[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

pectation that it will be publicly acknowl- | or breaking loose upon their afternoon edged in some shape. When your store is rambles, surrounded by the children they amassed, as we have remarked already, encouraged to be their playmates. The your literary discretion is merely beginning children who had the run of the inner to be tried. You have to face the invid. book-room at Abbotsford, and kept posious task of rejection, unless you mean session of the little tenement at Keswick, consciously to mar your work and do in- became a part of the professional life of justice to the reputation you are respon their parents. But that kind of domestic sible for. You find that your correspond- revelation may be very easily overdone ; ent, the fussy dilettante, has been cackling as when a widow or daughter writes the over iliusory treasures. You can make life of the husband or father whose loss nothing of the packet of brief dinner invi- has left a grievous chasm in her existence. tations; or the note paying a civil compli. Then we have her — and very naturally, ment to the poem in manuscript that was should she once have decided to make the promptly sent back. You give offence in public her confidants — always twining other quarters with better reason. You herself round the memory of the lost one, cannot reproduce indefinitely very similar and recalling the thousand unsuggestive ideas; and there are passages and person- trifles which have a living and touching alities in really suggestive letters which interest for herself; while an enthusiastic you are bound in common prudence to friend, though with less excuse, is apt to suppress. All that, however, is matter of fall into a similar error. personal feeling and sacrifice. You must That leads one naturally to the cardinal make up your mind to make a certain virtue of self-suppression, which, after all, number of enemies, and to brazen out a is only another form of tact. If you are good deal of obloquy and abuse. After bent on killing two birds with one stone all, your rejected correspondents cannot if you hope to immortalize yourself in comcherish their malice forever ; nor are you memorating your friend there is no more likely to trouble them soon again for an- to be said save that doubtless you will go other magnum opus. But when your ma. far towards defeating your own purpose ; terials have been sifted, and when what is for a book can hardly fail to be poor when worthless has been refused, you enter on half the contents are either indifferent to the more delicate and critical stage of the reader or objectionable. But a man's dealing with them as between yourself and unconscious vanity may innocently enough your public. You must keep the fear of cast a heavy shadow over his hero; or the being wearisome perpetually before your writer may honestly multiply useful de. eyes, and resign yourself to retrenching tails, which as matter of self-regard he had mercilessly on what at first sight seemed better have restricted. If he be a Boswell worthy of preservation. No matter how full or choose to play the Boswell

, there is no of interest a life may have been, the public great harm in that; but Boswells, as we will not tolerate more than a reasonable have observed, are almost as rare as pheamount of it; and it should be your study nixes. More often we have something in to bring out in striking relief those fea- the style of Forster's “ Life of Dickens," tures which gave your subject his special though the author will almost necessarily claims to notoriety. It may have been have been less fortunate in a subject. Mr. lucky perhaps for Boswell, though of Forster, in writing a most entertaining nar. course he deplored it, that he should have rative, said nothing, of course, that was made the acquaintance of his hero so late not strictly true, nor perhaps did he exagin life. Otherwise, though it is difficult gerate either his intimacy or the influence indeed to believe, those delightful volumes he exercised on his friend. But though of his might have been multiplied disa- the delicate flatteries he published, and the greeably.

details he gave, may have added life and Judicious glimpses at the domestic in- color to the story he was writing, they terior are indispensable ; but unless, per- threw Dickens himself into the back. haps, in the case of a woman who has been ground; and at all events, so far as its throwing lustre on her times, without hav. author was concerned, the impression of ing recognized any special mission” that the book was decidedly unpleasing. way, it seems to us that those glimpses There is one kind of memoir in which should be indulged in with extreme discre. the writer must come to the front, and that tion. Much of course depends upon the is autobiography. If undertaken in

We should never have loved either spirit of absolute candor and simplicity, Scott or Southey half so much, had we nothing may be made more instructive and not seen them sitting among their books I entertaining. Nor does it follow by any




