The Cambridge History of Renaissance Philosophy
First published 1988 Seventh printing 2007






Donald R. Kelley


'What is history?' has been a controversial question from antiquity down to the present, but it was never more vigorously discussed than in the Renaissance ('Che cosa sia storia?' asked Dionigi Atanagi in 1559; eight years later Giovanni Viperano, 'Quid sit historia?' and still a quarter-century after that Tommaso Campanella, 'Quid historia sit?').1 Then, as before and since, answers ranged widely from simple happenings (res gestae) to God's 'grand design', from a lowly 'art' to an elaborate 'science', from a vague 'sense' to the 'most certain philosophy' (certissima philosophia, in the phrase of Andrea Alciato) and indeed to a position, according to Jean Bodin, 'above all sciences'.2 'History' could be objective or subjective, could refer to the past or merely to the memory thereof, to ancient testimony or modern reconstruction; but in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries it rose grandly in the scale of western learning. Through the classical revival it became a liberal art and a literary genre; through the Reformation it became a surrogate for the tradition of 'true religion'; through Counter-Reformation controversy it became a highly organised science. In various ways history became a dominant mode of expression and argument in the later sixteenth century, and its significance for the contacts with philosophy increased accordingly.


History in a modern sense was from the beginning bound up with the humanist movement and was indeed a charter member of the studia humanitatis (along with grammar, rhetoric, poetry and moral philosophy) from which that movement took its name.3 Not only was history

1. Atanagi 1559, p. 66; Viperano 1567; Campanella 1954 (Rationalis philosophiae pars quinta, historiographiae liber unus). The first two are reproduced in Theoretiker humanistischer Geschichtsschreibung 1971.

2. Alciato 1953, pp. 220-4 (Historiae encomium); Bodin 1951 (1st edn 1566), p. 109.

3. See Kristeller in this volume.


numbered among these 'humanities' but in other senses it had particular relationships with them, beginning most fundamentally with the first two members of the old medieval trivium, grammar and rhetoric. According to Quintilian and his humanist followers, the ars grammatica was divided into two parts, of which the first was historia, that is, the words, the primordial substance of language (sensus historicus being equivalent to grammatical or literal interpretation) and the second, 'method' (methodus), that is, syntax or form.1159 In this distinction, familiar to most schoolchildren down to the present century, one may see a rudimentary model of scientific method, which Bacon for one defined as the application of reason to experience, which is to say 'history' in a general and 'empirical' sense.1160 The affiliations of history with rhetoric were both formal and epistemological, since it proposed to understand the world in concrete, causal and didactic terms, and moral, since it aimed at right action and perhaps the public good. As 'philosophy teaching by example' (a formula deriving from Dionysius of Halicarnassus), history had an even more direct connection with moral philosophy.6 As for poetry, although it was usually (that is, Peripatetically) distinguished from history, certain Renaissance authors came to believe that in fact historically history had emerged from poetry. In these ways the impetus of 'history' was towards the humanisation of traditional philosophy.

Medieval authors had possessed a 'sense of history' to the extent that they distinguished it formally from annals and substantially from poetry and insisted on its narrative and truthful character, but they showed little awareness of perspective or the scholarly problems of gaining access to 'antiquity'. They were indeed conscious of Christian tradition and various formulae of cultural change 'reformation' or 'renovation', the conflict of 'ancients' and 'moderns', a 'translation of studies' (translatio studii or sapientiae, analogous to the translatio imperii), ideas of periodisation and even of anachronism but they lacked the self-conscious, self-confident, self-promoting curiosity of Petrarch and his humanist successors.7 Petrarch's first motive was a kind of artificial nostalgia. 'Among the many subjects that interested me I dwelt especially upon antiquity,' he wrote, 'for our own age has always repelled me, so that, had it not been for the love of those dear to me, I should have been born in any other period than our own. In order to forget my own time, I have continually striven to place myself in spirit in other ages.'8 And so indeed he did in his letters to Cicero, Livy and Homer. Yet Petrarch was also capable of sophisticated historical criticism, perhaps best illustrated in his exposure of a forged Austrian donation, allegedly made by Caesar to the Habsburgs; and he was careful to distinguish his own historical method both from scholasticism and from mere chronicle. 'I am neither the peace-maker among conflicting historians nor the collector of every minute fact', he remarked in the preface to his De viris illustribus, 'but rather, I am the copier of those whose verisimilitude or greater authority demands that they be given greater credence.'9 Whatever their provenance, Petrarch's sentiments and attitudes have been essential for the modern study of history.

