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A Smile at My Own Temerity

John Barrell: William Hogarth, 16 February 2017

William Hogarth: A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings 
by Elizabeth Einberg.
Yale, 432 pp., £95, November 2016, 978 0 300 22174 9
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... Brought before Pharaoh’s Daughter’ (1736) ‘Hannah Osborne, Daughter of John Ranby’ (c.1747-50) detail of ‘Captain Thomas Coram’ (1740)PreviousNext In a thoughtful essay Lamb himself attacked the notion that what is most Hogarthian about Hogarth is what is most broadly comic, most boisterous, most fun. This, he claims, is ...

Gone to earth

John Barrell, 30 March 1989

Sporting Art in 18th-Century England: A Social and Political History 
by Stephen Deuchar.
Yale, 195 pp., £24.95, November 1988, 0 300 04116 0
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... their pictures; of others, we know their names but nothing by them; of very few, other than John Wootton and George Stubbs, do we have the materials to begin to construct a life. This is partly because sporting artists were often itinerant, and worked largely in the provinces, but it speaks also of the lowly status that has always been allotted to ...

Grateful Dead

John Barrell, 22 April 1993

The Dictionary of National Biography: Missing Persons 
edited by C.S. Nicholls.
Oxford, 790 pp., £80, January 1993, 0 19 865211 9
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... certainly be important to future historians. In the preface to the decennial volume for 1971-80, John Lennon was singled out, along with Benjamin Britten, as One of the two most distinguished new entrants from the field of music, but it remains true that there has been very little attempt to memorialise popular musicians who during their lives were household ...

Inside the Head

John Barrell: The Corruption of Literary Biography, 2 November 2000

Coleridge: Darker Reflections 
by Richard Holmes.
HarperCollins, 512 pp., £9.99, October 1999, 0 00 654842 3
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... On the Constitution of the Church and State – a book whose influence on later thinkers such as John Stuart Mill and Matthew Arnold was immense – is despatched in 15 lines, with no mention at all of the most essential circumstance of its production and reception, the imminence of Catholic emancipation. When you think how important Coleridge was becoming ...

What we think about painting

John Barrell, 25 June 1987

Past and Present in Art and Taste: Selected Essays 
by Francis Haskell.
Yale, 256 pp., £20, March 1987, 0 300 03607 8
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... At the very end of the 18th century and in the first years of the 19th, when the Imperial Republic of Venice had finally crumbled and the city itself was being handed backwards and forwards like a playing card between France and Austria, an exceedingly old Frenchman known as the Baron d’Hancarville used to enthral the guests who assembled regularly at the Salon, not far from the Rialto, of Isabella Teotochi Albrizzi, something of a blue-stocking, but above all one of the most famous society hostesses in Europe, at different times the friend of Byron, Foscolo and Canova ...

Blame it on the French

John Barrell, 8 October 1992

Britons: Forging the Nation 1707-1837 
by Linda Colley.
Yale, 429 pp., £19.95, September 1992, 0 300 05737 7
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... Linda Colley’s new book is an attempt to discover and analyse the ingredients of British national identity as it was forged in the 18th century – ‘forged’ in the double sense of made up (for communities are imagined and imaginary things) and fashioned in the fire of battle. It is also an attempt to recover and understand the patriotism of ‘ordinary British people’, a patriotism she refuses to regard simply in terms of ideology, or as the result, for many, of variously mediated and unmediated forms of coercion, or as a primarily irrational response by the British to the experience of finding themselves members of the new nation created by the Act of Union between England and Scotland in 1707 ...

When will he suspect?

John Barrell, 19 November 1992

Angels and Insects 
by A.S. Byatt.
Chatto, 290 pp., £14.99, October 1992, 0 7011 3717 7
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... I don’t quite know what to say about Angels and Insects. It consists of a pair of novellas, ‘Morpho Eugenia’ and ‘The Conjugial Angel’, which, like Possession, are set in Victorian England, and written in a free imitation of mid-19th-century literary English. My doubts are the obvious ones. It’s not that I can’t make up my mind about whether or not the work they do, of re-creation and creative imitation, is well done – much of the time it’s very well done, as well as I can imagine it could be ...

