BIOGRAPHY A LA MODE.* LET no one say that biographical
dictionaries are necessarily dull. Mr. Moon has solved the problem how to enliven a book of reference in the volume before us, which is the thirteenth edition of Men of the Time, a compilation now glorying in the duplex title of Men and Women of the Time. Seven hundred and forty-four new memoirs and a preface have been added,—noble seven hundred, and !Ain nobler preface Did space allow, we would gladly transcribe the whole of Mr. Moon's luminous remarks. We must, however, content our- selves with one fervid paragraph :—" All are here : men whose works exhibit the gentlest emotions of the heart, and the most stirring incidents of life, as well as the glories of Nature, and depict with equal skill the fair forms and opalescent hues of Beauty, and, in all its hideousness, the horrid front of War."
The key-note struck in the preface is assiduously reiterated throughout the new notices, which confer its enhanced attrac- tiveness upon the new edition. The bald and unconvincing record of facts which forms the staple of the average notice, is in most cases adorned with an aureole of bewitching irrele- vance. What a relief it is to turn aside from the bare list of dates and offices of which the brief article on Mr. Balfour is made up, to the searching analysis and unsparing criticism of the following :— " Though her father and her paternal grandfather were Scotch, Mrs. — [for obvious reasons we refrain from giving the name] is also of English, Irish, German, and Spanish extraction. Hence the happy blending in her of the fiery ardour of the Spaniard, and the loving impulsiveness of the Irishman, tempered by the cool, clear judgment of the Scotchman, the whole finding congenial fellowship in the heroic boldness of the Englishman, and thus forming a character of extreme sensitiveness combined with a noble devotedness to duty, which leads the possessor to feel keenly, to think accurately, and to act boldly in the defence of truth and right ; paid such is Mrs. —, as is shown by her writings."
Mr. Gilbert's imaginary hero, who, in spite of all tempta- tions to belong to other nations, still remained true to England, is here equalled, if not eclipsed, by a real heroine. What poetry, too, there is in the life of another eminent "political and social reformer, and one of the most eloquent female orators of modern times," descended on both sides from Royal progenitors ! Her relationships and connections with dead Kings and live Baronets having been duly chronicled, the true inwardness of her second marriage is thus expounded. By way of a clue, let us premise that she is indirectly connected with the family of Colonel Hamilton, Washington's friend, while her second husband is descended from Washington's wife. Now let us proceed :— "Thus, after the lapse of a century, the families of Washington and of his dearest friend, Alexander Hamilton, are again united! Is this merely a strange coincidence ; or is there in it some mysterious lesson for psychologists to study, respecting the eternity of friendship, and the affinity of souls ?"
We give it up. The brain reels before this appalling conun- drum; but we cling with perfect acquiescence to the conviction expressed by the writer that- " To Americans it will doubtless have an important significance- and will strengthen the bonds of the cordial goodwill of the whole nation towards this remarkable lady, who, while she is the descendant of Rings, is also the representative of America's first President, and of his most intimate friend and counsellor."
It is told of Jenny Lind that nothing tormented her more than the way in which the late Mr. Barnum used to turn her charity and goodness to the purposes of advertisement. On one occasion after a concert, she indiscreetly handed him a cheque, representing a large proportion of her fee, to be * Mon and Women of the Time a Dictionary of Contemporaries. Thirteenth Edition. Revised and brought down to the Present Time by G. Washington Moon, lion. F.R.S.L. London George Routledge and Sons. devoted to some charitable object. Barnum at once rushed back to the platform, waving the cheque, and crying out, "See what this angel has done !" This is the spirit in which the biographies of the female philanthropists who figure in these pages are written,—the true Barnnmesque spirit. The fulsome panegyrics on Miss Philippa Fawcett and Miss Rhys, mkt. sixteen, simply reek of the extra-special edition style of the New Journalism. Of one platform re- former we read that she is "the authoress of two beautiful sermons," and that "the criminal and the outcast, the giddy and the stupid, the lonely, the poor, are seldom out of her home circle." With a consideration that cannot be too highly praised, the subject of this memoir has not failed to communicate to the editor her opinion that the experience gained as assistant- manager in a lunatic asylum has been of incalculable value, both to herself and to her husband. Another biography, which for wealth of adventure transcends any other in Mr. Moon's collection, relates how the heroine of it, while "riding one day in the forest was thrown from her horse and sustained a fracture of the spine, which was the cause of a strange psychological experience. For eighteen months she lived a complete dual existence, and considerably puzzled the cleverest physicians who attended her." We can quite believe it. Miss Olive Schreiner is dismissed in nine lines, of which we may quote the first four :—" Schreiner, Olive, a South- African authoress of great promise, of whom the editor hopes to have more to report in the next edition." A very large number of notable and notorious women of the time, native and foreign, are conspicuous by their absence from the present issue, amongst whom it may suffice to mention Madame de Novikoff, "Lucas Malet," "Gyp," Mathilde Serao, Miss Bird, Lady Florence Dixie, and Mies Zteo. Mrs. Ewing, we may incidentally remark, was never included in any edition at all.
