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English Biography in the Seventeenth Century

English Biography in the Seventeenth Century: A Critical Survey

Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 320
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    English Biography in the Seventeenth Century
    Book Description:

    Although biography is one of today's most flourishing literary genres, its early history has attracted much less attention than that of other forms, a neglect that is especially apparent in the case of the formative period of English biography, the seventeenth century. This new work by Allan Pritchard fills the scholarly void by providing a wide-ranging and comprehensive survey of this period's biographical writings.

    After charting the growth of seventeenth-century biographical writing, Pritchard explores the ways in which traditional forms of religious biography and lives of princes and other secular figures were adapted to, and transformed by, the crises and revolutions of the period. He then considers the development of less traditional biographical types and analyzes the emergence of a 'new biography,' concerned essentially with individuality and with private as well as public life.

    Examining a rich range of texts,English Biography in the Seventeenth Centuryis a survey of a field important for both literary and wider cultural reasons.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8625-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-8)

    Biography is today one of the most flourishing and vital English literary genres. Few other forms attract so much interest or so many readers. Yet the early history of biographical writing in England remains a surprisingly neglected subject. Developments in the eighteenth century, particularly the distinction of Samuel Johnson and James Boswell as biographers, have tended to obscure the prior history of the form, almost as if English biography had suddenly emerged from nothing or at best had produced only a few isolated earlier works of note. The extensive biographical writings and developments in seventeenth-century England, well in advance of...

  5. CHAPTER 1 The Growth of Biographical Writing
    (pp. 9-29)

    Biography was so relatively rare and so imperfectly established a form in England before the seventeenth century that the author of an anonymous life of Sir John Perrot, a Tudor Lord Deputy of Ireland, written about 1600, felt it necessary to defend the genre: ‘Yet some perchaunce will say, that to write the Lives of particular Men, is a Thinge as unnecessarie, as it is unusuall.’ Francis Bacon inThe Advancement of Learningin 1605 listed biographical writing among the most neglected areas of learning and issued a call for its development beyond the limitations he found at that time....

  6. CHAPTER 2 Lives of the Protestant Saints
    (pp. 30-52)

    The foundation for Protestant religious biography, the most widely practised of all forms of life-writing in seventeenth-century England, was firmly laid in the previous century by John Foxe. In the constantly expanding editions of his enormously popularActes and Monumentsor ‘Book of Martyrs,’ published between 1563 and 1583, Foxe provided Protestant England with its own vivid and memorable martyrology: accounts of the lives and especially the deaths of Cranmer, Latimer, Ridley, and the other Anglican martyrs of the reign of Mary. He sought to show that the Church of England in his own time had produced martyrs comparable with...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Patterns in Religious Biography
    (pp. 53-77)

    The aims of the seventeenth-century religious biographer clearly differ in the most fundamental ways from the business of the biographer as set out in Samuel Johnson’s classic definition: ‘to give a complete account of the person whose life he is writing, and to discriminate him from all other persons by any peculiarities of character or sentiment he may happen to have.’¹ The religious biographer is moved by purposes antithetical to Johnson’s two principles. He seeks not to display the individuality of his subject by discriminating him from all other persons but to show his conformity to ideal models and patterns,...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Izaak Walton’s Lives
    (pp. 78-90)

    Among Anglican exemplary biographers Izaak Walton is unique for his long and sustained work and for his apparently wide scope. His labours as a biographer extended over more than forty years. Becoming a biographer almost by accident in order to provide a prefatory life for John Donne’s collectedSermonsin 1640 on the death of Sir Henry Wotton, who was originally to have supplied the life, he went on to write biographies of Wotton (1651), Richard Hooker (1665), George Herbert (1670), and Robert Sanderson (1678). In later years he made large additions to the earlier lives, and he continued with...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Lives of Public Figures
    (pp. 91-113)

    Lives of contemporary public figures written in the seventeenth century provide abundant evidence of the ways in which eras of disruption may both stimulate and impede the development of biographical literature. The great conflicts and crises of the period prompted the production of far larger numbers of political and military biographies than had appeared during any earlier period in England, and these include works of enduring interest and value. But the biographers writing in response to the wars and controversies faced special problems and limitations, and many of the lives of political and military leaders are defective and disappointing, not...

