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David Craig

David Craig is a poet, a critic and emeritus professor of creative writing at Lancaster University.

The Highland Clearances

David Craig, 17 May 2017

James Hunter​’s work has analysed with utter thoroughness the culture of the Highlands and the diaspora that was forced on it. In his latest book, Set Adrift upon the World, he doesn’t try to describe, in a novelist’s or a journalist’s way, how individuals suffered and grieved and retaliated. Rather, he lays out the way systematic dispossession was managed, legally,...

Birds’ Eggs

David Craig, 19 October 2016

We still live​ among wild animals, just about: the birds that flit and scurry and sing and build in our gardens. They are like iridescent spray: the rose-flush on the breast of a male chaffinch, the gold ring round the eye of a blackbird, the jet-black cap above the slatey body of a great tit. Sparrows are said to have become much less common, but 31 of them have frequented my garden in the...

Robert Macfarlane

David Craig, 23 September 2015

This book​ is almost parodically characteristic of Robert Macfarlane’s work. He is a scholar of place – of terrain, terroir, the land – and at times references, sources and citations have bulked uncomfortably large in his writing. Certainly he frequents the countryside at close quarters and often strenuously. He sleeps out, on mountains and moors. He walks arduously, along...

Highlands and Headlands

David Craig, 5 March 2015

Philip Marsden​’s new book explores an idea as much as it explores a country. It journeys westward through Cornwall from Bodmin Moor to Scilly, alighting on the rocky eminences where granite has boiled up through the Earth’s crust and crystallised into highlands and headlands. It’s rugged country, raked by south-westerlies ‘bred of the Atlantic’ and eaten at...

The Moors

David Craig, 30 July 2014

What​ do moors sound like? Like a universe of bees, whose unison is only a few notes higher than the singing of our own bloodstream, which we half-hear, half-sense during the small hours between sleeps. What do they smell like? Like honey, steeping the sunshine. What do they look like? Like a brown and purple cloud-shadow spread out across the uplands, described by William Atkins in...

Walking England

David Craig, 20 December 2012

Both these books, in very different ways, are founded on what we experience when we frequent wild country – sometimes virgin, more often partially domesticated. We leave our prints on it, our tracks, and used by generations these become a track, a trail, a trod, a path, a highway. Ever since my memory began I have followed such tracks with foot and eye: the stony, grassy drove roads...

Two Poems

David Craig, 25 September 2008

Human versus Robot

It keeps on doing its best, That reddish thing inside me Pumping-pumping against The obstinate, tortuous fankle Of pulpy valves and tubeworms.

Are they up to it any more – Thin-skinned, semi-elastic, A labyrinth of Victorian sewers, A sort of organic circuit board That badly needs rewiring?

Titanium would do better, A tiny refined-alloy sleeve Inserted deep in the...

Two Poems

David Craig, 23 June 2005

Parallel Texts

Under each leaflet of a bracken frond The spores are as neatly herring-boned As filaments in a moth’s antenna Or vanes on a pigeon’s quill.

I wrote these images on a bramble leaf. The ink dried slowly, glistening in relief, Black juice on chlorophyll. I could have gone on writing But the green page was full.

Conjunction

A seed on a parachute lingers in air, White...

Diary: The Call of the Abyss

David Craig, 11 September 2003

An 11-person team of Ukrainian cavers were wading through the snow on the way down from the Arabika massif in the western Caucasus on a January night. They had just descended the Krubera Cave to a depth of 1710 metres, thus breaking the world record. As they neared an avalanche zone above the tree-line, they split into two groups, so that if one was snowed under, the other would be able to...

At Tate Britain: Mountain Art

David Craig, 25 April 2002

Two exhibitions, one in London, the other in Grasmere, might have been framed to show how thinking and feeling have changed since the ‘death of God’ early last century. The landscape painters in American Sublime (at Tate Britain until 19 May) believed, as most people did, that the Earth was God’s creation and that its bones, its visible crust, were ‘a Book of...

The Snow Geese by William Fiennes

David Craig, 4 April 2002

William Fiennes has a deep-seated sense of home and what it means to be distant from it. Birth-house, parents, migrant birds: these fuse in his passage on swifts, for example, which ‘come back each year, in the last week of May’ to his old home somewhere in the south country – a fact which interested me, because I have recorded their arrival since the 1950s in Aberdeen on 11...

