History and they
History enlarges our mind by giving knowledge of the instant past. In this way, as has been well said, it makes some amends for the shortness of life. If a man’s knowledge of the past were confined to the events that have happened during the few years he has lived upon the earth, it would be painfully meager. With the help of the historian he is able to form correct ideas of what happened in his own country centuries before he was born, and of the great empires that flourished long before the nation to which he himself belongs came into existence.
As nothing is more interesting to man than the study of man, it is no wonder that history should be exceedingly fascinating. Reflective readers find history far more interesting than fiction. In reading the most exciting novel, our interest is apt to flag whenever we remember that the event we are reading about never happened, and that the noble characters imagined by the author never existed, and perhaps never could have existed. When this thought enters our minds, we naturally turn with pleasure to history, in the pages of which we read of real persons and real events, and find stories as wonderful as any that can be imagined by the creative power of genius.
History is sometimes reproached with narrating nothing but battles and campaigns and court intrigues for power. The reproach, however, can only be made with truth against bad histories. A good modern history gives a full account, not only of kings and nobles, but also of the progress of literature, science, and art, and of the work and amusements of the common people. The ancient kings of Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon inscribed on their monuments only the conquests they won. The chronicles of the Middle Ages give little else but the biographies of kings and the exploits of noble warriors. But the best historians of Greece and Rome, and in still higher degree those of modern Europe, are far from having such a narrow conception of the duty of the historian. They do their best to satisfy our curiosity as to all the details of the lives of our predecessors. Understood in this wide sense, history is a delightful study for all reflective persons.
It is, however, not only to be regarded as an extremely interesting study enlarging the range of our intellect. It is also of immense practical value. Political wisdom is mainly derived from knowledge of the past. Careful study of history enables politicians to infer from the history of past events the results that are likely to follow from reforms proposed in the present and to avoid the faults committed with ruinous effect by those who guided the destinies of nations in earlier times. Thus the happiness and progress of mankind are largely dependent on the knowledge of past history possessed by the nations of the world and by the statesmen who rule them.