf. _Revue Critique_, 1895, ii. p. 358.

[74] Quite recently our scholars used to neglect this elementary
precaution, in order, as they said, to avoid an "air of pedantry." M. B.
Hauréau has published, in his _Notices et extraits de quelques
manuscrits latins de la Bibliothèque nationale_ (vi. p. 310), a piece of
rhythmic verse, "De presbytero et logico." "It is not unedited," says
he; "Thomas Wright has already published it.... But this edition is very
defective; the text is occasionally quite unintelligible. We have,
therefore, considerably amended it, making use, for this purpose, of two
copies, which, it most be conceded, are neither of them faultless...."
The edition follows, with no variants. Verification is impossible.

[75] "Textual emendation too often misses the mark through want of
knowledge of what may be called _the rules of the game_" (W. M. Lindsay,
p.v. in the work referred to above).

[76] It has often been asked whether _all_ texts are worth the trouble
of "establishing" and publishing them. "Among our ancient texts," says
M. J. Bédier, referring to French mediæval literature, "which ought we
to publish? Every one. But, it will be asked, are we not already
staggering under the weight of documents?... The following is the reason
why publication should be exhaustive. As long as we are confronted by
this mass of sealed and mysterious manuscripts, they will appeal to us
as if they contained the answer to every riddle; every candid mind will
be hampered by them in its flights of induction. It is desirable to
publish them, if only to get rid of them and to be able, for the future,
to work as if they did not exist...." (_Revue des Deux Mondes_, February
15, 1894, p. 910). All documents ought to be catalogued, as we have
already pointed out (p. 31), in order that researchers may be relieved
of the fear that there may be documents, useful for their purposes, of
which they know nothing. But in every case where a summary analysis of a
document can give a sufficient idea of its contents, and its form is of
no special interest, there is nothing gained by publishing it _in
extenso_. We need not overburden ourselves. Every document will be
analysed some day, but many documents will never be published.

[77] Editors of texts often render their task still longer and more
difficult than it need be by undertaking the additional duty of
commentators, under the pretext of explaining the text. It would be to
their advantage to spare themselves this labour, and to dispense with
all annotation which does not belong to the "apparatus criticus" proper.
See, on this point, T. Lindner, _Ueber die Herausgabe von
geschichtlichen Quellen_, in the _Mittheilungen des Instituts für
österreichische Geschichtsforschung_, xvi., 1895, pp. 501 _sqq._

[78] To realise this it is enough to compare what has hitherto been done
by the most active societies, such as the Society of the _Monumenta
Germaniæ historica_ and the _Istituto storico italiano_, with what still
remains for them to do. The greater part of the most ancient documents
and the hardest to restore, which have long taxed the ingenuity of
scholars, have now been placed in a relatively satisfactory condition.
But an immense amount of mechanical work has still to be done.

[79] R. de Gourmont, _Le Latin mystique_ (Paris, 1891, 8vo), p. 258.

[80] See these alleged autographs in the _Bibliothèque nationale_, nouv.
acq. fr., No. 709.

[81] F. Blass has enumerated the chief of these motives with reference
to the pseudepigraphic literature of antiquity (pp. 269 _sqq._ in the
work already quoted).

[82] E. Bernheim (_Lehrbuch_, pp. 243 _sqq._) gives a somewhat lengthy
list of spurious documents, now recognised as such. Here it will be
enough to recall a few famous hoaxes: Sarchoniathon, Clotilde de
Surville, Ossian. Since the publication of Bernheim's book several
celebrated documents, hitherto exempt from suspicion, have been struck
off the list of authorities. See especially A. Piaget, _La Chronique des
chanoines de Neuchâtel_ (Neuchâtel, 1896, 8vo).

[83] When the modifications of the primitive text are the work of the
author himself, they are "alterations." Internal analysis, and the
comparison of different editions, bring them to light.

[84] See F. Blass, ibid., pp. 254 _sqq._

[85] As a rule it matters little whether the _name_ of the author has or
has not been discovered. We read, however, in the _Histoire_ _littéraire
de la France_ (xxvi. p. 388): "We have ignored anonymous sermons:
writings of this facile character are of no importance for literary
history when their authors are unknown." Are they of any more importance
when we know the authors' names?

[86] In very favourable cases the examination of the plagiarist's
mistakes has made it possible to determine even this style of
handwriting, the size, and the manner of arrangement of the manuscript
source. The deductions of the investigation of sources, like those of
textual criticism, are sometimes supported by obvious palæographical

[87] The Investigations of Julien Havet (_Questions mérovingiennes_,
Paris, 1896, 8vo) are regarded as models. Very difficult problems are
there solved with faultless elegance. It is also well worth while to
read the memoirs in which M. L. Delisle has discussed questions of
origin. It is in the treatment of these questions that the most
accomplished scholars win their triumphs.

[88] See the edition of H. R. Luard (vol. i., London, 1890, 8vo) in the
_Rerum Britannicarum medii ævi scriptores_. Matthew of Westminster's
_Flores historiarum_ figure in the Roman "Index," because of the
passages borrowed from the _Chronica majora_ of Matthew of Paris, while
the _Chronica majora_ themselves have escaped censure.

[89] It would be instructive to draw up a list of the celebrated
historical works, such as Augustin Thierry's _Histoire de la Conquête de
l'Angleterre par les Normands_, whose authority has been completely
destroyed after the authorship of their sources has been studied.
Nothing amuses the gallery more than to see an historian convicted of
having built a theory on falsified documents. Nothing is more calculated
to cover an historian with confusion than to find that he has fallen
into the error of treating seriously documents which are no documents at

[90] One of the crudest (and commonest) forms of "uncritical method" is
that which consists in employing as if they were documents, and placing
on the same footing as documents, the utterances of modern authors on
the subject of documents. Novices do not make a sufficient distinction,
in the works of modern authors, between what is added to the original
source and what is taken from it.

