In a book that ranges widely over art, science, and poetry, Richard Holmes confesses to a lifetime’s obsession with his Romantic subjects. It has become for him a pursuit, or pilgrimage of the heart, that has taken him across three centuries, through much of Europe, and into the lively company of many earlier biographers. Central to this quest is a powerful and tender evocation of the lives of women both scientific and literary, some well-known and some almost lost to history: Margaret Cavendish, Mary Somerville, Germaine de Staël, Mary Wollstonecraft, and the Dutch intellectual Zélide. Holmes also investigates the myths that have overshadowed the lives of some favorite Romantic figures: the love-stunned John Keats, the waterlogged Percy Bysshe Shelley, the chocolate-box painter Thomas Lawrence, the opium-soaked genius Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and the mad visionary bard William Blake.
The diversity of Holmes’s material is a testimony to his empathy, erudition, and inquiring spirit—and, sometimes, to his mischievous streak. The Long Pursuit gives us a unique insider’s account of a biographer at work: traveling, teaching, researching, fantasizing, forgetting, and even ballooning. From this great chronicler of the Romantics now comes a chronicle of himself and his intellectual passions; it contains his most personal and most seductive writing.