Adapt or perish, now as ever, is Nature's inexorable imperative.
~ H. G. Wells

datafeed article 26
published: 2017-12-27
author: stjohn_piano
signed by author: no

The northern nations are hardy and industrious, because they must till the earth if they would eat the fruits of it, and because the temperature is too low to make an idle life enjoyable. In the south, the soil is more productive, while less food is wanted and fewer clothes; and in the exquisite air, exertion is not needed to make the sense of existence delightful. Therefore, in the south we find men lazy and indolent.

True, there are difficulties in these views; the home of the languid Italian was the home also of the sternest race of whom the story of mankind retains a record. And again, when we are told that the Spaniards are superstitious, because Spain is a country of earthquakes, we remember Japan, the spot in all the world where earthquakes are most frequent, and where at the same time there is the most serene disbelief in any supernatural agency whatsoever.

Moreover, if men grow into what they are by natural laws, they cannot help being what they are; and if they cannot help being what they are, a good deal will have to be altered in our general view of human obligations and responsibilities.

That, however, in these theories there is a great deal of truth is quite certain; were there but a hope that those who maintain them would be contented with that admission. A man born in a Mahometan country grows up a Mahometan; in a Catholic country, a Catholic; in a Protestant country, a Protestant. His opinions are like his language; he learns to think as he learns to speak; and it is absurd to suppose him responsible for being what nature makes him. We take pains to educate children. There is a good education and a bad education; there are rules well ascertained by which characters are influenced, and, clearly enough, it is no mere matter for a boy's free will whether he turns out well or ill. We try to train him into good habits; we keep him out of the way of temptations; we see that he is well taught; we mix kindness and strictness; we surround him with every good influence we can command. These are what are termed the advantages of a good education: and if we fail to provide those under our care with it, and if they go wrong in consequence, the responsibility we feel to be much ours as theirs. This is at once an admission of the power over us of outward circumstances.

In the same way, we allow for the strength of temptations, and the like.

In general, it is perfectly obvious that men do necessarily absorb, out of the influences in which they grow up, something which gives a complexion to their whole after-character.

When historians have to relate great social or speculative changes, the overthrow of a monarchy or the establishment of a creed, they do but half their duty if they merely relate the events. In an account, for instance, of the rise of Mahometanism, it is not enough to describe the character of the Prophet, the ends which he set before him, the means which he made use of, and the effect which he produced; the historian must show what there was in the condition of the Eastern races which enabled Mahomet to act upon them so powerfully; their existing beliefs, their existing moral and political condition.

In our estimate of the past, and in our calculations of the future - in the judgments which we pass upon one another, we measure responsibility, not by the thing done, but by the opportunities which people have had of knowing better or worse. In the efforts which we make to keep our children from bad associations or friends we admit that external circumstances have a powerful effect in making men what they are.

But are circumstances everything? That is the whole question. A science of history, if it is more than a misleading name, implies that the relation between cause and effect holds in human things as completely as in all others, that the origin of human actions is not to be looked for in mysterious properties of the mind, but in influences which are palpable and ponderable.

When natural causes are liable to be set aside and neutralised by what is called volition, the word Science is out of place. If it is free to a man to choose what he will do or not do, there is no adequate science of him. If there is a science of him, there is no free choice, and the praise or blame with which we regard one another are impertinent and out of place.


If you were asked to point out the special features in which Shakespeare's plays are so transcendently excellent, you would mention, perhaps, among others, this, that his stories are not put together, and his characters are not conceived, to illustrate any particular law or principle. They teach many lessons, but not any one prominent above another; and when we have drawn from them all the direct instruction which they contain, there remains still something unresolved - something which the artist gives, and which the philosopher cannot give.

