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Eev. B. F. TEFFT, D.D., LL.IX,
AUTHOR OF "HUNGARY AND IOSSUTH."
Entered Mirording to Act of Congress, in the year one thousand elgb*. hundred
Soon after the death of Mr. Webster, the students of a literary institution, of which I then had charge, requested me to addresa them in reference to the occasion; and, with a partiality natural to young men toward those having the oversight of their education, they requested a copy of the address for publication.
Within a few weeks from the time of its publication, a proposal was made to me, by the most extensive inland publishers in this country, to write for them a life of Daniel Webster. The proposal was declined; but another proposition, to write a volume on the character of Mr. Webster, in the several departments of his intellectual life and labor, with specimens of his style in each department, was returned. These overtures led to quite a correspondence, and finally to the composition of the present work, which, the reader will perceive, is an enlargement of both propositions blended.
It would have been possible, perhaps, in the composition of the first volume, which narrates the life of the great statesman, to follow his career more minutely, step by step, and year by year, if not day by day, at least from the time when his career became connected with the history of his country; but this sort of biography, so common when books were scarce, and when amusement rather than instruction was the object sought after by the reader, meets not the temper of an age, which, active and busy to excess, has no time to waste on needless particulars, but hastens over tiresome details to seize upon the great facts involving and demonstrating character.
It is the character of Mr. Webster, rather than the trivialities of his experience, that now constitutes, and will ever constitute, the charm which attaches to his name; and for the proper illustration of that character, it is not necessary to set down everything that he has ever said or done, nor everything that has happened to him, but only enough to exhibit clearly each trait as it rises successively to view. Indeed, a life at all approaching the nature of a diary could have been written by no one but himself, or by some individual, who, like another Boswell, should have been constantly about him; and such a production, had it been written, would have been a work by itself, but in no sense supplying the want of a biography. A good biography, in fact, instead of being made up of such particulars as fall under the daily notice of a valet, or body servant, or very familiar friend, should, by the laws of taste, exclude such trivial circumstances; and, just so far as a person banishes all common-place incidents from his mind, and rises to the level of those greater and more public acts, which are open to the view of all, does he qualify himself to write such a work as the Roman has left us of Agricola.
These two writers, in fact, Boswell and Tacitus, if names so unlike will admit of a temporary association, mark the two extremes in biographical composition. Boswell, a vain person, and anxious to get himself into his work as frequently as possible, relates every good-for-nothing event in the history of his hero, as if it were of any consequence to the world when the great man went to bed on any given night, and what he said before leaving the company of his friends, and what he saw after he had reached his apartment, and what clothes he took off in his retirement, and how he looked in his night-dress, and how he appeared on rising the next morning, and what was the color of the horse he rode the next day on his going to a place of no importance, and with people of no consequence, and all the nameless little particulars, which might have nappened to ten thousand other persons, and persons of no special value, as well as to Dr. Johnson. Tacitus, on the other hand, though intimately acquainted with Agricola, and a member of his family, relates no familiar incidents, tells no anecdotes, reports no private conversations, exposes no personal secrets, and yet, in spite of this want of details, makes a biography, and a biography which is likely to hold its place in the admiration of the world, as long as there is a scholar capable of reading and interpreting his language.
Between these two extremes, there is a style of biographical composition, which, while it makes as much use of particular incidents as aie essential to a true exposition of general character, is inclined to feel, in the life of a man long and intimately known, the exces*
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 hare 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 connected 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 possible, too, that he may have been so distinct from all the associations, political or ecclesiastical, in which that subject moved and acted, aa