QOTD (2011-01-16)

The Victorian historian William Stubbs on “History for Its Own Sake” in his Lectures on the Study of Medieval and Modern History:

I should not like to be thought to be advocating my study on the mere grounds of utility; although I believe that utility, both as regards the training of the study and the information attained in it, to be the highest, humanly speaking, of all utilities; it helps to qualify a man to act in his character of a politician as a Christian man should. But this is not all; beyond the educational purpose, beyond the political purpose, beyond the philosophical use of history and its training, it has something of the preciousness of everything that is clearly true. In common with Natural Philosophy it has its value, I will not say as Science, for that would be to use a term which has now become equivocal, but it has a value analogous to the value of science; a value as something that is worth knowing and retaining in the knowledge for its own and for the truth’s sake. There is… in the study of living History, a gradual approximation to a consciousness that we are growing into a perception of the workings of the Almighty Ruler of the world; that we are growing able to justify the Eternal Wisdom….

The study of History is in this respect, as Coleridge said of Poetry, its own great reward, a thing to be loved and cultivated for its own sake…. It has not been well used of late years; it has been taught as a task to children; it has been valued only as an instrument to strengthen the memory; it has been under-valued in its true character of mental training; it has been learned to qualify men to make effective speeches to ignorant hearers, and to indite brilliant articles for people who only read periodicals; it has been begun from the standing point of popular infatuation; it has been begun from the advanced ground of ecclesiastical or political partisanship; it has been made an embellishment for wordy eloquence, a source of subjects for pictorial talent that has evolved grouping, features and circumstances, from its own consciousness; it has been written as a poem, but without the inspiration of poetry, as philosophy without the thoughtfulness or humility of the true philosophic spirit; it has been written for readers already known, counted and pandered to. What wonder that there are few who love it for its own sake, when there are so few who know it as it is!

You don’t need to be on board with Stubbs’ religious language to be on board with his larger sentiment.

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