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POETICAL EPISTLE FROM FATHER PROUT
MANNER OF LITERARY COMPOSITION
F we could analyze carefully the various elements contained in a good biography, and decide which interested us most in the reading, and which we remembered longest after the reading, I think we would discover that it was the element of Anecdote. The chief facts in a biography- the general drift of the life of its subject may impress themselves upon the memory for a time, but that which remains permanently, and which refuses to be forgotten, is something different from these, some incident or incidents in the life in question smart saying, a humorous jest, a rapier thrust of wit, - it may be anything that is salient. We remember somewhat, perhaps, of the life of Lamb, for example: how he went to Christ's Hospital with Coleridge; how he was a clerk in the India House; how he wrote "Elia,” and so on ; what we certainly remember, if we have any feeling, is his going across the fields with his sister Mary to the mad-house, in which it was necessary that she should be confined, and weeping with her, as he went; what we can never forget, if we have any sense of humor, are his humorous sayings.
Apart from their works, we remember different authors for different reasons, but generally for what their biographers would consider trifles; but which are not trifles
in that they make us forget the biographers. As a rule we have too much of the biographer in the biography. What we want is the man whose life he purports to narrate, not as he sees him, but as he was, dressed in his habit as he lived, in his dressing-gown and slippers, if need be. The average biographer objects to this, as he generally objects to telling the whole truth when it would injure the character of his hero. As if all men, the greatest and best, were not compounded of the same. poor clay as the rest of us! The wine they drink is made of grapes; their headaches are as veritable, and perhaps a trifle more frequent, than ours.
Most biographers start with preconceived ideas regarding the characters they are to depict, and with the mistaken notion that these characters, when depicted, should be rounded and harmonious. They also mistake the nature of their office, which is not that of a special pleader, either for good or evil. They should take their men, as they were, not as they would have them: should state what they did, not what they might have done:
Nor set aught down in malice :
and, their work being finished, they should leave it, as Bacon left his tarnished fame and memory, "to men's charitable speeches, to foreign nations, and the next ages." They may throw dust in the eyes of their contemporaries, but the vision of Posterity will be clear. Posterity will judge their work, and, likely enough, will judge it by apparent trifles, trifles which are omitted, but which Posterity will recover, and upon which it will set an inestimable value. Such priceless trifles may take the form of anecdotes, which frequently reveal what the biographers have concealed, and which are surer indications of charac
ter than the most labored biographies. Fuller's description of the "wit combats" between Shakespeare and Ben Jonson is the liveliest and most graphic presentation extant of the two men.
The two great men to whom this little volume is devoted will pass, we may be sure, under the sharp scrutiny of Posterity. They divided in their life-time the suffrages of all who speak and read the English tongue; but they cannot be said to have divided it equally, for one sprang into popularity, a popularity which he retained to the day of his death, while the other labored long before he was recognized; his reputation was wrung from the world. They had their adherents, as Jonson and Shakespeare had theirs, and battles were fought about them, they remaining the while, let us hope, indifferent, but amused, spectators of the fight. The biography of one has been written; the biography of the other has not. There will be no biography of Thackeray, if his wishes and the wishes. of his daughters are respected.
This being the case, it seems to me that a collection of the best papers that have been written concerning him, the best, I mean, in an anecdotal sense, will be acceptable to his admirers. I have accordingly made the collection which follows, and which contains, I believe, everything that is worthy of preservation in the shape of personal reminiscence of this great writer and great and good man. It contains at least everything that has come within my own observation, with the exception of a lively sketch in Mr. James T. Fields's "Yesterdays with Authors," which I cannot accept as a faithful portrait of Thackeray, although it may, perhaps, reflect one side of his nature with tolerable accuracy. The writer obtrudes himself too much, and his tone, if I am not mistaken, is
one of condescension towards the robust-minded gentleman who honored him with his friendship.
A few words in regard to the Thackerayana here, may not be without interest. The opening paper "Haud Immemor. Thackeray in America," was written by Mr. William B. Reed, of this city, formerly of Philadelphia, and at one time, United States Minister in China. Mr. Reed printed a private edition of this charming Monograph, which was written in May, 1864, a copy of which found its way across the ocean, and was reprinted in "Blackwood" for June, 1872. It is reprinted here by his permission. The brother of Mr. Reed to whom reference is made on page 7, Mr. Henry Reed, was one of the most thoughtful scholars of English Literature that America has yet produced. Born in Philadelphia in 1808 he entered the Sophomore Class at the University of Pennsylvania in 1822, and was graduated as Bachelor of Arts in 1825. He began the study of law, and four years later was admitted to the bar. In 1831 he relinquished his practice and was elected Assistant Professor of English Literature in the University. In 1835, his twenty-seventh year, he was elected Professor of Rhetoric and English Literature. In 1854 he visited England, where he was warmly received by a host of friends, beginning with Wordsworth, with whom he had long corresponded, and whose reputation he had enhanced in America, and ending with Thackeray, a bead-roll of illustrious names, including the Southeys, Coleridges, and Arnolds, Lord Mahon, Aubrey de Vere, and Mr. now Sir, Henry Taylor. It was while returning from this visit, on the 27th of September, 1854, almost in sight of his native land, that the Arctic, the ship upon which he had taken passage, sank, with nearly every soul on board. His literary remains were edited by Mr.