This Long Pursuit: Reflections of a Romantic Biographer
by Richard Holmes (William Collins, £9.99)
The third in Richard Holmes’s series of autobiographical volumes, this is a wonderfully reflective and insightful collection of meditations on the biographer’s art, “a vocation that I have intensely loved over more than 40 years and which I still do not entirely understand”. There are essays on Samuel Coleridge, Mary Somerville, John Keats and others, but Holmes starts by exploring the experience of researching a biography, which for him is about more than texts and archives and involves literally walking in his subject’s footsteps. His notebooks have two columns: one for historical facts, the other for subjective impressions drawn from landscapes and buildings. For Holmes, empathy is central to his craft, “to enter imaginatively into another place, another time, another life”. The essay on forgetting, in which the 72-year-old biographer considers the fading of memory, weaves science, poetry and the terrain of the south of France into one of the most evocative and humane pieces of writing I’ve read.