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Houses at the end of their tether

C.H. Sisson, 17 March 1983

Caves of Ice 
by James Lees-Milne.
Chatto, 276 pp., £12.95, February 1983, 0 7011 2657 4
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... one wants to know. The first is the date of the entries; the second is the age of the author. James Lees-Milne was 36, rising 37, when he started this record on 1 January 1946. He had, however, kept a diary before, during the years of the war, and abandoned it only three months earlier, so he starts here with a practised hand. The wartime diaries ...

Poor Harold

C.H. Sisson, 3 December 1981

Harold Nicolson: A Biography. Vo. II: 1930-1968 
by James Lees-Milne.
Chatto, 403 pp., £15, October 1981, 0 7011 2602 7
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... the series gave me my first sight of the work of T.S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, and I believe James Joyce, though I learn from the volume before me that Sir John Reith, reigning at the BBC, forbade Nicolson to mention Ulysses, then banned. Little encounters of that kind were to be expected in those days, and Nicolson seems not to have attempted to reason ...

Motoring

Frank Kermode: James Lees-Milne, 30 November 2000

Deep Romantic Chasm: Diaries 1979-81 
by James Lees-Milne, edited by Michael Bloch.
Murray, 276 pp., £22.50, October 2000, 0 7195 5608 2
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A Mingled Measure: Diaries 1953-72 
by James Lees-Milne.
Murray, 325 pp., £12.99, October 2000, 0 7195 5609 0
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Ancient as the Hills: Diaries 1973-74 
by James Lees-Milne.
Murray, 228 pp., £12.99, October 2000, 0 7195 6200 7
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... Of the seven volumes of diaries published over the years by James Lees-Milne two have now been reissued as rather grand paperbacks, along with an eighth, a final hardback selection made by Michael Bloch. They all have titles like Ancestral Voices, Caves of Ice, Through Wood and Dale, Midway on the Waves and Prophesying Peace, and it will not escape the notice of the literate public that they are all derived, one with a bit of a spin on it, from ‘Kubla Khan ...

Late Worm

Rosemary Hill: James Lees-Milne, 10 September 2009

James Lees-MilneThe Life 
by Michael Bloch.
Murray, 400 pp., £25, September 2009, 978 0 7195 6034 7
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... Anyone who knew or knew of James Lees-Milne in his later years might have formed the impression of an exquisitely polished round peg in a perfectly round hole. Aesthete, diarist, wit, he had known everyone from the Mitfords to Mick Jagger and wrote about them amusingly. His work for the National Trust over three decades had made him personally and professionally familiar with most of the great houses of England ...

Not bothered

E.S. Turner, 29 August 1991

The Bachelor Duke: William Spencer Cavendish, Sixth Duke of Devonshire, 1790-1858 
by James Lees-Milne.
Murray, 234 pp., £19.95, March 1991, 0 7195 4920 5
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... child was Georgiana’s (the event has echoes of the ‘warming-pan affair’ which embarrassed James II’s Queen). Having given her husband a long-wanted male heir, the Duchess naturally expected him to pay off her prodigious gambling debts. This he failed to do. Soon she became pregnant again, this time by a future prime minister, Earl Grey, who in years ...

Tony, Ray and the Duchess

Alan Bell, 21 May 1981

A Lonely Business: A Self-Portrait of James Pope-Hennessy 
edited by Peter Quennell.
Weidenfeld, 278 pp., £12.50, April 1981, 0 297 77918 4
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... James Pope-Hennessy, who was murdered in 1974 when he was 58, will be remembered for several of his books, among them London Fabric, an architectural study made in the nick of time in 1939, a young man’s book which has worn well; the two volumes of his life of Monckton Milnes, Lord Houghton; Verandah of 1964, with its autobiographical element added to family and colonial history; and the excellent Queen Mary (1959), an unusually sympathetic study ...

Brideshead Revered

David Cannadine, 17 March 1983

The Country House 
by James Lees-Milne.
Oxford, 110 pp., £4.50, November 1982, 0 19 214139 2
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English Country Houses and Landed Estates 
by Heather Clemenson.
Croom Helm, 244 pp., £15.95, July 1982, 0 85664 987 2
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The Last Country Houses 
by Clive Aslet.
Yale, 344 pp., £15, October 1982, 0 300 02904 7
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... One of the many contradictory qualities of the British,’ James Lees-Milne rightly notes in his attractive if angry anthology in piam memoriam Bladesover, ‘is to revere, and even lament, the things they are in the process of destroying.’ You cannot, he seems to be saying, have conservation without destruction, or a stay of execution without a sentence ...

