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C.H. Sisson

18 February 1982
The Public School Revolution: Britain’s Independent Schools, 1964-1979 
by John Rae.
Faber, 188 pp., £6.50, September 1981, 0 571 11789 9
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... When, in 1682, the Reverend Mr Busby, headmaster of Westminster School, expelled or suspended John Dryden’s son, the poet wrote him an excellent letter. Busby had already been at Westminster for more than forty years: he was that terrifying thing, a Great Headmaster. Moreover, Dryden had himself ...


D.A.N. Jones

5 April 1984
Old Catholics and Anglicans: 1931-1981 
edited by Gordon Huelin.
Oxford, 177 pp., £12.50, April 1983, 0 19 920129 3
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Anglican Essays 
by C.H. Sisson.
Carcanet, 141 pp., £6.95, April 1983, 0 85635 456 2
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The Song of Roland 
by C.H. Sisson.
Carcanet, 135 pp., £7.95, October 1983, 9780856354212
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by Joachim du Bellay, translated by C.H. Sisson.
Carcanet, 147 pp., £4.50, January 1984, 0 85635 471 6
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... is much used by members of a Rumanian Church in communion with the Church of England. There are gramophone records of Rumanian church music on the table, next to a pile of prayers composed by John Donne (who also preached at St Dunstan’s). This sturdy English church is encircled with chapels for several of the independent Churches which are in communion with the Church of England, Coptic and ...

The Great Accumulator

John​ Sturrock: W.G. Grace

20 August 1998
W.G. Grace: A Life 
by Simon Rae.
Faber, 548 pp., £20, July 1998, 0 571 17855 3
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W.G.’s Birthday Party 
by David Kynaston.
Night Watchman, 154 pp., £13, May 1998, 0 9532360 0 5
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... for him are used only by people who don’t need to pay to get into Lord’s. Money, and the demons of social class that money incubates, comes into Grace’s life-story at every turn, and Simon Rae’s new biography does well to start by recording that, where one of his grandfathers had been a butler, one of his sons became an admiral. This was a family promotion that turned on his own hugely ...

Heavy Sledding

Chauncey Loomis

21 December 1989
The Arctic Grail: The Quest for the Northwest Passage and the North Pole, 1818-1909 
by Pierre Berton.
Viking, 672 pp., £16.95, May 1989, 0 670 82491 7
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Overland to Starvation Cove: With the Inuit in Search of Franklin 1878-1880 
by Heinrich Klutschak and William Barr.
Toronto, 261 pp., £17.50, February 1988, 0 8020 5762 4
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Frozen in Time: The Fate of the Franklin Expedition 
by Owen Beattie and John​ Geiger.
Bloomsbury, 180 pp., £12.95, November 1987, 0 7475 0101 7
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... on King William Island, almost thirty naval and overland expeditions joined the search. A writer has to juggle the names of explorers, famous in their day, but now known only to Arctic buffs, such as John and James Clark Ross, Rae, Pullen, Collinson, M’Clure, Austin, Ommanney, Richardson, Penny, DeHaven, Kane, Forsyth, Bellot, Kennedy, Belcher, Inglefield, M’Clintock – and names of ships, such ...

Short Cuts

John​ Sturrock: At the Test Match

6 September 2001
... keeper’s box? In a book to be published later this year, It’s Not Cricket (Faber, £14.99), enticingly subtitled ‘Skulduggery, Sharp Practice and Downright Cheating in the Noble Game’, Simon Rae has a chapter on sledging, tracing it back well beyond recent Australian teams to the sorts of thing W.G. Grace was famous for saying to cowed batsmen. A batsman known to Short Cuts decades ago was ...

Where Things Get Fuzzy

Stephanie Burt: Rae​ Armantrout

29 March 2017
Partly: New and Selected Poems 2001-15 
by Rae​ Armantrout.
Wesleyan, 234 pp., £27, September 2016, 978 0 8195 7655 2
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... By​ 1979, when Rae Armantrout published her second book, The Invention of Hunger, with Lyn Hejinian’s Tuumba Press, she was already what much of the literary world would soon learn to call a ‘language poet’. Like ...

Operation Backfire

Francis Spufford: Britain’s space programme

28 October 1999
... The Guided Weapons Department wanted to experiment with larger missiles, but the Space Department had a plan for a shoestring, all-British satellite launcher. The Space Department won. In 1965 the RAE got the green light to construct their Black Arrow vehicle – on condition that it cost virtually nothing. It’s hard to imagine a cheap space rocket. Our image of rockets was fixed by the Apollo ...

I just let him have his beer

Christopher Tayler: John​ Williams Made it Work

9 December 2019
The Man who Wrote the Perfect Novel: John​ Williams, ‘Stoner’ and the Writing Life 
by Charles Shields.
Texas, 305 pp., £23.99, October 2018, 978 1 4773 1736 5
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Nothing but the Night 
by John​ Williams.
NYRB, 144 pp., $14.95, February 2019, 978 1 68137 307 2
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... In​ the summer of 1963, between the appearance of Thomas Pynchon’s first book and the Beatles’ second long-player, John Williams, a professor at the University of Denver, sent his agent in New York a draft of his latest novel, which detailed the unhappy marriage, undistinguished career and early death from cancer of ...


