Page:Studies of a Biographer 1.djvu/36

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STUDIES OF A BIOGRAPHER

really become generally accessible through the dictionary alone—that provide the really useful reading. There are numbers of such people whom one first discovers to be really interesting when the scattered materials are for the first time pieced together. Nobody need look at Addison or Byron or Milton in a dictionary. He can find fuller and better notices in every library; and the biographer must be satisfied if he has put together a useful compendium of all the relevant literature. The conditions of his work are sufficiently obvious, and of course exclude anything like rhetoric or disquisition in criticism. He may indicate but cannot expatiate. He has before him an ideal which he very well knows is never quite realised. Condensation is not only the cardinal virtue of his style, but the virtue to which all others must be sacrificed. He must be content sometimes to toil for hours with the single result of having to hold his tongue. I used rigidly to excise the sentence, 'Nothing is known of his birth or parentage,' which tended to appear in half the lives, because where nothing is known it seems simpler that nothing should be said; and yet a man might have to consult a whole series of books before discovering even that negative fact. The