No Comment, Quotation — August 23, 2008, 7:23 am

Bayle on the Chronicler’s Duty


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.)

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In Praise of Idleness


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