Scottish islands

David Craig, 21 February 2002

I never thought I would find myself writing warmly about a book by a Scottish laird. Adam Nicolson owns the Shiant Islands, east of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. The Shiants are a compact cluster and, like all small islands, offer the marvellous sense that you can encompass them, you can easily walk or sail round them and get to know each rock-face or sand-bar, each vein of water or peat-hagg...

Diary: Barra Microcosm

David Craig, 24 May 2001

11 May 2000. I’m driving comfortably up the M74 through the Border hills near Beattock on the way to South Uist and Barra. At Oban I’ll rendezvous with David Paterson, a landscape photographer, who’s working with me on a book on the Highland Clearances. As I overtake a worn blue Audi estate, I look sideways and see Dave’s face and grizzled beard. We exchange incoherent...

Land Artists

David Craig, 14 December 2000

Sculpture need not be a bronze statue of a town councillor or a marble figure of a goddess, respectfully plinthed in gallery or plaza; or a curvaceous wooden form strung like a harp which we gaze at in dumbfounded silence. These days, it may well be a drystone wall winding between trees before burying its end in a lake, like the great Norse serpent for ever drinking the world’s waters...

Diary: Moore in Prato

David Craig, 9 December 1999

On a day of naked sunshine, austerely cool and pure, I drive with Ron de Cambio, caretaker, from Peralta, ten miles north of Viareggio, between stone-yards where pallets stacked with car-sized blocks of white and roseate marble stand like wagons in a marshalling yard. At Forte dei Marmi the road hairpins upwards past Seravezza through leafless forest, past crags latticed with icicles, towards Altissimo. Michelangelo chose stone and worked here, so did Henry Moore. A photo of Moore, sunburnt in a short-sleeved shirt, eyeing a boulder among clean-shaven cliffs and curls of old steel hawser, and soaring white-faced mountains, has drawn me to this place.

A.L. Kennedy

David Craig, 16 September 1999

Near the start of A.L. Kennedy’s latest novel, its chief character and overriding consciousness, Nathan Staples, a successful writer of horror fiction, emerges slowly from a bout of compulsive masochistic fantasies, puts Glenn Gould on his CD player, and gets ready to hang himself from an iron hook in the central beam of his cottage, or almost hang himself – well, just enough to give himself ‘that big, blank, hot-mouthing, hair-lifting, sexy, sexy fear that he only ever met at times like this’. Must I read this? ‘You must know everything,’ said the master storyteller Isaac Babel a few years before he disappeared into a Stalinist labour camp. A taboo on such material, whether self or socially imposed, would inflict its own kind of moral injury.’‘

On nature

David Craig, 10 June 1999

What exactly is ‘nature’, this book makes us ask. When are we really in touch with it? How much of it is left for us to be in touch with? I felt in touch with it myself one afternoon, three miles from my home, when I started to climb a scaur of limestone that formed the jamb of a narrow cave. At my feet I noticed a kestrel, a young one, crouching motionless on the grass with wisps of down still clinging to its head. I looked for its parents and saw them perched on two outcrops eighty yards away, as still as their fledgling, pointing at me as intently as compass needles. True, the turf which I shared with the young bird had been bitten close by sheep. But the rock and the hawks were nature untransformed by humanity. So were the two wild billy-goats that I saw one morning on Jura in the Inner Hebrides. On a beach of shingle ramped up by the Atlantic they charged each other, clashed foreheads with a bony thump, backed off and charged again, while the nanny waited nearby, a seemingly dispassionate spectator.‘

James Kelman and Gordon Legge

David Craig, 18 February 1999

James Kelman’s style is so mesmerising that after a few hours’ immersion I find myself thinking in it – an experience which is both intriguing and infuriating, although the former prevails. The voice which chats and muses and reasons, and girns and deaves, and argues and contradicts itself throughout these stories, reaching us like the grumbling and bubbling of a burn flowing under grass or heather, is not a transcript of Glasgow speech, or not only that. It is an amazingly subtle vehicle for an intent brooding on the way we live, under the most usual circumstances, in situations and states of mind that are always mundane, complex and unsettling.’

