Saturday, April 26, 2008

gems

Before I close out that chapter in my life that is fondly known as GSR II, I do have to note two things I don't want to forget.

One is this observation on literary men turned historians:
In deciding to write a history of Spain in transition, Prescott was following a tradition -- that of the literary man turned historian.

Such a writer is usually an amateur without academic standing. His histories are generally of epic proportions -- the decline and fall of an empire, the rise of civilization, the history of a nation, etc. Rarely does the literary man turned historian deal in minutiae. Such details are left for the academic historian to ferret out and make available to the amateur. For the past two centuries it has been the amateur, rather than the academic historian, who has been able to build the available facts into a form acceptable to the general public.

Gibbon, Voltaire, Macaulay, Carlyle, Parkman, Motley, and in more recent times Will Durant and Bernard De Voto were all literary men turned historians. And they brought with them skills different from those of the research scholar. They wrote well, they told history as story, and they made it exciting and interesting. Not all of them were profound thinkers. Not all of them were able to develop and write history from any particular philosophical point of view. But all of them knew how to write history so that it could be read and enjoyed.

-- Blaker, Irwin R., from the Introduction to Prescott's Histories: The Rise and Decline of the Spanish Empire (London: Sidgwick & Jackson Ltd., 1963)
The other is an observation on the Reconquista:
The Arabs had invaded the Iberian peninsula in 711, and conquered it within seven years. What was lost in seven years it took seven hundred to regain.

-- Elliott, J. H., Imperial Spain, 1469-1716