At the start humanist ideas of history consisted of hardly more than a litany of classical topoi praising history for its truthfulness (Cicero's prima lex historiae) and for its unique combination of pleasure (voluptas) and instruction (utilitas). Guarino da Verona represented Clio, the muse of history, with a trumpet in one hand and a book in the other, thus symbolising the polarity of history, torn between entertainment and education or between propaganda and erudition.10 Most famous was the formula of Cicero, that history was 'the witness of time, the life of memory, the mistress of life and the messenger of antiquity'.11 Such in general was the basis for the praise and conceptual inflation of historical studies carried on by Coluccio Salutati, Leonardo Bruni and other humanists, especially as expressed in letters, prefaces to historical works, educational treatises and finally in a new genre known as the 'art of history' (ars historica), on the analogy of the Horatian ars poetica.12 The rising stock of historical studies was reflected in various ways, not only in historiography, including the publication and translation of classical historians, but also in chairs established for the teaching of history from the late fifteenth century and, perhaps most broadly, in certain humanist attempts to revise the traditional classification of the sciences, starting with Polydore Vergil's popular encyclopaedia organised on historical or genetic principles, according to the 'inventors of things' (the inventor of history itself being Moses, though its 'laws' were formulated by Cicero).13

8. Petrarch 1955, pp. 219 ('Letter to posterity'). See G. Billanovich 1951, 1974; Handschin 1964; Kessler 1978; Mommsen 1959, pp. 106-29. More generally, W. K. Ferguson 1948; Burke 1969.

9. Kohl 1974, p. 139; also Petrarch 1910.

10. Cited by Sabbadini 1922, p. 78. n. Cicero, De oratore 11.2.36.

12. Cotroneo 1971 now replaces E. MafFei 1897. See also Landfester 1972; Theoretiker humanistischer Geschichtsschreibung 1971; Grande antologia 1964, x, pp. 1-59 (Vegas); Late Italian Renaissance 1970, pp. 91-133 (Spini); Nadal 1965; Reynolds 1953; also n. 39 below.

13. Vergil 1536, p. 49.

It was mainly in the tradition of the artes historicae (to which Vergil's chapter on 'who first founded history' indeed belonged) that the Renaissance theory of history was worked out and that history began to declare its conceptual independence. George of Trebizond's treatise on rhetoric (1434), perhaps the first contribution to this genre, defined history not simply as past events (res gestae) or even the recollection thereof (rerum gestarum memoria) but rather as their accurate description (rerum gestarum diligens expositio) according to an order which was topical and chronological (rerum et temporum ordo).1161 History was concerned above all with causes, dealing as it did with motives, acts and consequences (consiliaprimum, deinde actus, post eventus). History's interest in vicarious experience (plena exemplorum) gave it common ground with oratory, but it was distinct because of its method (modus historicus) and its 'verisimilitude'. This line of argument was pursued in a number of later works, including those of Guarino, Lorenzo Valla, Paolo Cortese, Bartolommeo della Fonte, Giorgio Valla, Giovanni Pontano and Polydore Vergil. History was not only separated from rhetoric but also raised above poetry (contradicting Aristotle's dictum that this literary form was more philosophical) because of its explanatory power, practical value and ability, in Guarino's words, 'to gather many ages into one view'.1162 In his oration 'in praise of history' della Fonte went on to provide history with its own pedigree, beginning with Herodotus and Thucydides, while in his Actius of 1499 Pontano assembled a sort of summa of the humanist conception of history, emphasising its historical relations with poetry but extending its domain over 'places, peoples, nations, tribes, manners, laws, customs' and other aspects of human society.1163