Diary: in Florence

David Craig, 26 November 1998

Anne and I step aside from the slow-motion procession of tourists walking among the market stalls of Florence in the roasting sunshine and enter the Baptistery, a compact octagonal church with oblong-patterned, black-and-white façades like an enormous liquorice allsort. Our heads tilt upwards and we stare at the swarming life of the eight mosaic panels in the cupola, a hundred feet above us. Through my binoculars I can make out a colossal devil sitting in a cleft rock. He is horned and muscular and rather human. His forehead is corrugated as though in distress at his own evildoing. From each of his ears a snake oozes with a naked person writhing in its jaws. Between the sleek worm of his moustache and the black ringlets of his beard the broad mouth is gulping somebody whole. In each hand he clutches another naked human – a ‘sinner’, no doubt – their skin scored by his nails. Nearby, frogs are raping women and lizards are biting at people’s thighs. As Dante was being baptised here seven hundred and forty years ago, his baby eyes might have tried to focus on this scene.’‘

Poem: ‘Operation’

David Craig, 22 January 1998

The condition (cancer) and the person (myself) Reeled towards each other over the years, Capsules slowly converging. Now they have docked – ‘Raped!’ the Soviet spacemen used to shout As the new arrival fitted in.

...

Diary: In the Barra Isles

David Craig, 30 October 1997

Eight years ago, at Buaile nam Bodach on Barra, the landlady at the B&B had said, ‘My great-aunt was cleared from Pabbay’ – the next island but two to the south, the third-last joint in the backbone of ‘the Long Island’ of the Outer Hebrides. I was researching my book On the Crofters’ Trail at the time, collecting from people whatever their grand or great-grandparents had told them about the High-land Clearances, when landlords desperate to increase the income from their land forced many thousands of small tenants from their homes by a mixture of bribery, threats and the torching of their thatch, their roof-timbers and their looms.’‘

The Wildest, Highest Places

David Craig, 17 July 1997

When John Muir, the son of an emigrant from East Lothian to southern Wisconsin, was 16, in 1855, his father lowered him daily down a well shaft on their new farm at Hickory Hill. John cut with chisel and hammer through fine-grained sandstone until he struck ‘a fine, hearty gush of water’. By then he had dinted his way through eighty feet of rock, working alone from dawn till dark. When he was overcome with choke-damp at the start of work one day, he was hauled up unconscious – and resumed after a day or two once water had been thrown down the shaft ‘to absorb the gas’ and a bundle of brushwood had been dropped on a rope ‘to carry down pure air and stir up the poison’. This was only the most spectacular, and symbolically oppressive, of the Herculean ordeals which ingrained in Muir an extraordinary hardihood and helped to make him the finest field naturalist and most eloquent wilderness writer of his age. As eldest son he did most of the ploughing and stump-digging on the family’s virgin land and split a hundred fencing rails a day from their knotty oak timber: ‘I was proud of my skill and tried to believe that I was as tough as the timber I mauled, though this and other heavy jobs stunted my growth and earned for me the title “runt of the family”.’’

Among Flayed Hills

David Craig, 8 May 1997

The idea that Britain’s countryside has been ruined is hard to credit at first, especially if you live in a Northern village. Three minutes’ walk from home I have started a woodcock on the edge of a disused orchard, beside a triangle of meadow bordered by a hawthorn, ash and elder hedge full of brambles which the landlord of the Royal used to pick to use in his homemade icecream. In 20 years, 36 species of bird have visited our garden. Peregrine, kestrel and heron have flown over it. Fifteen minutes’ walk from here, on the limestone upland between Lunesdale and the vale of Westmorland, I have stroked a badger which our dog had cornered in a crag. Two miles away I have seen a bittern planing down to its nest in the reedbeds of a wide undrained moss and a young osprey resting in a sycamore on its way south from Speyside to winter in Africa.

True Grit

David Craig, 8 February 1996

Once there was a town hall official in Cumberland who was so enthralled by the mountains that he walked and walked them, penetrating every byway, surveying every vista. To amuse himself he drew them and wrote about them, year after year. And the more his marriage languished, the more he walked, and drew, and wrote, until the seven volumes of A Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells were complete. His public grew and grew, following in his steps, his books in their hands, until the paths through the dales and up the fellsides were ground deeply into stony grooves, and the man himself was heard to wonder if he had ‘helped to spoil the place’.

