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as it were, to the private life” of an autobiographer.17 The revelations in
Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (reprinted
in 1852) compelled these critics to express views such as the following
statement in the North American Review: “Men often live two lives, quite
disconnected and contradictory,—the inner life of thought, resolution,
judgment, and fancy, and the outer life of dull, common-place fact, or in-
sane and low excitement.” Because of this duality, it was necessary “to go
behind the screen . . . and see how far the reality corresponds with the pic-
ture” even in “the unusually frank narrative.” While denying that critics had
“a right to pry into personal secrets which the writer chooses to conceal,”
the reviewer declared that “we are sometimes in doubt whether what is
stated apparently as narrative is not really meant for brilliant fiction, or at
least for ‘fiction founded on fact.’”18

The two schools of critics did agree, however, that egotism generally
determined how much autobiographers disclosed about their interior lives.
While, for example, an Atlantic Monthly reviewer complained when auto-
biographers displayed “too much unreserve,” he realized that the general
tendency ran the other way. It was the rare autobiographer “who spoke to
himself of himself with perfect simplicity, frankness, and unconsciousness
... a creature unique as the dodo.” Autobiographers protected their egos
and reputations by giving limited versions of both their lives and their
times: “Most men dress themselves for their autobiographies, as Machia-
velli used to do for reading the classics, in their best clothes.”19

Less circuitously than the Atlantic, Harper's concluded that impartial-
ity was not always to be found in descriptions of scenes in which the auto-
biographer was “a prominent actor.” Harper's expressed many of its gen-
eral sentiments in the course of reviewing Thomas Hart Benton’s Thirty
Years in the United States Senate
(1854). While Benton had “aimed at fair-
ness and accuracy,” he “was too deeply mixed up in person with the scenes
he describes to affect the dignity of the philosophic historian. . . . He gives
his own views with equal frankness and ardor, and in reading them we must
make constant allowance for the position of the writer.” In regard to his
point of view, Benton typified most autobiographers: “In a narrative of this
character it would be more than human to preserve a rigid impartiality.”20

17. North American Review, 74: 250 (January 1852).

18. Ibid., 74: 425-26 (April 1852).

19. Atlantic Monthly, 4: 771, 773 (December 1859).

20. Harper's New Monthly Magazine, 9: 276 (July 1854).

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