Изображения страниц

rewrite it in the form of an autobiography with the bell as speaker.




Biography is a province of letters to which many authors of talent in all ages have devoted themselves. It differs from autobiography in that it is the lifehistory of one man written by another.' Plutarch's Lives have exerted an incalculable influence many generations of enthusiastic youth and are read still with scarcely diminished interest. The Memoirs of old French writers and their imitators are filled with biographical material. From England we have, to mention only one striking example out of hundreds, Boswell's monumental Life of Johnson. And the American press of the present day has given us a large number of brief biographies of varying degrees of excellence in the Statesmen"

6 Statesmen” series and

series and Men of Letters” series. Short sketches may be found in any Encyclopedia or Biographical Dictionary. Perhaps the most helpful examples will be found in Hawthorne's Biographical Stories, a collection of six short biographies of Sir Isaac Newton, Queen Christina, etc. Anecdotes are liberally interspersed to make the narrative as lively as possible.

To write such works as the most of those mentioned above requires time, talent, earnestness, and a full and definite knowledge of facts. Nevertheless such writing may with advantage be practiced on a small scale. After learning all the facts you can, write a short biography of one of your relatives or friends.



To the historian falls the necessity of practicing the art of narration in all its branches and in its utmost complexity. He should have a lively imagination, a quick perception, a keen sympathy, and a calm, unerring judgment. He should be the ideal spectator of human activity, able to look upon the life of an individual as a mere incident in the life of a society or nation, and the life of a society or nation as a mere incident in the progress of the world. He may be likened to the reporter on the height watching the battle and sifting, judging, recording. From the height of the present he looks calmly down over the panorama of the past; or from the height of impartiality he surveys and chronicles the events of the present. He must see and distinguish clearly all the multicolored threads of the tangled skein and — not unravel them, for above all else must he picture to us things as they are ; but he must be able to lay his finger at one point and say, “ Here the thread enters the tangle,” and lay it at another point and say, “Here it emerges again.” But the ends of the thread no man sees.

Still much of the historian's work requires no more skill than may be obtained in the practice of ordinary narration. He gathers his facts from every accessible source and then selects, arranges, and classifies them according to whatever seems to him the best principle. It will be easy enough for you to get an insight into this process and at the same time gain a little practical

experience. Read in two or three histories of the United States the account of some particular event,' as the Landing of the Pilgrims, the Signing of the Declaration of Independence, the Battle of Lookout Mountain; then, from your memory and with only such recurrence to the sources of information as may be necessary to assist your memory and verify facts, write an independent account of the same event. Let the language, and indeed everything except the bare, indisputable facts, be as far as possible your own.

Or perhaps you can get not unworthy material near at hand. “Our Class Election," "The Late Rebellion in the Third Ward School,” “The Diplomacy of Briggs, Arbitrator,” are suggestive subjects of this kind. Treated with all the dignity of actual history they can be made extremely interesting and effective.




A Revolving Book-case.
An Ornamental Waste-basket.
The School Benches of Our Grand-

father's Time Compared with

Those of Our Own. An Ideal Office Desk.

A Hanging Lamp.
My Mineral Cabinet.
Novel Card Receiver.
Aunt's Cuckoo Clock.
A Postage Stamp Album.

We enter here upon work of a very different nature from that which we have been doing. We must deal now with objects as they exist in space and present themselves, complete and unchanging, to our senses. It may seem at first a very simple matter to represent in language an object which is presented to us thus unchanging for an indefinite length of time. But there are many difficulties, some of which have already been hinted at. Our vocabulary with its wonderful wealth of resources can serve only very imperfectly for the portrayal of the infinite variety of objects with which we are surrounded, and so the writer is largely dependent on the knowledge and imagination of the reader. Consider this, too: All the colors of the rainbow strike the eye at the same moment; the several

notes of a chord combine for the ear into one musical sound ; the roundness, smoothness, and softness of a rubber ball give to the touch an instantaneous pleasureable sensation. But language must be content to present the separate elements of these complex impressions one at a time. If memory did not come to the reader's assistance and hold for him the separate elements until he has received them all, he could never get a complete picture through the medium of words. Language is evidently, from its very nature, far better adapted to narrating events which occur in succession than to describing objects all of whose parts have a contemporaneous existence. Other difficulties will come to notice as we proceed. We shall simply have to rely on our ingenuity to devise ways of lessening or overcoming them.

It is difficulties to be overcome as well as effects to be sought that make of composition an art in itself with a full body of principles — laws and licenses and limitations.

As an example of simple description take the following from Nathaniel Hawthorne :

GRANDFATHER'S CHAIR. The chair in which Grandfather sat was made of oak, which had grown dark with age, but had been rubbed and polished till it shone as bright as mahogany. It was very large and heavy and had a back that rose high above Grandfather's white head. This back was curiously carved in open work, so as to represent flowers, and foliage, and other devices, which the children had often gazed at, but could never understand what they meant. On the very tip-top of the chair, over the head of Grandfather himself, was a likeness of a lion's head, which had such a savage grin that you would almost expect to hear it growl and snarl.

The children had seen Grandfather sitting in this chair ever

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »