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Erratic Star

Michael Foot, 11 May 1995

Moral Desperado: A Life of Thomas Carlyle 
by Simon Heffer.
Orion, 420 pp., £20, March 1995, 0 297 81564 4
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... its triumphs could be carried forward by a whole range of later historians, by Veronica Wedgwood, Christopher Hill and the rest. Carlyle hated democracy, both the word and the idea, which is no doubt one source of his appeal at Peterhouse. But Cromwell’s army was much more truly representative of the English people than was Parliament, and Carlyle it was ...

Poisonous Frogs

Laura Quinney: Allusion v. Influence, 8 May 2003

Allusion to the Poets 
by Christopher Ricks.
Oxford, 345 pp., £20, August 2002, 0 19 925032 4
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... uses of allusion by major British poets of the 18th and 19th centuries: Dryden, Pope, Wordsworth, Burns, Byron, Keats and Tennyson. The second, ‘In the Company of Allusion’, is a collection of occasional essays on allusion in minor or contemporary poets, or on general topics related to allusion: there are pieces on A.E. Housman, Yvor Winters, David ...


Christopher Tayler: Muriel Spark’s Essays, 25 September 2014

The Golden Fleece: Essays 
by Muriel Spark, edited by Penelope Jardine.
Carcanet, 226 pp., £16.99, March 2014, 978 1 84777 251 0
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... not to have her ‘natural discrimination’ spoiled by a formal literary education. In a piece on Burns that’s otherwise memorable only for its unscandalised take on the poet’s sinful ways (‘Burns adored women. Whenever he had sex, which was often, he wrote a song about it’), she wrote: ‘His schooldays were short ...

Pound & Co.

August Kleinzahler: Davenport and Kenner, 26 September 2019

Questioning Minds: Vols I-II: The Letters of Guy Davenport and Hugh Kenner 
edited by Edward Burns.
Counterpoint, 1817 pp., $95, October 2018, 978 1 61902 181 5
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... Scholar, was spending the summer tramping around France and Italy with a recently made friend, Christopher Middleton. They had only two books with them, a collection of Donne’s poems and Pound’s Cantos. ‘Neither of us, I think, had much notion as to what the long poem was about,’ Davenport remembered, ‘except that it had strangeness and beauty in ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘The Dark Knight’ , 14 August 2008

The Dark Knight 
directed by Christopher Nolan.
July 2008
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... play of that name. Galileo wasn’t thinking of superheroes, of course, but Jonathan and Christopher Nolan, the writers of The Dark Knight, the new Batman movie, are certainly thinking along Galileo’s lines. What is Gotham City to do without a hero, since organised crime is always, it seems, far too much for the official institutions of law and ...


Robert Crawford, 3 October 1996

The Poems of Ossian and Related Works 
by James Macpherson, edited by Howard Gaskill.
Edinburgh, 573 pp., £16.95, January 1996, 0 7486 0707 2
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... over the last three centuries have found direct or indirect sustenance in Macpherson’s poems: Burns’s visionary ‘duans’; Walter Scott’s ‘translations’ of ‘Highland Minstrelsy’ in Waverley; Fenimore Cooper’s translatorese standing in for Native American languages; Byron’s ‘Imitation of Macpherson’s Ossian’; Goethe’s Werther; and ...

Writing a book about it

Christopher Reid, 17 October 1985

Collected Poems 
by Norman MacCaig.
Chatto, 390 pp., £9.95, August 1985, 0 7011 3953 6
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... Riding Lights, 1955) yields little by way of helpful clues. And when in ‘Moor Burns’ (The Sinai Sort, 1957) MacCaig describes the effect of light on a landscape as ‘placing in air / Precisely this precisely there and that / In a place made due to it by planes of light’, what does this exercise in logical circuitousness really ...

White Slaves

Christopher Driver, 3 March 1983

Prostitution and Prejudice: The Jewish Fight against White Slavery, 1870-1939 
by Edward Bristow.
Oxford, 340 pp., £15, November 1982, 0 19 822588 1
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Peasants, Rebels and Outcastes 
by Mikiso Hane.
Scolar, 297 pp., £12.50, October 1982, 0 85967 670 6
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... Es ist besser wie packin pants. As the Victorian Irish proved to the satisfaction of John Burns, however, not all victims of malnutrition and unemployment succumb to prostitution. The medical educationalist Abraham Flexner – evidently the anonymous ‘student’ whom Theodore Dreiser mentions in his introduction to Londres’s book – spent two ...

Making saints

Peter Burke, 18 October 1984

Saints and Society: The Two Worlds of Western Christendom 1000-1700 
by Donald Weinstein and Rudolph Bell.
Chicago, 314 pp., £21.25, February 1983, 0 226 89055 4
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The Norman Conquest and Beyond 
by Frank Barlow.
Hambledon, 318 pp., £22, June 1983, 0 907628 19 2
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Miracles and the Medieval Mind 
by Benedicta Ward.
Scolar, 321 pp., £17.50, November 1983, 0 85967 609 9
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The Great Debate on Miracles: From Joseph Glanvill to David Hume 
by R.M. Burns.
Associated University Presses, 305 pp., £17.50, July 1983, 0 8387 2378 0
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Saints and their Cults: Studies in Religious Sociology, Folklore and History 
edited by Stephen Wilson.
Cambridge, 435 pp., £35, December 1983, 0 521 24978 3
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... the 12th century, of a precise and specialised concept of the miraculous, is complemented by R.M. Burns’s study of the debate over miracles in 17th and 18th-century Britain. Burns mounts a vigorous attack on what might be called rationalist orthodoxy. He begins by nailing up three theses. The first is that ‘the sceptics ...

