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Keith Thomas: Working Methods

10 June 2010
... Properly organised, a good collection of extracts provided a reserve of quotations and aphorisms which could be used to support an argument or adorn a literary composition. As the historian Thomas Fuller remarked, ‘A commonplace book contains many notions in garrison, whence the owner may draw out an army into the field on competent warning.’ These compilations were not necessarily a ...
15 December 2011
... We are all deeply anxious about the future of British universities. Our list of concerns is a long one. It includes the discontinuance of free university education; the withdrawal of direct public funding for the teaching of the humanities and the social sciences; the subjection of universities to an intrusive regime of government regulation and inquisitorial audit; the crude attempt to measure and ...

No High Heels in Paradise

Keith Thomas: John Evelyn’s Elysium Britannicum

19 July 2001
Elysium Britannicum, or the Royal Gardens 
by John Evelyn, edited by John Ingram.
Pennsylvania, 492 pp., £49, December 2000, 0 8122 3536 3
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... extensive discussion of trees and flowers is greatly indebted to the innovations made by Dutch horticulturalists, though he also draws from English authors, like John Parkinson, John Rea and Sir Thomas Hanmer. He describes ‘coronary gardens’ (to produce garlands and wreaths) and ‘philosophico-medical gardens’ (yielding simples and adorned with effigies ‘of the most skillfull & illustrious ...


Keith Thomas

20 April 1995
Theatres of Memory. Vol. I: Past and Present in Contemporary Culture 
by Raphael Samuel.
Verso, 479 pp., £18.95, February 1995, 0 86091 209 4
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... chapter. There are also many minor errors of the kind made by an author in whose head an infinity of names and places are buzzing around: the 17th-century antiquarian was William Dugdale, not Thomas; the early Victorian author of The Mansions of England in the Olden Time was the artist Joseph Nash, not the architect John; the authority on Hadrian’s Wall is Robin Birley, not Robert; William III ...

Verie Sillie People

Keith Thomas: Bacon’s Lives

7 February 2013
The Oxford Francis Bacon Vol. I: Early Writings 1584-96 
edited by Alan Stewart, with Harriet Knight.
Oxford, 1066 pp., £200, September 2012, 978 0 19 818313 6
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... to drop out because of illness, and the role of his other colleague, Douglas Denon Heath, was limited to editing the legal works. The result ranks among the greatest works of Victorian scholarship. Thomas Carlyle called it ‘the hugest and faithfullest bit of literary navvy work I have ever met with in this generation’. Spedding received no payment for his vast labours, but was allowed to buy ...

Porringers and Pitkins

Keith Thomas: The Early Modern Household

5 July 2018
A Day at Home in Early Modern England: Material Culture and Domestic Life, 1500-1700 
by Tara Hamling and Catherine Richardson.
Yale, 311 pp., £40, October 2017, 978 0 300 19501 9
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... reached its peak. In 1852 the composer Henry Bishop relaunched ‘Home, Sweet Home’, the parlour ballad which the opera singer Jenny Lind made wildly popular. Ten years later the great antiquary Thomas Wright published his History of Domestic Manners and Sentiments in England during the Middle Ages. Reissued in 1871 as The Homes of Other Days, it contained more than three hundred illustrations ...

Gentle Boyle

Keith Thomas

22 September 1994
A Social History of Truth: Civility and Science in 17th-Century England 
by Steven Shapin.
Chicago, 483 pp., £23.95, June 1994, 0 226 75018 3
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... of Aristotle, Galen and the other philosophers of Antiquity which had led to centuries of error. Instead, the new experimental philosophers should rely only on their own reason and experience. Sir Thomas Browne declared that ‘a powerfull enemy unto knowledge’ was ‘confident adherence unto any Authority, or resignation of our judgments upon the testimony of any Age or Author whatsoever’; and ...

