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HOME > Classical Novels > Theory & History of Historiography > IX THE 'HISTORY OF NATURE' AND HISTORY
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We must cease the process of classifying referred to just now, and also that of the illusion of naturalism connected with it, by means of which imaginary entities created by abstraction are changed into historical facts and classificatory schemes into history, if we wish to understand the difference between history that is history and that due to what are called the natural sciences. This is also called history—'history of nature'—but is so only in name. Some few years ago a lively protest was made[1] against the confusion of these two forms of mental labour, one of which offers us genuine history, such as might, for instance, be that of the Peloponnesian War or of Hannibal's wars or of ancient Egyptian civilization, and the other a spurious history, such as that known as the history of animal organisms, of the earth's structure or geology, of the formation of the solar system or cosmogony. It was observed with reason that in many treatises the one has been wrongly connected with the other—that is to say, history of civilization with history of nature, as though the former follows the latter historically. The bottomless abyss between the two was pointed out. This has been observed, however, in a confused way by all, and better by historians of purely historical temperament, who have an instinctive[Pg 129] repugnance for natural history and hold themselves carefully aloof from it. It was remembered with reason that the history of historians has always the individually determinate as its object, and proceeds by internal reconstruction, whereas that of the naturalists depends upon types and abstractions and proceeds by analogies. Finally, this so-called history or quasi-history was very accurately defined as an apparently chronological arrangement of things spatially distinct, and it was proposed to describe it with a new and proper name, that of Metastoria.

Indeed, constructions of this sort are really nothing but classificatory schemes, from the more simple to the more complex. Their terms are obtained by abstract analyses and generalization, and their series appears to the imagination as a history of the successive development of the more complex from the more simple. Their right to exist as classificatory schemes is incontestable, and their utility is also incontestable, for they avail themselves of imagination to assist learning and to aid the memory.

This only becomes contestable when they are estranged from themselves, lose their real nature, lay claim to illegitimate functions, and take their imaginary historicity too seriously. We find this in the metaphysic of naturalism, especially in evolutionism, which has been its most recent form. This is due, not so much to the men of science (who are as a rule cautious and possess a more or less clear consciousness of the limits of those schemes and series) as to the dilettante scientists and dilettante philosophers to whom we owe the many books that undertake to narrate the origin of the world, and which, aided by the acrisia of their authors, run on without meeting any obstacle, from the cell, indeed from the nebula, to the French Revolution,[Pg 130] and even to the socialist movements of the nineteenth century. 'Universal histories,' and therefore cosmological romances (as we have already remarked in relation to universal histories), are composed, not of pure thought, which is criticism, but of thought mingled with imagination, which finds its outlet in myths. It is useless to prove in detail that the evolutionists of to-day are creators of myths, and that they weary themselves with attempts to write the first chapters of Genesis in modern style (their description is more elaborate, but they confuse such description with history in a manner by no means inferior to that of Babylonian or Israelitish priests), because this becomes evident as soon as such works are placed in their proper position. Their logical origin will at once make clear their true character.

But setting aside these scientific monstrosities, already condemned by the constant attitude of restraint and scepsis toward them on the part of all scientifically trained minds—condemned, too, by the very fact that they have had to seek and have found their fortune at the hands of the crowd or 'great public,' and have fallen to the rank of popular propaganda—we must here determine more precisely how these classificatory schemes of historiographical appearance are formed and how they operate. With this object, it is well to observe that classificatory schemes and apparent histories do not appear to be confined to the field of what are called the natural sciences or sub-human world, but appear also in that of the moral sciences or sciences of the human world. And to adduce simple and perspicuous examples, it often happens that in the abstract analysis of language and the positing of the types of the parts of speech, noun, verb, adjective, pronoun, and so on, or in the analysis of the word into syllables and sounds, or of style into proper or[Pg 131] metaphorical words and into various classes of metaphors, we construct classes that go from the more simple to the more complex. This gives rise to the illusion of history of language, exposed as the successive acquisition of the various parts of speech or as the passage from the single sound to the syllable (monosyllabic languages), from the syllable to the aggregate of syllables (plurisyllabic languages), from words to propositions, metres, rhymes, and so on. These are imaginary histories that have never been developed elsewhere than in the studies of scientists. In like manner, literary styles that have been abstractly distinguished and arranged in series of increasing complexity (for example, lyric, epic, drama) have given rise and continue to give rise to the thought of a schematic arrangement of poetry, which, for example, should appear during a first period as lyric, a second as epic, a third as drama.

The same has happened with regard to the classifications of abstract political, economic, philosophical forms, and so on, all of which have been followed by their shadows in the shape of imaginative history. The repugnance that historians experience in attaching their narratives to naturalistic-mythological prologues—that is to say, in linking together in matrimony a living being and a corpse—is also proved by their reluctance to admit scraps of abstract history into concrete history, for they at once reveal their heterogeneity in regard to one another by their mere appearance. De Sanctis has often been reproached for not having begun his History of Italian Literature with an account of the origins of the Italian language and of its relations with Latin, and even with the linguistic family of Indo............
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