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seller, as we laugh at the gyrations of a certain American politician now " starring it in the provinces"? What publicist cannot weigh more justly the immediate prerevolutionary period in France as he notes a certain thin, loose humanitarianism of our day, which is making our land the paradise of murderers? What historical student cannot more correctly estimate the value of a certain happy-go-lucky optimism which sees nothing possible but good in the future, when he recalls the complacent public opinion, voiced by the Italian historian just before 1789, that henceforth peace was to reign in Europe, since great wars had become an impossibility? What student of social science cannot better estimate the most fearful antisocial evil among us by noting the sterility of marriage in the decline of Rome and in the eclipse of France?
In this sense I think that the assertion referred to as to the rewriting of history from the American point of view contains a great truth; and it is this modified view of the evolution of human affairs, of the development of man as man, and of man in society, that opens a great field for American philosophic historians, whether they shall seek to round the whole circle of human experience, or simply to present some arc of it.
The want of such work can be clearly seen on all sides. Not one of us reads the current discussions of public affairs in Congress, in the State Legislatures, or in the newspapers, who does not see that, strong and keen as many of these are, a vast deal of valuable light is shut out by ignorance of turning-points in the history of human civilization thus far. Never was this want of broad historical views in leaders of American opinion more keenly felt than now. Think of the blindness to one of the greatest things which gives renown to nations, involved in the duty levied by Congress upon works of art. Think, too, of the blindness to one of the main agencies in the destruction of every great republic thus far, shown in the neglect to pass a constitutional amendment which shall free us from the danger of coups d'etat at the counting of the electoral vote. Think of the cool disregard of the plainest teaching of general history involved in legislative carelessness or doctrinaire opposition to measures remedying illiteracy in our Southern States. Never was this want of
broad historical views more evident in our legislation than now. In the early history of this Republic we constantly find that such men as John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, to say nothing of the lesser lights, drew very largely and effectively from their studies of human history. In the transition period such men as Calhoun, John Quincy Adams, Everett, and Webster drew a large part of their strength from this source. And in the great period through which we have recently passed the two statesmen who wrought most powerfully to shape vague hopes into great events-William Henry Seward and Charles Sumner-were the two of all American statesmen in their time who drew inspiration and strength from a knowledge of the general history of mankind. Nothing but this could have kept up Seward's faith or Sumner's purpose. The absence of this sort of light among our public men at present arises doubtless from the necessities of our material development since the Civil War, and the demand for exact arithmetical demonstration in finance rather than moral demonstration in broad questions of public policy; but as we approach the normal state of things more and more, the need of such general studies must grow stronger and stronger.
As regards the work of our American universities and colleges in the historical field, we must allow that it is wofully defective; but there are signs, especially among those institutions which are developed out of the mass of colleges into universities, of a better time coming. They must indeed yield to the current sweeping through the age. This is an epoch of historical studies. It is a matter of fact, simple and easily verified, that whereas in the last century state problems and world problems were as a rule solved by philosophy, and even historians such as Voltaire and Gibbon and Robertson were rather considered as philosophers than as historians, in this century such problems are studied most frequently in the light of history.
Still another encouraging fact is that advanced studies of every sort are more and more thrown into the historic form; the growth of the historical school in political economy is but one of many examples of this. More and more it is felt that "the proper study of mankind is man"; more and more clear becomes the idea enforced by
Draper, that the greatest problems of humanity must be approached not so much by the study of the individual man as by the study of men in general and historically. To this tendency the great universities of the old world have already conformed, and to this the institutions for advanced instruction in our own country must conform before they can take any proper rank in the higher education and be worthy to be called even the beginnings of universities.
It is largely in these institutions of learning that this work of historical study which I especially advocatethis union of close scientific analysis with a large philosophic synthesis must begin. Unquestionably the number of professors devoted to historical investigation in the German universities is the great cause of the fact that Germany has surpassed other modern nations not only in special researches, but in general historical investigations. Important researches have indeed been made outside her universities, but the great majority of them have certainly been made by university men; and this indicates the lines on which historical studies are to be best developed in our own country. Every professor of history in a university should endeavor to present some special field with thoroughness; to extend, deepen, or quicken special knowledge in that field; to lead his students to investigations in it. Doubtless of all such fields that which, as a rule, will yield the most fruit to special and original investigation by American students will be found in English and American political, social, and constitutional history. But while the professor in an American university makes special studies, he ought to be laboring toward something like a conspectus of human history,—if not of all human history, at least of some great part of it. So shall he prevent his generalizations from becoming vague, and his investigations from becoming trivial.
During a recent residence in Germany I more than once found the ablest investigators, men of world-wide rank, lamenting the relative want of this large philosophical work. Said the Rector of one of the foremost universities to me: “It saddens me to see so many of my best young men confined entirely to mere specialties and niceties. The result of all this is an excessive specialization of study
which, if carried much further, will render a university impossible.” To lead American students in our uni. versities and colleges prematurely and mainly into special and original investigations is simply to fasten upon them the character of petty annalists. With such special work should go, pari passu, thoughtful study of great connected events.
Among many examples proving this necessity, in the university professor of large general studies in connection with the best special work, we have some especially striking in our own time. Who does not see that Professor Freeman's admirable researches into mediæval history derive perhaps the greater part of their cogency from the very wide range of his studies in time and space? Who does not feel that even when he is investigating the minutest point in what Milton compared to the “wars of kites and crows,” the habit of mind engendered by this general study adds vastly to the value of his special study, enabling him to see what lies under the mere surface history here and to strike the turning-point there. So, too, with Professor Goldwin Smith. Who of us does not feel during his discussion of the simplest point, even of local Canadian history, that we are in the grasp of a man who brings to the subject a broad knowledge which enables him to flood the pettiest local event with light as the simple annalist and mere special investigator could never do? Who that has had the pleasure of hearing such professors as Ernst Curtius at Berlin or Oncken at Giessen, has not seen that the secret of strength in the German professor is not, as commonly supposed, merely in his minute investigation, but very largely in his illumination of special research by broad general study? Such are special studies when combined with general studies. But who has not seen them when not thus combined ?
So, have I known a local historian devote himself to the abstruse study of such questions in the history of a country town as whether the fire-engine house was originally in the neighborhood of the village school, or of the town pump, and whether a petty official recently departed was at an early period of his life in sympathy with the Presbyterians or Methodists.
It is to be hoped then, that at the future meetings of an
Association such as we now contemplate, papers may be frequently presented giving the results not only of good special work in history and biography, work requiring keen critical analysis, but of good work in the larger field requiring a philosophical synthesis. There ought certainly to be a section or sections in American history, general and local, and perhaps in other special fields; but there ought also to be a section or sections devoted to general history, the history of civilization, and the philosophy of history. Of course, such a section will have its dangers. Just as in the section devoted to special history there will be danger of pettiness and triviality, so in that devoted to general history there will be danger of looseness and vagueness--danger of attempts to approximate Hegel's shadowy results. But these difficulties in both fields the Association must meet as they arise. Certainly a confederation like this—of historical scholars from all parts of the country, stimulating each other to new activity—ought to elicit most valuable work in both fields and to contribute powerfully to the healthful development on the one hand of man as man, and on the other to the opening up of a better political and social future for the nation at large.
None can feel this more strongly than the little band of historical scholars who, scattered through various parts of the country, far from great libraries and separate from each other, lave labored during the last quarter of a century to keep alive in this country the flame of philosophical investigation of history as a means for the greater enlightenment of their country and the better development of mankind.