Before concluding, let me recur to biography as an art. You cannot read far in this field without being struck by the great differences in the ability of biographers. One makes a brilliant subject dull, or a juicy subject dry; while a biographer of other quality holds you spellbound over the life story of some relatively unimportant person. Gradually you come to study the laws of the art; to determine how much depends upon the biographer and how much on the biographee; above all, to define just what portion of a given subject’s life should be described. Remember that not a hundredth part of any life can be recorded. The biographer must select. But what? The significant, the individual, the revealing How shall those be settled? By the judgment of the biographer. Selection and perspective are the sun and moon of all art, and unless they shine for him, his portrait will be out of drawing. When, for instance, the writer on Havelock devotes almost as much space to his piety as to his military achievement, you recognize the faulty selection; or when another describes General Grant’s later misfortune as the dupe of a financial sharper as amply as his Vicksburg campaign, you have a fine example of bungled perspective. With practice, you will learn how to recover some of the true features of the victims of such distortions.

Comparison, the mother of Criticism, will help you to ampler pleasures. I have already suggested comparing Woolman’s, Franklin’s and Mill’s autobiographies; but the process can be carried forward in many directions. You can investigate what matters were regarded as essential for a biographer to tell at any period. Plutarch, for instance, has left a gallery of portraits of ancient statesmen and soldiers.〖H. C., xii, and Cf. Lecture II, below.〗 Wherein would the method and results of a modern Plutarch differ from his? If Boswell, and not Xenophon, had written the familiar life of Socrates, what would he have added? What do you miss in quaint Izaak Walton’s lives of Wotton and Donne and Herbert?〖H. C., XV, 323, 373ff.〗 Do we really know Napoleon better, for all the thousands of books about him, than we know Cæsar? How far does sameness of treatment in Vasari’s “Lives” blur their individuality?

These and many other questions will stimulate you in any comparative reading of biography. They all refer to three deeper matters: differences in the skill of biographers; changes in the angle of curiosity from which the public regard celebrities; and, finally, the variation, slowly effectuated, in human Personality itself.

The outlook for biography never was brighter. Its votaries will practice it with a constantly increasing skill. The demand for veracity will not slacken. The public, grown more discerning, will read it with greater relish.

The fact that the persons and events whom the biographer depicts were real will lend to them an additional attractiveness.

Given life, the first impulse of life, the incessant, triumphant impulse, is to manifest itself in individuals. From the beginning there has never been a moment, or the fraction of a second, when the universe, or the tiniest part of it, became abstract. In the world of matter, not less than in the organic world of animals and plants, always and everywhere and forever—individuals! from atom to Sirius, nothing but individuals! Even in the protean transmutation of one thing into another, of life into death and death into life, individuality keeps pace with each changing stage.

Since the process of individualization is from lower to higher, from simple to complex, the acknowledged great men in history, or the persons who stand out from any mass, are endowed with unusual qualities, or with common qualities in an uncommon degree—an endowment which gives them more points of contact, more power, more interest, more charm. These are the men and women whom biography perpetuates. The master creations of fiction spring from the human brain; the subjects of biography are the very creations of God himself: the realities of God must forever transcend the fictions of man.

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