The Stream in the Sky

John Barrell: Thomas Telford, 22 March 2018

Man of Iron: Thomas Telford and the Building of Britain 
by Julian Glover.
Bloomsbury, 403 pp., £10.99, January 2018, 978 1 4088 3748 1
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... For the last​ eight or nine years I have been collecting – casually enough, and without the greedy fanaticism that has characterised my other short-term collecting crazes – the great Scottish civil engineer Thomas Telford. To be more precise, when out driving, I have been going out of my way to visit engineering projects he was involved in designing or building ...

Something for Theresa May to think about

John Barrell: The Bow Street Runners, 7 June 2012

The First English Detectives: The Bow Street Runners and the Policing of London, 1750-1840 
by J.M. Beattie.
Oxford, 272 pp., £65, February 2012, 978 0 19 969516 4
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... that nice Susannah York. Fielding died in 1754 and was succeeded at Bow Street by his half-brother John: ‘blind John’ as he had been since the age of 19, ‘Sir John’ as he became in 1761, after successfully agitating to be knighted so as to increase the prestige of his office. The ...

Topography v. Landscape

John Barrell: Paul Sandby, 13 May 2010

Paul Sandby: Picturing Britain 
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... prolific: nobody could begin to say how many thousands of his pictures have survived, and how John Bonehill, the curator of this exhibition, decided on his final selection I can’t imagine. Sandby was also enormously versatile: he worked in watercolour, bodycolour (gouache) and oil, he etched, he was the first professional artist in Britain to work in ...

Beyond the Cringe

John Barrell: British Art, 2 June 2016

Art in Britain 1660-1815 
by David Solkin.
Yale, 367 pp., £55, October 2015, 978 0 300 21556 4
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... for its ‘gentleness and refinement’. On the other hand, the fact that so many portraits by John Opie ‘are thoroughly dull, if not frankly bad’, was owed to the fact that as the son of a carpenter ‘he had no elegance in his make-up, but was commissioned to do portraits of fashionable persons.’ Remarkable for its range as Waterhouse’s book ...

May I come to your house to philosophise?

John Barrell: Godwin’s Letters, 8 September 2011

The Letters of William Godwin Vol. I: 1778-97 
by Pamela Clemit.
Oxford, 306 pp., £100, February 2011, 978 0 19 956261 9
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... darkest period of his mourning. The volume includes letters to Joseph Priestley, Thomas Lawrence, John Thelwall, Samuel Parr (‘the Whig Dr Johnson’), the great liberal advocate Thomas Erskine, R.B. Sheridan, Charles James Fox, the novelists and dramatists Elizabeth Inchbald, Thomas Holcroft, Amelia Alderson, Mary Hays and Charlotte Smith, as well as ...

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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... Hone had also just written and published three parodies of the Book of Common Prayer: The Late John Wilkes’s Catechism of a Ministerial Member, The Political Litany and The Sinecurists’ Creed, which satirised the venality of Tory MPs willing to say, vote for and even believe whatever their ministers told them to in exchange for the sinecures and ...

Dephlogisticated

John Barrell: Dr Beddoes, 19 November 2009

The Atmosphere of Heaven: The Unnatural Experiments of Dr Beddoes and His Sons of Genius 
by Mike Jay.
Yale, 294 pp., £20, April 2009, 978 0 300 12439 2
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... the French Republic. Just before the arrests, an English medical student studying in Edinburgh, John Edmonds Stock, had been sent down to London by Watt with a letter to the London Corresponding Society inviting them to mount a similar insurrection. Hearing just in time that he was a wanted man, he disappeared, to resurface later in Philadelphia, where he ...

Divided We Grow

John Barrell: When Pitt Panicked, 5 June 2003

The London Corresponding Society 1792-99 
edited by Michael T. Davis.
Pickering & Chatto, £495, June 2002, 1 85196 734 6
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Romanticism, Publishing and Dissent: Joseph Johnson and the Cause of Liberty 
by Helen Braithwaite.
Palgrave, 243 pp., £45, December 2002, 0 333 98394 7
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... William Hazlitt, Thomas Malthus, Thomas Paine, Richard Price, Joseph Priestley, Charlotte Smith, John Horne Tooke, Sarah Trimmer, Mary Wollstonecraft and William Wordsworth, as well as a number of theologians and religious controversialists, of writers on science and medicine and so on, whose names were then far more familiar than many of those I’ve ...

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