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Athenian View

Michael Brock

12 March 1992
Public Moralists: Political Thought and Intellectual Life in Britain, 1850-1930 
by Stefan Collini.
Oxford, 383 pp., £40, September 1991, 0 19 820173 7
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... In seven of the nine chapters in this fine book Dr Collini depicts the denizens of the Athenaeum in its great days. T.H. Huxley, having left his umbrella at Matthew Arnold’s, asks his friend to ‘bring it next time you come to the club’. Leslie Stephen, elected in 1877 on the strength of his History of English Thought in the 18th Century, enjoys the irony that this defence of free thought has ...

People’s Friend

Michael Brock

27 September 1990
Lord Grey: 1764-1845 
by E.A. Smith.
Oxford, 338 pp., £37.50, March 1990, 9780198201632
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... No political reputation has fluctuated, and been disputed, more violently than that of ‘Lord Grey of the Reform Bill’. Soon after his retirement in 1834 the Courier pronounced that no other public man had ‘ever had so great a claim to the gratitude of his country’. Less than two years later an ex-colleague, John Cam Hobhouse, commented: ‘I am surprised how, by mere fluency of speech and arrogance ...

Honest Graft

Michael Brock

23 June 1988
Corruption in British Politics, 1895-1930 
by G.R. Searle.
Oxford, 448 pp., £19.50, November 1987, 0 19 822915 1
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... Dr Searle began by investigating the radical right in Edwardian Britain. He soon decided that the accusations of corruption constantly made by its members deserved serious historical attention: they could not all be attributed to anti-semitism and ‘political paranoia’. This led him to widen the scope of his work until it comprehended the whole ‘plutocratic era’ from the 1890s ‘to about 1930 ...

Ruthless Young Man

Michael Brock

14 September 1989
Churchill: 1874-1922 
by Frederick Earl of Birkenhead, edited by Sir John Colville.
Harrap, 552 pp., £19.95, August 1989, 0 245 54779 7
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... A review of this book has to start with its tragic and complex history. The official Life of Churchill was originally to be in five volumes. Randolph Churchill died in 1968 when only the first two of these had been published. The Trustees of the Chartwell Papers then invited Martin Gilbert to complete this multi-volume work, and the second Earl of Birkenhead to complement it with a one-volume Life ...
26 November 1987
David Lloyd George: A Political Life. The Architect of Change, 1863-1912 
by Bentley Brinkerhoff Gilbert.
Batsford, 546 pp., £25, April 1987, 0 7134 5558 6
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... Bentley Gilbert is a historian well-equipped to strip off myths and expose facts. All his skills were needed here: during some seventeen years of ministerial life Lloyd George took a hand in five books about himself, and much distortion resulted. After the war, for instance, Ll.G. hoped that his long struggle against Naval expenditure had been forgotten. He recorded that in July 1908 he had told the ...

Did more mean worse?

Michael Brock

23 October 1986
Government and the Universities in Britain: Programme and Performance 1960-1980 
by John Carswell.
Cambridge, 181 pp., £19.50, January 1986, 9780521258265
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... John Carswell is uniquely qualified to provide an official’s chronicle of British higher education in the Robbins and post-Robbins phases. He was assigned to the universities desk in the Treasury in 1960 when the Robbins Committee was being appointed. He left the secretaryship of the University Grants Committee for that of the British Academy in 1977. As his historical work on the 18th century has ...

A Very Bad Case

Michael Brock

11 June 1992
Herbert Samuel: A Political Life 
by Bernard Wasserstein.
Oxford, 427 pp., £45, January 1992, 0 19 822648 9
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... This admirable biography answers nearly all the old questions about Herbert Samuel, but raises a few new ones. He was no more a ‘cold and dry person’ than Hugh Gaitskell was ‘a desiccated calculating-machine’. These descriptions, by Lloyd George and Aneurin Bevan respectively, reveal little more than the effects of personal irritation on imaginative Welsh politicians. In his final chapter Professor ...

They were all drunk

Michael Brock

21 March 1991
The Letters of Rudyard Kipling. Vol I: 1872-1889 
edited by Thomas Pinney.
Macmillan, 386 pp., £45, November 1990, 0 333 36086 9
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The Letters of Rudyard Kipling. Vol II: 1890-1899 
edited by Thomas Pinney.
Macmillan, 386 pp., £45, November 1990, 0 333 36087 7
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... If it still needs to be proved that Kipling’s realism was highly intermittent, those lines from his last years should do the job. His correspondence was sure to reach biographers and editors in the end. He could hamper, but not stop them. Ever since the launch of the Kipling rocket more than forty years earlier he had been far too famous for his letters to have been thrown away. At 24 he had not ...

War within wars

Paul Addison

5 November 1992
War, Strategy and International Politics: Essays in Honour of Sir Michael​ Howard 
edited by Lawrence Freedman, Paul Hayes and Robert O’Neill.
Oxford, 322 pp., £35, July 1992, 0 19 822292 0
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... As he looks forward to his 70th birthday Sir Michael Howard can also look back over a distinguished career which began with Wellington, Christ Church and the Coldstream Guards. In 1943, as Lieutenant Howard, fresh from the University, he led his ...

