Page 83 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 8 (1949-1950)

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AMERICAN-JEWISH BIOGRAPHY:
AN INTRODUCTORY LIST
By
I s i d o r e
S.
M e y e r
B
IOGRAPHY is a form of history which considers events
only in relation to an individual. I t is personalized history.
I t exists to satisfy the commemorative instinct in man and seeks
to transmit a memorable personality to a later generation. The
writing of good biography, moreover, is an art which has standards.
Usually these are a proper subject, conscientious precision,
candor, and steadfast conciseness. The serious biographer must
guard against idol-worship and foreswear journalistic advertising
facileness.1 As the biographer of Jefferson, Dumas Malone has
stated:
“In his efforts to procure factual materials the investigator
must be as laborious and painstaking as any historian and
must be equally honest in interpreting them.”
In the case of autobiography, one must be aware of the elements
of
truth
and
poetry
that may unwittingly be interwoven into its
texture, particularly where the primary source of the writer may
be his memory and where he has avoided the appropriate docu-
mentation of events that he seeks to depict long after they have
occurred. These are some of the criteria set down and safeguards
enumerated by the respective editors of the British
Dictionary of
National Biography
and of the
Dictionary of American Biography
.2
This kinship between history and biography is also recognized
by the various historical societies, learned bodies and organiza-
tions. I t is reflected in the types of published and unpublished
material that they endeavor to gather together, such as memoirs,
letters, diaries, journals, and genealogical data,— all of which in
some manner or form may add important and valuable information
to the biographer in the filling out of the
curriculum vitae
of his
1 See Dumas Malone, “Biography and History,” in
The Interpretation of History,
edited by Joseph R. Strayer (Princeton, 1943), pp. 121-48.
2 See Sir Sidney Lee [editor of the British
Dictionary of National Biography
],
Principles of Biography
(Cambridge, England, 1911) and the preface to the
Diction-
ary of American Biography
, v. I (New York, 1928).
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