Diary: Episodes on the Rock

David Craig, 13 May 1993

The most baffling part of the climb was getting to the base of the Rock. Or so we thought until we embarked on the Face itself. On a Saturday we started to ask our way along the limpet-horde of wrecked garages and scrapyards that encrust the base of the reef. Nowhere does the 500-metre soaring triangle of raw limestone actually sprout from common ground. These rusting corrugated-iron shanties shut us out. At Rock Haulage Ltd, 26 Devil’s Tower Road, a tanned and stubbled man is standing in the doorway of a den stacked up with cannibalised cars. When I say, ‘We want to climb the cliff here,’ he says instantly, ‘Are you sure?’, looking me full in the eye. He is friendly about access but must clear it with his boss, who ‘should be back by 6’. As we talk, the crag leans over us hugely.

Diary: Scotland Changes Again

David Craig, 20 December 1990

A Highland Terrier – which is a mini-bus, you understand – whizzes past the Culloden Chinese Take-Away and I realise that my Scotland has changed again – has gone from me still further through yet another of the time-warps which have shaken me ever since I left in 1959. It isn’t comfortable, or reassuring, this blinking through the decades in a slide-show of small, brilliantly-coloured transparencies. But the detail is enthralling.’

Powerful Moments

David Craig, 26 October 1989

These two books about climbing, a memoir set in the Andes and a novel set in the Pennines – each of them as excellent of its own kind as we are likely to get – between them raise again the question posed by all attempts to write creatively about experience in conditions of extreme steepness and altitude: how to do it in ways that evoke the heart of the experience and don’t resort unduly to its more freakish terrors?’

Heimat

David Craig, 6 July 1989

Scottish nationhood never quite dies but hibernates, latent in all those millions of people and thousands of texts, ready to be potentiated by various events, some more accountable or predictable than others: the Union of the Parliaments (1707), the Scottish Renaissance embodied in MacDiarmid and Grassic Gibbon (1922-35), the flow of oil and gas from the bed of the North Sea (1977-?). It may be that our nationalism is on a par with feminism as Dale Spender sees it: for ever having to be painfully rediscovered, rather than evolving continuously from strength to strength, without relapses between those peaks where consciousness, at least, is high. By ‘nationhood’ I mean independent political status, grounded in a place, a history, a language and a consciousness, and recognised and negotiated with as such by other independent states. By ‘nationalism’ I mean the consciousness only, which may or may not reflect the likelihoods latent in the status quo – may or may not flow into a fervent political movement and reach its goal of separation.’

Taking the hint

David Craig, 5 January 1989

During my own tartan phase (c. 1939-1943), when my parents used to dress me up in Highland costume for special occasions such as the family banquet on Christmas Eve, the visit to the Sick Children’s Hospital to hear the King’s speech through the PA on Christmas afternoon, and visits to wealthy patients of my father’s some way up the twin river valleys from Aberdeen, I might well have run away screaming, tearing off my Graham of Montrose kilt and matching trews (tartan underpants), the blue-green Harris-tweed jacket and waistcoat with staghorn buttons, the bottle-green Balmoral stockings and tooled black brogues and seal-fur sporran, had I been able (aged nine) to find out from such a book as this latest work of John Prebble’s that all these tartans were nothing but hype: a stunt devised chiefly by Scott to make George IV’s visit to Edinburgh in August 1822 as splendiferous as possible. In his anonymous shilling pamphlet ‘HINTS addressed to the INHABITANTS OF EDINBURGH AND OTHERS in prospect of HIS MAJESTY’S VISIT by an Old Citizen’, Scott dubbed a principal event of the visit (the dance at the Assembly Rooms in George Street) a ‘Highland Ball’ and warned all citizens that ‘no Gentleman is to be allowed to appear in any thing but the ancient Highland costume’ – ‘this noblest of all British costumes’. George himself turned up in a field-marshal’s coat and blue pantaloons, plus the riding boots he had worn at a military parade in the morning, and he left after a couple of hours: the dances played by Nathaniel Gow the fiddler’s band at once ‘became less Highland and more fashionable’. Perhaps the corpulent King had been appalled by his own image in the mirror before the levee at Holyrood, when he had worn ‘full Highland dress’, described by the painter David Wilkie as kilt and hose ‘with a kind of flesh-coloured pantaloons underneath’ and by a Lowland laird as ‘the Royal Tartan Highland dress with buff-coloured trowsers like flesh to imitate his Royal knees, and little bits of Tartan stocking like other Highlanders halfway up his legs’.’