[91] See a list of examples in Bernheim's _Handbuch_, pp. 283, 289.

[92] It is because it is necessary to subject documents of mediæval and
ancient history to the most searching criticism in respect of authorship
that the study of antiquity and the middle ages passes for more
"scientific" than that of modern times. The truth is, that it is merely
hampered by more preliminary difficulties.

[93] _Revue philosophique_, 1887, ii. p. 170.

[94] The theory of the critical investigation of authorship is now
settled, _ne varietur_; it is given in detail in Bernheim's _Lehrbuch_,
pp. 242-340. For this reason we have had no scruple in dismissing it
with a short sketch. In French, the introduction of M. G. Monod to his
_Études critiques sur les sources de l'histoire mérovingienne_ (Paris,
1872, 8vo) contains elementary considerations on the subject. Cf. _Revue
Critique_, 1873, i. p. 308.

[95] Renan, _Feuilles détachées_, p. 103.

[96] It would be very interesting to have information on the methods of
work of the great scholars, particularly those who undertook long tasks
of collection and classification. Some information of this kind is to be
found in their papers, and occasionally in their correspondence. On the
methods of Du Cange, see L. Feugère, _Étude sur la vie et les ouvrages
de Du Cange_ (Paris, 1858, 8vo), pp. 62 _sqq._

[97] See J. G. Droysen, _Grundriss der Historik_, p. 19: "Critical
classification does not exclusively adopt the chronological point of
view.... The more varied the points of view which criticism uses to
group materials, the more solid are the results yielded by converging
lines of inquiry."

The system has now been abandoned of grouping documents in a _Corpus_ or
in _regesta_, as was done formerly, because they have the common
characteristic of being unedited, or possibly for the exactly opposite
reason. At one time the compilers of _Analecta, Reliquiæ
manuscriptorum_, "treasuries of _anecdota_," _spicilegia_, and so on,
used to publish all the documents of a certain class which had the
common feature of being unedited and of appearing interesting to them;
on the other hand, Georgisch (_Regesta Chronologico-diplomatica_),
Bréquigny (_Table chronologique des diplômes, chartes et actes imprimés
concernant l'histoire de France_), Wauters (_Table chronologique des
chartes et diplômes imprimés concernant l'histoire de Belgique_), have
grouped together all the documents of a certain species which had the
common character of having been printed.

[98] J. P. Waltzing, _Recueil général des inscriptions latines_
(Louvain, 1892, 8vo), p. 41.

[99] Ibid. When the geographical order is adopted, a difficulty arises
from the fact that the origin of certain documents is unknown; many
inscriptions preserved in museums have been brought there no one knows
whence. The difficulty is analogous to that which results, for
chronological _regesta_, from documents without date.

[100] Here the only difficulty arises in the case of documents whose
_incipit_ has been lost. In the eighteenth century Séguier devoted a
great part of his life to the construction of a catalogue, in the
alphabetical order of the _incipit_, of the Latin inscriptions, to the
number of 50,000, which had at that time been published: he searched
through some twelve thousand works. This vast compilation has remained
unpublished and useless. Before undertaking work of such magnitude it is
well to make sure that it is on a rational plan, and that the
labour--the hard and thankless labour--will not be wasted.

[101] See G. Waitz, _Ueber die Herausgabe und Bearbeitung von Regesten_,
in the _Historische Zeitschrift_, xl. (1878), pp. 280-95.

[102] In the absence of a predetermined logical order, and when the
chronological order is not suitable, it is sometimes an advantage to
provisionally group the documents (that is, the slips) in the
alphabetical order of the words chosen as headings (_Schlagwörter_).
This is what is called the "dictionary system."

[103] See Langlois, _Manuel de bibliographie historique_, i. p. 88.

[104] This argument is easy to develop, and often has been, recently by
M. J. Bédier, in the _Revue des Deux Mondes_, February 15, 1894, pp. 932

There are some who willingly admit that the labours of erudition are
useful, but ask impatiently whether "the editing of a text" or "the
deciphering of a Gothic parchment" is "the supreme effort of the human
mind," and whether the intellectual ability implied by the practice of
external criticism does or does not justify "all the fuss made over
those who possess it." On this question, obviously devoid of importance,
a controversy was held between M. Brunetière, who recommended scholars
to be modest, and M. Boucherie, who insisted on their reasons for being
proud, in the pages of the _Revue des langues romanes_, 1880, vols. i
and ii.

[105] There have been men who were critics of the first water where
external criticism alone was concerned, but who never rose to the
conception of higher criticism, or to a true understanding of history.

[106] Renan, _Essais de morale et de critique_, p. 36.

[107] "If it were only for the sake of the severe mental discipline, I
should not think very highly of the philosopher who had not, at least
once in his life, worked at the elucidation of some special point"
(_L'Avenir de la science_, p. 136).

[108] On the question whether it is necessary for every one to do "all
the preliminary grubbing for himself," cf. J. M. Robertson, "Buckle and
His Critics" (London, 1895, 8vo), p. 299.

[109] Renan, _L'Avenir de la science_, p. 230.

[110] A university professor is in a very good position for discouraging
and encouraging vocations; but "it is by personal effort that the goal
(critical skill) must be attained by the students, as Waitz well said in
an academic oration; the teacher's part in this work is small...."
(_Revue Critique_, 1874, ii. p. 232).

[111] Quoted by Fr. X. von Wegele, _Geschichte der deutschen
Historiographie_ (München, 1885, 8vo), p. 653.

[112] Renan, ibid., p. 125.

[113] B. Hauréau, _Notices et extraits de quelques manuscrits latins de
la Bibliothèque nationale_, i. (Paris, 1890, 8vo). p. v.