Killing Stones

Keith Thomas: Holy Places

19 May 2011
The Reformation of the Landscape: Religion, Identity and Memory in Early Modern Britain and Ireland 
by Alexandra Walsham.
Oxford, 637 pp., £35, February 2011, 978 0 19 924355 6
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... were wayside crosses and holy trees, like the miraculous Glastonbury Thorn that flowered on Christmas Day. The Puritan preacher Hugh Peter wanted to pull down Stonehenge, and the 18th-century Baptist Thomas Robinson boasted that he had ‘killed’ 40 stones at Avebury with his own hands. But, like the radicals who proposed that all churches and cathedrals should be razed to the ground, they were ...

Death in Cumbria

Alan Macfarlane

19 May 1983
Man and the Natural World: Changing Attitudes in England 1500-1800 
by Keith Thomas.
Allen Lane, 426 pp., £14.95, March 1983, 0 7139 1227 8
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... society, where man lived in a largely artificial landscape, yet it was in England that respect and love for the wild, the wet and the non-artificial was most developed. Part of the achievement of KeithThomas’s delightful new book is to explain these paradoxes. His central argument is that these are not real oppositions, but are linked as cause and effect. It was because of the urbanism, the ...
13 November 1997
The Fall and Rise of the Stately Home 
by Peter Mandler.
Yale, 523 pp., £19.95, April 1997, 0 300 06703 8
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Ancient as the Hills 
by James Lees-Milne.
Murray, 228 pp., £20, July 1997, 0 7195 5596 5
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The Fate of the English Country House 
by David Littlejohn.
Oxford, 344 pp., £20, May 1997, 9780195088762
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... The stately home is England’s most characteristic contribution to international tourism. Many countries have old houses which are open to the public. But neither the châteaux of the Loire nor the Palladian villas of the Brenta nor the antebellum homes of Natchez can offer the spectacle of an ancient house, set in its own gardens and park, surrounded by its agricultural estates, crammed with furniture ...


Keith Thomas: Two Years a Squaddie

5 February 2015
... I sometimes have​ bad dreams about being back in the army. It’s not that the experience of National Service was entirely unpleasant; indeed some of it was highly enjoyable. But even at the best of times there was a sense of living in an open prison. In my case, this oppressive sense of unfreedom lay in the knowledge that it would be many long months before I would see my family again or take up ...


John Brewer

5 August 1982
English Society in the Eighteenth Century 
by Roy Porter.
Allen Lane/Pelican, 424 pp., £12.50, April 1982, 0 7139 1417 3
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... for so long in protracted adolescence, seems finally to have come of age. The work of two generations of researchers, led by such avatars as Alan Everitt, Peter Laslett, J. H. Plumb, Lawrence Stone, KeithThomas and E. P. Thompson, now constitutes a substantial body of knowledge that has transformed our conception both of British history and of what constitutes legitimate historical inquiry. The ...
25 October 1979
The Second Coming: Popular Millenarianism 1780-1850 
by J.F.C. Harrison.
Routledge, 277 pp., £9.95
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... Thanks to​ the work of Norman Cohn, Christopher Hill, Eric Hobsbawm, KeithThomas and others, we have, over the past few years, acquired a lot of information about millenarianism as a social and historical force. The belief that the end is nigh, or that a new series of times is ...

Making a Mouth in a Contemptuous Manner

John Gallagher: Civility Held Sway

4 July 2019
In Pursuit of Civility: Manners and Civilisation in Early Modern England 
by Keith Thomas.
Yale, 457 pp., £25, June 2018, 978 0 300 23577 7
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... against the Romans and Greeks, early modern English thinkers worried that their customs, society and language were ruder and less polished than those of their Continental counterparts. The translator Thomas Hoby called for writers to translate important works in order to enrich their own language, so that ‘we alone of the worlde maye not bee styll counted barbarous in our tunge, as in time out of ...

Common Thoughts

Eamon Duffy: Early Modern Ambition

23 July 2009
The Ends of Life: Roads to Fulfilment in Early Modern England 
by Keith Thomas.
Oxford, 393 pp., £20, February 2009, 978 0 19 924723 3
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... KeithThomas prefaces this book with a quotation from the greatest of English medievalists, F.W. Maitland: ‘A century hence . . . by slow degrees the thoughts of our forefathers, their common thoughts about ...

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