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How They Brought the Good News

Colin Kidd: Britain’s Napoleonic Wars, 20 November 2014

In These Times: Living in Britain through Napoleon’s Wars, 1793-1815 
by Jenny Uglow.
Faber, 739 pp., £25, November 2014, 978 0 571 26952 5
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... embarked on a moderate constitutional revolution not unlike England’s Whig Revolution of 1688. Edmund Burke, an early doomsayer in his Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), was out of step with the optimism of his contemporaries. As Uglow reminds us, the prime minister throughout the first phase of the wars, William Pitt the ...

Larry kept his mouth shut

Terry Eagleton: Gallows speeches, 18 October 2001

Gallows Speeches from 18th-Century Ireland 
by James Kelly.
Four Courts, 288 pp., £19.65, August 2001, 1 85182 611 4
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... on assent and affection – is the abiding theme of the greatest of all Irish political thinkers, Edmund Burke. The law for Burke was essentially male, but to work effectively it had to engage in a spot of strategic cross-dressing just like its agrarian antagonists, kitting itself out seductively as a woman. Kelly has ...

Great Sums of Money

Ferdinand Mount: Swingeing Taxes, 21 October 2021

The Dreadful Monster and Its Poor Relations: Taxing, Spending and the United Kingdom, 1707-2021 
by Julian Hoppit.
Allen Lane, 324 pp., £25, May, 978 0 241 43442 0
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... currency union, and quite a few trade barriers stayed in place (which would have hugely distressed Burke had he lived to see it). The two-seventeenths formula never satisfied either side, any more than the Barnett formula has satisfied either side in our own time.Eye-catching infrastructure projects for Scotland and Ireland – roads, bridges, canals, and, all ...

Tory History

Alan Ryan, 23 January 1986

English Society 1688-1832 
by J.C.D. Clark.
Cambridge, 439 pp., £30, November 1985, 0 521 30922 0
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Virtue, Commerce and History 
by J.G.A. Pocock.
Cambridge, 321 pp., £25, November 1985, 0 521 25701 8
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... another in his stead. Richard Price was to say just that in 1790 and bring down the wrath of Edmund Burke, and Locke probably construed 1688-9 in that light: but the Whigs’ most reliable support was the view that James II had left them in the lurch and had left them to find the nearest (Protestant) descendant to replace him. Their strongest card ...

Ghosts in the Palace

Tom Nairn, 24 April 1997

... sense of continuity and permanence was derived, the identity which was argued for by Edmund Burke but not really in existence until well after 1832. Once up and running it posed as immemorial, but actually it has lasted for about a century and a half. Thatcherism was its terminal disease. Enforced rejuvenation of the economic body destroyed ...

There is no more Vendée

Gavin Jacobson: The Terror, 16 March 2017

The Coming of the Terror in the French Revolution 
by Timothy Tackett.
Harvard, 463 pp., £25, February 2015, 978 0 674 73655 9
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... we/Who wished to lay the foundations of kindness/Could not ourselves be kind’.) Following Edmund Burke, conservative historians have long argued that the history of the Terror is the history of the Revolution as a whole, but Tackett is careful to make a temporal distinction between violence and Terror. He sees the execution of the king in January ...

Not Just Anybody

Terry Eagleton: ‘The Limits of Critique’, 5 January 2017

The Limits of Critique 
by Rita Felski.
Chicago, 238 pp., £17, October 2015, 978 0 226 29403 2
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... is ‘naturalising’. Nature has served as a revolutionary concept in its day, while from Edmund Burke to Michael Oakeshott the notion of culture has been for the most part a conservative one. When the political regimes of 18th-century Europe heard the word nature, they reached for their cultural privileges. The notion that everything is ...


Alan Finlayson, 18 May 2017

... implicitly (and sometimes, in my experience, explicitly) favour submission to Providence. Edmund Burke and Brexitists ought not to agree on much, but Brexitists do seem to share Burke’s belief that ‘the awful Author of our Being is the Author of our place in the order of existence … Having disposed and ...

