Richard Jenkyns

Richard Jenkyns, Professor of the Classical Tradition at Oxford, is the author of The Victorians and Ancient Greece, and, most recently, of Virgil’s Experience.

George Grote was one of the most remarkable minds of the early Victorian age. But although he has never been forgotten, other Victorian intellectuals less wise than he, less strong in judgment, more erratic, more colourful and perhaps more imaginative, have enjoyed a fame and a following that he has never quite achieved. This is partly because he sought to be a scholar rather than a sage,...

A Mile or Two outside Worthing: Edward Trelawny

Richard Jenkyns, 26 November 1998

And shall Trelawny die? It seems not, since David Crane’s book is the fourth life of him to have been published in the last sixty years. Yet it is an odd sort of immortality which leaves a man with someone else’s name in the title of his biography. It was Joseph Severn, the amiable artist whose kindness sweetened Keats’s last months, who referred to Trelawny as ‘Lord Byron’s jackal’. The phrase was less harsh than it may seem to a modern ear, since a jackal, in the parlance of the time, was someone who busied himself on another’s behalf; but for Crane the metaphor has both a keener and a darker edge. He calls his first chapter ‘The Wolf Cub’, and finds in Trelawny a variety of lupine characteristics: courage, fierceness, savagery and a prowling restlessness; both loyalty and ingratitude; the passion to attach himself to a leader and the readiness to turn on that leader should he faint or fail.‘

Coaxing and Seducing: Lucretius

Richard Jenkyns, 3 September 1998

Lucretius is unique among the great poets of the world – and he ranks with the greatest – in having failed completely in his central purpose not only in his own time but ever since. For he is an evangelist, and his aim is to save us; unmistakably, he is a man who has been through a conversion experience, and he now wants to convert us, too. If we will only accept the truth of the philosophy of Epicurus, and live in accordance with its precepts, we shall be freed from the fear of death – indeed, death will become a matter of indifference to us – and enjoy a life worthy of the gods.

All Together Now

Richard Jenkyns, 11 December 1997

What is the best known Victorian poem? Which American poems of the same period are best known in this country? Which verses by a canonical English poet do the largest number of people today know by heart? The best known Victorian poem is probably ‘Good King Wenceslas’ (by J.M. Neale), followed by ‘Once in royal David’s city’ (Mrs Alexander); ‘All things bright and beautiful’ (also Mrs Alexander) is less familiar than it used to be, but was once possibly the best known of all. The most famous American poem of the Victorian age is ‘Away in a manger’ (anonymous), with ‘O little town of Bethlehem’ (Phillips Brooks) and ‘Dear Lord and Father of mankind’ (John Greenleaf Whittier) as runners-up. Among the works of the canonical English poets, the lines known to most people are probably those beginning Blake’s Milton, ‘And did those feet in ancient time …’, which Parry set to music and turned into the hymn ‘Jerusalem’.‘


Richard Jenkyns, 3 April 1997

Dianne Sachko Macleod’s Art and the Victorian Middle Class opens up a new world: it answers some questions that have hitherto been asked in vain and others which we may not have thought of asking at all. What sort of people collected paintings in the 19th century? How far did they specialise, or were their tastes catholic? What were their motives? Did they buy from artists or dealers, or did they commission works to their own specifications? Who earned the most? How did prices fluctuate? Despite some substantial faults, Macleod’s book has notable virtues also, the first and foremost being that it is a splendid work of research. An appendix of more than a hundred pages – it is a massive volume – lists almost a hundred and fifty middle-class Victorian collectors, with brief biographies and details of their occupations, taste and methods of buying. (Surprisingly, she omits Alexander Henderson, subsequently first Lord Faringdon, whose late Victorian collection is a rarity in having survived and being still visible to the public, at Buscot Park.) Some of these figures acquire a larger life in Macleod’s main text: Robert Vernon, son of a prosperous tradesman, who like Mr Bounderby exaggerated the lowliness of his origins; John Sheepshanks, so shabbily dressed that he was once refused admission to a first-class railway carriage, who told raucous jokes to the Prime Minister as he showed him round his gallery; jolly John Miller, with long white hair and a ripe Scottish voice, at whose table there was only bottled beer to drink, and no pudding followed the meat; devout Thomas Combe, whose patronage of the Pre-Raphaelites was part and parcel of his High Churchmanship (it was he who commissioned Holman Hunt’s Light of the World); the obsessive Thomas Plint, whose death at the age of 38 left his wife and ten children with no assets but his pictures; the farouche crook Albert Grant, born Abraham Gottheimer in Dublin, whose spectacular opulence and rollercoaster career put Merdle and Melmotte in the shade; Thomas Quilter, first president of the Institute of Accountants, who was found after his death to have been rigging the market; Frederick Leyland, patron of Whistler and the Aesthetic Movement, who rose from nowhere to great wealth, only to succumb to the maladie du siècle, deciding that everything in life was dull and hopeless; T.E. Smith, whose wife and daughter both had affairs with the maverick statesman Charles Dilke. As in a painting by Frith, here is a canvas crowded with figures, representing the rich diversity of Victorian life and manners.’

Imperiumsinefinism: Virgil

Colin Burrow, 2 March 2000

Virgil is the only Western writer to have been a set work for schoolchildren more or less continuously from the moment his verse appeared. No sooner were the Eclogues and Georgics published, in...

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Common Sense and the Classics

Dinah Birch, 25 June 1992

There used to be a notion that the 19th century abandoned the ancient world as a cultural model, and looked instead either to progressive scientific materialism or escapist Gothic Medievalism....

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Princes and Poets

Niall Rudd, 4 August 1983

In his immensely impressive book Dr Erskine-Hill shows how the example of Augustus was used as an inspiration, or as a warning, at every period from the Church Fathers to the end of the 18th...

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Feet on the mantelpiece

Hugh Lloyd-Jones, 21 August 1980

Until the 18th century modern Europe had in the main seen Ancient Greece through Latin spectacles. Important advances in Greek studies had been made, but their effect had been restricted, since...

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