|THE CHILDREN IN THE WOOD.
|WAS HE SUCCESSFUL?
|CHAPTER SEVENTH.—HIRAM MEEKER VISITS MR. BURNS
|AN ARMY CONTRACTOR.
HENRY THOMAS BUCKLE.
The death of Henry Thomas Buckle, at this period of his career, is no ordinary calamity to the literary and philosophical world. Others have been cut short in the midst of a great work, but their books being narrative merely, may close at almost any period, and be complete; or others after them may take up the pen and conclude that which was so abruptly terminated. So it was with Macaulay; he was fascinating, and his productions were literally devoured by readers of elevated taste, though they disagreed almost entirely with his conclusions. His volumes were read—as one reads Dickens, or Holmes, or De Quincey—to amuse in leisure hours.
But such are not the motives with which we take up the ponderous tomes of the historian of Civilization in England. He had no heroes to immortalize by extravagant eulogy, no prejudices seeking vent to cover the name of any man with infamy. He knew no William to convert into a demi-god; no Marlborough who was the embodiment of all human vices. His mind, discarding the ordinary prejudices of the historian, took a wider range, and his researches were not into the transactions of a particular monarch or minister, as such, but into the laws of human action, and their results upon the civilization of the race. Hence, while he wrote history, he plunged into all the depths of philosophy; and thus it is, that his work, left unfinished by himself, can never be completed by another. It is a work which will admit no broken link from its commencement to its conclusion.
Mr. Buckle was born in London, in the early part of the year 1824, and was consequently about thirty-eight years of age at the time of his death. His father was a wealthy gentleman of the metropolis, and thoroughly educated, and the historian was an only son. Devoted to literature himself, it is not surprising that the parent spared neither money nor labor to educate his child. He did not, however, follow the usual course; did not hamper the youthful mind by the narrow routine of the English academy, nor did he make him a Master of Arts at Oxford or Cambridge.
His early education was superintended by his father directly, but afterward private teachers were employed. But Mr. Buckle was by nature a close student, and much that he possessed he acquired without a tutor, as his energetic, self-reliant nature rendered him incapable of ever seeing insurmountable difficulties before him. By this means he became what the students of Oxford rarely are, both learned and liberal. As he mingled freely with the people, during his youth, a democratic sympathy entwined itself with his education, and is manifested in every page of his writings.
Mr. Buckle never married. After he had commenced his great work, he found no time to enjoy society, no hours of leisure and repose. His whole soul was engaged in the accomplishment of one great purpose, and nothing which failed to contribute directly to the object nearest his heart, received a moment's consideration. He collected around him a library of twenty-two thousand volumes, all choice standard works, in Greek, Latin, Spanish, French, German, Italian, and English, with all of which languages he was familiar. It was the best private collection of books, said some one, in England. It was from this that the historian drew that inexhaustible array of facts, and procured the countless illustrations, with which the two volumes of his History of Civilization abound.
At what age he first conceived the project of writing his history, is not yet publicly known. He never figured in the literary world previous to the publication of his first volume. He appears to have early grasped at more than a mere temporary fame, and determined to stake all upon a single production. His reading was always systematic, and exceedingly thorough; and as he early became charmed with the apparent harmony of all nature, whether in the physical, intellectual, or moral world, he at once commenced tracing out the laws of the universe, to which, in his mind, all things were subject, with a view of illustrating that beautiful harmony, every where prevailing, every where unbroken. All this influenced every thing, 'and mind and gross matter, each performed their parts, in relative proportions, and according to the immutable laws of progress.'
With a view of discussing his subject thoroughly, and establishing his theory beyond controversy, as he believed, he proposed, before referring to the History of Civilization in England, to discover, so far as possible, all the laws of political and social economy, and establish the relative powers and influence of the moral faculties, the intellect, and external nature, and determine the part each takes in contributing to the progress of the world. To this, the first volume is exclusively devoted; and it is truly astonishing to observe the amount of research displayed. The author is perfectly familiar, not only with a vast array of facts of history, but with the principal discoveries of every branch of science; and as he regards all things as a unit, he sets out by saying that no man is competent to write history who is not familiar with the physical universe. A fascinating writer, with a fair industry, can write narrative, but not history.
This is taking in a wide field; and Mr. Buckle may be regarded as somewhat egotistic and vain; but the fact that he proves himself, in a great degree, the possessor of the knowledge he conceives requisite, rather than asserts it, is a sufficient vindication against all aspersions.
Mr. Buckle regards physical influences as the primary motive power which produces civilization; but these influences are fixed in their nature, and are few in