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Grateful Dead

John Barrell, 22 April 1993

The Dictionary of National Biography: Missing Persons 
edited by C.S. Nicholls.
Oxford, 790 pp., £80, January 1993, 0 19 865211 9
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... a brief life of Butchell in the first Dictionary of National Biography; it was written by Thompson Cooper, who had an eye for such characters, and who contributed over 1400 biographies, more than anyone else to the original dictionary. Cooper made no claims for Butchell’s importance as a physician, or as an innovator in ...

Pocock’s Positions

Blair Worden, 4 November 1993

Political Discourse in Early Modern Britain 
edited by Nicholas Phillipson and Quentin Skinner.
Cambridge, 444 pp., £35, March 1993, 9780521392426
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... to modify that picture, and a contribution to Political Discourse in Early Modern Britain by William Klein examines some of the modifications. The picture is further modified by Michael Mendle’s searching essay on the constitutional programme of Charles I’s Parliamentary opponents in 1641-2. In the emergency created by royal mismanagement, Mendle ...

An Endless Progression of Whirlwinds

Robert Irwin: Asian empire, 21 June 2001

Tournament of Shadows: The Great Game and the Race for Empire in Asia 
by Karl Meyer and Shareen Brysac.
Little, Brown, 646 pp., £25, January 2001, 0 316 85589 8
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Tibet: The Great Game and Tsarist Russia 
by Tatiana Shaumian.
Oxford, 223 pp., £16, October 2000, 0 19 565056 5
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... of Shadows is an intricate interweaving of biographical portraits and individual stories: of William Moorcroft, the horse doctor with a mission to find new stock for the cavalry in British India; Charles Metcalfe, the advocate of a forward policy on the frontier in the early 19th century; Alexander ‘Bokhara’ Burnes, the foolhardy political ...

Golden Dolly

John Pemble: Rich Britons, 24 September 2009

Who Were the Rich? A Biographical Directory of British Wealth-Holders. Vol. I: 1809-39 
by William Rubinstein.
Social Affairs Unit, 516 pp., £20, May 2009, 978 1 904863 39 7
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... William Rubinstein is an expatriate New Yorker who has spent his academic life investigating wealth and the wealthy in modern Britain and overturning cherished ideas by looking at the British from the top down rather than from the bottom up. Who Were the Rich?, compiled from probate records, will identify everyone who died in Britain between 1809 and 1914 leaving personal assets of £100,000 or more – which is equivalent to between £8 and £10 million today ...

I want to be an Admiral

N.A.M. Rodger: The Age of Sail, 30 July 2020

Sons of the Waves: The Common Seaman in the Heroic Age of Sail 1740-1840 
by Stephen Taylor.
Yale, 490 pp., £20, April, 978 0 300 24571 4
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... to the lucky and ambitious. Overall they give a vivid sense of the variety of the seafaring life. William Spavens’s Narrative was published by a Louth printer in 1796, and has been reprinted in recent years. Growing up in Cleethorpes on the Lincolnshire coast, he believed that ‘sailors must be happy men to have such opportunities of visiting foreign ...

Short Cuts

John Lanchester: The Art of Financial Disaster, 15 December 2011

... spun off from the Man Group, which sponsors the Man Booker Prize, in 2007. James Man was a sugar cooper and broker who in 1784 won the contract to supply the Royal Navy with rum; then the firm moved from sugar and rum into other commodities, then into futures contracts, then into derivatives more generally, then into financial services.) A firm like that can ...

Even more immortal

Paul Driver, 8 April 1993

Memories of Beethoven: From the House of the Black-Robed Spaniards 
by Gerhard von Breuning, edited by Maynard Solomon, translated by Henry Mins and Maynard Solomon.
Cambridge, 154 pp., £15.95, November 1992, 0 521 41710 4
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Beethoven: Studies in the Creative Process 
by Lewis Lockwood.
Harvard, 283 pp., £31.95, July 1992, 0 674 06362 7
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... enlightened sketch-scholars (Alan Tyson, Joseph Kerman, Douglas Johnson, Robert Winter, William Kinderman, Barry Cooper) is to such venal misprisions a corrective of which the beleaguered Beethoven may have hardly dared to ...

Edward and Tilly and George

Robert Melville, 15 March 1984

Swans Reflecting Elephants: My Early Years 
by Edward James, edited by George Melly.
Weidenfeld, 178 pp., £8.95, July 1982, 0 297 77988 5
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... was rehearsing for a revival of The Miracle. It was produced by Max Reinhardt, with Lady Diana Cooper as the statue of the Madonna and Tilly as the nun who was seduced by a knight and ran away with him. The statue of the Madonna comes alive, steps off her pedestal, dons the nun’s discarded veil and assumes her duties. The Mother Superior accuses her of ...

