Some Recent Biographies

LIVINGSTONE’S life was singular in what is, perhaps, the principal condition of a successful practical career ungoverned by extraordinary intellectual force, — the simplicity of its motives and ends. The continuous development of his character, the steady evolution of his plans, were a true growth, regular, harmonious, free from the intrusion of any stunting or deforming outward influences. No sudden discovery of new objects of effort, no expansion of view presenting human action in a widely different aspect, no revolution in belief reversing relative moral values, introduced complexity and discord into his life, as has been the case with other markedly conscientious men of his day. Dominated by one leading motive, tending to one main result, his career possessed a remarkable unity. He set out, a boy, to convert South Africa by the customary methods of missionaries. He soon saw that the developed religious ideas oi Europe could not take root in a soil wholly savage and unreclaimed, — that barbarism must be overthrown before heathenism would yield; and so he came to direct his attention chiefly to bringing about social and economic changes, to suppressing the slave-trade and building a highway for commerce, and at last ended, as every one knows, by becoming the opener of a continent and the forerunner of a civilization. But until he was found by his attendants, on that May morning, kneeling and dead in the heart of Africa, he was always in spirit a missionary, and valued his labor less as contributing to extend the areas of knowledge and industry than as preparing the way for the coming of Christ to the peoples in darkness. The author of this volume 1 does not record, except in general, the progress of that great work, which is rather to be read in Livingstone’s own writings ; he sets himself only to the most pleasing and fruitful task of biography, — the illustration of character.

The simplicity of Livingstone’s character makes any detailed presentation of it unnecessary, and even renders this account at times monotonous, particularly in its insistence on his piety, — a quality which in this case was so little affected by its accessories as to fail of interest to the imagination after a brief space, and was in itself of such slight variety in mood and expression, and of so great natural privacy, as to make the reiteration of his prayers and pious ejaculations somewhat trying ; for, however these words burnt with fire to the weary and solitary explorer, they have become to the modern mind a dry shell. Beside his piety, his abiding conviction that his refuge and his strength was God, he displayed a persistent and enduring courage, sagacity, independence, a power of self-sacrifice, and an utter devotion of life and resources to a cause, exceptional even among men of his own moral rank ; but this catalogue of virtues, like an epitaph, is destitute of specific meaning to one ignorant of the circumstances in which they were bred and exercised. These circumstances, however, strange and romantic to a degree that will make his life ever a stirring one to youth and interesting to experienced manhood, must be sought in this book, of which the principal excellence is the author’s choice and arrangement of such illustrative matter. Of all, the most striking thing to us, not to go too much into detail, was the success with which Livingstone established social relations with the natives. Amiable through life toward all associates, exhibiting, especially toward the blacks, such admirable thoughtfulness, tact, and kindliness, he was well endowed to win upon them by natural means ; the surprise lies in the quickness and fullness of the blacks’appreciation of these qualities. He was aided in this task, of course, by the value he set upon the future of the African tribes, and by the readiness with which he looked beyond their childishness, grossness, and inactivity ; and though an enthusiast is seldom free from illusion respecting the worth of his work, it is quite possible that Livingstone’s estimate of their capacity may be justified by the event. Certainly the blacks in a savage state never appeared with so many of the fundamental good qualities of mankind as in his letters. One example of their intelligence ought not to be passed over. One day, as he was preaching to them upon the resurrection, they told him they could not believe a reunion of the particles of the body possible. He gave them a chemical illustration, and then referred to the authority of the Book that taught the doctrine. “ And,” exclaims the biographer, “ the poor people were more willing to give in to the authority of the Book than to the chemical illustration ! ” “ The poor people ” may grow in mind, and possibly something may finally accrue to the wealth of the race from them; but whether the biographer’s dreams, as well as Livingstone’s, shall be realized, and a grand memorial pile rise at Ilala over his buried heart, and the like, is more dubious. There is no need of airdrawn rhetoric ; through many real perils by land and sea, from beast and man, from disease, famine, and violence, Livingstone gained a definite success, of great significance to civilization in Africa. And apart from all success whatever, now or to come, he has given us the example of a faithful and inherently noble life, which utter failure could not have injured. America’s share in his work, through Stanley, is familiar; but probably few know of the dearer tie which binds him to us in that his son Robert lies with the dead at Gettysburg.

