Gladstone and Palmerston: Being the Correspondence of Lord Palmerston with Mr. Gladstone, 1851-1865

Gladstone and Palmerston: Being the Correspondence of Lord Palmerston with Mr. Gladstone, 1851-1865

Gladstone and Palmerston: Being the Correspondence of Lord Palmerston with Mr. Gladstone, 1851-1865

Gladstone and Palmerston: Being the Correspondence of Lord Palmerston with Mr. Gladstone, 1851-1865

Excerpt

The duties of biography, however infrequently performed, are easily defined. They are, if I am not mistaken, to produce a living record of men who were themselves once living. Other forms of commemoration may be preferred--the recumbent statue and its literary equivalent, the official Life, the simple obituary notice, the panegyric, or the lampoon. Each has its merits. At least one masterpiece of English biographical writing was produced as an official Life; the lapidary inscription has, at its best, a simple dignity; and as for the posthumous lampoon, it enjoys increasing prestige in an unchivalrous age which appears to derive unlimited enjoyment from gay onslaughts upon the unprotected dead. But, whatever else they may be, they are not biography.

Its duties are at once simpler and more exacting. As it is to be a record, it must conform to the highest standards of accuracy, a test that may be applied with cruel consequences to the sprightlier products of our time no less than to the epitaph. For accuracy connotes research, a rigorous exploration of all printed or unprinted sources of information; and a sardonic comment or so, founded upon lighthearted acceptance of a few secondary authorities, will scarcely satisfy this arduous branch of scholarship. But bare accuracy, though it provides an indispensable foundation, is not enough. No one could mistake the Annual Register for history or the official file that contains a soldier's état des services for his military biography. For accuracy itself requires that biography should attain a high degree of animation. Of the two alternatives presented by the poet Gray, the "storied urn" may satisfy a group of sorrowing relations; but the true biographer will surely aim at the "animated bust", since he is a portrait-sculptor, not a monumental mason. His duty, in the very cause of accuracy, is to reproduce a man and not a . . .

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