The notices of female celebrities undoubtedly claim prior attention, by virtue of their superior picturesqueness. It would have immensely improved the beggarly array of facts and dates which compose the notice of Mr. Balfour's career, had it been enlivened by such touches as : "In the intervals of his hard-won leisure he wields the golf-stick with a per- tinaoity which irritates his political opponents beyond the bounds of human endurance ; " or, "His touch on the piano recalls that of Rubinstein in his palmiest days." Neverthe- less, there are some bright exceptions. Thus, we learn for the first time that Mr. Rowbotham's History of Music, published in 1885, was "at once acknowledged by the entire Press to be the standard work on the subject." Also, that his epic on the history of the earth is one of the most original poems of the age ; and lastly, that the Queen of Roumania has taken a deep interest in his writings. Mr. Rowbotham, we may incidentally remark, has just committed himself, in the pages of the National Review, to the statements that " German music rises to symphonies, rhapsodies, and other instrumental pieces, all more or less indefinite and meaningless ; " also, that the title of the Germans to all superiority "was extinct thirty years ago, on the death of Schumann." We gather, again, that Mr. R. L. Stevenson—who, by-the-way, was not included in the edition of 1887—is a "racy narrator" who "hurries us on over adventurous byways, twisting and turning, bursting upon new surprises, dashing into dangerous pitfalls, until breathless we come plump into an unwelcome Finis, and close the hook per- force." The notice of Baron Grant contains, amongst other de- lights, the information that "Victor Emmanuel conferred on Mr. Grant on May 3rd, 1868, by propria motu [sic.] the hereditary dignity of Baron;" also, that as defendant in an action for damages, he delivered what is believed to be the longest speech ever made in a Court of Law by a layman. The generosity of the editor towards American celebrities may be measured by the fact that more than a column is devoted to Mr. Dudley Buck, while Boito does not appear at all. Foreign musicians are dealt with in a spirit which Mr. Rowbotham would probably resent, but there is hardly a single notice that is not either imperfect or inaccurate. The first performance in England of Brahms's sonata in D minor (op. 108) is set down some six or seven years before the work was composed. The article on Gounod is liberally besprinkled with misprints and incorrect statements. Faust did not take the world by storm at first, as any one may learn by reading the notice from the Paris Figaro reproduced in the March number of the Musical Times. Inaccuracy, vagueness, and inadequacy, how- ever, are not monopolised by the articles on musicians. The
biography of Mr. W. S. Caine makes no reference to the last election at Barrow, for which he is represented as being still the sitting Member. The late Governor of Madras is described as Mr. Bourke, a typical instance of the way in which notices are simply reprinted from earlier editions without any attempt to bring them down to date. The article on Mr. T. P. O'Connor concludes as follows :—" In 1887 he started the Star newspaper : but is reported to have sold it in July, 1890." Of the present Bishop of Meath, we read that he was "Senior Classic" at Trinity College, Dublin. Not a few characteristic men of the time, or rather of the hour, are absent from these pages ; but of M. Blowitz one may say with Taeitus : "Eo magis prtefulget quia non videtur." Still, spite of this and similar omissions, the record is, in this respect, fairly complete. Here one can learn the figures of the combined circulation of Mr. John Page Hopps's papers on the Irish Question; the Christian names of the infant children of the originator of the aesthetic movement, and the number of times he lectured in America ; the com- forting fact that Mr. Hamish MacCunn considers all his music to be permeated by "the spirit which inspired the old bards of Scotland ;" and the cause why Mr. Ryle was obliged to take an wgrotat degree in 1879. It is pretty to know, further, that the honorary degree of D.D. was conferred on Dr. Joseph Parker (of the City Temple) by the University of Chicago.
The whole thing would be simply laughable if it were not so pitiful. .7ifen and Women of the Time will cause the heart of the cynic to leap up with malicious exultation. We English profess to be a modest and diffident race, yet here we are positively deafened with sennets of self-praise blown upon the English horn ! Many of the notices are palpably autobio- graphical. No editor, unless gifted with clairvoyance of the subtlest kind, could have laid bare the cor cordium of his sub- jects with such stultifying frankness. No doubt in some cases the hero-worship of an extraordinarily indiscreet admirer or friend may have been responsible for a good deal ; but as a rule, among the new-comers the "appreciations "—in both the old and the new sense—unmistakably emanate from head- quarters. Mr. Moon is really in great measure the victim of his own generosity. Such a book can never be complete, because, apart from editorial fallibility, the people most worth talking about are reticent in giving information about them- selves. Others, again, dislike the system of ante-obituary biographies so intensely, that they decline to give any informa- tion at all, and their wishes have in many cases been con- siderately fulfilled by the omission of their names from the list. There remains the class, and apparently it is an increasing one, of those whose love of publicity bails the issue of a new edition of this work as a golden opportunity for telling the world what fine fellows they are. If any one doubt the accuracy of this statement, let him study the seven hundred and forty-four new niches that have been scooped in the Pantheon of Mr. Moon.