What Survives of The Past

What does it survive as, and how and why does it survive? Questions for a science of historical selection considered here in the context of wondering what, if anything, might survive of past consciousness.

1 An Historical Enquiry Emerges In A Concern With The Present
An historical enquiry emerges in a concern with a present composed of objects recognized, not merely to have survived, but as themselves survivals…as things in respect of their being vestigial. They are present objects which speak only of the past (51)….A survival as it may come to us with little in the way of a significant context, is something of a mystery surrounded by a mystery…for a historian it is an object which provokes enquiry; for him, a recorded exploit, whatever its immediate interest or intelligibility, is something not yet understood. (53) —Michael Oakeshott, On History, (51, 53) 1

A coincidence. I came across a passage from a letter by Henry James quoted in an essay by Simon Leys and I remembered that some time before I had read the same quotation in another essay by Inga Clendinnen. Leys’ essay is about a book about Magellan. Clendinnen’s 2 is about what historians can tell us about what was going on inside their subjects’ heads. Later again, after I had finished the first draft of this paragraph, it happened that I read James’s letter again somewhere. I don’t remember where. 3 I suppose I have read other quotes from James’s letters, I don’t recall, but not the same letter quoted by three writers on three different occasions. What was going on here? Coincidences that are not just ‘pure coincidence’ are signs of some obscure connection, unknown and maybe unknowable. Shortly before 5 October 1901 Sarah Orne Jewett sent Henry James a copy of her novel, The Tory Lover, set in Maine during the American Revolution. 4 James had finished The Ambassadors earlier the same year, and he was in the middle of writing The Wings of the Dove. 1901 was a big year for Henry James and for the novel: very few works had achieved such sophistication in the representation of experience and inner life as these. In 1900 James had been working on quite a different novel, The Sense of the Past — different because it employed the device of time travel, the stuff of fantasy or science fiction — but he had not been able to complete it. The Sense of the Past is about a young American named Ralph Pendrel who writes an essay on history. A distant English relative is so taken by the essay that he bequeaths Pendrel an eighteenth century house in London. Pendrel finds that when he enters the house he goes back a century in time. James was never to finish the novel, although he made another attempt on it after the start of the First World War. A month before James wrote his letter to Sarah Orne Jewett, the US President, William McKinley, was fatally shot. McKinley was visiting the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, and after delivering a speech on tariffs and trade on 5th September, and visiting Niagara Falls on the morning of the 6th, he attended an afternoon reception in the Temple of Music — a grand mock-Renaissance fantasy lit up inside and out with an array of the latest electric lighting. In the auditorium McKinley took the time to greet and shake hands with visitors to the exposition, having dismissed the advice of his secretary that he was taking a risk: ‘No one would wish to hurt me.’ Schumann’s Träumerei was being played softly on the Temple’s great pipe organ, the harmonies deceptively simple, the theme like the melody of ‘Shenandoah’, that ambiguous song that seemed to have accumulated the historical pathos of the nineteenth century United States, of the Missouri and Mississippi boatmen, of slavery, and of the Civil War. None of McKinley’s security men noticed that one man had his hand wrapped in a white handkerchief. As McKinley was about to shake the hand of Leon Czolgosz, two shots were fired from a revolver concealed under the ‘bandage’. One bullet grazed McKinley’s ribs, the second entered his abdomen, went through his stomach, damaged a kidney and the pancreas and, as it turned out, lodged somewhere in the muscles of his back. There was no electric lighting in the Exposition infirmary, and there was a risk of candle flames igniting the ether used to anaesthetize McKinley, so the surgical exploration for the bullet, begun shortly after the shooting, had to be undertaken using natural light reflected from metal pans. An X-Ray machine, a recent invention, was on display at the exposition, and Thomas Edison also made arrangements to send one from his shop in New Jersey. The doctors could not find the bullet, and deciding that it was safer to leave it wherever it was, discontinued the search and closed the wound. No X-ray was ever taken. After visiting McKinley on 10th September and finding his condition — as a bulletin put it — ‘eminently satisfactory’, the vice president Theodore Roosevelt decided to set off and join his family on a hiking vacation on Mt Marcy, the highest peak in the Adirondack Mountains, 1,629 metres above sea level. On September 11, 1901 (a kind of pre-centenary) McKinley was able to sip some beef juice, and on the 12th managed some toast and coffee, but with little enthusiasm. By the afternoon of the 12th McKinley’s condition


began to worsen. On Friday the 13th his pulse weakened, he told his doctors ‘It’s useless gentlemen. I think we should have a prayer’ and later he whispered words from ‘Nearer My God To Thee’. He died of infection and gangrene at 2:15 a.m. on 14th September. Roosevelt heard of McKinley’s worsening condition while having lunch on the 13th, five hundred feet down from the top of Mt Marcy; but he did not set off for Buffalo until just before midnight, and he did not arrive until the afternoon of the 14th, eleven hours after McKinley’s death. He was sworn in as President of the United States at 3:30 p.m. ‘I wanted to become President’ he later said ‘but I did not want to become President that way’. On 19th September Henry James wrote in a letter to his friend, the novelist Jessie Allen ‘I don’t either like or trust the new President, a dangerous and ominous Jingo — of whom the most hopeful thing to say is that he may be rationalized by his sudden and real responsibility’. On 23rd September James saw off his servants, the Smiths, a married couple, both alcoholics, who had been with him for years. He described them to Edmund Gosse as ‘the mainstay — with qualifications and titubations — of my existence’. James began his letter, dated 5th October, by thanking Sarah Orne Jewett for her gift. Although he had only had The Tory Lover in his house 3 or 4 days, he ‘had given him (sic) an earnest, a pensive, a liberal — yes, a benevolent attention’. James then turned to the problem of historical fiction, a problem that must have occupied him while trying to write The Sense of the Past.
The historical novel is for me condemned, even in the case of labour as delicate as yours, to a fatal cheapness, for the simple reason that the difficulty of the job is inordinate and that a mere escamotage in the interest of ease, and of the abysmal public naiveté, becomes inevitable.

