History, Uncovering the Past, past


In his essay "On History Again," Thomas Carlyle asks: "Were there no brave men, thinkest thou, before Agamemnon?" Carlyle probably sought to reference the idea that history is incapable of uncovering the past completely: the documents simply fail to create a full image of the past that we desire. It seems that his answer to his question would be that yes, there were brave men before Agamemnon, but they are lost to us. He reaffirms this point later: "The Life of Nero occupies some diamond pages of our Tacitus; but in the parchment and papyrus archives of Nero's generation how many did it fill? The author of Vie de Seneque, at this distance, picking-up a few residuary snips, has with ease made two octavos of it." He does not challenge the reality of the past but accepts that the historian builds on "snips" to create an imperfect history. History, to Carlyle, is the (perhaps futile) effort to reconstruct the past.