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PUBLISHED BY SAMUEL WHITING @ CO.
No, 118 PEARL-STREET.
BEFORE a work professedly biographical, can be righteously justified or condemned, two things should be fairly examined. First-What advantages are derivable from the lives of particular individuals ? Secondly-What characters are the most proper subjects for delineation ?
The former of these questions it is easy to answer. Biography has always been highly extolled. It has frequently been compared with other kinds of coinposition, and pronounced peculiarly entertaining and instructive. The utility of it has been even ranked above the advantages resulting from general history.
Let us attend to this preference, and see whether it be not founded in reason and truth. The aim of all history should be to describe and exhibit persons impartially as they are, that goodness may excite admiration, and vice abhorrence. Upon this principie, individual representations are obviously superior to general and aggregate. When the attention is attracted and confined to one particular object, the view is more distinct, and the impression is niore forcible. Expansion and division weaken. Multiplicity and variety distract. This may be judged of, says a masterly writer, by the feelings and operations of the mind in the contemplation of other things.--"When, from the summit of some lofty mountain, we survey the wide extended landscape ; though highly delighted, we fecl ourselves bewildered and overwhelmed by the profusion and diversity of beautics which nature spreads around us. But when we enter the detail of nature : when we attend the footsteps of a friend through some favoured, beanti
ful spot, which the eye and the mind take in at once ; feeling ourselves at ease, with undivided, undistracted attention, we contemplate the whole, we examine and arrange the parts; the imagination is indeed less expanded, but the heart is more gratified ; our pleasure is less violent and tumultuous, but it is more intense, more complete, and continues much longer ; what is lost in respect of sublimity, is gained in perspicuity, force, and duration.” Again, “ It is highly gratifying to find ourselves in the midst of a public assembly of agreeable people of both sexes, and to partake of the general chcerfulness and benevolence. But what are the cheerfulness and benevolence of a public assembly, compared to the endearments of friendship, and the meltings of love? To enjoy these, we must retire from the cro'wd, and have recourse to the individual. In like manner, whatever satisfaction and improvement may be derived from general histories of mankind, which we would not be thought by any means to dcpreciate; yet the history of particular persons, if executed with fidelity and skill, while it exercises the judge ment less severely, so it fixes down the attention more closely, and makes its way more directly and more forcibly to the heart."
To this quotation, the beauty of which will more than atone for the length, we may add, that biography is the most eagerly read of all kinds of narrative productions, and the most easily applied to the various purposes of life.
But it is less nccessary to enlarge upon the advantages of this specics of writing, than to ascertain what are the most proper subjects to bring under review.
-They are by no means persons raised to the highest elevations, or distinguishcd by the most extraordimary achicvements. For, not to obscrve that such characters are rarely remarkable for goodness and worth, i: is easy to see, that they fall not within the reach of
common imitation--that they exhibit nothing that leads to self reflection-nothing that occasions mcral comparison-nothing to reprove, to stimulate, to encourage in the course we pursue : they seem to belong to a state with which we have nothing to do : and therefore, though they excite curiosity, and furnish materials for conversation, they do not govern our manners, or regulate our practice. How few are placed in situations in which they are likely to grow wiser, by the errors of a statesinan, or the mistakes of a general ! “ Life,” says Johnson, “ derives its comforts or wretchedness from the management of these things, which nothing but their frequency makes considerable, and which can have no place in the relations of those, who never descend below the consultations of senates, and the motions of armies."
" It is not,” says the same author, “ improper to take advantage of prejudice and to gain attention by a celebrated name ; but the business of the biographer is often to pass slightly over those performances and incidents which promote vulgar greatness, to lead the thoughts into domestic privacies, and to display the minute detail of daily life, where external appendages are cast aside, and men excel each other only by prudence and by virtue. There are inany invisible circum-stances which, whether we read as inquirers after natural or moral knowledge, are more important than public occurrences. Thus the story of Melancthon affords a striking lecture on the value of time, by inforining us, that when he had an appointment, he expected not only the hour, but the minute to be fixed, that the day might not run out in the idleness of sus. pense. And all the plans and enterprises of De Wit are now of less importance to the world, than the part of his personal character which represents him as careful of health, and negligent of life. In the estimation of uncorrupt reason, what is of most use is of