The word ‘scam’ is only a recent term. It is said to have its origins in American carnival talk. Some say it derives from the English word ‘scamp’ or ‘scamper’. Escamotage, or sleight of hand, sounds like a carnival term to me. ‘Scam’, its synonym, looks like its descendant. I’m just guessing. The point is, this word has an ancestry, a lineage. Obscure or not, whether or not we can reconstruct it, its past actually happened. Not only that, whether or not it left any traces, its ancestry happened in public. The point about language is that it is not hidden inside people’s heads. Apparently, when he was shot, McKinley remained standing. ‘Big Ben’ Parker, a tall, black, out-ofwork waiter from Atlanta was standing behind Czolgosz and hit him to the ground. At some stage while Czolgosz was being beaten and then dragged away, the President called out ‘Boys! Don’t let them hurt him!’ McKinley had been shot, not killed, and while indeed he was doing quite well, Czolgosz said that ‘he killed President McKinley’ because no ‘man should have so much service and another man should have none’. Czolgosz had heard the anarchist Emma Goldman give a speech in May that year and he said it was still ‘burning [him] up’. Czolgosz was reclusive and not a member of any anarchist group. Political activists who had encountered him tended to treat him with suspicion. He was not insane though, at least not according to the jury, which found him guilty of murder after a three-day trial that took less than nine sitting court hours. In fact Czolgosz had pleaded ‘guilty’, but the presiding judge overruled him and pleaded ‘not guilty’ on Czolgosz’s behalf. Czolgosz was sentenced to death on 26th September and executed by electric chair on 29th October. To Czolgosz’s apparent surprise the latest in the machinery of execution was already in use in upstate New York. Thomas Edison filmed a re-enactment of the execution on the 9 November. Though not a supporter of capital punishment, he had contributed to the development of the chair in order to demonstrate the dangers of alternating current. In another of his films he electrocuted Topsy, an elephant from Coney Island, who had killed three men in three years, including a trainer who had tried to feed her a lit cigarette. Edison hoped to convince consumers that the direct current used in his household electrical inventions was safer than the alternating current used by his rival Nikola Tesla and marketed by George Westinghouse. In an article entitled ‘The Tragedy in Buffalo’ Emma Goldman was to compare Czolgosz with Brutus. Before he was executed Czolgosz is reported to have said he was sorry for killing McKinley. He is also reported to have said he was not sorry for killing McKinley. We might accept the accuracy of the two reports, although whether Czolgosz changed his mind or was of two minds is unclear. An autopsy was performed on the assassin’s brain, but shed no light. As if to deprive Czolgosz and posterity of all traces of the assassin’s life, his letters and clothes were burnt and, before burial in the prison ground, his corpse was drenched in sulphuric acid to hasten its decomposition. The future dreamed up as the Renaissance resurrected with electric decorations, the fantastic Temple of Music was torn down before the end of November 1901, along with the whole Pan American Exposition. The fabulous necessity of progress was celebrated not only by extravagant construction but by swift and


ruthless demolition. A stone marks the approximate place where the son of Polish immigrants shot the last US President to have served in the Civil War. These are some of the things we can know about the past, things we can almost know we know; and there are others we can’t know.

2 The Present in Historical Enquiry Is Composed Of Performances Which Have Survived
The present in historical enquiry is then, composed of performances which have survived, and the first engagement of such an enquiry is to distinguish and understand these performances, in terms of the connections with others to which they may be circumstantially related…There is no independent criterion of their historical authenticity. —Michael Oakeshott, 54

History is a science of what has happened. It is concerned with events insofar as they are characterised by a couple of salient features: that they only happen once, and further, that they have happened once already. A science is historical to the extent that it must pay heed to the singularity of events. Otherwise a science is concerned with events of a kind, that is with events which, as representatives of a kind, are repeatable. In common usage and in the strict sense history is mostly concerned with human actions, although human history cannot ignore non-human phenomena. At the same time non-human sciences are concerned with history in the broad sense, that is, with events in their singularity. Since what has happened no longer exists, history’s first objects of inquiry are the artefacts that are the vestiges of bygone events, especially of bygone actions: surviving performances or performative documents; documents that report events; and artefacts that count as evidence of the events that produced them. There is more to this history than Henry James writing a letter on historical fiction, and the assassination of William McKinley, events that happened over a century ago in strange and faraway lands. Important events of this history happened quite recently. I lived through them. The full history is a genealogy and I might as well take it up now in medias res. Recently among the other clutter on my desk, there was a copy of Best Australian Essays 2008. I had also pulled out a copy of Quarterly Essay 23 (2006) in which the featured essay was ‘The History Question: who owns the past?’ by Inga Clendinnen. Her ‘question’ had come up when Kate Grenville’s historical novel, The Secret River, was first published. While promoting the book Grenville had made some idle claims about the advantage of historical fiction over history. There was a computer on the desk too. On line I’d found, among the sampled content scanned from Henry James: A Life In Letters, a page that had the start of a letter written by James on 5th October 1901 and a paragraph written by the editor Philip Horne which prefaced the letter with a little historical and biographical context. On another tab on the web browser I had Wikipedia where I had looked up William McKinley’s assassination. Each of these documents is in its own way a survival of the past, each is a surviving member of a lineage of other documents or statements replicating, with more or less accuracy, earlier documents or statements. I had just read an essay by Simon Leys in The Best Australian Essays 2008. It was about Voyage de Magellan (1519-1522): La relation d’Antonio Pigafetta & autres témoinages, ‘a monumental work’, which gathers ‘all the documents pertaining to this extraordinary expedition, as well as contemporary records of participants and witnesses’, ‘a model of lucid, rigorous and exhaustive scholarship’. It concludes with a page about the experience of reading this history. ‘The feeling of absolute outlandishness, of extreme exoticism, does not result from the evocation of faraway lands speaking incomprehensible tongues and practising bizarre religious rituals or weird sexual practices — no, it is in fact the way in which Magellan and his companions appear to us utterly unknowable’. In his essay Leys quotes part of the same passage that Inga Clendinnen quotes. Leys is writing about actual people, Magellan and his comrades, but James was writing about the difficulty of representing the consciousness of fictional characters of historical novels. After checking the quote where I had first read it a couple of years earlier in Clendinnen’s essay, I wanted to read the whole letter. That’s why I looked for it on line. Then, and now as I write, I don’t have a full hard copy of A Life In Letters. I was only able to check selected pages on-line. The October 5th letter starts on page 359, continues on 360, and, as far I knew, may have gone further 5 The passage quoted by Clendinnen and Leys is not on page 359, so I had to piece what I knew of the letter together from the on-line source (only page 359), and from Clendinnen’s quote. Leys and Clendinnen both quote this:


You may multiply the little facts that can be got from pictures and documents, relics and prints as much as you like — the real thing is almost impossible to do and in essence the whole effect is nought: I mean the invention, the representation of the old consciousness, the soul, the sense, the horizon, the vision of individuals, in whose minds half the things that make ours, that make the modern world, were non-existent.

