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EVEN at the present day, the historian of Civilisation in Europe and in France is amongst us, at the head of those historical studies which he formerly encouraged so much. I myself have experienced his kindness, learned by his conversation, consulted his books, and profited by that intellectual and impartial breadth, that active and liberal sympathy, with which he receives the labours and thoughts of others, even when these ideas are not like his own. I consider it a duty and an honour to inscribe this work to M. Guizot.
H. A. TAINE.
The historian might place himself for a certain time, during several centuries or amongst a certain people, in the midst of the spirit of humanity. He might study, describe, relate all the events, the changes, the revolutions which took place in the inner-man; and when he had reached the end, he would possess a history of the civilisation of the nation and the period he selected.GUIZOT, Civilisation in Europe, p. 25.
ISTORY has been revolutionised, within a hundred years in Germany, within sixty years in France, and that by the study of their literatures.
It was perceived that a work of literature is not a mere play of imagination, a solitary caprice of a heated brain, but a transcript of contemporary manners, a type of a certain kind of mind. It was concluded that one might retrace, from the monuments of literature, the style of man's feelings and thoughts for centuries back. The attempt was made, and it succeeded.
Pondering on these modes of feeling and thought, men decided that in them were embalmed facts of the highest kind. They saw that these facts bore reference to the most important occurrences, that they explained and were explained by them, that it was necessary thenceforth to give them a rank, and a most important rank, in history. This rank they have received, and from that moment history has undergone a complete change: in its subject-matter, its system, its machinery, the appreciation of laws and of causes. It is this change, as it has happened and must still happen, that we shall here endeavour to exhibit.
What is your first remark on turning over the great, stiff leaves of a folio, the yellow sheets of a manuscript,-a poem, a code of laws, a declaration of faith? This, you say, was not created alone. It is but a mould, like a fossil shell, an imprint, like one of those shapes embossed in stone by an animal which lived and perished. Under the shell there was an animal, and behind the document there was a man. Why do you study the shell, except to represent to yourself the animal? So do you study the document only in order to know the man.