Izaak Walton lived through most of the turbulent years of the seventeenth century, but he remained at heart an Elizabethan, and it is from this perspective that he wrote his fine biographies, lives of outstanding clergymen and scholars of his day: John Donne, Sir Henry Wotton, Richard Hooker, George Herbert, and Robert Sanderson. The works appeared over a period of almost forty years, but the stable philosophy of their author gives them many points of similarity.
While Walton’s subjects were unquestionably men of vastly different personalities, his own character casts an almost saintly light over all of them; emotional struggles, temptation, and personal vices play almost no part in their lives as Walton interpreted them. His accounts are not psychological studies; he is interested rather in painting portraits of virtuous men. His studies are really descendants of the saints’ lives that formed the majority of early English biographies. He pays tribute in each of his works to the virtues of devoutness, humility, charitableness, and learning.
Walton’s biographies have much in common in their construction, as well as in the presentation of the characters of the main figures. The author inevitably begins with a discussion of the family background of his subject, then comments on his early education. He treats the mature career of each man partly through a summary of his activities, partly through anecdotes that illustrate special personality...
(The entire section is 1596 words.)
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