A Biographical battle.
If poor Mr. Choate
could rise this morning from the dead — and many of his admirers believe that he is restrained from returning rather by lack of inclination than lack of power — he would find an exceedingly inky battle raging over what would have been his remains if he had not arisen.
But Mr. Choate
undoubtedly expected to have his life taken after he left it; for it is the fate of all great men to be picked up at last by hungry biographers, who pacify their appetites as soon after the lamented demise as possible, and then provide for themselves annuities by the exhibition of the skeleton.
That there should be jealousies in the distribution of the net proceeds of anybody's death, is as natural as it would be to find a company of hyenas making a division of their game without regard to Christian principles or Chesterfieldian good manners.
When Dr. Johnson
had given his valedictory roar, how many rushed forward to ear-mark the body — Hawkins
, Mrs. Reynolds
, Mrs. Piozzi
What a scrambling there was, what a scene of anecdote-snatching!
How everybody claimed to have been robbed by everybody else of priceless stories and of invaluable reminiscences!
It rained pamphlets, and the air was thick with recriminations.
That Dr. Johnson
did not walk upon such provocatives, goes far to invalidate his own doctrine of ghosts; for, with his good will, we do not believe that Boswell
would have been permitted upon a single occasion again to get comfortably drunk, or the
to forget her departed brewer in the arms of her Italian
Still, there were reasonable extenuations of the biographical mania then, and such are not wanting in the case to be presently considered.
In these matters of life and death, the biographer who is active enough to be the first in the market, will dispose of a dozen editions before those of less alacrity have printed their initial chapters.
The Reminiscences of Choate
, put out by Colonel Edward G. Parker
, have, among other merits, that of novelty; and although they have not escaped censure in critical circles, they are entertaining.
But Colonel Parker
is in trouble.
He is censured by The Atlantic Monthly;
he is cut up by The
) Saturday Review;
he is rebuked by Mr. Joseph Bell
, who has Mr. Choate
's memory in his special keeping; and he is treated by The Boston Courier
very much as Captain Lemuel Gulliver
was by the first Yahoos whose acquaintance he had the pain of making.
Unless Colonel Parker
--who is not of the Regular Army
, but in the Militia Service
--shall make a great deal of money by the sale of his publication, he will wish that he had fallen upon his own sword, before venturing into the battle of print.
The “family” is dreadfully angry.
To speak individually, Mr. Joseph Bell
is disgusted, and has written a special epistle to The Courier
informing the world of that fact.
's poor little book is declared to be “an outrage on the living and the dead.”
has already retorted upon
“the family” and The Courier
, and, in time, if they have not done so already, “the family” and The Courier
will retort upon Colonel Parker
With a reasonable economy of ample materials, we see no ground for believing that this controversy will be terminated during the lives of the parties, and it may, being a family matter, as well as a matter of money, be continued by their heirs, executors and administrators.
Meanwhile, the Life of Mr. Choate
appears to be of proprietorship as doubtful as that of vulcanized rubber, out of the harassing uncertainties of which Mr. Choate
, when alive, made a snug sum enough in the courts.
Only one thing is certain.
We are exhorted “to wait and get the best ;” to reserve our money and minds for the genuine Family Biography which is now in course of preparation; and to exert as much shrewdness and caution in possessing ourselves of the real article, as if we were purchasing the Macassar Oil
or the Aromatic Scheidam Schnapps
We have had a tolerable experience of advertising expedients in our day, but we confess that we have observed nothing neater than this.
The Duello of the Dictionaries is child's play compared with it.
In the meantime, while suffering ourselves to be entertained by Colonel Parker
's “Reminiscences,” we await with impatience the Family Biography
Everybody knows what a capital character a man receives when his relatives write his life.
We anticipate nothing less than the portliest of folios, unspeakably dignified from title-page to colophon — a grave
and stately narrative — a story heroical, of which the central figure will be Mr. Choate
, more like Jupiter Ammon
than a member of the Suffolk Bar
. The family is right.
Pray what does the world want of Mr. Choate
in his shirt-sleeves?
Of Mr. Choate
laughing, chatting, cracking jokes?
of Mr. Choate
careless of money, of appearances, and of his chirography?
of Mr. Choate
in his character of human being, fond of the same food and drink which nourish and cheer ordinary creatures?
The real Family Choate
will be of incomputable altitude, with a voice like Olympian thunder, and an eye of flame divine.
The eloquence of the real Family Choate
will be more than Demosthenean, Ciceronian, Burkean.
The law learning of the real Family Choate
will surpass that of Pothier, Eldon
, Story and Shaw
, C. J. The classical learning of the real Family Choate
will rival that of Porson
, of Bentley
The piety of the real Family Choate
will be something approximating to the apostolic.
With every virtue, and without a fault, he will be placed in the Biographic Pantheon
which is so inexpressibly dignified and so portentously dull.
Now, speaking simply for ourselves, and with no wish to interfere with the family arrangements, we must say that we have never found such biographies too edifying.
We like Clio
well enough, in a homespun gown, writing with a plain, honest goose-quill, of human lives and of earthly achievements.
In our estimate of a public man, we do not deem it advisable to begin by taking it for granted that he was of
The world thinks as we think, and has always thought so. It does not care to have its heroes always in full dress.
Writers of biography have too often befooled mankind — have too often given us some sublime creation of their own fancies, something painfully virtuous, something
Too bright and good
For human nature's daily food.
's biography may not be worth writing at all, for his life was not an important one to mankind ; but if we were to elect his biographer in view of our own entertainment and instruction, we should vote not for the family, but for Colonel Parker
March 17, 1860.