The largest claims on behalf of history had been made by that arch-rhetorician Lorenzo Valla in his history of Ferdinand of Spain. 'History is more robust than poetry because it is more truthful', Valla argued. 'It is oriented not towards abstraction but towards truth . . . [and] teaching by example.'17 It was even superior to philosophy, since 'the discourse of historians exhibits more substance, more practical knowledge, more political wisdom . . ., more customs and more learning of every sort than the precepts of any of the philosophers'. In his Disputationes dialecticae Valla provided a theoretical justification for historical studies in the broadest 'philological' sense, while the practical value of historical scholarship he demonstrated in a variety of writings, including critical notes on Livy and the New Testament, analyses of the texts of Roman law, translations of Herodotus and Thucydides, his famous 'declamation' on the forged Donation of Constantine and especially his efforts to restore the 'elegance' of the Latin language, which represented the central thrust of his attempts to reconstruct Romanitas, ancient civilisation as a whole, illustrating again the Petrarchan combination of aesthetic and historical motives.1164 In these philological enterprises Valla was followed by Erasmus, Guillaume Bude and the great 'critics' of a later generation, including Joseph Justus Scaliger, Isaac Casaubon and Mabillon.


The Protestant Reformation introduced a new, yet also very old, element in the humanist theory and practice of history. It shifted attention again to the problem of tradition, largely religious tradition, but understood in a spiritual as well as an institutional sense; and it restored as well the old Augustinian scheme of history, 'four world monarchies', 'translation of empire' and all.19 Yet humanist themes were preserved in modified confessional form, most notably in the motto 'back to the sources'. In general Luther celebrated the didactic value of history and on that basis declared that 'historians are the most useful people and the best teachers'.1165Melanchthon was still more firm in his Ciceronian conviction that 'without history one remains for ever a child', which he tried to put into practice by making the study of history an integral part of his enterprise of'reforming' the universities of Lutheran Germany by joining humanism and evangelical truth.1166 Calvin was more circumspect, arguing that Scripture and not history was the 'mistress of life'.1167 In general the evangelical Reformers made a fundamental, indeed fundamentalist, distinction between a pure spiritual doctrine, preserved over the centuries by a few scattered 'witnesses to the truth' and 'proto-martyrs', and base 'human traditions', which had produced an accumulation of'error' (popular topic of historiography) and the corrupt institutions of the modern kingdom of the antichrist.1168 The purpose of the 'new learning' was to recover the thought and life of the 'primitive church', especially by applying the techniques of historical criticism to degenerate modern tradition, an effort made by Gallicans like Charles Dumoulin as well as all sorts of evangelical interpreters.

From such perspectives history was once again universal, beginning not merely ab urbe but ab orbe condito, as Augustine's editor Juan Luis Vives put it, and ending in conjectures about the last judgement.1169 Because of religious controversy the early sixteenth century saw a revival of interest in the speculative philosophy of history. One example was Charles de Bovelles, a student of Lefevre d'Etaples and admirer of Nicholas of Cusa, who interpreted the process of history as an unfolding (evolutio) of God's will and who divided it according to the conventional Augustinian seven ages (from creation to the flood, to Abraham, to David, to the birth of Christ and from Christ to the last times);1170 another was Guillaume Postel, who continued Pico's search for 'concord' with special emphasis on Judaic tradition, prophetic elements and cyclical patterns.1171 This was also the scheme accepted by the magisterial Reformers, including Luther, Melanchthon and Calvin, and by such standard overviews as the influential chronicle of Johann Cario and Nicolas Vignier's Bibliotheque historiale. The whole sweep of God's plan was the object of the new science of chronology established by J. J. Scaliger as well as innumerable cosmological, millenarian and prophetic visions which go far beyond the territories of history or of philosophy.

As the official historiographer of the Lutheran party Johann Sleidan was perhaps the most effective promoter of the Reformed vision of history, according to which the culmination of God's plan came with the last of the four great world empires, which reached its political pinnacle with Charles V and its religious perfection simultaneously with Luther.1172 Sleidan's life task was to explain this culminating phase through a pioneering combination of sacred and civil history, Eusebius in a sense joined to Thucydides, the perspective of Luther to the 'political and social sciences' of moderns like Commines and Seyssel. Responding to hostile criticisms, Sleidan issued an 'apology', in which he defended his veracity and non-partisanship in the most conventional Ciceronian terms, while acknowledging also that he had undertaken his work for the glory of God.28 Sleidan's perspective (as well as some of his materials) was shared by other Protestant interpreters of Christian tradition, most notably the martyrologists Jean Crespin and John Foxe and the Lutheran ideologist Flacius Illyricus, whose purpose was no. only to reconstruct tradition through a revisionist sort of hagiography but also to provide lessons for modern readers.1173


