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of this class of materials, rather than the want of them. To be able to compose this higher species of biography, it has been thought that the writer should by no means have been an intimate friend or companion, or even cotemporary of the subject of it; as it has been supposed, that such intimacy fastens the little facts of a life in the writer's memory, to the exclusion or prejudice of those greater ones, which are alone of consequence to the more distant public, and to coming ages.
A cotemporary, or familiar friend, is exposed to other evils equally deleterious to a correct and just biography. The friend writes with the partiality of a friend; he sees, in the composition of every line, how it is likely to affect the family and associates of his subject; he sees and feels how each line and word is to affect himself in their good opinion; and he writes accordingly, evincing a restraint of censure, or an excess of eulogy. He has his and his subject's neighborhood, also, their particular latitude or longitude, to satisfy; and he is almost certain to be carried forward, or held back, by these delicate considerations. The cotemporary, though not a daily friend, is supposed to live under the same temporary and hence partial influences, to have his hopes or his fears in some way con. nected with the events he narrates, and thus to write under improper impulses. So fundamental, indeed, are these considerations, and so universal is their application, that the memoir of Agricola itself, the great classic model of one species of biographical history, while it is a piece of splendid composition, is undoubtedly a very flattering account of the Roman general's actual life; and were it now of more consequence to have a true narrative of that life, than to possess one of the finest extant specimens of Roman literature, and of Roman art, the world would demand another work.
With the full admission of the truth of all these acknowledged principles, and of their just application, it is possible, nevertheless for a cotemporary to write at least an impartial biography. The writer may never have been a companion, or a friend, or in any way a part of his subject's social circle. He may not have been a citizen of his locality. In both these respects, he may have been as distant, as separate, as distinct from his subject, as if he had been born in another hemisphere, or had lived in another century. It is possi. ble, too, that he may have been so distinct from all the associations, political or ecclesiastical, in which that subject moved and acted, and to be tapable of looking upon them with as much disinterestness as will be felt by a writer of a coming generation.
Nor would this position of the author, if admitted in its full force, necessarily exclude him from those sources of information, in rela. tion to his subject, which are essential to his undertaking. He has all the sources, and more than all, that will be open to that future biographer, who, according to the standard canons just stated, will alone be capable of writing a reliable biography. It is possible, indeed, perhaps probable, that more personal incidents, more of mi. nute details, more epistles, more table-talk, more particulars of every sort, may be imparted to the public before the appearance of that coming biographer; but it is also possible, and in fact quite true, as any one making an attempt to write the life of such a man as Webster would quickly find, that there is likely to be already such an amount of personal details as to embarrass rather than facilitate a writer's hand. It cannot be improbable, indeed, that Mr. Webster may have left many unpublished letters, and similar documents connected with his career; but, should these documents be 80 ample as to fill many volumes, as it is supposable they may, they cannot be regarded as at all essential to the exposition of a life so thoroughly open to investigation, and so accurately prefigured, in his works.
The published writings of Mr. Webster, indeed, constitute, as they will ever constitute, the main reliance of all who shall undertake to write the narrative of his life. Next to these, the history of his country, during the period when he lived, will be the second most complete and authentic resource; for such was his position, such the magnitude of his individual acts, that there is scarcely an event in his history, after he became a public man, and scarcely a speech in the entire collection of his speeches, which is not directly connected with some important event, and generally some epoch, in the history of the nation of which he formed a part. The third and last souise of information is found in what his friends and his enemies have written in relation to him; and, though the lowest testimony respecting him, it is so abundant, that, were it sufficiently reliable, his life might be written, from beginning to end, without go. ing beyond it. When it is considered, indeed, that his published works, wherein his whole career lies embodied, nearly fill six heavy octavo volumes; that the history of his time is spread out in a thousand different forms; that everything he ever did, or ever
said, possessed of any consequence, has been successively presented, recalled, repeated, discussed, by every grade of intellect, in every possible shape, and with every conceivable kind and degree of censure and of praise, in books, in periodicals, and in newspapers; that his name and character have been through life constantly before the world, daily and hourly, from one end of our country to the other, and in other countries, as subjects of investigation; that, for forty years, there was not a day when that name, and something in relation to that character, were not to be found in any political or secular sheet, which any man might happen to take up at home or abroad, in any city of the Union, in any town or village or hamlet of the country, it may well be doubted whether anything that Mr. Webster may have left not now published, or anything he could have written, would add anything now or hereafter to the wonderfully and almost oppressively ample stock of information which the world has long since had respecting him. All that a biographer can now do, in fact, in tracing out the actual history of his life, is to select from this abundant store as much as is positively essential to his purpose, and the best material for that pur. pose, making no farther use of the remainder than, by reading and appreciating it, to prepare himself to understand and properly employ what is to enter more directly into his composition.
In regard to the second volume of this work, it is, perhaps, sufficient to say, that it has been my intention to give only the acknowledged master-piece of Mr. Webster in each of the several fields occupied or entered by his almost universal genius. As the age is too much employed to dwell upon every minor incident in even a great man's life, so it is too busy to admit of paying equal attention to everything he has produced. The world is now so full of reading, and the topics of investigation are so greatly multiplied, that the best rule a man can now lay down for the government of his studies is, not to read whatever comes to hand, nor all that even great men have written, which would be impossible, but chiefly the master efforts of the master minds of the most enlightened and illustrious countries and ages of the world. In this way, whatever be the associations he is compelled to hold in his daily life, which, in general, have to be rather common-place at best, he may maintain a very close conversation, not only with the first spirits of every poriod and of all places, but with these in their happiest moments and in the highest inspiration and soaring of their minde. This is the use that the rising generation, and all future generations, will wish to make of Webster. One after another, his secondary efforts will be dropped from the general regard, and consigned to those few, lawyers and civilians, who will study his productions with their professional ends in view, while his most able and bril. liant performances, which, like the books of the Sybil, will main. tain the undiminished value of his works, though their number may be less, are to endure the wreck of ages and the touch of time.
His Feeble Health in Infancy and Boyhood, .
Letter to Master Tappan, . . . . .
Amusing Anecdote, . .