Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 58.djvu/100

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The address of Mr. Thomas Ford Rhodes, president of the American Historical Association, on the subject of history, delivered before the midwinter meeting of that body, and published in the 'Atlantic Monthly' for February, has gone forth to the world with a high degree of authority and impressiveness. Nevertheless, there are some members of the Association—the writer humbly trusts enough to make a large majority—for whom the president does not speak, and who dissent widely from his views.

Mr. Rhodes begins by representing himself as an advocate 'holding a brief for history,' and proceeds to make important concessions to those who refuse it a place in the front rank of subjects of human thought. "It is not the highest form of intellectual endeavor; let us at once agree that it were better that all the histories ever written were burned than for the world to lose Homer and Shakespeare." One more concession yields "to the mathematical and physical sciences precedence in the realm of intellectual endeavor over history." But, having admitted so much, Mr. Rhodes is still of the opinion that the historian's place in the field remains secure. Why he thinks so ia not made quite clear. It is true enough that there has never been 'so propitious a time for writing history as in the last forty years '; that 'there has been a general acquisition of the historic sense '; that 'the methods of teaching history have so improved that they may be called scientific'; and that 'the theory of evolution is firmly established.' There is, however, in all this nothing to attract the youth conscious

??of intellectual strength and brimming with energy and courage to a study which cannot claim to rank among the highest forms of intellectual endeavor. Shall we suppose that the historian's 'place in the field remains secure' only because the giants do not care to wander that way? If so, those who love history better than they love the historians will find little satisfaction in this security.

But, following Mr. Rhodes further, one finds the apparent gist of his contention to be that the new thought throughout the country, which has resulted in better work in almost every direction, has had no such result in historiography; that "with all our advantages" we do not "write better history than was written before 1859, which we may call the line of demarcation between the old and the new," and that Thucydides and Tacitus are still the best models for the historian. The whole address appears to breathe the spirit of a somewhat over-reverent devotion to the Classics, and the hearers may well have imagined that they were listening to an appeal for the study of Greek and Latin. When the Lord of the vineyard comes, there will no doubt be a sufficiently grave indictment against the keepers of the historical portion for the waste they have made of the last eighteen hundred years; but it is hard to believe that they will be found guilty of having failed to improve on the methods of the classical writers.

Has science, then, done nothing for history? Somewhat, even according to Mr. Rhodes himself. In addition to acknowledgments already quoted, he goes on to say: "The publication of the 'Origin of Species,' in 1859, converted it (the theory of evolution) from a