By Keith Thomas
The booklet of the Oxford Dictionary of nationwide Biography in September 2004 was once an occasion of serious literary and scholarly value. In his Leslie Stephen Lecture, commemorating the founding father of the unique Dictionary of nationwide Biography, the prestigious historian Keith Thomas surveys the various previous makes an attempt at collective biography, considers the connection of the Oxford DNB to them, and provides a initial evaluate of it. the writer, who has been chairman of the Supervisory Committee of the Oxford DNB due to the fact that its inception, writes with intimate wisdom of the venture.
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Extra resources for Changing Conceptions of National Biography: The Oxford DNB in Historical Perspective
108 Virginia Woolf ’s scepticism is famous. It recalls Johnson’s belief that there is no one whose life is not worth recording. It is less well known that Leslie Stephen himself came near to disowning the intellectual foundations on which his great edifice had been reared. In his Science of Ethics he stated that society was an organic 108 Virgina Woolf, ‘The Art of Biography’, in The Death of the Moth and Other Essays (Harmondsworth, 1961), p. 168. 109 In his essay, ‘Forgotten Benefactors’, he declared that advances were not achieved by individuals, but by general movements of opinion.
Others, more 68 69 The Letters of Horace Walpole, ed. Mrs Paget Toynbee (Oxford, 1903–18), vol. xi, p. 122 ( 5 Feb. 1780). Boswell’s Life of Johnson, vol. ii, pp. 79, 116, 446; Samuel Johnson, Lives of the English Poets (World’s Classics, 1906), vol. i, p. 438 (Life of Addison). 32 menacingly, offered a radically different biographical canon. The Dictionary of Welsh Biography, the Dictionary of Business Biography, the Dictionary of Labour Biography and the Biographical Dictionary of British Feminists each constituted a frontal assault upon the DNB ’s hegemony.
15. 50 The DNB did not go out of its way to acknowledge its debt to its predecessors, perhaps because it so clearly excelled them in scholarship, editorial coherence and relative impartiality. Tranquil consciousness of Britain’s world superiority made it less obviously chauvinistic than its European counterparts, for whom national independence was newer and less secure ; it could afford to dispense with a Preface in which nationalist sentiments might have been expressed. 51 But it did so in a subtle way.