John​ Sutherland: Conrad’s letters

4 December 2003
The Collected Letters of Joseph Conrad. Vol. VI: 1917-19 
edited by Laurence Davies, Frederick R. Karl and Owen Knowles.
Cambridge, 570 pp., £80, December 2002, 0 521 56195 7
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... will work out early on that joining an editorial team embarked on a decades-long ‘service-to-scholarship’ enterprise is a dumb move. Particularly in a profession marching to the quickstep of RAE quinquennial assessments and septennial promotion rungs. Academic life, like everything else, is afflicted by James Gleick’s hurry sickness. The cost of ventures like the Conrad Collected Letters ...

Phantom Gold

John​ Pemble: Victorian Capitalism

7 January 2016
Forging Capitalism: Rogues, Swindlers, Frauds and the Rise of Modern Finance 
by Ian Klaus.
Yale, 287 pp., £18.99, January 2015, 978 0 300 18194 4
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... Wales were paying a dividend of more than 5 per cent; many were paying no dividend at all. The blackest Victorian decade began in 1856, when the Tipperary Bank collapsed and the chairman’s brother, John Sadleir, a serial swindler up to his neck in debt, made the headlines with that suicide by poison on Hampstead Heath (thereby achieving immortality as Merdle in Little Dorrit). A sequence of failures ...
12 November 1987
For Love and Money: Writing, Reading, Travelling 1969-1987 
by Jonathan Raban.
Collins Harvill, 350 pp., £11.50, November 1987, 0 00 272279 8
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Original Copy: Selected Reviews and Journalism 1969-1986 
by John​ Carey.
Faber, 278 pp., £9.95, August 1987, 0 571 14879 4
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... a slasher – though there is a very severe notice of the autobiographies of Anthony Powell and Peter Quennell – and he seems to enjoy being generous to other reviewers, as when he justly praises John Updike. He is full of gratitude to literary editors, commemorating Ian Hamilton’s work on the New Review in terms only this side of idolatry. Such writers and editors do the work he wants to help ...
2 February 1984
The New Testament in Scots 
translated by William Laughton Lorimer.
Canongate, 476 pp., £17.50, October 1983, 0 900025 24 7
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Scotland and the Lowland Tongue 
edited by J. Derrick McClure.
Aberdeen University Press, 256 pp., £17, September 1983, 0 08 028482 5
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... Fat like a day o’t hae ye hid oot by?’ The most obvious point, of course, is that Scots is used especially to mark speakers from the lower classes. Complementary points are implied by the late John Thomas Low, writing on the wealth (or at least number) of modern historical plays in Scots – if you want to have Scots-speaking characters who are not peasants, you must go back in time – and by ...

Part of the Fun of being an English Protestant

Patrick Collinson: Recovering the Reformation

22 July 2004
Reformation: Europe’s House Divided 1490-1700 
by Diarmaid MacCulloch.
Allen Lane, 832 pp., £25, September 2003, 0 7139 9370 7
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... might wish. He must go on to tell us how it was that precociously tolerant Poland was to become synonymous with Roman Catholicism, to the extent that in the late 20th century, in the person of Pope John Paul II, it took charge of the latest episode in the history of a reactive, not to say reactionary, Counter-Reformation. One of the great merits of MacCulloch’s book is that it teaches us that all ...

Must poets write?

Stephanie Burt: Poetry Post-Language

10 May 2012
Unoriginal Genius: Poetry by Other Means in the New Century 
by Marjorie Perloff.
Chicago, 232 pp., £11.50, April 2012, 978 0 226 66061 5
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Uncreative Writing: Managing Language in the Digital Age 
by Kenneth Goldsmith.
Columbia, 272 pp., £15.95, September 2011, 978 0 231 14991 4
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Against Expression: An Anthology of Conceptual Writing 
edited by Craig Dworkin and Kenneth Goldsmith.
Northwestern, 593 pp., £40.50, December 2010, 978 0 8101 2711 1
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Seven Controlled Vocabularies and Obituary 2004, The Joy of Cooking: [Airport Novel Musical Poem Painting Film Photo Hallucination Landscape] 
by Tan Lin.
Wesleyan, 224 pp., £20.50, May 2010, 978 0 8195 6929 5
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... has trained at least two generations of scholars and written many books on writers and artists – tracing a line from Rimbaud through Futurism to Gertrude Stein, Wittgenstein, Frank O’Hara, John Cage and beyond – who have advanced what she sees as modernist goals: above all, the up-to-date, sceptical investigation of the materials and ideas from which a work of art gets made. Though much ...
13 July 2016
An Encyclopedia of Myself 
by Jonathan Meades.
Fourth Estate, 341 pp., £9.99, February 2015, 978 1 85702 905 5
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... its fibres had to be bonded by slabs of butter’. In the school holidays he was sent to stay with various uncles and aunts (‘Uncle Hank and Uncle Wangle … Uncle Cecil, pharmacist. Wife: Auntie Rae. Uncle Edgar, dislikable optician. Wife: Auntie Cath’). Left to his own devices, he made lists: Why were people called Salmon, Pike, Gudgeon, Whiting, Chubb, Grayling, Roach, Haddock, Spratt, Bass ...

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