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by which we are enabled to pronounce on the resejpbianee of a pott ^ ijt without having seen the original . Where are we to look fo * such ? Not in volumes of panegyric which assume the form of narrative . Not in quartos whose chapters contain one fact enveloped in a aLukitu . de of observations ; where the author forgets his subject while staving to immortalize himself . Not among the equivocations of timid friendship , or the mysterious insiaua r tions of a writer who sports with the interest of his readers , and seems proud of knowing more than he chooses to tell . We know of one short memoir ,
and perhaps but of one , which is nearly free from the besetting sins of bio- * graphy . The subject is a peculiarly favourable one from its simplicity * which renders the paucity of materials of less importance than in almost any other case which we could point out . We refer to the Life of Newton , published by the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge . There is a lofty interest attached to this memoir , unequalled by any thing we have ever met with in the same department of literature ; and though much of
the charm no doubt resides in the majestic character of tbe mind of the philosopher , the biographer has no little merit in having forborne to impair the charm by the intrusion of any thing irrelevant . The impression of awe on the mind of the reader is powerful ; and the tone of feeling js not let down by any appeals to feeling . There is no panegyric , and but little comment The facts are stated with perfect simplicity , the author well knowing that the inferences from them are sublime . There is no attempt at inculcation from
beginning to end ; and yet a finer series of moral lessons , a more powerful incentive to philosophic meditation , was , perhaps , never presented by mor ralist or divine . It is not probable that equal success would attend the same method in any other case ; for such a subject as Newton can no where else be found . There is no other roan whose life approached so nearly to a pure abstraction . No other man was , perhaps , so free from the entanglements of various pursuit , from the intricacies of social relations , from the
inconsistencies of jarring passions and irreconcileable desires . Every other man ' s life , external and internal , is a system of checks and counter-checks ; and in proportion to the balance of these checks is the happiness of his lot and the perfection of his soul . But Newton started off almost from his birth into a lofty career where there was neither opposition nor drawback ; and
by this means he was withdrawn from the usual relations to society , and stood so far apart that his biographer has been enabled , by the absence of all intervening objects , to present us with a full portraiture , instead of a variety of hasty and deceptive sketches , snatched amidst the jostling of a crowd . If such advantages should be presented to any future biographer , we can only wish that he may be equally able to estimate and willing to im ~ prove them . " But why , " it is asked , " should biography be so generally defective , when men have the power of describing themselves ? When men have only
to look into themselves and back upon their past lives , why should they not tell us faithfully what they see and what they remember ? " Because they cannot . If they have the will , they have not the nerve : and if they had the nerve , they have not the power . Very few have the will to write an autobiography worth reading , because there is not one man in a thousand who is aware what are the truths which we most want to learn . We have
abundance of lives written by actors , housebreakers , ladies , men of literature , travellers , and sailors : but their narratives are collections of facts of tempo ^ rary interest , or of no interest at all , or of a kind of interest which bears no relation to the philosophy of mind or morals . But o ^ philosophers or mo-
Doddridge * Correspondence and Diartj . If
vol . iv . c
Monthly Repository (1806-1838) and Unitarian Chronicle (1832-1833), Jan. 2, 1830, page 17, in the Nineteenth-Century Serials Edition (2008; 2018) ncse.ac.uk/periodicals/mruc/issues/vm2-ncseproduct2580/page/17/