  10. Lives of Writers: Scientists and Antiquaries
    (pp. 114-127)

    From the mid-seventeenth century an increasing number of substantial and interesting lives were published of intellectual and literary figures notable at least in part for secular achievements. Often of medium length, these biographies frequently appeared as prefaces to editions of their subjects’ writings. The subjects included scientists and philosophers, antiquaries and other scholars, and poets. These lives are generally freer from traditional conventions and limitations than the exemplary religious lives and lives of public figures in the period. The authors usually moved beyond the celebration of their subjects’ piety and virtue in order to present their secular achievements, and the...

  11. CHAPTER 7 Lives of the Poets
    (pp. 128-144)

    Lives of poets, dramatists, and other writers of imaginative literature are rarer in the seventeenth century than lives of divines, scholars, and public figures. Although before the end of the sixteenth century Thomas Speght published a brief prefatory biography of Chaucer, no biographies appeared in the Shakespeare first folio in 1623 or with Donne’sPoemsin 1633. The first life of Donne, by Walton, did not appear until the folio edition of Donne’sSermonsin 1640, and in it Donne was viewed as a religious more than as a literary figure. Similarly Fulke Greville in his life of Sir Philip...

  12. CHAPTER 8 Brief Lives: Thomas Fuller and Anthony Wood
    (pp. 145-169)

    No type of biographical writing is more characteristic of seventeenthcentury England than the brief life. It has such ancient antecedents as the collections of short lives by Diogenes Laertius, Suetonius, and Cornelius Nepos, and character studies in classical histories, and such sixteenth-century precedents as the work of John Leland and John Bale, but in the seventeenth century it achieves an unprecedented popularity and vitality. It becomes omnipresent and appears in a remarkable variety of forms, ranging from short prefatory lives to biographical sketches in funeral sermons, and lives and characters incorporated in histories such as those of Clarendon and Burnet....

  13. CHAPTER 9 Brief Lives: John Aubrey
    (pp. 170-198)

    Among the greatest of Wood’s services to biography was his encouragement of John Aubrey’s biographical activities. Aubrey (1626–97), a member of the Wiltshire gentry educated at Oxford, inherited an estate but lost it after becoming involved in law suits. He declared in a letter: ‘but the trueth is, I was never made to manage an estate, & was predestinated to be cosind & cheated.’ He then lived an unsettled life, largely in London. He became a founding member of the Royal Society, cultivated acquaintance with such advanced intellectuals as Thomas Hobbes, James Harrington, and William Harvey, and pursued a...

  14. CHAPTER 10 Biography as Family History
    (pp. 199-218)

    In his classicCivilization of the Renaissance in Italy, Jacob Burkhardt suggested that the family histories that evolved at an early period in Florence and were said to survive there as manuscripts in some numbers might be important for the development of biographical writing.¹ His perceptiveness in drawing attention to this area is confirmed by the development of biography in England. The seventeenth century there gave rise not only to such advanced but relatively conventional and impersonal works of aristocratic genealogy as Sir William Dugdale’sThe Baronage of England(1675), notable for the accuracy of its antiquarian scholarship, but also...

  15. CHAPTER 11 Roger North: Lives of the Norths
    (pp. 219-242)

    Roger North’sLives of the Northsare not only in many ways the culmination of the seventeenth-century type of biography shaped as family history represented by Gervase Holles, but they are the first in which new biographical principles of the kind that had been developed by John Aubrey are comprehensively applied to the writing of full-scale lives. While Aubrey did not aim for completeness, and even the longest of his and Holles’s biographical sketches are relatively brief, Roger North at the end of the seventeenth and in the early years of the eighteenth century wrote, together with his autobiography, long,...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 243-278)
  17. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 279-288)
  18. Index
    (pp. 289-297)