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and reason, on a well-grounded knowledge of human nature and conduct, on a consideration of the value of testimony, and on the weight due to coincident circumstances." *
But history deals with general rather than particular facts — with results rather than details—and from the nature and necessity of the case must be content with looser modes of proof than is necessary or expedient in judicial trials. All that we are entitled to ask from her is such an amount of evidence for the truth of the facts which she records as would satisfy the understanding of a reasonable man in the ordinary affairs of life. Every day we act upon evidence which, if offered in a court of justice, would be rejected. Too often we act upon very slight and insufficient evidence, especially in cases affecting the character of others, but in so far as we do this we act wrongly; and in the same manner we act wrongly when we accept as true the mere statement of a historian on any question were truth is of importance, when we have it in our power to examine his authorities and judge of their value for ourselves.
It is part of the constitution of human nature to confide in the veracity of others. If this were not so a man's belief would be limited to matters within his own personal experience, and no progress could be made in knowledge, nor would improvement be possible. There is a tacit assumption when we yield to the force of oral evidence of what I may call the major premiss of our syllogism, viz., that men will generally speak the truth. Experience teaches us, if indeed it is not an intuitive impulse, to put faith in human testimony.
How beautiful is the trusting simplicity of childhood, and the absolute reliance which a child places in the word of its parents. But as we grow older this confidence is shaken, and experience compels us to acquiesce in the truth of the melancholy maxim of Lord Chatham, that "confidence is a plant of sloth growth in an aged bosom.” That stern monitor experience tells us that it by no means follows that
* (Preface to Starkie, On the Law of Evidence.)
because we have contemporary testimony to a fact, the fact is true. Witnesses are often mistaken, and their evidence is not unfrequently false. We must, therefore, so far as is possible, apply certain rules by which to test the probability, and that is the agreement of the fact with other facts known or admitted to be true. Another test is the concurrence of the testimony of independent witnesses, always supposing that each of them has had the means of knowing the fact or facts to be ascertained. Of course I exclude all copying from the same original, and this, perhaps, is implied in the word independent. As Archbishop Whately has observed, “For though in such a case each of the witnesses should be considered as unworthy of credit, and even much more likely to speak falsehood than truth, still the chances might be infinite against their all agreeing in the same falsehood” (Rhetoric, pt. i. ch. ii. sec. 4). And in his Philosophy of Rhetoric, Dr. Campbell says: “It deserves likewise to be attended to on this subject, that in a number of concurrent testimonies (in cases wherein there could have been no previous concert) there is a probability distinct from that which may be termed the sum of the probabilities resulting from the testimonies of the witnesses, a probability which would remain, even though the witnesses were of such a character as to merit no faith at all. This probability arises purely from the concurrence itself. That such a concurrence should spring from chance is as one to infinite; that is, in other words, morally impossible.” Lord Mansfield once said, with reference to the credit to be given to certain reporters, “It is objected that these are books of no authority, but if both the reporters were the worst that ever reported, if substantially they report a case in the same way, it is demonstration of the truth of what they report or they could not agree
Generally speaking, the silence of contemporary writers as to a fact throws strong suspicion on its genuineness. But this test is not conclusive, for we may have overpowering evidence aliunde of its truth. Lord Macaulay says:
* R. v. George, 1 Cowp. 16.
have read books called histories of England under the reign of George II. in which the rise of Methodism is not even mentioned." And Varnhagen von Ense mentions in his Diary that Humboldt had adduced "three important and perfectly undeniable matters of fact as to which no evidence is to be found where it would be most anticipated. In the archives of Barcelona no trace of the triumphal entry of Columbus into that city; in Marco Polo no allusion to the Chinese Wall; in the archives of Portugal nothing about the voyages of Amerigo Vespucci in the service of that crown." But notwithstanding this, the silence of contemporary authority is one of the notes of falsehood with respect to an alleged historical fact. How do we know that the story of William Tell and his shooting an arrow at an apple on his son's head is untrue ? Because we do not find it in contemporary history; and the first mention of it as a Swiss legend occurs, in the chronicle of Melchiour Russ, registrar at Lucerne, some two hundred years later. But, in addition, we find that the same story is told in Saxo Grammaticus, who wrote in the twelfth century, of a Danish hero; a similar tale was current in Ireland; and in the Bilkinsaga it is told of the mythical Eigil, the brother of Wieland, the smith. It also occurs in the legendary fables of Holstein, Norway, and other countries; and although it is impossible to trace the origin of the story, it is certain that no such occurrence happened in Switzerland. It is one of the enfants trouvés of historical literature, which can lay no claim to legitimate paternity.
