(d. 1753), gave a great deal of valuable information with regard to the personal adventures of our writers. Dr Johnson’s Life of Savage (1744), though containing some passages of extreme interest, was a work of imperfect form, but Mason’s Life and Letters of Gray (1774) marks a great advance in the art of biography. This was the earliest memoir in which correspondence of a familiar kind was used to illustrate and to expand the narrative, and Mason’s Gray is really the pioneer of almost all modern English biography. For the first time it was now admitted that letters to intimate friends, not written with a view to publication, might be used with advantage to illustrate the real character of the writer. Boswell, it is certain, availed himself of Mason’s example, while improving upon it, and in 1791 he published his Life of Dr Samuel Johnson, which is the most interesting example of biography existing in English, or perhaps in any language.
As soon as the model of Boswell became familiar to biographers, it could no longer be said that any secret in the art was left unknown to them, and the biographies of the 19th century are all more or less founded upon the magnificent type of the Life of Johnson. But few have even approached it in courage, picturesqueness or mastery of portraiture. In the next generation Southey’s lives of Nelson (1813) and John Wesley (1820) at once became classics; but the pre-eminent specimen of early 19-century biography is Lockhart’s superb Life of Sir Walter Scott (1837–1838). The biographies of the 19th century are far too numerous to be mentioned here in detail; in the various articles dedicated to particular men and women in this Encyclopaedia, the date and authorship of the authoritative life of each person will in most cases be found appended. Towards the close of the century there was unquestionably an excess, and even an abuse, in the habit of biography. It became the custom a few years or even months after the decease of an individual who had occupied a passing place in the eyes of the public, to issue a “Life” of him; in many cases such biography was a labour of utter supererogation. But the custom has become general, and it is very unlikely, notwithstanding the ephemeral interest of readers in the majority of the subjects, that it will ever go out of fashion, for it directly indulges both vanity and sentiment. What is true of Great Britain is true, though in less measure, of all other modern nations, and it is not necessary here to deal with more than the early manifestations of biography in the principal European literatures.
To Switzerland appears due the honour of having given birth to the earliest biographical dictionary ever compiled, the Bibliotheca Universalis of Konrad Gesner (1516–1565), published at Zürich in Latin, Greek and Hebrew, from 1545 to 1549. A very rare work, by a writer of the greatest obscurity, the Prosopographia of Verdier de Vauprivas, published at Lyons in 1573, professed to deal with the lives of all illustrious persons who had flourished since the beginning of the world.
In medieval and renaissance France there existed numerous memoirs and histories, such as those of Brantôme, into which the lives of great men were inserted, and in which a biographical character was given to studies of virtue and valour, or of the reverse. But the honour of being the earliest deliberate contribution to biography is generally given to the Acta Sanctorum, compiled by the Bollandists, the first volume of which appeared in 1653. This was the first biographical dictionary compiled in Europe, and its publication produced a great sensation. It was confined to the lives of saints and martyrs, but in 1674 Louis Moréri, in his Grand Dictionnaire, included a biographical section of a general character. But the earliest biographical dictionary which had anything of a modern form was the celebrated Dictionnaire historique et critique of Pierre Bayle, in 1696; the lives in this great work, however, are too often used as mere excuses for developing the philosophical and controversial views of the author; they are nevertheless the result of genuine research and have a true biographical view. The Dictionnaire was translated into English in 1734, and had a wide influence in creating a legitimate interest in biography in England.
In Italian literature, biography does not take a prominent place until the 15th century. The Lives of Illustrious Florentines, in which a valuable memoir of Dante occurs, was written in Latin by Filippo Villani. Vespasiano da Bistrici (1421–1498) compiled a set of biographies of his contemporaries, which are excellent of their kind. The so-called Life of Castruccio Castracani, by Machiavelli, is hardly a biography, but a brilliant essay on the ideals of statecraft. Paolo Giovio (1483–1552) wrote the lives of poets and soldiers whom he had known. All these attempts, however, seem insignificant by the side of the autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini (1501–1571), confessedly one of the most entertaining works of the world’s literature. A great deal of biography is scattered throughout the historical compilations of the Italian renaissance, and the Lives of the Artists, by Giorgio Vasari (1512–1574), is a storehouse of anecdotes admirably told. We find nothing else that requires special mention till we reach the memoir-writers of the 18th century, with the autobiographies of Count Carlo Gozzi and Alfieri; and on the whole, Italy, although adopting in the 19th century the habit of biography, has rarely excelled in it.
In Spanish literature Fernán Pérez de Guzmán (1378–1460), with great originality, enshrined, in his Generations and Likenesses, a series of admirable literary portraits; he has been called the Plutarch of Spain. But, in spite of numerous lives of saints, poets and soldiers, Spanish literature has not excelled in biography, nor has it produced a single work of this class which is universally read. In Germany there is little to record before the close of the 18th century.
In the course of the 19th century a new thing in biography was invented, in the shape of dictionaries of national biography. Of these, the first which was carried to a successful conclusion was the Swedish (1835–1857), which occupied 23 volumes. This dictionary was followed by the Dutch (1852–1878), in 24 volumes; the Austrian (1856–1891), in 35 volumes; the Belgian (which was begun in 1866); the German (1875–1900), in 45 volumes; and others, representing nearly all the countries of Europe. England was behind the competitors named above, but when she joined the ranks a work was produced the value of which can hardly be exaggerated. The project was started in 1882 by the publisher George Smith (1824–1901), who consulted Mr (afterwards Sir) Leslie Stephen. The first volume of the English Dictionary of National Biography was published on the 1st of January 1885, under Stephen’s editorship. A volume was published quarterly, with complete punctuality until Midsummer 1900, when volume 63 closed the work, which was presently extended by the issue of three supplementary volumes. In May 1891 Leslie Stephen resigned the editorship and was succeeded by Mr Sidney Lee, who conducted the work to its prosperous close, bringing it up to the death of Queen Victoria. The Dictionary of National Biography contains the lives of more than 30,000 persons, and has proved of inestimable service in elucidating the private annals of the British people. (E. G.)
BIOLOGY (Gr. βίος, life). The biological sciences are those which deal with the phenomena manifested by living matter; and though it is customary and convenient to group apart such of these phenomena as are termed mental, and such of them as are exhibited by men in society, under the heads of psychology and sociology, yet it must be allowed that no natural boundary separates the subject matter of the latter sciences from that of biology. Psychology is inseparably linked with physiology; and the phases of social life exhibited by animals other than man, which sometimes curiously foreshadow human policy, fall strictly within the province of the biologist.
On the other hand, the biological sciences are sharply marked off from the abiological, or those which treat of the phenomena manifested by not-living matter, in so far as the properties of living matter distinguish it absolutely from all other kinds of things, and as the present state of knowledge furnishes us with no link between the living and the not-living.