1811 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

David Hume

James Mackintosh, 1811; Life of Sir James Mackintosh (1853) 2:168-69.



His greatest work, and that which naturally claims most attention, was his History of England, which, notwithstanding great defects, will probably be at last placed at the head of historical compositions. No other narrative seems to unite, in the same degree, the two qualities of being instructive and affecting. No historian approached him in the union of the talent of painting pathetic scenes with that of exhibiting comprehensive views of human affairs. His practice in abstract speculation had strengthened, without biassing, his intellect; and the most subtle metaphysician of his age was, as an historian, the farthest from over-refinement. Unlike other celebrated writers, he indulged his sagacity neither at the expense of probability nor of candour; and he has not portion either of the subtlety or malignity which have been laid to the charge of acute and severe historians. His narrative is flowing and various: in common events, short and clear; in great actions, rapid and animated; in affecting incidents, circumstantial and picturesque. His general observations seem always to be required by his subject; the most profound ideas are clothed with a transparent simplicity; and when he exercises his power of compression, he attains his object without any departure from the inimitable ease and nature of his style, and is as great a distance as ever from that forced and distorted energy, into which too eager a pursuit of brevity has betrayed some great writers.