[114] _Bibliothèque de l'École des chartes_, 1896, p. 88. Compare
analogous traits in the interesting intellectual biography of the
Hellenist, palæographer, and bibliographer, Charles Graux, by E. Lavisse
(_Questions d'enseignement national_, Paris, 1885, 18mo, pp. 265

[115] See H. A. L. Fisher in the _Fortnightly Review_, Dec. 1894, p.

[116] Most of those who have a vocation for critical scholarship possess
both the power of solving problems and the taste for collecting. It is,
however, easy to divide them into two categories according as they show
a marked preference for textual criticism and investigation of
authorship on the one hand, or for the more absorbing and less
intellectual labours of collection on the other. J. Havet, a past-master
in the study of erudite problems, always declined to undertake a general
collection of Merovingian royal charters, a work which his admirers
expected from him. In this connection he readily admitted his "want of
taste for feats of endurance" (_Bibliothèque de l'École des chartes_,
1896, p. 222).

[117] It is common to hear the opposite of this maintained, namely, that
the labours of critical scholarship (external criticism) have this
advantage over other labours in the field of history that they are
within the range of average ability, and that the most moderate
intellects, after a suitable preliminary drilling, may be usefully
employed in them. It is quite true that men with no elevation of soul or
power of thought can make themselves useful in the field of criticism,
but then they must have special qualities. The mistake is to think that
with good will and a special drilling every one without exception can be
fitted for the operations of external criticism. Among those who are
incapable of these operations, as well as among those who are fitted for
them, there are both men of sense and blockheads.

[118] A. Philippi, _Einige Bemerkungen über den philologischen
Unterricht_, Giessen, 1890, 4to. Cf. _Revue Critique_, 1892, i. p. 25.

[119] J. von Pflugk-Harttung, _Geschichtsbetrachtungen_, Gotha, 1890,

[120] Ibid., p. 21.

[121] Cf. _supra_, p. 99.

[122] Renan, _L'Avenir de la science_, p. xiv.

[123] _Revue historique_, lxiii. (1897), p. 320.

[124] Renan, ibid., pp. 122, 243. The same thought has been more than
once expressed, in different language, by E. Lavisse, in his addresses
to the students of Paris (_Questions d'enseignement national_, pp. 14,
86, &c.).

[125] One of us (M. Langlois) proposes to give elsewhere a detailed
account of all that has been done in the last three hundred years, but
especially in the nineteenth century, for the organisation of historical
work in the principal countries of the world. Some information has
already been collected on this subject by J. Franklin Jameson, "The
Expenditures of Foreign Governments in behalf of History," in the
"Annual Report of the American Historical Association for 1891," pp.

[126] L. Feugère, _Étude sur la vie et les ouvrages de Du Cange_, pp.
55, 58.

[127] Even the specialists in external criticism themselves, when they
do not take the line of despising all synthesis _a priori_, are almost
as easily dazzled as anybody else by incorrect syntheses, by a show of
"general ideas," or by literary artifices, in spite of their
clear-sightedness where works of critical scholarship are concerned.

[128] The sciences of observation do, however, need a species of
criticism. We do not accept without verification results obtained by
anybody, but only results obtained by those who know how to work. But
this criticism is made once for all, and applies to the author, not to
his works; historical criticism, on the contrary, is obliged to deal
separately with every part of a document.

[129] Cf. _supra_, book ii. chap. i. p. 67.

[130] Cf. _supra_, p. 122.

[131] Taine appears to have proceeded thus in vol. ii, _La Révolution_,
of his _Origines de la France contemporaine_. He had made extracts from
unpublished documents and inserted a great number of them in his work,
but it would seem that he did not first methodically analyse them in
order to determine their meaning.

[132] Fustel de Coulanges explains very clearly the danger of this
_method_: "Some students begin by forming an opinion ... and it is not
till afterwards that they begin to read the texts. They run a great risk
of not understanding them at all, or of understanding them wrongly. What
happens is that a kind of tacit contest goes on between the text and the
preconceived opinions of the reader; the mind refuses to grasp what is
contrary to its idea, and the issue of the contest commonly is, not that
the mind surrenders to the evidence of the text, but that the text
yields, bends, and accommodates itself to the preconceived opinion....
To bring one's personal ideas into the study of texts is the subjective
method. A man thinks he is contemplating an object, and it is his own
idea that he is contemplating. He thinks he is observing a fact, and the
fact at once assumes the colour, and the significance his mind wishes it
to have. He thinks he is reading a text, and the words of the text take
a particular meaning to suit a ready-made opinion. It is this subjective
method which has done most harm to the history of the Merovingian
epoch.... To read the texts was not enough; what was required was to
read them before forming any convictions...." (_Monarchie franque_, p.
31). For the same reason Fustel de Coulanges deprecated the reading of
one document in the light of another; he protested against the custom of
explaining the _Germania_ of Tacitus by the barbaric laws. In the _Revue
des questions historiques_, 1897, vol. i, a lesson on method, _De
l'analyse des textes historiques_, is given apropos of a commentary by
M. Monod on Gregory of Tours: "The historian ought to begin his work
with an exact analysis of each document.... The analysis of a text ...
consists in determining the sense of each word and eliciting the true
meaning of the writer.... Instead of searching for the sense of each of
the historian's words, and for the thought he has expressed in them, he
[M. Monod] comments on each sentence in the light of what is found in
Tacitus or the Salic law.... We should understand what analysis really
is. Many talk about it, few use it.... The use of analysis is, by an
attentive study of every detail, to elicit from a text all that is in
it; not to introduce into the text what is not there."

After reading this excellent advice it will be instructive to read M.
Monod's reply (in the _Revue historique_); it will be seen that Fustel
de Coulanges himself did not always practise the method he recommended.

