Buckle, Henry Thomas

Buckle, Henry Thomas, 1821–62, English historian. Contemptuous of the historical writing of his day, with its intense concern with politics, wars, and heroes, Buckle undertook the ambitious plan of writing a history of civilization, treating people in relation to each other and to the natural world. At the time of his death, he had completed only the first two volumes of his panoramic History of Civilization in England (1857–61). In his attempt to make his field a science, Buckle arrived at various “laws” of history (e.g., the law of climate, by which he demonstrated that only in Europe could humans reach high levels of civilization) that were in fact rationalizations of his own progressive and liberal views. The effect his book had in shaping English liberal thought was nonetheless immediate and huge. It profoundly influenced later scientific historians and helped to fasten attention on masses rather than individuals, on all life rather than politics, and on the interrelations of people and nature rather than people and morals.

See G. R. St. Aubyn, A Victorian Eminence: Life and Works of Henry Thomas Buckle (1964).

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