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I have written as I rode

Adam Smyth: ‘Brief Lives’, 8 October 2015

‘Brief Lives’ with ‘An Apparatus for the Lives of Our English Mathematical Writers’ 
by John Aubrey, edited by Kate Bennett.
Oxford, 1968 pp., £250, March 2015, 978 0 19 968953 8
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John Aubrey: My Own Life 
by Ruth Scurr.
Chatto, 518 pp., £25, March 2015, 978 0 7011 7907 6
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... the depleted printers ‘could gett no better’. Fascinated with Roman remains, Aubrey took Charles II to see Avebury in 1663 after discovering the stones while hunting with aristocratic friends; he commissioned drawings of the 12th-century Osney Abbey before it was demolished. Like all busy people, he worked all the time, and felt he wasn’t working ...

Johnson’s Business

Keith Walker, 7 August 1980

A Dictionary of the English Language 
by Samuel Johnson.
Times, 2558 pp., £45, June 1980, 0 7230 0228 2
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Dictionary Johnson: Samuel Johnson’s Middle Years 
by James Clifford.
Heinemann, 372 pp., £10, February 1980, 0 434 13805 3
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... by Lawrence Lipking in his important book, The Ordering of the Arts in 18th-Century England – Charles Burney’s History of Music, for example, Joshua Reynolds’s Discourses on Art and Johnson’s own Lives of the Poets. The Oxford History of English Literature hasn’t ‘superceded’ Johnson’s Lives, and there’s a sense in which we must say that ...

Tuesday Girl

Colin Burrow: Seraphick Love, 6 March 2003

Transformations of Love: The Friendship of John Evelyn and Margaret Godolphin 
by Frances Harris.
Oxford, 330 pp., £25, January 2003, 0 19 925257 2
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... one of Evelyn’s friends for most of his life. He also enjoyed what was called, after Robert Boyle had popularised the term, ‘seraphick love’ with Anne Russell (whom he dubbed ‘Platona’) and Elizabeth Carey (who became his ‘Electra’). It is exceptionally hard to describe what Evelyn felt for these women: probably it is best to say that the ...

Close Cozenage

David Wootton, 23 May 1996

Astrology and the 17th-Century Mind: William Lilly and the Language of the Stars 
by Ann Geneva.
Manchester, 298 pp., £40, June 1995, 0 7190 4154 6
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... of his art. In the post-Restoration years astrology suffered for its Civil War success. Charles II continued to seek guidance in the stars, but faith among the political and intellectual élite waned. The scientists did not pause to refute it, presumably because its dependence on a geocentric system appeared to render it irrelevant in an age of ...

‘Where’s yer Wullie Shakespeare noo?’

Michael Dobson: 17th-century literary culture, 11 September 2008

Archipelagic English: Literature, History, and Politics 1603-1707 
by John Kerrigan.
Oxford, 599 pp., March 2008, 978 0 19 818384 6
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... Shirley; the Wales of Morgan Llwyd, Henry Vaughan and Katherine Philips; the Munster of Roger Boyle; the Edinburgh of Sir George Mackenzie and William Cleland; the Derry of William Philips. Its historical scope is just as broad. After a final chapter on Daniel Defoe’s activities in Edinburgh in 1706-7, where he intrigued, lobbied and proselytised on ...
... is sometimes to wonder at the price of the ticket. Other people find the trade-union con-man Lance Boyle hard to take – offended in their radical beliefs or having decided (correctly, by his creator’s own confession) that Lance has set out to bore them rigid. No matter how rebarbative the preliminary acts, Aunt Edna saves the night in the second half, but ...

The Excommunicant

Richard Popkin: Spinoza v. the Synagogue, 15 October 1998

The God of Spinoza: A Philosophical Study 
by Richard Mason.
Cambridge, 272 pp., £35, May 1997, 0 521 58162 1
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Spinoza, Liberalism and the Question of Jewish Identity 
by Steven Smith.
Yale, 270 pp., £21, June 1997, 0 300 06680 5
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... then seems to have become involved with serious thinkers abroad, like Henry Oldenburg and Robert Boyle. We know that in The Hague he discussed philosophy with the libertines Charles Saint-Evremond and Henry Morelli, with Leibniz, and with people around the Prince de Condé. In the last four years of his life, when he was ...


Terry Castle: Moving House, 27 August 2009

... on my Facebook Wall. Self-destructive thoughts when forced to admit they can’t. Like Susan Boyle, all one wants is to have one’s little life back. B., thank god, seems fine. Calls frequently from Cambridge on the Crackberry; thinks I’m making an insane fuss about moving five houses up the street. Full of kind spousal forbearance when I tell her we ...

Pepys’s Place

Pat Rogers, 16 June 1983

The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Vol X: Companion and Vol XI: Index 
edited by Robert Latham.
Bell and Hyman, 626 pp., £19.50, February 1983, 0 7135 1993 2
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The Diary of John Evelyn 
edited by John Bowle.
Oxford, 476 pp., £19.50, April 1983, 0 19 251011 8
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The Brave Courtier: Sir William Temple 
by Richard Faber.
Faber, 187 pp., £15, February 1983, 0 571 11982 4
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... experiments with mice – or with dogs. Pepys was surrounded by virtuosi such as Wilkes, Hooke and Boyle: he picked up only a few crumbs of hard science, but it would be natural for him to seek in his own secret expressive medium some of the demystifying, deconstructive functions of the new scientific styles of thought. In his biography Ollard writes ...

Newspapers of the Consensus

Neal Ascherson, 21 February 1985

The Rise and Fall of the Political Press in Britain. Vol. II: The 20th Century 
by Stephen Koss.
Hamish Hamilton, 718 pp., £25, March 1984, 0 241 11181 1
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Lies, Damned Lies and Some Exclusives 
by Henry Porter.
Chatto, 211 pp., £9.95, October 1984, 0 7011 2841 0
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Garvin of the ‘Observer’ 
by David Ayerst.
Croom Helm, 314 pp., £25, January 1985, 0 7099 0560 2
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The Beaverbrook I Knew 
edited by Logan Gourlay.
Quartet, 272 pp., £11.95, September 1984, 0 7043 2331 1
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... on the voters. Ministers can react feverishly to leading articles and political features: Lord Boyle remarked that ‘the Cabinet, increasingly as the years go by, tends to be most concerned with the agenda that the press and media are setting out as the crucial issues before the nation.’ This is nice for editors. But it defies rational explanation. Koss ...

More than Machines

Steven Shapin: Man or Machine?, 1 December 2016

The Restless Clock: A History of the Centuries-Long Argument over What Makes Living Things Tick 
by Jessica Riskin.
Chicago, 544 pp., £30, March 2016, 978 0 226 30292 8
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... to animate the world; no need for priestly intermediaries between man and God. It’s true that Boyle and Newton asserted that matter was inactive and inanimate, and that they invoked the mechanical metaphor to show nature’s utter dependency on God as the Master Agent and sole source of activity and design. Yet their work also populated the world with an ...

What are we telling the nation?

David Edgar: Thoughts about the BBC, 7 July 2005

Uncertain Vision: Birt, Dyke and the Reinvention of the BBC 
by Georgina Born.
Vintage, 352 pp., £10.99, August 2005, 0 09 942893 8
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Building Public Value: Renewing the BBC for a Digital World 
BBC, 135 pp.Show More
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... provocative and formally challenging Singing Detective (1986) and Richard Eyre’s film of Charles Wood’s anti-Falklands Tumbledown (1988). When a newly aggressive ITV, freed from its franchise limitations by the 1990 Act, decided to make popular drama its flagship audience puller, BBC drama was faced with an unprecedented challenge. Harried by the ...

My God, the Suburbs!

Colm Tóibín: John Cheever, 5 November 2009

Cheever: A Life 
by Blake Bailey.
Picador, 770 pp., £25, November 2009, 978 0 330 43790 5
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... supposed to have died, alone, unknown, a stranger to his wife and his sons, in a furnished room on Charles Street. My own father spent two or three years in his late seventies alone at the farm in Hanover. The only heat was a fireplace; his only companion a halfwit who lived up the road. I lived as a young man in cold, ugly and forsaken places yearning for a ...

Adieu, madame

Terry Castle: Sarah Bernhardt, 4 November 2010

Sarah: The Life of Sarah Bernhardt 
by Robert Gottlieb.
Yale, 233 pp., £18.99, October 2010, 978 0 300 14127 6
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... aside, Bernhardt always had a soft spot, she said, for the entire Bonaparte family); Charles Haas (elegant model for Proust’s Swann); ‘Bertie’, the cuddly future Edward VII; the artist-engraver Gustave Doré; and at least one woman, the trouser-wearing sculptor Louise Abbéma. Gottlieb refers to Abbéma, somewhat ungallantly, as ...

What was it that drove him?

David Runciman: Gordon Brown, 4 January 2018

My Life, Our Times 
by Gordon Brown.
Bodley Head, 512 pp., £25, November 2017, 978 1 84792 497 1
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... McIntyre’ and a group of young shop stewards from the Rosyth Dockyard, who ‘included Charlie Boyle, Helen Dowie, Jimmy Dyce, Charlie Logan, Margaret Logan, Bert Lumsden, George Manclark, Derek Stubbs, Peter Young and also Alex Falconer’). As this shows, they didn’t all have to be men, but usually they were. There is no doubt that Brown tried to ...

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