[133] Cf. _supra_, p. 103.

[134] The work of analysis may be entrusted to a second person; this is
what happens in the case of _regesta_ and catalogues of records; if the
analysis has been correctly performed by the compiler of _regesta_,
there is no need to do it over again.

[135] Practical examples of this procedure will be found in Deloche, _La
Trustis et l'antrustion royal_ (Paris, 1873, 8vo), and, above all, in
Fustel de Coulanges. See especially the study of the words _marca_
(_Recherches sur quelques problêmes d'histoire_, pp. 322-56), _mallus_
(ibid., 372-402), _alleu_ (_L'Alleu et le domaine rural_, pp. 149-70),
_portio_ (ibid., pp. 239-52).

[136] The theory and an example of this procedure will be found in
Fustel de Coulanges, _Recherches sur quelques problêmes d'histoire_ (pp.
189-289), with reference to the statements of Tacitus about the Germans.
See especially pp. 263-89, the discussion of the celebrated passage on
the German mode of culture.

[137] Fustel de Coulanges formulates it thus: "It is never safe to
separate two words from their context; this is just the way to mistake
their meaning" (_Monarchie franque_, p. 228, note I).

[138] This is how Fustel de Coulanges condemns this practice: "I am not
speaking of pretenders to learning who quote second-hand, and at most
take the trouble to verify whether the phrase they have seen quoted
really occurs in the passage indicated. To verify quotations is one
thing and to read texts quite another, and the two often lead to
opposite results" (_Revue des questions historiques_, 1887, vol. i.).
See also (_L'Alleu et le domaine rural_, pp. 171-98) the lesson given to
M. Glasson on the theory of the community of land: forty-five quotations
are studied in the light of their context, with the object of proving
that none of them bears the meaning M. Glasson attributed to it. We may
also compare the reply: Glasson, _Les Communaux et le domaine rural a
l'époque franque_, Paris, 1890.

[139] All that is original in Fustel de Coulanges rests on his
interpretative criticism; he never did personally any work in external
criticism, and his critical examination of authors' good faith and
accuracy was hampered by a respect for the statements of ancient authors
which amounted to credulity.

[140] A parallel difficulty occurs in the interpretation of illustrative
monuments; the representations are not always to be taken literally. In
the Behistun monument Darius tramples the vanquished chiefs under foot:
this is a metaphor. Mediæval miniatures show us persons lying in bed
with crowns on their heads: this is to symbolise their royal rank; the
painter did not mean that they wore their crowns to sleep in.

[141] A. Boeckh, in the _Encyclopædie und Methodologie der
philologischen Wissenschaften_, second edition (1886), has given a
theory of _hermeneutic_ to which Bernheim has been content to refer.

[142] The method of extracting information on external facts from a
writer's conceptions forms part of the theory of constructive reasoning.
_See_ book iii.

[143] For example, Père de Smedt, Tardif, Droysen, and even Bernheim.

[144] Descartes, who came at a time when history still consisted in the
reproduction of pre-existing narratives, did not see how to apply
methodical doubt to the subject; he therefore refused to allow it a
place among the sciences.

[145] Fustel de Coulanges himself did not rise above this kind of
timidity. With reference to a speech attributed to Clovis by Gregory of
Tours, he says: "Doubtless we are unable to affirm that these words were
ever pronounced. But, all the same, we ought not to affirm, in
contradiction to Gregory of Tours, that they were not.... The wisest
course is to accept Gregory's text" (_Monarchie franque_, p. 66). The
wisest, or rather the only scientific course, is to admit that we know
nothing about the words of Clovis, for Gregory himself had no knowledge
of them.

[146] Quite recently, E. Meyer, one of the most critically expert
historians of antiquity, has in his work, _Die Entstehung des
Judenthums_ (Halle, 1896, 8vo), revived this strange juridical argument
in favour of the narrative of Nehemiah. M. Bouché-Leclercq, in a
remarkable study on "The Reign of Seleucus II. (Callinicus) and
Historical Criticism" (_Revue des Universités du Midi_, April-June
1897), seems, by way of reaction against the hypercriticism of Niebuhr
and Droysen, to incline towards an analogous theory: "Historical
criticism, if it is not to degenerate into agnosticism--which would be
suicidal--or into individual caprice, must place a certain amount of
trust in testimony which it cannot verify, as long as it is not flatly
contradicted by other testimony of equal value." M. Bouché-Leclercq is
right as against the historian who, "after having discredited all his
witnesses, claims to put himself in their place, and sees with their
eyes something quite different from what they themselves saw." But when
the "testimony" is insufficient to give us the scientific knowledge of a
fact, the only correct attitude is "agnosticism," that is, a confession
of ignorance; we have no right to shirk this confession because chance
has permitted the destruction of the documents which might have
contradicted the testimony.

[147] The "Memoirs of Cardinal de Retz" furnish a conclusive instance:
the anecdote of the ghosts met by Retz and Turenne. A. Feillet, who
edited Retz in the _Collection des Grands Écrivains de la France_, has
shown (vol. i. p. 192) that this story, so vividly narrated, is false
from beginning to end.

[148] A good example of the fascination exerted by a circumstantial
narrative is the legend respecting the origin of the League of the three
primitive Swiss cantons (Gessler and the Grütli conspirators), which was
_fabricated_ by Tschudi in the sixteenth century, became classical on
the production of Schiller's "William Tell," and has only been
extirpated with the greatest difficulty. (See Rilliet, _Origines de la
Conféderation suisse_, Geneva, 1869, 8vo.)

