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Lord Herbert of Cherbury: The Fight with Sir John Ayres
Jonathan Swift: Extracts from the Journal to Stella
Colley Cibber: "Talking of Himself"
Izaak Walton: The Life of Dr. Robert Sanderson
Samuel Johnson: The Life of Pope
James Boswell: The Meeting of Dr. Johnson and Wilkes
Robert Southey: The Death of Nelson
John Gibson Lockhart: The Death of Scott
Thomas Babington Macaulay: Fanny Burney at Court.
Thomas Carlyle: Torrijos and John Sterling.
[First published in Fraser's Magazine, April, 1832. Critical and Miscellaneous Essays.]
MAN'S sociality of nature evinces itself, in spite of all that can be said, with abundant evidence by this one fact, were there no other: the unspeakable delight he takes in Biography. It is written, 'The proper study of mankind is man;' to which study, let us candidly admit, he, by true or by false methods, applies himself, nothing loth. 'Man is perennially interesting to man; nay, if we look strictly to it, there is nothing else interesting.' How inexpressibly comfortable to know our fellow-creature; to see into him, understand his goings-forth, decipher the whole heart of his mystery: nay, not only to see into him, but even to see out of him, to view the world altogether as he views it; so that we can theoretically construe him, and could almost practically personate him; and do now thoroughly discern both what manner of man he is, and what manner of thing he has got to work on and live on!
A scientific interest and a poetic one alike inspire us in this matter. A scientific: because every mortal has a Problem of Existence set before him, which, were it only, what for the most it is, the Problem of keeping soul and body together, must be to a certain extent original, unlike every other; and yet, at the same time, so like every other; like our own, therefore; instructive, moreover, since we also are indentured to live. A poetic interest still more: for precisely this same struggle of human Freewill against material Necessity, which every man's Life, by the mere circumstance that the man continues alive, will more or less victoriously exhibit, — is that which above all else, or rather inclusive of all else, calls the Sympathy of mortal hearts into action;