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Tous ceux qui savent les lois de l’histoire tomberent d’accord qu’un historien qui veut remplir fidèlement ses fonctions doit se déponiller de l’espirit de flatterie et de l’espirit de médisance, et se mettre le plus qu’il lui est possible dans l’état d’un stoïcien qui n’est agité d’aucune passion. Insensible à tout le reste, il ne doit être attentive qu’aux intérêts de la vérité, et il doit sacrificier à cela le ressentiment d’une injure, le souvenir d’un bienfait, et l’amour même de la patrie. Il doit oublier qu’il est d’un certain pays, qu’il a été élevé dans une certaine communion, qu’il est redevable de sa fortune à tels et à tels et que tels et tels sont ses parents ou ses amis. Un historien, en tant que tel, est comme Melchisédec, sans père, sans mère, et sans généalogie. Si on lui demande: D’où êtes-vous? Il faut qu’il réponde: Je ne suis ni Français, ni Allemand, ni Anglais, ni Espagnol, etc.: je suis habitant du monde; je ne suis ni au service de l’empereur, ni au service du roi de France, mais seulement au service de la vérité, c’est ma seule reine, je n’ai prêté qu’à elle le serment d’obéissance; je suis son chevalier voué.
Those who know the laws of history appreciate that they coincide for the proposition that a historian who wishes to perform his office faithfully must rid himself of the spirit of flattery and libel and must, to the full extent possible, place himself in the state of a Stoic who is beholden to no passion. Indifferent to all else, he must be attentive only to the interests of the truth, to which he must sacrifice resentment provoked by an injustice as well as the remembrance of favors, and even the love of country. He must forget that he comes from a certain country, that he was raised in a certain faith, that he owes his success to this person or that, he must forget even his parents and friends. A historian is thus like Melchizedech, with neither father, nor mother, nor indeed a genealogy. If asked: Where do you come from? He must reply: I am neither Frenchman, nor German, neither Englishman nor Spaniard, etc.: I am a citizen of the world; I am not at the service of the emperor, nor of the king of France, but simply at the service of truth, who is my sole queen; I have taken no oath but of obedience to her; I am her devoted knight.
–Pierre Bayle, Dictionnaire historique et critique, “Usson,” Remarque F (1697)(S.H. transl.)
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.
Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”