The Ingenious Mr. Henry Care by Lois G. Schwoerer
Lois Schwoerer’s biography of Henry Care, despite its title, is more preoccupied with following the various battles of the press during the latter parts of Charles II’s reign than necessarily telling Henry Care’s story. Henry Care, in case you were curious, was an interestingly divided writer who died in 1688 after a prolific career alternately disparaging (to put it lightly) Catholics and defending James II. He was intricately tied up the “battle of the presses” and Schwoerer’s convincingly (re?)establishes him as a major player in shaping public opinion of the day. (As you can probably tell, he’s been largely forgotten and discredited in the centuries since his death.) What Schwoerer fails to do, unfortunately, is actually provide a strict biography of the man.
The book starts promisingly with a typical first chapter called “Early Life and Writings” that is largely devoted to Care (where he came from, what he looked like, temperament, etc.). After that, however, the book swiftly becomes about the press wars with large swathes of text that do not mention Care at all. Now, I fully understand the importance of context in painting an accurate biographical picture of someone. But what Schwoerer does is more than context. It reads as a full history of the “battle of the presses.” Care is involved, to be sure, but Schwoerer provides so much more information about the battles that has nothing to do with Care. This is remarkable and interesting, but not really as promised.
That major gripe aside, the book is truly extraordinary in terms of research done and facts uncovered. The early modern period is always interesting to me in terms of source material since it is modern so there are more sources than we have from the Renaissance, but it’s also “early” so you’re still not getting as many reams of text as you would in the Victorian era. Schwoerer certainly does her homework and delivers lots of new information, all substantiated by what I can only assume were tireless hours of research. One of her strongest points is how important she considers convincing her readers that her new findings are thoughtful, probable, and reasonable. She takes great pains to show how she came to various conclusions and proves quite convincing in almost all cases.
On the whole, it’s a good book but not necessarily a riveting one. I think your enjoyment of this book necessarily hinges on your degree of fascination with the freedom of the press (or lack thereof) in Charles II’s reign and how much or little you are committed to learning more about Henry Care. I definitely came away with a better understanding of him as a man and I appreciated Schwoerer’s determination to paint a fair picture (okay, there was little Helena Syndrome throughout, but she does admit it up top in the introduction). So if you’re looking for a somewhat random history read, give it a go. Frankly, I found the first half much more interesting than the latter, so at least give that part a shot.