Page 6, 11th March 1949

11th March 1949
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Page 6, 11th March 1949 — I AM CONVINCED BY THIS LIFE OF CHARLES I
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Locations: Athens, Paris, Alexandria

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I AM CONVINCED BY THIS LIFE OF CHARLES I

by C. G. MORTIMER

history of History, that is, same account of how History itself has been viewed and treated in different ages.

To the Greeks, Clio was the Muse of History, one of the nine Muses with a place and dignity all her own. None the less Aristotle warned this lady that she must not give herself airs; for he argued that Poetry, meaning in particular Attic Drama, was " a • more serious and philosophic art than History," for the latter only told you what did happen, while Poetry told you " what might happen "; in other words, there is the story of Macbeth on the one hand, and what Shakespeare made of it, on the other.

In any case there was no chair of History at Athens or later at Alexandria, though the great classical histories, such as Thucydides, were valued from the first and " broadcast " in the sense that they received a public reading before the citizens in full conclave.

In the Middle Ages History was not a recognised teaching subject at all. A lad of 14 who went to his school or university was taught grammar, rhetoric and dialectic, and finally, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music; such were the liberal arts. But in the great medieval universities everything was overshadowed by philosophy and theology.

In Paris, theology was the one lecture that was absolutely compulsory. it was the scientia rectrix, the ruling science — at which of course our moderns would scoff; partly because they do not understand quite what it meant; partly because theology itself got a bad name as provoking M the era of the Reformation a series of exhausting wars. However, the debt we have paid in Europe for our loss of grip on both metaphysics and theology is now manifestly enormous—but this is not the place to discuss it Too Much History ?

In the 16th century History at last had its recognised place among the sciences; and it was the art of printing and the accumulation of historical records that gave it its modern lease of life. The danger now is that there is too much history. How is any student to master even a fraction of what has now been written and discovered ? How is one to choose among all the contending views and constructions of the past that have been laid before us by learned authors ? Then again there is always the danger of preindice, of tendentious history. Gibbon's achievement in the 18th century was enormous — but there is a thesis in Decline and Fall of which to-day we are quite aware.

As for the Whig school of historians, could one expect them, in treating of the time of Charles 1, to he impartial ? Even Clarendon when he whitewashes the proceedings of the Short Parliament or depreciates

the military capacity of Prince Rupert, is pleading his own brief.

Such is the point of view of a very remarkable history of Charles, King of England* of which the first two volumes, carrying the story down to the death of Pym* in 1643. have now come to hand, I have no doubt the book will excite controversy as this is a period about which Englishmen have very pronounced, though rather uncritical views, to say the least. Hence all who are interested in this period, would do well to study the case this author presents.

It used to be the fashion to write history in a dry. factual style that made most of us at school regard the history lesson as boring in the extreme, but enlightenment may come later in one's life. I was supposed to know something about the Classics at the University, but it was only when I read Dr. Grundy's works, later in my life, that I understood the first thing about the Persian Wars and only the other day it. was a novelist's life of Alcibiades (I refer to the late E. F. Benson) that made me really grasp his career and personality, The Modern Approach And that suggests a point that must not be overlooked in apprising the modern approach to History. We all remember the delicious art of the author of Eminent Victorians, but Lytton Strachey was not the only one who combined the arts of historian and novelist. The author of Charles King of England, not only gives chapter and verse for his views but carries one forward to an exciting climax in his detailed, psychological treatment of his characters, What would Aristotle say to this, I wonder ? Would he not see something of that same creative power that makes the poet—and yet without departure from scientific inquiry. For that is what history means: inquiry, the art of inquiry; not a bare chronicle of events, not a myth without historical foundation, not the speech of counsel in a court of law, but genuine inquiry; like the work of an explorer, like the scientific approach we consider so indispensable in all modern schemes of knowledge.

Can one wonder that to-day His tory has an enormous following ? It was a great surprise to the angina publishers of the Decline and Fal that they got rid of more than 500 or 1,000 copies. Soon the second and third editions were sold out; and since then, who can number the editions ?

Personally, I am convinced by this new work on Charles T. I think the old myth of Tyrant v. Patriot has now been blown sky-high. "What," the opponent will say, "doyou really want a revival of the Divine Right of Kings ? Do you deprecate

the growth of Parliamentary government and the free institutions in which we glory—or in what is left of them ?"

But that is to misconceive the issues of the period. For as our author points out, King Charles, under pressure, had already gone far along the road of reconciliation before the Civil War broke out.

"The old Tudor Constitution under which England had thriven to gloriously for a century-and-a-half had been revised so as to give Portia/Trent a complete stranglehold upon the Crown—this the King bad frankly accepted and there was no serious question in any quarter of putting back the clock. The real question to he decided. was whether he were to be given a fair chance of carrying on his men government within the framework of the revised constitution, or whether the Parliamentary chiefs were to tighten the stranglehold so as to crush the last vestiges of sovereignty oat of him.' (Vol. 2. p. 250).

Let the book be read and the reader come to his own conclusions. It is only an incident, of course. when all is said, in the great march of Modern History. But there is an even more vital task awaiting the modern historian; to correct not the teaching and perspective of a period but of that whole process by which our Modern Age was evolved from the Medieval. For until we have seen that rightly, what we have gained and what also we have lost and what must now at all costs be recovered, how can we find an abiding solution for our modern evils ?

* King Charles of England and King Charles and King Pytn. By Esme Wingfield-Stratford. (Hollis & Carter 18s. each vol.).




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