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variety. Voltaire was, in an eminent degree, a various man; his knowledge was universal, and his ability to simplify knowledge was commensurate to his attainments. He had something to say and to do in every region of literature. Mirabeau, again, is a fine picture of the adroit man ; this
fierce and unprincipled being hastened the French + Revolution, and he might have retarded it, had he
but lived a years longer. His father well described him as the “swallower of all formularies;" and he in a single sentence, left a full length character of himself. When he requested his secretary to do for him some difficult thing, the secretary answered him, “ Monsieur, it is impossible.” Impossible! replied he, never name to me that blockhead of a word.” This was the character of the
man,- -an eye that did not so much see as absolutely glare through the sophistries of things, and through the sophistries of men, too, when he styled the French general, " Grandison Cromwell Lafayette." Do we not feel that every other word would be vain to convey a better idea of the man who sought to combine in one, heroism and dandyism?
Men of this order of mind are born to ride on the whirlwind, if not to direct the storm ; the structure of their mind does not astonish, does not amaze us; their performances fill us with wonder ;
but our sentiments towards them are prompted by no profound and awful veneration. It is the doom of spirits of this order that their success depends upon their unscrupulousness; they can tolerate silence; they must edge themselves or strive themselves into power.
The life of Napoleon is the life of every one of the class—an amazingly enlarged edition, with magnificent illustrations, appropriately coloured with battle fires and warlike splendours. Great orators, great statesmen, great merchants, are all of the same order of mind; vivid speech, vivid vision, and insolent irrepressible dogmatism, and as frequently remorseless dishonesty. Is there not a likeness between the features of Demosthenes, Lorenzo de Medeci, Napoleon, and Lord Clive? The likeness is not empirical ; it is the resemblance of powerful and versatile minds, in whose leading characteristics we read the elements of character necessary to the subjection and triumph over obstacles of all kinds. The enchanters who bind nations by their spells, would seldom succeed if they never did “highly unless they did holily." Prophet and priest, quiet contemplative natures would sicken and turn with disgust from what these men would deem the legitimate steps to power.
Some lives are pervaded by this perpetual willing
and doing ; we cannot select them,—they are not exceptions to the usual current of the life ; many of the lives published very recently are of this kind-those of Sir Fowell Buxton, Dr. Arnold, Dr. Channing, William Allen—not to mention others; over the whole of these lives is diffused a spirit which captivates the readers. It is not so much in citations that this healthful affluence of noble-inindedness is seen ; it gave a breadth of view, an independence of being, to their whole conduct. The truest lives are ever thus : not the man who does a great thing now and then, but he EVELPW who is perfectly rounded and sculntured in his whole life, is worthy of our imitation, and deserves to have his life recorded. The goodness of some men is spasmodic and hysterical; the goodness of others is orderly and consistent. Perhaps the great reason is in the sense of duty, which is the basis of all real character: while some are merely the weather-vanes of impulse and emotion, a life according to law is ever the same: these are the most healthful biographies ; usually in them there is nothing eccentric and extravagant; there is, perhaps, no great demand upon our wonder,—but the duties of their being move, as the ordinances of Nature move, in silence, and with a subdued * cheerfulness. In the perusal of such books, we do not feel that we are looking at anything extraor
dinary,-yet the impression of the whole upon our \ minds is irresistible, and never forgotten.
The most romantic incidents of biographic writing are those which result from the strong and forcible mastery of will, giving to the whole life energy and completeness. Many lives arrest us by an incident. One day,* in the year 1697, the Duke of Marlborough happened to be in the village of Saardam : he visited the dock-yard of one Mynheer Calf, a rich ship-builder. He was immediately struck by the appearance of a journeyman at work there ; he was a large, powerful man, dressed in a red woollen shirt, and duck trowsers, with a sailor's hat; he was sitting upon a rough log of wood, with an adze in his hand; the man's features were bold and regular, and his dark brown hair fell in natural curls about his neck; a keen, quick eye indicated remarkable restlessness : he was engaged in earnest conversation with some strangers, during which his face became contorted with the evidences of latent passion. The duke inquired the name of this remarkable workman; it was Peter Baas, a foreign workman, of remarkable mechanical skill and industry. He began to converse with him, and, while so engaged, a messenger entered, holding a voluminous letter in his hand; Peter started up, tore off the seal, and hastily devoured the contents, while the duke walked away unnoticed. He knew that, in that disguise, he beheld the Emperor of all the Russias—a man who, having just succeeded to the throne of a quarter of the globe, had descended from it with the noble intention of qualifying himself to ascend it again, and from it to enlarge the boundaries of his people's civilization. The history of the world scarcely affords another instance of so extraordinary a combination of action and will.
* Characteristics of Genius.
Very few of the princes who have obtained the name of great, either in ancient or in modern times, can be compared to this illustrious, yet almost barbarous man. The very incident by which we have introduced him to the reader is an illustration of life; he illustrates the power of the mind over the body; he is a cyclop among kings; he strides over Europe, like a Titan, marching swiftly from place to place, not to conquer, but to learn. Not to conquer ? Yes, to dig in the mines for the metal, to smelt, and forge, and fashion it into a sword with which to go forth to the war against ignorance and barbarity. / Was this man the creature of circumstances ? Was this man created by the call and the necessity of his people? Did the circumference arouse the centre ? Or was it the centre that radiated to the circumference ?