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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 ...

Madame, vous fatiguez les singes

E.S. Turner: The Tower Menagerie, 24 July 2003

The Tower Menagerie: Being the Amazing True Story of the Royal Collection of Wild and Ferocious Beasts 
by Daniel Hahn.
Simon and Schuster, 260 pp., £15.99, March 2003, 0 7432 2081 1
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... This history of the Tower Menagerie, founded 1235, begins on a winter day in 1764, when John Wesley, aged 61, arrived at the Tower with a flute-playing companion, to conduct what he called ‘an odd experiment’. The idea was to observe how the lions reacted to music, which might give some indication as to whether animals possessed souls. Descartes ...

Dig, Hammer, Spin, Weave

Miles Taylor: Richard Cobden, Class Warrior, 12 March 2009

The Letters of Richard Cobden. Vol. I: 1815-47 
edited by Anthony Howe.
Oxford, 529 pp., £100, November 2007, 978 0 19 921195 1
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... will take its place alongside Gladstone’s diaries, the letters of Carlyle and Disraeli, and John Stuart Mill’s collected works as an indispensable resource for understanding the Victorians. With the possible exception of Adam Smith, there can be few economic gurus who have been so vulnerable to sustained political hijacking by left and right. From the ...

Meaningless Legs

Frank Kermode: John Gielgud, 21 June 2001

Gielgud: A Theatrical Life 1904-2000 
by Jonathan Croall.
Methuen, 579 pp., £20, November 2000, 0 413 74560 0
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John G.: The Authorised Biography of John Gielgud 
by Sheridan Morley.
Hodder, 510 pp., £20, May 2001, 0 340 36803 9
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John Gielgud: An Actor’s Life 
by Gyles Brandreth.
Sutton, 196 pp., £6.99, April 2001, 0 7509 2752 6
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... These biographies of John Gielgud by Jonathan Croall and Sheridan Morley are quite hard to tell apart. They are of much the same size, bear handsome pictures of the actor in old age on the front of their dust-jackets, and are, inevitably, affectionate and indulgent towards their subject. As Dirk Bogarde remarked when Croall consulted him about the work in hand, ‘everybody adored him, so the book might make rather flat reading ...

Eros and Hogarth

Robert Melville, 20 August 1981

Hogarth 
by David Bindman.
Thames and Hudson, 216 pp., £5.95, April 1981, 9780500201824
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... David Bindman does not think that Hogarth was joking when he gave one of his contemporaries, John Nichols, a comic demonstration of minimalism: it took the form of a diagram composed of three lines and he claimed that it contained his memory of ‘a Sergeant with his pike going into an Ale House, and his Dog following ...

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 ...

At the Hop

Sukhdev Sandhu, 20 February 1997

Black England: Life before Emancipation 
by Gretchen Gerzina.
Murray, 244 pp., £19.99, October 1995, 0 7195 5251 6
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Reconstructing the Black Past: Blacks in Britain 1780-1830 
by Norma Myers.
Cass, 162 pp., £27.50, July 1996, 0 7146 4576 1
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... with a touch’) and they themselves were advertised: ‘To be SOLD. A Black Girl, the Property of John Bull, Eleven Years of Age, who is extremely handy, works at her Needle tolerably, and speaks English perfectly well. Enquire of Mrs Owen, at the Angel Inn, behind St Clement’s Church, the Strand.’ Huge, ornate images of negroes were displayed outside ...

Dingy Quadrilaterals

Ian Gilmour: The Profumo Case, 19 October 2006

Bringing the House Down: A Family Memoir 
by David Profumo.
Murray, 291 pp., £20, September 2006, 0 7195 6608 8
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... and Hammerstein) in New York, she was invited to star in The King and I and did so at Drury Lane. Profumo did not immediately gain office when Churchill won the 1951 election, but a year later he became parliamentary undersecretary at the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation. While he was still at that ministry and Valerie was still at ...

Sergeant Farthing

D.A.N. Jones, 17 October 1985

A Maggot 
by John Fowles.
Cape, 460 pp., £9.95, September 1985, 0 224 02806 5
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The Romances of John Fowles 
by Simon Loveday.
Macmillan, 164 pp., £25, August 1985, 0 333 31518 9
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... skinhead, did not his clothes deny it.’ That quotation well illustrates the style in which John Fowles begins this historical novel, or mystery story, lingering over his descriptions. The reviewer-like use of the present tense, the schoolmasterly ‘not what it means today’, and the reference to ‘a modern skinhead’, invite readers to visualise ...

