The external end assigned to history led to the same results as in antiquity, when history became oratorical and even historico-pedagogic romances were composed, and as in the Renaissance, when 'declamatory orations' were preserved, and history was treated as material more or less well adapted to certain ends, whence arose a certain amount of indifference toward its truth, so that Machiavelli, for instance, deduced laws and precepts from the decades of Livy, not only assuming them to be true, but accepting them in those parts which he must have recognized to be demonstrably fabulous.

Orations began to disappear, but their disappearance was due to good literary taste rather than to anything else, which recognized how out of harmony were those expedients with the new popular, prosaic, polemical tone that narrative assumed in the eighteenth[Pg 251] century. In exchange they got something worse: lack of esteem for history, which was considered to be an inferior reality, unworthy of the philosopher, who seeks for laws, for what is constant, for the uniform, the general, and can find it in himself and in the direct observation of external and internal nature, natural and human, without making that long, useless, and dangerous tour of facts narrated in the histories.

Descartes, Malebranche, and the long list of their successors do not need especial mention here, for it is well known how mathematics and naturalism dominated and depressed history at this period. But was historical truth at least an inferior truth? After fuller reflection, it did not seem possible to grant even this. In history, said Voltaire, the word 'certain,' which is used to designate such knowledge as that "two and two make four," "I think," "I suffer," "I exist," should be used very rarely, and in the sole sense of "very probable." Others held that even this was saying too much, for they altogether denied the truth of history and declared that it was a collection of fables, of inventions and equivocations, or of undemonstrable affirmations. Hence the scepticism or Pyrrhonism of the eighteenth century, which showed itself on several occasions and has left us a series of curious little books as a document of itself. Such is, indeed, the inevitable result when historical knowledge is looked upon as a mass of individual testimonies, dictated or altered by the passions, or misunderstood through ignorance, good at the best for supplying edifying and terrible examples in confirmation of the eternal truths of reason, which, for the rest, shine with their own light.

be altogether erroneous to found upon the exaggeration to which the theological[Pg 252] and pragmatical views attained in the historiography of the enlightenment, and see in it a decadence or regression similar to that of the Renaissance and of other predecessors. Not only were germs of error evolved at that time, not only did the difficulties that had appeared in the previous period become more acute, but there was also developed, and elevated to a high degree of efficiency, that historiography of spiritual values which Christian historiography had intensified and almost created, and which the Renaissance had begun to transfer to the earth.