Both quotes spell ‘consciousness’ ‘CONSCIOUSNESS’ — capitals, no italics, no underline. I wondered: did Leys quote this passage from Clendinnen’s essay or had he read it in a collection of James’s correspondence, or what? I was curious about the provenance. That was the start of my inquiry. At first I could only find the first seven lines of James’s letter on-line, those printed on page 359. They were prefaced by Philip Horne’s introduction to the letter — two short paragraphs that mentioned McKinley’s assasination, Roosevelt, the Smiths and A Sense of the Past. The historical context of the letter became the subject of my immediate inquiries, so I went to Wikipedia, the servant of restless curiosity. To track down the whole letter I had to wait for the Bellingen branch of the Clarence Regional Library to get an interlibrary loan of an edition of Henry James: A life in letters. The quote above was copied from page 360 of the interlibrary loan, not from Leys, Clendinnen or the on-line sample. Although I’ve now returned the book, I think my quotation is accurate. Nothing is certain though. I can now look up the whole letter on line and the scanned edition of Horne’s book spells ‘consciousness’ ‘consciousness’. No underline. Why would I, why would anyone, have underlined a word already in italics. By what typographic convention or flouting thereof. Why for that matter capitalize it? And what had James written in the first place? Consciousness had become a McGuffin. Of course the fragment of James’s letter that I had before me on-line was not the original, nor was the whole letter that I would read when my interlibrary loan arrived from the NSW State Library in Sydney. Neither of them was what Henry James wrote with his own hand and dated 5th October 1901. They were not survivals from the past in that sense. Instead the letter has been copied and disseminated. There are many copies and fragments of copies and they are, I assume, more or less accurate. There is a lineage of descent here like this: from James’s hand to Sarah Orne Jewett across the Atlantic via the mail, to A Life In Letters via various acts of inheritance, literary preservation and editorship, to Inga Clendinnen via the multiple printing, sale and circulation of A Life in Letters, to the Quarterly Essay to me. Of course that is just a guess at the actual lineage. There is also a branch through Leys. And now there are branches through the web. Because Leys and Clendinnen both spelled ‘CONSCIOUSNESS’ in upper case, and the copies of A Life In Letters use lower case, I half suspected that Leys had taken his quote from Clendinnen rather than from an edition of James’s letters. On the other hand Leys comments on how ‘very courteously’ James criticised Sarah Orne Jewett’s attempt at historical fiction, and James’s explicit courtesies lie almost entirely outside the passage quoted by Clendinnen. I also wondered whether Leys, the thoughtful essayist and novelist and alter ego of the scholarly Pierre Ryckmans, would have settled for the abbreviated and what might be thought the less authentic source. 6 Perhaps the capitalisation accords with common typographic conventions used independently by Clendinnen and Leys or their editors. However if it is supposed to indicate capitalisation in James’s original handwriting then that is at odds with Horne’s edition. Different typographic conventions, mistaken transcriptions of consciousness to consciousness, all such errors and mutations take their place in the cluttered genealogy of historical record. I don’t know enough about all the stages of each of the lineages of reproduction to give a firm answer on Simon Leys’ immediate source. There are undoubtedly stages of this lineage of reproduction and survival that I have omitted, I expect I have included others by mistake, and perhaps the order is wrong. For all I know Clendinnen may have read the original letter in another collection. Pierre Ryckmans, who may have read the letter in Clendinnen’s essay or at the end of another line of transmission, quoted it in an essay on Magellan, and had it published in The Monthly (where I browsed past it and didn’t read it) and then in The Best Australian Essays of 2008 (where I did eventually read it) under the name of Simon Leys. There are probably reticulating branches. The copying and dissemination of historical records and documents is properly understood or represented as a network of forking and rejoining lines, of copies of copies in a partial order. Most ‘lines’ of descent are networks just like an ancestral lineage of people. A lineage is a simple instance of a network. Even if we don’t know the actual lineage or network, there remains without doubt the fact of a lineage or network. In this genealogy James hand-written ‘consciousness’ is less the authentic version, than it was one other stage in the lineage, even if the earliest. What matters for this history need not be so much what came first as what happened last. What the ‘primary source’ is depends upon what events are the object of the historical inquiry. Philip Horne’s little preface to the James’s letter, and Wikipedia’s account of McKinley’s assassination are hardly primary sources for a history of 1901. However they too are survivals and in that


sense primary documents of Jamesian scholarship and literary biography and of collaborative, on-line historiography around the turn of the twenty first century 7 . They preserve vestiges of those acts and events of 1901 that they describe; to some extent they preserve the entire, mostly obscure lineage of the sources on which they draw; but each is primarily a survival of the end of the twentieth and the beginning of the twenty first century. Each is ‘a res gesta, an exploit which was performed in bygone times and survived exactly as it was performed except for the damage it may have suffered on the way’ 8 . It’s just that these ‘bygone’ times are recent. On the one hand, the on-line fragment of James’s letter, so far as it is a vestige of what James did in 1901, survives almost ‘exactly as it was performed’ except for the damage of being copied from James handwriting into print, and the more severe damage of fragmentation by the on-line sampling of A Life In Letters. On the other, Horne’s preface survived the ‘damage’ done by scanning and on-line sampling unscathed. The Wikipedia entry was what survived of a series exploits — a series of wiki edits, in particular the most recent edit — leading to the version of the entry on McKinley that I first read in 2008. That 2008 version probably no longer survives in its entirety. Wikipedia is constantly being ‘damaged’ in the sense that its entries are constantly being checked and edited by its contributors. That is, any entry in Wikipedia is going through a repeated process of reproduction and editing, and any entry at any time is a stage in a lineage of entries that survives and evolves in a selection environment of predominantly early twenty first century historiographical, encyclopaedic and wiki norms. Any entry is a survival of the recent application of a science of selection processes and of computer technology to historiography. However brief its life, each entry in a lineage on say McKinley has its day as one of lineage of entries of a kind, in much the same way that any living organism has its day as one individual in the lineage of a species. Strictly a past exploit may only survive ‘as it was performed’ by means of the durability of the original. In a broader sense it may also survive by means of a lineage of copies in which copying is highly accurate and copies suffer no relevant mutations between each act of copying. However a genealogy of copies seldom makes for timeless stability. Whether an entry in Wikipedia or the narrative survival of ancient accounts of past events through a lineage of copies of documents, evolution is the norm. Wikipedia on McKinley’s assassination and Horne’s preface to the James’s letter are in this last sense repositories for ‘damaged’ survivals from the more remote past of 1901. so the Wikipedia entry is not only a stage in its local lineage of online entries, as an historical narrative it is just one node in a vast network of selections and retellings — with damage and tinkering everywhere — of historical accounts of 1901. The same goes for Horne’s little preface. The selections have been based on all sorts of historiographic and other, possibly damaging, criteria; each retelling has only been accurate up to a point. The network consists of forking and criss-crossing lineages of accounts of those events in 1901, accounts that trace back, through copies, quotations, and indirect narratives to the earliest accounts of the events, including the performative and other utterances of the times. To what extent the pristine ‘performances’ — the performances of the times and the primary documents — survive as performed is a commentary on the effectiveness of norms for the preservation of originals. However the norms that govern Horne’s preface and the Wikipedia entry rather than being only archaeological and concerned with preservation are predominantly historiographical and concerned with the demands of narration and truth as well. This is typical of histories. The present in historical enquiry, present experience, is the environment through which what survives of historiography is selected. The events selected for historical narrative address present concerns and present concerns shape the narrative plots. It is by the concerns a history addresses and how it does so and in what form of argument that we judge it, in our own time and by our own concerns, and by our judgement become players in its survival or extinction. Histories age. They are of their times and, if they survive, begin to look like relics themselves. ‘Who now reads Gibbon to find out about the Roman Empire? or Macaulay to learn late seventeenth century England? They reveal more about the historiography of their times. Not so Thucydides, who still brings to us now the experience of both the times in which his history was written and the times of which it tells. Not so Livy either I think, because, although writing mostly about times before his own, he is read, given the paucity of other survivals, to find out about the times that he writes about, and also, in case we believe everything he says, to find out about historiography in the times of Augustus. We also read him, as we do Plutarch, for the art of his fascinating narratives, an art that helps him survive even though it might warn us about the truth of his history. Yet not all of Livy survives, because there were times that did not read him and did not reproduce in its entirety his history of Rome. Selection is always local, often trivial, its filters many and various: summaries of Livy were available and the copyists of the middle ages neglected the prolific pagan. Even what is of enduring concern need not survive. Yet that Thucydides or parts of Livy have survived says something of these histories as