The biography of Guizot, by his daughter,2 is also mainly an illustration of character, but only as it was shown in private life. In the case of a man who played so great a part in the world’s affairs, a biography that leaves his work almost wholly out of account, and uses it but sparingly even in the way of sidelight, must be somewhat unsatisfactory, and may easily be misleading. Guizot’s life was one of great and long-continued activity, but here he is seen in his armchair ; and as with Livingstone’s piety, so with Guizot’s warm and tender family feelings ; attractive and pleasurable though they are, prolix repetition grows wearisome. A due regard for that reticence which is the law of refined intimacy would have suppressed some of these pages, but it is only just to add that Madame De Witt, in admitting a world of strangers to the secrets of her father’s heart, has exercised unusual discretion. Guizot, no doubt, found in the love of his two wives and his children his principal relaxation ; but this is not so extraordinary that it needs to be made much of. He relates that at Talleyrand’s he remarked, “ ‘ Conversation is a great pleasure.’ ‘ There is one still greater,’ said M. de Talleyrand, with a somewhat scornful smile,— ‘ action ! ’ Whereupon I retorted, ‘Yes, prince; but there is another which is greater far than the other two, — affection ! ’ He looked at me with some surprise, but without smiling. I think that this dry, corrupt old diplomatist had wit enough to see that I was right.” Probably the “ corrupt old diplomatist ” thought he was a “ green girl.” But the youth had abundant opportunity afterward to test his words: he had conversation and action and affection in ample measure, and he held to the truth of his somewhat commonplace “ retort.” Of more interest to men, however, is the type Guizot affords of that French seriousness of which we need to be reminded from time to time. He must have derived this temperament from his ancestry of the Désert, for it was of an old-fashioned kind. He was a model youth, sober, industrious ; a better companion for his elders, it would seem, than for his mates. These elders, M. Suard and M. Stapfer in particular, interested themselves in him, set him to work, admitted him to the salons ; and he was rapidly advanced by means of the professor’s chair, the doctrinaire state-craft, the minister’s portfolio, until he became the chief adviser of Louis XVIII., to fall with the king. It does not come within the scope of this notice to estimate his contribution to the political growth of France or to the development of historical study ; but we should recall that in the one he was a pioneer in the fruitful investigation of early French civilization, and that in the other he won the friendship of Lord Aberdeen and the satire of Heine. His early associations and his historic sense coöperated to render him conservative, both in politics and in religion: he trusted in God “ without understanding him,” and “ bowed before the mysteries of the Bible and the gospel,” and “ refrained ” from discussion of them ; he had more faith in “ guns ” than in the ideas of the Revolution, and though he calls “ national good sense” the “real Deity,” — that national good sense which was in 1832 to “ modify the short-sightedness and violence of the Reform Bill ” in England,—still he does not seem to have conceived of a state resting on a true public. Of remarkable talents, but not of large-minded genius; of much force of character, but employing it in obstructing rather than in advancing progress ; too often commonplace and obvious rather than brilliant and incisive in his utterances, he left the shadow of a great name, — possibly, like other shadows, larger than the reality casting it. After all, he wins, perhaps, most admiration and is most attractive when seen in the quiet privacy of his family : the knowledge of him there, where there was no place for coldness, stolidity, unscrupulous diplomacy, constitutional monarchy, and the like, must give the world a better impression of him than it has hitherto had, and is a gain. It is characteristic of this volume that it contains little wit and few anecdotes.

Sir Anthony Panizzi was one of the men to whom the British Museum is most indebted. He was an Italian, exiled in early manhood in consequence of his connection with revolutionary schemes. On arriving in England, he devoted himself to literary pursuits, and after a time was appointed to a post in the British Museum, of which he finally became principal librarian. These volumes 3 contain, besides an account of his life, a sketch of the history of the museum both before and during his administration ; the rest of the biography is taken up by a narrative of the relation of Italian patriots to one another and their attempts to free Italy, and by the political correspondence of Panizzi with statesmen like Thiers, and men of letters like Prosper Mérimée; and this portion is historically most valuable and intrinsically most interesting. There is nothing especially noteworthy for Americans, however, unless it be some very ungracious remarks about us by Mérimée, in condemning England for not joining Louis Napoleon in attacking us during the rebellion. Panizzi, himself, was an energetic, painstaking, and able officer; fond of a tight, apparently, and often in one, but always bearing himself well and coming off victor. His enmities are fully shared by his biographer, who sometimes takes up his defense in so insignificant matters that they might have been forgotten, as in the case of the remarkably inefficient young gentleman who was “ hired as a supernumerary,” and “ discharged for incompetence.” These volumes do not easily lend themselves to quotation or condensation ; they are of permanent value, apart from their interest as biography, because of the light thrown upon the diplomacy of the time, and are of especial utility for librarians because of the insight afforded into the growth and management of the British Museum, — the present foremost position of which is chiefly due to Panizzi’s intelligence and skill. The sketches of illustrious men which are inserted are a novel and excellent feature, many of the portraits being very vigorous and truthful.

Of the remaining biographies little need be said. That of Bishop Seabury,4 largely occupied with a detailed narrative of bitter theological controversies long since the driest of dust, has but slight attraction to the secular mind, except so far as it gives glimpses of the trials and temper of the loyalists in the Revolution, among whom the bishop was a leader. The two bulky volumes upon Heine 5 are a mass of ill-grouped details regarding him, and of extracts from his works. The information is valuable, but the literary skill and judgment of the compiler fall far short of his industry, fidelity to Heine’s memory, and satirical spirit toward Germany. The translation, too, is frequently at fault. The few events of Sir William Herschel’s life6 are recorded by Mr. Holden with simplicity, though not always in pure English. The book is an admirable scientific memoir, and it is to our national credit that one of our astronomers should be the first to perform this service for Herschel’s memory.

  1. The Personal Life of David Livingstone, LL. D., D. C. L. Chiefly from his Unpublished Journals and Correspondence in the Possession of his Family. By WILLIAM GARDEN BLAIKIE, D. D., LL. D. With portrait and map. New York : Harper and Brothers. 1881.
  2. Monsieur Guizot in Private Life, 1787-1874. By his daughter, MADAME DE WITT. Authorized edition. Translated by M. C. M. SIMPSON. Boston : Estes and Lauriat. 1881.
  3. The Life and Correspondence of Sir Anthony Panizzi, K. C. B. By LOUIS FAGAN. In two volumes. Authorized American edition. To which is appended a third volume, containing Twenty Years’ Personal and Bibliographical Reminiscences of Panizzi and the British Museum, 1845—1885. By HENRY STEEVENS, of Vermont, F. S. A., etc. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co. 1881.
  4. Life and Correspondence of the Right Reverend Samuel Seabury, D. D., First Bishop of Connecticut and of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America. By E. EDWARDS BEARDSLEY, D. D., LL. D. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co. 1881.
  5. The Life, Work, and Opinions of Heinrich Heine. By WILLIAM STIGAND. In two volumes. New York: J. W. Bouton. 1880.
  6. Sir William Herschel: His Life and Works. By EDWARD S. HOLDEN, United States Naval Observatory, Washington. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1881.