History or Literature? Classifiers have never quite decided where to locate biography. Cockshut, respected 19th century scholar, quotes Disraeli to the effect that recounting a life is history without the shackles of theory, an art form; but he then goes on to illustrate how poor practitioners of that art in the last century fell prey to theorizing anyway, roughing over the fine lines of truth: Samuel Smiles preached Self Help and wound up marching a military parade of lives in praise of individuality; Lockhart's Burns saw the poet's drinking as merely a flaw in an otherwise heroic nature; in Moore's Byron, homosexuality is not even mentioned. Cockshut explains the reticence and the ideologizing as products of the mid-Victorian ethos of decency and prudence, companions to religious belief. Yet there were great biographies. Trevelyan's Macauley, Morley's Gladstone, Froude's Carlyle -- the latter, for example, which saw not merely the characteristic poor boy role-model achieving success through industry, but the other side as well -- a man who failed in all but his literary life and suffered greatly for it. Cockshut's arguments are intelligent and readable, as well as scholarly; he has made a noteworthy contribution to the history of ideas (the book ought to be valuable even to those who have not read the works discussed) and to literary criticism as well.