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Herodotus, of all men the most impartially and naively interested in the bare how and why of human concerns, having dedicated each of his chapters to one of those nine sisters of the Delphic God in whose precipitous and stony sanctuary he read out loud his delightful manuscript to assembled Hellas; the first chapter (and by an easy confusion), the whole work and all similar ones being henceforward placed under the patronage of the eldest sister, Clio. This view of mine is founded on the fact that Herodotus himself, and the whole of classical Antiquity, perhaps because their world was so abundantly adorned, garlanded on altar and door-post, with art and poetry, did not require to put History to the same insidious, dramatic and aesthetic uses as have later, uglier ages, who more and more turned the Recorder, correct or incorrect, of Events into a purveyor of ideal emotions, largely for the pastime of the Ages-to-Come and other bored and futile persons. This much, lest the reader imagine that, because I don't want Homer and Virgil used as spellingbooks for little boys, I lack respect towards the Gods of Olympus. As regards the other notion that I may be devoid of aesthetic sensibilities, I joyfully seize this opportunity of inditing a hymn (however prosaic) of praise to the Sacred Nine (always excepting Clio).
To solace and sustain Man's spirit with a sufficiency of such emotions of greatness, significance, harmony and splendour, as are denied or charily doled out by life's reality; to brace, restore, make happy, whole and clean, by granting their heart's desire to those who have borne the brunt of reality's shortcomings, and steadily looked into reality's impassive, enigmatic face; this is the high, incomparable mission of the Muses, the lucidly inspired Sisters of him who is Sunlight and Prophecy, the great consoling Goddesses presiding over such perfection as Man, requiring it, recognizes as his own unreal handiwork. That handiwork is: Art, Music, Poetry, whether in the public and abiding works of specially gifted and traditionally trained men, or in the hidden, evanescent day-dreams of all manner of loving persons, aware, however dimly, that the beloved is the beloved just because fashioned of their own soul's cravings. Nothing, not even the pursuit of truth, the glimpses (however partial) of reality by humble recognition of its nature—nothing is nobler, or more needed, than this consoling, fearless, conscious, creation of the harmony we need but find not ready-made. I even suspect that, alongside of its other sacred uses, art or poetry (call it as you please), has helped Man to recognize reality and seek its knowledge, teaching him to discriminate between what exists because he makes it for his pleasure, and those other things which exist (including his own self), apart from his wishes, by the mere necessity of their own nature and not his. Thus the statue he himself has fashioned is no longer an idol like the anointed stone; the drama declaimed on a stage is not a counterfeit of real events; the rhythm and rhyme of a sonnet show that this is not the real passion of real men and women; Music, which fulfils man's craving for the voice of God or of Love, is evidently man's own or that of instruments constructed by himself. And perhaps as much as any philosophical speculations, the undeniable fact that the divine structure in whose soaring spaces and distributed lights and glooms man mends his bruised, bent, spirit, is but so much stone cut, piled and cementedby man's very hand—perhaps the temple or church, which broodingly fulfils his need for something kinder and greater than his own existence, has helped man to the recognition that the surrounding universe is not made for his desires and that the divinity he seeks is the divinity within himself. Be this as it may, and whether or not art, by creating for the heart's desire, has taught respect towards reality outside and indifferent to, us; this much is certain, that the nobility and innocence of art depends upon its straightforward standing aloof from assertions of what is true or untrue. This, therefore, is one item in the greatness of the Muses, the Consolers, the givers of what life often refuses but man's spirit often needs. The Muses excepting of course Clio. And hence her hybrid, ambiguous and often unclean nature.
