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Chronicle

CHRONICLE (from Gr., time). The historical works written in the middle ages are variously designated by the terms "histories," "annals," or "chronicles"; it is difficult, however, to give an exact definition of each of these terms, since they do not correspond to determinate classes of writings. The definitions proposed by A. Giry (in La Grande Encyclopédie), by Ch. V. Langlois (in the Manuel de bibliographie historique), and by E. Bernheim (in the Lehrbuch der historischen Methode), are manifestly insufficient. Perhaps the most reasonable is that propounded by H.F. Delaborde at the Ecole des Chartes, that chronicles are accounts of a universal character, while annals relate either to a locality, or to a religious community, or even to a whole people, but without attempting to treat of all periods or all peoples. The primitive type, he says, was furnished by Eusebius of Caesarea, who wrote (c. 303) a chronicle in Greek, which was soon translated into Latin and frequently recopied throughout the middle ages; in the form of synoptic and synchronistic tables it embraced the history of the world, both Jewish and Christian, since the Creation. This ingenious opinion, however, is only partially exact, for it is certain that the medieval authors or scribes were not conscious of any well-marked distinction between annals and chronicles; indeed, they often apparently employed the terms indiscriminately.

Whether or not a distinction can be made, chronicles and annals (q.v.) have points of great similarity. Chronicles are accounts generally of an impersonal character, and often anonymous, composed in varying proportions of passages reproduced textually from sources which the chronicler is seldom at pains to indicate, and of personal recollections the veracity of which remains to be determined. Some of them are written with so little intelligence and spirit that one is led to regard the work of composition as a piece of drudgery imposed on the clergy and monks by their superiors. To distinguish what is original from what is borrowed, to separate fact from falsehood, and to establish the value of each piece of evidence, are in such circumstances a difficult undertaking, and one which has exercised the sagacity of scholars, especially since the 17th century. The work, moreover, is immense, by reason of the enormous number of medieval chronicles, both Christian and Mahommedan.

The Christian chronicles were first written in the two learned languages, Greek and Latin. At an early stage we have proof of the employment of national languages, the most famous instances being found at the two extremities of Europe, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (q.v.), the most ancient form of which goes back to the 10th century, and the so-called Chronicle of Nestor, in Palaeo-Slavonic, written in the 11th and 12th centuries. In the 13th and 14th centuries the number of chronicles written in the vulgar tongue continued to increase, at least in continental Europe, which far outpaced England in this respect. From the 15th century, with the revived study of Greek and Roman literature, the traditional form of chronicles, as well as of annals, tended to disappear and to be replaced by another and more scientific form, based on the models of antiquity - that of the historical composition combining skilful arrangement with elegance of literary style. The transition, however, was very gradual, and it was not until the 17th century that the traditional form became practically extinct.

See E. Bernheim, Lehrbuch der historischcn Methode (4th ed., 1903); H. Bloch, "Geschichte der deutschen Geschichtsschreibung im Mittelalter" in the Handbuch of G. von Below and F. Meinecke (Munich, 1903 seq.); Max Jansen, "Historiographie und Quellen der deutschen Geschichte bis 1500," in Aloïs Meister's Grundris (Leipzig, 1906); and the Introduction (1904) to A. Molinier's Les Sources de l'histoire de France.

(C. B.*)

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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