Serendipity: In Praise of the Short Biography

F. L. Lucas (1894-1967)

F. L. Lucas (1894-1967)

I had forgotten classical scholar F. L. Lucas entirely. In high school, I had read his most famous book, Style (1955), and loved it. Today, I was searching the stacks of the Los Angeles Central Library and ran into his The Search for Good Sense: Four Eighteenth Century Characters—Johnson, Chesterfield, Boswell, Goldsmith (1958). It was there I read the following:

On all these men there already exist many books—many of them big. One feels embarrassed at adding to the number. Nothing can be a substitute for Boswell’s Johnson; or for those works on an American scale of magnificence, the Boswell Papers and the fifty volume edition of Walpole’s letters. But, given the brevity and busyness of life, many have not time time to read these large works, or a series of full-scale biographies; still less, to re-read them. There is a need for both long and short biographies, as for large-scale and small-scale maps. And it is not only a question of time. One reads such things not only for the amusement of reading, but also to remember. For this, I feel, biographies tend to grow too long. Just because one is told far more than one really needs, one remembers far less. The impression is blurred by multitudinousness; just as one could not, says Aristotle (with a flash of imagination rare in his austere pages) grasp as a unity a creature ten thousand furlongs in length.

I love to rediscover authors whose existence I had forgotten. Unfortunately, it seems that Lucas has also been forgotten by others as well. I had a hell of a time finding a decent photograph of him on the Internet.

Well, I for one plan to search out more of his books, and the L.A. Central Library is the perfect place for it.  I love his writing style. After all, he influenced mine when I was a teenager in Cleveland. I can only hope that I’ve lived up to his teachings.