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Ghost Artists

J.I.M. Stewart, 18 December 1980

The Case of the Philosophers’ Ring by Dr John H. Watson 
by Randall Collins.
Harvester, 152 pp., £6.95, September 1980, 0 85527 458 1
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... A good many years ago the late Sir John Masterman, when Provost of Worcester College, had the idea of creating a species of Sherlock Holmes Apocrypha. He wrote two or three short stories which appeared, I think, in an evening newspaper. I myself can recall nothing of them except a little joke. In the course of investigating a case of poisoning. Holmes has occasion to say to his old friend: ‘Alimentary, my dear Watson ...

Plumping

J.I.M. Stewart, 19 March 1981

Abroad: British Literary Travelling Between the Wars 
by Paul Fussell.
Oxford, 246 pp., £8.95, March 1981, 0 19 502767 1
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... Paul Fussell’s aim in this book, he tells us in a preface, is ‘to suggest what it felt like to be young and clever and literate in the final age of travel’. Or, more precisely, what it thus felt like in Great Britain. ‘Because the most sophisticated travel books of the age are British, I have focused largely on them.’ He begins with the Kaiser’s War, since ‘fantasies of flight and freedom’ can be shown to have been endemic in the frozen mud of Flanders, and it is remarkable that Ezra Pound, working snugly on ‘Hugh Selwyn Mauberley’ in London, luxuriates in images of tropical repose which ‘parallel those of the front-line mind ...

JC’s Call

J.I.M. Stewart, 2 April 1981

Joseph Conrad: Times Remembered 
by Joseph Conrad.
Cambridge, 218 pp., £10.50, March 1981, 0 521 22805 0
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... Joseph Conrad died at the age of 67 on 3 August 1924, the day following the 18th birthday of his younger son, John Conrad, the author of the present book. John’s memories, which reach astonishingly far back into his earliest childhood, begin with his family living in poverty in a tiny cottage, ‘a dark and gloomy place’, at Aldington in Kent. Chance, Conrad’s first immediately popular success, appeared when the boy was seven, and The Shadow-Line Conrad’s last work of unimpaired quality, when he was 11 ...

Charles and Alfred

J.I.M. Stewart, 17 December 1981

Studies in Tennyson 
edited by Hallam Tennyson.
Macmillan, 229 pp., £15, October 1981, 0 333 27884 4
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... The title page of this book tells us that it is ‘published to commemorate the centenary of Sir Charles Tennyson, the poet’s grandson and biographer, born 8 November 1879, died 22 June 1977’. Charles Tennyson was very far from being the most eccentric of all the Tennysons, but he is the most astonishing of them at least in one regard: that of enhanced, rather than merely sustained, activity in extreme old age ...

Gosserie

J.I.M. Stewart, 5 April 1984

Edmund Gosse: A Literary Landscape 1849-1928 
by Ann Thwaite.
Secker, 567 pp., £15, April 1984, 0 436 52146 6
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... But for its background in Father and Son the life of Edmund Gosse would hold for us, I imagine, only minor interest today. Here would be simply a success story of a slightly teasing sort, in considering which we are brought into passing contact with a great many persons of eminence in their time. An under-educated lad comes to London to a clerkship in the library of the British Museum ...

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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... In the third volume of the Lyttelton Hart-Davis Letters George Lyttelton records Hilaire Belloc’s having told him that his mother ‘had seen Napoleon after his return from Elba and he looked un homme rompu’. Whether Napoleon when he landed near Antibes on 1 March 1815 indeed looked rompu historians may have determined: but certainly not with the help of Belloc’s mother, an Englishwoman who was born a little more than fourteen years later ...

Barriers of Silliness

J.I.M. Stewart, 1 July 1982

The Great Detectives: Seven Original Investigations 
by Julian Symons.
Orbis, 143 pp., £7.95, October 1981, 0 85613 362 0
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Critical Observations 
by Julian Symons.
Faber, 213 pp., £9.95, October 1981, 0 571 11688 4
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As I walked down New Grub Street: Memories of a Writing Life 
by Walter Allen.
Heinemann, 276 pp., £8.95, November 1981, 0 434 01829 5
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... The first of Julian Symons’s ‘original investigations’, entitled ‘How a hermit was disturbed in his retirement’, is an apocryphal Sherlock Holmes story in which the great detective is lured away from his bee-keeping activities (Holmes has ‘developed a cage of a new type that can be slipped between two combs in the brood chamber’) by a distressed young woman posing, rather pointlessly, as a local journalist ...

Browning Versions

J.I.M. Stewart, 5 July 1984

Oscar Browning: A Biography 
by Ian Anstruther.
Murray, 209 pp., £12.50, October 1983, 9780719540783
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... Oscar Browning – universally known as O.B., and in modern times only rivalled as Cambridge’s most celebrated don by his fellow Kingsman, J.M. Keynes – died in Rome in 1923 at the age of 86, having extracted from a nephew, Hugo Wortham, a promise to undertake his biography, and in return making Wortham his heir and literary executor. The biography, which appeared in 1927, earned a good deal of informed approbation ...

