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Frances Harris

Frances Harris is a curator of the Manuscript Collections at the British Library. Her biography of Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, was published by Oxford last year.

Greatest Genius

Frances Harris, 23 July 1992

Charles James Fox was early hailed as ‘the phenomenon of the age’: an Infant Phenomenon like his chief opponent and perfect foil, William Pitt, who, Fox’s mother is said to have predicted, would be ‘a thorn in Charles’s side as long as he lives’. David Hume, encountering Fox at 16 during one of his formative visits to Paris, was startled by his intellectual power and maturity and already foresaw him as ‘a very great acquisition to the publick’, if the lure of a life of cosmopolitan dissipation, already strong on him, did not distract him. Fox calmly agreed with this estimate of his potential, but refused to give an absolute promise that he would fulfil his family’s ambitions for him. These alternatives of private pleasure and public life continued to divide his attention, and for many years to come his ‘three favourite pursuits’, as a friend noted, were to be ‘gaming, politics, women’, more or less in that order.

Seraphick Love

Colin Burrow, 6 March 2003

John Evelyn was a dry old stick – and here that metaphor has an almost literal force, since his first and greatest love was for trees. In Fumifugium (1661) he argued that smoky workshops...

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Things that are worth naming

Linda Colley, 21 November 1991

Among the illustrations in this book is a painting by John Closterman of the Marlborough family which hangs today in Blenheim Palace. On its right-hand side, as convention dictates, sits the head...

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