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Hating dogs

Julian Barnes, 17 September 1981

Words on the Air 
by John Sparrow.
Collins, 163 pp., £7.95, August 1981, 0 00 216876 6
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... save Venice, by protecting it from pollution and installing a new sewage system. Simultaneously, John Sparrow was also turning his attention to the plight of the stricken city. In one of his major letters to the Times, the then Warden of All Souls addressed the urgent question of Venetian dogshit. He noted with regret the inadequacy of the local decree ...

Poor Jack

Noël Annan, 5 December 1985

Leaves from a Victorian Diary 
by Edward Leeves and John Sparrow.
Alison Press/Secker, 126 pp., £8.95, September 1985, 0 436 24370 9
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... Venice with his memories. Some will read his diary with amused contempt; and it almost looks as if John Sparrow intended them to do so. He mocks Leeves in his epilogue with some rollicking verses to the tune of ‘Three Blind Mice’. Leeves was what Guardsmen used to call an old twank. The diary begins with him twittering in Venice. ‘Cannonade every ...

This Trying Time

A.N. Wilson: John Sparrow, 1 October 1998

The Warden 
by John Lowe.
HarperCollins, 258 pp., £19.99, August 1998, 0 00 215392 0
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... John Hanbury Angus Sparrow (1906-92) was a devotee of the poetry of A.E. Housman. He wrote a vivid introduction to Housman’s verse, whose tight control, both of metre and of homosexual passion, found obvious echoes in his own character. Sparrow was also co-author of A ...

War within wars

Paul Addison, 5 November 1992

War, Strategy and International Politics: Essays in Honour of Sir Michael Howard 
edited by Lawrence Freedman, Paul Hayes and Robert O’Neill.
Oxford, 322 pp., £35, July 1992, 0 19 822292 0
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... King’s College, London. His first book, a history of the Coldstream Guards written jointly with John Sparrow, was published in 1951. And there you have Michael Howard. Though he has grown in fame and distinction, and moved in governing circles on both sides of the Atlantic, and held four chairs including the Regius Professorship of Modern History at ...

When the Mediterranean Was Blue

John Bayley, 23 March 1995

Cyril Connolly: A Nostalgic Life 
by Clive Fisher.
Macmillan, 304 pp., £20, March 1995, 0 333 57813 9
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... or Byronic about him. Though his funny face had great charm he was the reverse of handsome: John Sparrow, in one of his feline mots, remarked that ‘the trouble with Cyril is that he is not so beautiful as he looks.’ But he was a living repository of nostalgia, and of the most stylish sort of self-pity; and these, if properly served up, can be a ...

I Should Have Shrieked

Patricia Beer, 8 December 1994

John Betjeman: Letters, Vol. I, 1926-1951 
edited by Candida Lycett Green.
Methuen, 584 pp., £20, April 1994, 0 413 66950 5
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... I was less than fifty pages into this first volume of John Betjeman’s Letters when I felt I must be in for an attack of tinnitus. I kept hearing shrieks of laughter. This condition was caused not by the poet himself but by the editor or Candida Lycett Green, his daughter, who seems to value nothing so much about her father as his ability to make people split their sides ...

Benson’s Pleasure

Noël Annan, 4 March 1982

Edwardian Excursions: From the Diaries of A.C. Benson 1898-1904 
edited by A.C. Benson and David Newsome.
Murray, 200 pp., £12.50, April 1981, 9780719537691
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Geoffrey Madan’s Notebooks 
edited by John Gere and John Sparrow.
Oxford, 144 pp., £7.95, October 1981, 0 19 215870 8
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... What could be more fitting than that his Notebooks should be edited by two fastidious scholars, John Gere, until lately the Keeper of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum, and John SparrowSparrow who at the age of 15 met Geoffrey Keynes on the steps of St Paul’s to ...

Happy Knack

Ian Sansom: Betjeman, 20 February 2003

John Betjeman: New Fame, New Love 
by Bevis Hillier.
Murray, 736 pp., £25, November 2002, 0 7195 5002 5
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... helps explain why Bevis Hillier has written an enormous biography of a dead English minor poet. John Betjeman: New Fame, New Love is the second volume of Hillier’s proposed trilogy and covers, roughly, the years 1933-58, the period when Betjeman, as Larkin put it, ‘became Betjeman’. The book is 736 pages long. Its predecessor, Young Betjeman, was ...