The Last War of Religion

David Armitage, 9 June 1994

The Language of Liberty, 1660-1832: Political Discourse and Social Dynamics in the Anglo-American World 
by J.C.D. Clark.
Cambridge, 404 pp., £35, October 1993, 0 521 44510 8
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The Debate on the Constitution: Federalist and Anti-Federalist Speeches, Articles and Letters During the Struggle over Ratification. Vol. I 
edited by Bernard Bailyn.
Library of America, 1214 pp., $35, July 1993, 0 940450 42 9
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... which no climate, not time, no constitution, no contract, can ever destroy or diminish’. Even Edmund Burke thought that Blackstone had nourished the American colonists’ ‘fierce Spirit of Liberty’, since his Commentaries had ‘sold nearly as many ... in America as in England’. Sovereignty was not necessarily Anglican even for Blackstone, who ...


Ferdinand Mount: British Weeping, 17 December 2015

Weeping Britannia: Portrait of a Nation in Tears 
by Thomas Dixon.
Oxford, 438 pp., £25, September 2015, 978 0 19 967605 7
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... epitaph on William the Silent: ‘When he cried, the little children died in the streets.’ Edmund Burke was accused by Mary Wollstonecraft and Tom Paine of putting it on in his lament for Marie Antoinette, but Burke protested that he had wept as he wrote and that the tears had ‘wetted my paper’. In any ...

Living and Dying in Ireland

Sean O’Faolain, 6 August 1981

... the man who wrote like this was a political thinker. Perhaps our first real political thinker was Edmund Burke. His earliest book, written when in his twenties, was a world away from the personal, the particular, the segregating. It was A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful. He was to become one of the most ...

Six French Frizeurs

David A. Bell, 10 December 1998

The Perfidy of Albion: French Perceptions of England during the French Revolution 
by Norman Hampson.
Macmillan, 210 pp., £40, June 1998, 0 333 73148 4
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Poisoning the Minds of the Lower Orders 
by Don Herzog.
Princeton, 472 pp., £18, September 1998, 0 691 04831 2
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... Scarborough kept ‘six French frizeurs, who have nothing else to do than dress his hair’. Even Edmund Burke could not help admitting that ‘France has always more or less influenced manners in England.’ Yet co-existing with this French influence was what Linda Colley has called a ‘vast superstructure of prejudice’, directed generally against ...

On with the Pooling and Merging

Neal Ascherson: The Incomparable Tom Nairn, 17 February 2000

After Britain: New Labour and the Return of Scotland 
by Tom Nairn.
Granta, 336 pp., £15.99, January 2000, 1 86207 293 0
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... being “pinned down” by that sort of thing. It continues to prefer the public-bar company of Edmund Burke to the saloon-bar rectitude of Tom Paine.’ Life after Britain, in other words, will be erratic and full of ...

In Disguise of a Merchant

Linda Colley: Company-States, 30 July 2020

Outsourcing Empire: How Company-States Made the Modern World 
by Andrew Phillips and J.C. Sharman.
Princeton, 253 pp., £25, June 2020, 978 0 691 20351 5
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... companies appeared retrograde and unsuited to wider purposes. As P.J. Marshall has argued, when Edmund Burke began to launch his assaults on the EIC in the 1770s, it wasn’t because of any aversion to the project of empire itself but because he believed that imperial spaces could and should be decently administered, and that the company was grievously ...

The Cruiser

Christopher Hitchens, 22 February 1996

On the Eve of the Millennium: The Future of Democracy through an Age of Unreason 
by Conor Cruise O’Brien.
Free Press, 168 pp., £7.99, February 1996, 0 02 874094 7
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... intrudes into the discussion. What matters to him is that Jefferson was a lifelong antagonist of Edmund Burke. And this, you must know, is not to be pardoned. Now (and here I return to my more-in-sorrow mode) we all know more about Burke – how to think about him and how to read him – as a result of O’Brien’s ...

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