An Historian Needs Practical Experience
Moreover, when he comes to deal with facts in his
history, we find a combination of all the faults which I have
mentioned. The reason I will now proceed to state. It will
not, perhaps, to most people seem to his credit, and it is in
truth the real source of his errors. For whereas he is thought
to have possessed great and wide knowledge, a faculty for historical inquiry, and extraordinary industry in the execution of his
work, in certain cases he appears to have been the most ignorant
and indolent person that ever called himself an historian. And
the following considerations will prove it.
has bestowed on us two instruments of inquiry and research, hearing and sight.
Of these sight is, according to Heracleitus, by far
the truer; for eyes are surer witnesses than ears.
And of these channels of learning Timaeus has
chosen the pleasanter and the worse; for he entirely retrained
from looking at things with his own eyes, and devoted himself
to learning by hearsay. But even the ear may be instructed in
two ways, reading and answers to personal inquiries: and in
the latter of these he was very indolent, as I have already
shown. The reason of his preference for the other it is easy
to divine. Study of documents involves no danger or fatigue,
if one only takes care to lodge in a city rich in such records,
or to have a library in one's neighbourhood. You may then
investigate any question while reclining on your couch, and
compare the mistakes of former historians without any fatigue
to yourself. But personal investigation demands great exertion
and expense; though it is exceedingly advantageous, and in
fact is the very corner-stone of history. This is evident from
the writers of history themselves. Ephorus says, "if writers
could only be present at the actual transactions, it would be far
the best of all modes of learning." Theopompus says, "the best
military historian is he who has been present at the greatest
number of battles; the best speech maker is he who has been
engaged in most political contests." The same might be said
of the art of healing and of steering. Homer has spoken even
more emphatically than these writers on this point. For when
he wishes to describe what the man of light and leading should
be, he introduces Odysseus in these words—
“"Tell me, oh Muse, the man of many shifts
Who wandered far and wide."
and then goes on—
“"And towns of many saw, and learnt their mind,
And suffered much in heart by land and sea."
“"Passing through wars of men and grievous waves."