THROWBACK THURSDAY: REVIEWING A REISSUE
BIOGRAPHY WEEK REVIEWS
This book is, as the bibliographical note states, “a republication of the third edition of the work originally published as Biography for Beginners: Being a Collection of Miscellaneous Examples for the Use of Upper Forms by T. Werner Laurie, London, in 1925.”
It is my suspicion that Dover’s republication of this is primarily for the 40 wonderful drawings by noted author G. K. Chesterton, given the number of other art-related titles in their republication catalog. The ‘biographies’ by Edmund Clerihew Bentley leave a little to be desired.
The biographies are actually four line poems (I understand they are referred to as “Clerihews”) that sum up a famous life in a humorous fashion. They are clever and witty and typically outdated. Perhaps I underestimate the modern reader, but I think a great many of these people are unkown today. While we should certainly know Jane Austin, George Bernard Shaw, President Roosevelt, Edvard Grieg, Sir Walter Raleigh and likely know Sir Thomas à Mallory, Pizarro, Sir Christopher Wren, I wonder how many people know Lord Clive, the Rev. John Clifford M.A., L.L.B., D.D. or Mssrs Chapman and Hal, Mr. H. Belloc, or Besant and Rice?
Although clever, the ‘clerihews’ are really only fun if you already know the subject of the poem. In this case, the contents are clearly outdated (in ninety years, will anyone get references to Donald Rumsefeld, Colin Powell, or Lindsay Lohan?). The Chesterton cartoon drawings save this book. It doesn’t matter whether or not you know the subject to appreciate the fine line sketches within.
Looking for a good book? There is some nice caricature art here by noted author G.K. Chesterton, but unless you have a special affinity for mostly obscure historical figures, this might not be the book for you.
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Biography for Beginners
author: Edmund Clerihew Bentley
artist: G. K. Chesterton
publisher: Dover Publications
paperback, 96 pages