We Can’t Keep Up With History!

Mark Pattison, Isaac Casaubon 1559-1614

Jacques Auguste de Thou was the last, and most illustrious, example of those public men who were formed to affairs upon the study of greek and roman history. Instead of composing his memoirs, like his contemporaries, in French, he chose Latin, not because it was the language of diplomacy, but because it alone was capable of classical handling. Thrust into employment against his will, dragged perpetually from the retirement he loved to undertake difficult or dangerous negotiations, his heart was in his library, and his historical work. The history of ‘Thuanus’ was long the manual of statesmen all over Europe. It is now wholly neglected, even in the country of its author.

The cause of this neglect is not merely the language, a difficulty which might have been overcome by translation. It is because it is too minute. Even in 1733, and before the revolution of ’89 had opened a new and absorbing page of history, Lord Carteret pointed to the extent of the work as fatal to its popularity. Containing the history of only sixty-four years, it has been calculated that de Thou’s folios would require twelve months, at four hours a day, for their perusal. The world has now too long a history for us to afford time to know it! Thus the very merit of de Thou’s ‘Historia,’ its completeness, is the cause of its being left unread. De Thou was a catholic, but a ‘politique,’ and would gladly have secured Casaubon for France, without attempting to convert him.”

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