Essays in Biography, 1680-1726

Essays in Biography, 1680-1726

Essays in Biography, 1680-1726

Essays in Biography, 1680-1726

Excerpt

"Quand donc", Flaubert once wrote, "Quand donc consentira-t-on à faire de l'histoire comme on fait du roman, c'est-à-dire sans amour et sans haine pour les personnages en jeu, au point de vue d'une blague supérieure, exactement comme le bon Dieu voit les choses d'en haut?" The answer must be, never, certainly so far as the biographical corner of history is concerned: for during many months the historian--if he can be called by so grave a title--must live at close quarters with his original, and such intimacy must bring with it more than a little measure of love or hate.

Yet there is a natural antidote to this evil. When all is said and done we are ready to accept the shortcomings of our friends, and love them, perhaps, not only in spite of, but by reason of their failings. Such an admission may be shocking to those who seek for perfect integrity, or to those strange persons who admire it; but it is only by contact of mind with mind, and of heart with heart, that we can know our fellows. We are not so constituted that we can "exactement comme le bon Dieu voir les choses d'en haut". The danger is greater where intimacy has brought dislike, and here again, perhaps the recognition of our own dubious nature may piece out the imperfection of our intellectual judgement; thus we need not grieve at our failure to reach the dizzy height of an historical Flaubert.

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