Ambitions

Robert Blake, 18 December 1980

Harold Nicolson: A Biography: Vol. 1, 1886-1929 
by James Lees-Milne.
Chatto, 429 pp., £15, November 1980, 0 7011 2520 9
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Harold Nicolson Diaries 1930-1964 
by Stanley Olson.
Collins, 436 pp., £9.50, October 1980, 0 00 216304 7
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... good reasons for his lack of success. He was well-known for his numerous homosexual affairs: Mr Lees-Milne says that he ‘was not passionate but very lustful’. His tastes were a serious handicap when the act was criminal even between consenting adults. The extent of the veil drawn over such matters even in the supposedly uninhibited 1920s is shown by ...

Brideshead and the Tower Blocks

Patrick Wright, 2 June 1988

Home: A Short History of an Idea 
by Witold Rybczynski.
Heinemann, 256 pp., £12.95, March 1988, 0 434 14292 1
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... was a moving force behind the National Trust’s new Country House Scheme, recommending James Lees-Milne for the job of historic buildings secretary and also helping to define the aesthetic which would be built up around the preserved country house. In English Country Houses (1941) she started to theorise the English country house in terms that ...

Diners-out

E.S. Turner, 3 July 1986

Augustus Hare: Victorian Gentleman 
by Malcolm Barnes.
Allen and Unwin, 240 pp., £20, May 1986, 9780049201002
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Midway on the Waves 
by James Lees-Milne.
Faber, 248 pp., £10.95, October 1985, 0 571 13723 7
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... like that at the Villa Mauresque. The book should have a special piquancy for those familiar with James Lees-Milne’s sparkling volumes about the years he spent flitting round stately homes during and after World War Two, making the most of such high life as was going. The most recent volume is Midway on the Waves; the others, all with titles lifted or ...

Half-Way up the Hill

Frank Kermode, 7 July 1988

Young Betjeman 
by Bevis Hillier.
Murray, 457 pp., £15.95, July 1988, 0 7195 4531 5
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... such house, which happened to be near Oxford, was rented by Maurice Hastings, a man described by James Lees-Milne as ‘a capricious alcoholic ... rich, clever and slightly mad’. Hastings would lash his landlord’s family portraits, which were by Kneller, with a hunting crop, and fire his rifle at the private parts of the garden statues. ...

Hugh Dalton to the rescue

Keith Thomas, 13 November 1997

The Fall and Rise of the Stately Home 
by Peter Mandler.
Yale, 523 pp., £19.95, April 1997, 0 300 06703 8
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Ancient as the Hills 
by James Lees-Milne.
Murray, 228 pp., £20, July 1997, 0 7195 5596 5
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The Fate of the English Country House 
by David Littlejohn.
Oxford, 344 pp., £20, May 1997, 9780195088762
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... Revisited all played their part. But no step was more important than the appointment in 1936 of James Lees-Milne as secretary of the National Trust’s Country Houses Committee. The story of how this Baroque-loving, Etonian aesthete travelled the length and breadth of the country, persuading indigent owners to hand over their properties to the Trust in ...

Identity Parade

Linda Colley, 25 February 1993

People and Places: Country House Donors and the National Trust 
by James Lees-Milne.
Murray, 232 pp., £19.99, October 1992, 0 7195 5145 5
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The Making of the National Poet: Shakespeare, Adaptation and Authorship, 1660-1769 
by Michael Dobson.
Oxford, 266 pp., £30, October 1992, 0 19 811233 5
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Myths of the English 
edited by Roy Porter.
Polity, 280 pp., £39.50, October 1992, 0 7456 0844 2
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Fields of Vision: Landscape Imagery and National Identity in England and the United States 
by Stephen Daniels.
Polity, 257 pp., £39.50, November 1992, 0 7456 0450 1
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... of it or not, all four of them also betray confusion, flux and anxiety. The dust-jacket blurb of James Lees-Milne’s People and Places suggests this right away. His book, it tells us, is an ‘extraordinary, amusing and touching picture ... of an England now lost’. The story will be a familiar one to those who have read his published diaries. In ...

Hm, hm and that was all

Rosemary Hill: Queen Mary, 6 December 2018

The Quest for Queen Mary 
by James Pope-Hennessy, edited by Hugo Vickers.
Zuleika, 335 pp., £25, September 2018, 978 1 9997770 3 6
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... there like Queen Mary’ was to indicate that a terminal blight had been cast over the occasion. James Pope-Hennessy, born in 1916, belonged to that generation. He came from a distinguished Catholic and literary family and was a friend of many of his most interesting contemporaries, Cecil Beaton and ...

Unmuscular Legs

E.S. Turner, 22 August 1996

The Dictionary of National Biography 1986-1990 
edited by C.S. Nicholls.
Oxford, 607 pp., £50, June 1996, 0 19 865212 7
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... Honourable Artillery Company, was a devout Christian who launched the Hammer House of Horror (Sir James Carreras). All demonstrated that a spell in uniform, as the sovereign’s trusty and well-beloved, never cramped a creative talent, and perhaps that a creative talent never cramped a military one. The singularity of their careers has earned them a place ...

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