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

Bayle on the Chronicler’s Duty

barra-salomon

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.)

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

From the June 2014 issue

The Guantánamo “Suicides,” Revisited

A missing document suggests a possible CIA cover-up

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

March 2015

A Sage in Harlem

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Man Stopped

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Spy Who Fired Me

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Giving Up the Ghost

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Invisible and Insidious

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

[Browsings]
William Powell published The Anarchist Cookbook in 1971. He spent the next four decades fighting to take it out of print.
“The book has hovered like an awkward question on the rim of my consciousness for years.”
© JP Laffont/Sygma/Corbis
Article
The Fourth Branch·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Both the United States and the Soviet Union saw student politics as a proxy battleground for their rivalry.”
Photograph © Gerald R. Brimacombe/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images
Article
Giving Up the Ghost·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Stories about past lives help explain this life — they promise a root structure beneath the inexplicable soil of what we see and live and know, what we offer one another.”
Illustration by Steven Dana
Article
The Spy Who Fired Me·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“In industry after industry, this data collection is part of an expensive, high-tech effort to squeeze every last drop of productivity from corporate workforces.”
Illustration by John Ritter
Article
Invisible and Insidious·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Wherever we are, radiation finds and damages us, at best imperceptibly.”
Photograph © 2011 Massimo Mastrorillo and Donald Weber/VII

Number of U.S. congressional districts in which trade with China has produced more jobs than it has cost:

1

Young bilingual children who learned one language first are likelier than monolingual children and bilingual children who learned languages simultaneously to say that a dog adopted by owls will hoot.

An Oklahoma legislative committee voted to defund Advanced Placement U.S. History courses, accusing the curriculum of portraying the United States as “a nation of oppressors and exploiters.”

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Driving Mr. Albert

By

He could be one of a million beach-bound, black-socked Florida retirees, not the man who, by some odd happenstance of life, possesses the brain of Albert Einstein — literally cut it out of the dead scientist's head.

Subscribe Today