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Nothing without a Grievance

P.D.G. Thomas: John Horne Tooke, 19 August 1999

Gentleman Radical: A Life of John Horne Tooke 1736-1812 
by Christina Bewley and David Bewley.
Tauris, 297 pp., £42, June 1998, 1 86064 344 2
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... John Horne Tooke enjoyed two distinct political careers, under two different names: as John Horne in the age of the American Revolution, and as John Horne Tooke in that of the French Revolution. In both identities he attracted notoriety or fame, according to the prejudices of commentators ...

Fiery Participles

D.A.N. Jones, 6 September 1984

Hazlitt: The Mind of a Critic 
by David Bromwich.
Oxford, 450 pp., £19.50, March 1984, 0 19 503343 4
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William Godwin: Philosopher, Novelist, Revolutionary 
by Peter Marshall.
Yale, 496 pp., £14.95, June 1984, 0 521 24386 6
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Burke, Paine, Godwin and the Revolution Controversy 
edited by Marilyn Butler.
Cambridge, 280 pp., £25, June 1984, 0 521 24386 6
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... one or two good anecdotes, to illustrate his points. There is the tale of Hazlitt’s fight with John Lamb, in the course of a dispute about Holbein and Vandyke. I will quote the version in Benjamin Haydon’s journal: ‘They both became so irritated, they upset the card-table, and seized each other by the throat. In the struggle that ensued, Hazlitt got a ...

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 ...

The Reptile Oculist

John Barrell, 1 April 2004

... John Taylor, the journalist, newspaper editor and poet, was born in 1757. His grandfather, the legendary ‘Chevalier’ Taylor, had been oculist to George II, and afterwards, so his grandson assures us, to ‘every crowned head in Europe’. He was as famous for his womanising as for his knowledge of ophthalmology, but most famous, perhaps, for his habit of prefacing every operation he performed with a long speech in praise of his own skill, composed in what he claimed was ‘the true Ciceronian’, with each main verb cunningly held back to the end of the sentence ...

Great Palladium

James Epstein: Treason, 7 September 2000

Imagining the King’s Death: Figurative Treason, Fantasies of Regicide, 1793-96 
by John Barrell.
Oxford, 7377 pp., £70, March 2000, 0 19 811292 0
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... an elaborate theatrical spectacle, appealing to the emotions instead of reason. At the centre of John Barrell’s exhaustive study of treason in the mid-1790s is a brilliantly sustained argument about the struggle to fix the character of the word ‘imagination’. Unlike the battle then being fought over such important political terms as ...

Such a Husband

John Bayley, 4 September 1997

Selected Letters of George Meredith 
edited by Mohammad Shaheen.
Macmillan, 312 pp., £47.50, April 1997, 0 333 56349 2
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... her best to mend her father’s shaky finances, writing on his behalf to Byron’s old friend Sir John Hobhouse, and almost, if not quite, soliciting him for a handout. She was close to her father, probably much closer than she ever was to either of her husbands, or to the lover who succeeded them. Her marriage to Meredith went wrong almost from the start, as ...

Supermac’s Apprenticeship

Ian Gilmour, 24 November 1988

Macmillan 1894-1956 
by Alistair Horne.
Macmillan, 537 pp., £16.95, October 1988, 0 333 27691 4
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... biography would normally be expected to halt, if not reverse. In a graceful preface Alistair Horne says that he at first refused the invitation to be Macmillan’s biographer. Having never before attempted a biography, he was uneasy about his qualifications, though as an outstanding military historian with a rare gift for narrative and a fine eye for ...

Dreadful Sentiments

Tom Paulin, 3 April 1986

The Collected Letters of W.B. Yeats. Vol. I: 1865-1895 
edited by John Kelly and Eric Domville.
Oxford, 548 pp., £22.50, January 1986, 0 19 812679 4
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... will enable new writing, new politics, unblemished by Irishness, but securely Irish.’ Opening John Kelly and Eric Domville’s scrupulous and magnificent edition of Yeats’s letters, I readied myself to take a sling-shot at the great Cuchulain – the impulse dissolved in helpless love, chortles, delight. The old boy, I realised, has managed here his ...

‘I thirst for his blood’

Ruth Bernard Yeazell: Henry James, 25 November 1999

Henry James: A Life in Letters 
edited by Philip Horne.
Penguin, 668 pp., £25, June 1999, 0 7139 9126 7
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A Private Life of Henry James: Two Women and His Art 
by Lyndall Gordon.
Chatto, 500 pp., £20, October 1998, 0 7011 6166 3
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... Conrad’s Mirror of the Sea among them – nearly all the correspondence with writers that Philip Horne includes in his admirable new edition conforms to the pattern. Experienced recipients of such letters must have learned to watch for that ‘but’ and to steel themselves accordingly. Especially later in his career, James found it difficult to separate the ...

