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BIOGRAPHY, which is the most ancient kind of composition with which we are acquainted, remains to this day the most interesting. Fiction itself, and the drama not less, as well as the highest forms of epic poetry, derive their value from their biographic truth, and their interest from the insatiable desire which men have to know how it has fared with their fellows.
"Man alone," says a great poet, “is interesting to man.” It is true, that we can acquire a taste for branches of science which only remotely affect the condition of our species, or do not affect it at all; but this is, in a certain sense, an unnatural taste,- something acquired, like the preference which some persons have for repulsive flavors and outlandish forms. Speaking of the natural tastes of our kind, we can still say with Goethe, “Man alone is interesting to man."
Any volume, therefore, in which lives of men are recorded with any degree of fulness or vivacity, is sure to meet with a certain welcome from the reading public.
In the work now presented, the reader will find some account, more or less extensive, of a considerable number of the most remarkable men and women who have ever lived. The word “interesting,” as applied in the title-page to the persons treated in this work, was used designedly, and gives the true reason why these persons were selected in preference to others. As a portion of these sketches were written for young people, it was obviously necessary for me to confine myself to such subjects as furnished a curious and interesting story; and the same principle guided me in the selection of the other subjects.
I think, therefore, tho: the reader will, at least, find this an interesting volume, and, I hope, not less instructive on that account. Not one of the lives recorded here but what contains matter to cheer, or warn, or en. lighten.
Following the bent of my own taste, I have dwelt little upon the destroyers, nor have often chosen even the armed defenders of their kind. I have preferred to relate the benignant actions of philanthropists, discoverers, inventors, and philosophers, to whom the progress of man, in every age, has been chiefly due, and to whom the homage of our veneration and gratitude most justly belongs.
Such as it is, I respectfully commend he volume to the reader's irdul gence.