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Do you want the allegory?

Charles Hope, 17 March 1983

Piero della Francesca’s ‘Baptism of Christ’ 
by Marilyn Aronberg Lavin.
Yale, 182 pp., £19.50, January 1982, 0 300 02619 6
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Indagini su Piero 
by Carlo Ginzburg.
Einaudi, 110 pp.
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Gentile da Fabriano 
by Keith Christiansen.
Chatto, 193 pp., £35, June 1982, 0 7011 2468 7
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... must have come readily to mind. Mrs Lavin, however, argues that Piero was also referring here to a passage in the Psalms: ‘The voice of the Lord shall break the cedars: yea, the Lord shall break the cedars of Lebanon.’ Had this been his intention, it is difficult to see why he showed the stumps of cut, not broken, trees, and why he did nothing to indicate ...

How long?

Hilary Mantel, 27 February 1992

The Literary Companion to Sex: An Anthology of Prose and Poetry 
edited by Fiona Pitt-Kethley.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 415 pp., £18, February 1992, 1 85619 127 3
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The Love Quest: A Sexual Odyssey 
by Anne Cumming.
Peter Owen, 200 pp., £15.50, November 1991, 9780720608359
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... about sex but about the people to whom the genital organs are attached. By contrast, there is a passage from Wendy Perriam’s The Fifty-Minute Hour which offers as little incentive to lubricity as any of the 18th-century descriptions of chancres and nodules. Perhaps it is not Perriam’s fault but Pitt-Kethley’s, for taking the ...

Unliterary, Unpolished, Unromantic

Charles Nicholl: ‘The Merchant of Prato’, 8 February 2018

The Merchant of Prato: Daily Life in a Medieval Italian City 
by Iris Origo.
Penguin, 400 pp., £10.99, May 2017, 978 0 241 29392 8
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... stand out which reveals the hand that wrote it. He may see – as suddenly as, at a turn of the passage, one comes upon one’s image in a mirror – a living face.This essay was published in its final form in 1984, four years before her death, but it began as a lecture she gave at Cambridge in 1958, and this particular ...

‘I can scarce hold my pen’

Clare Bucknell: Samuel Richardson’s Letters, 15 June 2017

The Correspondence of Samuel Richardson with Lady Bradshaigh and Lady Echlin 
edited by Peter Sabor.
Cambridge, three vols, 1200 pp., £275, November 2016, 978 1 107 14552 8
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... now about every character in the Book.’ A few years later, awaiting the final volume of Sir Charles Grandison, she told him that if there wasn’t a happy ending, ‘why I shall have a fine flameing Bone-fire, that’s all. except that I shall wish you in the midst of it.’ Richardson enjoyed her fits of pique, especially when they were aimed at other ...

Beneath the Ice-Shelf

Aidan Higgins, 15 September 1983

... hundred and sixty years ago in the dreadful frost and snow at the beginning of 1814, kind-hearted Charles Lamb was out in all weathers, visiting the imprisoned Leigh Hunt who had been put away for two years for ridiculing the Prince Regent. Hyde Park was then littered with dirty people and provisions (not that much has changed in the interval), Mary Lamb had ...

Draining the Whig bathwater

Conrad Russell, 10 June 1993

The Personal Rule of Charles
by Kevin Sharpe.
Yale, 983 pp., £40, November 1992, 0 300 05688 5
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... England was at peace in 1626, when it was at war with both France and Spain. The picture of Charles behaving with a gravity that spoiled the conversation at Henrietta Maria’s private supper parties, brings the couple alive. The proclamation enjoining men to keep their urine for a year for the making of saltpetre captures the impracticality which was ...

Time to Mount Spain

Colin Burrow: Prince Charles’s Spanish Adventure, 2 September 2004

The Prince and the Infanta: The Cultural Politics of the Spanish Match 
by Glyn Redworth.
Yale, 200 pp., £25, November 2003, 0 300 10198 8
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... the most extraordinary incidents in 17th-century English history. On 17 February 1623, the future Charles I and the royal favourite, the Duke of Buckingham, set off for Madrid incognito. They wore false beards, and they called themselves John and Thomas Smith. Their mission was to win the hand of the sister of the king of Spain, the Infanta María. The ...

Ironed Corpses Clattering in the Wind

Mark Kishlansky: The Restoration and the Glorious Revolution, 17 August 2006

Restoration: Charles II and His Kingdoms 
by Tim Harris.
Penguin, 506 pp., £12.99, January 2006, 0 14 026465 5
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Revolution: The Great Crisis of the British Monarchy 1685-1720 
by Tim Harris.
Allen Lane, 622 pp., £30, January 2006, 0 7139 9759 1
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... in the year prior to Restoration, some of them also greeted with bonfires and bells. Charles II’s great challenge was to turn momentary sentiment into permanence, and he approached his task with great circumspection. He left every controversial decision unresolved until after a new parliament had set to work, and attempted to balance competing ...

