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THE ART OF BIOGRAPHY WRITING OWES IT TO GOSSIP
Read the following passage carefully:
1 It is a truth rarely acknowledged that what we don’t know is just as important as what we do. The history of biography and the history of gossip are closely intertwined. When gossip is recorded we start to obtain details of personalities, choices, quirks, likes and dislikes, the weird and the dull traits that make up an individual. Paradoxically, the more trivial and ephemeral reports of our ancestors became, the more seriously we could think about them.
2 If we move back to the 16th century, the gaps in our knowledge become very pronounced, especially when we move outside the ranks of the aristocracy. The polemicist Thomas Nashe was much in demand in the 1590s, and he is undoubtedly the only writer in English literary history who was offensive enough to provoke the authorities into closing the playhouses and censoring the press. Yet we do not know when he died.
3 As for portraits, well, few images of notable figures from the 16th century exist. It is a striking fact that among writers of the ‘middling sort’ only John Donne and Michael Drayton appear to have had portraits commissioned in the 1590s. Spenser was the most famous poet of the day, inspiring fellow writers to cast poems and pens into his grave in Westminster Abbey, yet his appearance remains a mystery.
4 The major change in biography occurred in the 17th century. In the early 1600s, what we might term ‘citizen portraiture’ came into vogue. Not only did middle-ranking civic figures have their pictures painted, but so did the upper echelons of the trades, including writers.
5 Seventeenth-century writers started to record details of their subjects – one reason why we know so much more about the life of John Milton than of William Shakespeare. The most important figure in this revolution was John Aubrey (1626-97), who dedicated his life to recording the details of the nation’s most celebrated and significant writers, intellectuals and scientists.
6 Aubrey has not really received his due, hindered by the lack of a proper edition of his Brief Lives and the assumption that because he deals in gossip he must be trivial. He thought of himself as the ‘hint keeper’, and he was the father of modern biography. His writing was a triumph of dedication, ingenuity and humanity. Daily Telegraph
Read the given questions and write the answer in a sentence.
1. What is the difference between gossip and biography?
2. Why do you think there is not much available about 16th-century writers?
3. At what time in history and how did change come about in biography writers?
4. What role did John Aubrey play in biography writing?
5. Which writers’ portraits were commissioned in 1590?
6. What was Spenser the poet famous for?
7. In the early 17th century, what kind of changes came about in biography writing?
8. What was special about John Aubrey?
1. When every small detail of a person is spoken about then it is gossip, when all this gets recorded then it is the biography.
2. It is so because during that time no one recorded the events, likes and dislikes of writers, poets and people from common backgrounds in such detail.
3. In the 17th-century people started getting their portraits made. It was not only middle ranking people but also the upper classes of the society such as the traders and writers.
4. John Aubrey was the first man to systematically record the details of the famous writers’ intellectuals and poets.
5. John Donne and Michael Drayton’s portraits were the only 2 commissioned in 1590.
6. Spenser, the poet, was famous for inspiring fellow writers to cast poems and pens into his grave in Westminster Abbey.
7. In the 1600s one could see not only middle-ranking civic people getting their portraits made but one saw the rich businessmen and writers also doing so.
8. John Aubrey spent his life recording the details of the celebrated writers, intellectuals and scientists.