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specimens of a great literature; and un- quisition on the point whether, if Julius questionably the department is a barren Cæsar Scaliger had known all about Erasone. On the other hand, it would be mus's illegitimacy, be would have taunted tedious to enumerate the works which, him with the circumstance. All this is claiming a place in literary biography, are amusing enough, for a livelier reasoner too dull for perusal or too obscure for re- than Peter Bayle it would not be easy to membrance. In how many cases has the find anywhere. But he riots in his favourite weak admirer, the foolish relative, done a weaknesses, and sacrifices better things to mischief to the memory which he wished their indulgence. England has especial to honour; sometimes by telling too much, reason to be vexed with this eminent sometimes by telling too little,—now writer. The success of his Dictionary, in smootuering, like an awkward nurse, the an age when folios were more cheerfully growing young fame he wants to nourish, received than at present, induced the pronow starving from his poverty of brain jectors of the Biographia Britannica' to and heart the flower that he is planting imitate the form and manner of his work, on a venerated grave!
a manner provoking in him, and therefore It must be admitted that our masters almost intolerable in less brilliant men. of antiquity failed to set us a good exam- The result has been to lower a class of ple in this particular branch of biography. books which might have had an admirable Yet biography is one of the arts which effect on the whole culture and spirit of they carried to perfection; as witness the the country, into the rank of mere heavy pages flowing with milk and honey-the compilations of crude information. milk of kindness and honey of eloquence Biography is-not even excepting poe-of Plutarch ; witness that exquisite bio try--that branch of literature which most graphy the Agricola, preserving the directly inspires and influences the popular good old Roman general's face like a mind. Philosophers may see principles in finely-executed gold coin; or the easy history, but the multitude only see perabundance of characteristic anecdote in sons. To the Scotch peasant Scottish histhe ‘Cæsars' of Suetonius; or the fluent tory is the story of the lives of Bruce and and pointed neatness of Nepos. Men of let. Wallace,--of John Knox and the Coveters, however, found no Plutarch, not even, nanters,—of Burns the poet. In England, like the philosophers (who yet were a branch if the people talk of the great war, they of the body), a Diogenes Laertius. Mea- embody it all in Nelson and Wellington. gre paragraphs are all we have about Vir- Hence, too, the most popular fictions are gil and Horace; and it is little that we those where the interest centres in an inknow with certainty of Aristophanes and dividual, like Robinson Crusoe. What Menander. So the moderns may claim a pity that our biography should be so inan excuse. Unluckily, too, literary bio- differently done, and in many cases not graphy has been injured by some who done at all! might have been expected to be its most If, however, it be really true that the successful friends. Nobody can deny the life of a man of letters must be dull, the wit, the vivacity, the literature of Bayle. friends of literary biography have no right He was, perhaps, a typical man of letters to complain: they must submit to destiny, in the strictest sense of the term, devoted for who can contend with the course of to books, and with an admirable talent nature ? It may, however, be worth for the lively exposition and discussion of while, before dealing specially with Mr. all that books can teach. He has left in Burgon's pleasant book, to put the dictum his great store-house of point, argument, to the question ; for it connects itself with and erudition, many valuable memoirs of many interesting, and some very high as the authors, not only of antiquity but of well as nice points of inquiry. the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. There are many men of letters—supHow valuable these are;. but how marred posing the objection of what is called by his execrable method! The man's in- * dearth of incident’ to be fatal to bioveterate passion for controversy and his graphy--with regard to whose lives that unwholesome appetite for quotation have objection can never be truly made. There ruined his book. Like Ophelia, his muse is much more variety of character in the is dragged to death by her own garments. literary class than is vulgarly supposed. His extravagant use of annotation, always Some amongst them have won no inconlengthy, often irrelevant, and sometimes siderable honour in public life, as statesmen, indecent, is the weakness which damages orators, or diplomatists, like Cicero, Pliny the Dictionary of Bayle. In the article the Younger, Bavon, Buchanan, Grotius, ' Erasme,' for instance, he has a long dis- Lord Bolingbroke, Lord Herbert of Cherbury, Niebuhr, or Edmund Burke. Sometimes altering his route