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AND REPOSITORY OF LOCAL LITERATURE,
LORD Bacon in his well-known essay says, that “Histories make men wise;" and further to enforce their study, he writes, “crafty men contemn studies, simple men admire them, wise men use them: for they teach not their own use; but that is a wisdom without them and above them, won by observation."
Facts, in their narration, take a tinge from the medium through which they are transmitted. We judge of events much more perhaps from the bias of our minds, than from the evidence which lies before us. Two men scrupulously recording the same event with all fidelity and care, will yet express themselves in. such a manner concerning it as to produce varying impressions. Two painters shall be in possession of the same pigments and appliances, and seated before the same landscape. The greensward varies not its fresh clear tints either for the one or for the other. There are the same bright lights and reflected shadows in the purling stream. The thin grey spires of the distant city break the line of the horizon for both in the same way. Yet when they have finished their sketches, how different shall they appear!
The one is broad and bold, its author has caught the expression of the fleeting cloud, and you marvel that it glides not from the canvas.
From a short distance you look at it, and say, "That is life itself.” Close at hand you look, and see nothing but a blurred mass of colour, shapeless and incongruous, and you are startled as you remember your recent admiration of it. You turn to the second easel, and scrutinize closely its precious burden. Here all is distinct and sharp. The sheep lie clean and white, and lovingly on the plain; here, yon bridge repeats itself in the dimpled stream, nay, your artist has even copied the moss-grown markings on the tree in the foreground, and you speculate as to what became of S. L. and M. S. Are they alive now? Were they lovers? Or--were they only schoolboys with new knives, whose initials are carved there? While thus borne away on fancy's pinions, you have retreated from the picture,
and now at a distance examine it again. This time you are
here. The one saw only detail, and put it down as a clerk would figures. The other looked at the scene, examined its meaning, caught its spirit, and left the detail to shape itself to that. Our histories are word pictures ; and from them we must derive our views of the past. Carefully examining them, now in detail, and now in the whole, until we realize mentally the scenes depicted. And this critical care will be necessary even when we have two records from the same pen; for his clearer understanding of circumstances, and appreciation of their meaning, will affect the historian's memorial, just as strength of light and purity of material will influence the character of a photograph.
To follow this pictorial illustration further, it may be said, that our interest in a picture often depends upon some association of thought. If we have a personal acquaintance with even a minor actor in a great event, we gain so far a better acquaintance with the event itself. We read of battles fought and victories won, but what a realness does our knowledge assume, if we converse with some scarred veteran, or on the field itself trace out the fluctuations of the fight. Half our knowledge of the past is more ideal than actual, so to speak: its incidents are rather fictions than facts to us. Charles the Second's escape from Worcester becomes a truth when we point to Bentley Halī
, and say, "There he took refuge.” The civil strifes of that day are facts when we see traces of destruction at Dudley Castle and Aston Hall, or at Lichfield mark where Brooke "fighting, fell.” The gods of the Northmen leave that land of fable and poetic doubt, in which we place much early tradition, and bring ideas of worship offered as we do to the one true God, when we trace the memory in Wednesbury_Wodenstown; or Thursday, the day of mighty Thor,
Local histories afford such connecting links with general history : like known landmarks in a panorama, or a familiar face in some painted group, or a friendly voice in a strange land.
Are there not in our own locality, in this much maligned and little understood “Black Country," associations between it and the progress of the nation--for all national life is but the aggregate of local growth—which may give us a better acquaintance with history, and afford profitable study ?
In the department of manufactures our opportunities are unrivalled, and in connection with them, much valuable lore may be found. Coal, and the getting thereof,—that wonderful element of Britain's power,-associated with this ancient coal field; and iron in its processes of production and application are chapters worth careful spelling out. The various improvements connected with these matters, as Dud Dudley's first use of “pit cole,” for melting iron ore; the introduction of the slitting mill, with all its romantic association with the Foley family. The steam engine connected with Watt and Soho; and then the thousand and one manufactures, from cans to cannons, buttons to bayonets, saucepans to steam engines; all these indicate histories of patient endeavour, ingenious invention, and much success.
In connection with religious progress, we may also find abundant associations. In the olden time, when Norman piety founded Halesowen Church; or Saxon zeal set the first stones of St. Peter's Church, at Wolverhampton. Farther back still, we find relationships with primitive beliefs and superstitions. Or look at the events preceding and following the passing of the Act of Uniformity. How excited and agitated must this district have been, when there stepped forth from the pulpits of the state, Reynolds, of Wolverhampton; Byrdal, of Walsall; Hinks, of Tipton; Fincher, of Wednesbury; Hilton, of West Bromwich; and other good men. And men who will give up emolument and social position, state patronage, and connection with the church of their youth, for conscience sake, leave behind them furrows long and deep.
Then again, what a story of lawless, persecuting hate do we find, when the mob burnt down the meeting houses of Dissenters in this town and neighbourhood; and when, at West Bromwich, in 1715, one of the ringleaders was shot, whilst unroofing the Old Meeting.
Looking at education, we may observe the advances since the days when schools were scarce, and knowledge rare; when there was no local literature for the “ Gazette," to help by friendly criticism ; and the editor thereof, to supply the lack of enlightenment, issued a history of highwaymen and murderers. At that day also, Cock-fights were announced under gentlemanly patronage, in newspaper columns. Bull-baiting has left its memory in spots devoted to its prosecution as at the Bull Ring, at Bir