Let no one imagine I am demanding an inordinate amount of truth from History. No human creature can have entire insight into the character and concatenations of any event, least of all past ones; and everyone sees what he does see in the light or darkness of his prepossessions. It is natural that to one man certain happenings and personages should be attractive, to another repulsive. Carlyle's view of 1793 cannot be the same as Michelet's, though both may represent complementary aspects of the Revolution. Neither must you expect people who write history to restrain their natural eagerness to jump at conclusions and the human, all too human, tampering a tiny trifle with evidence. That happens in all scientific research, and all gets compensated, averaged out, into fairly correct notions on the student's part. Similarly, and as with other sorts of fact, you must not expect (or expecting will be disappointed) that seekers for historical truth should unconsciously or consciously reject the temptation of using their facts to point the moral or adorn the tale. All this is understood, and in so far, harmless. What Clio does (whence my dislike of her) is something else, and usually pure mischief. I withdraw that statement, not pure mischief, not always mischief, but often mischief; and always recklessness about mischief. To the extent, neither more nor less, that Clio asserts herself to be a Muse and claims Muse's privilege (and duty) of employing counterfeit presentments for the satisfaction of our emotions, to that extent Clio is an artist, and therefore not a liar nor a pander. This (since the ugly word has come out), this pandering of so-called History to our dramatic instincts, often sanguinary; to our insidious collective vanity and (what is quite harmless in comparison) to the snobbishness which makes simple persons delight in discussing the looks and habits of royalties and pry into the peccadilloes of illustrious men 5 this pandering implies that we translate the past into terms of the present, else we should not sympathize, and thereby cheats us of History's fundamental lesson, which is that nothing which happens is ever entirely alike. Now it is only such habitual recognition of change which allows real understanding of cause and effect, and allows thereby the just estimation of responsibility. Of course I do not mean that there are not all through the universe apparently stable laws, but these are generalizations which we deduce from recognition of similarity in difference and in alteration. Such abstractions are part of what I have called our recognition of Otherness; thereby an essential of true Altruism. For the " nothing new under the sun " is not a general principle extracted by comparison of single cases; but on the contrary, the indolent expectancyof repetition, theunimaginativeinability of responding to what our faculties are not yet set for. It is the egotistic intrusion of our own motives into the motives of other folks and other times; indeed the dilettantish assumption that other folks and times, other anything, exist primarily to instruct or amuse us. And the expectancy of repetition, even where repetition exists, results not from observation but rather from the lack of it. Being thus inertly prone to think in terms of sameness, the study of the Past might serve us as corrective to an intellectual and (since justice cannot exist apart from understanding) moral lack of activity whence we all suffer, and whereby we all make others suffer. For History could show us conditions differing from our own and from one another, and show the modifications (and their modus operandi) which connect those dissimilar conditions in a great chain of change. In other words, History, if treated as a science, would be par excellence the Science of Change, showing it us in stages more minute and complex than geology or biology. Instead of which, thanks to the Muse and her Votaries, the notion of Evolution has had to be introduced into History from geology and biology; and it is because of our recognition of the gradual transitions which have built up continents in epochs far out-spanning our imagination; it is because of the study of living and extinct animal species, and the concatenation of form in fossils and in embryos, that we are beginning to think of human institutions in terms of evolution, and to be interested in their varying and allied forms. Indeed it is one of Clio's unintended practical jokes that we are more able and willing to do this in connexion with remote periods, whose sole records are broken potsherds and unpolished flints, than with the life-time of our grandfathers and grandmothers, whereof the verbal record is more accessible than what we leave (and hide) from week to week. For the Muse has no use for flints and potsherds. What she wants are human personages to gape at on a puppet show or ferret out in the places where we keep rags and dirty linen. The Muse caters for our various imaginative needs, noble or base, giving us the heroes and martyrs and villains for whom our sentimentality, megalomania, and morbid passions clamour; personages great enough, abominable enough, pure enough, unhappy enough, to be the cherished companions, the hugged dolls, of our presumptuous day-dreams; also mean enough, dirty enough in all their splendour of royalty or genius, to comfort our own meanness with the thought: "Well ! they also were human (which often means brutish), just like ourselves." Scaffolds and stakes, alcoves and backstairs; she provides them with all the details which everyday life refuses, glory and filth to perfection; and often, and alas, as in some of her greatest ministrants (I am thinking of the incomparable Michelet), all mingled in nauseous or piquant concoctions. Nay, Clio caters for even humbler tastes; for the same naif pleasure experienced when, being children, we beheaded (or were beheaded, Elizabeth or Mary turn about) with fireirons across footstools; and to that intense satisfaction of indulging for honourable motives in dishonourable works, looking through key-holes, listening behind curtains, tampering with correspondence and generally behaving like blackguards with a perfect conscience; the enjoyment which makes big and small children love detective stories; the joy of having a hand in scandals like the Diamond Necklace or horrors like those of Gilles de Retz, yet remain decent; to reincarnate retrospectively in Messalina, Marie Antoinette, the Merry Monarch, Napoleon, Ezzelino the Tyrant, or the Oxford Martyrs, while living unobtrusive, honourable lives in Chelsea, or at Wimbledon. What play-house has ever rivalled that of Clio, where, with the greatest convenience, we are both actor and audience! All of which historical delectations depend largely on treating