are all scientists. The main trouble with historical writing isnthat the reader gradually comes to realize that the historiannexpects to be taken seriously as a purveyor of truth rathernthan as a philosopher or (what is more common) anpropagandist. Serious historians always have an ax to grind,nand the best of them finish the edge with the slickestnwhetstones. Thucydides, Tacitus, Hume, Macaulay havenlittle in common with moderns like Christopher Hill,nEugene Genovese, or Hans Georg Gadamer except this onenthing: They know that tales of time past serve primarily tonshape our behavior in the present. Young people, quitenproperly, accept their creations at face value. An older mannbelieves little, trusts less.nIf the principal vanity of historians is to demand credulity,nthe trouble with novelists is that they ask so little of us.nThe exercise of reading most fiction requires little morenthan the belief that human beings are motivated almostnexclusively by erotic passion. The same sex-obsession thatnmars so much of Shakespeare (as opposed to Sophocles, fornexample) is central to the plots of all but the best novels.nHow strange that several of the earliest narrative prosenfictions in English made so littie of sex. It is hard tonremember that Christian even has a wife, and modernncritics are so puzzled by Robinson Crusoe (or HuckleberrynFinn, for that matter) that they are compelled to drag thesenworks through the mire of “suppressed homosexuality.”nWalter Scott, who knew that his readers expected thenlove-interest to dominate the story, was impatient withnplots. In his view, they were nothing more than a peg onnwhich to hang his characters. However, in his best work (innverse as well as prose) Scott was concerned with more thannthe exploration of character or even moral drama. For him,nthere was a “matter of Scotiand” in the tales and legends ofnborder struggles, highland incursions, and above all in thengreat uprisings of national self-assertion under Robert Brucenand in The ’45. In Waverly we are less concerned with thenfate of the foolish young hero than we are with Scotiand’snlast great national struggle. In America, a similar effort wasnmade by less-talented writers like the infinitely tediousnCooper and the wooden but far more powerful GilmorenSimms.nThere are many kinds of prose fiction, and it would be anvain effort to say one kind is necessarily better than another.nHowever, what is common to the best work of Scott, Hardy,nThackeray (especially Henry Esmond) is a kind of seriousnessnwe do not associate, ordinarily, even with the bestn”philosophical” novels. Aristotie considered poetry (bynwhich he meant the epic and drama) more philosophicalnthan history, because it dealt with the probable, the natural;nbut even in that comparison he revealed a typically Greeknoutiook. Eor the Iliad and Odyssey and all the tragedies onnepic themes constituted a kind of more philosophicalnhistory in which generation after generation of Greeknstorytellers and writers reconsidered and refashioned thenstories of their race. When Aeschylus put the story ofnAgamemnon’s murder (and the revenge that followed) onnthe stage, he was working in the shadow of the Odyssey andna narrative lyric poem of Stesichorus. When Sophocles andnEuripides each had their go at the same tale, it was notnbecause they were hampered by any lack of imagination orneven because a familiar story allowed them to concentratenon character, style, and music.nWe never grow tired of hearing the stories that reallynmatter to us. In each retelling, they can be held up to andifferent light. Even the usual mediocre sermon on thenprodigal son may strike the right chord with a churchgoernon a drowsy Sunday morning, because the tale is material tonhis life as a Christian. Imagine the interest if he or his werenactors in the piece. What Walter Scott and Hardy sharenwith Homer and Aeschylus is precisely this quality of tellingn”tales of a grandfather” to an interested family circle.nIn America this sort of historical piety is associatednprimarily with Southern writers, although the current cropnof Southern novelists is generally careful to steer clear of itsnEaulknerian inheritance. Walker Percy and Lee Smith writenabout the South, but they do not labor under the burden ofnhistory. There are, however, several prominent exceptions.nPeter Taylor’s best work often has the quality of an extendedngenealogical research, a feature he shares with a youngernand quite different writer, Fred Chappell. Somewhere innbetween stands the enigmatic George Garrett, who hasndivided his time between stories set in the fairly recentnSouth and two masterfully researched novels set in ElizabethannEngland. Death of a Fox and The Succession are, in mynview, the best historical novels since Henry Esmond, and Inwould hazard a guess that for Mr. Garrett the subjectsn(Walter Raleigh, James VI & I, et al.) were not chosennarbitrarily as representatives of some exotic place and time.nIf Americans have an experience beyond the recent eventsnof colonization and revolution, then it is the history ofnBritain that makes all of us (Swedes, Poles, Italians, as wellnas Scots) an ancient people instead of children withoutnmemory.nIt is stories that bind us together as a nation: Americannstories, British stories, Roman history, and even Greeknmyths. As Donald Horowitz makes plain in his recent booknEthnic Conflict, neighbors who cherish conflicting storiesnabout the past cannot live in harmony. Catholics andnProtestants in Ireland, Serbs and Croats in Yugoslavia,nGreeks and Turks on Cyprus, Yankees and Southernersnhave quite different versions of their nation’s histories. Ifnthey live together long enough, perhaps the dueling legendsnwill be subsumed into a larger story. The German Kings ofnGreat Britain may look silly dressed up in kilts, but theirnslender claims to legitimacy and Scots descent are a gracefulnbow to the people of Scotland.nOther countries try a more direct approach. In Yugoslavianthe authorities made a strenuous effort to erase thennational histories of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, and it isnsurely part of Mr. Djilas’ offensiveness to the regime that allnhis best work is written in a celebration of Montenegro. Ifnone can judge from textbooks and political pronouncements,nthe United States is more likely to follow thenexample of Yugoslavia than Great Britain. For some timennow, textbooks have been carefully concocted to portray ansecular and pluralist America owing as much to the GhostnDance as to Christianity. Despite the palpable fact that ournlanguage, social institutions, and literature are mainly annextension of Britain (and, in general. Northern Europe),nholidays and history books are strenuous in promoting anpicture of a polyglot “nation of immigrants.” The mostnrecent phase of this nationalist ideology flies under thennnMAY 1987/11n