John Dryden used the word "biography" in English for the first time in 1683. He defined the term as a history "of particular men's lives," and while he thought that a biography might lack the "loftiness and gravity of general history," he also found it "more extensive in style" than general history with "something superadded.... The pageantry of life is taken away; you see the poor reasonable animal, as naked as nature ever made him; are made acquainted with his passions and his follies, and find the Demy-God a man."
From such a straight-forward, plain beginning one might expect the biographical stream to flow unhindered, and library shelves to be filled with books that create for their readers real people, living real lives, in real times. Casual inspection, however, shows that that stream has hazarded through countless runnels and creeks, some far removed from the channel Dryden so clearly marked