A manual of historical literature
Comprising brief descriptions of the most important histories in English, French and German, together with practical suggestions as to methods and courses of historical study
For the use of students, general readers, and collectors of books.
What histories shall I read with most profit? What historical books shall I put into the hands of my son and my daughter? What course and what methods will be most advantageous to our historical club? What histories shall we buy for our town and college libraries? What shall I buy for my own library? These are questions that, in one form or another, I have often heard asked; but I have sought in vain for a volume that would answer them.
Of books about books there is certainly no scarcity; but in all the twenty thousand volumes which a distinguished librarian recently declared to be necessary for the proper bibliographical outfit for a great public library, I do not know of one that can be put into the hands of a student of general history with any justifiable confidence that it will guide him aright in the prosecution of his researches. But for the want of such a volume, I should not have ventured to undertake what may seem to many like trying to add to the infinite.
The need which seemed to justify the undertaking has given form to the work produced. It has been my constant desire and aims to provide a book such as would have been of most service to me when, as a university student, I was reaching out in various directions for help in carrying on my historical studies. What I then wanted was guidance in the selection of books; and such guidance involved not simply critical reviews, but also careful descriptions and characterizations; not onl}' information whether a given book approached an ideal standard of excellence, but also whether it was the best authority accessible on the subject which I wished to know something about; not only, in fine, to what additions and subtractions I ought to subject a certain writer's works, in case I should read them, but also whether, in the bewildering number of attractive volumes about me, it was worth my while to read that particular writer's works at all.
I cannot doubt, that the lack of some such suitable guidance is responsible for an enormous waste of good intentions. The want to which I refer is not, in my opinion, to be supplied by the issue of dogmatic rules and directions. I Live not much fairly in so-called " courses of reading," for tlie reason that the very habit of independent inquiry and research necessary for successful scholarship rebels against the oppression of any prescribed order of study.
The best, therefore, that can be done for the reader is simply to give him such information as will be most likely to lead knowledge he is in search of. Acting upon these beliefs, I have endeavoured, in the preparation of this work, to accomplish two more or less distinct purposes. In the first place, it has been my aim to furnish, as best I could, such information about the most desirable books as the historical reader and student is likely to profit by; and, in the second, to suggest the proper methods and order of using the materials so indicated. Accordingly, the cacti of the chapters, except the Introduction, consists of two parts; the first being devoted to descriptions of books, and the second to suggestions to students and readers as to the best order and method of using- them. These suggestions are to be regarded as hints rather than as specific directions, and it is hoped that they will not be without value to those for whom they are designed.
To prevent tlic necessity on the part of the student of frequently turning to other portions of the volume, I have thought it wise, oven at tlie expense of some repetition, to bring together into brief and convenient space in the " Suggestions " expressions of opinion sometimes more elaborately given in other portions of the work. For reasons too obvious to need explanation, the portions de- voted to the historical literature of England and of the United States have been made more comprehensive in scope than any others. In the thirteenth and fourteenth chapters, under the head of " Suggestions to Students and Leaders,"' I have given a much more extended account of sources of information than was elsewhere deemed desirable. I have also embodied in each of these chapters a number of pages designed especially to assist such students as are mating a thorough study of the constitutional history of England and of the United States. It is hoped that these suggestions and the numerous references they contain will prove not the least helpful portion of the volume.
Perhaps it is hardl}' necessary to say that it has not been my purpose to give an exhaustive bibliography of the historical literature of any of the nations concerning which I have written. To accomplish such a task would have been impossible, even if it had been desirable. The effort has been simply to select from the almost overwhelming abundance of materials a considerable number of the most desirable books and to describe them in such a way as to enable the student and reader to judge of their peculiarities and of their desirableness, as well as of their general merits. In the process of selection, two considerations have been pre-dominant. The first has been the question of merit, the other the question of accessibility. In a few instances, books not easy to be procured have been described solely on account of their great importance.
These form a small class, of which Arthur Young's "Travels in France" may serve as a good example. Occasionally, also, a work like Rollin's "Ancient History" has been briefly described only to be condemned, for no other reason than because it is to be found in every bookstall, and is likely to be thrust before the buyer at every book sale. But these are to be regarded as exceptional cases. In general, the most important historical works are easily accessible; and, therefore, it has not often been found necessary to select for description a work that is difficult to procure, or one that is without some characteristics of marked excellence.
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