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the writer's confidence, sympathize with his early struggles, mistakes, and successes, and learn how he made himself, from a poor boy selling ballads on Boston streets, into
ader among men, whom two worlds have delighted to honor. Another most interesting book of biography is that of the brothers William and Robert Chambers, the famous publishers of Edinburgh, who did more to diffuse useful knowledge, and to educate the people, by their manifold cheap issues of improving and entertaining literature, than was ever done by the British Useful Knowledge Society itself.
The French nation has, of all others, the greatest genius for personal memoirs, and the past two centuries are brought far more vividly before us in these free-spoken and often amusing chronicles, than in all the formal histories. Among the most readable of these (comparatively few having been translated into English) are the Memoirs of Marmontel, Rousseau, Madame Rémusat, Amiel, and Madame De Staël. The recently published memoirs by Imbert de St. Amand, of court life in France in the times of Marie Antoinette, Josephine, Marie Louise, and other periods, while hastily written and not always accurate, are lively and entertaining.
The English people fall far behind the French in biographic skill, and many of their memoirs are as heavy and dull as the persons whom they commemorate. But there are bright exceptions, in the lives of literary men and women, and in some of those of noted public men in church and state. Thus, there are few books more enjoyable than Sydney Smith's Memoirs and Letters, or Greville's Journals covering the period including George IV to Victoria, or the Life and Letters of Macaulay, or Mrs. Gaskell's Charlotte Brontë, or the memoirs of Harriet Martineau, or Boswell's Life of Dr. Johnson. Among the briefer biographies worthy of special mention are the series of English Men of Letters, edited by John Morley, and written by some of the best of contemporary British writers. They embrace memoirs of Chaucer, Spenser, Bacon, Sidney, Milton, De Foe, Swift, Sterne, Fielding, Locke, Dryden, Pope, Johnson, Gray, Addison, Goldsmith, Burke, Hume, Gibbon, Bunyan, Bentley, Sheridan, Burns, Cowper, Southey, Scott, Byron, Lamb, Coleridge, Keats, Shelley, Wordsworth, De Quincey, Macaulay, Landor, Dickens, Thackeray, Hawthorne, and Carlyle. These biographies, being quite compendious, and in the main very well written, afford to busy readers a short-hand method of acquainting themselves with most of the notable writers of Britain, their personal characteristics, their relation to their contemporaries, and the quality and influence of their works. Americans have not as yet illustrated the field of biographic literature by many notably skilful examples. We are especially deficient in good autobiographies, so that Dr. Franklin's stands almost alone in singular merit in that class. We have an abundance of lives of notable generals, professional men, and politicians, in which indiscriminate eulogy and partisanship too often usurp the place of actual facts, and the truth of history is distorted to glorify the merits of the subject of the biography. The great success of General Grant's own Memoirs, too, has led publishers to tempt many public men in military or civil life, into the field of personal memoirs, not as yet with distinguished success.
It were to be wished that more writers possessed of some literary skill, who have borne a part in the wonderful drama involving men and events enacted in this country during the century now drawing to a close, had given us their sincere personal impressions in autobiographic form. Such narratives, in proportion as they are truthful, are far more trustworthy than history written long after the event by authors who were neither observers nor participants in the scenes which they describe.
Among American biographies which will help the reader to gain a tolerably wide acquaintance with the men and affairs of the past century in this country, are the series of Lives of American Statesmen, of which thirty volumes have been published. These include Washington, the Adamses, Jefferson, Franklin, Hamilton, Jay, Madison, Marshall, Monroe, Henry, Gallatin, Morris, Randolph, Jackson, Van Buren, Webster, Clay, Calhoun, Cass, Benton, Seward, Lincoln, Chase, Stevens, and Sumner. While these Memoirs are of very unequal merit, they are sufficiently instructive to be valuable to all students of our national history.
Another very useful series is that of American Men of Letters, edited by Charles Dudley Warner, in fifteen volumes, which already includes Franklin, Bryant, Cooper, Irving, Noah Webster, Simms, Poe, Emerson, Ripley, Margaret Fuller, Willis, Thoreau, Taylor, and Curtis.
In the department of history, the best books for learners are not always the most famous. Any mere synopsis of universal history is necessarily dry reading, but for a constant help in reference, guiding one to the best original sources, under each country, and with very readable extracts from the best writers treating on each period, the late work of J. N. Larned, “History for Ready Reference,” five volumes, will be found invaluable. Brewer's Historic Note Book, in a single volume, answers many historic queries in a single glance at the alphabet. For the History of the United States, either John Fiske's or Eggleston's is an excellent compend, while for the fullest treatment, Bancroft's covers the period from the discovery of America up to the adoption of the constitution in 1789, in a style at once full, classical, and picturesque. For continuations, McMaster's History of the People of the United States covers the period from 1789 to 1824, and is being continued. James Schouler has written a History of the United States from 1789 to 1861, in five volumes, while J. F. Rhodes ably covers the years 1850 to the Civil War with a much more copious narrative.
For the annals of England, the Short History of England by J. R. Green is a most excellent compend. For more elaborate works, the histories of Hume and Macaulay bring the story of the British Empire down to about 1700. For the more modern period, Lecky's History of England in the 18th century is excellent, and for the present century, McCarthy's History of Our Own Time, and Miss Martineau's History of England, 1815-52, are well written works. French history is briefly treated in the Student's History of France, while Guizot's complete History, in eight volumes, gives a much fuller account, from the beginnings of France in the Roman period, to the year 1848. Carlyle's French Revolution is a splendid picture of that wonderful epoch, and Sloane's History of Napoleon gives very full details of the later period.
For the history of Germany, Austria, Russia, France, Spain, Italy, Holland, and other countries, the various works in the “Story of the Nations” series, are excellent brief histories.
Motley's Rise of the Dutch Republic and his United Netherlands are highly important and well written historical works.
The annals of the ancient world are elaborately and ably set forth in Grote’s History of Greece, Merivale’s Rome, and Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
Another class of books closely allied to biography and history, is the correspondence of public men, and men of letters, with friends and contemporaries. These familiar letters frequently give us views of social, public, and professional life which are of absorbing interest. Among the best letters of this class may be reckoned the correspondence of Horace Walpole, Madame de Sévigné, the poets Gray and Cowper, Lord Macaulay, Lord Byron, and Charles Dickens. Written for the most part with unstudied ease and unreserve, they entertain the reader with constant variety of incident and character, while at the same time they throw innumerable side-lights upon the society and the history of the time.
Next, we may come to the master-pieces of the essaywriters. You will often find that the best treatise on any subject is the briefest, because the writer is put upon condensation and pointed statement, by the very form and limitations of the essay, or the review or magazine article. Book-writers are apt to be diffuse and episodical, having so extensive a canvas to cover with their literary designs. Among the finest of the essayists are Montaigne, Lord Bacon, Addison, Goldsmith, Macaulay, Sir James Stephen, Cardinal Newman, De Quincey, Charles Lamb, Washington Irving, Emerson, Froude, Lowell, and Oliver Wendell Holmes. You may spend many a delightful hour in the perusal of any one of these authors.
We come now to poetry, which some people consider very unsubstantial pabulum, but which forms one of the most precious and inspiring portions of the literature of the world. In all ages, the true poet has exercised an in. fluence upon men's minds that is unsurpassed by that of any other class of writers. And the reason is not far to seek. Poetry deals with the highest thoughts, in the most expressive language. It gives utterance to all the sentiments and passions of humanity in rhythmic and harmoni
The poet's lines are remembered long after the finest compositions of the writers of prose are forgotten.