[ocr errors]

means that the autobiographer need be since he was making the war history he one of those men whose name has been describes so lucidly. Yet with hardly a much in the mouth of the world. On the single directly personal touch, how forcibly contrary, in our opinion, the best of our and graphically we have the hero presented autobiographies are those that have chiefly to us! Or take a genius of a very different a domestic or personal interest. They order, who wrote with a different purpose, should be the honest confessions of a na. and in very different style. We have lately ture that has the power of self-analysis; had a voluminous collection of the letters and nobody but the individual himself can of Honoré de Balzac. The most impormake the disclosures which give such a tant of these were addressed to two ladies history completeness. No incident can to the sister whom he had always made then be too insignificant, provided it have his confidante, and to the Russian barsome distinct bearing on the end in view.oness whom he afterwards married. We The author must necessarily have a reten- do not know if he had any idea that they tive memory, and he should bave a natural might ultimately be published. Nor if he instinct of self-observation. For in telling had, do we imagine that it would have his plain, unvarnished tale, he reveals him-made any great difference; for a Frenchself more or less consciously; and if he man whose soul is steeped in romance is have the knack of picturesque narrative, it likely to be transcendently feminine in his is so much the better; while literary ex. emotional candor. At all events, that lifeperience may be a positive snare. It may long series of letters makes up the most tempt him into the laying himself out for vividly descriptive of autobiographies. effect, which will almost inevitably defeat We know the novel-writer, with his bursts its purpose — into giving an air of artifice of sustained industry, when the fancy was and sentiment to the confessions that working at high-pressure pace; with his should be unmistakably genuine. Some trials, his triumphs, his eccentricities, and of the most satisfactory autobiographies his extravagances, as if we had lived in we are acquainted with, bave been writ. his intimacy all his days. It is not only ten by women. Women, and especially that we hear the duns knocking at his French women, are more emotional and door, and see them assembled to lay siege impressionable than the rougher sex. to his ante-room, while he was feverishly When they are warmed to their work, they toiling against time, filliping himself by have less hesitation in unbosoming them- perpetual doses of coffee in the sumptuous selves unreservedly in the public confes- apartments they had furnished on credit. sional; nor are they embarrassed by false But he reveals all the caprices of his shame or overstrained sensitiveness, when changing moods; he shows himself in his they are impelled to lay bare their inner. alternations of excitement and depression; most feelings. But if a public man be- he has no conception of drawing a veil comes his own historiographer, it is an over the failings and sensibility he is inincessant effort to be either straightforward clined to take pride in; he returns time or dispassionate. He places himself invol- after time to his literary feuds and resentuntarily on his defence, and is vindicating ments, as he is inexhaustible in his abuse bis reputation with his contemporaries and of the pettifogging lawyers who strewed posterity. Naturally he cannot be over- thorns among the rose-leaves on which he scrupulous in putting his conduct in the would have loved to repose. He cannot most favorable light; he launches cross- be said to exhibit himself to advantage, indictments against the opponents who and yet somehow we like him. Not cerhave impeached it; and even if in his own tainly on account of his genius, for that judgment he be punctiliously conscientious, was decidedly of the cynical cast that his conscience may have been warped by repels affection though it compels admirathe habit of self-deception.

tion. We believe we take to him chiefly What comes very near to actual auto- because he is so entirely without reserve biography, and may be even more strik for us. In ordinary biographies you feel ingly indicative of character, is the publi- that much may be kept back, and suspicion cation of copious correspondence, either suggests or exaggerates the concealments; by itself or slightly connected by a com- while, if a man be entirely outspoken, and mentary. The Duke of Wellington was a seems to take your sympathy with him as man of few words, and the Wellington a matter of course, we give him more than despatches are models of terse narrative due credit for his amiable qualities. Unand pointed English. The writer, though happily, it is seldom we bave such elabohe only alludes to himself incidentally, rate self-portraiture nowadays, seeing that necessarily fills a great space in them, painstaking letter-writing is become a fash