well as of the environments through which they have survived. Gibbon and Macaulay have survived too I suppose, but in their own ways and through different times. It follows from this that among the events of primary importance are those that reproduce or select the survivals. Survival is an event itself. A process. In the first sentence of The History of the Peloponnesian War Thucydides describes the most important event of the war, of all the actions of the war, the one that has still not ceased ⎯ his own act of writing down and telling the war’s history.
Thucydides, an Athenian, wrote the history of the war between the Peloponnesians and the Athenians, beginning at the moment that it broke out, and believing that it would be a great war and more worthy of relation than any that had preceded it.

Without this act what would there be now of the Peloponnesian War? When we read Thucydides we read it as reportage. We know that the speeches are recreated, and that Thucydides could not be an eyewitness of all the events. He tells us this. But what he writes is nearly all we have. We can be pretty sure that he could not have been in Athens when news arrived of the disastrous fate of the Sicilian expedition; by that time, as he reports it, he would have been exiled from Athens for his role in the loss of the Thracian city of Amphipolis, an event he describes in the third person with plainspoken and intriguing unconcern. Thucydides tells us that in Athens news of the Sicilian disaster was initially greeted with disbelief. ‘They disbelieved even the most respectable of the soldiers who had themselves escaped from the scene of action and clearly reported the matter, a destruction so complete not being thought credible.’ 9 We also know Plutarch was not in Athens at the time the news arrived from Sicily; he was not born until four and a half centuries later. But at the end of his life of Nikias, the reluctant commander of the Sicilian expedition, Plutarch tells us a story about the news reaching Athens. A stranger got off a boat in Piraeus, and taking his seat in a barber’s chair, began to talk of the Sicilian disaster as if it were common knowledge. When the barber ran into Athens to tell the archons, he was accused of rumour mongering, and tortured for his troubles. The story of the barber survives because it is fascinating as a story about the ironies of the transmission and survival of momentous historical news. That is, it does not survive because it is true; its truth is doubtful. It survives because it says something important about the transmission and survival of news from another time or place. Even if the story is not true, there was a series of historical events that were the genesis, reproduction and tweaking of the story. Pausing and greatly gaining strength in Plutarch’s act of telling his version, the process and the story’s evolution continues. Plutarch’s story is an instance of what it is about: the ironies and the fortunes of the transmission and survival of historical news. As an anecdote it survives, if not as the truth about how news reached Athens, as a testimony to the action and experience of Plutarch. Oakeshott’s description of the experience of history can be considered as a survival from a performance too. It can speak to us not only about the experience of history but, among other things, about the state of the idea of history in Britain in the twentieth century. Yet in Oakeshott’s description there are also other older survivals. Consider a term he uses for those past acts or performances, res gestae — ‘things done’. It is the term Hegel used in his seminal introduction to The Philosophy of History when he was distinguishing history meaning the account of deeds (historiam rerum gestarum), from the deeds themselves (res gestae). 10 In Oakeshott’s performance, in his use of the term res gestae, we probably see the survival of that Hegelian performance. Or perhaps of legal tradition. 11 Vestiges nested within vestiges. Indeed every word is a vestige of its previous uses, an insight that has guided philological research and historical linguistics in the same way that the idea of genetic inheritance has guided evolutionary theory. Some of McKinley’s, Czolgosz’s, Roosevelt’s and the official bulletin’s words, also survive in Wikipedia, scarcely damaged beyond there ruthless selection. Even Edison’s re-enactment of the execution, Execution Of Czolgosz With Panorama Of Auburn Prison (1901) survives and relicates online 12 and it is not only a survival of Edison’s act of filmmaking. As actual footage, it is a survival, indeed a replication, of an act of empirical observation of Auburn Prison in 1901 13 . It also preserves, as an historical re-enactment, some traces of the execution itself, a bit like the way the Temple of Music was not only peculiar to the retrospective architecture of the 1901 Pan American Exposition, but also preserved Rennaissance architecture in damaged form. Now though the magnificent Temple of Music no longer preserves anything. It’s gone and survives only in images and descriptions. The greatest damage is not in the infidelity of copies and copies of copies. It’s in the annihilation of extinction. So little survives. So little makes it through the gates of selection and the devastation of time. I wonder: What if the books I started with on my desk were the only surviving sources of James’s letter, while the sources for the assassination of McKinley and the events of 1901 —


