Sunday, August 11, 2013

History as Party Pamphlet

 It is peculiarly necessary that the history of such a nation should be written, if not with some generosity, at least with some candor, that a serious effort should be made to present in their true proportions both the lights and the shades of the picture, to trace effects to their causes, to make due allowance for circumstances and for antecedents. When this is not done, or at least attempted, history, may easily sink to the level of the worst type of party pamphlet.

By selecting simply such facts as are useful for the purpose of blackening a national character; by omitting all palliating circumstances; by suppressing large classes of facts of a more creditable description, which might serve to lighten the picture; by keeping carefully out of sight the existence of corresponding evils in other countries; by painting crimes that were peculiar to the wildest districts and the most lawless class as if they were common to the whole country and to all classes; by employing the artifices of a dramatic writer to heighten, in long, detailed, and elaborate pictures, the effect of the crimes committed on one side, while those committed on the other are either wholly suppressed or are dismissed in a few vague, general, and colorless phrases; by associating even the best acts and characters on one side with a running comment of invidious insinuation, while the doubtful or criminal acts on the other side are manipulated with the dexterity of a practiced advocate;—by these methods, and by such as these, it is possible, even without the introduction of positive misstatement, to carry the art of historical misrepresentation to a high degree of perfection. - William Lecky "History of Ireland in the 18th Century".

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