The chair she sat on

J.I.M. Stewart, 19 July 1984

Secrets of a Woman’s Heart: The Later Life of Ivy Compton-Burnett 1920-1969 
by Hilary Spurling.
Hodder, 336 pp., £14.95, June 1984, 0 340 26241 9
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... This is the second and final volume of Hilary Spurling’s biography of I. Compton-Burnett, and it comes to us ten years after the first. During this interval has Mrs Spurling been attending to other things? So abundant, so heavily pendulous upon the bough, are the fruits of research now offered to us (so very thick, we may say, has grown the ivy elegantly disposed on the present dust-jacket as on the last) that nothing of the kind need be supposed ...

Old Western Man

J.I.M. Stewart, 18 September 1980

C.S. Lewis at the Breakfast Table and Other Reminiscences 
edited by James Como.
Collins, 299 pp., £6.95, August 1980, 9780002162753
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... This is a collection of essays, old and new, by diverse hands, brought together by James T. Como, a Professor of Rhetorical Communication in the City University of New York. He tells us in an introduction: ‘Now several societies exist for the purpose of studying Lewis’s thoughts; film rights to several of his books have been purchased, and filmed documentaries of his life have been produced; both popular and scholarly books on Lewis are being published with increasing frequency (so that the Modern Language Association cites Lewis as one of the most rapidly increasing objects of literary study in the world ...

Ballooning

J.I.M. Stewart, 5 June 1986

The Unknown Conan Doyle: Letters to the Press 
by John Michael Gibson and Richard Lancelyn Green.
Secker, 377 pp., £15, March 1986, 0 436 13303 2
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... When in December 1926 the creator of Hercule Poirot disappeared the creator of Sherlock Holmes somehow possessed himself of one of her gloves, and at once took it to a Mr Horace Leaf with a result which he describes in a letter to the Morning Post, written on 16 December (ten days, that is, after Agatha Christie had vanished), and now reprinted in the present volume of selections from Conan Doyle’s letters to the press ...

Cheeky

J.I.M. Stewart, 23 October 1986

H.G. Wells: Desperately Mortal 
by David Smith.
Yale, 634 pp., £18.50, September 1986, 0 300 03672 8
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... In the fourth act of Measure for Measure the Provost describes the prisoner Barnardine, whose head, when severed, it is proposed to pass off as Claudio’s, as ‘a man that apprehends death no more dreadfully but as a drunken sleep – careless, reckless, and fearless of what’s past, present, or to come: insensible of mortality, and desperately mortal ...

Making them think

J.I.M. Stewart, 18 September 1986

G.K. Chesterton 
by Michael Ffinch.
Weidenfeld, 369 pp., £16, June 1986, 0 297 78858 2
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... In a Foreword to this very substantial book Michael Ffinch says that G.K. Chesterton ‘was above all things a great champion of Liberty’. He goes on: ‘This being so, it has often come as a surprise that in religion Chesterton should have moved away from the Liberal Unitarianism of his childhood towards Catholicism ... Yet Chesterton knew that it was only by loving and serving God through his Church that perfect freedom may be found, so it was inevitable that in the cause of Liberty he also became a defender of the Faith ...

Favourite Subjects

J.I.M. Stewart, 17 September 1981

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien 
edited by Humphrey Carpenter and Christopher Tolkien.
Allen and Unwin, 463 pp., £9.95, August 1981, 0 04 826005 3
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Tolkien and the Silmarils 
by Randel Helms.
Thames and Hudson, 104 pp., £5.50, September 1981, 0 500 01264 4
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... It is probable that J.R.R. Tolkien was throughout his life a copious correspondent, but he appears to have been in his midforties before people took to preserving what he had addressed to them. Even so, Humphrey Carpenter has found that ‘an immense number’ of letters survive. In projecting the present selection, he realised that ‘an enormous quantity of material would have to be omitted’ and that ‘only passages of particular interest could be included ...

Floating Islands

J.I.M. Stewart, 21 October 1982

Of This and Other Worlds 
by C.S. Lewis, edited by Walter Hooper.
Collins, 192 pp., £7.95, September 1982, 0 00 215608 3
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George Orwell: A Personal Memoir 
by T.R. Fyvel.
Weidenfeld, 221 pp., £9.95, September 1982, 0 297 78012 3
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... The ‘other worlds’ of the title here given to a gathering of miscellaneous pieces by C.S. Lewis are presumably Malcandra and Perelandra – Mars and Venus as they are revealed to Lewis’s space-traveller, Elwin Ransom – and also perhaps the spiritual world as set against the natural. In the USA, however, the same collection has been published under the title On Stories ...

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