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This review is taken from PN Review 234, Volume 43 Number 4, March - April 2017.

Cover of This Long Pursuit: Reflections of a Romantic Biographer
Tony RobertsPhysical Pursuit
Richard Holmes, This Long Pursuit: Reflections of a Romantic Biographer (Collins, 2016) £25;
Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts, Deaths of the Poets (Cape, 2017) £14.99
RICHARD HOLMES is one of our best biographers, always in hot pursuit of his subjects. Since his passionately vivid Shelley: The Pursuit (1974) he has constantly returned to that image. In Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic Biographer (1985), he describes biography as ‘a tracking of the physical trail of someone’s path through the past, a following of footsteps’. In Sidetracks: Explorations of a Romantic Biographer (2000) it is ‘a personal adventure of exploration’. In This Long Pursuit Holmes goes even further: ‘I had come to believe that the serious biographer must physically pursue his subject through the past. Mere archives were not enough. He must go to all the places where the subject had ever lived or worked, or travelled or dreamed.’

Holmes, then, is nothing if not a romantic biographer of the Romantics. His motivation, as he eloquently explained of Shelley, is that the ‘life seems more a haunting than a history’. In Coleridge: Early Visions (1989) he claimed his subject must invade the reader’s imagination as it had his, or ‘I have failed to do him justice’. Now, in This Long Pursuit – and on a lighter note – he yearns to dance around the dinner table with Madame de Staël.

This new book is substantially autobiographical, a reworking of lectures, articles and introductions, the third of the trilogy after Footsteps and Sidetracks. For Holmes the last leg is ‘a sort of eulogy: a celebration of a form, an art, and a vocation’. A work of discovery and rediscovery, it is arranged in three sections: ‘Confessions’, ‘Restorations’ ...


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