In various ways historiographical practice served as an impetus to historical theory in the sixteenth century.30 Emulation of classical models became more sophisticated, especially with the translation of Greek historians; antiquarian enthusiasm became at once deeper, broader and more critical (resulting in the overthrow of various legends, including those of Roman and Carolingian as well as Trojan origins); the mutual reinforcement between the study of history and the practice of politics increased, especially because of the intrusion of religious controversy; and in general the effort to recapture the letter and spirit of'antiquity', especially in the form of various national, civic and local traditions, became more intense and more widespread. Nor should one forget the effects of the new typographical art, which not only increased and made permanent the common stock of historical knowledge and interpretation but also shaped attitudes, assumptions and critical standards in more ways than are immediately perceptible. 'The invention of printing', as Guillaume Bude put it, 'is the restitution and restoration of antiquity'.31

Humanist historians tried not only to record and to explain but also to give shape to the accessible past on a European as well as a national level. Most influential was the work of Flavio Biondo, who like Petrarch lamented the corruption of the present (praesens tempus) but who, unlike him, tried to recapture the contours of the 'Middle Age' in terms of the civilising mission of the Roman Church.32 Biondo's lead (if not his Romanism) was followed by many national historians writing in the Italian style, most notably Paolo Emilio in France, Polydore Vergil in England and Beatus Rhenanus and others in Germany, all of them marked by critical use of sources ^s well as conventional rhetorical style. Despite providentialist asides, these authors regarded history in general as a largely human enterprise which concerned the words and deeds of men and the causes and effects thereof (consilia, causae, dictae,factae, casus et exitus, in the words of

Polydore Vergil).33 This Latinate tradition was followed, often slavishly, by the national historians of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, although the best of them - Sigonio, Pasquier, Camden and others - greatly enriched the scholarly base of historical interpretation.34

The Florentine tradition of historiography remained the model for political narrative.35 In his pioneering Historiarum Florentinipopuli libri XII Bruni enquired into social forces as well as individual motives, and in this he was emulated even more acutely by his followers Machiavelli and Guicciardini. Machiavelli shifted emphasis from diplomatic and military to constitutional history and in this connection claimed to find patterns, cyclical as well as dialectical, in the course of the history of his city. In a sense his Istorie fiorentine represented a case study in a larger project of political philosophy in which history represented a 'new' humanistic route, while the more general implications of historical analysis Machiavelli presented in his Discorsi sopra la prima deca di Tito Livio. Machiavelli applied in particular to Polybius' notion of the repeating historical cycle (avaKVK Aniens) to explain the change of constitutions from monarchy (and despotism) to aristocracy (and oligarchy) to democracy (and ochlocracy).36 Even more pessimistically, Guicciardini followed Machiavelli in this sort of deterministic analysis, arguing that 'past events throw light upon the future, because the world has always been the same as it now is, and all that is now, or shall be hereafter, has been in times past. Things accordingly repeat themselves . . .'37 This sort of naturalistic historical theory, though not always appropriate or acceptable in an age of religious enthusiasm, held fascination for many later political historians, including those held in the spell of 'Machiavellism' or 'Tacitism' although the influence of Tacitus was equally important in the encouragement of romantic notions of Germanic origins and national character.38


The theory of history continued to be pursued most directly in the expanding genre of the ars historica, which from the 1540s was increasingly associated with problems of philosophy and method. The Aristotelian view

33. Vergil 1536, p. 49; see also Hay 1952.

34. Besides Cochrane 1981 and Kelley 1970a, see Levy 1967 and A. B. Ferguson 1979 as well as the standard works: Fueter 1936; Thompson 1942, 1.

