TT is thought by many, that the lives of literary

men are sufficiently known from their writings, and that any record of their private history is at best superfluous. Much may be said in support of this opinion. Of poets more especially it may be affirmed, that the image which they put forth of themselves in their works is a true and adequate representation of the author, whatever it may be of the man :-nay, that in many cases it may depict the man more faithfully,— may show more truly what he was, than any memorial of what he did and suffered in his mortal pilgrimage, too often a sad tissue, so it is made to appear, of frailty and sorrow. Homer and Shakspeare are little more than impersonations of the poetic faculty. The former is literally a phantomnominis umbra. Of the latter we just know that he lived and died; and if the record were to be


supplied, as has been attempted, by the ordinary materials of the biographer,—by a meagre outline of every-day facts, filled in by such anecdotes as vulgar curiosity most commonly collects and remembers, it had better remain a blank.*

Yet, on the other hand, it may be urged that

* So deemed the subject of this memoir. “It were well,” he observes in his Life of Bentley, “ for great authors, poets, philosophers, scholars,—may be also for divines, if their memory lived only in their works — if their books were like the pyramids, which are admired the more, because we know not by whom, or for what, they were erected. Happiest, as the first and greatest of poets, is Homer, of whose corporeal existence not a record survives. So utterly are the footsteps of his mortal pilgrimage obliterated, that certain irrefragable doubters deny that he ever appeared in the body, and maintain that the “Iliad' is a meteor formed of the exhalations of a national mind, a unison of many voices, blended by the distance of a remote age ; and it is pleasanter to believe even this, than to think that his life was spent in petty squabbles, and qui tam litigation ; or that, according to one tradition, he drowned himself from vexation, because he could not guess a miserable riddle.”— Northern Worthies, vol. i., p. 103, of New Edition.

Of Shakspeare he says in like manner :-"Gladly as we would know more of our great dramatist, it is, perhaps, just as well that so little is recorded. The ins and outs of his life would doubtless make a curious tale ; but then he would doubtless have had imitators, servile pecus, just as rational as Commodore Trunnion, when he tacked about in a sidewind on a plain turnpike road.”H. C., Marginalia.

Yet if the life of Shakspeare could indeed be recovered; if we could be told how he thought, felt, and acted as an individual ; how he bore himself under the pressure of this world, and with what mind he looked forward to another;

there is a meaning in every man's life—a moral which may be studied with advantage. It has been said that the life of any man, however obscure, fully and faithfully recorded, if this were possible, would excite a deeper interest, and convey more needful instruction, than the annals of an empire. The proposition, thus stated, goes further than my present purpose requires; yet we may take it far enough to conclude that the strong desire which all men feel to become acquainted with the personal history of those who have in any way distinguished themselves above their fellows, though often a mere craving for excitement, or associated with yet meaner passions, is not in itself unreasonable. It may point to an instinct in our common nature by which we are directed from the observation of others to the contemplation and knowledge of ourselves, and in ourselves of those all-concerning truths, the ultimate evidence of which is from within. The truth may be that the story of any man's life would be worth telling, if it could be told truly; yet that one man may be more

the record might make us sadder, but would it not make us wiser men ?

There is a charm in those passages in the “ Paradise Lost," which refer to the author's personal feelings, which made Johnson, though he thought them out of place, more than half regret the absence of similar allusions in the “Iliad” and “ Odyssey.”

“noticeable” than another, whether in himself or in his circumstances, and that such are fit subjects for biography, the proper business of which is not to record facts, as such, but in their bearing upon the personal life of an individual. A false, distorted, partial record is indeed to be deprecated; and this consideration might of itself be sufficient to overcome the scruples by which those who alone are able to save the memory of a departed friend or relative from misrepresentation are not unfrequently withheld from undertaking the task.

“Men's evil manners live in brass ; their virtues
We write in water ;”

and this as much from ignorance as from levity or malice. Their evil manners are on the surface : their virtues often lie deeper-known perhaps but to the few who have discovered them by the divination of love. We should have a truer as well as a more consolatory impression of many characters of which we now think hardly, if their lives had been handed down to us by their friends—by those who had looked upon them, and into them, with a loving eye. To withdraw the veil from domestic privacy is indeed most often an uncalled-for, and therefore an objectionable display ;-to publish “ the secret with which the stranger intermeddleth not,” an offensive exposure. But there are cir

cumstances which set aside ordinary rules. It is the motive which governs the act.

And as regards men of letters, although it be true that imaginative compositions of the highest scope possess a permanent and universal interest quite independent of personal associations, yet there is a wide department of literature of which this cannot be affirmed. Many works, both of fancy and reflection, and those of no ordinary merit, partake of an occasional character, and cannot be fully understood or appreciated without some acquaintance with the life and circumstances of the author. The writings of Dryden, Swift, and Pope are of this class. And there are others, again, the charm of which is mainly heightened, if it be not altogether produced, by the acquaintance which we form with the writer himself—with the peculiarity of his mind and character. We read the essays of Montaigne and Charles Lamb, not so much for the sake of the thoughts or opinions themselves, as of the coloured medium through which they pass.

In all these cases the life of the author is a commentary upon his works.

Who is not pleased to be made acquainted with the author of the Deserted Village, and of the Vicar of Wakefield ? Who does not love the man for the sake of the writings, and the writings better for the sake of the man ?

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