newspapers, letters, court documents, and so on — were so numerous that I could never hope to review them all, never hope to be sure which were original, which were true? Something like this is the predicament of any writer of history. Too little survives about what you want to know, and at the same time there is so much that you can hardly review it all or else rightly select what really matters or what is right. Apart from the coincidence that began this inquiry — the citation of the same letter by two or three different writers — I had other experiences that subsequently seemed coincidental. There were several references to electrical and X-ray technology and there was a recurring sense that they had not been best exploited after McKinley’s shooting; they were the toys of progress. Again and again there was a sense of the unknowability or ambiguity of the experiences and intentions of the people involved in the events. These were not always made explicit, but I think they were usually implied. And, to us in the early twenty first century, there was the coincidental date ‘September 11, 1901’. As coincidences they are markers of selection processes that leave us with whatever survives of the past. I found that I made sure to record them throughout the little history that I wrote about McKinley’s assassination. They have their causes, but as coincidences they are not primarily regarded as the result of mechanisms that link them in a causal sequence among the narrated events. Instead they indicate features that have had a peculiar likelihood to be selected; they survive the depredations of copying and selection because they are adapted to not only historiographic criteria of selection, but in some cases to other criteria that may damage the historical stock. The details about lighting and X-rays have their place in a system of causal relations of the time, but they make their way into narrative also because of the sentiment induced by the narrative ironies of their use or non-use. September 11 is nothing but an accident of fake portent, but that is enough to get it selected — at least in my narrative. The repeated quotation from James’s letter may or may not link Leys to Clendinnen by direct transmission, but it is also a sign of the culture they and the third forgotten author share at a greater remove, that is of a contemporary concern of writers of history and historical fiction: the desire to reconstruct not just the past as it actually was but to reconstruct the experience of what it was like. 14 It is a desire, at least of our own times, which, as James warns and despite false expectations, fiction is scarcely able — indeed may be less able than historiography — to satisfy. At least for us — we modern, everyday philosophers — experience, because it is something outside of which we have nothing, is also something whose experiential quality we are inclined to describe as experiential what it’s likeness. 15 Even so as the words like and likeness imply this experiential quality, so conceived, is of a kind, one of a class of replicas whose likeness or unlikeness is always a matter of degree; it is not the actual, unique experience of a past time — an actual experience — but a likeness of experiences of that past time which is an actual experience of its own present time. 16 It is through the gates of the desire for the experience of what the experience of others was like that we go in search of some kind of authentic history. The lineages by which news of events reaches us from the past are objects for a science of the transmission of historical information, and a Darwinian science at that. A science of ‘social selection’. The rudimentary form of this science has consisted so far in methodological considerations about the origin and reliability of documents. It has been more evident in its application to the practical problem of discovering the provenance of accounts with a view to estimating their truth-value, than in a general and systematic body of theory. Where general theories have been articulated they have been cited on the run as justification for research protocols and rules of evidence, rather than proposed and tested as part of a coherent science with its own research program. The research program to date hardly proceeds beyond immediate questions of determining what survives and what connections it has with the events it describes. Not surprisingly it is apt to take an historical approach, it might set about working out an ancestral lineage for any surviving documentation adequate to the task of making judgments about the truth of documents and thus about their correspondence to past but unobservable events. However considered as a survival the primary question about a document is neither ‘Is it true?’ nor ‘What is its provenance or ancestry?’ A science that has been merely interested in estimating the truth of documents has not, as it were, been a disinterested science. It has been distracted by immediate purposes and neglected to consider systematically how and why certain documents survive. In such an inquiry the truth of a document becomes only one of the features that may adapt it for survival, whether by long duration and maintenance, or frequent reproduction, or both. The tracing of lineages is still important, but the fact of there being lineages, even if they can’t be traced, still should suggest that researchers consider the features of surviving documents as adaptations to the historical environments through which those documents have had to endure or in which they have had to be copied and disseminated.


The first illustration of the value of such a science is in the insight it gives into the discipline of history itself and into its own historical genesis and evolution. The great body of its documents and the socalled historical consciousness that characterises the societies with a culture of historiography could not have survived without a particular feature of the documents, namely that they are in writing. Nothing so well adapts the accounts of events for survival and reproduction than writing, or even better print. Speech is written on thin air. The proto-historiography of pre-literate societies goes by the name of myth, and in the absence of written language the transmission of myth may produce stable lineages of faithful copying from one generation to another only so far as the myths are, in one way or another adapted to accurate oral retelling. Verse, accounts of certain kinds of events, and certain kinds of plots — plots in which humans are, for whatever reasons, especially interested — are all features that make a narrative memorable and to that extent likely to be accurately copied. Verse makes accurate word for word reproduction more likely. Memorable plot — mythos in Greek — is preserved in its argument, so far as that argument is memorable: recurring narrative structures are well known in myth and in certain genres of fiction. They are also known in historiography: in historiography’s devotion to military and political narratives there persists a refusal to cast off mythological interests. David Hume began his history of Britain by dismissing past events ‘lost or disfigured when intrusted to memory and oral tradition’ and followed this by saying ‘the convulsions of a civilised state usually compose the most instructive and most interesting part of history’. 17 We read Hume’s words now as the survival of an acute but superseded historical consciousness, one that appreciated with some regret our aporia when it comes to telling the history of the oral cultures of our ‘ancestors’, yet one that, in saying ‘fables … ought entirely to be disregarded’ failed to see beyond the dubious truth claims of myths and legends to their value as survivals in Oakeshott’s sense. One that said politics and its convulsions are of prime interest and that would drop ‘all the minute circumstances, which are only interesting during the time, or to the persons engaged in the transactions’. And one that would do this for the sake of abridgement, because he sees history as consisting in ‘a collection of facts which are multiplying without end’ 18 and not as something that is present in ‘performances that have survived’. Philosophy of history while incipient in such remarks had not quite appeared on the scene. Though his historical consciousness is acute, it is of his times, indeed so typical of his times that Hume, a true philosopher, confined his philosophy of history to brief remarks in justification of his method, before he turning to monumental historiography and its convulsions of the state. The development of the history of what George Eliot called unhistoric lives — ‘only interesting during the time, or to the persons engaged in the transactions’ — marks a stage in enlightenment and the development historical consciousness. Although even then among Eliot and Tolstoy and other nineteenth century novelists, the reformulated task of historical consciousness, made it into fiction before it made it into historiography. In contemporary societies we still have lineages of oral proto-historiography and narrative in such forms as rumour, urban myth, jokes and gossip, all of which rely on their memorability of one kind or another to reproduce and survive. That plots of these genres are adapted to memory or to other identifiable features of human society and psychology is a claim little tested and here left open to empirical investigation. Where these genres occur in historiography though, they should be treated with circumspection, that is primarily as survivals. Truth is not necessarily an adaptation they need for their survival. Although truth is often of great interest to humans and therefore increases the likelihood that an account will be reproduced and survive, true accounts need not be memorable. Nor need valid narrative arguments. 19 They can be tedious, complicated, irrelevant to present purposes, and performed in prose, so they are never repeated and quickly forgotten. Writing made it more likely that such true accounts would endure long enough to be reread and copied. Even so, writing and the other media of contemporary historiography — audio recording, film and video — are plainly not guarantees of truth. Nor is the relative durability of the media a guarantee of stable and enduring narrative reports, not when reproduction of reports can be very rapid, and when there are pressures other than those that damage their physical durability and integrity, or the fidelity of their physical reproduction. Variation in the interpretation and selection of the events to be reported occur, and as a result certain descriptions of events and certain plots survive. Newsworthiness, spin, sensational, controversial or pathetic content, and the sheer availability of images for television, are all features favourable to the survival of a story. Rumour, anecdote, antagonistic interpretations and misunderstandings persist as common in the relatively durable media of history and can take on their own historical force. The stories become the event, especially in the news, that volatile history of the present, and as such they furnish another object for a science that inquires into the lineages of the transmission of historical information. Media event is a term used to designate them. In print, broadcast and on-line media rumours can take on a life of their own even to


