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116. Dissertations and Treatises.-Dissertations are essays on specific subjects. Treatises are more thorough, methodical, and extended. More elevated than the essay, they aspire to more than a temporary influ ence. Such works as "Bacon's Organon" and "Edwards on the Will" are treatises.
The style of such a work should be dignified and strong. Allusions to temporary phases of fashion, and even to current history, should be sparing. The writer should divest himself of the prejudices of his time and place, and look into the common heart of human nature, and present the permanent instead of the transitory, the pure metal without dross.
117. Tracts.-A Tract is literally a writing drawn out, or thoroughly presenting the subject considered, like Milton's "Tractate on Education;" though strangely enough, in modern times, the term is chiefly used to denote a brief presentation of a subject on one or two pages, usually printed alone on a single sheet of paper. Neatness and completeness, and point and power, should be aimed at in such productions.
118. Anecdotes.—THE simplest form of history is the Anecdote. An anecdote meant originally a fact not published. The incident was called by that name because it was considered either too trivial to become a part of dignified history, or of such a character that it ought not to be given to the public eye. The word is now used to denote any particular fact or incident that may be detached from its connection with other facts, and related either to illustrate a principle or to amuse the hearer.
An anecdote should always have a point, or express a definite and singular fact, and should be so related as to bring out that central thought clearly. All extraneous matter and uninteresting incident should be omitted. If an anecdote claims to be true, it should have that character, otherwise it becomes a mere supposition or fancy sketch. Many so-called anecdotes are simply founded on truth.
It is a happy art to relate an anecdote well. The most dignified addresses will admit them, if they are appropriate and well told.
"A story should, to please, at least seem true,
MEMOIRS AND BIOGRAPHIES.
A statement of a fact for illustration may be termed an anecdote. Thus Warburton, in a "Discourse against Free-thinkers," after attempting to show by argument that all their efforts had inured to the advantage of Christianity, concludes with the following anecdote:
"Herodotus tells us, that at what time their deity, the Nile, returns into his ancient channel, and the husbandman hath committed the good seed to the opening glebe, it was their custom to turn in whole droves of swine to range, to trample, root up, and destroy at pleasure. And now nothing appeared but desolation, while the ravages of the obscene herd had killed every cheerful hope of future plenty; when, on the issue, it was seen that all their perversity and dirty taste had effected was only this: that the seed took better root, incorporated more kindly with the soil, and at length shot up in a more luxuriant and abundant harvest."
119. Memoirs and Biographies. Memoirs are a branch of literature extensively cultivated in modern times. They are informal and incomplete, and sometimes unmethodical recollections and descriptions of remarkable persons or events. The order and dignity of regular biography or narrative are not required.
Biographies are more thorough and minute than Memoirs, being descriptions of the lives and characters of individuals.
To write the life of a remarkable person well is a very difficult matter, and requires a high order of talent. The biographer must be able to appreciate the actions and motives of the person whose life he is delineating, besides having the power to describe correctly and vividly, omitting all that is unnecessary or uninstructive. Boswell's "Life of Dr. Samuel Johnson" has been extravagantly commended by Macau
lay, who expressed himself on this subject as usual by an antithesis: "Many of the greatest men that ever lived have written biographies. Boswell was one of the smallest men that ever lived, and he has beaten them all." His sentiment has been repeated by many others, who find it convenient to echo what a great writer has carelessly expressed. His work partakes more of the character of memoirs than of a genuine biography, and is valuable for the simplicity and freeness with which it describes the very words and actions of its hero. Sparks's "Life of Washington" would have been more valuable, voluminous as it is, had it been more free and unrestrained. The lives of various Americans written by James Parton, Esq., are excellent specimens of this kind of writing.
120. Autobiographies. — Autobiographies are Memoirs, or more complete Biographies, written by the individuals themselves whose lives are portrayed. These are apt to be partial, prolix, and unfair. Still they may abound in gossip, and they may reveal secrets of action and of character that no second person could learn. Therefore some of the best specimens of this kind of writing have been very popular. Good taste will be required to avoid offense by an exhibition of undue self-esteem.
121. Journals and Diaries.-Journals or Diaries are a species of historical composition, usually not written for the public, and yet which in some instances have been published, and have shed great light upon contemporaneous history. The skill and power of a cultivated man will be seen in his daily notes and mem
oranda. Aside from strict accuracy in dates and facts, which morality would require, the style should be correct, inasmuch as the habits both of speaking and writing, indulged in private, will be sure to exhibit themselves in public.
122. Books of Travel.-Books of Travel are among the most abundant of what may be ranked as the fugitive productions of the day. The very best of them are likely soon to lose their popularity and be superseded by others. The most of them are offensively minute, describing objects which need to be actually seen in order to be appreciated, or entering disagreeably into matters of no interest to readers. Some of them, however, hold a high rank among instructive books, as "Eothen," by Alexander W. Kinglake, "Travels in Greece," by John L. Stephens, and several works by Bayard Taylor, Esq. Rev. David Livingstone's "Researches in Africa" is a model work.
Skill in this kind of writing is exhibited nearly as much by omitting the irrelevant, as by presenting what is really instructive or amusing.
123. History Proper.-History proper demands the highest talent. Mere annals, or condensed chronological statements of events, require a happy discrimination, by which unimportant details shall be omitted, and the right degree of prominence be given to important events. And when the historian seeks to rise above a mere chronological recital of facts, and to present the character and actions of any age vividly and correctly before the reader, there is no limit to the ability that can be displayed. A true historian