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LITERARY LIFE AND CORRESPONDENCE
COUNTESS OF BLESSINGTON.
The task of Biography is not comprised in a mere attempt to make a word-picture of a person that can be identified by its resemblance to the original; to narrate a series of striking passages in the life of an individual, whose career it is intended to illustrate; to record dates of remarkable events, and particulars of important occurrences; to give a faithful account even of signal failures and successes; to delineate the features of the person described, and to make peculiarities of mind or form clearly perceptible to those for whom we write or paint in words. These are essential things to be done, but they are not all that are essential in human life-history, which should be descriptive not only of external appearances, and accidental circumstances, but of the interior being, and actual peace of mind of those of whom it treats. The great aim to be accomplished is to make the truthful
portraiture of the person we describe and present to the public, stand out in a distinct shape and form, distinguishable from all other surrounding objects, an instructive, encouraging, or admonitory representation of a character and career, as the case may be. The legitimate aim and end of that representation of a life will be gained, if the biographer, in accomplishing his task, makes the portraiture of the individual described advantageous to the public; renews old recollections agreeably, as well as usefully; looks to the future in all his dealings with the past; draws away attention from the predominant materialism of the present time; violates no duty to the dead, of whom he treats; no obligation to the living, for whose benefit he is supposed to write ; if, without prejudice to truth or morals, he indulges his own feelings of kindness, and tenderness of regard for the memory
of those who may have been his friends, and who have become the subjects of his inquiries and researches; if he turn his theme to the account of society at large, of literature also and of its living votaries ; if he places worth and genius in their true position, and, when the occasion calls for it, if he manfully puts forward his strength to pull down unworthy and ignoble pretensions, to unmask selfishness, to give all due honour to noble deeds and generous aims and efforts ; if he sympathises sincerely with struggling merit, and seeks earnestly for truth, and speaks it boldly. And if he has to deal with the career of one who has played an important part in public life, or in an exalted station, and would obtain the object I have referred to, he will have to speak freely and fearlessly of the miseries and vexations of a false position, however splendid it may be ; miseries which may not be escaped from, by any efforts to keep them out of sight or hearing, either in the turmoil of a fashionable life, in the tumult of its pleasures, or in the solitude of the dressing-room, the stillness of which is often more intolerable than the desert
gloom and desolation of Mar Saba, or the silence of La Trappe.
All this can be done without composing homilies on the chequered life of man, or pouring forth lamentations on its vicissitudes, and pronouncing anathemas on the failings of those, on whose conduct we may perhaps be wholly incompetent or unqualified to sit in judgment. There is often matter for deep reflection, though requiring no comment from the biographer, to be found in a single fact seasonably noticed, in a passage of a letter, a sentence in conversation, nay, even at times in a gesture, indicative of weariness of mind in the midst of pomp and pleasure, of sickness of spirit at the real aspect of society, wreathed though it may be with smiles and blandishments, at the hollowness of its friendships, and the futility of all efforts to secure happiness by dependence on them. I am much mistaken if this work can be perused without exciting feelings of strong conviction, that no amount of luxury, no entourage of wit and learning, no distinction in fashionable or literary life, no absorbing pursuits of authorship, or ephemeral enjoyments in exclusive circles of haut ton, constitute happiness, or afford a substitute for it, on which any reliance can be placed, for the peace and quiet of one's life.
An intimate acquaintance and uninterrupted friendship with the late Countess of Blessington during a period of twenty-seven years, and the advantage of possessing the entire confidence of that lady, are the circumstances which induced the friends of Lady Blessington to commit to me the task of editing an account of her Literary Life and Correspond
To many other persons familiarly acquainted with her Ladyship, eminent in different walks of literature and art, distinguished for abilities and acquirements, and well known in the world of letters, this task might have been confided with far more service to the execution of it in every