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THE USES OF BIOGRAPHY.
THE MUSEUM OF BIOGRAPHY.
Some few years since, in pulling down an old house in Gloucestershire, there was discovered between the walls a secret chamber. It was quite evident that several generations had passed away since any one had entered the rooin; it was a rude, cheerless, comfortless apartment enough. There was a poor mattress, a stool, and a table ; on the table lay an open Bible, a lamp, and a pair of spectacles. No doubt was entertained that the room had been prepared for, and tenanted by, some one of the brave sufferers for the rights of conscience; but who had last slept on that bed, sat on that stool before the table—for whom the little lamp had last been trimmed, who had last opened that old Bible, no tradition or memory preserved the faintest record ; whether it were man or woman whether spared by the soldiery, or saved to a life of peace and tranquillity, no one could know. It was just one of those cases of which one would wish to know a little more—to have taken a peep behind the deep black curtain—to bave asked a few questions, as who? why? what? how ? But there was no kind of life writing ; so all was a vague dream-land, and conjecture. “He died and made no sign”-so do most men.
The shadow of an unwritten life fell over that table, and across the room. The being, whoever he was, that had last read or slept there, left, in some sort, a vague trace behind, a trace difficult to decipher. Yet such as it was, in its vagueness, such also would be the state of our ignorance of each other-our ancestors—but for the pen of the biographer. We should everywhere be haunted or met by the traces of human footsteps. Nowhere should we be able to meet a record. Our whole world, without the information afforded by letters, is like a deserted room; the ancient inhabitants have all departed—have left a lamp, a book, a glass—no more. If Cadmus had not given to us letters, cities, with all their inventions—ruins, palaces, and temples would be like hieroglyphic characters without a key. Biography is the key to history. Yet every one, too, leaves a kind of written life behind him. What a man does is his life, and every thing one looks on is the writing down, in stone or iron, in the felled forest, or the drained meadow, or the grange, or the farm, or the mansion or palace, of some kind of life. Houses, cities, kingdoms, laws, literatures, and civilizations are biographies - life-long struggles, anxieties, groans, tears, and rejoicings; each man in the world writes his life, and leaves it behind him ; few take the trouble to spell it out, but there is no life of
kind that has not a rich interest in it. Every life is historical, and all history is human; and to humanity all things human are pro. foundly touching and interesting. Man is compelled to have a regard for his brother man; sometimes he shows it by reading light and frivolous tales, and sometimes highly wrought fiction, and sometimes dramatic exhibition, and sometimes poetic narration, sometimes historic development, and sometimes philosophic speculation ; but every where the subject of most intense interest to man, is man himself.
Biography forms the Museum of Life. Well written lives are as well-preserved mental fossils, and they subserve for us the purpose of a collection of interesting petrefactions; they illustrate the