35. Wilcox 1969; Baron 1966; Ullman 1973, pp. 321-43; Cochrane 1981, passim.

36. Machiavelli, Discorsi 1.2; cf. Istorie fiorentine v.i; see also F. Gilbert 1965; Albertini 1955.

37. Guicciardini 1951, p. 87 (b 114); see also Phillips 1977, 1983; Hassinger 1978.

38. Schellhase 1976; Etter 1966; Buschmann 1930; Tiedemann 1913; Joachimsen 1911; Toffanin 1921; and Borchardt 1971.

that history was inferior to, because less philosophical than, poetry was urged by Sperone Speroni in 1542 and more famously by Francesco Robortello in 1548.1174 Yet Speroni also defended the claims of history to be a species of'rational philosophy' as well as a true art (as Campanella would do later), while Robortello insisted on the political and moral value of history. The debate over the dignity and purpose of history was carried on repetitiously by a series of authors, including Atanagi, Francesco Patrizi da Cherso, Ventura Cieco, Antonio Possevino, Orazio Toscanella, Antonio Riccoboni, Uberto Foglietta, Alessandro Sardi and non-Italian emulators like Bartholomaeus Keckermann, Reinhard Reineccius, J. J. Beurer and Gerardus Vossius. Perhaps the most penetrating discussion was that of Patrizi, who rejected the Ciceronian-Aristotelian orthodoxy and tried to extricate history from rhetoric by emphasising epistemology history as 'the memory of human things' grasped according to what Foglietta called the 'Polybian norm' (norma Polybiana) of objective truth.1175 If the task of the philosopher was to understand causes, that of the historian was to understand both causes and their effects and so have a better grasp of truth (cognition del vero). For Patrizi history was indeed an autonomous, though a very eclectic, science.

The 'universal' character of history, insisted on by all parties in contemporary religious controversies, was urged by other contributors to the 'art of history'. Like Patrizi, the Platonising Spanish scholar Sebastian Fox-Morcillo urged the superiority of history over poetry because of its educational and cultural value, for without history (as Plato had said, and Cicero and Melanchthon after him) men would remain for ever children.1176The most encyclopaedic celebration of universal history was the treatise of Christophe Milieu published in 1551 and divided into four categories: nature, prudence (the practical and mechanical arts), political organisation (principatus) and wisdom (sapientia), including literature and history itself besides the other branches of academic learning.42 In the work of Milieu (as well as that of Polydore Vergil, Louis Le Roy, Henri de la Popeliniere and others) we can see the promotion of history to another level, that is, the very organising principle of the classification of sciences and a way of looking at particular disciplines, including philosophy and political science.

Religious controversy and the rise of scepticism called the study of history into question, perhaps even a state of crisis, in the middle years of the sixteenth century. In his analysis of the 'corruption of the arts' Vives expressed scepticism about the value of history, while Henricus Cornelius Agrippa, in an even more intemperate assault on the 'vanity of the arts and sciences', denied any fidelity or integrity to the study of history; and such charges were repeated by other critics, for instance Charles de la Ruelle, who refused to believe that history had any moral or political value.1177Other religious partisans tried to shape history to their own confessional ends. Most famous was the confrontation between the Ecclesiastica historia (the so-called Magdeburg 'Centuries'), assembled by Flacius Illyricus and his equipe in order to give substance to the Lutheran perspective, and the monumental counter-history constructed by Cardinal Baronius, who accomplished for the Romanist interpretation of the western tradition what Bellarmine and others were attempting to do for theology. A significant by-product of this historical debate was the effort to establish principles of criticism and interpretation. Most wide-ranging on the Catholic side was the work of the Spanish theologian Melchor Cano, whose Loci theologici C1563) provided a critique and a rehabilitation of the ideas of tradition and authority.1178 Cano took a very utilitarian attitude towards historical evidence, and in order to make optimum use of it devised a set of rules for historical judgement, authentication, credibility and proof. So, on the Protestant side, did Flacius, who reorganised universal history according to Lutheran 'commonplaces' and formulated the proper 'method of writing history'. In this connection, and even more influentially, Flacius also laid down the rules indeed founded the modern tradition of historical hermeneutics, later celebrated and carried on by Schleiermacher, Dilthey and Gadamer.1179

For history the most fruitful of all interdisciplinary contacts came with the field of law, and indeed this alliance in effect transformed history from a literary 'art' to a social 'science'. The context of this transformation was the massive sixteenth-century search for a proper and effective 'method' not only for particular disciplines but also for knowledge and philosophy in general. The problem of'method' (methodus, but also implied by such terms as institutio, partitiones, ratio, etc.) was both pedagogical and 'scientific'; and while the emphasis was usually on mnemonic ordering and utility (after the fashion of Ramus and Melanchthon), some methodologists also considered improving the quality of knowledge and even discovering new knowledge.46 This was the implication of the approaches of Cano, Flacius and Patrizi, and it would be even more deliberate in the French 'methods' of history in the latter part of the century. In these works attention was very consciously shifted to the reading rather than the writing of history, and so problems of testimony, veracity, authenticity and the criticism of sources became the objects of intense and 'methodical' study. The novelty of the French approach to the theory of history lay in its unique combination of three rather conventional intellectual patterns: the critical techniques of humanist philology, the universal chronological and geographical horizons of Protestant historiography and the sources and to some extent methods of civil law. The result was, both epistemologically and methodologically, to make the study of history more philosophical.

The first of these French 'methods' was Francois Baudouin's De institutione historiae universae et eius cum iurisprudentia conjunctione of 1561, which combined the so-called mos gallicus (legal humanism) with the ars historica. Like Simon Grynaeus, Baudouin celebrated the position of man in the 'theatre' of the world, which made him not only a protagonist but also an ideally placed observer and judge (spectator, interpretator and index are the key terms).47 Baudouin had an ideological purpose, which was to preach the ecumenical message of the 'irenic' party in France on the eve of the Wars of Religion and to enquire into problems of Christian tradition; but this detracted in no way from the conceptual value ofhis attempt to expand and to reform historical studies. 'Historical studies must be placed on a solid foundation of law', he declared, 'and jurisprudence must be joined to history.' Among the reasons for this was that legal sources reflected the very substance of human (social, institutional and political) history, offered means ofjudging evidence and behaviour and suggested general patterns of historical interpretation. Like jurists, historians had to evaluate testimony, investigate political and social causes and effects, judge human motivation, attend to chronological order, take into account various geographical and anthropological facts and enquire into mythology and the problem of origins. For Baudouin the universalism of the Roman legal tradition was reinforced by the historical perspectives of Eusebius and of Polybius, whose

46. N. W. Gilbert i960; J. L. Brown 1939.

47. Baudouin 1561; see also Kelley 1970a; Erbe 1978.

conception of history was 'catholic' as well as 'pragmatic' - 'like a body whose members may not be divided', Baudouin quoted. Such was the basis of Baudouin's historical ideal (historia integra, universa, perpetua or perfecta, as he variously called it).

The most celebrated of all early modern methodisers (next to Ramus and Descartes) was Jean Bodin, whose Methodus adfacilem historiarum cognitionem appeared in 1566. Bodin began by asking the standard questions of the ars historica, 'What is history and how many are its categories?'48 Most generally, he answered, it was a 'true narrative', and it could be pursued either on a universal or on a particular level, that is, as a history of nations (;maximae respublicae) or cities (minimae respublicae) or else as biography (res gestae virorum). Secondly, it could be viewed as the choice (delectus) and classification (ordo et collectio) of historical writings, and then as the criticism (judicium) of these works in the light of what modern scholarship had to say about tlje myths of national origins and the old, to Bodin offensively Romanist, theory of the 'four world monarchies', propagated by Sleidan and others and rejected by Bodin. Thirdly, the objective aspect was history as 'action', which is to say the drive of human will successively to sustinence (necessitas), comfort (commoditas) and finally the amenities of civilisation (splendor and voluptas). The culmination of these economic, social and cultural phases of history came, of course, in the creation of republics. In this systematic way Bodin set out on the 'new route' mapped out by Machiavelli in his Discorsi.

