5 MARCH 1932, Page 34

Three Lives

THERE are various reasons why People read biographies— apart from the universal reasons for reading at all—which veer between the desire to grasp life and the desire to escape from it. Biographies are read from historical motives, or from a desire to live vicariously, or from a wish to get into closer contact with other personalities, or as works of art- - as a peculiar form of novel, perhaps. They appear to be written from as many motives (that is why there is no such form as "biography "), and these three books cannot be compared from a literary point of view. The only test we can apply to all of them is, how far do they give the sense of the present actuality of a person long since dead?

Yet if we were to say that we hardly get any sense of "Honest Harry" as a living person, Captain Firebrace would retort that he had not tried to give it, and that anyway it is our business to create the living actuality for ourselves. His work ' is really a corner of history archaeologically explored, rather than a biography. It has been to some extent a labour of pride in his family, if we judge by the pages of . genealogical investigations with which the book opens, While the bulk of the volume is really . concerned with Charles I's many attempts at escape, foiled, as often as not, by his own indecision. After Charles had surrendered at Newcastle, Henry Firebrace, a Commonwealth man, was attached to him as one of his household, hiving come there from Lord Denbigh's ; and there he remained until almost the end. He had little to do, except as accessory, with the escape from Hampton Court, but he wai the chief mover in most of the attempts to get away from Carisbrooke. And all the while it was chiefly through Firebrace that Charles carried on his correspondence, though there were others concerned. One of the difficulties was always the leakage through traitors, Lady Carlisle being apparently the worst offender, though most of Charles's helpers were loyal, notably a Mrs. Whorwood, who emerges as a charming figure. After the Restoration, Firebrace was employed as a kitchen dignitary (Charles II was grateful to his father's helpers), while James II raised him to Green Cloth rank, and knighted him. Captain Firebraee provides us with large appendices, giving us the secret correspondence, both in the original cypher and in plain. Yet Sir Henry scarcely comes out ; he is a figure rather than a man ; but the book would provide material for a rich historical novel.

Miss Outram succeeds in making more of a living figure out of her great-grandmother, who was mother of the famous Chit-ram, the Bayard of India. Not that this is a biography In the full modern sense of the word, So much as a ree(ird, a labour of love ; but the wealth of intimate detail, in letters and so' on, contributes to make her a breathing woman whom we might have known, whom we do know. The daughter of an extraordinary intellectual, Dr. Anderson, who embra-ced a theory that girls should• have no education whatever, she always lamented the jack of the discipline she had missed. Perhaps, however, education is not always the best thing to develop character, and Miss -Anderson, being Scotch, Was able heroically to meet her early misfortunes, being 'left almost penniless with a large family to .13fing up, when her husband, Benjamin Outram, who was one of the pioneers of

rail and tramways, prematurely died. Her reward came in old age, when her son was famous, and she the centre of an intellectual coterie. Margaret Outrara is not created for us, but we can very easily create her for ourselves.

-In Imperial Brother, on the other hand, Miss Chapman has attempted to give us a portrait of the Due de Moray as though he were a figure in fiction. As an experiment the book is interesting, but it shows only too clearly that you cannot push biography too far in the direction of a novel. The reader does not get the living presence of the man in a biography unless he is certain that what he is told is true. Imaginary conversations with valets and wraiths (in this case with that of Moray's grandfather, Talleyrand) weaken instead of strengthening the illusion. Even without profound historical knowledge we begin to doubt if Moray was really the backbone of the Second Empire, as Miss Char min claims, and our doubts are not eased by conversations written in such English as a Frenchman might be supposed to talk. Moray was an extremely interesting figure, but with the back- ground so flimsily sketched in his real interest never emerges. If you are dealing with a political figure you must go deeply into politics. Miss Chapman gives us a Horny, certainly, but we cannot feel that it is the real one. Nor are we given a solid fictional character whom we meet as a living being. It is as though Miss Chapman, afraid of writing a biography, refusing the drudgery of research involved, had only half made up her mind to write a novel. Still, the experiment was worth making, and the biography" certainly stimulates our curiosity in this particular manifestation of a "power