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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 ...

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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... Very few schoolboys know that of the four Gospels only two offer any 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 ...

Short Cuts

Matthew​ Beaumont: The route to Tyburn Tree

20 June 2013
... that enclosed Hyde Park – all competing for a glimpse of the moment when the condemned man or woman ‘danced 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 ...


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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... as Penguin paperbacks.* The first is about the Albany gangster, Jack ‘Legs’ Diamond; the second 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 ...

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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... I’m not sure even his greatest admirers have very much time for the early poems. In the two recent selections from his verse, both excellent – Michael Hofmann’s for the NYRB Poets series and MatthewFrancis’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 ...

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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... the same source: Tobias Smollett’s The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker (1771). The novel written 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 ...

Short Cuts

Jenny Diski: Melanie Phillips

13 May 2010
... rights, ideas and politics of the West, all originating with the Hebrew Bible, and the shocking 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 ...

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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... waters, and it is Mrs Thatcher’s accomplishments in this field of human endeavour which come under 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 ...
20 September 1984
... character. There is a Gaulois element in all four of Rabelais’s definitely authentic Chronicles. 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 ...


Ian Sansom: I was a teenage evangelist

8 July 2004
... power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus (Acts 4.33). I was also interested 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 ...
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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... imaginations of those who might once have dreamed of a radically different world. We have all come 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 ...

Odd Union

David Cannadine

20 October 1994
Mrs Jordan’s Profession: The Story of a Great Actress and a Future King 
by Claire Tomalin.
Viking, 415 pp., £18, October 1994, 0 670 84159 5
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...  adored by theatre-goers in London and the provinces; acclaimed by Hazlitt, Byron and Coleridge; cartooned by Gillray, Cruickshank, Rowlandson and Dent; and portrayed by Romney, Beechey, Hoppner, Matthew Peters and John Russell. Nor has she been entirely forgotten by posterity. To be sure, she was not even mentioned by name in Percy Fitzgerald’s two-volume life of King William IV, published in 1884 ...

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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... nor any evil plague. And behold, I am determined to build an house unto the name of the Lord my God, 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 ...

Philip’s People

Anna Della Subin: Divine Prince Philip

7 May 2014
... of a remote tropical island populated by savages who have never seen a white man before. Drop anchor. Enjoy your apotheosis. The constellation of white explorers said to have been hailed as gods – Francis Drake, Hernán Cortés, Captain Cook, Christopher Columbus, to name a few – acquired a new star in the mid-1970s, when Prince Philip vacationed off the coast of Tanna, in what was then the New ...


Bruce Bawer

2 May 1985
Invented Lives: F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald 
by James Mellow.
Souvenir, 569 pp., £15.95, February 1985, 0 285 65001 7
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Home before Dark: A Personal Memoir of John Cheever 
by Susan Cheever.
Weidenfeld, 243 pp., £10.95, January 1985, 0 297 78376 9
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... be many who are unfamiliar with the outlines of the Scott Fitzgerald story: the early years in St Paul as the humiliated son of a failed businessman (and as the inordinately proud descendant of Francis Scott Key, author of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’); the glorious salad days at Princeton University, which he left without a degree; the wartime courtship of Zelda Sayre, the belle of Montgomery ...

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