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Two Poems

Matthew Sweeney, 8 February 2001

... Days of German St Francis didn’t speak German to the robins he fed, nor did Scott as he trudged through the snow, but I did as I crossed the border to Alsace-Lorraine all that winter of ‘77, to dine on choucroute, stock up on wine – bootfuls of it – and bring back ripe munster to stink out the shared fridge on that final 13th floor of the Studenten Wohnheim, from whose balcony we saw far into France, right to the Vosges, and closer, just beneath us, the affair being conducted in the allotments (we rented the binoculars to students from other floors), and where, in July ‘78, after the goodbye party high in the Black Forest, on the eve of a trip to Italy, I announced I wasn’t going because I’d dreamed twice we’d driven off a cliff, straight into the Adriatic, and my friend, to my surprise, hugged me, saying she’d had the same dream – and where the first room I was offered had been a recent suicide’s ...

Short Cuts

Matthew Beaumont: The route to Tyburn Tree, 20 June 2013

... the Paddington frisk’. ‘The whole vagabond population of London,’ the diarist Francis Place wrote, ‘all the thieves, and all the prostitutes, all those who were evil-minded, and some, a comparatively few, curious people made up the mob on those brutalising occasions.’ The memorial to the execution site at Marble Arch is embedded in the ...

What a carry-on

Seamus Perry: W.S. Graham, 18 July 2019

W.S. Graham: New Selected Poems 
edited by Matthew Francis.
Faber, 144 pp., £12.99, September 2018, 978 0 571 34844 2
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W.S. Graham 
edited by Michael Hofmann.
NYRB, 152 pp., £9.99, October 2018, 978 1 68137 276 1
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... selections from his verse, both excellent – Michael Hofmann’s for the NYRB Poets series and Matthew Francis’s New Selected Poems for Faber – the early work doesn’t get much of a showing, even though Graham retained a soft spot for it and made sure these poems were represented in the original Collected Poems that appeared towards the end of ...

Was it a supernova?

Frank Kermode: The Nativity, 4 January 2007

The Nativity: History and Legend 
by Geza Vermes.
Penguin, 177 pp., £7.99, November 2006, 0 14 102446 1
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... account of the conception and birth of Jesus, and even those schoolboys probably care little that Matthew and Luke, the two which do provide Nativity narratives, fail to agree about many important details. Moreover, there are received ideas about the Nativity narrative that have no warrant in either version. So, it may be asked, who cares? Yet to look into ...


D.A.N. Jones, 1 November 1984

by William Kennedy.
Viking, 227 pp., £7.95, September 1984, 0 670 40176 5
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In Custody 
by Anita Desai.
Heinemann, 204 pp., £9.95, October 1984, 9780434186358
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Flaubert’s Parrot 
by Julian Barnes.
Cape, 190 pp., £8.50, October 1984, 0 241 11374 1
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... is about a poker-player and pool hustler called Billy Phelan, who meets his long-lost father, Francis, toward the end of the book. The old man looks like ‘Pete the Tramp without a hat, without the spiky moustache, without the comedy’. Billy asks Francis: ‘What happened to your finger?’ The father ...

Celestial Blue

Matthew Coady, 5 July 1984

Sources Close to the Prime Minister: Inside the Hidden World of the News Manipulators 
by Michael Cockerell and David Walker.
Macmillan, 255 pp., £9.95, June 1984, 0 333 34842 7
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... particular scrutiny. Here is her news machine effectively downing her then Leader of the House, Mr Francis Pym, for what she saw as his economic pessimism. ‘Senior Whitehall sources said that Mrs Thatcher was furious,’ reported the Daily Mail. Even a Budget leak, it seems, is not beyond her. In January 1981, four newspapers whose Lobby men were invited for ...

Burning isn’t the only way to lose a book

Matthew Battles, 13 April 2000

The Library of Alexandria: Centre of Learning in the Ancient World 
edited by Roy MacLeod.
Tauris, 196 pp., £39.50, February 2000, 1 86064 428 7
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... gifts of the Alexandrian legacy: Scholars of antiquity are amused when modernists credit Francis Bacon with inventing the phrase ‘knowledge is power.’ Bacon may have popularised the tocsin of the scientific revolution, but in Alexandria, eighteen hundred years earlier, the quest for universal knowledge had already inspired kingly enterprise. The ...


