Friday, March 30, 2007

A Sobering Thought

I once had occasion to tell a group of graduate students that any of them would be lucky to achieve the fifth or sixth rank among historians. The remark was prompted by their dissatisfaction with all they knew: Gibbon was a bore, Macaulay a stuffed shirt, Hegel and Michelet were fools, Carlyle and Buckle frauds — this from students who could not write ten pages of readable and properly documented narrative. Pointing out that even second- and third-rate men, such as Milman, Bancroft, or Grote, were the superiors of these students’ own instructors, who were by definition superior to the students themselves, was a sobering thought quite foreign to their experience.

— Jacques Barzun, The House of Intellect