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In the Know

Simon Schaffer

10 November 1994
Science and the Secrets of Nature: Books of Secrets in Medieval and Early Modern Culture 
by William Eamon.
Princeton, 490 pp., £38.50, July 1994, 0 691 03402 8
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The Business of Alchemy: Science and Culture in the Holy Roman Empire 
by Pamela Smith.
Princeton, 308 pp., £30, July 1994, 0 691 05691 9
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... schemes for alchemical transmutation, perpetual motion machines, astronomical devices and other strange new artifices, promising huge returns and immense repute among their fellows. This is the world PamelaSmith describes in her fine study of the relation between alchemy and commerce in the German-speaking lands of the later 17th century. While Eamon takes a broad, if not long-winded, view of the ...

Short Cuts

Thomas Jones: Godot on a bike

5 February 2004
... rely on their vanity, or else their sense of shame: either they won’t recognise themselves in your unflattering portrayal, or they’ll be too embarrassed to own up to it. In the words of Lee Smith, the author of Fair and Tender Ladies and, most recently, The Last Girls: ‘It’s easy to disguise them enough for the purposes of putting them in a novel – just add a moustache, or change their ...

Locum, Lacum, Lucum

Anthony Grafton: The Emperor of Things

13 September 2018
Pietro Bembo and the Intellectual Pleasures of a Renaissance Writer and Art Collector 
by Susan Nalezyty.
Yale, 277 pp., £50, May 2017, 978 0 300 21919 7
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Pietro Bembo on Etna: The Ascent of a Venetian Humanist 
by Gareth Williams.
Oxford, 440 pp., £46.49, August 2017, 978 0 19 027229 6
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... have scrutinised post mortem inventories to identify the books that physicians, notaries and housewives, none of them famous, owned and read. For her forthcoming study, Engineering the Eternal City, Pamela Long spelunked in sewers and fossicked in archives to find out how the popes piped fresh water to their city and sewage away from it.* Lawrence Principe and William Newman (Alchemy Tried in the Fire ...

Puffed up, Slapped down

Rosemary Hill: Charles and Camilla

6 September 2017
Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life 
by Sally Bedell Smith.
Michael Joseph, 624 pp., £25, April 2017, 978 0 7181 8780 4
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The Duchess: The Untold Story 
by Penny Junor.
William Collins, 320 pp., £20, June 2017, 978 0 00 821100 4
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... with the Mountbattens, Edwina Mountbatten explained to him that he shouldn’t take the stalks out of his strawberries because he could pick them up by the stems and dip them in the sugar. His cousin Pamela Hicks noticed a few minutes later that ‘the poor child was trying to put all the stems back on. That was so sad.’ ‘Sad’ is a word that has often been applied to the Prince of Wales, with ...


Christopher Hitchens: On Peregrine Worsthorne

4 November 1993
... say the unsayable, but the pose didn’t seem too strenuous to keep up. Anyway, it often wasn’t a pose, as I came to appreciate when we spent some time in Rhodesia during the closing years of the Smith-run settler dictatorship. Worsthorne was hanging out with real white trash like P.K. Van der Byl, Smith’s kinkily sadistic deputy, and Richard Cecil, the brave but dim-bulbed scion of the ...

The Bart

Gabriele Annan

10 December 1987
Broken Blood: The Rise and Fall of the Tennant Family 
by Simon Blow.
Faber, 224 pp., £14.95, October 1987, 0 571 13374 6
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... pall of stuffy philistinism, waiting for the unconventional Tennants to kiss it awake. The kiss was administered by the girls: Charlotte, who married Lord Ribblesdale; Lucy, who married Thomas Graham-Smith; Laura, who married Alfred Lyttelton; and Margot, who considerably later married Asquith and had the highest profile of them all. The male Tennants of that generation were not conspicuous for ...
23 March 1995
Cyril Connolly: A Nostalgic Life 
by Clive Fisher.
Macmillan, 304 pp., £20, March 1995, 0 333 57813 9
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... hand was an art often cultivated in that vanished epoch, and Connolly was one of the many who profited from it. He was to profit, too, from the ambiguous kindness and patronage of Logan Pearsall Smith, brother-in-law of Bertrand Russell and bachelor son of rich American Quakers. He was famous for the trouble he took over his polished style, and was compiling A Treasury of English Aphorisms. He ...
12 July 1990
Serious Pleasures: The Life of Stephen Tennant 
by Philip Hoare.
Hamish Hamilton, 463 pp., £20, June 1990, 0 241 12416 6
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... excellent biography by Philip Hoare, in case some readers may not have heard of him. He was born in 1906, the son of a rich industrialist, Edward Tennant, who became Lord Glenconner in 1911, and of Pamela Wyndham, one of the Wyndham sisters immortalised by Sargent in his painting The Three Graces. Margot Tennant, who married Asquith, the Liberal prime minister, was his paternal aunt. Tennant spent his ...

