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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
From the ‘Discourse upon Universal History’
By Jacques Bénigne Bossuet (1627–1704)
 
INTRODUCTION

EVEN were history useless to other men, it would still be necessary to have it read by princes. There is no better way of making them discover what can be brought about by passions and interests, by times and circumstances, by good and bad advice. The books of historians are filled with the actions that occupy them, and everything therein seems to have been done for their use. If experience is necessary to them for acquiring that prudence which enables them to become good rulers, nothing is more useful to their instruction than to add to the example of past centuries the experiences with which they meet every day. While usually they learn to judge of the dangerous circumstances that surround them, only at the expense of their subjects and of their own glory, by the help of history they form their judgment upon the events of the past without risking anything. When they see even the most completely hidden vices of princes exposed to the eyes of all men, in spite of the insincere praise which they received while alive, they feel ashamed of the empty joy which flattery gives them, and they acknowledge that true glory cannot obtain without real merit.  1
  Moreover, it would be disgraceful,—I do not say for a prince, but in general for any educated man,—not to know the human kind and the memorable changes which took place in the world through the lapse of ages. If we do not learn from history to distinguish the times, we shall represent men under the law of nature, or under the civil law, the same as under the sway of the gospel; we shall speak of the Persians conquered under Alexander in the same way as of the Persians victorious under Cyrus; we shall represent Greece as free in the time of Philip as in the time of Themistocles or Miltiades; the Roman people as proud under the Emperors as under the Consuls; the Church as quiet under Diocletian as under Constantine; and France, disturbed by civil wars under Charles IX. and Henri III., as powerful as in the time of Louis XIV., when, united under such a great King, alone she triumphs over the whole of Europe.  2
 
 
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