Monday 18 May 2009

For the Love of Clio

I was once asked why I loved history so much; after all, what practical purpose did it serve? A question of this nature, it seems to me, is largely self-referential, already containing, in an age-old rhetorical fashion, its own answer. What practical use is history?

Think about it: what value or 'practical use' is there in anything; why think, why act, why believe, why write? If all of our intellectual life is to be reduced to a material and utilitarian calculus, then we might as well forget about poetry, literature, music, painting and philosophy, none of which have any practical value, as well as history. Why do I study history, why do I think it is important? Because I love the subject: I have as long as I can remember, and I offer no better excuse than that.

Maybe it serves no purpose, and maybe it really is all 'bunk', in the words of Our Ford, the great material God. I could, of course, trade history quotes for history quotes, some hostile and some favourable. My own 'leitmotiv', my guide and my recurrent theme, are the words of Gustav Flaubert, who said that Our ignorance of history causes us to slander our own times.

So, how do I conclude this? I can only do so by making by own feelings as plain as I can, quoting the words of another writer on an unrelated subject, but pertinent, notwithstanding; And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!

Yes, God bless it and God bless Clio. :-)

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