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All participation of the joy, and all sympathy for the sorrow of others arises from an effort of the imagination, which, for the time, realizes, to our feelings, the events, which we contemplate, or the narrative, which we perusé. In consequence, we must be affected, in proportion as we can recognize the pains or the pleasures proposed to our observation, by considering them as incident to our own condition in life. No writer, however skilful in his calling, can easily rouse our interest in the bliss or the woe, which we never, ourselves, expect to feel, and which we have, ourselves, never experienced. Whence the histories of the decline and the fall of kingdoms, and of the revolutions of empires, are read with great calmness and tranquillity. For these summary and rapid narratives, which involve the fortunes of myriads of the human race in the operations of a single day, and complicate innumerable incidents in one great transaction, can impart but few lessons of practical application to private life, which takes the hue and the colouring of its happiness or its misery from the judicious or the negligent management of minute circumstances, and of petty oco' currences, that can find no place in those relations, which are seldom conversant with aught below the movements of armies, the dark plottings of cabals, or the consultations of cabinets. History gives us only the great outline of mortality ; it shews men, as it were in a masquerade, armed at all points for the combat of death ; or decked and varnished for the senate or the court. She rarely shews to us the throbbings of the human heart, or levels individual character to common apprehension, or brings home the sentiments of the statesman or the warrior to the business and the bosoms of ordinary men.
But biography unfolds the human character, and lays open to view the inmost recesses of the human heart; because it follows the subject of its contemplation into the chamber and the closet, attends him in the bosom of his family, and sees him in all the undress of life, fulfilling the domestic charities and the dear relations of father, husband, son and brother. Biography introduces us to an intimacy of acquaintance with our fellow-men, and presents us with that strange medly of contradictions, that bundle of inconsistencies, which constitute the human animal. We see man made up of vices and of virtues, of wisdom and of folly, of weakness and of strength, and we recognize our fellow; we cast our mind's eye inward upon ourselves, and find that as face answereth to face in a glass so doth the heart of man to man.
Perhaps, few men have ever existed, a well-written narrative of whose life would not be useful. For we are all formed of the same elay, cast in the same mould, fashioned in the same lineaments, and put in motion by the same great master springs of action, the feelings and the passions of the heart; and, consequently, must all, in some degree, be benefited by a recital of the sagacity and the error, the success and the misfortune, the exertion and the indolence of others.
It is the business of a biographer to pass rapidly over those incidents and those actions, which constitute vulgar greatness, and to dwell slightly upon the horrid atrocities of those, who wade through slaughter to a throne, and shut the gates of mercy on mankind; who cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war; whose foot-steps are traced in the blood of myriads of their fellow-creatures; and whose progress is marked only by the desolation of the fairest provinces of the earth. These horrible transactions, which are a libel on the understanding and the virtue of mankind, should be narrated with expressions of abhorrence, and the chief attention of the biographer directed to convey the reader into the privacies of domestic life, and to display the minute details of ordinary events, where all adventitious circumstances are done away, and men solicit our applause, or incur our censure, by prudence, or by carelesness, by integrity, or by baseness.
Biography, indeed, has been too often intrusted to men utterly inadequate to the undertaking. And these men have fancied that they were writing a life, when they were only giving a chronological series of actions, or of preferments, a mere detail of names and of dates, more barren of information than the Newgate Calendar, and alike free from the imputation of conveying any knowledge of human character, or of imparting any moral instruction. Bishop Warburton said justly of Mallet,“this fellow has written the life of Lord Bacon, and forgot that he was a philosopher; he is going to write the life of the great duke of Marlborough, and no doubt will forget, that Marlborough was a soldier."
The evil effects of iniquity or of folly, of untempered desires, and of unrestrained passions, are best set forth by those narratives, which descend to the level of ordinary life, and point out the means by which men have avoided misery, and acquired happiness. And, since, to pourtray man, as he really is, must ever be the province of the biographer; and as the best qualified to stamp the character of a human being, must be ever the person, who is niost intimately acquainted with that human being; consequently, every
no man was
man of intellect is best fitted to be his own biographer. For he who relates the life of another, is too apt to dwell upon some few conspicious events, to avoid all familiarity, to swell the grandeur of his tale, to shew his favourite through a magnifying glass, to array him in gorgeous trappings, and while he seeks to describe him as a demigod, so carefully conceals his humanity, that we cannot recognize him as a man.
