Page:Studies of a Biographer 1.djvu/33

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NATIONAL BIOGRAPHY

this can be achieved with a tolerable approximation to completeness. We take, for example, any of the more important names around which has been raised a lasting dust of controversy. A dictionary ought, in the first place, to supply you with a sufficient indication of all that has been written upon the subject; it should state briefly the result of the last researches; explain what appears to be the present opinion among the most qualified experts, and what are the points which seem still to be open; and, above all, should give a full reference to all the best and most original sources of information. The most important and valuable part of a good dictionary is often that dry list of authorities which frequently costs an amount of skilled labour not apparent on the surface, and not always, it is to be feared, recognised with due gratitude. The accumulation of material makes this a most essential part of the work; for we are daily more in want of a guide through the wilderness, and a judicious indication of the right method of inquiry gives often what it may be hard to find elsewhere, and is always a useful check upon our unassisted efforts. When you plunge into the antiquarian bog you are glad to have signposts, showing where previous adventurers have been engulphed; where