Henry Thomas Buckle

English historian (1821–1862)

Henry Thomas Buckle (24 November 182129 May 1862) was an English historian, author of an unfinished (completing only 2 of the planned 12 volume set) History of Civilization, and a very strong amateur chess player. He is sometimes called "the Father of Scientific History".

  Henry Thomas Buckle


  • Of all the various ways which the imagination has distorted truth, there is none which has worked so much harm as an exaggerated respect for past ages. This reverence for antiquity is repugnant to every maxim of reason, and is merely the indulgence of a poetic sentiment in favour of the remote and unknown.
    • History of Civilisation in England. Vol 1, 1st pub 1857, also page 100. Worlds Classics , Pub. 1903. London Grant Richards.
  • Our knowledge is composed not of facts, but of the relations which facts and ideas bear to themselves and to each other; and real knowledge consists not in an acquaintance with facts, which only makes a pedant, but in the use of facts, which makes a philosopher.
  • And, notwithstanding a few exceptions, we do undoubtedly find that the most truly eminent men have had not only their affections, but also their intellect, greatly influenced by women. I will go even farther; and I will venture to say that those who have not undergone that influence betray a something incomplete and mutilated. We detect, even in their genius, a certain frigidity of tone; and we look in vain for that burning fire, that gushing and spontaneous nature with which our ideas of genius are indissolubly associated. Therefore, it is, that those who are most anxious that the boundaries of knowledge should be enlarged, ought to be most eager that the influence of women should be increased, in order that every resource of the human mind may be at once and quickly brought into play.
  • When the interval between the intellectual classes and the practical classes is too great, the former will possess no influence, the latter will reap no benefits.

Quotes about Buckle

  Henry Thomas Buckle
age 24
  • Maxwell probably first encountered Quetelet in an article by... John Herschel... (...familiar with Quetelet as a fellow astronomer). Later, in 1857, Maxwell read a newly published book by... Henry Thomas Buckle. Buckle, himself clearly influenced by Quetelet, believed that science could discover the "laws of the human mind" and that human actions are a part of "one vast system of universal order." ...Though Maxwell found Buckle's book "bumptious," he recognized it as a source of original ideas, and the statistical reasoning Buckle applied to society seemed just the thing... needed to deal with molecular motion.
    • Tom Siegfried, A Beautiful Math (2006) Ch. 7: Quetelet's Statistics and Maxwell's Molecules, pp. 136-138.

Henry Thomas Buckle (Sep, 1862)