to avoid a band of have proved very fit for practical affairs robbers. He was a man full of geniality by the admission of competent judges, and humour, who brought into life whatthough the accidents of life have prevented ever was valuable in literature, and carried their rising so high as they deserved : of into literature, in return, all the freshness these are Swift, Defoe, Dr. Johnson, and of life, which we take to be just the desirVoltaire, the last of whom was prosperous able qualities in a man of letters as distinas a man of business. Fielding, again, guished from a bookworm. He left bemade a useful police magistrate; and, hind him, like most of the old scholars, an though we cannot mention the fact with abundance of correspondence; but, in the out indignation, Burns has been shown by hands of Jortin and Burigni, Erasmus is a Mr. Chambers to have been an excellent far duller person than the original. He is gauger. A good many of the class bave not dull in Holbein's portrait, nor in the fought as well as their neighbors, mingling Colloquia ;' nor was he so esteemed by laurel and bay; for example, Æschylus, his contemporaries. Both the Scaligers, Xenophon, Cervantes, Sir Walter Raleigh, again, had character, and were not reading the elder Scaliger, Ben Jonson, Vanvenar- and writing machines. Rabelais, though gues, and Paul Louis Courier: so that in some of the traditions about him are, no most of these cases--and very conspicu- doubt, as fabulous as that which in Scotously in some of them—abundant material land declared Buchanan to have been the for biographical interest exist. Yet few King's fool, was clearly a humourist in life of these great men have met with good as in genius. It is certain that Shakspeare biographers. Cicero has been fortunate was a flowing and charming talker; and in Conyers Middleton; though, even in that his social success was by no means so that instance, there is too much of the disproportionate as some may fancy to his peculiar tone of Middleton's age and opi- wonderful endowments. Smollett's career nions in his book for it ever again to be as was essentially literary, but full of advenpopular as at its first appearance. We ture; a career of controversy varied by have still to be contented with what is imprisonment, and involving a curious admitted to be a learned, but denied on medley of different acquaintances. What all sides to be an interesting, memoir of that of Rousseau was we know from his Buchanan, who yet led a lite abounding in Confessions.' Such men as these were adventures : was driven from Scotland for surely interesting men in their lives, if satirising the Franciscans; from Paris by somebody with eyes to see had only necessity; from Bordeaux by plague; was looked at them for us, or might even imprisoned in Lisbon under suspicion of now be discerned as such by the help of heresy, and relieved his confinement by illustrative records. Unfortunately, intranslating the Psalms; came home to deed, in the instances of many great writScotland to act with the Protestant party, ers, these records are scanty, precisely and sat as Moderator of the General As- because, in old times, the importance of sembly, having shared in every struggle literature wasnot foreseen; while, in modern of his times. Grotius, in Burigni's hands, times, the motion that the mere life of a has fared no better ; and the completest writer was the least important fact about Life of Raleigh is still that of Oldy's the the poor man, has indisposed even his antiquary, one of the prosiest of writers. lion-hunters to preserve anecdotes of him. So much for the more famous of those men When Jobnson made inquiries about Dryof letters whose careers have had most in den from the only survivors who rememcommon with the careers of men of action. bered him in the flesh, he got exactly two
But there have also been authors not petty stories; and, but for Boswell, we formally employed in public affairs, per- verily believe that by this time the Doctor haps not well qualified for them, who have himself would have been beginning to pass still led lives remarkable for the stir and for a dull fellow. The vulgar love marbustle, variety and activity, which bio- vels, and there is something too piquant graphers insist on in the subjects of their in the notion that a man may be a great art. Erasmus, for instance, travelled a writer and yet personally commonplace, to great deal, and in a romantic kind of way; be easily surrendered. Goldsmith himself now taking up his quarters with some owes part of his popularity to the general great noble who encouraged letters, now impression that he was weak fellow. in a village inn, where, if he was seen Lord Macaulay is not fonder of antithesis reading, he was suspected of being a wiz- than the multitude; and the reader may ard; sometimes trotting on his mule stead. remark that in a country place the two ily through a vine-growing country, some persons about whom there is most curiosity and interest exhibited are the squire, and 1—it is the heart—that excites the symthe village idiot.
