Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Why on p. 47, I lost all respect for the author.

The field of biography is a tricky one, fraught with many perils, the chief of which is falling in love with your subject. The other is coming off as an absolute idiot, either by failing to explain what was going on, by explaining too much, or by explaining in such a fashion as to make your readers doubt your sanity, your literacy, or your mastery of contemporary English.

I am sorry to say that this passage, from Eric Metaxas's Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery fulfils almost all of them. Since I fear, Gentle Readers, that you will not have any idea of Mr. Metaxas's subject based on what he wrote, allow the Amateur Historian to explain that Mr. Metaxas is describing a carriage ride in the Alps taken by William Wilberforce, he of the great mind and moral character, but diminutive stature, and Isaac Milner, an intellectual and physical giant elected to the Royal Society as an undergraduate at Cambridge. This is copied verbatim.

"The extraordinary felicity of this scene, of these incandescent minds meeting on this subject of eternal things, sailing in their horse-drawn coach through the mountains, seems like something out of a fairy tale, one in which a gnome and a giant on a journey in a sphere of glass and silver discover the Well at the World's End, and drinking a draught therefrom learn the secret meaning at the heart of the universe."

... a gnome? That's just mean.


  1. Lol. So did that spoil your reading there or do you continue in hopes of more gnome references?

    I saw the author you recommended for Pitt also did a biography on William Wilberforce!

  2. ummm...K? Bad enough that you would write something like that, but his editor clearly dropped the ball as well.

  3. Heather: I haven't mustered the courage to pick up the book again. I'm not sure I can trust any biography whose byline ought to read, "William Wilberforce: The Ubermench of 18th Century Britain While Everyone Else Was Wibbling and Incurring Gambling Debts" and whose author takes such delight in comparing his subject to various mythical creatures. Also, yes! I have the Hague biography of Wilberforce! Hague is a pretty good biographer, I think, though his biographies aren't qute to interesting as "Privilege and Scandal" or "Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire".

    Ms. VG: Apparently. I don't quite understand how any self-respecting editor would go, "Well, this serious biography of a philanthropist and important British political figure simply needs more purple prose and bizarre extended metaphor!"

  4. Oh how hilariously depressing! Excellent blog by the way, consider yourself linked :)