Form and Content
InBeginnings, Gwendolyn Reed presents the lives of twelve men in chronological order. The chapter devoted to each individual includes an introduction, an excerpt from his childhood autobiographical materials, and an afterword. “Benvenuto Cellini: The Reluctant Flautist” describes the life of a man known for his sculpture Perseus and for his autobiography. Despite his father’s hopes, however, Cellini became a goldsmith. “Michel de Montaigne: A Peculiar Education” reveals how, during his first five years, Montaigne was immersed in Latin and lived with commoners in order to know hardships. This prodigy finished college at the age of thirteen and invented the essay form to study his own thoughts and as a means of knowing the world. “Master Johann Dietz: A Barber in the Plague,” disowned by his father, recounts his difficult childhood. As a barber—which was equivalent to a doctor or surgeon because of the medieval practice of bloodletting—he ministered to others during the Great Plague and contracted the disease but survived it.
The fourth chapter, “William Hutton: A Runaway Apprentice,” describes how its subject worked in a silkmill from the ages of seven to fourteen and then was apprenticed to a stocking maker. Treated unkindly, he fled but returned. A bookbinder and public figure without formal education, Hutton wrote histories, verse, and pamphlets. “François René de Chauteaubriand: The Melancholy Chevalier,”...
(The entire section is 532 words.)