Richard Holmes is the author of Shelley: The Pursuit (published by NYRB Classics), which won the Somerset Maugham Award in 1974; Coleridge: Early Visions, winner of the 1989 Whitbread Book of the Year award; Dr Johnson & Mr Savage, which won the 1993 James Tait Black Prize; and Coleridge: Darker Reflections, which won the 1990 Duff Cooper Prize and Heinemann Award. His new book, Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air, was published in October 2013. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1992. He is also a professor of biographical studies at the University of East Anglia. He lives in London and Norwich with the novelist Rose Tremain. The article in the December 18, 2014 issue draws on the seventh Leon Levy Biography Lecture, which he gave in 2014 on “The Two Sides of the Biographer’s Notebook.”


The Greatness of William Blake

‘Satan Watching the Caresses of Adam and Eve’; watercolor by William Blake for John Milton’s Paradise Lost, 1808

Those Who Write for Immortality: Romantic Reputations and the Dream of Lasting Fame

by H.J. Jackson

Eternity’s Sunrise: The Imaginative World of William Blake

by Leo Damrosch
There are many William Blakes, but mine arrived with the tigers in the 1960s. The first line I ever read by Blake was not in a book, but laid out in thick white paint (or should I say illuminated) along a brick wall in Silver Street, Cambridge, England, in 1968. It was not poetry, but prose: “The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.” It sent a strange shiver down my spine, as it did for thousands of other university students in England and America that year.

A Quest for the Real Coleridge

Samuel Taylor Coleridge; portrait by James Northcote, 1804
By the time I had finished my eight-hundred-page biography of Percy Bysshe Shelley in 1974, I was nearly thirty.1 I had traveled in France, Switzerland, and Italy in search of my fiery, footloose poet. I felt like a veteran after a long campaign in the field. I felt grizzled, …

John Keats Lives!

John Keats; portrait by Joseph Severn, 1821–1823

The Keats Brothers: The Life of John and George

by Denise Gigante

John Keats: A New Life

by Nicholas Roe
Forty years ago this autumn, I spent a week working at a small wooden table on a tiny ironwork balcony in Rome. The balcony was directly above the Spanish Steps. The apartment was on the second floor of 26 Piazza di Spagna. It was the apartment where John Keats died …

‘Genius…Infected by Romance’

Thomas Lawrence: The Red Boy (Charles William Lambton), 54 x 44 inches, 1825

Thomas Lawrence: Regency Power & Brilliance

an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, London, October 21, 2010–January 23, 2011, and the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, February 24–June 5, 2011
Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769–1830) belongs to the genial “Golden Age” of British portrait painting—the age of Gainsborough, Northcote, Hoppner, Phillips, Beechey, and Sir Joshua Reynolds. But he also bears the intriguing distinction of having been accused of inventing the Chocolate Box School of Regency portraiture. His luscious treatment of edible …

The Great de Staël

Madame de Staël; portrait by Anne-Louis Girodet de Roucy-Trioson

Madame de Staël: The First Modern Woman

by Francine du Plessix Gray

Mistress to an Age: A Life of Madame de Staël

by J. Christopher Herold
She was the only daughter of a Swiss banker, and one of the richest and cleverest young women of her generation in Europe. She wrote among much else one celebrated novel— Corinne, or Italy (1807)—which invented a new heroine for her times, outsold even the works of Walter Scott, and …

The Fantoms of Théophile Gautier

In 1857 Charles Baudelaire dedicated his collection of poems, Les Fleurs du Mal, to his “friend and master” Théophile Gautier. Following a trial for obscenity (guilty on six counts), The Flowers of Evil rightly became the most famous book of erotic poetry published in nineteenth-century France, and the wording of …

The Passionate Partnership

The Friendship: Wordsworth and Coleridge

by Adam Sisman
Coleridge once said that people should take time to lean on gates. There is a wooden gate above a field in Dorset which is well worth leaning on. It is a plain, five-bar farm gate, and in early summer is shrouded in hawthorn blossoms. It opens off a little lane, …

The Romantic Pugilist

Jem Belcher was one of the most elegant and widely admired bare-knuckle prizefighters of the early Regency. He was renowned for his handsome looks, his extraordinary pluck, his eccentric boxing style, and his unshakable good manners both inside and outside the ring. He was also famous for his unnerving habit …