the extent, say in the case of reports of unstable leadership in a political party, of becoming self-fulfilling. False reports can bring about the events that end up making them true. On the other hand a poll prediction of an election win by one party can cause the defeat of that party if voters think it is not worth voting. A trivial political action, a slip of the tongue or a joke, can, if interpreted as a revealing slip or no joke, become what political commentary calls a gaffe. Gaffes enter the course of history and can bring about a change of government. As these things go on journalists modestly decline to claim any in part in the events they report. If newspapers of the day had reported Roosevelt’s delay in the Adirondacks as a lack of concern, maybe nothing would have followed. But if contemporary news media were reporting it, a whirlwind of mutating interpretations rapidly reproducing and disseminating might be more likely to develop, and the same action become a gaffe. The medium is not the message, it is part of the message, and the message is one of an evolving lineage of messages and each member of the lineage is part of the event it reports. In the volatile environment of news, reports suffer certain variations, certain reports are reproduced, and what is reproduced survives. Why a report is reproduced and why it survives are the first questions for a science of history. Even though the medium might not be the message it is vital to the survival of the message. The medium of a report is a key adaptation of an historical document. When writing and later print guaranteed the duration of historical reports, events reported in writing became the events that survived as historical. Writing was so important that it made history possible. At the same time events that weren’t recorded in writing or print vanished from the record, and history therefore only became possible as a tyranny of what survived. Events that become news are immediately at an advantage just for having been reported but in a video culture events that aren’t videoed are at a disadvantage in the race to become news. The visual news media want ‘vision’. So in a video culture history is still a tyranny, a tyranny of what is videoed.

3 The More Distant Concern
The more distant concern this enquiry is, no doubt, to infer from recorded exploits a past composed of historical events related in answer to an historical question; that is, to transform surviving exploits into evidence to be used in the composition of a past which has not survived because, being a past of events and not exploits, it could not have survived. —Michael Oakeshott, 53

The more distant concern of this enquiry is the consciousness of those living in the past. We wonder, as we put it, what it was like to live then, and how we can tell what it was like, and each of fiction and history has shown an interest in telling us. The former for Henry James was impossible enough, notwithstanding the presumption of many historical novelists that fiction has some kind of mortgage on the task. The attempt of a work like Kate Grenville’s The Secret River to conduct you, the living, freed from the inhibitions of history’s facts, to the truth of the experience of the lives of those long dead, is too complacent. This common enough notion that fiction could deliver what history couldn’t was the polemical impetus for Inga Clendinnen’s essay: history wouldn’t because it shouldn’t. And as James had learnt, even fiction couldn’t just make it up. The expectation that fiction shows psychological experience need not have been assumed of or by Grenville’s novel, but the expectation exerts a constant force on conventional literary fiction and Grenville seems to have succumbed to it. So far as The Secret River is supposed to show what it was like to be an ex-convict taking Dharug land along the Hawkesbury in the early nineteenth century, Grenville has to invent descriptions true to the experience of the nineteenth century. In its execution though The Secret River begins as a genre piece: poverty in nineteenth century London, a good if weak or dense man, petty crime, arrest, conviction and transportation to New South Wales. And then follows the plot about the taking of land and its consequences, a plot of a kind repeated often enough in the annals of colonial Australia, here stimulating stunned psychological responses in the characters and evoking comfortable moral assumptions in the reader which are familiar to any citizen of the twenty first century. Rather than giving insight into the experience of a colonist, whether into consciousness or even into its objects — what James called all ‘the little facts that can be got from pictures and documents, relics and prints’ — it is more like a generic tale from colonial history used in the contemporary way to bring the past alive for the entertaining edification of modern readers. The Secret River turns out to be a message from the present, one that’s so well known it hardly bears repeating. It gives a reader, anyone at least with an historical interest, more insights into experience in the first decade of twenty first rather than nineteenth century Australia. In James’s novels we see a famous instance of the way ‘consciousness’, a specific way of conceiving what goes on in people’s heads, had become a special preoccupation of modern thought. This preoccupation


traces a genealogy through the history of the modern novel; one of its descendants being the popular expectation of psychologising in literary novels, another being the driver of the pop psycho-sexual trumpery of too much literary biography. The same preoccupation has a lineage running through modern philosophy too. Complicated and beyond precise tracing, there is surely a little branch running from Hegel — a watershed in the philosophy of the historical character of consciousness and experience— to the early writing of Oakeshott 20 to the last work of R.G. Collingwood, the philosopher of history who contended that the historian must re-enact the thought of the past, 21 and who in the course of his argument claims
This is just what Oakeshott has explicitly maintained in his doctrine that the historian only arranges sub specie praeteritorum what is in reality his own present experience, and what Croce in effect admits when he says that all history is contemporary history. 22