Marshal Turenne says (and he says truly) that “ ever a hero to his valet de chambre." Much less, then, is a man a hero to himself. He who is removed to the greatest height above the crowd by the greatness of his power, or the loftiness of his genius, must always be affected by ambition or by fame, only as they influence the feelings of his heart, and contribute to his domestic happiness. All men, however elevated or degraded, are gifted with the same senses and the same faculties, differing, indeed, in degree, but the same in kind, and, in consequence, must bear a great resemblance to each other in their pleasures and in their pains. The sensations of anguish or of joy are the same in all, though called into action by very different circumstances. When Dionysius, the tyrant of Syracuse, was driven from his throne, and reduced to the necessity of teaching a school at Corinth, he felt the same agony, the same sickness at the heart, as that, which corrodes the peace of the rustic, when he sees his little all consumed by the flames, or swept away by the rolling of the flood. Men thus, by the very constitution of their nature, equal in themselves, will appear equal in accurate and just biography ; and those, whom the externals of fortune separate wide as the poles asunder, may yet afford improvement, and impart delight to the understandings and the hearts of each other.
Some of the most instructing and the most entertaining books, that have ever been penned, are to be found in the volumes of biography. Honest Plutarch, as Lord Shaftesbury calls him, has shewn to us the private character of the most renowned men of antiquity: and he must, indeed, be more or less than man, whose mind is not enlarged, and whose soul is not fired and elevated by the interesting, the animating memoirs of the Cardinal de Retz, written by himself, who was one of the most accomplished gentlemen, and most profound statesmen, by whom, at that period, Europe was adorned.
Condorcet’s life of Turgot, and of Voltaire ; Roscoe's life of Lorenzo de Medici; Stuart's life of Robertson, and of Reid; and above all, the life of Agricola, by Tacitus j. and many other
biographical narratives, are, in themselves, a perennial spring of information and of delight.
Such being the importance, and such the utility of biography, we earnestly request original communications of American excellence; accounts of those statesmen, who have established, and of those warriors, who have bled for the independence and the greatness of their country ; of those divines, who have adorned the doctrines, which they taught; of those physicians, who have enlarged the boundaries of their most interesting science; of those lawyers, who have explained and illustrated the principles of jurisprudence ; and we, also, particularly request, from our correspondents, accounts of two classes of men, who are generally over-looked by the soi-disant philosophers, but who are in reality, the two most substantial pillars, upon which every civilized community must always rest, we mean the merchants and the farmers. Memoirs of any one, who has multiplied the benefits of commerce, or has improved the agriculture of his country, will be most gratefully received by us; because the honourable aggrandizement of America, the permanent augmentation of her physical and her moral strength, and her rapid advancement to a proud and a preponderating situation in the great scale of nations, is a wish, that lies near unto our hearts, is a desire, which is entwined with the chords of our exist
Soon after the peace, or rather the hollow truce of Amiens, was concluded between the British and the French, the fashion of wearing whiskers on the face began to decline among the gentlemen of Britain. A young nobleman in the army made one in a dinner party, which Mr. Curran, the celebrated Irish Advocate, graced with his presence. My Lord, said Curran, who observed that the young officer's cheeks were shaded with a most formidable grove of hair ny lord, when do you put your
the peace establishment?
When you put your tongue upon the civil list, sir-replied the captain.
Some caution is requisite in passing our opinion upon strangers; a caution, iowever, w.jich few of us adopt. "At a public levee at the Court of St. James a gentleman said to Lord Chesterfield
pray, my lord, who is that tall, awkward woman, yonder?
That lady, sir-replied Lord Chesterfield—is my sister. The gentleman reddened with confusion, and stammered out—no, my lord, I beg your pardon ; I mean that very ugly woman, who stands next to the Queen. That lady, sir-answered Lord Chesterfield calmly-that lady, sir, is my wife.
DAPPER Jemmy Boswell, one day, said to Samuel Johnson-Doctor, when I used to sit up with you late at night, and drink wine, it used to make my head ache. Johnson-Sir, it was not the wine, that you drank, which made your head ache. Boswell—Indeed! Doctor; you dont tell me so! Johnson-Indeed, sir, I do tell you
Boswell—Then, what was it, doctor, which made my head ache? Johnson—The sense, that I put into it, sir. BoswellWhat! doctor, does sense make the head ache? . Johnson-Yes, sir, when the head is not used to it.
While the troubles in Ireland were yet at their height, at the close of the last century, during the march of a regiment, the honourable captain P—, who had the command of the artillery baggage, observed, that one of the peasants, whose car and horse had been pressed for the regiment, did not drive as fast as he ought, went up to him, and struck him : the poor fellow shrugged up his shoulders, observed, that there was no occasion for a blow, and immediately quickened the pace of his animal. Some time afterwards, the artillery officer, having been out shooting all the morning, entered a cabin for the purpose of resting himself, where he found the very peasant, whom he had struck, at dinner with his wife and family : the man, who was very large, and powerfully made, and whose abode was solitary, might have taken fatal revenge upon the honourable officer; instead of which, immediately recognizing him, he chose the best potatoe out of his bowl, and presenting it to his guest, said—“There, your honour, oblige me by tasting a potatoe, and I hope it is a good one ; but you should not have struck me; a blow is hard to bear."