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Every day I walked across Kensington Gardens and past the Albert Memorial. The Albert Memorial began by degrees to obsess me. Like Wordsworth's Leech-gatherer, it took on a strange air of significance ; it seemed Like one whom I had met with in a dream; Or like a man from some far region sent, T o give me human strength, by apt admonishment. Everything about it was visibly mis-shapen, corrupt, crawling, verminous; for a time I could not bear to look at it, and passed with averted eyes; recovering from this weakness, I forced myself to look, and to face day by day the question: a thing so obviously, so incontrovertibly, so indefensibly bad, why had Scott done it?

I dare say I was not more than six or seven when I first saw that the only way to tackle any historical question, such as the tactics of Trafalgar-I mention Trafalgar, because naval history was a childish passion of mine, and Trafalgar my pet battle-was to see what the different people concerned were trying to do. History did not mean knowing what events followed what. It meant getting inside other people's heads, looking at their situation through their eyes, and thinking for yourself whether the way in which they tackled it was the right way.

For example, they thought that the same problems which are discussed in modern ethical theory were discussed in Plato's Republic and Aristotle's Ethics ;and that it was a man's work to ask himself whether Aristotle or Kant was right on the points over which they differ concerning the nature of duty. In a quite different sense of the word, the 'realists' certainly thought that philosophy has a history. The different answers which various philosophers have given to the eternal questions of philosophy have been given, of course, in a certain order and at various dates; and the 'history' of philosophy is the study by which people ascertain what answers have been given to these questions, in what order, and at what dates.

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An autobiography by Robin George Collingwood


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