Because of the unique terms which exist between author and reader, we associate with sinners not less than with saints, and are unburdened by a sense of responsibility for their acts. In daily life few of us, happily, come face to face with perverts and criminals; but through biography we can, if we will, measure the limits of human nature on its dark side in the careers of such colossal reprobates as Cæsar Borgia and his father; or monsters of cruelty like Ezzelino and Alva; or traitors, spies, and informers, from Judas to Benedict Arnold and Azeff; or of swindlers and more common scoundrels, George Law and Cagliostro and latter-day “promoters,” and that peculiarly offensive brood—the pious impostors.

In the long run, however, we make our lasting friends among those who are normal but not commonplace, who seem to carry our own better traits to a degree of perfection which we have not attained, or who have qualities which we lack but envy. Unlikeness also is often a potent element of charm. I recall a frail little old lady, the embodiment of peace, so gentle that she could not bear to have a fly harmed, who devoured every book about Napoleon and seemed almost to gloat over the details of his campaigns. Conversely, more than one great captain has concentrated his reading in one or two books of religion.

Having entered the realm inhabited by those who live through the magic of biography, we cannot dwell there long without meeting friends for whom we have sought in vain among our actual associates. In finding them we often find our best selves. They comfort us in our distress, they clarify our doubts, they give fresh impetus and straight aim to our hopes, they whisper to us the mystic word which unfolds the meaning of life; above all—they teach us by example how to live. Then we feel that our gratitude is barren and unworthy unless it spurs us to emulation. Unenviable indeed is he whose heart neverran o’er With silent worship of the great of old! The dead but sceptered sovereigns, who still rule Our spirits from their urns.

No matter what his creed may be, no man is so self-sufficient and original as not to be under the sway, whether he acknowledges it or not, of dead but sceptered kings; and biography brings them nearer to us and humanizes them, and thereby adds to the pertinence of their teaching. These are the supreme benefits conferred by biography; but as no healthy soul lives continuously in a state of ecstasy, so there are many moods in which we turn to other companions than the prophets. We require relaxation. Our intellect not less than our spirit craves its repast. Honest amusement is its own justification. Biography offers the widest possible choice for any fancy.

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