If consciousness and thought refer to the same thing, then what James had said was impossible for fiction Collingwood went and made obligatory for history. The hopeful philosopher, painted into a corner by demands of consistency and perhaps a loyalty to English Hegelianism, seemed compelled to up the ante. Not only must historians re-enact past thoughts, to do that they must think the identical thought again. Can they? Only by taking the present to be the subjective present of the historian — an abstraction so far as it ignores the objective present for historical enquiry, which for Oakeshott is composed of those ‘performances which have survived’ — and philosophising ‘a thought’ into an abstraction, a universal that is no longer time bound nor, for that matter, historical, can Collingwood have it time-travel. But this abstraction is quite different from what Henry James’s meant by ‘consciousness’, which is concrete and individual and complex, no matter how vaguely understood, and much more the ‘consciousness’ referred to by our nominalistically inclined times. 23 Collingwood seems to want Oakeshott’s past as a mode of the present but without the pathos of concrete experience. His transmigration of individual experience without the damage of historical mediation would mean without the individuality, without experience and without history. Past thought or consciousness, especially the mode called intention that inheres in human action and in ‘performances which have survived’, only ever survives in the present as mediated by the damage of transmission and by the historian’s experience. Historical inquiry is not channelling. All that a historian can know about the consciousness or the thought of the past is what we can know from what survives of the acts of the past, in the accounts thereof and in the statements of the players. What survives from the past comes closest to furnishing direct communication of a past, lived consciousness, when the consciousness is that of the document’s author. Yet even though human communication is a kind of mind reading, like all mind reading it is flawed. As if between contemporaries, historian and author communicate across the gulf of the more or less imperfect sharing of thoughts and meeting of minds, where meaning is likely to become more indeterminate with the increasing remoteness of culture and time. There is no identity of one person’s understanding with another’s. Similar thoughts at best, identical thoughts never. No effort of empathy can overcome it. To entertain us with the possibility of such a tour de force Borges imagined the character of Pierre Menard who, after immense preparation, managed to repeat, identically, a tiny fraction of Cervantes’ performance of Don Quixote. If the author of a document was a player in the events the document describes, so much the better. If the author’s performance is an event of interest itself then we might think so much the better again, except that performative documents — declarations of intent or war say, or resolute vows, especially if made in public performances like speeches — are often highly conventional and may, in times like ours that are preoccupied with individualised consciousness, lack the obligatory authenticity of our psychological curiosity. Even a hundred years ago we wanted at least the Jamesian thing. Directly from Henry James’s letter we get as vivid an idea of another thought, a few of James’s thoughts, as a document from 1901 is likely to give us. Because such acts of communication still go on as long as they survive in print, we refer to them in the ‘timeless’ present indicative: James says, Thucydides tells. The act goes on in the present. It’s as good as Collingwood’s re-enactment gets. We will be struck by James’s thoughts on historical fiction or Teddy Roosevelt so far as what he says is explicit and honest, and, we will witness in his elaborate courtesies, his thoughts on his relation to Sarah Orne Jewett. Or maybe not so much on the latter. James’s courtesies are witnessed: his action, not his thought. Re-enacting his ‘thought’ here would take to much scamming to be worth the trouble. Better to show the action and let the reader make sense of James’s consciousness. Yet there remains at another remove, the thought of those who are described in the third person documents of the times, the ‘more distant concern’, and the chief concern of so much historical inquiry.


What did they think? How are we ever to re-enact all those historical intentions. The preface to James’s letter sent me off in search of documents about McKinley and co. Maybe I was impelled by the preoccupation with knowing what it was like to be one or the other or anybody experiencing the events of 1901. We may wonder what went on inside the heads of Czolgosz, McKinley or Roosevelt. We may even think that it is imperative to try and understand events the way they did, but we can’t ignore the distance between us and the authors of our source documents and, in turn, between those authors and the subjects of their documents. If all we had were the few statements by Czolgosz, McKinley and Roosevelt that I recorded earlier in my narrative then: in the confusion, McKinley requests the legal protection due to the man who has just shot him; later he addresses his imminent death with Christian resignation; Czolgosz is sorry and he is not sorry; Roosevelt regrets the circumstances in which he became President. From this we may infer Czolgos hardly knows his own mind. The Presidents, for all we know, may not know theirs either; their remarks reveal little and are scarcely more than ‘Presidential’. Not that conventional performances, even in highly formal declarations and vows, should be subtracted from an individual’s identity. They tell as much about what is conventional as about the individual, but an individual draws on what is conventional. To us Czolgosz, McKinley, Roosevelt, even for most of his life Henry James, are almost like Ley’s Magellan and his companions, almost ‘utterly unknowable’. When all that survives is circumstantial all we can do, and what we do do, is wonder at what must have gone on, under those circumstances, inside people’s heads. It is a feature of history, at least at its present stage, that it must wonder about what the past was like, by which it presumes to wonder what it was like in the experience of those who lived through it. Such wondering is driven by what in some ways is no more than the natural urge of a linguistic, moral animal to know what is going on in others’ heads. Although, even if it is a natural inclination, it’s like a language, and mediated by a specific culture, a modern, secular, ethically-bound, historicist one. Sometimes past experience is just what a historian has to address for ethical or political reasons; it is the urgent concern of the present. Sometimes its pursuit is idle curiosity. Sometimes it is a distraction, its claims ring false, its scammed narratives displayed as the high moral ground of empathy. In the absence of direct communication we can only make conditional inferences from what survives. Even with direct statements our inferences must retain a conditional character. Consciousness, lived experience, what people think and what goes on in people’s heads, are all ways of referring to slightly different objects of the same specific modern preoccupation. Although each is very familiar, each is a poorly understood phenomenon referred to by an everyday term that is vague and inconsistently defined. The terms of pop philosophy or psychology and academic philosophy are still pretty much the same here. Philip Horne’s preface to James’s letter sets it in the context of McKinley’s assassination, Roosevelt’s succession, the ‘domestic upheavals’ with the Smiths, and James’s abandonment of The Sense of the Past. Such detail seems designed to give a reader some ‘sense of the past’ in which James wrote, some insight into James’s experience of the time. But each of Horne’s details, as in so much historical inquiry, is a kind of ‘objective correlative’ of a consciousness that has long ceased to be, each is something empirical that might indicate something subjective. History is not primarily concerned with the consciousness of historical actors. It is primarily concerned with what survives of their actions, physical, verbal and mental, but mental only so far as the vestiges of the physical and verbal survive and attest to the mental. In history we are all in the predicament that once blinded certain psychologists — those who were too wary of verbal testament — into taking a behaviourist stance. The best we have is verbal testament. Film and video evidence, the other great survival, at least of recent times, is all too objective. Yet history’s data are even more limited: history is primarily concerned only with actions whose traces have survived the depredations of time. History is interested in what we know and can know happened. Although historians may entertain a curiosity about what the past was like, history is not primarily interested in what the past was like or in showing the past as it actually was. History is concerned first with the present and what actually remains of what actually happened, and it is only from what has survived that it can infer what happened. It is concerned with events, not being. Being is too abstract or too existential. Fundamental ontology is not the ontology of history. A survival comes as ‘a mystery surrounded by a mystery’. It ‘provokes enquiry’. What survives is transformed ‘into evidence to be used in the composition of a past which has not survived’. The reader of a history may be so distracted by the desire for what, as far as the historian is concerned, is the ‘more distant concern’, as to divert historical desire and substitute as its new object a kind of fetish, a fiction to satisfy it. But why would fiction waste its art in order to supply distracted historical desire with a fetish: trumped up


