Page:Studies of a Biographer 1.djvu/16

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2
STUDIES OF A BIOGRAPHER

something of a matter in which I have some personal interest.

When the old Biographia Britannica was coming out, Cowper made the unpleasant remark that it was

A fond attempt to give a deathless lot
To names ignoble, born to be forgot.

If that was a fair judgment, what are we to say to the modern work, which includes thousands of names too obscure for mention in its predecessor? When Mr. Lee speaks of the 'commemorative instinct' as justifying his undertaking, the enemy replies that a very small minority of the names deserve commemoration. To appeal to instinct is to repudiate reason and to justify monomania. Admitting, as we all admit, the importance of keeping alive the leading names in history, what is the use of this long procession of the hopelessly insignificant? Why repeat the familiar formula about the man who was born on such a day, was 'educated at the grammar school of his native town,' graduated in such a year, became fellow of his college, took a living, married, published a volume of sermons which nobody has read for a century or two, and has been during all that time in his churchyard? Can he not be left in peace,