pathy and the deepest curiosity of the world. Want of record is, no doubt, a fatal ob- Nothing is more certain than that the jection to literary biography. But there kind of interest here indicated may deis much more known than has yet been generate into morbid curiosity; and that wisely used, even about Shakspeare, who an over anxiety to feed the taste might still waits the man that is to distil from corrupt biography. The world must prothe gathered lore of the antiquaries the tect itself against these, as against other precious ointment of critical biography. dangers to which it is exposed. Our busi. What, however, is it—and this is our next ness is only to point out that literary biopoint—that is meant by, the peculiar graphers have never yet drawn on their dearth of incidents' in the lives of au- proper resources, and that they would imthors ? What is an incident'? Every- prove their art by keeping some neglected body cannot win a battle; overthrow a truths in mind. 'Let them reflect, for ingovernment (though this last feat has been stance, that the struggles for fame, or achieved by very ordinary folk in our bread, or knowledge, of a gifted nature, days); sail round the world; be flung out are as good subjects of narrative as the of the château d'If in a sack, like Monte adventures of sailor or soldier;—that there Christo; or gallop away with a damsel on is as much fun to be got out of the wan. his horse, like young Lochinvar. These derings and controversies of a great wit are the kind of exploits people are think- and humourist like Smollett, as out of the ing of when they talk of incidents' and rambles through life, and scrambles for of interest. The active and physical celebrity, of an equally clever politician or sources of interest are what they want. player. From a merely artistic point of Bat are they the deepest sources of it after view, we contend that the writers of liteall? It is the child that is most keen atter rary biography are ignorant of their own the story' in everything; and we may advantages. observe that, even in fiction, the most im- What makes the defects of this departpressive fictions are not those remarkable ment of letters so glaring is, that, perfor fable or plot. Hamlet himself, and not haps, no men enjoy so much of the fame his killing or being killed by Laertes, is of a nation as its authors. Many a man the magical element in the play. Don has read • Don Quixote' who did not know Quixote might have been put through what King of Spain Cervantes lived under, a quite different order of adventures, and and never cared to ask. And so with still fascinate us as the Don. Tristram many books. But the next step—though, Shandy is hardly a story at all. In fact, it to be sure, there are many who never the story were the great charm of any take it—is to ask about the writer who book, it is not easy to see why it should has given us such pleasure. Here the adbe read above twice, when it must neces- mirer is generally disappointed. There sarily be remembered.
are few materials, perhaps; or, more comWe do not, however, wish to push this monly, he learns that the great man did view too far; while we are fully sensible nothing but write, the nothingness being of the subsidiary value of narrative in ex- not in himself but in his observers, and hibiting other elements. We are chiefly that, therefore, he was necessarily an uninanxious to dispel the notion that “inci- teresting person. dents’ in the vulgar sense are necessary to A puzzle ought here to present itself to the interest of a Life. He who leads, as the admiring inquirer. How came an unfar as outward events are concerned, the interesting person to write an interesting most apparently commonplace existence, book? A most suggestive question, we may yet be an object of justly profound need not say, but on which little light is curiosity. All the domestic and senti- thrown by the critics; for it is one of the mental, all the intellectual and moral lite strangest things about the present subject, of such a man, may be pregnant with that the whole philosophy of the connexion material for thought and instruction. The between literature and life remains unexstory of the late Charlotte Bronte is pro- plored. Nobody can tell us how the saic enough on the surface. A clergy- power of writing is related to the characman's daughter, in a remote district, she ter, nor, generally, what relation it bears went out as a governess, and by-and-bye the other qualities of a man. The real wrote a successful novel. But who does characters of Napoleon or Queen Elizabeth not think of her life with fifty times the are more easy to come to an agreement interest: he feels in all the peregrinations about, than those of Goethe, or Bacon, or of Madame Ida Pfeiffer ? It is character Shakspeare.