inner life. It fries other fish. Historical curiosity wonders about what it lacks but the only object of its wonder is what survives. There is a kind of gratitude in this. It is amazed by what it has. 24 Even histories don’t satisfy historical desire because they usually only supply what is second hand. I incline to Benjamin’s dream of writing history by only splicing together quotations from the times. We don’t read an historian to find out about a certain time, unless we are ‘loafers in the garden of knowledge’. We read the documents that have survived from the times. One kind of consciousness that is of particular interest to philosophy of history is what is called historical consciousness. It could be used to refer to a subjective phenomenon — someone’s consciousness of history. But it is often used to refer to the consciousness of history so far the subjective experience of history reproduces the experience of history as it is described and communicated by the documents of that culture. Historical consciousness has its own history, a cultural history. Historical consciousness is present when in E.H Carr’s words ‘records of the past begin to be kept for future generations’ 25 .

Michael Oakeshott, On History and Other Essays, Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1999. The bibliographical details of these essays are given later in the text of the essay.


I thought it was in James Wood’s How Fiction Works. Or maybe it was J.M. Coetzee’s Diary of a Bad Year. I couldn’t find it in either later when I checked.


The letter is printed in Henry James: a life in letters, edited by Philip Horne, London: Penguin Books, 2000, (pp 359361), which in turn was a reprint of the same book published under the Allen Lane imprint in 1999. I have since checked a copy of A Life In Letters and it continues through to p. 361. I believe the copy I checked was a hard copy Allen Lane edition. ‘Simon Leys’ is a pen name that apparently traces its own lineage to the character of René Leys in Victor Segalen’s novel of the same name. René Leys enlists the assistance of a Belgian youth who has access to the Chinese Imperial family. Pierre Ryckmans is the name of the sinologist, translator and scholar of Chinese who supervised Kevin Rudd’s honours thesis at the Australian National University. Pierre Ryckmans is also the name of the Governor General of the Belgian Congo during the Second World War. But these are other stories; they lead down other forks in this network of lineages of copies of copies. I am referring only to the note prefacing the letter. The reproduced letter itself, while in its available form (and forms) a survival of modern textual technology, is also the product of James 1901 action, the most reliable and telling of vestige of that action. The action of writing is only one stage in a process that, in a lineage of copies, perpetuates the original act of communication. Michael Oakeshott, On History, 53 The Peloponnesian War. Book 8. Ch. 25.






GWF Hegel, The Philosophy of History, translated by J. Sibree, Kitchener, Ohio, Batoche Books, 2001, p 76. Not such a seminal work though according to R. G. Collingwood (The Idea of History p. 113, see bibliographical details below), who thinks that Hegel’s The Philosophy of History is ‘far less startling and far less original’ when consideration is given to what survives in Hegel’s thought from predecessors such as Herder. Res gestae is also a legal term. Res gestae evidence stands as an exception to the rule against hearsay evidence. Among other things a witness statement that reports an utterance is admissible as res gestae evidence of the act of utterance, if not of what the utterance states. The act of utterance is a res gesta, what the utterance states is hearsay. This is the distinction between the fact of an utterance’s performance and the truth value of its content. Evidence is also allowable as res gestae if it reports a spontaneous utterance, the sincerity of which could scarcely be doubted, or if it reports a speakers state of mind. These three kinds of utterance are, to philosophers, quite familiar and their difference from one another well recognized. They also bear some relation to the historian’s distinction of primary from secondary sources. Forensic inquiry is like historical inquiry. However the law is a practical institution with the specific function of determining subsequent actions, the serious matters justice: judgment and sentence. History has serious practical purposes too, although maybe not for Michael Oakeshott, and maybe not necessarily urgent ones.
12 11


It is presently available on YouTube. Hhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jkx4yEkhgfwH



For the Galilean significance and the empirical character of actual footage see History, The Movie and The Video’

The past as it actually was might be taken to refer to the past as it existed outside of any experience, objectively or non-mentally or materially, as opposed to the past-as-experienced, which is actually past experience. See note 16 below. A mouthful that owes more to the lucid thought of Galen Strawson (see ‘Intentionality and Experience: terminological Preliminaries’ in Real Materialism, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 255-280, 2008) We might try to find a loophole by using a different conjunction, as: we want to experience the past as someone in the past experienced it. Yet by immense effort and suffering to try to repeat the experience of Socrates for one day — if we are serious let’s say, to suffer the hemlock — would be in vain. Only Socrates experienced or experiences as Socrates. Experiences are absolutely unrepeatable, utterly unique events. Events. See also the later mention in this essay of Borges’ character Pierre Menard
17 16 15


David Hume , History of England, volume 1, chapter 1. David Hume , History of England, volume 1, chapter 12 See Truth and Historical Narrative. Oakeshott’s Experience and Its Modes was published in 1933.




See R. G. Collingwood 1963, The Idea of History. London: Oxford University Press. First published in 1946. 282 Collingwood died in 1943.


The Idea of History p.289

Collingwood’s philosophical take on this proves Croce’s idea of philosophy as an antiquated idea, unless philosophy too abandons all pretension to what is ahistorical.


It is to such a sentiment, although not only this sentiment, that Michael Oakeshott traces his disposition to being conservative: The general characteristics of this disposition are not difficult to discern, although they have often been mistaken. They centre upon a propensity to use and to enjoy what is available rather than to wish for or to look for something else; to delight in what is present rather than what was or what may be. Reflection may bring to light an appropriate gratefulness for what is available, and consequently the acknowledgment of a gift or an inheritance from the past; but there is no mere idolizing of what is past and gone. What is esteemed is the present; and it is esteemed not on account of its connections with a remote antiquity, nor because it is recognized to be more admirable than any possible alternative, but on account of its familiarity: not, Verweile doch, du bist so schon, but Stay with me because I am attached to you. —“On Being Conservative”, http://faculty.rcc.edu/sellick/On%20Being%20Conservative.pdf

Due gratitude is one thing, and very different from gratitude for a status quo of misery, inequality, unfreedom or suffering. 25 E.H. Carr 1972 What is History? Harmondsworth, England: Penguin, first published in 1961, 108