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Six Short Biographics

by R.c. & Goffin

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SIX SHORTBIOGJRAPHIESHUMPHREY MILFORDPLACED CN THE SHELFISRI VENKATGSWARAPREFACETHE short essay in biography is one of the pleasingfashions of modem English literature. Lives portrayedat fuller length have always of course occupied a placeof honour in the hierarchy of letters and particularly inthe makeup of historyso Bacon enumerates the kindin his marshalling of the human sciences Carlylespeaks of history as the essence of innumerablebiographies. But the short and sophisticated personalmemoir is rather peculiarly a modem development, andrepays study as a special kind of its own.One thing is certain that the subject of any greatbiography, whether impressionistic or full length, mustbe a character, no mere human eupnoist another, thatthe little necrology at any rate is concerned only withwhat is characteristic of the subject. We feel indeedinclined to question whether in this class A, C, Bensonsruling that the impression must be faithful is a truecriterion. Perhaps we can explain whaJt we byreferring to the memories we have of our own lives.Most of us look back over long drearyyears we remember only the significant happexiingSyand even these we remember haphazard, probably notat all in chronological order nor in the order of theirapparent mundane importance The ofaccidents may have become incidents to us, eventsescapes of the truly us while long passages of time may be in asthey were travelled in time, and spelT no personalmeaning, nothing really relevant to what we feel wereour real selves.So to scan the course of other peoples lives, and topenetrate through the insignificant to the significantsurely this is the truer criterion of the short biographyas an order in literature. A memoir which shows thisimaginative vision does give the f whole life, and not one aspect only but it works from the core to thecircumference, seizing the character, and then dramatizing for us just those scenes where the chosen actofmay fulfil his role. The stage directions to thissynoptic drama may be arresting, the more brilliantlyarresting the better we are pleased, but it is the successof the dramatists characteract which counts most.Tbi gire? the piece its authenticity we look up froxnow reading and say : We know this manTo suit the scope of the present volume some of theselected biographies have been slightly abridged.N.G.R.C.G.ACKNOWLEDGEMENTSTHE publishers thanks are due to : The Royal Societyof Literature for permission to reprint The Art of theBiographer by A. C. Benson from Essays by DiversHands Transactions of the Royal Society of Literatureof the United Kingdom, vol. VI, 1926 Mr. AugustineBirrell for Milton f from his Obiter Dicta MessrsChatto Windus for the essay on Hume from Portraitsin Miniature by Mr Lytton Strachey Messrs IvorNicholson Watson for the essay by Mr. J, L.Hammond on 4 Richard Cobden from The GreatVictorians Messrs William Heinemann, Ltd. for theessay on R. L Stevenson from Critical KitCats byEdmund Gosse Mr. Charles Williams for his essay onMacaipilay from Biographical StudiesCONTENTSPREFACEINTRODUCTION :THE ART OF THE BIOGRAPHER A.



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