Page:Studies of a Biographer 1.djvu/40

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26
STUDIES OF A BIOGRAPHER

who therefore knows the significance conferred upon a particular action or expression of opinion by time and place. He must abstain from exposition beyond narrow limits, and, of course, from controversy. He must not expatiate upon the bad influence of the heresy; or attempt to show that it was a heresy. He must content himself with a pithy indication of its historical position on the development of the time; give a sufficient summary to show how the doctrine is to be classed in its relation to the main currents of thought; and indicate the way in which it has since been judged by competent writers, and what is the view now taken by experts. All this, which might, of course, be illustrated in other departments of biography, shows that the writer ought to be full of knowledge, which he must yet hold in reserve, or of which he must content himself with using to suggest serviceable hints. He will show incidentally why, and in what relations, certain books are worth reading or certain events worth further study; and often, no doubt, will feel the restraint decidedly painful.

Lives well written under these conditions may, I hold, really satisfy the commemorative instinct. For the great names we shall look elsewhere: the