Comprehensible Disorders

David Craig, 3 September 1987

The item which seems set to stay longest with me from Ian Jack’s alert and precisely-written record of British life in the Seventies and Eighties comes from the opening memoir of his father, which supplies a deeper soil, or subsoil, to the son’s coverage of more recent matters for the Sunday Times and (since Wapping) the Observer:

Why do the ivy and hawthorn glisten With an archaic light this morning? Why is their bending and shaking Under the easterly off the Pennines So much like a resigned bowing Under the buffets of history?

Sunlight silvers the frame, The white surround is spotted with mildew. Pictured under the archway (Rennie’s ellipse of 1819), The village composes its features Into a perfectly Georgian...

Climbing

David Craig, 5 September 1985

The shortest day of the year. We perch on the saddle of a promontory jutting west out of Anglesey into the Celtic Sea and look down into Wen Zawn – the white inlet. It seethes, the waves lift slow and bulky and burst suddenly, propelled by a force-8 gale. Rain hits our anoraks like grapeshot, pelmets of fog lour and droop on South Stack lighthouse, the airstream throws us off-balance and makes breathing difficult if you face into the wind. Across the rocking water is our goal – what was our goal as we planned at home over roast chicken and red wine: the crag of quartzite that armours Wales at this point, three hundred feet high, seamed with cracks. Ed Drummond found the first way up it 17 years ago and gave his line the most beautiful of rock names, A Dream of White Horses. For seven months we’ve been exchanging poems between his home in San Francisco and mine in Cumbria. Now we’re here to pluck his route from the teeth of winter but it seems madly unfeasible. I couldn’t live in that maelstrom. A thread of waterfall near the start of the route is blowing sideways and upwards. Ed looks and looks, saying little. Then: ‘If you don’t mind, I think we’ll leave it. It doesn’t look good. In these conditions.’ Pause. I say: ‘I’m glad you’ve said that. Because it looks terrible to me. I’m glad you didn’t feel you had to decide for it, for my sake.’

Eric’s Hurt

David Craig, 7 March 1985

It seems a shame that Eric Linklater was, as his biographer records, perpetually dissatisfied with how his work was received. His third novel (Juan in America, 1931) was the Book Society Choice (as was Private Angelo fifteen years later). He was at once in demand with Tauchnitz on the Continent. His articles were bought by the London dailies, the Listener, and Collier’s, his stories by Harper’s. Three of his novels were filmed (one by a remarkable artist, Peter Ustinov). His plays were produced in the West End, by Tyrone Guthrie, Ustinov, Gielgud. He won medals for two of his children’s books, and the War Office commissioned books from him, as did Drambuie and Rio Tinto Zinc. His works were finally issued by Cape in a collected edition named after his beloved Orkney, his stories in a collected volume; and (great admirer of royalty that he was) he was awarded the CBE. He earned enough to live in a big house in Orkney with a cook and two maids, and later to move to a beautifully distinctive small mansion (including a 15-acre croft and woods) on the smiling green slopes of Easter Ross.

Letter
Malcolm Bull paints himself into a corner in his strenuous argument with T.J. Clark about the meaning of Picasso’s Guernica (LRB, 20 February). Preoccupied with the Mediterranean-ness of the artist, he sinks in deep enough to raise the question, ‘Guernica, the greatest masterpiece of fascist art? Maybe not, but how much of it would have to be repainted to fit that description?’ Not...
Letter
T.J. Clark describes F.R. Leavis as having ‘been driven half-mad’ by 1961 (Letters, 10 October). This must have happened very quickly. Between 1954 and 1957 I listened to dozens of his lectures and heard him talking in many seminars and in conversations at his house and in my flat. He was rarely other than lucid, cogent, vivid and spirited. In October 1954, the first time I heard him, he...
Letter

