Limits to history

History needs speculation and narrative but their must be limits to both. What those limits might be could make a good topic for a post. Let's start with the notion that the historical material, the record, sets boundaries. It would therefore make a poor project to go where the record is thinnest in order to gin up a thick, colorful volume with loads of imagined incidents and details - and yet this is done to great profit by outlaws who roam "the badly policed borders of fact and fiction."

Imagine histories in which the authors' narrative and speculative impulses have run wild - so completely wild - as to produce what this essayist calls "History in the absence of evidence." He quotes a passage in which one of these intoxicated writers has abandoned the limits of his material to soar high above ... uh ... mere facts?
We do not know whether he was slim or burly, tall or short, handsome or disfigured, his voice deep or nasal, his complexion olive or fair. We know only that he was thick-skinned, that some combination of good genes and good luck bestowed on him a genius for survival. We have no idea what a lover would have remembered about his touch or a fortuneteller would have discovered in his palm, yet we can guess that his hands were strong and nimble, skilled at crafting illustrations of infinitesimal detail yet also adept at handling a harquebus, the unwieldy predecessor to the musket. We cannot say whether he inherited dark eyes from the Gauls or blue from the Normans, but the more we learn about him, the more we are convinced that those eyes, whatever their color, took everything in and gave very little away.
Spread your wings, fool, but don't call it history.

Hat tip to Russel Bonds for the link and to Despair for the graphic.