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It seems to us that Mr. Prescott thus produces morality of effect by truth of representation. This is as much better than moralizing, as the perfume which escapes from a rose is better than rose water. If the historian has the heart and brain to grasp the truth, he may safely leave the rest to the reader's moral instincts. But this power of truthful representation is not a common quality. It implies the possession of a healthy mind, with large powers harmoniously balanced; it demands capacity as well as conscience, freedom from prejudice as well as freedom from fraud. It is not ever the prize of good intentions. It balks even the honest and intelligent, when force of conception is not accompanied with a corresponding felicity of style. In the case of Mr. Prescott that combination of powers, analytical, reflective, and representative, which constitutes his truthfulness, is expressed altogether in the unobtrusive form of narration and description. The distinguishing peculiarity of the present work is, that all the processes of the historian's mind are suppressed, and the results alone given. By this method he has added to the interest of the history, but deprived himself of all that reputation which half-bred minds confer upon the show of judgment and argumentation. His narrative reads as simply and clearly as if it had cost no labor of thought and investigation. Many of its delighted readers will be but little impressed with the force of the mind whence it proceeded, and pronounce it almost as easy to write as to peruse. It may not, therefore, be out of place to attempt here an analysis of the narrative process, and indicate the various powers it calls into action. Such a course may have some effect in checking the presumptuous underestimate which undeveloped geniuses ever put upon finished works, which have been so artistically organized as to seem artless.
If we form an idea of the materials from which Mr. Prescott's History was constructed, and place them in opposition to the work itself, we cannot fail to see a great space between the two, through which the historian's mind must have passed in successive steps. In cotemporary histories, biographies, chronicles, state papers, &c., principally in a MS. form, he was compelled to search for his facts. In the examination of these, contradictory statements were to be reconciled-falsehood, error, prejudice, credulity, and all the many forms of misrepresentation, were to be detected—and order and connection were to be educed from the midst of confusion. The industry, the research, the analysis of character, the long trains of minute reasoning, the sagacity which instinctively rejects the smoothest and most plausible lie, -in short, all those intellectual powers which are exercised in a judicial scrutiny of
evidence, and which, when exhibited to the reader, convey so high an opinion of an historian's mental capacity, Mr. Prescott is content to banish from his page. After subjecting his authorities to this alembic process, and sifting out the truth they contained, the facts thus mastered were to be vividly realized in their original life and placed in their right relations, so that the principles they embodied or illustrated could be distinctly apprehended by the reader without being expressed to him in propositions. Here, also, was a long and delicate process, which Mr. Prescott suppresses, in which the historian, at once surveying the whole field of events, and understanding their individual import, sees both the intentions of the actors and the operations of general laws, brings effects into distinct and vital connection with causes, and from the loose links of occurrences rivets the chain of events. After his facts had thus been connected so as to form an organic whole, after the history had taken its shape in his own mind, he had still the additional task of embodying it in a form of expression which would convey it to other minds exactly as it animated his own.
We do not suppose there can be any controversy as to his success in this last and most important process. It would be difficult to name a History which excels that of the Conquest of Peru in the art of making the forms and colors of things shine through the expression. The style is a running stream, which mirrors objects so fully and distinctly that we are hardly conscious of the medium through which they are seen. Such a diction impresses us only by what it conveys. On reading the book for the first time we could easily recollect its events, and retained clear conceptions of its characters; but we should have been puzzled to answer a question regarding the structure of its style. We hardly noticed a paragraph in which words took the place of things, or in which anything was said merely for the sake of saying it well. Yet we found, on an after examination, sentences bending beneath the weight of matter, instances of terse, keen, tingling expression, of verbal felicities, of animated and picturesque description, and an absence of that baldness and poverty of language which usually characterizes what is called a simple style. The diction is neither stilted nor mean; it neither courts nor discards ornament; but moves on with a beautiful and dignified ease, yielding gracefully to the demands of different objects as they rise, and with all its genuine simplicity and fine abandonment to the things it describes, is still always the style of an historian, not of a story teller. To preserve thus a certain inherent dignity of manner, without a sacrifice of sweetness, melody, raciness, and “polished want of polish”
to maintain constantly a distinction between the historian and the chronicler, the narrator and the gossip-to glide so fearlessly along the dizzy edges of familiar narration without ever slipping into bathos or flippancy-is a triumph which few have succeeded in achieving, and which Mr. Prescott himself has only fully reached in the Conquest of Peru. In considering his remarkable felicity in narration, it is not singular that he has reduced to this shape a great deal of matter which might have been expressed in a different and more ambitious form.
