Biography as a Business
When a great man dies,
the presses that turn out cords of books purporting to be the history
of his life begin to revolve. There is not even a pause for the
funeral ceremonies. The idea of the biographer and publisher is
to get the history on the market without delay.
Thoughtful people do not need to be
told that such a history is without value. It is compiled, not by
a student of events, but the bookkeeper who groups dates. Where
it wanders from statements of concrete facts it is to indulge in
laudation. It is neither fair, accurate nor instructive.
The people of the United States do
not need at this time a history of William McKinley. Upon the mind
of each of the mature among them this history has been impressed.
The so-called history, thrown together with haste, unable to take
into account the effects of Mr. McKinley’s acts, to note fruition
of the policies advocated by him, does not deserve to be known as
a history at all. There must be a perspective; the rugged outlines
of circumstance must be softened by distance, or the work is a crude
and useless hodge podge [sic].
No adequate history of Lincoln was
written until the great leader had been for decades in the grave,
and the ideal history of the Civil war [sic] is yet to be put forth.
At present there is no need for a “Life of McKinley,” because the
life of the martyred president is as well known to the public as
to the individual who will place the volume on sale. It has been
part of the story of progress for thirty years. It has been told
and told again. It forms an important thread running through the
tale of national growth.
There will be a time for a history
of William McKinley. It must be written without prejudice, and it
can never be written properly either through the tears of mourning,
or in the immediate effort to coin money. The task belongs to the
scholar and the historian, not to the speculator.