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By the Banks of the Neva: Chapters from the Lives and Careers of the British in 18th-Century Russia 
by Anthony Cross.
Cambridge, 496 pp., £60, November 1996, 0 521 55293 1
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... England. The supper is very elegant, but so much in fashion is everything English that Beefstakes, Welsh Rabits & Porter is the most fashionable meal. I myself saw the Duke of Capriola, the Neapolitan Embassador, in his red heeled shoes, very busy at a great Beef stake, a dish I dare say he never tasted in Italy. Those dishes are as fashionable among the ...

Men in Aprons

Colin Kidd: Freemasonry, 7 May 1998

Who’s Afraid of Freemasons? The Phenomenon of Freemasonry 
by Alexander Piatigorsky.
Harvill, 398 pp., £25, August 1997, 1 86046 029 1
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... members in Britain – to the wider history of British society is one of the central concerns of Alexander Piatigorsky, an émigré Russian who teaches comparative religion at the School of Oriental and African Studies. Equipped with a phenomenological method and an encyclopedic knowledge of ritual, Piatigorsky is no muck-raker. ‘Who can speak of ...

Devolution Doom

Christopher Harvie: Scotland’s crisis, and some solutions, 5 September 2002

... ah tell ye, doomed!’ – in order? The Enterprise/Transport/Lifelong-Learning minister Wendy Alexander fled in May, perhaps because McConnell crushed her under all those portfolios, but also, surely, because of the mismatch between her huge responsibilities and her limited powers. Holyrood has, it’s true, turned in good research and policy reports in ...

Dithyrambs for Athens

Leofranc Holford-Strevens: The difficulties of reading Pindar, 17 February 2005

Soliciting Darkness: Pindar, Obscurity and the Classical Tradition 
by John T. Hamilton.
Harvard, 348 pp., £17.95, April 2004, 0 674 01257 7
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The First Poets: Lives of the Ancient Greek Poets 
by Michael Schmidt.
Weidenfeld, 449 pp., £20, April 2004, 0 297 64394 0
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... mere sound suffices: stegê, Dio Chrysostom’s term for the roof of Pindar’s house that Alexander forbade to be burned, ‘at least resonates’ with Latin textum. Why not with Welsh teg, ‘beautiful’, or Turkish tek, ‘single’, or the Dutch island Texel – not to speak of tecknê, which at least is ...

Fear of Rabid Dogs

Margaret Anne Doody, 18 August 1994

Managing Monsters: Six Myths of Our Time 
by Marina Warner.
Vintage, 104 pp., £4.99, April 1994, 0 09 943361 3
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... only as ‘tragic warnings’. For the use of a character as a model, it would be hard to beat Alexander’s deliberate and well-documented modelling of himself on Achilles. For Alexander, the epic was sufficient to ‘trigger desire and excite identification’ in the manner Warner attributes only to modern ...

70 Centimetres and Rising

John Whitfield: Plate tectonics, 3 February 2005

The Earth: An Intimate History 
by Richard Fortey.
Harper Perennial, 501 pp., £9.99, March 2005, 0 00 655137 8
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... America fitted under the bulge of West Africa, something that the explorer and natural philosopher Alexander von Humboldt had remarked on a century earlier. Humboldt believed the match showed that the Atlantic Ocean was a flooded valley; Wegener tried fitting the continents together. This revealed that many features – the hills of Newfoundland and the ...

Dunbar’s Disappearance

Sally Mapstone: William Dunbar, 24 May 2001

The Poems of William Dunbar 
edited by Priscilla Bawcutt.
Association for Scottish Literary Studies, £70, May 1999, 0 948877 38 3
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... husband were not matched in Scottish literature until the ‘Bang to Rites’ section of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting, in which the self-confessedly rancid Renton has sex in a toilet with the heavily pregnant wife of his dead friend, whose funeral they are attending. Few conventional love lyrics survive in the Dunbar corpus – the amatory is used by him ...
Mason & Dixon 
by Thomas Pynchon.
Cape, 773 pp., £16.99, May 1997, 9780224050012
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... go. There’s a land of Giant Vegetables, and a lovelorn robot duck. And I particularly liked the Welsh-stroke-Native-American burial mound, designed like a gigantic Leyden jar, with, inscribed across the front of it, in Welsh-Indian runes: ‘Keep away. Especially surveyors. This means you.’ Unlike your usual ...

