How much history from the nineteenth century do we still read as history, rather than as an exercise in understanding historiography? In their way, Motley’s Dutch Republic, Macaulay’s History of England, and Froude’s accounts of the reigns of the Tudors are thorough, artistically written, and informative, but in the century and half since they were published, research has been deeper, understanding more nuanced, and contexts broadened. Nobody would wish to base his or her understanding of these particular subjects on those texts alone.

Yet if the only book you were able to read on the events of the French Revolution was Thomas Carlyle’s breathtaking, expansive, and, in stylistic terms at least, revolutionary 1837 account of them, you would not be too gravely handicapped. Carlyle’s...


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