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A Collection of Historical Sayings in English, French,
German, Greek, Italian, and Latin
AUTHOR OF A DICTIONARY OF NAMES, NICKNAMES AND SURNAMES,"
HIGH STREET, BLOOMSBURY, W.C.
I know not what profit there may be in the study of history, what value in the sayings of wise wen, or in the recorded experience of the past, if it be not to guide and instruct us in the present.-Speech of Benjamin Disraeli, July 2, 1849.
In some shape or other doubt has been thrown on the majority of the best known historical sayings. Indeed, after perusing E. Fournier's L'Esprit dans l'Histoire, we are tempted to come to the conclusion that there is very little truth in any of them ; but it must, on the other hand, be borne in mind that M. Fournier deals almost exclusively with those sayings concerning which there is some question : the authentic sayings are scarcely mentioned at all. Still, it is not to be wondered at that so little reliance is to be placed upon such a large number of historical sayings—these landmarks of history, as they may be called—when we have Dr. Johnson's opinion that “We must consider how very little history there is; I mean real authentic history. That certain kings reigned, and certain battles were fought, we can depend upon as true; but all the colouring, all the philosophy of history is conjecture." (Boswell's Life, 1824 ed., vol. ii, pp. 340-1). Carlyle (French Revolution, pt. i, bk. 7., ch. 5) remarks : “Remarkable Maillard, if fame were not an accident, and History a distillation of Rumour, how remarkable wast thou !” The doubtful points in historical sayings may be roughly classified as follows:
(1) inaccuracy of form, slight or considerable ;
(3) attribution to another person than the real author. (1) In considering the first point we have only to reflect how difficult it is, even with the best intentions, to faithfully report another person's words, and how treacherous the memory is as to exact words. (Historic sayings, occurring in speeches that have the advantage of being taken down” in shorthand, stand the best chance, but even here discrepancies creep in.)
Further, if the words uttered are not concise or pithy enough to suit the taste of posterity, it is only to be ex