Saint Q

Alan Brien, 12 September 1991

Well, I forget the rest 
by Quentin Crewe.
Hutchinson, 278 pp., £17.99, September 1991, 0 09 174835 6
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... you may even be glad of a wheelchair yourself.’ Until then, I had gloried in what the crippled Alexander Pope bitterly, and brilliantly, categorised as ‘all the arrogance of superfluous health’. For the next thirty years, there was not a day when I could not get up and do a day’s work. But Quentin made me grateful for every one of them, never taking ...

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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... were letters from the vice chief of the Imperial General Staff, Sir Archibald Nye, to General Alexander in Tunisia and from Lord Mountbatten, chief of combined operations, to the Mediterranean naval commander Admiral Cunningham. The letters combined personal details with information pointing to invasions of Greece and Sardinia. Montagu’s next step was ...

Posthumous Gentleman

Michael Dobson: Kit Marlowe’s Schooldays, 19 August 2004

The World of Christopher Marlowe 
by David Riggs.
Faber, 411 pp., £25, May 2004, 0 571 22159 9
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Christopher Marlowe and Richard Baines: Journeys through the Elizabethan Underground 
by Roy Kendall.
Fairleigh Dickinson, 453 pp., $75, January 2004, 0 8386 3974 7
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Tamburlaine Must Die 
by Louise Welsh.
Canongate, 149 pp., £9.99, July 2004, 1 84195 532 9
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History Play: The Lives and Afterlife of Christopher Marlowe 
by Rodney Bolt.
HarperCollins, 388 pp., £17.99, July 2004, 0 00 712123 7
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... ever being given intellectual reasons for doing so, obediently transcribing the Calvinism of Alexander Nowell’s Catechism or First Instruction of Christian Religion. At the same time, however, they were given the means of escape to a different mental world: instead of being taught the medieval Latin that had prepared their pre-Reformation forbears to ...

Not Many Dead

Linda Colley, 10 September 1992

Riot, Risings and Revolution: Governance and Violence in 18th-Century England 
by Ian Gilmour.
Hutchinson, 504 pp., £25, May 1992, 0 09 175330 9
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... 1714 for debasing government and oppressing the masses. Henry St John, Viscount Bolingbroke and Alexander Pope argued this at the time, and Benjamin Disraeli made the same point when he stigmatised the Venetian oligarchy. Yet labelling the Whigs as the bad guys in this fashion, and indeed discussing 18th-century England in terms of internal violence in the ...

Adulation or Eggs

Susan Eilenberg: At home with the Carlyles, 7 October 2004

Thomas and Jane Carlyle: Portrait of a Marriage 
by Rosemary Ashton.
Pimlico, 560 pp., £15, February 2003, 0 7126 6634 6
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... Froude’s Life of Carlyle and his edition of Carlyle’s Reminiscences, a hundred years since Alexander Carlyle’s New Letters and Memorials of Jane Welsh Carlyle, Froude’s posthumous My Relations with Carlyle, and Alexander Carlyle and Sir James Crichton-Browne’s The Nemesis of ...

Anglophobe Version

Denton Fox, 2 February 1984

The New Testament in Scots 
translated by William Laughton Lorimer.
Canongate, 476 pp., £17.50, October 1983, 0 900025 24 7
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Scotland and the Lowland Tongue 
edited by J. Derrick McClure.
Aberdeen University Press, 256 pp., £17, September 1983, 0 08 028482 5
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... Chanson de Roland, El Cid’ (the incomplete and exceedingly obscure Gododdin, c. 600, is in early Welsh, which is closer to Breton than to Gaelic, but it is thought to have been composed in Scotland); moves on to the Bruce and ‘Scotland’s historically precocious sentiment of democracy’; then to the Wallace, ‘the most original and the greatest of ...

Why did they lose?

Tom Shippey: Why did Harold lose?, 12 March 2009

The Battle of Hastings: The Fall of Anglo-Saxon England 
by Harriet Harvey Wood.
Atlantic, 257 pp., £17.99, November 2008, 978 1 84354 807 2
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... relics. It was his breach of this oath that gave William the moral high ground and caused Pope Alexander II to grant his expedition the status of a proto-Crusade, complete with appropriately blessed banner. Wood doubts the whole story of papal benediction, which has no non-Norman corroboration. But what was Harold doing across the Channel in any case? The ...

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