Honoré de Balzac/General Note
Of all the books perhaps the one best designed for training the mind and forming the character is "Plutarch." The lives of great men are object-lessons. They teach effort, devotion, industry, heroism and sacrifice.
Even one who confines his reading solely to biographies of thinkers, writers, inventors, poets of the spirit or poets of science, will in a short time have acquired an understanding of the whole History of Humanity.
And what novel or what drama could be compared to such a history? Accurate biographies record narratives which no romancer's imagination could hope to rival. Researches, sufferings, labors, triumphs, agonies and disasters, the defeats of destiny, glory, which is the "sunlight of the dead," illuminating the past, whether fortunate or tragic,—such is what the lives of Great Men reveal to us, or, if the phrase be allowed, paint for us in a series of fascinating and dramatic pictures.
This series of biographies is accordingly intended to form a sort of gallery, a museum of the great servants of Art, Science, Thought and Action.
It was Emerson who wrote a volume devoted to the Representatives of Humanity. Here we have still another collection of "Representative Men." This collection of profoundly interesting studies is entrusted to the care of two writers, Mr. Albert Keim and Mr. Louis Lumet, both of whom have already earned their laurels, the former as poet, novelist, playwright, historian and philosopher, and author of a definitive work upon Helvetius which deserves to become a classic, and the latter as publicist, art critic and scholar of rare and profound erudition. An acquaintance with the successive volumes in this series will give ample evidence of the value of such able collaborators.
On the mountain tops we breathe a purer and more vivifying air. And it is like ascending to a moral mountain top when we live, if only for a moment, with the dead who, in their lives did honour to mankind, and attain the level of those whose eyes now closed, once glowed like beacon-lights, leading humanity on its eternal march through night-time towards the light.