Historian Jacques Barzun, age 104, RIP
October 26, 2012, 08:07 AM
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Franco-American historian Jacques Barzun has died in San Antonio at 104. He could recall the sound of the Big Bertha cannon shelling Paris, and met as a child many of the cultural luminaries of the pre-Great War age.

In his 2000 bestseller  From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present, published when he was 92, Barzun suddenly stopped on p. 654-656 to briefly discuss what he`s learned from a lifetime of learning:

"... history cannot be a science; it is the very opposite, in that its interest resides in the particulars."


Still, he goes on to list a dozen "generalities" to show "how scanning the last five centuries in the West impresses on the mind certain types of order." Here are five of them (I`ll leave it to you to fill in examples):

- An age (a shorter span within an era) is unified by one or to pressing needs, not by the proposed remedies, which are many and thus divide. 

- A movement in thought or art produces its best work during the uphill fight to oust the enemy; that is, the previous thought or art. Victory brings on imitation and ultimately Boredom. 

- "An Age of —" (fill in: Reason, Faith, Science, Absolutism, Democracy, Anxiety, Communication) is always a misnomer because insufficient, except perhaps "An Age of Troubles," which fits every age in varying degrees. 

- The historian does not isolate causes, which defy sorting out even in the natural world; he describes conditions that he judges relevant, adding occasionally an estimate of their relevant strength. 

- The potent writings that helped to reshape minds and institutions in the West have done so through a formula or two, not always consistent with the text. Partisans and scholars start to read the book with care after it has done its work.