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The nymph, who on the mountain's steep
Once more adorn’d poor Darnley's brow *
With many a hymn, and many a vow;
Those tales 'bout which historians vary,
Protection from the new St. Mary.
By the uncertainty of historical truth, and by the appearance of success, which in certain periods, attends the worst men, and the most wicked designs, some have been induc. ed to prefer romantic to real history, as the more favourable to virtue. But fic. tion is always more feeble than truth; for the most difficult task of imagination, is the invention of incidents; and those who wish to improve by experience, cannot be too accurate in determining the real connection of the facts, from which they are to conclude. A fable may illustrate a moral apophthegm, but can add no force to a political maxim.
* A tradition, from which a hill, in the neigh. bourhood of Linlithgow, takes the denomination of Cocu le Roy.
Some eminent philosophers, on the contrary, attaching too much importance to mathematical demonstration, have wished to confine the knowledge of history to certain undeniable facts, and would deprive us of some of its most engaging passages, to prevent the possibility of deception, But the essence of history, or indeed of any study, requiring much labour, is always apt to evaporate in the moment of enjoyment. It is nearly impossible to transmit the result of our own labours into the minds of others, who have not qualified themselves for their reception by the necessary degree of previous research. Or, if they are understood, they can only furnish the reader with an author's opinions, of which he knows not the foundation, and that can never become active sources of knowledge, like those which he might obtain by his own exertions. After all, how small is the class of readers, who study history,
with the expectation of acquiring vir
tue or experience! To those who are destute of the habits and discipline of literature, history is little better than a splendid pantomime, where some of the spectators are delighted with the dexterity and boldness of the hero, others with the magnificence of the scenes, and the astonishing changes of the machinery; from such an entertainment, the majority carry away, perhaps, as many moral impressions, as they would receive from the study of Thucydides or Davila.