Monday, 8 April 2013

Chance linkages

The Book and CD fair has now finished. We went along for the final day, as everything was reduced to half price. Naturally I came away with several more books. Four of the books I bought were biographies: David Herbert Donald’s Abraham Lincoln, Michaael Shelden’s Graham Greene: The Man Within, Nathan Miller’s  FDR: An Intimate History and Ivan Cloulas’s The Borgias. They were all book-plated, part of the same personal library.

Curious to discover whose taste I was thus sharing, I looked up the name on the internet and found that the former owner used to be the Anglican Dean of Sydney and Melbourne, Stuart Barton Babbage. A notable, erudite and good person, according to his obituary, by Tony Stephens:( 

He died at the age of 96, late last year. His family must have been clearing out his belongings. I am glad to have these several items in my possession.  I am still  winnowing down Dr P’s books, while adding to my own collections. But you can’t read, or keep, or need everything.

Such linkages seem to me to be both precious and fascinating. Learning and history are transmitted in so many ways. I am very curious about the lives of the famous and the notable, and indeed of lesser mortals too. Apart from what they wrote, and did, I want to know what they were like. Increasingly, I read biographies, seeking the private person, the personality, their achievements, their joys and their sufferings.

Biographies used to be mostly concerned with the public person. Family life never got much of a mention in the case of famous men, Marriages and births would be mentioned, but often not given more than fleeting mentions. Sexuality tended not to be delved into. There were many discreet veils drawn. It seems to me that since more biographies came to be written by women, there has been a far more extensive exploration of the personal, of the inner lives.

Although in this respect I am a sticky beak, overall what drives me is a desire to know more – a great curiosity, which is continually confronted by the vastness of human endeavour, the complexities and variety of history, and the incredible advances in human knowledge and understanding. Individually we can go only a certain distances, constrained as we are by our own lives, our opportunities, interests and the limited time available. Yet, collectively and individually, there is so much learned, understood and discovered, and it seems, endless possibilities. So much to learn, so much to understand: so little time.


Pam said...

He sounds like an interesting, good but maybe not an easy man. I love the way the other chap in the photo is laughing, though.

I too read many biographies, being exceedingly curious about other people. Blogs are so good for the nosey!

persiflage said...

Oh Isabelle the other 'chap' is Gough Whitlam, former Leader of the Australian Labor Party and Prime Minister from 1972 to 1975, famously and wickedly dismissed by the Governor General so as to end the massive political crisis caused by the blocking of Supply in the Senate. He lost the election in a landslide against the ALP but remains a political hero to many, including me. Gough is 96, and now in a nursing home - his wonderful wife died last year.

persiflage said...

PS Gough Whitlam is the man on the left of the photo.

Elephant's Child said...

Biographies (and autobiographies) are a passion of mine and these sound wonderful. And I love that you have connected in this way with someone who does indeed sound good, albeit difficult, but certainly interesting.
And Gough, and Margaret are heroes of mine too.