To Be Worth Forty Shillings

Jonah Miller: Early Modern Inequality, 2 February 2017

Accounting for Oneself: Worth, Status and the Social Order in Early Modern England 
by Alexandra Shepard.
Oxford, 357 pp., £65, February 2015, 978 0 19 960079 3
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... What are yow​ worthe in goodes if all your debtes were payd?’ John Tanner was asked in 1620 when he appeared as a witness at the church court in Chichester. ‘Twenty shillings,’ he answered. He had been called by one Robert Constable to support a case for defamation against Stephen Pentecost. Pentecost’s witnesses said Tanner couldn’t be trusted: he was ‘a poore needy fellow’ with ‘a little cottage of his owne to dwell in … and noe other meanes to live ...

Posthumous Gentleman

Michael Dobson: Kit Marlowe’s Schooldays, 19 August 2004

The World of Christopher Marlowe 
by David Riggs.
Faber, 411 pp., £25, May 2004, 0 571 22159 9
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Christopher Marlowe and Richard Baines: Journeys through the Elizabethan Underground 
by Roy Kendall.
Fairleigh Dickinson, 453 pp., $75, January 2004, 0 8386 3974 7
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Tamburlaine Must Die 
by Louise Welsh.
Canongate, 149 pp., £9.99, July 2004, 1 84195 532 9
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History Play: The Lives and Afterlife of Christopher Marlowe 
by Rodney Bolt.
HarperCollins, 388 pp., £17.99, July 2004, 0 00 712123 7
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... of how a degree-less provincial could match university-educated courtly playwrights such as John Lyly at their own game. The other writer, however, dealt with French current affairs and the social position of education in a different manner: GUISE: My Lord of Anjou, there are a hundred Protestants Which we have chased into the river Seine That swim ...

Leave me my illusions

Nicholas Penny: Antiquarianism, 29 July 2021

Time’s Witness: History in the Age of Romanticism 
by Rosemary Hill.
Allen Lane, 390 pp., £25, June, 978 1 84614 312 0
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... stage-managed by Scott) – opposite the playbill for a production in 1823 of Shakespeare’s King John at the Theatre Royal, which boasted an ‘Attention to Costume never before equalled on the English Stage’. A playbill for a production of Shakespeare’s ‘King John’ in 1823. The century before Scott’s The ...

With Great Stomack

Simon Schaffer: Christopher Wren, 21 February 2002

His Invention so Fertile: A Life of Christopher Wren 
by Adrian Tinniswood.
Cape, 463 pp., £25, July 2001, 9780224042987
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... detail, of diaries or intimate correspondence. There is no easy opportunity of the kind offered by John Evelyn or Samuel Pepys, his contemporaries, to explore details of Wren’s domestic affairs or private reflections. Tinniswood’s Wren is a thoroughly public figure: Tory MP, wealthy knight and brilliant don, agile at winning backing from hostile ...

Pity the monsters

Richard Altick, 18 December 1980

The Elephant Man 
by Bernard Pomerance.
Faber, 71 pp., £2.25, June 1980, 0 571 11569 1
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The Elephant Man: the Book of the Film 
by Joy Kuhn.
Virgin, 90 pp., £6.95, October 1980, 9780907080091
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The Elephant Man 
by Christine Sparks.
Futura, 272 pp., £1.25, August 1980, 0 7088 1942 7
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The Elephant Man and Other Reminiscences 
by Frederick Treves.
Star, 126 pp., £95, August 1980, 0 352 30747 1
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The Elephant Man and Other Freaks 
by Sian Richards.
Futura, 197 pp., £1.25, October 1980, 0 7088 1927 3
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The True History of the Elephant Man 
by Michael Howell and Peter Ford.
Allison and Busby, 190 pp., £6.95, March 1980, 0 85031 353 8
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... dress suit. It might almost be mistaken for the dénouement of an early Sherlock Holmes story: Dr John H. Watson describing the scene in an East End police station when Holmes literally unmasks the man with an old scar running across his face from eye to chin which turned up his lip into a perpetual grimace, a ‘crippled wretch of hideous aspect’ who hid ...

Bransonism

Paul Davis: Networking in 18th-century London, 17 March 2005

Aaron Hill: The Muses’ Projector 1685-1750 
by Christine Gerrard.
Oxford, 267 pp., £50, August 2003, 0 19 818388 7
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... book would have been unputdownable. He corresponded extensively with Pope and Richardson. He gave John Gay a job on his periodical The British Apollo when the future Scriblerian was newly arrived in London from Devon, and was an early and influential advocate of the Scottish poets Mallett and Thomson (the bardic conception of the poet’s role elaborated in ...

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