Get a Real Degree

23 September 2010

The headlines ‘Down with Creative Writing’ and ‘Get a Real Degree’ apparently represent your view of this academic subject, if not quite Elif Batuman’s (LRB, 23 September). In the 40 years or so since I pioneered this discipline in British universities (at Lancaster, and with Malcolm Bradbury in East Anglia), I have not seen one reference to it in the press that was other...
Letter

As Good as Pope

12 March 2009

It is a pity that Neal Ascherson, reviewing the latest Burns biography (LRB, 12 March), should have ‘opposed’ the poems to the songs and found the latter more ‘successful’. The best of the songs are excellent, from the radical pith of ‘A man’s a man’ to the wholehearted passion of ‘My Luve is like a red, red rose’. So are the best poems. Has Ascherson...
Letter
John Hodgson can describe Richard Dawkins’s atheism as vacuous only because ‘atheist’ is a term which non-believers use purely as a polemical convenience when we have to define concisely what we don’t believe (Letters, 30 November). No atheist is principally that. What we’d want to call ourselves is humanist or materialist, or biologist or linguist, or for that matter...
Letter
Jonathan Mallalieu’s assertion that teachers of creative writing encourage students to ‘write about what they know’ is only the latest of a long series of jibes at an important part of our education system (Letters, 22 July). don’t people such as Mallalieu see that skill in writing is as open to enhancement by advice and supervised practice as, say, drawing and musical composition?
Letter

Had the Jacobites Won

22 January 2004

John Mullan discusses Charles Edward Stuart’s sobriquets, but we should remember that most of his followers in 1745 were Gaelic-speakers (LRB, 22 January). Their nickname for him was Am Buachaille Buidhe, the ‘yellow-haired shepherd’, or ‘the blond drover’. As I understand it, buachaille means ‘shepherd’ or ‘cowherd’, whereas another word for ‘shepherd’...
Letter

His Own Prophet

11 September 2003

Perhaps Michael Hofmann was getting tired after several strenuous pages. Or perhaps he was carried away by his own doomy thesis that Yeats, Pound and Eliot ‘have had no successors’. ‘Ted Hughes already feels like a rumour,’ he oracularly concludes. What can this mean? That Hughes’s work was a short-lived chimera? I first kept poems of his from little magazines in the mid-1950s...
Letter

Eloquent Silence

19 June 2003

Pace James Hamilton-Paterson (LRB, 19 June), I doubt Joseph Roth did get it right when he said that people from the remote German forests typically spoke in ‘half sentences and stunted sounds’ because of their poverty. They were refugees in Berlin around 1920 and were probably laconic because they were stunned by gruelling ordeals and their arrival in a wholly unknown place. When I stayed...
Letter
I find it hard to enter the mental world of someone like Terry Castle who believes it was ‘noble’ and ‘sublime’ for the soldiers in the Great War to ‘slog forward deliberately’ into the streams of bullets fired by the German machine-guns. These sons, brothers and fathers were going to their deaths to gain a few yards of waterlogged French terrain. If they had refused...
Letter

The Court in the Jungle

13 December 2001

In his piece on Apocalypse Now Michael Wood (LRB, 13 December 2001) asserts several times that the film loses its way in its last stage. I believe that its allegory (if that is the word) of a brutal, decadent, megalomaniac First World culture laying waste to a vulnerable Third World one is sustained to the very last shot. What happens towards the end? Willard/Marlow has tracked down Kurtz to the jungle...
Letter

Wrong Newsreel

12 November 1998

I would be interested to know Terry Eagleton’s grounds for asserting that F.R. Leavis was a parochial philistine on the topic of Modernism (LRB, 12 November). Leavis’s field was literature and the chief exemplars of literary Modernism in his time, in English, were Joyce, Eliot and Pound. In the Twenties Leavis made a point of using Ulysses in his teaching, and I believe he lost his fellowship...
Letter
As I read Colm Tóibín’s enthralling piece about the history of the Great Hunger in Ireland (LRB, 30 July), and noted his wish for the ‘living, speaking voice’ and ‘the perspective of those who were not administrators or politicians or landlords’, I began to think that at any moment he would make use of Thomas Gallagher’s Paddy’s Lament: Ireland...
Letter
I was digusted to learn, via Lorna Scott Fox’s Diary (LRB, 13 November), that the work of Agustin Ibarrola has been deemed ‘not up to scratch’ for inclusion in the marvellous new Guggenheim in Bilbao. Since I came across a sample ofhis drawing in from Burgos Jail, in 1964, I have thought him to be a supreme draughtsman, who balances wonderfully between ‘distortion’ and...
Letter