[149] Striking example of falsehoods due to vanity are to be found in
abundance in the _Économies royales_ of Sully and the _Mémoires_ of

[150] Fustel de Coulanges himself went to the formulæ of the
inscriptions in honour of the emperors for a proof that the peoples
liked the imperial _régime_. "If we read the inscriptions, the sentiment
which they exhibit is always one of satisfaction and gratitude.... See
the collection of Orelli, the most frequent expressions are...." And the
enumeration of the titles of respect given to the emperors ends with
this strange aphorism: "It would show ignorance of human nature to see
nothing but flattery in all this." There is not even flattery here;
there is nothing but formulæ.

[151] Suger, in his life of Louis VI., is a model of this type.

[152] The _Chronicon Helveticum_ of Tschudi is a striking instance.

[153] Aristophanes and Demosthenes are two striking examples of the
power great writers have of paralysing critics and obscuring facts. Not
till the close of the nineteenth century has any one ventured to
recognise frankly their lack of good faith.

[154] For example, the account of the election of Otto I. in the _Gesta
Ottonis_ of Wittekind.

[155] For example, the statistics on the population, the commerce, and
the wealth of European countries given by the Venetian ambassadors of
the sixteenth century, and the descriptions of the usages of the Germans
in the _Germania_ of Tacitus.

[156] It would be interesting to examine how much of Roman or
Merovingian history would be left if we rejected all documents but those
which represent direct observation.

[157] It will be seen why we have not separately defined and studied
"first-hand documents." The question has not been raised in the proper
manner in historical practice. The distinction ought to apply to
_statements_, not to documents. It is not the document which comes to us
at first, second, or third hand; it is the statement. What is called a
"first-hand document" is nearly always composed in part of second-hand
statements about facts of which the author had no personal knowledge.
The name "second-hand document" is given to those which, like the work
of Livy, contain nothing first-hand; but the distinction is too crude to
serve as a guide in the critical examination of statements.

[158] There is much less modification where the oral tradition assumes a
regular or striking form, as is the case with verses, maxims, proverbs.

[159] Sometimes the _form_ of the phrase tells its own tale, when, in
the midst of a detailed narrative, obviously of legendary origin, we
come across a curt, dry entry in annalistic style, obviously copied from
a written document. That is what we find in Livy (see Nitzsch, _Die
römische Annalistik_, Leipzig, 1873, 8vo), and in Gregory of Tours (see
Loebell, _Gregor von Tours_, Leipzig, 1868, 8vo).

[160] The events which strike the popular imagination and are
transmitted by legend are not generally those which seem to us the most
important. The heroes of the _chansons de gestes_ are hardly known
historically. The Breton epic songs relate, not to the great historical
events, as Villemarqué's collection led people to believe, but to
obscure local episodes. The same holds of the Scandinavian sagas; for
the most part they relate to quarrels among the villagers of Iceland or
the Orkneys.

[161] The theory of legend is one of the most advanced parts of
criticism. Bernheim (in his _Lehrbuch_, pp. 380-90) gives a good summary
and a bibliography of it.

[162] "History of Greece," vols. i. and ii. Compare Renan, _Histoire du
peuple d'Israël_, vol. i. (Paris, 1887, 8vo), Introduction.

[163] And yet Niebuhr made use of the Roman legends to construct a
theory, which it was afterwards necessary to demolish, of the struggle
between the patricians and the plebeians; and Curtius, twenty years
after Grote, looked for historical facts in the Greek legends.

[164] See _supra_, pp. 93 _sqq._

[165] Cf. _supra_, p. 166.

[166] It is often said, "The author would not have dared to write this
if it had not been true." This argument does not apply to societies in a
low state of civilisation. Louis VIII. dared to write that John Lackland
had been condemned by the verdict of his peers.

[167] See above, p. 153. Similarly, the particular facts which compose
the history of forms (palæography, linguistic science) are directly
established by the analysis of the document.

[168] Primitive Greece has been studied in the Homeric poems. Mediæval
private life has been reconstructed principally from the _chansons de
gestes_. (See C. V. Langlois, _Les Traditions sur l'histoire de la
société française au moyen âge d'après les sources littéraires_, in the
_Revue historique_, March-April, 1897.)

[169] Most historians refrain from rejecting a legend till its falsity
has been proved, and if by chance no document has been preserved to
contradict it, they adopt it provisionally. This is how the first five
centuries of Rome are still dealt with. This method, unfortunately still
too general, helps to prevent history from being established as a

[170] For the logical justification of this principle in history see C.
Seignobos, _Revue Philosophique_, July-August 1887. Complete scientific
certitude is only produced by an agreement between observations made on
different _methods_; it is to be found at the junction of two different
paths of research.

[171] This case is studied and a good example given by Bernheim,
_Lehrbuch_, p. 421.

[172] It is hardly necessary to enter a caution against the childish
method of counting the documents on each side of a question and deciding
by the majority. The statement of a single author who was acquainted
with a fact is evidently worth more than a hundred statements made by
persons who knew nothing about it. The rule has been formulated long
ago: _Ne numerentur, sed ponderentur_.

[173] Cf. _supra_, p. 94.

[174] It is hardly possible to study here the special difficulties which
arise in the application of these principles, as when the author,
wishing to conceal his indebtedness, has introduced deviations in order
to put his readers off the scent, or when the author has combined
statements taken from different documents.

[175] Here we merely indicate the principle of the method of
confirmation; its applications would require a very lengthy study.

[176] Père de Smedt has devoted to this question a part of his
_Principes de la critique histoire_ (Paris, 1887, 12mo).

[177] The solution of the question is different in the case of the
sciences of direct observation, especially the biological sciences.
Science knows nothing of the possible and the impossible; it only
recognises facts which have been correctly or incorrectly observed:
facts which had been declared impossible, as the existence of aerolites,
have been discovered to be genuine. The very notion of a miracle is
metaphysical; it implies a conception of the universe as a whole which
transcends the limits of observation. (See Wallace, "Miracles and Modern

[178] See above, p. 194.

