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He lyeth in his teeth

Patrick O’Brian

18 April 1996
Francis Drake: The Lives of a Hero 
by John​ Cummins.
Weidenfeld, 348 pp., £20, September 1995, 0 297 81566 0
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... One of this book’s chief virtues is candour. If John Cummins first saw Drake as the knightly figure sans peur et sans reproche who had been held up for admiration to so many generations, it must have grieved him to find how far upwards the feet of clay ...

Pay me for it

Helen Deutsch: Summoning Dr Johnson

9 February 2012
Samuel Johnson: A Life 
by David Nokes.
Faber, 415 pp., £9.99, August 2010, 978 0 571 22636 8
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Selected Writings 
by Samuel Johnson, edited by Peter Martin.
Harvard, 503 pp., £16.95, May 2011, 978 0 674 06034 0
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The Brothers Boswell: A Novel 
by Philip Baruth.
Corvus, 336 pp., £7.99, January 2011, 978 1 84887 446 6
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The Life of Samuel Johnson LL.D. 
by John Hawkins, edited by O.M. Brack.
Georgia, 554 pp., £53.50, August 2010, 978 0 8203 2995 6
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... one of those inimitable Essays before they were sent to the Press.’ Stories of Johnson’s rapid composition and the prose-like quality of his conversation abound, and though, in his edition of Hawkins’s Life, O.M. Brack corrects Hawkins by reminding us how frequently and carefully Johnson revised his work, his readers persist in conflating art with life by imagining him thinking, speaking and ...

Battle of Britain

Patrick O’Brian

7 July 1988
The Spanish Armada 
by Colin Martin and Geoffrey Parker.
Hamish Hamilton, 296 pp., £15, April 1988, 0 241 12125 6
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Armada 1588-1988 
by M.J. Rodriguez-Salgado.
Penguin and the National Maritime Museum, 295 pp., £12.95, April 1988, 0 14 010301 5
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Armada: A Celebration of the 400th Anniversary of the Defeat of the Spanish Armada 1588-1988 
by Peter Padfield.
Gollancz, 208 pp., £14.95, April 1988, 0 575 03729 6
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Froude’s ‘Spanish Story of the Armada’, and Other Essays 
edited by A.L. Rowse.
Sutton, 262 pp., £5.95, May 1988, 0 86299 500 0
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Ireland’s Armada Legacy 
by Laurence Flanagan.
Sutton, 210 pp., £9.95, April 1988, 9780862994730
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The Armada in the Public Records 
by N.A.M. Rodger.
HMSO, 76 pp., £5.95, April 1988, 0 11 440215 9
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The Spanish Armada: The Experience of War in 1588 
by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto.
Oxford, 300 pp., £14.95, June 1988, 0 19 822926 7
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... next page. Perhaps the best thing to do is to plunge into the middle or just beyond and then work back and forth as Colin Martin and Geoffrey Parker do in The Spanish Armada. The first page shows Sir JohnHawkins writing a dispatch to Walsingham dated from on board the Victory in the North Sea on 10 August 1588. Somewhere to leeward, in spite of the fierce running battle of Gravelines two days before ...

At least that was the idea

Thomas Keymer: Johnson and Boswell’s Club

10 October 2019
The Club: Johnson, Boswell and the Friends who Shaped an Age 
by Leo Damrosch.
Yale, 488 pp., £20, April, 978 0 300 21790 2
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... and Richard Brinsley Sheridan would be admitted a few years later. The Club wasn’t just full of luvvies; it began with quite serious purposes and ambitions. With his rancorous first biographer, JohnHawkins (Johnson coined the term ‘unclubbable’ for Hawkins, who after a few years, was ostracised from the Turk’s Head), Johnson had already founded the Ivy Lane Club, which ran for several ...

