634: Character, Too, Has Its History.

In modern history, as we have seen, personality has played, on the whole, a rôle of minor importance as compared with the times of classical antiquity. In fact, there is practically only one personality in modern history who, in many respects, is a true rival of the great personalities of antiquity, and in whom character of the mightiest force has had ample play. We mean Napoleon. He has, more especially by H. Taine, been likened to the men of the Renaissance. It is more correct to place him beside the men of classical antiquity. His intellect was indeed a most finely and evenly balanced instrument of thought, memory, and imagination. Yet his intellect alone could not have raised him to the height of his unparalleled position. It was the indomitable power of his character that turned circumstances, chances, and ideas into a mighty army of conquest and organisation. We are still too near to this colossal figure to be able to judge of him adequately. It is, however, certain that there was in Napoleon, in addition to the genius of the intellect, a genius of character, if one may use this expression. His very faults, nay, blunders, are manifestly the faults and blunders of character. He, together with the other character-Titans of history, help us to see more clearly how character, when given sufficient elbow-room by the impersonal causes of history, may influence the trend of events to an incredible extent. The very progressiveness innate in human intellect is hostile to the individual intelligence; whereas character, less elastic, less progressive, ranges itself with all the conservative and staying forces of history. The error, then, of the casual student of history consists either in a total neglect of the influence of character on human events, or in an exaggerated estimation of the effect of character on all the periods of history. Character, too, has its history; and it is part of the most important tasks of the historian to allot to character its due place in the array of the causes that have produced the great drama of man.

(Emil Reich, “History and Character,” The Nineteenth Century and After, Vol. LXIII, 1908, p. 271).

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634: Character, Too, Has Its History.