Preface to History of England (1859)
It is the ambition of all nations which enjoy a literary culture to possess a harmonious and vivid narrative of their own past history. And it is of inestimable value to any people to obtain such a narrative, which shall comprehend all epochs, be true to fact and, while resting on thorough research, yet be attractive to the reader; for by this it would attain to a perfect self-consciousness and, feeling the pulsation of its life throughout the story, become fully acquainted with its own origin and growth and character. But we may doubt whether up to this time works of such an import and compass have ever been produced, and even whether they can ever be written. For who could apply learned research, such as the progress of study now renders necessary, to the mass of materials already collected without being lost in its immensity? Who again could possess the vivid susceptibility requisite for doing justice to the several epochs, for appreciating the actions, the modes of thought, and the moral standard of each of them, and for understanding their relations to universal history? We must be content in this area, as well as in others, if we can but approximate to the ideal we set up. The best-written histories will be accounted the best.