Mackintosh's History [review-book]

1830 The National Magazine  
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" Whatever their comparative difficulty and rank may be," he tells us, " it is certain, that both these sorts of historical composition must always exist; and that they differ too much in their use and nature to allow any rivalship between them. An outline is, at least a useful introduction; it may be more easily accessible to consultation; it may remind the reader of many particulars, which would, otherwise, have lain dormant in his memory; it may contain all the information concerning the affairs of our nation, for which men of other countries, or of very different pursuits, can find place in their minds. A community in a state of such active progress as ours at this moment is, daily rears new bodies of readers, who are impatient of historical ignorance, and have no leisure to compare original authorities, or to study ample compilations. It is fit that their praiseworthy curiosity should be satisfied; and that they should not be doomed to ignorance, because they are unable to acquire learning." Apropos of this praiseworthy curiosity of the present generation; we were forcibly impressed, a few days ago, with a passage that occurs in one of Smollet's letters. "You will not be sorry to hear," says this accomplished and ready writer, " that the weekly sale of the history, has increased to above ten thousand, &c." The history here alluded to, was his complete History of England, in four vols. quarto, published originally in weekly numbers; "a work," says Sir Walter Scott, " written with uncommon spirit, and correctness of language; and, besides, one of the greatest exertions of facility of composition, which was ever recorded in the history of literature." The fact speaks volumes against the optimists of the day. Which of our modern popular works have been diffused to such an extent as this ? With all our increased population, our useful knowledge societies, our praiseworthy curiosity, and our impatience of historical ignorance, we apprehend there is no such demand for popular history in our times. In short, we' cannot help having our doubts about the much vaunted superiority of the present over the past age, with respect to the proportion of readers, and the solid nature of the works perused by each. But we were speaking of abridgments,-it is certain that a great authority condemns them. " As for the corruptions and moths of history, which are epitomes, the use of them deserveth to be banished, as all men of sound judgment have confessed, as those that have fretted and corroded the sound bodies of many excellent histories, and wrought them into base and improfitable dregs.-(Adrvancement of Learning, Book 2.) But we shall not take, on this subject, the ipse dixit even of Verulamius ipse; and the rather, as we find him in the very next page, recommending, as a national work, a history of England and Scotland, to be "joined in one, for the times past; after the manner of the sacred history, which draweth down the story of the ten tribes, and of * History of England, in 3 vols. By the Right Hon. Sir James Mackintosh, 2I-P. London. Longman and Co. Mackintosh's Histoiy. the two tribes, as twins together." The specimen, too, which he has bequeathed us in his Henry the Seventh, is quite enough, if further evidence were wanting, to prove that he knows little or nothing about this matter. What are all histories but abridgments and epitomes ? Is it not altogether a purely relative consideration? Those who look with complacency on the ocean of the Augustan history-the Byzantinesand the annals of Muratori, will look upon even " the Decline and Fall" as an abridgment; the readers of Pinnock, on the other hand, will think Gibbon needlessly circumstantial; every thing, in fact, depends upon the class of readers for whom the work is intended. For our own part, we are far from thinking meanly of a History of England, of the present dimensions; being aware that the difficulty of such a compilation is, generally speaking, inversely as the proposed bulk-or, to preserve the mathematical phraseology, the duty of the writer of a history intended to be popular, is to reduce the matter to a minimum of size, while he secures a maximum of pleasure and profit to the reader. The greatest fault of modern historians is their diffuseness-they think proper to fill three-fourths of their books with disquisitions on events, which they deem worthy of expansion, from a mistaken idea that those political discourses constitute an essential feature in their works. This is the very extravagance of vanity and want of judgment. The practice requires thorough reformation. If there be any value in facts, let us have them plainly set forth-let them speak for themselves--or, at least, let the historian's remarks be rather of a stimulating, than a surfeiting quality-let them rather lead than load the reader's mind. The " Scotland" of Sir Walter Scott is a good example of what we would have a popular history to be. It is a spirited, and, at the same time, a graceful, though unadorned performance; it is, besides, eminently trustworthy-a golden virtue in such a work; while the language and style are admirably well adapted to the subject-evenly sustained throughout. That Sir James Mackintosh has taken a correct view of the task assigned him is beyond a doubt. He states his object to be, to present us simply with " a sketch of memorable events in their proper time and regular succession, with few reasonings and reflections, little other praise" or blame than the events themselves excite; and no particulars, but such as either strikingly characterise an age and nation, or bring to light the workings of vigorous and conspicuous minds; or exercise the moral feelings, by the contemplation of heroic virtues, and the repulsion of heinous crimes. In such a work, the greatest