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Leave me alone

Terry Eagleton: Terry Eagleton joins the Yeomen

30 April 2009
What Price Liberty? How Freedom Was Won and Is Being Lost 
by Ben Wilson.
Faber, 480 pp., £14.99, June 2009, 978 0 571 23594 0
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... green, but the English wear red noses. They do so as a degenerate, depoliticised version of what Ben Wilson describes in this book as ‘the stubbornly independent little man … rebellious peasants, Puritans, Cromwell’s yeomen, Wilkesite rioters, Paineite radicals and trade unionists’. What Price Liberty? is an erudite, eminently readable account ...
3 December 1992
Jesus 
by A.N. Wilson.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 269 pp., £15, September 1992, 1 85619 114 1
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... to the point of sprightliness sometimes, but without becoming facetious. Even when, for example, Wilson speaks of Jesus in the same breath and tone as he speaks of the Sheriff of Nottingham and Robin Hood, he is making a serious point about the traditional techniques of rhetoric as used by St Luke, who, in this instance, drops historical names such as ...
22 November 1990
... with a young man wearing a black raincoat. It was originally published in Wittgenstein: Sein Leben in Blidern und Texten, edited by Michael Nedo and Michele Ranchetti, with the caption: Wittgenstein mit dem Freund Ben Richards in London. In the article I dismiss as absurd the idea that this picture proves what Steiner ...
26 November 1987
Out of the Wilderness: Diaries 1963-67 
by Tony Benn.
Hutchinson, 592 pp., £14.95, October 1987, 0 09 170660 2
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... and continence, prayed the youthful Augustine, but do not give it yet. Perhaps the young Tony Benn, slithering up the greasy poll, made similar entreaties. For this, his fascinating first volume of diaries, is the story of an attractive, vital, boundlessly energetic young man having the egocentric time of his life without a thought for the morrow, except ...

Short Cuts

Thomas Jones: Evolution versus Metamorphosis

1 September 2005
... aid to survival or reproduction, or both. Once upon a time, there were two cavemen called Bill and Ben, who were rivals for the affections of a beautiful cavewoman called Beryl. (If you think this story is going to take a reactionary turn, you’re not wrong. But that’s because it belongs in the tradition of evolutionary psychology just-so stories, which ...

Like Unruly Children in a Citizenship Class

John Barrell: A hero for Howard

21 April 2005
The Laughter of Triumph: William Hone and the Fight for a Free Press 
by Ben Wilson.
Faber, 455 pp., £16.99, April 2005, 0 571 22470 9
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... arrested on a Saturday afternoon in May for trial the following Monday. In the Court of King’s Bench, the attorney-general read out the charge contained in the information. Hone asked for a copy of the charges against him, but was refused one unless he was willing to pay to have the information transcribed. He had no money, and so, to the immense ...
6 December 1979
The Nabokov-Wilson Letters, 1940-1971 
edited by Simon Karlinsky.
Weidenfeld, 346 pp., £12.50, October 1979, 0 297 77580 4
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Vladimir Nabokov: A Tribute 
edited by Peter Quennell.
Weidenfeld, 139 pp., £6.95
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... than the usual pleasure to be had from eavesdropping on the talk of eminent writers. Nabokov and Wilson had a few specific common interests, the most important of which was a passion for language as the stuff of literature: but in temperament and formation they were almost wholly different. ‘Literature’ was, as an idea, venerated by both parties, but ...

Über-Tony

Ben Pimlott: Anthony Crosland

3 September 1998
Crosland’s Future: Opportunity and Outcome 
by David Reisman.
Macmillan, 237 pp., £47.50, October 1997, 0 333 65963 5
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... calculating machines’. Attlee regarded theory as stuff and nonsense and Harold Wilson doused his food with HP Sauce to project a plain-man image. It was the people’s dominatrix who caused a turnaround. Pragmatic to the core, she took up philosophers she agreed with and allowed her instincts to be dignified as an ideology. Since ...