In this incomplete analysis, we think we have indicated that good narration is not a single power, but a combination of many powers; that it not only implies sensibility, imagination, and command of language, but also often includes the results of the most toilsome drudgery of investigation, and the most stringent exercise of understanding. In passing from the form to the subject of the present work, the first feeling of the reader is that of regret that so much power should be lavished on such a theme; and surely if Prescott's narrative had stopped with the mere conquest of Peru, we should think the matter unworthy of his pen. We hardly can bring to mind another instance of such an audacious violation of all principle, moral and political, as the invasion and theft of Peru by the Spaniards. The enterprise was dignified by none of those high thoughts and great passions, which often lend a kind of moral interest to actions which justice and humanity must still condemn. It was essentially a buccaneering expedition, whose naked object was plunder and murder, without any pretence of bigotry or superstition to modify its depravity; and it was conducted by a herd of vagabonds and profligates, who broke into a country as a band of burglars would break into a dwelling. The black flag of the pirate waves over the whole immortal gang whose courageous avarice subverted the empire of the Incas. Their fame is the fame of infamy. They would occupy no place in the memories of men if their rascality had not sounded depths of wickedness beyond the common experience of men. But, considered as a piratical expedition, their enterprise was successful. They glutted their cruelty and rapacity to the full, committing more murders, producing more misery, and obtaining more money, than any other band of robbers that ever organized for plunder. They proved themselves master workmen in the ignoble art of ruining nations, and were eminently successful in sowing the seeds of ineradicable hatred against the whole Spanish race in the hearts of the people they oppressed. They were the enemies not merely of the Peruvians, but of human society itself, violators of order, of justice, of
humanity, of every principle which binds communities together. If the historian had left the subject with the triumph of these valorous outcasts and reprobates, he might have had much to interest and instruct the reader, in exhibiting the meeting of two dissimilar races; in detailing wild and stirring deeds of adventure performed amid scenery the most striking and sublime; and in representing the worst passions of the human heart in unbridled exercise, restrained neither by humanity as a sentiment, nor by humanity as a policy, as they swept in a storm of fire and blood over the doomed empire of Peru. But such a limitation of the subject, rich though it would be in description and characterization, would leave a painful sense of moral confusion on the mind, and would lack historical and artistical completeness. Mr. Prescott has therefore done well in devoting but half of his work to the conquest, and in proceeding on to narrate the bloody feuds of the conquerors, and the final settlement of the country under Gasca. This extension of the subject, by which we see the fearful retribution which followed guilt, and the natural operation of those eternal laws which it had violated, though it occasions a greater diversity of persons and events, really furnishes the requisite unity of the work. In this respect we do not know but the subject, as treated by Mr. Prescott, has more true historical unity than the Conquest of Mexico; for, though it has less unity of story, it has a wider variety of incidents and characters included under a stricter unity of law.
The History of the Conquest of Peru is introduced by a long and luminous dissertation on Peruvian civilization, which contains all the facts which are known regarding the institutions and mode of existence of the people. This presents a clear view of the national life of the Peruvians, comprehending their religion, government, science, letters, mechanical arts, and industrial energy. There is much in this dissertation to startle our imaginations and unselile our theories. We are accustomed to consider governments as taking their character from the character of their people,as being growths, not manufactures. Even in most despotisms the tyrant seems but the nation individualized. In this respect there is little difference between Austria and the United States, Turkey and France. In Peru, however, we have the spectacle of the most humane and perfect of despotisms, having its source in the government, and working down into the masses, molding their character into new forms, and effecting a radical change in their nature. We perceive savages reduced to obedient and unquestioning subjects, under a theocracy which had as complete possession of their souls as of their persons. But the strangest mystery of all is, that the
Inca despots appear to have regulated their acts by fundamental principles, and to have shown none of those insane caprices which are characteristic of absolute sovereigns. Adored as gods, and implicitly obeyed as governors, they seem to have made the physical well-being of their people and the development of the resources of their empire the objects of their government, instead of gratifying their self-will at the expense of both. Property and money, beggary and idleness, were alike unknown in Peru. The state looked out that every person labored, and that every person was comfortable. It treated its subjects as a kind master treats his domestic animals. Their wills and understandings were not recognized as having an existence, in regard to matters of government; but they were not oppressed. The Incas seem to have been the wisest despots the world has seen, in forbearing to exercise capricious power, and in making the happiness of their people the policy of their administration. Into this land, thus governed, the Spaniards brought war, poverty, misery, pestilence, famine, and Catholicism. Their object from the beginning was to wring from the wretched inhabitants all they possessed, and to doom them to a slavery which differed from a massacre only in its prolonged suffering. They had not even the wisdom of the pagan masters they supplanted; and, in the folly of their tyranny, dried up the very sources of wealth. Their policy was one of blunders as well as crimes. They might have considered the natives as oxen and horses, but their stupidity consisted in exterminating them by over labor. It is curious that in all the arts of government, which it is equally the interest of despots and democrats to practice, and in which the greatest power is reconciled with the greatest benefi cence, the Incas were immeasurably superior to the Spaniards. It might be said that the conquest was the victory of a superior over an inferior race, and that the natural consequences were tyranny and rapacity. But we have not this poor excuse for Spanish Christianity and Spanish civilization ; for in the case of Peru the conquerors ruined a country which had been subdued previously by the Incas, and in which the superior race had used their power to civilize the savages they conquered, and to improve their condition. In every light in which we can view the subject, we must be compelled to award the Incas wisdom and beneficence superior to the Spaniards, and to acknowledge they approached nearer to the idea of Christian civilization.
Foremost among the forcible characters with which Mr. Prescott's History deals are Pizarro and Gasca, the representative of rapine and the representative of law. Pizarro is one of those marked cha