They Could Have Been an h2g2 Researcher #142: Lytton Strachey

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They Could Have Been an h2g2 Researcher #142: Lytton Strachey

Florence Nightingale, an Eminent Victorian

A copy of Lytton Strachey's first and most famous book Eminent Victorians (1918) came into my possession some years ago. Reading the preface to this work today, I could well imagine Lytton Strachey would have enjoyed writing for h2g2 if the opportunity had been available to him.

Here I reproduce a sample of the preface text, with h2g2 links added accordingly.

It is not by the direct method of a scrupulous narration that the explorer of the past can hope to depict that singular epoch [the Victorian age]. If he is wise, he will adopt a subtler strategy. He will attack his subject in unexpected places; he will fall upon the flank, or the rear; he will shoot a sudden, revealing searchlight into obscure recesses, hitherto undivined. He will row out over that great ocean of material, and lower down into it a little bucket, here and there, which will bring up to the light of day some characteristic specimen from those far depths, to be examined with a careful curiosity.
{...] It would have been futile to hope to tell even a precis of the truth about the Victorian age, for the shortest precis must fill innumerable volumes. [...] Those two fat volumes, with which it is our custom to commemorate the dead - who does not know them, with their ill-digested masses of material, their slipshod style, their tone of tedious panegyric, their lamentable lack of selection, of detachment, of design? {...] How many lessons are to be learnt from them! But it is hardly necessary to particularise. To preserve, for instance, a becoming brevity - a brevity which excludes everything that is redundant and nothing that is significant - that, surely, is the first duty of the biographer.

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