One Mighty Torrent: The Drama of Biography

One Mighty Torrent: The Drama of Biography

One Mighty Torrent: The Drama of Biography

One Mighty Torrent: The Drama of Biography

Excerpt

When John Foxe quoted Cicero's words, 'the witnesse of truth, the glasse of times,' it was of history that he was writing. But they are equally appropriate, in a way even more true, of biography. History is important only because it happens to human beings; a Genghis Khan of the groundhogs would move us hardly at all, or a Rhodes among the rhododendrons. Fabre can fascinate us with the social life and engineering skill of ants, spiders, and bees (humanizing them a little in so doing); but he would strain our attention if he tried to tell their history for even a hundred years. Without a living sense of personality suffusing its framework, the abstractions of history are only half-truths. Biography never lets us forget that the processes of history clothe themselves in human lives; it is indeed 'personal history.'

That is why in recent years biography has been so enormously popular. Biographers portray their living fellows even before these have reached their middle years; they turn a backward exploring telescope on all of time from the Pharaohs to Henry Ford. More men write the stories of their own lives than ever before, trying to see and understand themselves in relation to their times. The Journals ofArnold Bennett, the Letters ofD. H. Lawrence, the reminiscences of William Butler Yeats, are read eagerly; parts of them may even appear in magazines. Biography steadily expands on publishers' lists, almost rivaling the novel, and a tre-

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