Self-Hugging

Andrew O’Hagan: A Paean to Boswell

5 October 2000
Boswell's Presumptuous Task 
by Adam Sisman.
Hamish Hamilton, 352 pp., £17.99, November 2000, 0 241 13637 7
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James Boswell’s ‘Life of Johnson’: Research Edition: Vol. II 
edited by Bruce Redford and Elizabeth Goldring.
Edinburgh, 303 pp., £50, February 2000, 0 7486 0606 8
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Samuel Johnson: The Life of an Author 
by Lawrence Lipking.
Harvard, 372 pp., £11.50, March 2000, 0 674 00198 2
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Dr Johnson's London 
by Liza Picard.
Weidenfeld, 362 pp., £20, July 2000, 0 297 84218 8
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... their red-hot efforts to strike a deal with respect to futurity, have left them large and lively on the page. Boswell, a slovenly, scribbling, lovable Scot, and Johnson, a cantankerous old genius, a John Bull himself, now appear to us as creatures of one another’s making. Together they constitute a minor archipelago of literary selves. In the past it seemed natural to admire one at the expense of ...

Welcome Home

Sukhdev Sandhu: Memories of Michael X

4 February 1999
Windrush: The Irresistible Rise of Multiracial Britain 
by Mike Phillips and Trevor Phillips.
HarperCollins, 422 pp., £16.99, May 1998, 0 00 255909 9
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... of Parliament – reinforcing the message that England was a land fit for heroes, the home of democracy. Years later they could still recite the words of the Eton Boating Song and passages from John Evelyn’s account of the Great Fire of London. Caribbean schoolchildren knew that the best commodities were English, from medicines and neckties to crown-embossed mustard jars and the brilliantine ...

Let us breakfast in splendour

Charles Nicholl: Francis Barber

15 July 2015
The Fortunes of Francis Barber: The True Story of the Jamaican Slave Who Became Samuel Johnson’s Heir 
by Michael Bundock.
Yale, 282 pp., £20, May 2015, 978 0 300 20710 1
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... most civil assiduity’. Other members of Johnson’s circle left notices and glimpses of him. Almost without exception he is spoken of with affection, or anyway approval. The chief exception is Sir JohnHawkins, the author of the first proper biography of Johnson (published in 1787, four years before Boswell’s), and also the man for whom Johnson invented the word ‘unclubbable’ (a nice way of ...

Feathered, Furred or Coloured

Francis Gooding: The Dying of the Dinosaurs

22 February 2018
Palaeoart: Visions of the Prehistoric Past 
by Zoë Lescaze.
Taschen, 289 pp., £75, August 2017, 978 3 8365 5511 1
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... of these early images recall not only the dragons and monsters of folklore and fantasy, but visions of hell itself, filled with writhing beasts that rend at one another as fires destroy the earth. In John Martin’s The Country of The Iguanodon (1837), a group of dragon-like reptiles slither and bite; in A. Demarly’s apocalyptic Eruptions of Poisonous Hot Springs in the Triassic Period (1883) a ...

Year of the Viking

Patrick Wormald

17 July 1980
The Vikings 
by James Graham-Campbell and D. Kidd.
British Museum, 192 pp., £8.95, February 1980, 0 7141 1352 2
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The Viking World 
edited by James Graham-Campbell.
Weidenfeld, 220 pp., £11.95, March 1980, 0 906459 04 4
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The Northern World 
edited by David Wilson.
Thames and Hudson, 248 pp., £15, February 1980, 0 500 25070 7
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Vikings! 
by Magnus Magnusson.
Bodley Head, 320 pp., £10, May 1980, 0 370 30272 9
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The Vikings 
by Johannes Bronsted.
Penguin, 347 pp., £1.95, April 1980, 0 14 020459 8
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Viking Age Sculpture 
by Richard Bailey.
Collins, 288 pp., £10.95, February 1980, 0 00 216228 8
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The Viking Age in Denmark 
by Klaus Randsborg.
Duckworth, 206 pp., £7.95, February 1980, 0 7156 1466 5
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... one of the ‘good things’ produced by the Vikings, grew fat on raiding and trading slaves, and the same may well have been true of the cities founded or developed by the Swedes in Russia. Was Sir JohnHawkins a merchant or a buccaneer? Did his commerce bring benefits to West Africa? Finally, each of these books follows Sawyer’s lead in regarding Viking desecrations as more an unfortunate by ...

