By Jane Darcy
This e-book deals an unique account of the improvement of literary biography within the lengthy eighteenth century and divulges alternative ways within which biographers probed the internal existence via writers' depression. the 1st part tracks the risky prestige of depression in biographical writing from Walton to Johnson within the context of adjusting clinical and theological knowing of the condition.
The moment part specializes in biographical experimentation of the 1790s. case experiences, Godwin's Memoirs of Wollstonecraft and Currie's lifetime of Burns, are examples of an important if short-lived style: philosophical biography. The dispassionate exploration of depression in those new secular biographies renders out of date older notions of the 'dignity' of biography. Anxieties concerning the more and more intrusive nature of the style accentuate over Hayley's lifetime of Cowper, coming to a head in 1816 with Wordsworth's impassioned critique of literary biography and the scandal because of Cowper's posthumously released conversion narrative Adelphi.
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Melancholy and Literary Biography, 1640-1816
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We noted earlier Walton’s claim in 1640 to show us Donne ‘in a natural dress’, suggestive of unembroidered truth. Sprat’s image of the ‘Souls of men’ appearing ‘undress’d’ and in ‘negligent habit … in a chamber’ is a significant reversal of Walton’s image of biographical candour: it implies the biographer’s new concern with concealing a subject’s privacy. Although it is a reworking of an old conceit, Sprat’s is an altogether more sophisticated, strongly visual use of the clothed/unclothed metaphor, offering two contrasting pictures: that of a man informally dressed in his ‘chamber’, and the same man properly accoutred in the street.
But this was not so. Where Cowley ‘retired’ to was Oxford. Sprat describes this episode much later in his narrative, thereby disguising the precise chain of events. It is only in talking about Cowley’s final retirement that Sprat tells us that Cowley’s interest in plants had come about in this way: When he return’d into England, he was advis’d to dissemble the main Intention of his coming over, under the Disguise of applying himself to some settled Profession. And that of Physick was thought most proper.
Taken out of context, as Isaac D’Israeli will do in Calamities of Authors (1812), Cowley’s exile in France can be sentimentalised as a sort of Ovidian homesickness. But it is hard to overlook the breathtaking solipsism of Cowley’s lament for a failure of royal largesse. Too long to quote from extensively, the poem begins with a vision that appears to ‘The Melancholy Cowley’ as he lies in ‘a Bow’r for sorrow made’. A Muse upbraids him for forsaking his poetic vocation, and describes as ‘the fruits of thy unlearn’d Apostacy’ the unjust treatment for which the poet has been singled out: Such was the glorious entry of our King, Enriching moisture drop’d on every thing: Plenty he sow’d below, and cast above him light.