Fraser's Magazine, Vol. 66, pp. 337-345.
  • Henry Thomas Buckle expired at Damascus on the last day of May in the present year. ...There has passed away from the world one of the heroes, if not one of the martyrs of learning. ...[T]he announcement of his death has cast a shadow upon many who knew him only as an indefatigable wooer of knowledge, a bold explorer in the regions of historical and social science.
  • Having gained a prize for mathematics, and being desired by his parents to name his own additional reward, he claimed the privilege of being removed from school, and receiving thenceforth his education at home. ...Mr. Buckle ...was either dissatisfied with his instructors, or resolved to be the sole architect of his own mind. His tutors were dismissed; and he, a boy of fourteen years, set forth without a pilot upon the sea of knowledge.
  • In about four years his multifarious studies began to converge towards one focus—the intellectual progress and civilization of mankind. ...[I]ts fulfilment became the object of his life.
  • [H]is book [History of Civilization]... must always be regarded as an extraordinary proof of a mind at once sanguine and persevering.
  • Mr. Buckle was happily released by his father's liberality; and by his death, in 1840, he came into possession of a handsome competence, of wealth, indeed, to one whose sole expenditure was upon books.
  • [I]n the year 1857—that is to say, about twenty years after the idea of a History of Human Progress in England first dawned upon him—committed the result of his steady ten-hours-a-day labour to the press, and followed the first volume with a second, published in 1861.
  • Mr. Buckle had assailed more than one order of mankind: the political economist and the lawyer have, perhaps, long since ceased to resent, but the Scotch are not likely to forget, nor are the clergy prone to forgive, such an antagonist.
  • With many readers the author has doubtless passed for a hard man, dealing with men's actions and thoughts as with so many links in the chain of causation, with the aspects of life as the mere products or phenomena of Fate or Necessity.
  • His body he from earliest youth had treated as a slave, his mind as a sovereign: for the one no sacrifice as too great; for the other, no privations were thought excessive.
  • He discerned, or at least he imagined, that a great void in the history of human progress awaited the filling-up: and however opinions may vary upon his fitness for his self-imposed task there can be no question of the ardour and sincerity he brought to its performance.
  • His recluse life entailed upon his writings some serious disadvantages. If from his 'study' he did not 'rail at human kind,' he formed, from his long commerce with books alone, harsh and one-sided opinions of classes, that earlier and more free intermixtures with them would have softened or corrected.
  • Of the clergy he saw only one, and that not the more favourable side. He regarded them writers or preachers alone, and not as active and humanizing elements in society.
  • He is right in ascribing to dogmatic theology dark, cruel, ignorant and groundless theories, alike at variance with a divine Author and dishonourable to human nature.
  • He is wrong when he represents the orator in the pulpit, or the scholar in the closet, as hard, bigoted, and severe as his doctrines.
  • The extracts from the Scotch divines that fill so large a space in the notes of Mr. Buckle's second volume, are atrocious enough to prove that Torquemada and St. Dominic were not better disposed to rack and burn their fellow men than the Gillespies, the Guthries, the Halyburtons, and the Rutherfords...
  • His heart was not closed or narrowed to the great interests of his kind. He may have weighed classes of them in an ill-adjusted balance, but to the progress of men in whatsoever delivers the human race from bondage to idols of the market, of the temple, or the tribe, he was never indifferent.
  • In the cause of what he believed to be civilization, his energy was unflagging, his sympathy intense.
  • Of the plan and execution of his History we are not in a condition to speak; we have portions only of the Introduction to it. Much that in the Prolegomena is incomplete or inaccurate, crude or rash, would probably, after maturer experience and enlarged insight, have been supplied or corrected in the historical sequel.
  • [C]onceding for the moment that the term civilization is sufficiently intelligible, if not very precise, Mr. Buckle's manner of handling the subject is somewhat capricious and irregular.
  • The second volume is... little more than an episode of the first; with a few inconsiderable changes, it might have stood alone as a record of the effects of perverted religion in Spain or Scotland.
  • The discrepancies and inconveniences attendant on the vagueness of the term civilization might... have been avoided had the work been entitled a 'History of the Aspects of Society in England.' There would then have been no previous question about the import of a title sufficiently elastic to include the era when Britons painted their bodies with woad and the era when they assumed trousers and paletots.
  • He perceived that history in its best forms is but an imperfect record of the thoughts and deeds of men. ...It was Mr. Buckle's object to collect and place these phenomena upon a scientific basis, to discover the law of their growth, progress, and decline, to show why on some soils they withered, why on others they bore fruit an hundred-fold.
  • How far he failed or how far he succeeded in his attempt to construct a science of history, we do not pretend to determine: we are merely pointing to the high and arduous object he set before himself.
  • [H]e sinned the sin of excessive generalization. It may be true that in certain cycles or shorter periods of time the sums of human acts are strangely alike. It may be true also that statistics afford to history one of its most sure and instructive auxiliaries. But it is no less certain that such tabular records are not only in their infancy, but as regards former times, either do not exist, or are most scanty and precarious aids to truth. At the best, also, they represent a few only of the elements of social life, and probably centuries of exact observation must elapse before they can be permitted to supersede the other grounds, moral, intellectual, and religious, on which history hitherto as been constructed.
  • In his anxiety, if not indeed his determination, to find a comprehensive idea, Mr. Buckle often strains, if he does not misrepresent facts. He is too prone to assume that men under similar circumstances will be similar themselves, and leaves scarcely a margin for the disturbances of passion, custom, or accident.
  • His voice was unmusical and his manner rather defiant. But one could not be five minutes in a room with him without being aware that a talker unusually informed with book knowledge was present.
  • The doctrines of Auguste Comte are not palatable on this side of the Channel; and although Mr. Buckle accepted M. Comte's creed with reservation, he is indebted to it for some of his theories.
  • [S]ure were Mr. Buckle's strictures on the Kirk and Predestination to draw down upon him the wrath of North Britain.
  • Hero-worshippers... have no reason to be pleased with his speculations, since he resolves the course of history into cycles and a system, and ascribes but little permanent influence to individual soldiers, statesmen, or saints.
  • Mr. Buckle fights against ...[the ecclesiastical body] with the whole armoury of distrust and defiance. ...[S]ome of his charges were ill-considered and unfounded; but these, the faults of seclusion and inexperience, do not, in the main, affect his assertion, that no class of men is fit to be entrusted with irresponsible power, and of all classes, the clergy least.
  • [W]e are not likely again to see so much learning and ability employed upon themes which remunerate the student with neither present profit nor honour. Be what they may the faults of the book, the merits of the author are sterling. He sought knowledge for its own sake: for knowledge he gave up his youth, his talents, his fortune, and possibly his life.
  • Truisms did not deter, nor shadows intimidate him; whatever, in his judgment... retarded... the progress of men, he denounced; whatever, in his opinion, was likely to accelerate or secure it, he advocated.
  • If we cannot inscribe it on the roll of historians or philosophers of the highest order, yet the name of HENRY THOMAS BUCKLE merits a high place on the list of earnest seekers for Truth.

