25 April 2012

A Higher and Nobler Key

James Anthony Froude in The Science of History, from Short Studies on Great Subjects (London: Longmans Green & Co., 1903):

p. 23-4
It is in this marvelous power in men to do wrong (it is an old story, but none the less true for that), -- it is in this power to do wrong -- wrong or right, as it lies somehow with ourselves to choose -- that the impossibility stands of forming scientific calculations of what men will do before the fact, or scientific explanations of what they have done after the fact. If men were consistently selfish, you might analyze their motives; if they were consistently noble, they would express in their conduct the laws of the highest perfection. But so long as two natures are mixed together, and the strange creature which results from the combination is now under one influence and now under another, so long you will make nothing of him except from the old-fashioned moral -- or, if you please, imaginative -- point of view.  
p. 37
The address of history is less to the understanding than to the higher emotions. We learn in it to sympathize with what is great and good; we learn to hate what is base. In the anomalies of fortune we feel the mystery of our mortal existence; and in the companionship of the illustrious natures who have shaped the fortunes of the world, we escape from the littlenesses which cling to the round of common life, and our minds are tuned in a higher and nobler key.