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The Reptile Oculist

John​ Barrell: On the trail of the mysterious John Taylor

1 April 2004
... JohnTaylor, 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 ...

Straw Ghosts

Nicholas Humphrey

2 October 1980
This house is haunted: An Investigation of the Enfield Poltergeist 
by Guy Lyon Playfair.
Souvenir, 288 pp., £6.95, June 1980, 0 285 62443 1
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Science and the Supernatural 
by John Taylor.
Temple Smith, 180 pp., £7.50, June 1980, 0 85117 191 5
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... natural universe is a cross between Fungus the Bogeyman and Mrs Thatcher. Who, then, is Fred? And what is Mr Playfair doing writing a book about him? For an answer we may perhaps turn to Professor JohnTaylor, who has known Fred – or rather a mate of his called Uri – from both sides. Eight years ago Uri Geller – ex-fashion model, conjurer and convicted con-man – hit out television screens ...

Dear Miss Boothby

Margaret Anne Doody

5 November 1992
The Letters of Samuel Johnson: Vol. I: 1731-1772, Vol. II: 1773-1776, Vol. III: 1777-1781 
edited by Bruce Redford.
Oxford, 431 pp., £25, February 1992, 0 19 811287 4
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... article describing some of the chief personages with whom Johnson corresponded, and whose life history was intertwined with his. It would be helpful to have explanations of Lucy Porter, Hill Boothby, JohnTaylor and the Thrales, as major figures in Johnson’s life and letter-writing. The notes are self-referential in a cryptic way, with a delicately archaic use of ante and post; these are not as ...
14 June 2017
Paper: Paging through History 
by Mark Kurlansky.
Norton, 416 pp., £12.99, June 2017, 978 0 393 35370 9
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... In​ 1619, for a bet, JohnTaylor – prolific poet, proud Londoner, waterman, prankster, anti-pollution campaigner, barman, literary celebrity, palindrome enthusiast (‘Lewd did I live, & evil I did dwel’) – sailed forty miles ...

Short Cuts

Rosemary Hill: Shakespeare’s Faces

7 January 2016
... It is​ a curious fact of history, which my research on antiquarianism has brought home to me, that if something is believed in or wanted for long enough, it will eventually materialise. From John Aubrey’s passing remark in 1665 that Stonehenge might have been built by druids, through William Stukeley’s obsessively detailed and almost entirely invented account of the druidic religion it ...
13 November 1997
The Origins of English Nonsense 
by Noel Malcolm.
HarperCollins, 329 pp., £18, May 1997, 0 00 255827 0
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... nonsense poetry, which literary historians have erroneously considered a solely 19th-century phenomenon, can be traced directly to this milieu, in fact directly to a single poem, published by Sir John Hoskyns (a former terrae filius at Oxford and author of mock-orations at the Middle Temple, where he was ‘Clerk of the Council to the Prince d’Amour’ for Christmas 1597). This is the set of ...
19 February 2004
John​ Clare: A Biography 
by Jonathan Bate.
Picador, 650 pp., £25, October 2003, 0 330 37106 1
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‘I Am’: The Selected Poetry of John​ Clare 
edited by Jonathan Bate.
Farrar, Straus, 318 pp., $17, November 2003, 0 374 52869 1
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John​ Clare, Politics and Poetry 
by Alan Vardy.
Palgrave, 221 pp., £45, October 2003, 0 333 96617 1
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John​ Clare Vol. V: Poems of the Middle Period 1822-37 
edited by Eric Robinson, David Powell and P.M.S. Dawson.
Oxford, 822 pp., £105, January 2003, 0 19 812386 8
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... In 1865, a year after John Clare’s death in the Northampton General Lunatic Asylum, Frederick Martin, a former amanuensis of Thomas Carlyle, published the first biography of the ‘peasant poet’. It laid the foundations ...
19 December 1991
Under Fire: An American Story 
by Oliver North and William Novak.
HarperCollins, 446 pp., £17.99, October 1991, 0 06 018334 9
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Terry Waite: Why was he kidnapped? 
by Gavin Hewitt.
Bloomsbury, 230 pp., £15.99, November 1991, 0 7475 0375 3
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... of pounds from a Swiss bank by pretending to sell missiles to Iran. These missiles, said the prosecution, never existed. The four men, three arms-dealers called Michael Aspin, Eric Matson and JohnTaylor and a Lloyds underwriter called William Harper, were tried at the Old Bailey in early 1988. Aspin, Harper and Matson were found guilty and sent to prison – Aspin is still inside. Taylor was ...