Leaf, Button, Dog

Susan Eilenberg: The Sins of Hester Thrale

1 November 2001
According to Queeney 
by Beryl Bainbridge.
Little, Brown, 242 pp., £16.99, September 2001, 0 316 85867 6
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... at least with what Queeney says are her recollections of them, misremembered long afterwards in unwilling and possibly untrustworthy response to unwelcome questions from her old acquaintance Leatitia Hawkins (whose memoirs of the Johnson circle would revisit material her father, Sir JohnHawkins, had treated in his 1787 Life of Samuel Johnson), and all about a past Queeney would rather forget. Although ...

Kids Gone Rotten

Matthew Bevis: ‘Treasure Island’

25 October 2012
Treasure Island 
by Robert Louis Stevenson, edited by John​ Sutherland.
Broadview, 261 pp., £10.95, December 2011, 978 1 55111 409 5
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Silver: Return to Treasure Island 
by Andrew Motion.
Cape, 404 pp., £12.99, March 2012, 978 0 224 09119 0
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Treasure Island!!! 
by Sara Levine.
Tonga, 172 pp., £10.99, January 2012, 978 1 60945 061 8
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... John Singer Sargent’s ‘Robert Louis Stevenson and His Wife’ (1885). The first return to Treasure Island was made by Robert Louis Stevenson himself. Fourteen years after the novel was published ...

Corkscrew in the Neck

Jacqueline Rose: Bad Summer Reading

9 September 2015
The Girl on the Train 
by Paula Hawkins.
Doubleday, 320 pp., £12.99, January 2015, 978 0 85752 231 3
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Gone Girl 
by Gillian Flynn.
Weidenfeld, 512 pp., £8.99, September 2014, 978 1 78022 822 8
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... from my childhood who would repeatedly announce, in relation to some film or other, that he didn’t see why he should throw good money after such rubbish. Now we have The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins, the ‘No. 1 bestseller’ as it says on the paperback cover, whose phenomenal success I hoped this time I would appreciate (it too is being made into a film). I could barely read it but read on ...
19 August 1982
The Struggle for the Falkland Islands 
by Julius Goebel, introduced by J.C.J. Metford.
Yale, 482 pp., £10, June 1982, 0 300 02943 8
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The Falklands Islands Dispute: International Dimensions 
edited by Joan Pearce.
Chatham House, 47 pp., £2.75, April 1982, 0 905031 25 3
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The Falkland Islands: The Facts 
HMSO, 12 pp., £50, May 1982, 0 11 701029 4Show More
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... Our sea-dogs,’ repeat the heirs of Drake, ‘were doggeder than theirs,’ until one wonders how such land-bound creatures as the Spaniards managed to get to America at all. Did Sir Richard Hawkins say his latitude was 48°, three degrees north of where he ought to have been? Then he meant 50° 48' – ‘how so obvious an error got into the text is immaterial.’ He saw a peopled country with ...

At Hyde Park Corner

Jonathan Meades: The Bomber Command Memorial

25 October 2012
... become the custodian of the new memorial.’ The crassness does not end with this shameless man’s distended immodesty. His fellow donors include the late Bee Gee Robin Gibb, the mobile phone baron John Caudwell and the pornographer Richard Desmond: their name liveth for evermore all right, prominently, in a niche on the western side of the structure. The memorial to the 55,573 nameless dead airmen ...

Every single one matters

Elaine Showalter and English Showalter: The first black female novelist?

18 August 2005
In Search of Hannah Crafts: Critical Essays on ‘The Bondwoman’s Narrative’ 
edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr and Hollis Robbins.
Basic Books, 458 pp., £17.50, January 2005, 0 465 02708 3
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... According to the article, the novel, signed by Hannah Crafts and called ‘The Bondwoman’s Narrative’, was the story of a woman’s life as a house slave on the North Carolina plantation of John Hill Wheeler, her escape to New Jersey in 1857, and her composition of an autobiographical fiction incorporating ‘elements of the many sentimental sagas she had evidently borrowed from Mr Wheeler ...

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