It is in this characteristic that we are accustomed to say Shakespeare's supreme truth lies. He represents real life. His dramas teach as life teaches - neither less nor more. He builds his fabrics as nature does, on right and wrong; but he does not struggle to make nature more systematic than she is. In the subtle interflow of good and evil - in the unmerited sufferings of innocence - in the disproportion of penalties to desert - in the seeming blindness with which justice, in attempting to assert itself, overwhelms innocent and guilty in a common ruin - Shakespeare is true to real experience. The mystery of life he leaves as he finds it; and, in his most tremendous positions, he is addressing rather the intellectual emotions than the understanding, - knowing well that the understanding in such things is at fault, and the sage as ignorant as the child.


The 'Iliad' is from two to three thousand years older than 'Macbeth', and yet it is as fresh as if it had been written yesterday. We have there no lessons save in the emotions which rise in us as we read. Homer had no philosophy; he never struggles to impress upon us his views about this or that; you can scarcely tell indeed whether his sympathies are Greek or Trojan; but he represents to us faithfully the men and women among whom he lived. He sang the Tale of Troy, he touched his lyre, he drained the golden beaker in the halls of men like those on whom he was conferring immortality. And thus, although no Agamemnon, king of men, ever led a Grecian fleet to Ilium; though no Priam sought the midnight tent of Achilles; though Ulysses and Diomed and Nestor were but names, and Helen but a dream, yet, through Homer's power of representing men and women, those old Greeks will still stand out from amidst the darkness of the ancient world with a sharpness of outline which belongs to no period of history except the most recent. For the mere hard purposes of history, the 'Iliad' and 'Odyssey' are the most effective books which ever were written. We see the Hall of Menelaus, we see the garden of Alcinous, we see Nausicaa among her maidens on the shore, we see the mellow monarch sitting with ivory sceptre in the Market-place dealing out genial justice. Or again, when the wild mood is on, we can hear the crash of the spears, the rattle of the armour as the heroes fall, and the plunging of the horses among the slain. Could we enter the palace of an old Ionian lord, we know what we should see there; we know the words in which he would address us. We could meet Hector as a friend. If we could choose a companion to spend an evening with over a fireside, it would be the man of many counsels, the husband of Penelope.

[start of notes]

I have in my possession a paper copy of Short Studies on Great Subjects (Volume 1), written by J A Froude, which contains the essay The Science of History. I have treated this as the authoritative version.

Details from the first few pages:
- Short Studies on Great Subjects
- By James Anthony Froude, M.A., the Late Regius Professor of Modern History in the University of Oxford.
- Printed in 1903 by
Longmans, Green, and Co.
39 Paternoster Row, London
and Bombay
- First issued in the Silver Library, Nov. 1890.
- Reprinted, Sep. 1892, June 1894, June 1895, April 1897, June 1898, January 1901, and January 1903.

In this book, The Science of History is found on pages 1-38.

The first page of the essay notes that The Science of History was originally a lecture delivered at the Royal Institution on February 5, 1864.

I downloaded a text version of this book from Project Gutenberg [link], which I used as my starting text. The text claims that it was produced by Suzanne Lybarger and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at www.pgdp.net from images made available by The Internet Archive / Canadian Libraries.

Changes from the original text:
- I have removed word-breaking hyphens.
- I have not preserved the original line breaks. I treat each paragraph as a single line.
- I have not preserved page divisions or page numbers.
- I have replaced the original indentation at the start of each paragraph with an empty line after each paragraph.
- I have replaced double spaces after a period with a single space.
- I have substituted a hyphen with a space either side of it ( - ) for the em dash used in the original text.
- In the original text, the single quotation marks were curled to indicate whether they were positioned at the start or end of a phrase/sentence/sentence_group. I have replaced them with straight quotation marks.
- In the original text, colons and semicolons are preceded by a space (which appears to be one-half the size of the default space), which I have not preserved.
- I have replaced curled apostrophes with straight single quotation marks.
- I have moved punctuation out from between quotation marks if it is not relevant to the text within those quotation marks.

[end of notes]