Charles A. Beard, An Intellectual Biography

By Ellen Nore | Go to book overview

Preface

The sources for a biography of Charles A. Beard are, as he remarked of his own researches, "frankly fragmentary." Mary Beard noted that her husband had "destroyed some letters, indeed all his letters, a short time before he died ... We had only kept confidential letters and he felt obligated not to release them. I shared that feeling." Later she added, "It should be a precious liberty to bypass the press and public life by communing in personal letters on matters of the heart and mind." 1

The Beards surely intended, then, that people who wrote about them would do so on the basis of their published works. And for the curious biographer there is really not a great deal more. Lacking a core of personal diaries and intimate, self-revealing letters, I have not really succeeded in calling Beard back in an immediate way. From my manuscript an identifiable individual does not emerge, and I must admit that this is perhaps more than a failure of sources. There remained a distance between author and subject. Yet to be written is a fuller biography which will achieve that bonding which distinguishes the finest efforts to re-create the lives of individuals.

Beard himself did not really approve of biography. The lives of individuals, he thought, left out too much. His personal code of honor forbade him to deal in personalities, and he seldom did so. "Biography," he once commented when discussing Franklin Roosevelt, whose policies were the subject of many of his scholarly efforts, "is not a science or an art inexorably bodying forth 'the truth.' It is more nearly a form of village gossip, sublimated, elevated,

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