Like Baudouin Bodin wanted to strengthen the alliance between law and history, but he had a more grandiose and philosophical aim than the authors of the 'arts ofhistory'. Like Baudouin, too, he drew upon the legal tradition as well as the art ofhistory and humanist scholarship, but his interests were more eclectic and bound up with French national traditions, with comparative European law and with a system of universal law. According to Bodin, the basic categories ofhistory were identical with those of the law (natural, human or civil, and divine), and its human substance corresponded in general to the 'law of nations' (jus gentium) in a modern sense. Bodin's aim was to study this 'world of nations' (as Vico would derivatively call it) through 'universal history' in its broadest sense. 'The best part of universal law resides in history' was his motto (in historia juris universi pars optima est).49 The purpose of his 'method' was to reorganise topically the 'flowers' of history in order to assemble the most relevant materials for political

48. Bodin 1951, p. 114; see also Klempt i960; Jean Bodin 1973, with full bibliography.

49. Bodin 1951, p. 108.

thought (civilis disciplina). It was in this sense that Bodin proclaimed history to be 'above all sciences' (super scientias omnes) and with this in mind that he defined the role of the philosophical historian or philosopher of history (philosophistoricus), which was to 'combine the narration of facts with precepts of wisdom'.

Like law itself, the implication was, history was a form of wisdom (sapientia), and indeed this was made explicit by another 'method of reading history' published in 1579 by one of Bodin's first disciples. 'Among the aphorisms of the ancients . . .', wrote Pierre Droit de Gaillard, 'the most remarkable was that of Chilon, one of the seven sages: Know thyself. Now this knowledge depends upon history, sacred as well as profane, universal as well as particular.'50 Gaillard celebrated the alliance (conference) of history with other disciplines, indeed with the whole humanist encyclopaedia, and concluded 'in a word, all disciplines take their source and principles wholly from history, as from an overflowing fountain'. For the rest Gaillard's work was a laudatory survey of the contours and glories of French history and the moral and political lessons to be derived from its study.

Building even more comprehensively on Bodin's 'method' was the work of the Huguenot historiographer Henri Lancelot Voisin de la Popeliniere, who in 1599 published a pair of works, Histoire des histoires, avec L'ldee de I'histoire accomplie, to which was appended 'Le Dessein de l'histoire nouvelle des Francois'. La Popeliniere prided himself on standing 'above passion and party' and, especially in his earlier history of France during the civil wars, on his treatment of the past in terms of cause and effect (la cause, leprogres, bonne ou mauvaise issue).51 For La Popeliniere history represented not merely a genre but a mode of thought which affected to interpret the actions of men 'according to the times, the places, their causes, progress and results', and for this reason it was a more useful discipline than either philosophy or political thought. Echoing Bodin, then, La Popeliniere concluded that history was above all arts and sciences.


In his proposal for a 'new history' of France La Popeliniere was in fact continuing an old enterprise, which was to find the basic patterns of the national past. The most popular scheme of periodisation, derived from Florus, had been suggested by Claude de Seyssel in his Histoire singulier du

50. Gaillard 1579, p. 1; cf. Gaillard 1578. See also Dubois 1977.

51. La Popeliniere 1599; see also Kelley 1971.

roy Louis XII and taken up by the royal historiographer Bernard Du Haillan and the regius professor of Greek Louis Le Roy.52 The conceit of the four ages (applied also to England by Polydore Vergil) included infancy from the beginning to Clovis, youth down to the Merovingians, maturity under the Carolingians and old age under the Capetians. La Popeliniere himself proposed a five-stage periodisation ancient, Roman, Gallic, Frankish and modern French. What was most novel was La Popeliniere's aspiration to incorporate into historical narrative an account of the growth of all the arts and sciences. This had also been the intention of Le Roy, whose De la vicissitude ou variete des choses en I'univers (1575) has been called 'the first treatise devoted to the history of civilization'.53 Le Roy also wrote historical sketches of the history of political thought and of philosophy itself, while La Popeliniere (expanding on a conventional theme of the ars historica) proposed a most interesting interpretation of the rise and progress of historical consciousness first a period of 'natural history' (oral tradition and superstition), next 'poetic history' (Homer or Moses, for example), then with the establishment of a rational chronology 'continuous history' expressed in chronicles and annals, fourthly a 'civilised' sort of historical writing coinciding with the emergence of other arts and sciences and finally (so La Popelieniere hoped) an age of'perfect history', which is to say the 'philosophical' kind ofhistory later to be made famous by Voltaire.54