Pioneers

Christopher Reid, 3 September 1981

Some Americans: A Personal Record 
by Charles Tomlinson.
California, 134 pp., £6.50, June 1981, 0 520 04037 6
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... It is strange,’ Charles Tomlinson writes, ‘to have met the innovators of one’s time only when age had overtaken them.’ The innovators to whom he refers are those American poets – Ezra Pound, Marianne Moore, William Carlos Williams and others – whose work and moral example have been of importance to his own growth as a writer ...

One Night in Maidenhead

Jean McNicol, 30 October 1997

Noel Coward and Radclyffe Hall: Kindred Spirits 
by Terry Castle.
Columbia, 150 pp., £15.95, November 1996, 0 231 10596 7
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Your John: The Love Letters of Radclyffe Hall 
edited by Joanne Glasgow.
New York, 273 pp., £20, March 1997, 0 8147 3092 2
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Radclyffe Hall: A Woman Called John 
by Sally Cline.
Murray, 434 pp., £25, June 1997, 9780719554087
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... go on counting ... They might still be in the minority and yet they sprang up everywhere.’ This passage, with its untroubled description of lesbianism, is unusual in Hall’s fiction – although it is true that even these confident young women exist only to point up Joan’s own failure in this respect and others. The portrayal of homosexual life in ...

Johnson’s Business

Keith Walker, 7 August 1980

A Dictionary of the English Language 
by Samuel Johnson.
Times, 2558 pp., £45, June 1980, 0 7230 0228 2
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Dictionary Johnson: Samuel Johnson’s Middle Years 
by James Clifford.
Heinemann, 372 pp., £10, February 1980, 0 434 13805 3
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... by Lawrence Lipking in his important book, The Ordering of the Arts in 18th-Century England – Charles Burney’s History of Music, for example, Joshua Reynolds’s Discourses on Art and Johnson’s own Lives of the Poets. The Oxford History of English Literature hasn’t ‘superceded’ Johnson’s Lives, and there’s a sense in which we must say that ...

O brambles, chain me too

Tom Paulin: Life and Vowels of Andrew Marvell, 25 November 1999

World Enough and Time: The Life of Andrew Marvell 
by Nicholas Murray.
Little, Brown, 294 pp., £20, September 1999, 0 316 64863 9
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Marvell and Liberty 
edited by Warren Chernaik and Martin Dzelzainis.
Macmillan, 365 pp., £47.50, July 1999, 0 333 72585 9
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Andrew Marvell 
edited by Thomas Healy.
Longman, 212 pp., £12.99, September 1998, 0 582 21910 8
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... In the great quilted cento that is Moby-Dick, there is a passage which might be interpreted as Melville’s response to James Barry’s 1776 engraving The Phoenix or the Resurrection of Freedom. In the engraving Andrew Marvell is depicted with Milton, Locke and Algernon Sidney among the mourners at the bier of Britain’s traditional liberties ...

Joining them

Conrad Russell, 24 January 1985

Goodwin Wharton 
by J. Kent Clark.
Oxford, 408 pp., £15, November 1984, 0 19 212234 7
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Witchcraft and Religion 
by Christina Larner.
Blackwell, 184 pp., October 1984, 0 631 13447 6
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Lordship to Patronage: Scotland 1603-1745 
by Rosalind Mitchison.
Arnold, 198 pp., £5.95, November 1983, 0 7131 6313 5
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... as the Scots quickly realised, was one of the things of which union had deprived them: when Charles I went to war with Spain, in 1625, there appears to be almost no evidence that Scotland was so much as informed, let alone consulted. Some time shortly after this date, Secretary Coke, taking a leaf out of Olivares’s book, drew up a plan for a union of ...

Defoe or the Devil

Pat Rogers, 2 March 1989

The Canonisation of Daniel Defoe 
by P.N. Furbank and W.R. Owens.
Yale, 210 pp., £20, February 1988, 0 300 04119 5
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The ‘Tatler’: Vols I-III 
edited by Donald Bond.
Oxford, 590 pp., £60, July 1987, 0 19 818614 2
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The ‘Spectator’: Vols I-V 
edited by Donald Bond.
Oxford, 512 pp., £55, October 1987, 9780198186106
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... convinced that item # 322 in Moore’s Checklist is spurious: that is, A History of the Wars of Charles XII. Their declared grounds are twofold: first, its totally unprofessional manner (‘everything in it bespeaks the amateur writer’); and second, its lack of general ideas (‘so intellectually vacant a chronicle’). Both views are critically ...

No Longer Merely the Man Who Ate His Boots

Thomas Jones: The Northwest Passage, 27 May 2010

Arctic Labyrinth: The Quest for the Northwest Passage 
by Glyn Williams.
Allen Lane, 440 pp., £25, October 2009, 978 1 84614 138 6
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Franklin: Tragic Hero of Polar Navigation 
by Andrew Lambert.
Faber, 428 pp., £20, July 2009, 978 0 571 23160 7
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... beyond the edges of the old maps. Glyn Williams’s Arctic Labyrinth: The Quest for the Northwest Passage is an engrossing account of four centuries of exploration, as expedition after expedition tried to negotiate a course through the vast, multitudinous, close-set and ice-locked archipelago to the north of the American continent. The ice is now ...

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