Page:Studies of a Biographer 1.djvu/41

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27
NATIONAL BIOGRAPHY

minute names, the mere rank and file of the great army, are constantly of great use; but rather because they come into the narratives of other lives or supply data for broader histories, than because of the intrinsic interest of the story itself. But there is also an immense number of second-rate people whose lives are full of suggestion to any intelligent reader. The life in such cases should have the same kind of merit as an epitaph, though under less exacting conditions. The epitaph should give in the smallest possible number of words the very essence of a man's character and of his claims upon the memory of posterity. The life which may spread over two or three pages should aim at producing the same effect: and very frequently may give adequate expression to everything that we can really afford to remember of the less prominent actions. I will venture one illustration. There is no class of lives which has a more distinctive character than the lives of our naval heroes, from the Elizabethan days to our own. As I am not criticising the execution of the dictionary, but only indicating its main purpose, I will say nothing in praise of the particular contributor who has imbedded in its pages something like a complete naval history of the country. But