The Life and Writings of Henry Thomas Buckle (1880) Vol. 1

by Alfred Henry Huth. A source.
  • With Comte, the people cannot move intelligently out of the leading-strings of the government; with Buckle, the sole function of a government is to express as best it may the sum of the national will. Comte... has insisted on the subjection of man to his antecedents; but he has neglected the connexion between man and natural laws.
  • The recklessness of the assertion that Buckle owed everything to Comte, is obvious to whoever will consider what each has achieved in the science of history. Indeed their similarity is only incidental. ...[T]heir subjects overlapped each other: Comte in seeking for a rational form of government; and Buckle in showing how every movement of mankind is subject to law.
  • There are many points upon which Comte and Buckle are one; perhaps they are even more than those in which they differ: but while the former are mostly subsidiary, the latter are mostly fundamental. Comte's laws of civilization are evolved as a necessary deduction... Buckle... proves the predictability of human actions by statistics. ...Buckle ...discovers the laws of civilization first inductively, and then ...reverses the process and proves them deductively. ...Every step Buckle takes is strictly reasoned, and his proof is more positive and verified than any Comte chooses ...Buckle's work stands on the same basis as any other scientific work, while Comte with all his positive claim ...[has] no inductive complement to his deductive proof.
  • Buckle's chief merit is that he first made a science of history by connecting it with political economy and statistics, and has shown how every advance is intellectual from the people, and never in the opposite direction. Indeed, one of the truths he most insists upon, is, that it is better to make a harmful law with the concurrence of the people, than to make a good one which they do not like.

Quotes about

  • For the Englishman there are only two available ways to deal with the genius and the “great man”: either democratically, in the style of Buckle, or religiously, in the style of Carlyle.
    • Nietzsche, Nietzsche, F. W. (1997/1889). Twilight of the Idols. Or, How to Philosophize with the Hammer. (R. Polt, Trans.; T. Strong, Intro) Hackett Publishing Company, p.79
Wikipedia has an article about:
Wikisource has original works by or about:
Wikimedia Commons has media related to: