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Craig Raine, 6 October 1983

Peter PorterCollected Poems 
Oxford, 335 pp., £12.50, March 1983, 0 19 211948 6Show More
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... Hardly any good poems came out of the conflict in Vietnam and most of those were written by James Fenton, a poet alert to the eerie surrealism of war. What happens when the war is banished from the front page and into the history books? Pound said, in the ABC of Reading, that ‘literature is news that STAYS news.’ Eliot, on the other hand, was less ...

Strew the path with flowers

Bernard Porter: Cannabis and empire, 4 March 2004

Cannabis Britannica: Empire, Trade and Prohibition 1800-1928 
by James Mills.
Oxford, 239 pp., £25, September 2003, 0 19 924938 5
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... a fearsome reputation, equal to that of opium. William Caine, an 1890s abolitionist MP quoted by James Mills, claimed it was the ‘most horrible intoxicant the world has yet produced’. In 1924, the Egyptian statesman Mohamed El Guindy called it ‘a terrible menace to the whole world’. A moral panic in the 1920s and 1930s, mainly in America but with ...

Confounding Malthus

Roy Porter, 21 December 1989

Health and the Rise of Civilisation 
by Mark Nathan Cohen.
Yale, 285 pp., £22.50, October 1989, 0 300 04006 7
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Nutrition and Economic Development in the 18th-Century Habsburg Monarchy: An Anthropomorphic History 
by John Komlos.
Princeton, 325 pp., $45, November 1989, 0 691 04257 8
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... but were rather the product of growing affluence and improved public health conditions. James Riley has recently argued, in Sickness, Recovery and Death, that this transition was itself ambiguous, best regarded as a move from a ‘high death culture’ into one of ‘high sickness’. For all the ingenuity of his reasoning, this view seems wide of ...

Silly Buggers

James Fox, 7 March 1991

The Theatre of Embarrassment 
by Francis Wyndham.
Chatto, 205 pp., £15, February 1991, 0 7011 3726 6
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... Meriel McCooey, both aficionados of Hollywood musicals, could be heard breaking into duets of Cole Porter or Noël Coward – Meriel in tune, Francis undoubtedly faultless with the lyrics. At six o’clock a half-bottle of Teachers would be purchased for ‘pre-drink drinks’ – a deadline gradually pulled forward to 5.30. You would hear, at ...

Australia strikes back

Les Murray, 13 October 1988

Snakecharmers in Texas 
by Clive James.
Cape, 373 pp., £11.95, July 1988, 0 224 02571 6
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... abroad, just as there are for living and writing at home. Few of these punishments have come Clive James’s way. His poetry used regularly to be left out of Australian anthologies, but that is an old bad habit we may have grown out of by now. Mr James’s name attracts far more affection than odium, and he gets away with ...

Almighty Gould

Roy Porter, 23 April 1987

Time’s Arrow, Time’s Cycle: Myth and Metaphor in the Discovery of Geological Time 
by Stephen Jay Gould.
Harvard, 219 pp., £15.50, May 1987, 0 674 89198 8
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... the villain-in-chief, endlessly execrated, is the Rev. Thomas Burnet. Leading the heroes home are James Hutton and Sir Charles Lyell. What was Burnet’s sin? He was the Judas who supposedly sold out geology to Scripture. In his Sacred Theory of the Earth – which appeared just before Newton’s Principia – Burnet denied what has become the central dogma ...

Esprit de Corps

Roy Porter, 21 January 1988

Granville Sharp Pattison: Anatomist and Antagonist 1791-1851 
by F.L.M. Pattison.
Canongate, 284 pp., £12.95, October 1987, 0 86241 077 0
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Death, Dissection and the Destitute 
by Ruth Richardson.
Routledge, 426 pp., £19.95, January 1988, 0 7102 0919 3
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... at his native university from 1806 to 1812, where he came under the influence of the charismatic James Jeffray. For Jeffray the key to medicine was the corpse, and he never ceased to dragoon students into the dissecting-room. He was also the first in Glasgow to electrify the dead, thereby stimulating the nerves and producing macabre smiles, grimaces and ...

White Lies

James Campbell: Nella Larsen, 5 October 2006

In Search of Nella Larsen: A Biography of the Colour Line 
by George Hutchinson.
Harvard, 611 pp., £25.95, June 2006, 0 674 02180 0
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... she said. “I thought maybe you were just another wop or something.”’ Twenty years earlier, James Weldon Johnson, a black man who served as American consul in Venezuela and Nicaragua during the Theodore Roosevelt and William H. Taft administrations, opened his novel The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912) with the sentence: ‘I know that in ...
The Children’s Book of Comic Verse 
edited by Christopher Logue.
Batsford, 160 pp., £3.95, March 1980, 0 7134 1528 2
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The Children’s Book of Funny Verse 
edited by Julia Watson.
Faber, 127 pp., £3.95, September 1980, 0 571 11467 9
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Bagthorpes v. the World 
by Helen Cresswell.
Faber, 192 pp., £4.50, September 1980, 0 571 11446 6
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The Robbers 
by Nina Bawden.
Gollancz, 144 pp., £3.95, September 1980, 0 575 02695 2
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... to the Western mind? We were once the only Europeans present at a Boxing Day performance of Oh Mr Porter in a back-street cinema. Four men were whirled around on the sails of a windmill; we fell about with laughing, the Pakistani children who made up the rest of the audience were silent. They either found the situation totally unfunny, or else lacked the ...

How’s the Empress?

James Wood: Graham Swift, 17 April 2003

The Light of Day 
by Graham Swift.
Hamish Hamilton, 244 pp., £16.99, February 2003, 0 241 14204 0
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... of 1896, for the properly grim place to deposit his unfortunate heroine, Maisie Farange, Henry James alights on Folkestone, and with grey satisfaction asks himself: ‘don’t I get an effect from Folkestone?’ James does indeed get an ‘effect’, in What Maisie Knew, from Folkestone: from the name, from the ...

Walking on Eyeballs

E.S. Turner: The history of gout, 7 January 1999

Gout: The Patrician Malady 
by Roy Porter and G.S. Rousseau.
Yale, 393 pp., £25, September 1998, 0 300 07386 0
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... bleat about their non-lethal and non-infective conditions, of which gout is one. Nor do Professors Porter and Rousseau tell us anything about the present-day treatment of gout, under the National Health Service or otherwise. Perhaps they should have spared a leaf or two from their 100 pages of notes and bibliography to do so. This is a cultural ...

Davie’s Rap

Neil Corcoran, 25 January 1990

Under Briggflatts: A History of Poetry in Great Britain 1960-1988 
by Donald Davie.
Carcanet, 261 pp., £18.95, October 1989, 0 85635 820 7
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Annunciations 
by Charles Tomlinson.
Oxford, 55 pp., £5.95, November 1989, 0 19 282680 8
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Possible Worlds 
by Peter Porter.
Oxford, 68 pp., £6.95, September 1989, 0 19 282660 3
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The boys who stole the funeral: A Novel Sequence 
by Les Murray.
Carcanet, 71 pp., £6.95, October 1989, 0 85635 845 2
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... in it from the other books under review. Charles Tomlinson’s Annunciations and Peter Porter’s Possible Worlds share Renaissance Virgins for cover illustrations. Tomlinson’s is Lorenzo Lotto’s Annunciation, in which the angel has just leapt spectacularly over the balcony, terrifying the cat, to make his declaration to an overcome and pliant ...

Body History

Roy Porter, 31 August 1989

The Body and the French Revolution: Sex, Class and Political Culture 
by Dorinda Outram.
Yale, 197 pp., £22, May 1989, 0 300 04436 4
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Victorian Suicide: Mad Crimes and Sad Histories 
by Barbara Gates.
Princeton, 190 pp., £19.95, September 1988, 0 691 09437 3
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Sexual Visions: Images of Gender in Science and Medicine between the 18th and 20th Centuries 
by Ludmilla Jordanova.
Harvester, 224 pp., £19.95, April 1989, 9780745003320
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Family, Love and Work in the Lives of Victorian Gentlewomen 
by Jeanne Peterson.
Indiana, 241 pp., $39.95, May 1989, 0 253 20509 3
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... Paget was a shipper and brewer from Great Yarmouth; his wife, Betsey, bore 17 children, among whom James became a top surgeon at Bart’s, and (Sir) George professor of medicine at Cambridge. Peterson investigates Paget daughters, sisters, wives and aunts, as they moved and married within the ‘urban gentry’ of doctors, lawyers, ecclesiastics and ...

Prinney, Boney, Boot

Roy Porter, 20 March 1986

The English Satirical Print 1600-1832 
edited by Michael Duffy.
Chadwyck-Healey, February 1986
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... The voice of the people, or the pretensions of radicals, are more commonly symbolised by Charles James Fox than by the mob. For another, the values embodied in them are overwhelmingly those of a particular constituency, the metropolitan bourgeoisie. Thus, as Peter Thomas shows, the prints of the American crisis express many views – e.g. hostility to the ...

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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... conflict, not so much between the press and governments as between the press and the state. It was James Margach, once lobby correspondent of the Sunday Times, who first told the appalling story of how successive prime ministers had used the security services against journalists, usually after a Cabinet leak. The string of scandals, revelations and trials ...

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