Business of the biographer

An action of small note:

Nor is it always in the most distinguished atchievements that men’s virtues or vices may be best discerned; but very often an action of small note, a short saying, or a jest, shall distinguish a person’s real character more than the greatest sieges, or the most important battles.

(Plutarch, Life of Alexander)

Vulgar greatness:

The business of the biographer is often to pass slightly over those performances and incidents which produce vulgar greatness, to lead the thoughts into domestick privacies, and display the minute details of daily life.

(Johnson)

His walk was now quick, and again slow:

There are many invisible circumstances, which whether we read as enquirers after natural or moral knowledge, whether we intend to enlarge our science, or increase our virtue, are more important than publick occurrences. Thus Sallust, the great master of nature, has not forgot in his account of Catiline to remark, that his walk was now quick, and again slow, as an indication of a mind revolving with violent commotion.

(Johnson)

The idleness of suspense:

Thus the story of Melanchthon affords a striking lecture on the value of time, by informing us, that when he had made an appointment, he expected not only the hour, but the minute to be fixed, that the day might not run out in the idleness of suspence.

(Johnson)

James Boswell’s Life of Johnson.

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