[ocr errors]

ion of the past, and it is only one of the on which the popularity of ancient and indefatigable French romance-writers like modern historians, like Tacitus or Claren Balzac, Sand, or Dumas, who can spare don, is more solidly established than their time and thought for it from their mul- striking contemporary portraits. The tifarious avocations.

sketch of Catiline is perhaps the most imWe are disposed to wonder at the cour-pressive part of Sallust's history of the age or rashness of those who write the famous conspiracy. What would we give biographies of living men. The work can now for the most meagre memoir of Shake. be but an unsatisfactory instalment at the speare, were it only authoritative ? and best; and it is impossible to overrate its bad he found his Boswell or Lockhart, we delicacy or difficulty. It must tend to be might have had a book that would have either a libel or unmitigated eulogy, though gone down to posterity with his poems. much more often it is the latter. When So much is that the case, that one of the an enemy undertakes it--and we have most favorite modern forms of biography seen an instance of that lately in memoirs consists in ransacking the authorities of of the premier – he must judge his sub- the remote past, and piecing together such ject solely by public appearances. He disjointed materials as they can supply. can have no access to those materials for That must be more or less like reconthe vie intime which can alone give truth-structing the mastodon from the traces he ful color to the portrait. Besides, he holds has left on the primeval rocks. Learned a brief for the prosecution; he has to Germans, distinguished members of the vindicate the prejudices which warp his French Academy, deeply-read professors judgment, and he lays himself out to in- in the English universities, have betaken vent misconstruction of motives, if not themselves to rewriting the lives of illus. for actual misrepresentations. While the trious Greeks and Romans. They have partial friend or enthusiastic devotee can done most creditable work, we confess; scarcely steer clear of indiscriminate puff- and yet, however acutely logical the treat. ing. Whatever he may do for the reputa- ment may be, we have the impression that tion of this subject, he can hardly fail to we are being beguiled into historical roinjure his own. As his readers are dis-mance where the actual has been ingenposed to set him down as either a dupe or iously merged in the ideal. In lives that a shameless panegyrist, he pays the pen came nearer to our own times, that impresalty of having thrust bimself into a false sion naturally diminishes; and we grant position. If he has really much that is that there is more satisfactory reason for new and original to tell, it will be assumed writing them. The discoveries of gossipy that he has had direct encouragement to State papers all the world over - notably undertake the task. Few men are cast in those in the archives of Simancas, and the such a mould, or occupy a position so un- official correspondence of accomplished mistakably independent, that they can dare Venetian emissaries - have thrown floods in such embarrassing circumstances to of unexpected light on some of the most show the serene impartiality of the judge. remarkable personages of the Middle Ages. If they have gone for their information to There is an odd fashion too in those the fountain-head, they have, in fact, com- subjects, and certain picturesque people mitted themselves to a tacit arrangement and periods seem to have an irresistible by which they undertake to be nothing but fascination for literary men. Paradoxical laudatory. Should they insinuate blame, conclusions, that are due in a great degree it is in such softened terms that they al- to the author's ingenuity, have of course most turn condemnation into compliments. their charın; and we can understand the And even when the writer can honestly be taste that finds delight in whitewashing the lavish of his praise, he must feel that his most doubtful or disreputable figures in praises sound unbecoming. In short, as history. But the fact of some impressive it seems to us, it is work that can scarcely character having already been repeatedly be undertaken by any man of sensitive appropriated, appears to be a challenge to feeling

other artists to take him in hand; and Yet in more way

than one the produc- thus, for example we see a religious retion of a good biography is a most praise former like Savonarola, or such a subtle worthy ambition, for no one is a greater thinker as his contemporary Machiavelli

, benefactor alike to literature and posterity receiving, noteworthy as they undoubtedly than the man who has achieved it. In were, more than their fair share of atten. spite of his amiable superstition and his tion. tedious digressions, Plutarch is still a Next to Boswell's Johnson, to our mind standard classic. Nor is there anything the most enjoyable life in the language, is

[ocr errors]

