26/CHRONICLESnFaces of Clio by Robert NisbetnOPINIONSn”The obscurest epoch is today. “n—Robert Louis StevensonnThe Vital Past: Writings on the Usesnof History, edited by StephennVaughn, Athens, GA: University ofnGeorgia Press; $12.95.nBritain and the Weimar Repubhc bynF.L. Carsten, New York: SchockennBooks; $20.00.nThe Fringes of Power: 10 DowningnStreet Diaries, i939-i955 by JohnnColville, New York and London:nW.W. Norton; $25.00.nTaken together, these three booksnserve nicely as a kind of groupnportrait of Clio and her several faces.nIn reverse order we have the historiannas diarist and memoirist, as documentarian,nand as reflective sage. As one ofnthe learned species, historians, it hasnalways seemed to me, lead all the restnin the amount of public preening theyndo, in volume and regularity of assurancesnto the citizenry of the indispensabilitynof their guild in the making ofnthe informed citizen.nThere is something to their selfpromotion.nBurke taught a naturalrights-drenchednEurope that it is thenhistorical world alone that counts, naturalnrights, so called, being as aeratednas, say, phlogiston. But Burke didn’tnfeel it necessary to write narrative historiesnto prove his point, and I submitnthat a deeper and more tenacious sensenof the past and its unending vitalityncan come from the nonnarrative, non-nRobert Nisbet was the 1985 recipientnof the Richard M. Weaver Award fornScholarly Letters and is the authornmore recently of Conservatism:nDream and Reality (University ofnMinnesota Press).nepisodic treatment of some aspect ofnthe present than from the formallyndeclared “history.” Works by Maine,nVinogradov, Hayek, and Schumpeterncome quickly to mind in this respect,nbut there are many more, by philosophers,ntheologians, and statesmen,neen occasional social scientists tonmake the point.nSo much of current history-writingnhas the secondhandedness that comesnfrom confronting not a historical phenomenonnitself in the first instance,nbut rather a predecessor’s or e en contemporar’sntreatment of that phenomenon.nBut, then, revisionism has alwaysnbeen a marked attribute of thenprofessional historian’s contemplations.nThucydides chided Herodotusnfor his gullibility, as did PolybiusnTimaeus, and Lucian Ctesias. Fromnthe time in the 6th century B.C. whennHecataeus dealt critically with thenmyths and legends extant, striving tonrescue the “true” from the “false,”ndown through all the intervening agesnto Ranke and his stern wie es eigentlichngewesen ist, to the latest revisionist of anrevisionist of the Old South, tilting atnforebears has been a very structuralnelement of history writing. This hasnled some serious people to ask, fromntime to time, whether history is anprofession like medicine, astronomy,nor sculpture or instead a club withinnwhich members play, with solemnnmien, their games.nThe relation between the words historynand story is not limited to etymology.nBoth have long had the commonnspine of the narrative: “First this, andnthen, and then …” Tell me a story,nbegs the child; write me a historyndemands the publisher—or departmentnchairman gazing sternly at anyoung colleague’s prospects for promo­nnntion. Much social science stems fromnthe metaphor of growth, organicngrowth being the model; hence itsnfondness for portrayals of reality innwhich littie baby changes grow up intonlarger changes and then stride acrossnthe landscape. Historians are notnaverse to this, but their larger contributionnever since “‘Omer smote’ isnbloomin’ lyre” has been that of marryingneligible events to one another andnthen recording the alleged issue of thenmarriages.nThe narrative framework is as muchnthe rock of history writing as it is ofnliterature. There is the occasional historiannwho declares himself scientificnby comparison with, say, a ZoenOldenbourg and her immenselynknowledgeable novels of the MiddlenAges; but he is not using the wordn”scientific” in any way that the sciencesnwould find acceptable. Coulton’snMiddle Ages are as much the productnof art as Oldenbourg’s. It was a schoolnof historians, not novelists, that Trevelyannmocked when he wrote: “Mennof the Middle Ages; you are about tonbegin the Hundred Years War.”nRanke’s famous adjuration to tell itnexactly as it happened may have beennaddressed to those charmed by WaiternScott’s novels, but it is far more likely,nI think, that it was directed to selfstylednhistorians of his day, particularlynthe writers of histoire raisonnee.nVaughn’s anthology of 35 historians,nsome departed, most still living,nhas some excellent and stylisticallyniridescent testaments to the value ofnhistory and to the pitfalls in its constructionnby historians. It is good tonreread Carl Becker’s notable “EverymannHis Own Historian” in which henreminds us that ultimately the art ofnhistory, academic or other, stands ornfalls by its skill in arresting the attentionnof Everyman. The same e.xactiynwas true of ancient bards who told sadnstories of the great and powerful. Verisimilitudenis quite as important to thennovelist or epic poet as it is to then