Some of the most knotty and piquant shyness of Gray; Pope's nap after dinner; points connected with such questions are Prior's taste for low company; Hobbes's moot points to this day-for instance, habit of locking himself up to smoke and whether, on the whole, a good writer (not think all day with the shutters closed; and a skilful writer, but one whose influence the conversational poverty of Addison, is good) is naturally to be expected to be Goldsmith, Cowley, Echard, and Dryden. a good man? Many people will tell you There is an agreeable oddity about facts, No, and quote the saying about Sterne, or supposed facts, like these ; an oddity the dead ass, and the living mother, in which the mass of people would much proof of the fact that a man may write prefer, we may be sure, to a critical inbeautiful sentiment, and be a heartless vestigation of them, an explanation of the rascal. Or, they will excl.im of Rous- apparent contradiction involved in them, seau, as Moore's Miss Biddy Fudge did, and a careful collection of the facts on the
other side. But so long as the notion pre*Alas! that a man of such exquisite notions,
vails, that what a man writes affords no Should send his poor brats to the Foundling, index to what he is, so long literary bio
graphy must be a dull subject. The reader,
concluding that he has the best of the man And, so, they will conclude that a genius in his works, will be incurious about his may be a good or bad man, and that we biography; and the biographer who asmust draw a line between genius and sumes that his own performance must be character. Somehow, however, the in- flat, will be exceedingly likely to make it stinct of the world impels it the other so. way; and hence the • vindications of The whole world, however, notwithwhich literature is full. In spite of Pope's standing that bad biographers have done famous line about Bacon, it is not easy to much to spoil it, does not cheerfully acreconcile oneself to his being a villain. If, quiesce in the non-interesting theory. on the whole, men of intellect were bad Another form of the same instinct which men, how could the world, which is, at makes them besitate to believe that a man least, governed through them, be a tole who has no heart or principles himself can rable place? If there was no connexion touch the heart or strengthen the princibetween character and writing, would ples of other people, likewise inclines them literature itself be tolerable? A book is to wonder how a man can be brilliant in to a man-of-letters what an action is to a his study and no better than a mediocrity man of action,--his peculiar way of ex- for practical purposes when he passes the pressing his nature. When a good book study-door. The public, as a mass, prefers is said to come from a bad man, the gene- a marvel to anything; but the more thinkral analogy of things seems violated, and ing portion has a strong desire for order the apparent prodigy ought to be care- and harmony in the intellectual world, as fully investigated.
elsewhere. They see that it prevails in Such are the important questions float- the rest of creation, and they do not relish ing about, unsettled, and waiting the lite anomalies, or the predominance of anomarary biographer's help. Difficulties of the lies, at all events, in the world of letters. same kind meet him at every step; arising Hence in spite of the tradition as to the from the ignorance in which we are lives of authors being dull, they feel a wrapped of the connexion between what vivid curiosity about them; and, on the authors are and what they produce. whole (unless they themselves should have Everybody assumes that a practical phi- utterly failed in some literary undertaking), lanthropist is philanthropical, or a great they are inclined to believe well of their general brave; and would expect to find characters, and hopefully of their converthe Howard or Wellington of private life sation. Occasionally, perhaps, they track harmonious counterparts of their public to their source the anecdotes on which the character. But a different impression popular impressions about great writers wanders about the world regarding au- rest. They find that the dead ass and thors. The humourist may be a melan- living mother' antithesis concerning Sterne choly being—the poet a prosaic one—the occurs in the Walpoliana,' which excites innovating and daring philosopher a timid scepticism ; that the original authority for man—the comic writer as dull as most Congreve's affected remark to Voltaire is metropolitan members. People dwell with difficult to get at; that Rousseau was cera feeling of piquancy on the reputed tainly not always in his right senses; that gloominess of Molière; the fatness and Burns never came home in a state when he Jaziness of Thompson: the silence and could not see that the house was safe, and
