BLTC Press Titles


available for Kindle at Amazon.com


The Secret Doctrine, Volume I Cosmogenesis

H. P. Blavatsky


The Story of Doctor Dolittle

Hugh Lofting


Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Lewis Carroll


The Secret Doctrine, Volume II Anthropogenesis

H. P. Blavatsky


From St. Francis to Dante

by George Gordon Coulton

Excerpt:

PREFACE TO SECOND EDITION.

The present edition contains a considerable amount of fresh matter from Salimbene's chronicle, omitted from the first mainly for the insufficient reason that I had already published it elsewhere. The notes and appendices have been even more extended, especially on points where different critics seemed to think the evidence inadequate.

Apart from the more obvious advantages of a second edition, an author must always welcome the further opportunity of explaining himself; especially when he has struck for a definite cause and provoked hard knocks in return. To most of my reviewers I owe hearty thanks, and certainly not least to a Guardian critic, whose evident disagreement with me on important points did not prevent him from giving me credit for an honest attempt to describe the facts as they appeared to one pair of eyes. In that recognition an author finds his real reward : after all, even Goethe was content to say, " I can promise to be sincere, but not to be impartial."* Genuine impartiality is one of the rarest of virtues, though there have always been plenty of authors who shirk thorny questions, or who concede points to the weaker side with the cheap generosity which impels a jury to find for a needy plaintiff against a rich man. Never, perhaps, was this kind of impartiality so common as at present, when (to quote a recent witty writer) " the fashion is a Roman Catholic frame of mind with an agnostic conscience : you get the medieval picturesqueness of the one with the modern conveniences of the other." Even the Editors of the Cambridge Modern History, fearing more the

* Goethe's Maxims and Reflections, translated by T. Bailey Saunders, p. 91.

suspicion of partiality than the certainty of an error, have allowed two contributors to contradict each other almost categorically, within a few pages, on one of the most important points in the first volume * Direct references to authorities are forbidden by the plan of the History: there is, of course, nothing to warn the ordinary reader how far one of the two contributors surpasses the other in originality and depth of research; and it is practically left to him to accept whichever of the two statements fits in best with his preconceived opinions. We cannot imagine a great co-operative work on Natural Science written nowadays on these principles; and this alone would go far to account for the present unjust neglect of history by readers of an exact turn of mind. Yet there is a further reason also; for to shirk disputed questions is to neglect matters of the deepest interest: and the elaborate dulness of many official histories is a libel on the many-coloured web of human life.

Eleven years ago, finding it impossible to get from the accredited text-books satisfactory information on points which I had long studied in a desultory way, I began systematic work for myself within a narrow area, and soon found how little the original documents are really studied, and how much one historian is content to take at second-hand from another. In cases like this, anything that can be done to sweep away ancient cobwebs is a real gain. I knew that I should make mistakes, as even pfficialism is far from infallible, and we have recently seen a reviewer fill three and a half quarto columns with the slips made by one of our most dignified professors in a single octavo volume. I knew also that, however correct my facts, the very effort to expose widely-accredited fallacies would give a certain want of perspective to my work. But, without for a moment supposing that this book would by itself give anything like a complete picture of medieval life, I yet believed that our forefathers' "common thoughts about common things " would never really become intelligible without informal and frankly personal studies of this kind; and the public reception has now strengthened this belief. I have, however, departed even more from official usage in another matter—the direct criticism of many misstatements which have gained currency by reaction from the equally onesided Protestantism of a century ago, more especially through the writings of Abbot Grasquet. While it is to the direct interest of all Roman Catholic clergy, and of many High Churchmen, to misread certain facts of history, there are comparatively few who have the same official excuse for equal vigilance and persistence on the other side. The extreme dread of partiality, into which modern literature has swung from the still worse extreme of blind partisanship, restrains first-rate historians from speaking with sufficient plainness, even in the few cases where they have found time to convince themselves, by carefully verifying his references, of an author's inaccuracy. So long, therefore, as the most authoritative writers salve their consciences by merely describing certain books as able pleas from the Roman Catholic point of view, the public will never grasp what this indulgent phrase really means. Moreover, the euphemism itself would seem to imply a very low view both of history and of religion. No man of science would content himself with such equivocal language in the face of systematic distortions and suppressions of evidence, however personally respectable the literary offender might be. For it is absolutely necessary here to separate the personal and the literary questions as much as possible. The fact that an author is sincerely attached to a particular church, in which he also holds a high official position, is thoroughly honourable to him personally; but it aggravates the ill effect of his interested misstatements. Not charity, but cynicism underlies the plea which is constantly implied, if not expressed, that certain religious beliefs should be allowed wide licence in the treatment of historical facts—that a writer's public falsehoods may be considered an almost inseparable accident of his private creed, a superfetation of his excessive piety. No bitterer condemnation could be imagined than this contemptuous leniency which most men extend to a priest's misstatement in the name of Christian Truth. Moreover, we all know Roman Catholics whose theory and practice alike contradict this plea. It was Lord Acton who said, after years of struggle against official distortions of history, " the weight of opinion is against me when I exhort you never to debase the moral currency or to lower the standard of rectitude, but to try others by the final maxim that governs your own lives, and to suffer no man and no cause to escape the undying penalty which history has the power to inflict on wrong." Nor did Lord Acton stand alone here : for cultivated laymen show an increasing repugnance to the crooked historical methods which are still only too popular in ecclesiastical circles; and certain apologists pay already to truth at least the unwilling homage of anonymity. Legends, which once stalked boldly abroad, are fain to lurk now in unsigned articles for the Church Times, or to creep into corners of the Athenaum while the editor nods, or to herd with other ancient prejudices in the Saturday Review. Yet, to clear the ground thoroughly, it is necessary sometimes to pursue them even into this last ditch, and to show the public how, in spite of the high general tone of our periodical literature, the editorial ice must inevitably cover some creatures which do well become so old a coat. When the Saturday proclaims, with its traditional wealth of epithet, that our writings lack the odour of sanctity, we may profitably point out that there have always been two separate voices on that journal. As in the days of the Stephens and J. R. Green, it still doubtless owes its real flavour to witty latitudinarians, and only keeps a few vrais croyants on the premises to do the necessary backbiting.


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