Something an academic might experience

Michael Neve, 26 September 1991

The Faber Book of Madness 
edited by Roy Porter.
Faber, 572 pp., £14.99, September 1991, 0 571 14387 3
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... rightly a frogmarch, maybe even a toad’s march, to Pseud’s Corner even to bring up the name of William Blake, but historians of English madness, including Porter, help us see the Blakean contradictions: all those élitist mouthings-off about Reason, all that hypochondriacal cool, all those dancing lessons, all culminating, two hundred years later, in ...

What’s Happening in the Engine-Room

Penelope Fitzgerald: Poor John Lehmann, 7 January 1999

John Lehmann: A Pagan Adventure 
by Adrian Wright.
Duckworth, 308 pp., £20, November 1998, 0 7156 2871 2
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... New Signatures (February 1932), which included contributions from Julian Bell, Richard Eberhart, William Empson, Cecil Day Lewis, Stephen Spender, William Plomer and Lehmann himself. Through Spender he met Christopher Isherwood. The friendship with Spender from the very first seemed edgy, uncertain and uneasy, but durable ...

Whose Body?

Charles Glass: ‘Operation Mincemeat’, 22 July 2010

Operation Mincemeat: The True Spy Story that Changed the Course of World War Two 
by Ben Macintyre.
Bloomsbury, 400 pp., £16.99, January 2010, 978 0 7475 9868 8
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... years after the war ended. Its first exposure came in fictional form in November 1950, when Duff Cooper published a novel, Operation Heartbreak, that barely concealed the actual facts. The next version, released in 1953, was a non-fiction book by the gambit’s architect, Lieutenant Commander Ewen Montagu of naval intelligence. Three years later, his ...

Beefcake Ease

Miranda Carter: Robert Mitchum and Steve McQueen, 14 January 2002

Robert Mitchum: Solid, Dad, Crazy 
by Damien Love.
Batsford, 208 pp., £15.99, December 2001, 0 7134 8707 0
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Robert Mitchum: Baby, I Don’t Care 
by Lee Server.
Faber, 590 pp., £20, October 2001, 0 571 20994 7
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McQueen: The Biography 
by Christopher Sandford.
HarperCollins, 497 pp., £16.99, October 2001, 0 00 257195 1
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... Both men had got to where they were by doing or seeming to do nothing. It was the fashion. Gary Cooper, Clint Eastwood, Lee Marvin, James Coburn, and in England – and in a different, English way – Michael Caine, seldom did anything else. It was also a manner which could not always be easily distinguished from simple idleness. For the first 25 years of ...

Copying the coyote

Richard Poirier, 18 October 1984

The Principles of Psychology 
by William James, introduced by George Miller.
Harvard, 1302 pp., £14.95, December 1983, 0 674 70625 0
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A Stroll with William James 
by Jacques Barzun.
Chicago, 344 pp., £16, October 1983, 0 226 03865 3
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Becoming William James 
by Howard Feinstein.
Cornell, 377 pp., $24.95, May 1984, 0 8014 1617 5
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Essays in Psychology 
by William James, edited by Frederick Burkhardt and Fredson Bowers.
Harvard, 467 pp., £32, April 1984, 0 674 26714 1
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... When, in the summer of 1898, at the age of 56, William James went to Berkeley, California to deliver a series of lectures on pragmatism, he could have used his own life to illustrate the immensely difficult but successful application of one of its tenets: that truth is best seen as ‘what it is better for us to believe’, not as ‘as an accurate representation of reality’, and that what is better for us to believe is what can be ascertained only in and through our actions, not by consultation with fixed ideas or traditions or, notably in his case, by family example ...

In what sense did she love him?

Ruth Bernard Yeazell: Constance Fenimore Woolson, 8 May 2014

The Complete Letters of Constance Fenimore Woolson 
edited by Sharon Dean.
Florida, 609 pp., £71.95, July 2012, 978 0 8130 3989 3
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... Putnam’s. One of eight children, seven of them female, born to Charles Jarvis Woolson and Hannah Cooper Pomeroy Woolson (James Fenimore Cooper was her uncle) in the 1830s and 1840s, Constance arrived at adolescence with only a single sister, Clara, and a brother, Charles Jarvis Jr. Though Charly seems to have been her ...

Time for Several Whiskies

Ian Jack: BBC Propaganda, 30 August 2018

Auntie’s War: The BBC during the Second World War 
by Edward Stourton.
Doubleday, 422 pp., £20, November 2017, 978 0 85752 332 7
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... as it was possible to get – was first heard soon after war broke out in September 1939. William Joyce, aka Lord Haw-Haw, delivered his commentaries on the progress of the war from a studio in Hamburg with a brio that made him, in Stourton’s words, a ‘genuine star at a time when the BBC was still dominated by the cult of anonymous authority, by ...

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