Page:Studies of a Biographer 1.djvu/27

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13
NATIONAL BIOGRAPHY

ignored on both sides. If we look at any of the ordinary collections of biographical material, we shall constantly be struck by the writer's unconsciousness of the most obvious inferences. He will mention a fact which in the hands of the historian might clear up a political problem, or which may be strikingly characteristic of the social conditions of the time, without, as Mr. Herbert Spencer would say, noting the 'necessary implication.' A contemporary of course takes things for granted which we see to be exceptional; or he may supply, without knowing it, evidence that will be useful in settling a controversy which has not yet come to light. In the ordinary books such facts, again, have often been repeated mechanically, and readers are not rarely half asleep when they look at their manual. Thus I have sometimes noticed that a man may be in one sense a most accomplished biographer; that is, that he can tell you off-hand a vast number of facts, genealogical, official, and so forth, and yet has never, as we say, put two and two together. I have read lives giving minute details about the careers of authors, which yet prove unmistakably that the writers had no general knowledge of the literature of the period. A man will know every fact about all the people