Romance had not escaped the Germans. They applied it, however, to a culture that had a past but little history. To read their rediscovered Volk backwards into the blurredest origins in folk-tale plainly acted as an important imperative and it produced new histories of a peculiar (and to the modern ear all too familiar) kind. So we find the nine volumes of Voigt’s History of Prussia dedicated ‘To the Fatherland’37 or one stumbles over Luden and his ‘wish that we Germans would study like children the life of our beloved parents, dominated by the holy thought of the Fatherland.’38 Compared with the great narratives created in England, France and America, such work nevertheless made little impact outside Germany: the romantic form found more authentic expression in poetry, music and the philosophy of the spirit. Instead, the main line of German historiography discovered an antidote to intuition in theorizing about historical method. Humboldt’s lecture ‘On the Tasks of the Historian’ (1821) talks in a sophisticated way about history’s function of finding form within chaos, of designating events as parts of organic wholes, of going deeper than the flow of occurrence in order to locate in some more fundamental sense the ‘form of history per se’.39 A second prophylactic against intuition already existed, of course, in the source-based œuvres of figures such as Niebuhr and Eichhorn40 whose thrust lay in protecting the intellect from romantic subversion rather than encouraging its attack on the ‘march of mind’ in the manner of Carlyle. Together, these elements helped promote an approach to
history which we associate inevitably with its greatest emblemLeopold von Ranke-but which has dimensions larger than Ranke’s own contribution and amounts to a cultural identity.