Keith Walker

Keith Walker teaches English at University College, London.

Bad Nights at ‘The Libertine’

Keith Walker, 8 October 1992

Kwabena Nketia tells us, in his book African Music, that ‘music’ is defined in Africa through the social uses to which it is put. Some native African languages don’t have a word for music as a thing in itself (which, of course, it isn’t, looked at socially), but instead have different words for cradle-rocking-to-sounds, pounding-maize-to-sounds, music-for-hunting-to and so forth. But is there such a thing, anyway, as ‘music: a system of organised sounds which give pleasure, and obey’ – ‘obeying’ may include ‘flouting’ – ‘the conventions of its grammar’? The organisation of pop music is imperceptible to me, its grammar foreign, and its pleasures non-existent. I readily concede that this is not the experience of everyone. The phenomenon is widely-known, but doesn’t get much noticed. A woman I was talking to at a party recently thought that I was playing a complicated sort of game and simply could not believe me when I said I had never heard of, let alone heard, the particular rock group all her children were listening to.’

Johnson’s Business

Keith Walker, 7 August 1980

‘DULL. adj. 8. Not exhilaterating; not delightful; as, to make dictionaries is dull work.’ But they are fun to read, and it’s good to welcome this reprint of Johnson’s first edition (1755).

Settling accounts

Keith Walker, 15 May 1980

‘A heart for every fate’: the title Marchand has chosen, from the enchanting lyric Byron wrote to Thomas Moore in 1817, doesn’t seem quite appropriate. It would have been better to borrow Doris Langley Moore’s Lord Byron: Accounts Rendered, for in these months in Genoa (October 1822 – June 1823) Byron was settling his accounts with his creditors, with his public, with his publisher John Murray, with his mistress, and making arrangements to settle his accounts with life and fame. Late in this volume we see Byron discussing a collected edition of his poems with J.W. Lake. Elsewhere Byron says he wants to amass enough money to be able to leave something to his sister Augusta and her children, and to contribute to the Greek cause. He laughs at himself in assuming the role of miser: ‘I am economizing – have sold three horses and pay all bills in person – keeping a sharp look out – on the candle’s ends.’



3 August 1995

Fanny Price may or may not be ‘the nerdiest of all heroines’ as Claudia Johnson says, but Fanny refuses to enter into the marriage games that the men have set up for her. She says no. No to Sir Thomas when he says she has an obligation to marry Henry Crawford, and no again to Edmund when he (rather more mutedly) suggests much the same thing. This takes some distinctly unnerdish pluck, and parallel...

Language Fears

19 January 1989

Professor Nash’s recent review of the Greenbaum/Whitcut Longman Guide to English Usage, though properly welcoming, does less than justice to those areas where the book is unique. 1. The Guide can cause students to fall off their chairs with laughter. Nash has mentioned the keen distinction drawn between weak and week (‘Weak means “not strong". A week is seven days’), but he doesn’t give the...

Poet Squab

Claude Rawson, 3 March 1988

There is an anonymous portrait of Dryden, ‘dated 1657 but probably 1662’, which shows a full-fed figure with plump alert eyes, comfortable and predatory. He seems poised between...

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Wadham and Gomorrah

Conrad Russell, 6 December 1984

John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, one of the original ‘amorous sons of Wadham’, perhaps took part in writing an obscene farce called Sodom. Dr Walker drily observes that ‘to...

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