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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... John Betjeman was nicely eccentric, and droll in a way mysteriously suited to English taste. His being so droll allowed him to display an out-of-the-way learning that might otherwise have seemed remote and ineffectual, but on which it was his gift to confer a certain centrality. He liked to seem lazy, which is why, having repeatedly failed the easy examination in Divinity then compulsory at Oxford, he went down without a degree ...

The Undesired Result

Gillian Darley: Betjeman’s bêtes noires, 31 March 2005

Betjeman: The Bonus of Laughter 
by Bevis Hillier.
Murray, 744 pp., £25, October 2004, 0 7195 6495 6
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... The dust jacket of the final volume of Bevis Hillier’s epic life of JohnBetjeman shows the poet laureate seized by giggles. In this lengthy coda to Hillier’s authorised biography Betjeman appears in many lights, but he’s rarely carefree. ‘Nothing frightens me more than the thought of dying,’ he told a friend in 1958 ...

Homage to Scaliger

Hugh Lloyd-Jones, 17 May 1984

Joseph Scaliger: A Study in the History of Classical Scholarship 
by Anthony Grafton.
Oxford, 359 pp., £27.50, June 1983, 9780198148500
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... Middle-march. It is no use Gordon Haight’s denying that George Eliot meant to satirise Pattison: John Sparrow has pointed out that in that case it is odd that George Eliot, who was well acquainted with Pattison and his much younger wife, should have chosen to call the author of the Key to All Mythologies by the name of a 16th-century French scholar ...

Wall of Ice

Peter Thonemann: Pattison’s Scholarship, 7 February 2008

Intellect and Character in Victorian England: Mark Pattison and the Invention of the Don 
by H.S. Jones.
Cambridge, 285 pp., £50, June 2007, 978 0 521 87605 6
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... It was very unfair to those young men.’ John Henry Newman’s conversion to the Roman Catholic Church in 1845 shattered the intellectual credit of the Oxford Movement. The long struggle – first from the pulpit of the University Church of St Mary, later through the radical pages of Tracts for the Times – to state the case for the Apostolic authority of the Anglican church had ended, as the Movement’s critics had always predicted, in total surrender to Catholic dogma ...

Delighted to See Himself

Stefan Collini: Maurice Bowra, 12 February 2009

Maurice Bowra: A Life 
by Leslie Mitchell.
Oxford, 385 pp., £25, February 2009, 978 0 19 929584 5
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... though the inner circle of his admirers was composed of dummies: Berlin, Betjeman, Kenneth Clark, John Sparrow, as well as, a little later, Noel Annan and Stuart Hampshire – all capable of the odd spot of talking themselves. But they acknowledged Bowra as their master, which was fortunate since no other terms were on offer. With the young, Bowra’s ...

After High Tea

John Bayley, 23 January 1986

Love in a Cool Climate: The Letters of Mark Pattison and Meta Bradley 1879-1884 
by Vivian Green.
Oxford, 269 pp., £12.95, November 1985, 0 19 820080 3
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... but in his instinct for the paramount importance of such things in the life of a university. As John Sparrow and others have pointed out, and as Dr Green exhibits, Patti son was the champion of a university not as a training ground – ‘a school for young men who have outgrown school’, as he put it – but a place where learning really ...

The Savage Life

Frank Kermode: The Adventures of William Empson, 19 May 2005

William Empson: Vol. I: Among the Mandarins 
by John Haffenden.
Oxford, 695 pp., £30, April 2005, 0 19 927659 5
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... John Haffenden opens the proceedings with a long extract from one of Empson’s letters and goes on to provide a leisurely commentary on it, so, even if you hadn’t noticed the bulk of the book, you’d sense right away that you were in for the long haul. At the end of this first instalment the poet is still only 33 years old and has another 44 years to go; no doubt they will be less action-packed, more sedate – containable, one hopes, in only one more volume ...

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