[179] In the experimental sciences an hypothesis is a form of question
accompanied by a provisional answer.

[180] Fustel de Coulanges saw the necessity of this. In the preface to
his _Recherches sur quelques problêmes d'histoire_ (Paris, 1885, 8vo) he
announces his intention of presenting his researches "in the form which
all my works have, that is, in the form of questions which I ask myself,
and on which I endeavour to throw light."

[181] Fustel de Coulanges himself seems to have been misled by them:
"History is a science; it does not imagine, it only sees" (_Monarchie
franque_, p. 1). "History, like every science, consists in a process of
discerning facts, analysing them, comparing them, and noting their
connections.... The historian ... seeks facts and attains them by the
minute observation of texts, as the chemist finds his in the course of
experiments conducted with minute precision" (Ibid., p. 39).

[182] The subjective character of history has been brought out into
strong relief by the philosopher G. Simmel, _Die Probleme der
Geschichtsphilosophie_ (Leipzig, 1892, 8vo).

[183] This has been eloquently put by Carlyle and Michelet. It is also
the substance of the famous expression of Ranke: "I wish to state how
that really was" (_wie es eigentlich gewesen_).

[184] Cf. pp. 219-23.

[185] Curtius in his "History of Greece," Mommsen in his "History of
Rome" (before the Empire), Lamprecht in his "History of Germany."

[186] It will be enough to mention Augustin Thierry, Michelet, and

[187] See P. Guiraud, _Fustel de Coulanges_ (Paris, 1896, 12mo), p. 164,
for some very judicious observations on this subject.

[188] The classification of M. Lacombe (_De l'histoire considérée comme
science_, chap. vi.), founded on the motives of actions and the wants
they are intended to satisfy, is very judicious from the philosophical
point of view, but does not meet the practical needs of historians; it
rests on abstract psychological categories (economic, reproductive,
sympathetic, ambitious, &c.), and ends by classing together very
different species of phenomena (military institutions along with

[189] Ecclesiastical institutions form part of the government; in German
manuals of antiquities they are found among institutions, while religion
is classed with the arts.

[190] Modes of transport, which are often put under commerce, form a
species of industry.

[191] Property is an institution of mixed character, being at once
economic, social, and political.

[192] For the history and biography of this movement see Bernheim,
_Lehrbuch_, pp. 45-55.

[193] It is no longer necessary to demonstrate the nullity of the notion
of _race_. It used to be applied to vague groups, formed by a nation or
a language; for race as understood by historians (Greek, Roman,
Germanic, Celtic, Slavonic races) has nothing but the name in common
with race in the anthropological sense--that is, a group of men
possessing the same hereditary characteristics. It has been reduced to
an absurdity by the abuse Taine made of it. A very good criticism of it
will be found in Lacombe (ibid., chap. xviii.), and in Robertson ("The
Saxon and the Celt," London, 1897, 8vo).

[194] There is no general agreement on the proper place in history of
retrograde changes, of those oscillations which bring things back to the
point from which they started.

[195] The theory of chance as affecting history has been expounded in a
masterly manner by M. Cournot, _Considérations sur la marche des idées
et des événements dans les temps modernes_ (Paris, 1872, 2 vols. 8vo).

[196] Lamprecht, in a long article, _Was ist Kulturgeschichte_,
published in the _Deutsche Zeitschrift für Geschichtswissenschaft_, New
Series, vol. i., 1896, has attempted to base the history of civilisation
on the theory of a collective soul of society producing "social-psychic"
phenomena common to the whole society, and differing from period to
period. This is a metaphysical hypothesis.

[197] The expression _national_ history, introduced in the interests of
patriotism, denotes the same thing. The history of the nation means
practically the history of the State.

[198] See Cournot, ibid., i. p. iv.

[199] We have already (p. 143) treated of this fault of method.

[200] The discussion of this argument, which was formerly much used in
religious history, was a favourite subject with the earlier writers who
treated of methodology, and still occupies a considerable space in the
_Principes de la critique historique_ of Père de Smedt.

[201] This is what Montesquieu attempted in his _Esprit des Lois_. In a
course of lectures at the Sorbonne, I have endeavoured to give a sketch
of such a comprehensive account.--[Ch. S.]

[202] See p. 204.

[203] Michelet has discredited the study of physiological influences by
the abuse which he has made of it in the last part of his "History of
France"; it is, however, indispensable for the understanding of a man's

[204] On the subject of statistics, a method which is now perfected, a
good summary with a bibliography will be found in the _Handwörterbuch
der Staatswissenschaften_, Jena, 1890-94, Ia. 8vo. and two good
methodical treatises, J. von. Mayr, _Theoretische Statistik_ and
_Bevölkerungsstatistik_, in the collection of Marquardsen and Seydel,
Freiburg, 1895 and 1897, Ia. 8vo.

[205] As is done by Boardeau (_l'Histoire et les Historiens_, Paris,
1888, 8vo), who proposes to reduce the whole of history to a series of

[206] A good example will be found in Lacombe, _De l'Histoire Considérée
Comme Science_, p. 146.

[207] We have thought it useless to discuss here the question whether
history ought, in accordance with the ancient tradition, to fulfil yet
another function, whether it ought to pass judgment on men and events,
that is to supplement the description of facts by expressions of
approbation or censure, either from the point of view of a moral ideal,
general or particular (the ideal of a sect, a party, or a nation), or
from the practical point of view, by examining, as Polybius did, whether
historical actions were well or ill adapted to their purpose. An
addition of this kind could be made to any descriptive study: the
naturalist might express his sympathy with or his admiration for an
animal, he might condemn the ferocity of the tiger, and praise the
devotion of the hen to her chickens. But it is obvious that in history,
as in every other subject, judgments of this kind are foreign to

[208] Comparison between two facts of detail belonging to very different
aggregates (for example the comparison of Abd-el-Kader with Jagurtha, of
Napoleon with Sforza) is a striking method of exposition, but not a
means of reaching a scientific conclusion.