Lockhart's Scott. And a model biogra- dom has there been a more strangely phy it is for the practical purpose of exam- checkered career, or a losing campaign ple, since no man who can avail himself of more gallantly fought out after the fush of somewhat similar advantages need despair an unexampled series of triumphs. Alof producing a creditable imitation. As most unprecedented prosperity had ended we have remarked already, the secret of in what might have been the blackest Boswell's success in some degree defines eclipse, but for the manly nature that and eludes detection; while some of the shone brightest at the last through the conditions to which it is most obviously clouds that would have depressed any ordidue are such as few men would care to nary fortitude. Never was there stronger accept. They would object to discarding temptation to indiscriminate hero-worship, delicacy and reserve, and to pursuing their for Lockhart was the friend and confidant purpose with a sublime indifference as to of his father-in-law, and had watched him whether or not they made themselves the with ever-growing admiration through his laughing-stock of their readers. But Lock-changing fortunes. No man was better hart produced his fascinating work simply fitted to appreciate that rare versatility of by writing a straightforward narrative. literary genius than one who had himself He was entirely outspoken as to the pri- been a successful romance-writer, and who vate life of his illustrious subject, except in was a critic by temperament as well as so far as discl ares of family secrets were habit. Perhaps it was partly owing to that necessarily limited by good taste and critical temperament, with the practice of good feeling. As we are taught to admire self-control which it inferred, that the Sir Walter's genius in the critical appre. biographer proved equal to his splendid ciation of his works, we learn to love the opportunities. Partly because, setting the man in his domestic intercourse. What obligations of honesty aside, he felt that can be pleasanter, for instance, than the all he could tell of his father-in-law would picture of the lion taking refuge from the only redound 10 Scott's honor in the end. houseful of guests his hospitality had gath. But the result has been that we have a ered into Abbotsford, at his favorite daugh- life in many volumes which for once we ter's quiet breakfast-table under the trees would very willingly have longer, and for in the little garden at Huntly Burn ? We once in a way, if there be a fault in the learn to love him in his friendship for his book, it is the excessive self-effacement of pets, for it was friendship at least as much the accomplished author. Had he told all, as fondness; and they and their master which of course he could not do, we bethoroughly understood each other. Lock- lieve it would appear that his counsels to hart, with the true feeling of an artist, has Scott had been invaluable. painted Scott among his dogs as Raeburn Since Scott wrote the “ Napoleon,” did. We know them all, from Camp, whose which hardly did justice either to the emdeath made him excuse himself from a din- peror or to the author, good lives of solner-party on account of the loss of a much. diers have been scarce — although, by the loved friend - from Maida sitting solemn. way, in that connection, we may refer to ly at his elbow in his study, or stalking the Count de Sèjur's admirable memoir of gravely by his master's side, while the rest his master whichi came out a few years ago. of the pack were gambolling ahead of Wellington and the heroes of the peninsula them down to “the shamefaced little had been disposed of; and there were few terrier,” who would hide himself at a word opportunities for soldiers distinguishing of reproof, and who could only be lured themselves in the comparatively peaceful out of his seclusion by the irresistible times that followed. in India and the sound of the meat-chopper at the dinner. Crimea, though we do not forget dashing hour. To be sure no biographer could leaders like the Napiers, and many distinhave been more fortunate in a subject. guished generals of division, nó really The life of Scott from first to last was great commander can be said to have come overcharged with diversified elements of to the front; and the lives of officers in

His lines were cast in the land 'subordinate positions usually supply inciof the Border, where every, hamlet and dents that are too episodical. Besides, peel-tower had its legend, and each stream the memoir of a distinguished soldier and dale their ballads. There was an ex. must have mainly a strategical interest, and traordinary blending of the picturesque the most accomplished literary artist will with the practical as the lawyer turned into find his talent taxed to the utmost if his the poet and novelist; and the pen of the book is to be made attractive to the general wizard in an evil hour took to backing the public. No doubt the authoritative life of bills that landed him in insolvency. Sel-I Von Moltke will be a most valuable work,