Post-Cullodenism

3 October 1996

Robert Crawford’s piece on MacPherson’s ‘Ossian’ (LRB, 3 October) struck me as a masterpiece of scholarship bent to misleading ends. Almost nothing he said applied directly to the qualities of the work itself. I bought a copy of this strange mid-18th-century antique in a second-hand shop in Aberdeen in 1949 or thereabouts, and tried many times to read it. Finally the papier-mâché...
Letter

Ae

19 September 1996

David Harsent’s fine flaucht of drucken visions, ‘The Makers’, was a wee-thing marred by his misspelling of ae word, ‘aye’, in the repeated phrase ‘this aye night’ (LRB, 19 September). I think he means ‘one’, whose Scots equivalent is ‘ae’ (pronounced like ‘eh’), as in ‘Ae fond kiss’, or in the Northern English...
Letter

Their Witness

27 February 1992

Donald Davie’s position on poetry workshops etc comes out much more reasonably in his letter (Letters, 23 April) than it did in his original article. He still misunderstands the footing and the ways of working prevalent in rooms other than his own. He assumes that my use of ‘we’ implies that my fellows are not my pupils. They (often) are. My relation with them can be expressed by...
Letter

Distaste for Leavis

11 October 1990

So Frank Kermode (LRB, 11 October) shares with Noel Annan an ‘acute distaste’ for F.R. Leavis. This must be the twentieth sideswipe at Leavis which I’ve noticed in the papers over the past five years. Each time the unargued jab has almost roused me to defence. Does Leavis need defending? His books remain in print and must continue to inspire and educate. How disappointing that the...
Letter
C.H. Sisson (LRB, 9 November), following Charles Hobday, may well be right in saying that, broadly speaking, Edgell Rickword’s poetry ‘virtually ceased in 1931’, but what this broad speaking leaves out is the powerful and substantial satire on the occasion of the Spanish Civil War, ‘To the Wife of a Non-Interventionist Statesman’. This was published in the Left Review...
Letter

Facts and Folk

5 January 1989

David Craig writes: I notice that in reply to my criticism of her view of the Highland Clearances Rosalind Mitchison doesn’t defend the phrases of hers that I disputed: namely, that the 19th-century burnings of crofters’ houses were a ‘cliché’, ‘in some instances untrue’, and ‘heavy with myth’. What else can these words mean but that the crofters’...
Letter

Rogue Socialists

1 September 1988

Michael Mason claims that historians have found traces of Francis Place the radical ‘scattered and faint’, apart from the archive under his name in the British Museum. But it is far from a faint and scattered impression and knowledge of the man and his wonderfully cunning career on the left of English politics during the Reform period that we get from Graham Wallas’s Life, which was...
Letter

The Clearances

22 January 1987

SIR: I am not sure how old a horror has to be, in Angus Calder’s view (Letters, 5 March), before it is no longer worth rehearsing. Should we stop talking about the Holocaust in, say, 2050, the Soviet farm collectivisation in 2000, and the Somme any time now? But if the rehearsing is being done at all – as it is, after all, by Smout, Richards, and the other historians whom he favours –...

Auchnasaugh

Patrick Parrinder, 7 November 1991

David Craig has an unfashionable concern with truth-telling in fiction. In his earlier role as a literary critic, he wrote a book called The Real Foundations in which he showed how some of the...

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Highland Hearts

V.G. Kiernan, 20 December 1990

‘Just inside the fir-dusk a hollow oblong of stones now showed, brown and damp with that stupefied or browbeaten look of an abandoned croft-house ... Here was Unnimore.’ Here, too,...

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Triermain Eliminate

Chauncey Loomis, 9 July 1987

I admire mountain, rock and ice-climbing from a respectful distance. When young and foolish, I tried it. I even went up what some experienced climbers call ‘the milk run’ to the peak...

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