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XXIV.—The most important Foreign Publications of the last three
Art. 1.-Histoire des Ducs de Bourgogne de la Maison de Valois,
1364—1477. Par M. De Barantė, Pair de France. Quatrième Edition. 12 vols. 1826. THE literature of France, more than that of any other nation,
1 abounded, in the last century, with historical works of various degrees of merit, from the humble and indiscriminating compilation, to undertakings of the most elaborate and arduous research. There is scarcely any part of the world of which a French history may not be found composed in that age,—the form and number of such books seeming to indicate a greater desire and more general diffusion of such knowledge than would appear to exist in that country at this time, were travellers to form an opinion from what they find in the shops of the provincial booksellers. But it is to be observed that French books obtained a considerable vent in other parts of Europe, indeed wherever there were readers, In England, we had few such works, because there was the Universal History, the most extensive undertaking that had ever then been set on foot as a bookseller's speculation, and still, in point of execution, (though we live in an age of Cyclopedias,) by far the most respectable. But its appalling bulk impeded its circulation, and had made it always regarded as a work rather to be consulted than perused. The French took the field in light duodecimos; and if, in the greater part of them, the spirit is wanting which arises frv. we enjoyment of civil and religious liberty, no where could a general acquaintance with the outlines and outstanding facts of history be acquired at so easy a cost of time.
Since the revolution, or rather since the re-establishment of the Bourbons, a great impulse has been given to this department of French literature, and the effect of the revolution is perceptible in it. Works of such pith and moment as some of those which appeared in the preceding age have not, indeed, as yet been attempted ; but the race of living writers have applied themselves with great diligence and success to elucidate their own history, and that of this nation, with which, to the misfortune and severe cost of both, it has so often been inseparably connected. VOL. I. NO, I.
The great collection of their Mémoires particuliers relatifs à l'Histoire de France (which, when published just before the revolution, purported to be printed at London) has been carefully re-edited with large and important additions ; a second series, relating to later times, is in course of publication; and a third, which will comprise the dreadful records of the Revolution. And a general collection of translated English memoirs has been commenced, and is in a fair way of being completed, before any collective body of the precious originals has been undertaken here. Good use, too, has already been made of the excellent materials which have thus been rendered easily accessible. MM. Villemain, Guizot and Mazures have treated with great ability that most important age of English history which began with the accession of the house of Stuart, and ends with its expulsion. The feeling with which an Englishman approaches that subject is not, of course, neither ought it to be, found in these foreign writers; but it would have been well if some of our contemporary countrymen had learnt from them to treat it, we will not şay with an equal impartiality, but with moderation and temper and good faith.
These writers, and M. Thierry also, in his History of the Norman Conquest, have written in the spirit of the age, systematizing and generalizing, and regarding the operation of general causes far more than the influence which individuals of commanding character exercise in directing and controlling the course of events. M. de Barante, in the work before us, has pursued a different course, and is as much opposed, in this respect, to the philosophizing historians, as he is to those who fill their pages with discussions of doubtful or disputed points ; against whose method he declares in his motto, Scribitur ad narrandum, non ad probandum.' It is generally admitted, he says, that the historians of his country have not rendered their compilations sufficiently attractive; whereas the contemporary materials which they have followed carry with them a charm, of which all readers are sensible. In these documents the national character predominates ; the writers, with a felicitous and shrewd naïvety which is peculiarly their own, conveying, in the very manner of their narration, a sense of the feeling wherewith they regarded themselves as superior to the transactions that they record, contented to amuse themselves with the course of events which they had witnessed. The whole of French literature, he observes, from the Fabliaux and Chronicles down to La Fontaine and Hamilton, is marked with this stamp,—French narrative endeavouring always to present a dramatic picture to the imagination, delighting in life and movement, leaving the reader to form his own infer
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ences, and approve or condemn at will, and uniting a sort of gentle irony with a spirit of impartial benevolence. M. de Barante contrasts this with the character of the English historical memoirs which have recently been published in France : there, he says, you are struck with the want of movement in the recital; there, he says, you remark, more than any thing, the single and earnest intention of the writer to give weight to his opinions without displaying himself; to establish his reasoning dispassionately, and to give authority to his judgment by relating the march of events rather than the actions of individuals. It seems as if he wished to decide with all the coldness of posterity, as if he were apprehensive that that liveliness of imagination which paints every thing, should be imputed in him to indifference, and give occasion to suspect some uncertainty in his convictions. The contrast, however, is not founded wholly upon national character, nor would it have appeared so striking if he had compared the English memoirs with those of the French revolution ; for with these it is that they may fitly be compared ; not with the earlier writers, who wrote under no influence of passion or strong interest in the events which they were relating, and the cause which they had espoused.
But with such excellent materials for national history, he observes, that the French have hitherto failed in making the right use of them. Some have written in a spirit of servility which has degraded them into official historiographers; others, of a later age, giving way to an opposite predilection, have fallen into a satirical and declamatory tone, dealing perpetually in allusions, rendering history the depository of their actual dislikes, and, in their relations of the past, manifesting a bitterness which regarded the present times. Censuring, then, those who would make history serve directly for political instruction, by applying its examples to support any particular system of opinions, he says that we require from it only its facts; that we desire to regard the past, as we see the present, in its details, in its movements; that these carry with them those lessons which every one may deduce for himself; that nothing is so impartial as the imagination, and that upon this plan he has proceeded in the present work. Accordingly, he has not been afraid of wearying his readers, even in an age when readers are so little favourable to long works, by treating, in twelve volumes, of a dynasty which lasted only for four reigns, and comprised a period of 113 years (1364—1477.) The event has amply justified his expectations, for few works have been so eminently successful. Some sacrifices have been made for the sake of obtaining this popular reception. That light and fashionable readers might not be deterred by any ap
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