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Art. I.-Robert Blake, Admiral and General at Sea. Based
on Family and State Papers. By Hepworth Dixon. A new edition, 1858. WE E heartily wish that the attention of our men of letters was
more directed than it is to the ancient and valuable art of Biography. There is no branch of literature which does more good or communicates more pleasure ; for there is none that so completely appeals to the two passions which make literature popular—the love of knowledge, and the love of amusement. These have a joint gratification in a thoroughly good Life,' where some important section of the history of the world is dramatically embodied in one figure, and we are made to pass through great events, in good company, and almost with the emotions of a contemporary.
Accordingly, one of the few classical authors who has domesticated himself among
the moderns is the pleasant and garrulous Plutarch. He has managed to get letters of naturalization among us, and to escape the popular terror attached to the name of Greek. Probably, too, that incomparable biography, the “Agricola, is more read than any other work of Tacitus — though the general world, we fear, will have to wait long for a translation that shall do justice to its pregnant epigram and its brilliant colours. Every day we may see something analogous going on with
respect to our native authors. Johnson's Lives of the Poets' are outliving his ‘London, while Boswell is tending to supplant the Doctor himself. Southey's · Nelson ’ bids fair to be read by generations almost ignorant of the name of his Thalaba.'' Middleton's Cicero' is at least talked of yet, which is more than can be said for his essays on ecclesiastical history, or his controversies with Bentley. In short, a great many encouraging circumstances may be pointed out to the biographer; and if he does not find readers, it is in his case, more than in the case of the historian or poet, his own fault. The modern biographer, we fear, has many defects. He is almost invariably too long; he is deficient in perspective-in giving harmony to his proportions ; he is negligent of reality, disinclined to conceive of past life as of something that once lived and Vol. 104.- No. 207.
breathed as surely and warmly as anything we see now. But it must be admitted, after all, that his task is a hard one. biographer ought to be at once philosopher and painter—to have a genius for science, and a genius for art. If he cannot duly measure his hero, his opinions are worthless; if he cannot duly describe him, he is dull in his style. The union is rare of that open, candid, loving nature which leads a man to a right choice of a subject, with the gravity of intellect and grace of art necessary to the execution of it. But a right study of the great models would vastly improve biography as it exists amongst us at present; and would at least prevent its being attempted by many who seem to take to it from an inspiration merely mechanical. One conspicuous feature of the present state of the art is what we may call its sign-post character. A biographer takes up soldier or poet, saint or king, without any reference to his peculiar qualifications for portraiture, as a poor Dick Tinto executes with equal indifference an Admiral Keppel, a Royal Oak, or a Saracen's Head.
Mr. Hepworth Dixon, the author of the Life of the famous man before us, has got into the right track in spite of the confusion which prevails on the subject
. He is what the Sunday Acts call a bona fide traveller to his goal. He likes the Commonwealth
and the dominant ideas of the seventeenth century; and having drawn Penn, who was a child of that age, it was natural that he should proceed to draw Blake who was one of the heroes of it. To be sure, Mr. Dison is not a sailor, and a nautical reviewer of a stern turn might be inclined to make him pay his footing afloat, according to the rough old custom in ! < crossing the line. But if Blake himself, from a landsman of middle
age, became a great seaman, why should not Mr. Dixon become, in a similar way, a seaman's biographer? He has executed his work well,—with industry, with vigour, with kind manly sympathy. Remembering our obligations to him, we are unwilling to dwell on the points on which we differ. His style, once somewhat turgid, improves in his later works. ; His opinions are entitled to respect from their sincerity, though our sentiments on several points are not his. We cannot, for instance, be expected to believe of Charles the First, that his origin was bad.' Such is not our way of thinking about the royal and noble blood of Europe. On the other hand, we respect as much as Mr. Dixon, the great and good men produced among the Puritans. We acknowledge the benefits which accrued to the nation from the conflict between Charles and his Parliament, but we have an equally strong belief that it was a good thing for England, that much of what the country party aimed at