Ian Sansom: I was a teenage evangelist, 8 July 2004

... in restoring sight to the blind (Luke 4.19), casting out demons (Luke 9.1), cleansing lepers (Matthew 8.1-4), feeding thousands (Luke 9.10-17) and raising the dead (John 11.1-43), but I never quite managed any of those, and had to make do with speaking in tongues (Acts 2.4), having visions (Acts 2.17) and receiving words of wisdom (1 Corinthians ...

Short Cuts

Jenny Diski: Melanie Phillips, 13 May 2010

... devaluation of all three (and much besides) since the Enlightenment: civilisation ruined thanks to Francis Bacon, Rousseau, Hume, Comte, Marx, Bergson, William James, Derrida, Foucault, Lyotard, Gramsci, Rowan Williams, Richard Dawkins, liberation theologians, Princess Diana, Professor Nutt, someone called ...

Read my toes

Francis Spufford, 5 August 1993

The Things That Were Said of Them: Shaman Stories and Oral Histories of the Tikigaq People 
told by Asatchaq, translated by Tukummiq and Tom Lowenstein.
California, 225 pp., £18.95, February 1993, 0 520 06569 7
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Ancient Land, Sacred Whale: The Inuit Hunt and its Rituals 
by Tom Lowenstein.
Bloomsbury, 189 pp., £20, April 1993, 0 7475 1341 4
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... it lay behind the remark by an Inuit that only one explorer in his memory – the black American, Matthew Henson – ‘could speak our language without using his tongue like a baby’. Tom Lowenstein calls the Tikigaqmiut ‘nationalistic’. Despite the absence in Tikigaq of every structure and institution that compose a nation in the European sense, it ...

Cultivating Cultivation

John Mullan: English culture, 18 June 1998

The Pleasures of the Imagination: English Culture in the 18th Century 
by John Brewer.
HarperCollins, 448 pp., £19.99, January 1997, 0 00 255537 9
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... in letters, puts alongside one another the reports of the splenetic but good-hearted hypochondriac Matthew Bramble, seeing wherever he looks in Georgian London the flotsam of ‘a tide of luxury’, and of his niece Lydia Melford, a frothy but virtuous ingénue who discovers, instead, ‘wealth and grandeur’ comparable only to ‘the Arabian Night’s ...

Homage to Rabelais

M.A. Screech, 20 September 1984

... His brand of humour owes more than a little to French farces such as Pathelin, which delighted Francis I when acted at Court. As a student at Montpellier, Rabelais played in a farce and remained proud of the fact. ‘Medieval’ farces were the relaxation of Renaissance kings and the sport of the Renaissance intelligentsia, who (as students) used them for ...

Open in a Scream

Colm Tóibín, 4 March 2021

Francis Bacon: Revelations 
by Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan.
William Collins, 869 pp., £30, January, 978 0 00 729841 9
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... The period​ in Francis Bacon’s life between 1933 and 1944 remains a mystery. We know who he was seeing and where he was living. We know what he painted: in 1933, when he was 23, his Crucifixion that looks like an X-ray; eleven years later, the contortions of Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion ...

Under the Soles of His Feet

Stephen Alford: Henry’s Wars, 4 April 2019

The English People at War in the Age of Henry VIII 
by Steven Gunn.
Oxford, 297 pp., £35, January 2018, 978 0 19 880286 0
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... as the Lord spake unto David my father.This passage is very close indeed to the translation in the Matthew Bible of 1537 (by William Tyndale) and there are just two differences from the King James Bible of 1611 (‘evil occurrent’ in place of ‘any evil plague’; ‘purpose’ for ‘am determined’). But this version is from the Great Bible of ...

The Trouble with Nowhere

Martin Jay, 1 June 2000

The End of Utopia: Politics and Culture in an Age of Apathy 
by Russell Jacoby.
Basic Books, 256 pp., £17.95, April 1999, 0 465 02000 3
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Utopias: Russian Modernist Texts 1905-40 
edited by Catriona Kelly.
Penguin, 378 pp., £9.99, September 1999, 0 14 118081 1
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The Faber Book of Utopias 
edited by John Carey.
Faber, 560 pp., £20, October 1999, 9780571197859
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The Nazi War on Cancer 
by Robert Proctor.
Princeton, 390 pp., £18.95, May 1999, 0 691 00196 0
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... to embrace the sober-minded, philistine meliorism of a Macaulay, whose famous jibe in his essay on Francis Bacon that ‘an acre in Middlesex is worth a principality in Utopia’ is the credo, in Jacoby’s view, of our cynically apathetic, myopically pragmatic age. Although he readily concedes that he has no blueprint for action himself, he nonetheless ...

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