convey himself to bed somehow; that there seek in the life of an author for that interis no real evidence of Swift's marriage est which, existing in all men's lives, must with Stella, though the story has so often necessarily exist in a higher degree in sharpened an attack on his memory; those of superior intellect and keener senand they make other discoveries, which sibility. It will not be the same in kind, rob some ugly traditions of their sting. but it need not be less in extent than that Possibly, too, they discover, on the intel attaching to the careers of other conspicu. lectual side of the inquiry, that it was only ous persons. Nor need they confine themin large companies that Addison could not selves to the more striking men. The talk, while Swift, Bolingbroke, Voltaire, Diary' of Casaubon, though it records Berkeley, Burns and Byron, Johnson and little but the old scholar's readings and his Burke, were all amongst the first talkers domesticities, is one of the most attractive of their times; as Congreve, Sheridan, books, in its way, that we know. The and Colman, the wittiest writers, were characters of Gray, Cowper, and Shenalso the wittiest talkers of their generation. Stone, as exhibited in their letters, and In short, much of the traditionary mystifi- illuminated by the criticism of Mason, cation of the whole subject vanishes on Southey, and Disraeli
, afford beautiful stuinquiry, and a man of plain good sense is dies of the finer varieties of the intellect. likely to arrive at the conclusion, that It is this philosophical interest which must authors are not a caste or peculiar class, be aimed at, and the reward is not less such as the Struldbrugs, but exceedingly great when a success is achieved than in like other specimens of the genus homo, other cases. Bad as our literary biograwith a little more faculty, the exertion of phy is, and obsolete as most of it has bewhich is not so public in its mode of action come, Boswell's “Johnson’ is still the most as the faculty of the majority, but which is popular biography in the language, and just as naturally related to character. The has been exerting of late years a beneficial contrary notions which have prevailed owe effect on the art. their success to the circumstance that the Boswell was not the first man to see species man of letters is of later date in how a literary biography might be made Europe than others, and naturally worse attractive by a fuller revelation of its subunderstood; while the connexion between ject than was common. Mason had been the nature of the class and their work is beforehand with him in his ‘Gray,' and he less easy to trace, though not less real, acknowledged the obligation. Generally than that prevailing elsewhere-facts speaking, Boswell's originality was not in which, when the popular taste for marvels his method ; nor was his effect produced is allowed for, go far to explain the current so much by his talents (though they are delusions on the subject. The tendency absurdly underrated in the common opito exaggerate the importance of literature nion) as by his character. He felt for Johnwhich prevailed in the last century contri- son that antique loyalty which, taking buted to invest it with mystic and super- another direction, was the cause of his stitious associations.* But there bas been Toryism; a downright reverence for genius an effectual reaction against that tendency, and worth, such as had inspired, in olden in the great movements following the times, the haughtiest gentlemen of Europe French Revolution-in the more commer- with a respect for the magnates of the cial and plebeian tone of modern society Church. This is one of the most precious -and in that general depreciation which of the feudal traditions. An upstart would the universal diffusion of anything in a have felt the comparative poverty of the diluted and deteriorated form is apt to great Samuel, and a mere man-of-letters produce.
would hardly have taken so much pains What is now wanted in literary biogra- with a brother of the guild. Bozzy, with phy is that biographers, finally clearing all his faults and absurdities, was a gentle their heads of the old prejudices, should man in spirit as in blood, of the old rock,
whose very pride had an element of good * Lord John Russell, in his ‘Memoirs of Moore' in it. He braved the ridicule of the cynics, affords an example of the propensity, to believe who could not understand his heart-felt that men of letters, from some peculiarity of the tribe, differ from ordinary persons of sense and
reverence for the rough old philosopher of knowledge. 'It is their tendency,' says he, 'to Fleet-street, and consecrated his life to the be dissatisfied with the governments under which service of a life that he felt to be higher. they live.' His instances are the dislike of Plato's We are inclined to think that it would school to the Democracy, and that of Voltaire's read a lesson to many a man of more preto the old French régime. He forgets the great tentious literary parts to inquire how and majoriiy of thinkers believe that, in these cases, the men of letters were in the right..
why it should have been that all the crack VOL. CVI.