Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 37.djvu/651

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
of a new science—the science of Historical Criticism. . . . The whole world of profane history has been revolutionized. . . .[1]

If these utterances were true when they fell from the lips of a Bampton lecturer in 1859, with how much greater force do they appeal to us now, when the immense labors of the generation now passing away constitute one vast illustration of the power and fruitfulness of scientific methods of investigation in history, no less than in all other departments of knowledge!

At the present time, I suppose, there is no one who doubts that histories which appertain to any other people than the Jews, and their spiritual progeny in the first century, fall within the second class of the three enumerated. Like Goethe's Autobiography, they might all be entitled Wahrheit und Dichtung—Truth and Fiction. The proportion of the two constituents changes indefinitely; and the quality of the fiction varies through the whole gamut of unveracity. But "Dichtung" is always there. For the most acute and learned of historians can not remedy the imperfections of his sources of information; nor can the most impartial wholly escape the influence of the "personal equation" generated by his temperament' and by his education. Therefore, from the narratives of Herodotus to those set forth in yesterday's Times, all history is to be read subject to the warning that fiction has its share therein. The modern vast development of fugitive literature can not be the unmitigated evil that some do vainly say it is, since it has put an end to the popular delusion of less press-ridden times, that what appears in print must be true. We should rather hope that some beneficent influence may create among the erudite a like healthy suspicion of manuscripts and inscriptions, however ancient; for a bulletin may lie, even though it be written in cuneiform characters. Hotspur's starling, that was to be taught to speak nothing but "Mortimer" into the ears of King Henry IV, might be a useful inmate of every historian's library, if "Fiction" were substituted for the name of Harry Percy's friend.

But it was the chief object of the lecturer to the congregation gathered in St. Mary's, Oxford, thirty-one years ago, to prove to them, by evidence gathered with no little labor and marshaled with much skill, that one group of historical works was exempt from the general rule; and that the narratives contained in the canonical Scriptures are free from any admixture of error. With justice and candor, the lecturer impresses upon his hearers that the special distinction of Christianity, among the religions of the world, lies in its claim to be historical; to be surely founded upon

  1. Bampton Lectures (1859), on The Historical Evidences of the Truth of the Scripture Records stated anew, with Special Reference to the Doubts and Discoveries of Modern Times, by the Rev. G. Rawlinson, M. A., pp. 5, 6.