Literary Man

J.I.M. Stewart

7 June 1984
Hilaire Belloc 
by A.N. Wilson.
Hamish Hamilton, 398 pp., £12.95, April 1984, 0 241 11176 5
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... he recorded of himself is liable to be full of fibs is disadvantageous to a biographer, and A.N. Wilson shows himself adequately aware of the fact. But there is a further hazard. Belloc was ceaselessly sociable and loquacious, and ceaselessly – by the standards of his time – outrageous to the point of being unprintable. There has, as a result, come into ...
2 December 1993
WilsonThe Authorised Life 
by Philip Ziegler.
Weidenfeld, 593 pp., £20, September 1993, 0 297 81276 9
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... Since it can be properly said that nothing in Harold Wilson’s political career became him like the leaving of it, there is some justice in the fact that he is now best-remembered for one photograph and for one action. The photograph shows him next to the Duke of Grafton while assuming his stall at Windsor as a Knight of the Garter, and the action was the compiling (would that be the word?) of a resignation honours list that rewarded those who – oh, dash it, I don’t know – shall we say made money rather than earned it? Anyway, in the photograph Wilson looks like nothing so much as a grinning monkey on a stick, and in the matter of the honours list he achieved the near-impossible feat of discrediting the discredited and making a laughing-stock out of something already rather disagreeably risible ...
7 July 1994
The Sixties: The Last Journal, 1960-1972 
by Edmund Wilson, edited by Lewis Dabney.
Farrar, Straus, 968 pp., $35, July 1993, 0 374 26554 2
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... Among major 20th-century critics who wrote in English, Edmund Wilson (1895-1972) is still by far the most readable – readable anywhere and at any time. Only professionals are likely to find his style, and even his methods, entirely too informal and amateurish – absence of footnotes, personal tone etc. But I can testify to being able to read him with pleasure and for no particular reason at home, on a bus, in an office, a hospital waiting-room, a hotel ...

Sterling and Strings

Peter Davies: Harold Wilson and Vietnam

20 November 2008
... In opposition, Harold Wilson spoke out against American involvement in Vietnam. In May 1954, during his Bevanite phase, he declared that ‘not a man, not a gun, must be sent from this country to defend French colonisation in Indo-China … we must not join or in any way encourage an anti-Communist crusade in Asia under the leadership of the Americans or anyone else ...

Resentment

John Sutherland

21 March 1991
Francesca 
by Roger Scruton.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 236 pp., £13.95, February 1991, 9781856190480
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Slave of the Passions 
by Deirdre Wilson.
Picador, 251 pp., £14.99, February 1991, 0 330 31788 1
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The Invisible Worm 
by Jennifer Johnston.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 182 pp., £12.95, February 1991, 1 85619 041 2
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The Secret Pilgrim 
by John le Carré.
Hodder, 335 pp., £14.95, January 1991, 0 340 54381 7
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... reader stimulated, mildly infuriated, and seriously baffled. ‘Final exams were over.’ Deirdre Wilson’s first sentence snaps at the reader. Anyone who doesn’t know from personal experience what finals are should probably go no further. This novel is not for the unlettered. Slave of the Passions ponders the great question whether there is life after ...
25 October 1990
Crossman: The Pursuit of Power 
by Anthony Howard.
Cape, 361 pp., £15.95, October 1990, 0 224 02592 9
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... On 22 February 1965, the fifth month of Harold Wilson’s first ministry, Richard Crossman recorded the following in his Diaries of a Cabinet Minister: Then Harold Wilson raised the issue of Anthony Howard. He has just been appointed by the Sunday Times to be the first Whitehall correspondent in history, looking into the secrets of the Civil Service rather than leaking the secrets of the politicians ...
3 December 1992
Harold Wilson 
by Ben Pimlott.
HarperCollins, 811 pp., £20, October 1992, 0 00 215189 8
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Harold Wilson 
by Austen Morgan.
Pluto, 625 pp., £25, May 1992, 0 7453 0635 7
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... On 4 July 1934 Harold Wilson, an 18-year-old schoolboy waiting to go up to Oxford, proposed to Gladys Baldwin, the pretty young typist he’d first seen playing tennis only three weeks before. Gladys (who later came to prefer her second name, Mary) was somewhat bemused, particularly since Harold, already, in Pimlott’s words, ‘cheerful, boastful, absurdly sure of himself and confidently planning the future’, went on to tell Gladys that he intended to become an MP and, ultimately, prime minister ...

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