[209] This system is still followed by several contemporary authors, the
Belgian jurist Laurent in his _Études sur l'histoire de l'humanité_, the
German Rocholl, and even Flint, the English historian of the philosophy
of history.

[210] Thus Taine, in _Les origines de la France Contemporaine_, explains
the origin of the privileges of the _ancien régime_ by the services
formerly rendered by the privileged classes.

[211] A good criticism of the theory of progress will be found in P.
Lacombe, _De l'histoire Considérée Comme Science_.

[212] See the very clear declarations of one of the principal
representatives of linguistic science in France, V. Henry, _Antinomies
linguistiques_, Paris, 1896, 8vo.

[213] See above, p. 284.

[214] Lamprecht, in the article quoted, p. 247, after having compared
the artistic, religious, and economic evolutions of mediæval Germany,
and after having shown that they can all be divided into periods of the
same duration, explains the simultaneous transformations of the
different usages and institutions of a given society by the
transformations of the collective "social soul." This is only another
form of the same hypothesis.

[215] The historians of literature, who began by searching for the
connection between the arts and the rest of social life, thus gave the
first place to the most difficult question.

[216] For the earlier epochs, consult good histories of Greek, Roman,
and mediæval literature which contain chapters devoted to "historians."
For the modern period, consult the Introduction of M. G. Monod to vol.
i. of the _Revue historique_; the work by F. X. v. Wegde, _Geschichte
der deutschen Historiographie_ (1885), relates only to Germany, and is
mediocre. Some "Notes on History in France in the Nineteenth Century"
have been published by C. Jullian as an Introduction to his _Extraits
des historiens français du xixe siècle_ (Paris, 1897, 12mo). The
history of modern historiography has still to be written. See the
partial attempt by E. Bernheim, _Lehrbuch_, pp. 13 _sqq._

[217] It would be interesting to find out what are the earliest printed
books furnished with notes in the modern fashion. Bibliophiles whom we
have consulted are unable to say, their attention never having been
drawn to the point.

[218] It is clear that the romantic methods which are used for the
purpose of obtaining effects of local colour and "revising" the past,
often puerile in the hands of the ablest writers, are altogether
intolerable when they are employed by any others. See a good example
(criticism of a book of M. Mourin by M. Monod) in the _Revue Critique_,
1874, ii. pp. 163 _sqq._

[219] It is a commonplace, and an error all the same, to maintain the
exact opposite of the above, namely, that the works of critical scholars
live, while the works of historians grow antiquated, so that scholars
gain a more solid reputation than historians do: "Père Daniel is now
read no longer, and Père Anselme is always read." But the works of
scholars become antiquated too, and the fact that not all the parts of
the work of Père Anselme have yet been superseded (that is why he is
still read), ought not to deceive us: the great majority of the works
written by scholars, like those of researchers in the sciences proper,
are provisional and doomed to oblivion.

[220] "It is in vain that those professionally concerned try to deceive
themselves on this point; not everything in the past is interesting."
"Supposing we were to write the Life of the Duke of Angoulême," says
Pécuchet. "But he was an imbecile!" answers Bouvard; "Never mind;
personages of the second order often have an enormous influence, and
perhaps he was able to control the march of events."--G. Flaubert,
_Bouvard et Pécuchet_, p. 157.

[221] As persons of moderate ability have a tendency to prefer
insignificant subjects, there is active competition in the treatment of
such subjects. We often have occasion to note the simultaneous
appearance of several monographs on the same subject. It is not rare for
the subject to be altogether devoid of importance.

[222] Interesting subjects for monographs are not always capable of
being treated: there are some which the state of the sources puts out of
the question. This is why beginners, even those who have ability,
experience so much embarrassment in choosing subjects for their first
monographs, when they are not aided by good advice or good fortune, and
often lose themselves in attempting the impossible. It would be very
severe, and very unjust, to judge any one from the list of his _first_

[223] In practice it is proper to give at the beginning a list of the
sources used in the whole of the monograph (with appropriate
bibliographical information as to the printed works, and in the case of
manuscripts, a mention of the nature of the documents and their
shelf-marks); besides, each special statement should be accompanied by
its proof: the exact text of the supporting document should be quoted,
if possible, so that the reader may be in a position to verify the
interpretation; otherwise an analysis of it should be given in a note,
or, at the least, the title of the document, with its shelf-mark, or
with a precise indication of the place where it was published. The
general rule is to put the reader in a position to know the exact
reasons for which such and such conclusions have been adopted at each
stage of the analysis.

Beginners, resembling ancient authors in this respect, naturally do not
observe all these rules. Frequently, instead of quoting the text or the
titles of documents, they refer to these by their shelf-mark, or by the
title of the general collection in which they are printed, from which
the reader can learn nothing as to the nature of the text adduced. The
following is another mistake of the crudest kind, and yet of frequent
occurrence: Beginners, and persons of little experience, do not always
understand why the custom has been introduced of inserting footnotes; at
the bottom of the pages of the books they have they see a fringe of
notes; they think themselves bound to fringe their own books in the same
way, but their notes are adventitious and purely ornamental; they do not
serve either to exhibit the proof or to enable the reader to verify the
statements. All these methods are inadmissible, and should be vigorously

[224] Almost all beginners have an unfortunate tendency to wander off
into superfluous digressions, to amass reflections and pieces of
information which have no relevance to the main subject; they would
recognise, if they reflected, that the causes of this tendency are bad
taste, a kind of naïve vanity, sometimes mental confusion.

