Friday, May 17, 2013

Quote of the day

Agatha Christie, in one of her witty books, The Moving Finger, introduces a girl fresh from school and lets her run on about what she thinks of it. "Such a lot of things seem to me such rot. History, for instance. Why, it's quite different out of different books!" To this her sensible elderly confidant replies: "That is its real interest."

--Pieter Geyl, Debates with Historians, p.9


Anonymous said...

According to Paul Hazard's "Crisis of the European Mind 1680-1715," the young lady's concern was widely shared by 17th-century historians. Géraud de Cordemoy:

"A man is far better employed in effectively displaying the facts of history, than in digging out the evidence for them. It is better for him to aim at infusing beauty, power, precision and brevity into his composition, than at acquiring a reputation for factual infallibility in everything he writes."

LFC said...

Interesting. Clearly not a sentiment modern historians would subscribe to.

(I think the Agatha Christie passage is mostly just a nice way of stating the truism that a historian's particular views necessarily influence whatever s/he writes.)