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This Long Pursuit: Reflections of a Romantic Biographer

de Richard Holmes

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'If our world is to be saved, we must understand it both scientifically and imaginatively'. So writes biographer Richard Holmes in This Long Pursuit, a kaleidoscope of stories and meditations in which he revisits two hundred working notebooks, and celebrates his beloved art of biography, calling it the vital 'handshake across time, cultures, beliefs, disciplines and genders. Ranging widely over art, science and poetry, Holmes confesses to a lifetime's obsession with his Romantic subjects - a pursuit or pilgrimage of the heart that takes him across three centuries, through much of Europe and into the lively company of many earlier biographers. Central to this quest is a powerful and tender evocation of the lives of women, both scientific and literary - some well-known and some almost lost: Margaret Cavendish, Mary Somerville, Germaine de Stael, Mary Wollstonecraft and the Dutch intellectual, Zelide. The book also reviews the controversial reputations of some favourite Romantic figures: the love-stunned Keats, the water-logged poet Shelley, the chocolate-box painter Thomas Lawrence, the opium-soaked genius Coleridge, and the mad-visionary bard, William Blake. The diversity of Holmes's material is testimony to his empathy, his erudition and his enquiring spirit; and also sometimes to his mischief. He offers a unique insider's account of a biographer at work: travelling, teaching, researching, fantasising, forgetting, and even ballooning. From this great chronicler of the Romantics now comes a chronicle of himself and his intellectual passions. This Long Pursuit contains his most personal and seductive writing.… (més)

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"All in all, “This Long Pursuit” offers an abundance of literary entertainment and instruction..."
 
With “Footsteps” he began what has turned into a cycle of works by a “Romantic biographer,” shapely nonfiction stories about lives and the art of writing them. He billed “Sidetracks,” his second, as a “personal casebook” or a sort of “sentimental education.” With “This Long Pursuit” he completes the trilogy. Holmes sees his new volume as a “declaration of faith,” though it is as much a book of parables. It includes as well his 10 tongue-in-cheek commandments. In his ninth Holmes prescribes an immodest pride in biography, an English gift to the world on a par with cricket and the full-cooked breakfast. With his 10th he advocates humility, as “we can never know, or write, the Last Word about the Human Heart.” The master admits, after all these years, that he remains mystified by his elusive art.
 

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'If our world is to be saved, we must understand it both scientifically and imaginatively'. So writes biographer Richard Holmes in This Long Pursuit, a kaleidoscope of stories and meditations in which he revisits two hundred working notebooks, and celebrates his beloved art of biography, calling it the vital 'handshake across time, cultures, beliefs, disciplines and genders. Ranging widely over art, science and poetry, Holmes confesses to a lifetime's obsession with his Romantic subjects - a pursuit or pilgrimage of the heart that takes him across three centuries, through much of Europe and into the lively company of many earlier biographers. Central to this quest is a powerful and tender evocation of the lives of women, both scientific and literary - some well-known and some almost lost: Margaret Cavendish, Mary Somerville, Germaine de Stael, Mary Wollstonecraft and the Dutch intellectual, Zelide. The book also reviews the controversial reputations of some favourite Romantic figures: the love-stunned Keats, the water-logged poet Shelley, the chocolate-box painter Thomas Lawrence, the opium-soaked genius Coleridge, and the mad-visionary bard, William Blake. The diversity of Holmes's material is testimony to his empathy, his erudition and his enquiring spirit; and also sometimes to his mischief. He offers a unique insider's account of a biographer at work: travelling, teaching, researching, fantasising, forgetting, and even ballooning. From this great chronicler of the Romantics now comes a chronicle of himself and his intellectual passions. This Long Pursuit contains his most personal and seductive writing.

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