Why do we reject the story of the blind Belisarius begging his bread in the streets of Constantinople ? Because Procopius, who was a contemporary historian, and accompanied Belisarius in his Eastern wars, in Africa, and in Italy, says nothing, in his account of the life and misfortunes of Justinian's famous general, of his blindness or beggary ; because no other contemporary writer mentions them, and because the first hint of them occurs in some Greek verses written by John Tzetes, a grammarian, about 600 years
after the death of Belisarius. Why do we not believe the fable of Pope Joan, whose accouchement is said to have taken place in the midst of a procession at Rome? Because no contemporary author makes mention of such an astounding occurrence, and we find the first allusion to it in the Chronicon of Marianus Scotus, who lived two hundred years afterwards. Even that passage is supposed to be an interpolation, and the first author who really tells the story is Stephen de Bourbon in the thirteenth century. A not improbable explanation of it is that one of the Popes, who led an immoral life, had a mistress named Joan, who had such influence over him that she was called Papesse, and from this the story had its origin.
Why do intelligent and well educated men accept as true the miracles of the New Testament, and reject as untrue the legends of the Saints? This is not the place, nor would it be possible within the limits to which I must confine myself, to go into the proofs of the miracles related in the Gospels and the Acts. But briefly and summarily it may be said that we believe them,-1. Because they are recorded by eye-witnesses, who must either have been the dupes of an imposture or the fabricators of a falsehood. 2. They were done openly in the face of enemies who, so far as we know, never denied them. 3. They were done with an adequate motive and cause, 4. They serve to explain the origin of a religion which has lasted for eighteen centuries and won its way in spite of the fiercest opposition. Now, applying these tests to the legends of the Saints, we find that they fail in almost every particular! Hardly any of them rest on the testimony of eye-witnesses. They are almost always isolated acts done in a corner, and not coram populo. And the most famous of them, which is an exception to the rule, I mean the speaking articulately and distinctly by a number of Christians at Tipasa after the roots of their tongues had been cut off, has been shown by Mr. Twistleton, in his able work, The Tongue not Essential to Speech, to be no miracle at all, but perfectly explainable by natural causes. Moreover,
the mediæval miracles are for the most part silly, unmeaning, and childish, and they are often recorded by writers who lived long after they are said to have occurred, who breathed an atmosphere of credulity and were utterly destitute of the critical faculty. If it is objected that intelligent Roman Catholics believe them, we answer that they are the disciples of a system which forbids the right of private judgment on questions determined by the authority of the Church ; and we may well think it easy for men who believe in the doctrines of the Immaculate Conception and the Infallibility of the Pope, to believe also in the winking of an image of the Virgin, the liquefaction of the blood of St. Januarius, and the transportation through the air of a house of the Virgin from Palestine to Loretto. Thus we find a man of the intelligence of Dr. Newman: "Crucifixes have bowed the head to the suppliant, and Madonnas have bent their eyes on assembled crowds. St. Januarius's blood liquefies periodically at Naples, and St. Winifred's well is the source of wonders even in an unbelieving country St. Francis Xavier turned salt water into fresh for five hundred travellers ; St. Raymond was transported over the sea on his cloak; St. Andrew shone brightly in the dark ..... I need not continue the catalogue. It is agreed on both sides; the two parties join issue on a fact--that fact is the claim of miracles on the part of the Catholic Church. It is the Protestant's charge, and it is our glory."
I may here in passing allude to the monstrous theory of Strauss that the simple narratives in the four Gospels are mere myths, which grew out of a body of belief which, somehow or other, had taken possession of men's minds in the second century of our era, and are no more real than the legends of Theseus and Hercules. Our common sense revolts against such an absurdity, and if Strauss himself really believed it, it only shows that no credulity can be greater or more childish than the credulity of an infidel.
Why do we believe Thucydides and disbelieve Livy? I shall speak of both of these writers more fully hereafter, but