Easy-Going Procrastinators

Ferdinand Mount: Margot Asquith’s War

8 January 2015
Margot Asquith’s Great War Diary 1914-16: The View from Downing Street 
edited by Michael Brock and Eleanor Brock, selected by Eleanor Brock.
Oxford, 566 pp., £30, June 2014, 978 0 19 822977 3
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Margot at War: Love And Betrayal In Downing Street, 1912-16 
by Anne de Courcy.
Weidenfeld, 376 pp., £20, November 2014, 978 0 297 86983 2
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The Darkest Days: The Truth Behind Britain’s Rush To War, 1914 
by Douglas Newton.
Verso, 386 pp., £20, July 2014, 978 1 78168 350 7
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... Margot Asquith kept a diary for 47 years, off and on, starting when she was 12 years old. Yet it is only the two and a half years from July 1914 to Asquith’s fall in December 1916 that Michael and Eleanor Brock have chosen to publish. Even within this period, they tell us, they have excluded most of her musings on her family, as well as lists of many of the guests she entertained so ...

Something of Importance

Philip Williamson

2 February 1989
The Coming of the First World War 
edited by R.J.W. Evans and Hartmut Pogge von Strandmann.
Oxford, 189 pp., £22.50, November 1988, 0 19 822899 6
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The Experience of World War One 
by J.M. Winter.
Macmillan, 256 pp., £17.95, November 1988, 0 333 44613 5
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Russia and the Allies 1917-1920. Vol II: The Road to Intervention, March-November 1918 
by Michael​ Kettle.
Routledge, 401 pp., £40, June 1988, 0 415 00371 7
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Douglas Haig 1861-1928 
by Gerald De Groot.
Unwin Hyman, 441 pp., £20, November 1988, 0 04 440192 2
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Nothing of Importance: A Record of Eight Months at the Front with a Welsh Battalion 
by Bernard Adams.
The Strong Oak Press/Tom Donovan Publishing, 324 pp., £11.95, October 1988, 9781871048018
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1914-1918: Voices and Images of the Great War 
by Lyn Macdonald.
Joseph, 346 pp., £15.95, November 1988, 0 7181 3188 6
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... 24th that ‘we are within measurable ... distance of a real Armageddon,’ he meant a purely Continental war, for he added: ‘Happily there seems no reason why we should be more than spectators.’ MichaelBrock shows with great skill that it was not so much the German invasion of Belgium but the precise nature of that invasion which produced a wide British consensus for war 11 days later. In most ...
10 January 1983
Benjamin Disraeli Letters: Vol. I 1815-1834, Vol. II 1835-1837 
edited by J.A.W. Gunn, John Matthews, Donald Schurman and M.G. Wiebe.
Toronto, 482 pp., £37.50, June 1982, 0 8020 5523 0
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The Gladstone Diaries: with Cabinet Minutes and Prime Ministerial Correspondence, Vol. VII, January 1869-June 1871, Vol. VIII, July 1871-December 1874 
edited by H.C.G. Matthew.
Oxford, 641 pp., £35, September 1982, 0 19 822638 1
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Disraeli 
by Sarah Bradford.
Weidenfeld, 432 pp., £14.95, October 1982, 0 297 78153 7
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Gladstone: Vol. I 1809-1865 
by Richard Shannon.
Hamish Hamilton, 580 pp., £18, November 1982, 0 241 10780 6
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H.H. Asquith: Letters to Venetia Stanley 
edited by Michael Brock and Eleanor Brock.
Oxford, 676 pp., £19.50, November 1982, 0 19 212200 2
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... on Venetia Stanley has already been mentioned. The publication of his letters to her – hers to him have not survived – is the culmination of an historical mystery story of many years standing. Michael and Eleanor Brock tell the tale in an appendix to this admirably edited correspondence. Asquith, when preparing the second volume of his Memories and Reflections, asked Venetia Montagu (as she now ...

Make it more like a murder mystery

Eleanor Birne: The life and death of Stuart Shorter

19 May 2005
Stuart: A Life Backwards 
by Alexander Masters.
Fourth Estate, 295 pp., £12.99, April 2005, 0 00 720036 6
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... where he was finally apprehended and restrained. Another tenuous connection, since I seem to be looking for them, is that Stuart was looked after by a man who used to be part of my family: John Brock, who ran a drop-in centre in Cambridge as part of the Wintercomfort homeless charity. Stuart was one of the people who campaigned for John’s release after he was imprisoned, along with ...

Embourgeoisement

Michael​ Burns

23 February 1995
Animals and Human Society: Changing Perspectives 
edited by Aubrey Manning and James Serpell.
Routledge, 199 pp., £35, February 1994, 0 415 09155 1
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The Beast in the Boudoir: Pet-Keeping in 19th-Century Paris 
by Kathleen Kete.
California, 200 pp., £22.50, August 1994, 0 520 07101 8
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... deer is more apt to be shot by an aristocrat in Germany than anywhere else in the world. The book’s contributors touch on common themes. We learn a great deal from archaeo-zoologist Juliet Clutton-Brock, for example, about the significance of animal domestication ten thousand years ago, about the ‘resemblance between the husbanding of livestock and the keeping of slaves’ and about property ...
5 July 1984
Margot: A Life of the Countess of Oxford and Asquith 
by Daphne Bennett.
Gollancz, 442 pp., £12.95, May 1984, 0 575 03279 0
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... in on this legacy. The diary, accompanied by an undisclosed quantity of private correspondence, thereupon passed into other family hands. Mark Bonham Carter, who holds the copyright, permitted Michael and Eleanor Brock to consult – but, one may infer from their cautious phraseology, not to draw directly on – these materials in the course of preparing their splendid edition of Asquith’s ...

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