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INAUGURAL LECTURE

ON THE

PHILOSOPHY OF HISTORY.*

What is the philosophy of history'? There are few persons, if I mistake not, who, were such a question suddenly addressed to them, would not be sensible of some vagueness in their notions, some hesitation in their answer to it. The word 'history' bears a certain meaning; the word “philosophy' bears another; but what results from their combination? To which of the two does it belong? Or in what proportions are they blended ? Or which predominates? Is the result philosophy? or is it history? Does it narrate, or does it compare and deduce?-It will be my endeavour in the course of this Lecture to give some sort of answer to so radical and primary a question.

I have said that the word “history' carries a plain and definite meaning to the ear.

Its subjectmatter, indeed, taken in the gross, has not varied from the earliest to the present times. It deals

• Delivered before the Catholic University of Ireland.

B

with the whole course of domestic and national life; with races and peoples; their arts and arms; their progress and decline; nay, with the whole temporal destinies of that larger human society, which overleaps all international boundaries, and may be said to constitute one unbroken whole from the earliest recorded time to the present day. History is the picture of civilisation, as that great travail of the sons of men with one another has been called. Not only the man individual, but the man collective, “ has gone forth to his work and to his labour until the evening,” and history has ever been describing what he has been doing. But as his works have been great or little, simple or complex, broken up, divided, and deflecting from each other, or again converging, and as by some mighty inward instinct and energy coöperating with each other, so has his history been; for it was but the portrait of man, and of the society which he forms with his fellows. Let us take a glance at this course of history, which, we shall find, will lead us to our subject.

In the first beginnings of nations, when the family grows into the tribe, and the tribe into a people, man works as unconscious of any purpose. . The sons of Noah went forth to possess the earth, to subdue it, and to cultivate it. The needs of the day prescribe its toil. But that rudimental society as little contemplates itself, or the objects it has in view, as little catalogues or defines them, as does the child. Yet, like the child, it is the creature of habits and tradition; it lives a vigorous, outward, physical life; it has strong generous emotions; it reasons little, but it feels much. Great deeds of personal daring, labours undergone, dangers risked, dwell in its memory. In this, too, it is like a noble youth, whose instincts and impulses are keener and more vivid, perhaps sometimes more attractive, than the balanced thoughts of the gray-haired man. And as this youthful society lives in tradition, and is possessed by it unconsciously, it seeks to give a voice to those memories of which it is full, and so commences history. This is why history in its beginning is ever allied to poetry, and often in its first forms identical with it. Thus we have the hero described as sitting by the seaside, and singing " the glories of men,” whose great deeds the divine ballad-singer will presently gather into immortal verse, himself to be the parent of history as well as song, the fountain-head of a matchless language, the ever-living root of the most intellectual of human races. But it was the same beside the birthplace of that ruder race whose destiny it was to govern, rather than to teach, the world. Unhappily no Latian Homer survives to tell us

"How well Horatius kept the bridge

In the brave days of old." But we know that at the Roman banquets the youth were taught to admire and imitate the deeds

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