Accidents of an Antiquary’s Life is a professional biography. We learn a great deal about David Hogarth’s journeys across Asia Minor and the Middle-East but little about the writer himself.
This is not to say that Hogarth the man is a totally closed book. In his introduction, he offers a brief window into his childhood when he explains that as ‘a child my keenest joy was to announce the finding of an untrodden way’ in Lincolnshire where he grew up. By the time he went up to university, however, like many a young man before him (and since) his curiosity had given way to the pursuit of pleasure. In Hogarth’s case, this meant sport, and he admits that as a student he was ‘better known as freshman for a gamester in a small way than for anything else’. His desire to explore, however, won the day and midway through his university career, he ‘fixed’ on Alexander the Great and decided to write a ‘speculative biography’ of him. This, in due course, led him out of his study and to Asia Minor where Accidents begins.
Accidents of an Antiquary’s Life contains eight chapters, An Interlude, Lycia, Crete, Nile Fens, The Satalian Gulf, Cyrene, Digging and The Sajur. Dotted throughout the book are photographs taken either by Hogarth himself or his travelling companions. They do a lovely job in breaking up the text and providing the reader with a visual reference point.
When I said that we learn little about Hogarth, I was perhaps being in my turn a little unfair. Just a little. One of the highlights of the book – the one thing about it that I remember well having finished reading it a good couple of months ago – is the occasion Hogarth got caught up in a shoot-out between Italian and Albanian troops in Crete. The story is lightly told, which is a relief.
Hogarth does light very well. In his introduction he refers to another of his books, the Devia Cypria, ‘little known and less read’, which ‘has deceived more than once, I am told, sanguine buyers of Erotica’.
Hogarth’s account of what he saw and where is solid if unspectacular. He doesn’t have the panache of Patrick Leigh Fermor or poetry of Laurie Lee. One reads Hogarth rather than glides across his pages. Lest I appear to be being critical, let me also say that not every writer can – or should feel obliged to – write with the same flair and gusto as the above mentioned men. If we put them to one side and take Hogarth on his own terms, he is never boring. Far from it. He knows how to write about people as well as objects and infuse both with life so that the reader can meet them in the theatre of his mind. I enjoyed Accidents of an Antiquary’s Life very much, and hope to do so again before too long.