Inside Out: An Introduction to Autobiography

Inside Out: An Introduction to Autobiography

Inside Out: An Introduction to Autobiography

Inside Out: An Introduction to Autobiography

Excerpt

'Man is not born with a soul; he dies with one which he has manufactured. And the purpose of life is that he should manufacture a soul, and that soul immortal; and his very own work. For, in the hour of death, a man leaves a skeleton to the earth and a soul—a product—to history . . . the life of the soul—spiritual life—is a struggle against eternal oblivion.'

MIGUEL DE UNAMUNO, L'agonía de Cristianismo .

AUTOBIOGRAPHY is a big subject. So big that to reprint, to edit, to analyse, to index, the subject-matter would be a life-work for a syndicate and staff; and the resultant cyclopaedia would be out of date when published, by reason of the number of fresh accessions since completion.

Selection, then, is the first principle in writing a book about the subject, and one volume can be no more than an introduction to some of its aspects. My book aims mainly at introducing writers whom I like to readers who would wish to know them; writers and readers, namely, who set least store by humanity's less significant interests, who think of civilization as consisting in doing more than one is obliged to do, and who look primarily for those more intimate qualities of personality, in the presence of which we feel that life becomes worth while, and, failing which, we—that is, my friends and I—feel that it is not worth while; qualities best summarized in Shakespeare's phrase about ' spirits finely touched to fine issues .' But, whereas these qualities spring from the rankness of living matter, as an iris from mud, that rankness cannot be ruled out, even from the limits of a single volume; since it comes to be no more unsuitable for consideration than lacking in interest; and greatness, in particular, does not exist without it.

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