[225] We meet with declarations like the following: "I have been long
familiar with the documents of this period and this class. I have an
impression that such and such conclusions, which I cannot prove, are
true." Of two things one: either the author can give the reasons for his
impression, and then we can judge them, or he cannot give them, and we
may assume that he has none of serious value.

[226] This difference has a tendency to disappear. The most recent
alphabetical collections of historical facts (the _Realencyclopædie der
classischen Altertumswissenschaft_ of Pauly-Wissowa, the _Dictionnaire
des antiquités_ of Daremberg and Saglio, the _Dictionary of National
Biography_ of Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee) are furnished with a
sufficiently ample apparatus. It is principally in biographical
dictionaries that the custom of giving no proofs tends to persist; see
the _Allgemeine deutsche Biographie_, &c.

[227] _Revue Critique_, 1874, i. p. 327.

[228] The custom of appending to "histories," that is to narratives of
political events, summaries of the results obtained by the special
historians of art, literature, &c., still persists. A "History of
France" would not be considered complete if it did not contain chapters
on the history of art, literature, manners, &c., in France. However, it
is not the summary account of special evolutions, described at second
hand from the works of specialists, which is in its proper place in a
scientific "History"; it is the study of those general facts which have
dominated the special evolutions in their entirety.

[229] It is hard to imagine what it is possible for the most interesting
and best established results of modern criticism to become, in the hands
of negligent and unskilful popularisers. The persons who know most of
these possibilities are those who have occasion to read the improvised
"compositions" of candidates in history examinations: the ordinary
defects of inferior popularisation are here pushed sometimes to an
absurd length.

[230] Cf. _supra_, p. 266.

[231] We have spoken above of the element of subjectivity which it is
impossible to eliminate from historical construction, and which has been
misinterpreted to the extent of denying history the character of a
science: this element of subjectivity which troubled Pécuchet (G.
Flaubert, _Bouvard et Pécuchet_, p. 157) and Sylvestre Bonnard (A.
France, _Le crime de Silvestre Bonnard_, p. 310), and which causes Faust
to say:

          "Die Zeiten der Vergangenheit
    Sind uns ein Buch mit sieben Siegeln.
    Was ihr den Geist der Zeiten heisst,
    Das ist im Grund der Herren eigner Geist,
    In dem die Zeiten sich bespiegeln."

["Past times are to us a book with seven seals. What you call the spirit
of the times is at bottom your own spirit, in which the times are
mirrored."--Goethe, _Faust_, i. 3.]

[232] A saying attributed to a "Sorbonne professor" by M. de la
Blanchère (_Revue Critique_, 1895, i. p. 176). Others have declaimed on
the theme that the knowledge of history is mischievous and paralyses.
See F. Nietzsche, _Unzeitgemässe Betrachtungen_, II. _Nutzen und
Nachtheil der Historie für das Leben_, Leipzig, 1874, 8vo.

[233] History and the social sciences are mutually dependent on each
other; they progress in parallel lines by a continual interchange of
services. The social sciences furnish a knowledge of the present,
required by history for the purpose of making representations of the
facts and reasoning from documents. History gives the information about
evolutions which is necessary in order to understand the present.

[234] The same institution has been adopted in German-speaking countries
under the name of _Leitfaden_ (guiding-thread), and in English-speaking
countries under the name of _Text-book_.

[235] We must make an exception of Michelet's _Précis de l'histoire
moderne_, and do Duruy the justice to acknowledge that in his
school-books, even in the first editions, he has endeavoured, often
successfully, to make his narratives both interesting and instructive.

[236] For a criticism of this method, see above, p. 265.

[237] The most complete, and probably the most accurate, account of the
state of the secondary teaching of history after the reforms has been
given by a Spaniard, R. Altamira, _La Enseñanza de la historia_, 2nd
edition, Madrid, 1895, 8vo.

[238] We are here treating only of France. But, in order to dispel an
illusion of the French public, we may remark that historical pedagogy is
still less advanced in English-speaking countries, where the methods
used are still mechanical, and even in German-speaking countries, where
it is hampered by the conception of patriotic teaching.

[239] I have endeavoured, in a course of lectures at the Sorbonne, to do
a part of this work.--[Ch. S.]

[240] Let it be noted, however, that to the question put to the
candidates for the modern Baccalaureate in July 1897, "What purpose is
served by the teaching of history?" eighty per cent. of the candidates
answered, in effect, either because they believed it, or because they
thought it would please, "To promote patriotism."--[C. V. L.]

[241] This is what has been produced in Germany under the name of

[242] The same pedagogic theory will be found in the preface to my
_Histoire narrative et descriptive des anciens peuples de l'Orient_,
Supplement for the use of professors, Paris, 1890, 8vo.--[Ch. S.]

[243] I have treated this question in the _Revue universitaire_, 1896,
vol. i.--[Ch. S.]

[244] On the organisation of higher education in France at this epoch
and on the first reforms, see the excellent work of M. L. Liard,
_l'Enseignement supérieur en France_, Paris, 1888-94, 2 vols. 8vo.

[245] E. Lavisse, _Questions d'enseignement national_, p. 12.

[246] Cf. _supra_, p. 55.

[247] _Revue historique_, lxiii. (1897), p. 96.

[248] See the _Revue internationale d'enseignement_, Feb. 1893; the
_Revue universitaire_, June 1892, Oct. and Nov. 1894, July 1895; and the
_Political Science Quarterly_, Sept 1894.

[249] _Revue historique_, l.c. p. 98. I have developed elsewhere what I
have here contented myself with stating. See the _Revue internationale
de l'enseignement_, Nov. 1897.--[C. V. L.]

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