Highway to Modernity

Colin Kidd: The British Enlightenment

8 March 2001
Enlightenment: Britain and the Creation of the Modern World 
by Roy Porter.
Allen Lane, 728 pp., £25, October 2000, 0 7139 9152 6
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... even among professional historians, the expression ‘English Enlightenment’ still offends the ear. Curiously, the first historian to query this complacent picture was the future arch-Eurosceptic, John Redwood, in his Reason, Ridicule and Religion: The Age of Enlightenment in England 1660-1750 (1976). This told the story of the assault on orthodox Christianity launched during the Augustan age by a ...

Wife Overboard

John​ Sutherland: Thackeray

20 January 2000
Thackeray 
by D.J. Taylor.
Chatto, 494 pp., £25, October 1999, 0 7011 6231 7
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... first came out. I have used it over the years and find it very perceptive. It was also the first biographical study to integrate a wealth of Thackeray illustration into its text, something that D.J. Taylor also does effectively. Taylor’s book represents a third generation of biography. His judgment on Thackeray is generous, but much less inclusive than Ray’s. The basis of Taylor’s admiration is ...
6 December 1984
The Diary of Thomas Turner 1754-1765 
edited by David Vaisey.
Oxford, 386 pp., £17.50, November 1984, 0 19 211782 3
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John​ Clare’s Autobiographical Writings 
edited by Eric Robinson.
Oxford, 185 pp., £7.95, September 1983, 0 19 211774 2
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John​ Clare: The Journals, Essays, and the Journey from Essex 
edited by Anne Tibble.
Carcanet, 139 pp., £6.95, October 1980, 0 85635 344 2
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The Natural History Prose Writings of John​ Clare 
edited by Margaret Grainger.
Oxford, 397 pp., £35, January 1984, 0 19 818517 0
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John​ Clare and the Folk Tradition 
by George Deacon.
Sinclair Browne, 397 pp., £15, February 1983, 0 86300 008 8
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... the marks and inevitable biases of their particular provenance. It will be a pity if the will-o-the-wisp of ordinariness diverts any readers from the prose of the early 19th-century labourer-poet John Clare, as rooted a resident of his native Helpston in Northamptonshire as Turner was of East Hoathly in Sussex. Clare was not so sustained a diarist as Turner, but he kept a Journal for a year in ...

Snob Cuts

Rosemary Hill: Modern Snobbery

3 November 2016
... good-natured assumption that everyone is a snob about something and to that extent we are all ridiculous. The bookseller was a snob about snobbery and thought it was vulgar to talk about class. D.J. Taylor is perhaps a literary snob for Cooper gets no mention in his much less enjoyable The New Book of Snobs: A Definitive Guide to Modern Snobbery (Little, Brown, £16.99). His first mistake is to attempt ...

Flying the flag

Patrick Parrinder

18 November 1993
The Modern British Novel 
by Malcolm Bradbury.
Secker, 512 pp., £20, October 1993, 0 436 20132 1
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After the War: The Novel and English Society since 1945 
by D.J. Taylor.
Chatto, 310 pp., £17.99, September 1993, 9780701137694
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... Cheered on by the Tory faithful, John Major recently dismissed as ‘claptrap’ a letter signed by 500 university teachers of English attacking the proposed revisions to the National Curriculum. The academics were accused – falsely, I ...

Old Dad dead?

Michael Neill: Thomas Middleton

4 December 2008
Thomas Middleton: The Collected Works 
edited by Gary Taylor and John​ Lavagnino.
Oxford, 2016 pp., £85, November 2007, 978 0 19 818569 7
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Thomas Middleton and Early Modern Textual Culture: A Companion to the Collected Works 
edited by Gary Taylor and John​ Lavagnino.
Oxford, 1183 pp., £100, November 2007, 978 0 19 818570 3
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... an excellent principle, in literature as in life, to judge a book by its cover; and there is much to be learned from the appearance of the new Oxford Middleton. Even as the blurb declares that Gary Taylor and John Lavagnino’s monumental collection is ‘based on the award-winning design of the Oxford Shakespeare’, the binding and dust jacket defiantly proclaim its difference from that ...
18 July 1985
The Ponting Affair 
by Richard Norton-Taylor.
Cecil Woolf, 144 pp., £5.95, June 1985, 0 900821 74 4
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Who Killed Hilda Murrell? 
by Judith Cook.
New English Library, 182 pp., £1.95, June 1985, 0 450 05885 9
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... Without Richard Norton-Taylor of the Guardian, there would be no Belgrano affair, and doubtless Mr Clive Ponting OBE would be plying his way, ever upwards, in the Ministry of Defence. This is no exaggeration. Simply a statement ...

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