Biography is a complicated art that combines things seemingly irreconcilable.★ Concerned with the depiction of personality, the biographer must be an imaginative writer; concerned with the resurrection of actual men and events, he must be a meticulous scholar. On the one hand, he leans toward the technique of the novelist; on the other, toward the technique of the documentary historian. Somewhere between these two poles lies his own technique. Finding the golden mean which is most suited to his art is the fundamental problem which faces every writer of lives.
The easy way out is to go to one extreme or the other. Many a biographer, deeply conscious of his duty as a scholar, has forgotten that he is dealing with people who once lived and thought. We may learn from his pages where a man was at a certain date and the actual physical facts of what the man was doing. Those letters and papers which the biographer considers relevant he paraphrases or quotes. And, having done this, he claims to have gone as far as a biographer may go; these are the facts, anything else is fiction. Even if his books are not vivid, they are, he insists, completely impersonal and non-partisan, entirely accurate.
We may agree at once that such books are not vivid, but are they impersonally accurate? That is open to question. Although the author has quoted the documents he has used with rigid fidelity, keeping in every misspelling and every omitted comma, the fact remains that he has made a selection among the many papers at his disposal. If he has written the life of a great character in history, we may be sure he has been able to quote only one document in five hundred, or a thousand. Of course, he has dwelt on the papers he considers most significant, but his judgment has depended on his own personal interpretation of his subject's career. Thus, if he considers his subject an honest man, he will regard____________________