Adam Smyth

Adam Smyth teaches English at Oxford and has a weekly Substack.

On​ the face of it, Frances Wolfreston from Staffordshire looks like an unlikely literary star. She was born around 1607, had eleven children and lived in the manor house at Statfold near Tamworth, where her descendants still live today. But what she left when she died at the age of seventy was unusual: a library of several hundred books, dominated not by the standard theological works of...

From The Blog
24 December 2020

My father, Alan Smyth, was a viola player. When I was young, in the 1980s, he mentioned a couple of times that he’d played with the Beatles. He wasn’t very interested in them; growing up, I wasn’t either. Years later, now that I’ve become very interested in them, I think often about his casual aside. My dad died in 2002. In early 2020 I made contact with his musician friends to ask if they had any memories of his playing with the Beatles. John Underwood, the viola player in the Delmé String Quartet, played on ‘Eleanor Rigby’ in April 1966, on ‘A Day in the Life’ in February 1967, and on ‘She’s Leaving Home’ in March 1967. John said my father didn’t play on these songs, and he couldn’t remember if he played on others.

Ben Jonson’s​ comedy The New Inn (1629) was, by all accounts, a theatrical disaster: ‘negligently played’ at the Blackfriars Theatre, according to its title page, ‘and more squeamishly beheld’. The actors were hissed off stage, but Jonson, possessed of what the Renaissance scholar Joseph Loewenstein has called a ‘bibliographic ego’, was not a man to...

It looks nothing like me: Dürer

Adam Smyth, 5 July 2018

In​ the late summer or autumn of 1505, Albrecht Dürer travelled on horseback from Nuremberg to Venice. According to Vasari’s Lives of the Artists (1550), Dürer was looking to settle a score with Italian painters who were using his monogram on counterfeit prints, but it seems just as likely he wanted to soak up as much as he could from Italian art, and to promote his name and...

The Compleat Drawing-Book, published by Fleet Street printseller Robert Sayer in 1755, is a handbook for the amateur artist that aims to provide ‘Proper Instructions to Youth for their Entertainment and Improvement in this Art’. The core of the book is a series of ‘Many and Curious Specimens’: prints from images ‘engrav’d on one hundred...

I now, I then: Life-Writing

Thomas Keymer, 17 August 2017

You could​ say that in literature you don’t really have a genre until you have a name for it – and the word ‘autobiography’, it turns out, hasn’t been around for...

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