virtues of an historian-his love of peace, his love of justice, and his love of those institutions which alone maintain peace and justice-must rather breathe through the general tenour of his narrative, than stand forward in separate propositions, supported by laborious argument. He is disposed, by regard to readers who must be taught as if he taught them not, to abstain from that frequent citation of authorities, which, in larger history, he ought to be anxious to put into the hands of the public, as the only tests of his truth." This is, certainly, a most excellent carte-but it attaches no small responsibility to the powers and resources of the caterer. The ability, fidelity, and taste, in fact, of the popular historical writer, must be unlimitedly confided in; his qualifications should be known; and he should stand before the public a fair and candid witness; ready, through ill report and good report, to state the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but one furious monk, who perpetually exhorted the people to destroy the enemies of Christ. On the night before the expected assault a rabbi, lately arrived from the Hebrew schools abroad, addressed his assembled countrymen :-' Men of Israel, God commands us to die for his law, as our glorious forefathers have done in all ages. If we fall into the hands of our enemies they may cruelly torment us. That life which our Creator gave us, let us return to Him willingly and devoutly with our own hands.' The majority applauded; a few only dissented. They burnt their costly garments, snd destroyed their precious stones and vessels. They set fire to the building, andthen Jocen, the most wealthy man among them, cut the throat of his wife. When all the women were sacrificed, he, as the most honourable, first destroyed himself. The rest followed his example. The few who shrunk from their brethren appeared in the morning pale and trembling to the people, who cruelly put them to death. The bonds of Christian debtors to Jews were taken from safe custody to the cathedral, where they were deposited, and instantly committed in a mass to the flames. It is a consolation to find, that Ralph Glanville, the first English lawyer, was employed by the king to quell this sedition. That he miserably failed may be concluded from the number of three who suffered death for this dreadful butchery, and from the reasons assigned for the selection of these three to be examples. One was executed because he had stolen the goods of a Christian; two others, because the flames which they had lighted in the houses of the Jews had spread to the dwellings of Christians. ", About the end of June, 1190, not many days after the crusade had suffered the irreparable loss of Frederick Barbarossa, on the frontiers of Syria, Philip Augustus and Richard reviewed together, at Vezelai, their magnificent and formidable host. Among the countless multitude of armed pilgrims who were scattered over the surrounding hills and valleys, the French bore red crosses, the English white, the Flemings green. Severe regulations were published against desertion, theft, murder, gambling, dresses unbecoming a religious enterprise, female companions, against trading in or near the camp, against a greater profit than ten by the hundred, and against the sale of bread otherwise than by the penny for equal weights, and directing the English penny to be equal in the exchange to four of the pence of Anjou. The French reached Messina on the 16th of September, the English six days afterwards. Here the seeds of disunion between Philip and Richard began to spring up visibly, in the midst of friendly festivity. Richard having been set free from his espousals to a French princess, despatched his aged mother to bring to him the princess-Berengaria of Navarre, of whom he had long been enamoured. His time there was occupied in warm disputes with Tancred, who had usurped or assumed the Sicilian crown, at the death of William II., a short time before, and imprisoned Joan of England, that prince's widow. These differences terminated in an agreement that Tancred should pay twenty thousand ounces of gold to Richard, in consideration of which the latter renounced his own and his sister's claims to the island, entered into an alliance with Tancred, and promised that his nephew and heir Arthur should espouse the daughter of that prince. " Richard sailed from Messina on the 10th of April, 1191, after lingering there for more than six months. His fleet, of fifty-five galleys and one hundred and fifty ships, was dispersed by storm. The ship which conveyed his sister Joan, and Berengaria his espoused, (his mother had returned from her venturous expedition,) was compelled to seek refuge in a port of Cyprus, then governed by Isaac Comnenus, who held it out against the court of Constantinople, by the favour of Saladin, and now received the royal ladies with discourtesy. " Richard, as if roving in quest of adventures, landed his whole army to chastise the apostate chief. Several rulers of Palestine came to Cyprus to entreat the speedy help of the chivalrous king. He took advantage of their presence to solemnise his nuptials with Berengaria, on the 12th of May, with the splendour which the occasion demanded. In spite of all expostulation he remained till the whole island was reduced. He had promised not to fetter Comnenus; but he pretended that he meant to exclude only iron fetters, and put him into silver chains. In June, 1191, he at last sailed to Tyre, where he found the Christians of Palestine divided between competitors to the crown of Jerusalem,-Gui de Lusignan and Conrad Marquis of Mentferrat. In sailing along the coast of Syria to the siege of Acre, he met an enormous vessel, pretending to be French, but in truth Saracen, and intending to throw a considerable reinforcement into the besieged town. An obsti
doi:10.2307/30058056 fatcat:3afqu6dbybbjvofalzzwy6epqq