Bullshit and Beyond

Clive James, 18 February 1988

The Road to Botany Bay 
by Paul Carter.
Faber, 384 pp., £14.95, October 1987, 0 571 14551 5
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The Oxford History of Australia. Vol. IV: 1901-1942 
by Stuart Macintyre.
Oxford, 399 pp., £22.50, October 1987, 0 19 554612 1
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The Archibald Paradox: A Strange Case of Authorship 
by Sylvia Lawson.
Penguin Australia, 292 pp., AUS $12.95, September 1987, 0 14 009848 8
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The Lucky Country Revisited 
by Donald Horne.
Dent, 235 pp., AUS $34.95, October 1987, 9780867700671
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... must have had a good deal to do with it. The phrase ‘ways of seeing’ crops up, reminding us of John Berger and his allegedly penetrating double squint. The authorial assumption which remains unquestioned at the end of the book – after 350 pages in which the word ‘spatial’ appears rarely fewer than three times per paragraph and sometimes twice in the ...

Arsenals

Nicholas Spice, 18 October 1984

On the Perimeter: Caroline Blackwood at Greenham Common 
by Caroline Blackwood.
Heinemann, 113 pp., £5.95, September 1984, 0 434 07468 3
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The Witches of Eastwick 
by John Updike.
Deutsch, 316 pp., £8.95, September 1984, 0 233 97665 5
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Corrigan 
by Caroline Blackwood.
Heinemann, 279 pp., £8.95, October 1984, 0 434 07467 5
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According to Mark 
by Penelope Lively.
Heinemann, 218 pp., £8.95, October 1984, 9780434427420
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... a chilling subject-matter fixed with a steady eye, The Witches of Eastwick through the potency of John Updike’s imaginative release. On the Perimeter records what Caroline Blackwood found at Greenham Common and in the town of Newbury, when she visited the nuclear protest encampments there in March this year, shortly before the town council attempted to ...

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 ...

Outside the text

Marilyn Butler, 19 December 1985

The Beauty of Inflections: Literary Investigations in Historical Method and Theory 
by Jerome McGann.
Oxford, 352 pp., £19.50, May 1985, 0 19 811730 2
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The Politics of Language: 1791-1819 
by Olivia Smith.
Oxford, 269 pp., £19.50, December 1984, 0 19 812817 7
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... and editors. Other leading figures also do both, including, in this country, Christopher Ricks and John Carey. But most critics in good repute don’t seem to want to edit, and wouldn’t be any good if they tried. The provocative element in McGann’s position for them will be his serious belief in the centrality of the role of the editor. He goes back to the ...

Lawful Resistance

Blair Worden, 24 November 1988

Algernon Sidney and the English Republic 1623-1677 
by Jonathan Scott.
Cambridge, 258 pp., £27.50, August 1988, 0 521 35290 8
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Seeds of Liberty: 1688 and the Shaping of Modern Britain 
by John Miller.
Souvenir, 128 pp., £15.95, July 1988, 0 285 62839 9
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Reluctant Revolutionaries: Englishmen and the Revolution of 1688 
by W.A. Speck.
Oxford, 267 pp., £17.50, July 1988, 9780198227687
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War and Economy in the Age of William III and Marlborough 
by D.W. Jones.
Blackwell, 351 pp., £35, September 1988, 0 631 16069 8
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Robert Harley: Speaker, Secretary of State and Premier Minister 
by Brian Hill.
Yale, 259 pp., £25, June 1988, 0 300 04284 1
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A Kingdom without a King: The Journal of the Provisional Government in the Revolution of 1688 
by Robert Beddard.
Phaidon, 192 pp., £14.95, November 1988, 9780714825007
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... who describe 17th-century England as a country ridden with class hatred, but 1688 bore it out. John Miller’s Seeds of Liberty, although emphasising the dependence of the Revolution on its acceptance by a broad and well-informed political nation, concedes that the nobles led and the people followed. A hundred years later the principle of deference looked ...

Adulterers’ Distress

Philip Horne, 21 July 1983

A Nail on the Head 
by Clare Boylan.
Hamish Hamilton, 135 pp., £7.95, July 1983, 0 241 11001 7
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New Stories 8: An Arts Council Anthology 
edited by Karl Miller.
Hutchinson, 227 pp., £8.95, May 1983, 9780091523800
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The Handyman 
by Penelope Mortimer.
Allen Lane, 199 pp., £6.95, May 1983, 0 7139 1364 9
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Open the Door 
by Rosemary Manning.
Cape, 180 pp., £7.95, June 1983, 0 224 02112 5
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A Boy’s Own Story 
by Edmund White.
Picador, 218 pp., £2.50, July 1983, 0 330 28151 8
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... pairs two longish stories set in Scotland, David Craig’s ‘Jason and the Green Woman’ and John Murray’s ‘The Señor and the Celtic Cross’, which operate quite different ironies about the limits of civilised society. The latter story, told in a tormented parodic mélange of styles, recounts a tourist’s experience of sex, superstition and the ...

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