The study of biography is a pleasant occupation, particularly if it happens to be the life of a great man, or a hero. It is even more delightful than reading a novel. For we read fiction, knowing all the time that it is a work of imagination or fancy. But to read the life of a great man is to read things that have actually happened. We have a sensation that truth can be Stanger than fiction. And then there is the thought, — if these have actually happened, why may not they happen again, and, why not in my own life?
This, indeed, is an ennobling idea. Biography acts as a leaven inspiration to achievement. We read how young Disraeli was laughed down in Parliament with cat-calls and jeers, and how he shouted at those rowdies: The time will come when you will hear me”, and how in less than five years that time did come. We read how from a petty provincial lawyer Abraham Lincoln rose to be the most memorable President of the USA by dint of his integrity, idealism and earnestness and today his name is a household word in America and remembered as one who came to White House from log cabin. We read how the great Vidyasagar raised himself from poverty to eminence by his iron will and noble idealism. We read how Lenin, realising the futility of mere terrorism, created the great Communist Party of Soviet Union. Such examples fill us with inspiration. They tell us that we also can make ourselves great and famous, if we have character, idealism, perseverance and the will to do something of noble note.
Thus the study of biography exercises a moralising influence. Rightly read, it may be the greatest force in one’s life. For emulation i.e. to imitate and excel, is a universal attribute. If in the hands of young boys and girls we place the lives of great men, then instead of imitation of cinema heroes and sports champions, they may select the virtues of the really great. Thus, they may acquire, in course of time, some real greatness.
But, it will be said, great men are born and not made; they are often men of genius. Can genius be copied? Perhaps not. Yet, Carlyle asserted that “genius was nothing but infinite capacity for taking pains.” It needs only a strong will power to acquire this capacity. It will be found in most cases that success has come to great-ment through dedication and devoted application to duty. If we want to be great, we must pitch our aim high. As one of the greatest seers of human life, Robert Browning said:
The aim if reached or not, makes great the life; Try to be Shakespeare; leave the rest, to fate. Indeed, the reach must exceed the grasp.’
A noble failure will be remembered by many respectfully. But Chittaranjan Das, who gave his all for the great national cause, even though he did not immediately succeed, will live for ever in the memory of the grateful people of Bengal and India. The wonders of science, the achievements of a cause have been built up on the failures of many men who fell by the wayside, whose names are inscribed in the pages of history.
We are marching forward, widening every moment the circle of human achievements, setting up new monuments. The lives of the great men tell us of the progress achieved in the different fields of life from time to time. We march forward and we are inspired by the urge to go farther and yet farther. We learn not only what things have been achieved but how they have been achieved. Hence, Carlyle says that true history is but the biography of great men.