THE GRAVEDIGGERS. By Pertinax. Garden City: Doubleday, 1944.
GREAT events leave behind them trails of misery, rarely of happiness. They also make prompt and extensive additions to bookshelves. Some of the volumes which began to roll from the presses almost before the sudden collapse of the Third French Republic was complete were potboilers -- cheap attempts to lift the veil from the private lives of the Republic's last two Prime Ministers; some were eyewitness accounts of special aspects of the débâcle; the few serious attempts to write contemporary history were necessarily made without the opportunities for reflection and reappraisal which the later behavior of the principal actors would permit.
In certain ivory towers contemporary historians are sneered at. "Journalism, not history" is the taunt. But when the chronicler is honest and intelligent his work cannot be too contemporary, and he should be applauded for not permitting obvious risks to deter him. If time is certain to reverse some of his verdicts, he can find solace in remembering that he performs an indispensable service. Without it, the statesman is not able to learn promptly of, and to profit from, the mistakes of his immediate predecessors and contemporaries. What other means is there, too, of lowering the barrier of ignorance which makes public opinion hesitate to judge or causes it to judge wrongly? How else create the informed vigilance which will guard against new betrayals? Today, as Maitland said, "we study the day before yesterday in order that yesterday may not paralyze today and that today may not paralyze tomorrow." When the student of the day before yesterday is a philosopher as well as a chronicler, he will give his readers not only more knowledge but also a greater measure of wisdom. The combination is rare. When found, the world should prize it more highly than many of the rubies that fall from Clio's ivory towers.
It is contemporary history of this rare kind -- published in French a year ago [i] and
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