By the end of the sixteenth century history had, in the eyes of many observers, attained a position of eminence, sometimes elevated above other disciplines, since it was regarded as the source and even the ordering principle of knowledge. Careful distinctions were maintained between the history of nature and of culture (res naturales and res humanae, according to Baudouin and Bodin) and between sacred and profane history.55 Yet in a sense all three of Bodin's varieties ofhistory natural, civil and divine found a place in historical thought; for if the Italianate 'art ofhistory' was secular and human, Protestant historiography adopted Eusebian perspectives on divine history, while Bodinian method invoked naturalistic means of explanation, including what Bodin himself called 'geohistory'. In the Renaissance as in the present century a distinction may be made between the analytical and the speculative philosophy of history, the first being represented by discussions of the problems of criticism, explanation and

52. Seyssel 1961; 1981 (Kelley's introduction); see also Le Roy 1570 (Les Monarchiques); Du Haillan 1570.

53. Le Roy 1575; see also Gundersheimer 1966.

54. Le Roy 1567, 1553 ('L'origine, progres et perfection de la philosophie'); La Popeliniere 1599. See also Baron 1959; Kinser 1971. 55. Baudouin 1561; Bodin 1951.

interpretation in treatises on method, and the second by discussions of universal chronology, periodisation and cultural progress. In that period, too, there were debates between those who regarded history as an autonomous field and those, especially artificial and conservative 'methodisers' like Aconcio and Vossius, who hoped to reduce history to or perhaps better, to dissolve it in a logical system.56 Of course there were also those who denied 'history' in any form and identified the term with the raw material of empirical investigation, according to the style made famous by Francis Bacon.

In the classification of sciences history certainly improved its ranking dramatically, being taught widely in (especially Protestant) universities and gaining parity (for instance in the pedagogical scheme of the Lutheran David Chytraeus)57 even with medicine, jurisprudence and philosophy. But it was in the company of political philosophy that the study of history rose perhaps highest in the estimation of Renaissance scholars, beginning with Machiavelli's 'new route' and including such later followers as Bodin, whose Six livres de la Repuhlique of 1576 was in effect an expansion of chapter 6 of his Methodus. The vogue of Tacitus and the analytical, 'pragmatic' history of Polybius, translated and celebrated by Casaubon in 1609, reinforced the interest in political narrative as practised by Machiavelli, Guicciardini and even Sleidan. 'Political science belongs wholly to history . . .', wrote Casaubon's friend Daniel Heinsius in the early seventeenth century, for 'political science, without history, is tortured and wasted away by tasteless, disgusting and pedantic distinctions and minute divisions of philosophers' meaning the most superficial of the 'arts of history'.58 Here sounds again, in the rhetoric of this Dutch scholar, the theme of political humanism: 'If history have no professorship, if all universities be closed', he wrote, 'she will always have an honourable reception in palaces and in the innermost chambers of kings and princes.'

Yet history continued to have a broader philosophical connection. Having reshaped the humanist 'encyclopaedia' by placing it in a long perspective, historical studies in effect subsumed philosophy and created what was already emerging as an academic speciality in the sixteenth century the history of philosophy. Having become involved in fundamental debates over proper and effective scientific 'method', history raised itself in the eyes of some scholars to the level of an autonomous science and opened the way to the analytical philosophy of history. Having, finally,

56. Vossius 1623. Cf. Cabrera de Cordoba 1611.

57. Klatt 1908, p. 35; see also Scherer 1927. 58. Heinsius 1943, p. 12.

been conscripted into religious controversy by Protestant and Catholic ideologists, history turned to transcendent questions and passed on to an early phase of modern speculative philosophy of history. For Heinsius indeed 'that fretful animal whom we call man' saw a kind of salvation in historical study. 'He would be free from the limits of time and space . . . and would gather into one focus the immeasurably great vastness of generations', Heinsius wrote. 'He would view in a moment an infinite multitude of matters and affairs.'59 He had become homo historicus in a sense which would apply, paradoxically, to Descartes as well as to Descartes's nemesis Vico. And history had become a permanent factor, whether negative or positive, in western philosophy.

59. Ihiii., p. 10.

Rambler's Top100
Hosted by uCoz