Yuh wanna play bad?

Christopher Tayler: Henry Roth, 23 March 2006

Redemption: The Life of Henry Roth 
by Steven Kellman.
Norton, 372 pp., $16.99, September 2005, 0 393 05779 8
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Call It Sleep 
by Henry Roth.
Picador US, 462 pp., $15, July 2005, 0 312 42412 4
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... the back of the book records such key events as (May 1935) ‘HR beaten up visiting dockworkers; burns MSS’ and (October 1946) ‘Burns MSS; murders puppy’. He was born in 1906 in Tysmenitz: now in Ukraine, it was a Polish town until 1772 when it was absorbed by the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Roth’s father, Chaim, had ...

John and Henry

Christopher Reid, 2 December 1982

The Life of John Berryman 
by John Haffenden.
Routledge, 451 pp., £15, September 1982, 0 7100 9216 4
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Poets in their Youth: A Memoir 
by Eileen Simpson.
Faber, 272 pp., £10.95, September 1982, 0 571 11925 5
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... apparently shot himself in the chest. There were, however, about the body no traces of the powder burns that would normally have been inevitable in such a case. This anomaly was never adequately investigated, so that, although Haffenden is too tactful to impose a judgment, one is obliged to consider, after reading his account, the possibility that the death ...

A Novel without a Hero

Christopher Ricks, 6 December 1979

The Mangan Inheritance 
by Brian Moore.
Cape, 336 pp., £5.50
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... His mind grew dim. And he fell far through that pit abysmal,  The gulf and grave of Maginn and Burns, And pawned his soul for the devil’s dismal            Stock of returns. Abysmal, yes, and dismal; the rhyme has something of the demented unignorability of Tennyson’s rhyme of ‘abysm’ with ‘Zolaism’. The first page of the ...

About Myself

Liam McIlvanney: James Hogg, 18 November 2004

The Electric Shepherd: A Likeness of James Hogg 
by Karl Miller.
Faber, 401 pp., £25, August 2003, 0 571 21816 4
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Altrive Tales 
by James Hogg, edited by Gillian Hughes.
Edinburgh, 293 pp., £40, July 2003, 0 7486 1893 7
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... name’ (the phrase is Scott’s) seemed to stamp him with vulgarity. Hogg was not – like Burns – a radical, but the ‘innocent rusticity’ he cultivated could look like levelling insolence to anxious Tories. Wordsworth snubbed him at Mount Rydal. De Quincey, Scott and Byron questioned his breeding. Even his colleagues at Blackwood’s Edinburgh ...

The Excursions

Andrew O’Hagan, 16 June 2011

... Keats walked this coast he felt it followed him,’ I said. But our plans involved Robert Burns. Karl, since he first began publishing Seamus in the New Statesman in the 1960s, always felt there was a clear affinity between Burns and Heaney. They were both the sons of farmers and they both allowed nature to ...

Missing Elements

Rosalind Mitchison, 14 May 1992

Strategic Women: How do they manage in Scotland? 
by Elizabeth Gerver and Lesley Hart.
Aberdeen University Press, 216 pp., £9.95, June 1991, 0 08 037741 6
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A Guid Cause: The Women’s Suffrage Movement in Scotland 
by Leah Leneman.
Aberdeen University Press, 304 pp., £11.95, June 1991, 0 08 041201 7
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Marriage and Property: Women and Marital Customs in History 
edited by Elizabeth Craik.
Aberdeen University Press, 192 pp., £6.95, June 1991, 9780080412054
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A Woman’s Claim of Right in Scotland 
Polygon, 142 pp., £7.95, August 1991, 0 7486 6103 4Show More
Nationalism in the Nineties 
edited by Tom Gallagher.
Polygon, 192 pp., £7.95, August 1991, 0 7486 6098 4
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Cultural Weapons: Scotland and Survival in a New Europe 
by Christopher Harvie.
Polygon, 119 pp., £7.95, March 1992, 0 7486 6122 0
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Literature and Nationalism 
edited by Vincent Newey and Ann Thompson.
Liverpool, 286 pp., £27.50, June 1991, 0 85323 057 9
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The Invention of Scotland: The Stuart Myth of the Scottish Identity, 1638 to the present 
by Murray Pittock.
Routledge, 198 pp., £30, September 1991, 0 415 05586 5
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Scotland: A New History 
by Michael Lynch.
Century, 499 pp., £18.99, August 1991, 0 7126 3413 4
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... on the labour Government in 1979, which Callaghan called ‘turkeys voting for Christmas’. Christopher Harvie’s book, a miscellaneous collection of essays and journalism, pursues an interesting theme in the comparison of British government with the much more dispersed structure of West Germany. Its value is the recognition of how 13 years of the ...

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