BLTC Press Titles


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The Picture of Dorian Gray

Oscar Wilde


The Secret Doctrine, Volume II Anthropogenesis

H. P. Blavatsky


Letters on the Aesthetical Education of Man

Friedrich Schiller


The Characters of Theophrastus

Theophrastus


Lectures on the philosophy of history

by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

Excerpt:

Again, the treatises on the Philosophy of History that have appeared within the last hundred years or thereabouts differ in the point of view from which they have been composed, vary with the national character of their respective authors, and lastly, are often mere indications of a Philosophy of History than actual elaborations of it. For we must at the outset clearly distinguish Philosophies from Theosophies, which latter resolve all events directly into God, while the former unfold the manifestation of God in the real world. Moreover, it is evident that the Philosophies of History which have appeared among the Italians and the French, have but little connection with a general system of thought, as constituting one of its organic constituents; and that their views, though often correct and striking, cannot demonstrate their own inherent necessity. Lastly, much has often been introduced into the Philosophy of History that has been of a mystical, rhapsodical order, that has not risen above a mere fugitive hint, an undeveloped fundamental idea; and though in many cases the great merit of such contributions cannot be denied, their place would be only in the vestibule of our science. We have certainly no wish to deny that among 'the Germans Leibnitz, Lessing, Weguelin, Iselin, Kant, Mchte, Schelling, Schiller, W. von Humboldt,* Gorres, Stiffens and Rosencranz,f have given utterance to observations of a profound, ingenious and permanently valuable order, respecting both the basis of History generally and the connection that exists between events and the spirit of which they are demonstrably the embodiment. Among French writers, who would refuse to admire in Bossuet the refined ecclesiastical and teleological genius which regards the History of the World as a vast map spread out before it; in Montesquieu the prodigious talent that makes events transform themselves instanter to thoughts in his quick apprehension; or in Salanche and Michelet the seer's intuition that pierces the superficial crust of circumstances and discerns the hidden forces with which they originated? But if actually elaborated Philosophies of History are in question, four writers only present themselves, Vico, Herder, Fr. v. ScMegel,% and lastly the Philosopher whose work we are here introducing to the public.

Vico's life and literary labours carry us back to a period in which the elder philosophies are being supplanted by the Cartesian; but the latter has not yet advanced beyond the contemplation of the fundamental ideas—Being and Thought; it is not yet equipped for a descent into the concrete World of History, or prepared to master it. Vico, in attempting to exhibit the principles of History in his " Scienza Nuova," is obliged to rely on the guidance of the ancients and to adopt the classical Qikoo-ofypaTa.: in his investigations it is the data of ancient rather than of modern records that arrest his attention: Feudality and its history is with him rather a supplement to the development of Greece and Rome than something specifically distinct therefrom. Although at the close of his book he asserts that the Christian religion, even in its influence on human aims, excels all the religions of the world, he stops short of anything like an elaboration of this statement. The separation and distinction between the Middle Ages and the Modern Time cannot be exhibited, as

* In an academic dissertation, whose style is as masterly as its contents are profound: "On the Task of the Historian."

t In his animated and genially clever tractate: "What the Germans . have accomplished Jbr the Philosophy of History," J Translated in Bonn's Standard Library.

the Reformation and its effects are excluded from consideration. Besides, he undertakes to discuss the rudiments of human intelligence, Language, Poetry, Homer; as a Jurist he has to go down into the depths of Roman Law, and to investigate them ; while all this—the main stream of thought, episodes, expansion of the ideas and reverting to their principles—is further varied by a proneness to hunt out etymologies and give verbal explanations, which often serves to retard and disturb the most important processes of historical evolution. Most persons are thus deterred by the repulsive exterior from apprehending the profound truths which it envelopes; the latter are not sufficiently obvious on the surface, and the gold is thrown away with the dross that conceals it.

In Herder we find traits of excellence which are wanting in Vico. He is himself a poet, and he approaches History in a poetic spirit; further he does not detain the reader by prefatory inquiries into the foundations and vestibules of History—Poetry, Art, Language, and Law: he begins immediately with points of climate and geography; moreover the entire field of History lies open before him: his liberal Protestant and cosmopolitan culture gives him an insight into all nationalities and views, and renders him capable of transcending mere traditional notions to an unlimited extent. Sometimes, too, he hits upon " the right word" with wonderful felicity; the teleological principle on which his speculations are based does not hinder him from doing justice to the varieties [of the actual world], and in comparing historical periods tha analogy they bear to the stages of human life does not escape him. But these " Ideas contributory to the Philosophy of the History of Mankind" contradict their title by the very fact that not only are all metaphysical categories banished, but a positive hatred to metaphysics is the very element in which they move. The Philosophy of History in Herder's hands therefore, broken off from its proper basis, is a highly intellectual, often striking, and on the other hand often defective "raisonnement"—a Theodicaea rather of the Heart and Understanding than of Reason. This alienation from its natural root leads by necessary consequence to an enthusiasm which often obstructs the current of thought, and to interjections of astonishment, instead of that contention of mind which results in demonstration. The theologian, the' genial preacher, the entranced admirer of the works of God, very often intrudes with his subjective peculiarities amid the objectivity of History.

In Frederick v. SchlegeVs Philosophy of History we may find, if we choose to look, a fundamental idea, which can be called a philosophical one. It is this, namely, that Man was created free; that two courses lay before him, between which he was competent to choose—that which led upwards, and that which led downwards to the abyss. Had he remained firm and true to the primary will that proceeded from God, his freedom would have been that of blessed spirits; that view being rejected as quite erroneous, which represents the paradisaical condition as one of blissful idleness. But as man unhappily chose the second path, there was from that time forward a divine and a natural will in him; and the great problem for the life of the individual as also for that of the entire race, is the conversion and transformation of the lower earthly and natural will more and more into the higher and divine will. This Philosophy of History, therefore, really begins with the dire and strange lament, that there should be a history at all, and that man did not remain in the unhistorical condition of blessed spirits. History, in this view, is an apostasy—the obscuration of man's pure and divine being; and instead of a possibility of discovering God in it, it is rather the Negative of God which is mirrored in it. Whether the race will ultimately succeed in returning completely and entirely to God, is on this shewing only a matter of expectation and hope, which, since humanity has once more darkened its prospects by Protestantism, must, at least to Frederick v. Schlegel, appear doubtful. In elaborating the characteristic principles and historical development of the several nations, wherever that fundamental idea retires somewhat into the background, an intellectual platitude manifests itself, which seeks to make up by smooth and polished diction for the frequent tenuity of the thought. A desire to gain repose for his own mind, to justify himself, and to maintain the Catholic stand-point against the requirements of the modern world, gives his treatise a somewhat far-fetched and premeditated tone, which deprives facts of their real character to give them that tinge which will connect them with the results they are brought forward to establish.


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