yet we may surmise that it will be heavy fine scope for forcible writing in a brilliant reading. Moreover, the present fashion forensic career, when beginning with some of war correspondence unpleasantly antici- unlooked-for exhibition of eloquence; with pates the military memoir writer. He the lucky hit of a junior stepping into the must go for his most exciting materials to place of an absent leader, it led him republications that are universally accessi- through professional and political intrigues ble, though, after having been read, they and many a hotly contested election, to may have been half forgotten in the newer land him in the chief justiceship or on the interest of fresher sensations; while most woolsack. At present the course of the men will be inclined to renounce in de profession is more prosaic. The young spair the hope of improving on the pictu- barrister's best chance at his start is a payresqueness of the best of these narratives. ing family connection, or marriage with a

It must be much the same in the case of lady who brings clients as her dowry. He statesmen. Formerly, when there were climbs the ladder by slow degrees, and it meagre Parliamentary reports, when the is seldom he clears the first rounds at a premier was a despot like Walpole or spring. The ballot and the new election Chatham, and the administration arbitrary laws have done away with the romance of so long as he held office, — there was the hustings; and even the humors of the much that was interesting to be told, much circuits seem to have been dying out with that was mysterious to be explained, when the old habits of sociable conviviality. We a biographier found himself in a position fear we shall never again have such a book to make confidences. Now it is compara as Twiss's “Life of Lord Eldon ; tively rarely that we have to wait for the need future lord chancellors fear a new demise of ihe principal actors in them to series of a Lord Campbell's “Lives,” learn the exact truth as to important trans- which shall “ add a fresh horror to death." actions. Each successive step is submit- Perhaps in the general decadence of the ted to the most searching scrutiny. Ener- art, the lives of divines are the sole excepgetic or fussy members ask questions and tion; and that is chiefly because they are raise debates. Ministers are forced to so seldom liberally catholic either in their stand on their defence against attacks and spirit or their interest. A man who has insidious suggestions that cannot well be made a name as a pulpit orator, or who left unanswered. The debates are thrashed has played a leading part in the affairs of out in exhaustive leaders, while corre some church or sect, has his personal folspondents and consuls alsroad are contrib- lowing of devoted worshippers. In nine uting to the literature of foreign questions. cases out of ten the life has been written There is a serial publication of blue-books by some faithful follower who has clung to which are systematically condensed for the him like Elisha to Elijah. The biography information of the public. No minister becomes the faithful reflection of its subdare refuse the publication of a State pa ject's views and convictions. We can per: at the most, he can only take the hardly say that his prejudices are treated responsibility of deferring it. Now and with tenderness; for they are adopted, then a man's lips may be sealed by a punc- defended, and developed. The people tilious sense of honor, or by circumstances who make a rush on the first edition know which he can hardly command, as to some exactly what they have to expect, and there cabinet decision or piece of diplomacy in is little chance of their being disgusted or which he played a conspicuous part. But disappointed, since the name and familiar with the lapse of time, people have ceased opinions of the author guarantee the tone. to feel concerned in that; and even when The bitterness of conflicting creeds is attention has been subsequently called to proverbial; and it is too seldom that a it in some keen political critique, it only writer seizes on the grand opportunity of awakens a languid interest. We are far soaring superior to the narrow preposses. from saying that the average talent of our sions of sectarianism, into the untroubled statesmen has declined, though the glare atmosphere of the Christian religion. Yet of publicity that exposes their shortcom- though a sectarian memoir must be one. ings seems to give greater point every day sided and narrow-minded, it need by no to the famous dictum of Oxenstiern. But means of necessity be a literary blunder. there can be no question that writing their On the contrary, earnest partisanship may lives in detail is coming more and more to be an antidote to dulness; bitterness of have much in common with the philosoph. feeling gives it a certain piquancy; and ical revision of ancient history.

the invective that is inspired by honest Even with the lawyers, things have self-satisfaction may lend animation and changed for the worse. There used to be I vigor to the style. The pious men who

« VorigeDoorgaan »