My word, Miss Perkins

Jenny Diski: In the Typing Pool

4 August 2005
Literary Secretaries/Secretarial Culture 
edited by Leah Price and Pamela​ Thurschwell.
Ashgate, 168 pp., £40, January 2005, 0 7546 3804 9
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... of thing, like the contributors to this book of essays, authors create, and typists write. Some authors apparently split themselves in two and do both. Just ten minutes ago I heard Alexander McCall Smith, a writer of feel-good detective novels, tell an interviewer how his work comes to him through his ‘unconscious’: plots, characters, everything bubbles up from the murky depths and tells him its ...


Ian Campbell Ross: ‘provincial genius’

23 October 2003
Hermsprong; or Man as He Is Not 
by Robert Bage, edited by Pamela​ Perkins.
Broadview, 387 pp., £8.99, March 2002, 1 55111 279 5
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... through the tempered sympathy of Charles Johnstone in Chrysal (1760-65), to the harsh relation of Lismahago’s captivity among the Miami in Humphry Clinker (1771) and the ambivalence of Charlotte Smith in The Old Manor House (1793). (Writing about these matters in Captives, Linda Colley underestimates the extent to which British perceptions of Native Americans in the period were mediated through ...

Close Relations

T.H. Barrett: Tibet and the Dalai Lama

2 April 1998
The Buddha of Brewer Street 
by Michael Dobbs.
HarperCollins, 288 pp., £16.99, January 1998, 0 00 225412 3
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The Book of Tibetan Elders: Life Stories and Wisdom from the Great Spiritual Masters of Tibet 
by Sandy Johnson.
Constable, 282 pp., £17.95, February 1997, 0 09 476950 8
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The Art of Tibet 
by Robert Fisher.
Thames and Hudson, 224 pp., £7.95, November 1997, 0 500 20308 3
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Tibetan Nation: A History of Tibetan Nationalism and Sino-Tibetan Relations 
by Warren Smith​ Jr..
Westview, 732 pp., £59.50, December 1996, 0 8133 3155 2
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The Way to Freedom 
by His Holiness The Dalai Lama.
Thorsons, 181 pp., £7.99, February 1997, 0 00 220043 0
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Awakening the Mind, Lightening the Heart 
by His Holiness The Dalai Lama.
Thorsons, 238 pp., £8.99, February 1997, 0 00 220045 7
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Kundun: A Biography of the Family of the Dalai Lama 
by Mary Craig.
HarperCollins, 392 pp., £17.99, May 1997, 0 00 627838 8
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... merit a compact but lavishly illustrated history from Robert Fisher, a grasp of the current situation needs more explicit testimony than even these powerful images provide. It is obvious from Warren Smith’s marathon retelling of the tangled tale of Tibet and its longstanding relationship with China that things may be yet more complex than his seven hundred pages allow for, since he reads neither ...

Freaks, Dwarfs and Boors

Thomas Keymer: 18th-Century Jokes

2 August 2012
Cruelty and Laughter: Forgotten Comic Literature and the Unsentimental 18th Century 
by Simon Dickie.
Chicago, 362 pp., £29, December 2011, 978 0 226 14618 8
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... Compassion was invented in the 18th century, or so the story goes. Sensibility and sympathy were the wellspring of benevolent action and the glue of society (Adam Smith). There were no qualities more admirable ‘than beneficence and humanity … or whatever proceeds from a tender sympathy with others’ (David Hume). Fashionable poems deplored slavery and child ...

May I come to your house to philosophise?

John Barrell: Godwin’s Letters

8 September 2011
The Letters of William Godwin Vol. I: 1778-97 
by Pamela​ Clemit.
Oxford, 306 pp., £100, February 2011, 978 0 19 956261 9
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... by a team led by Mark Philp, went live on the internet (, and this year saw the publication of the first of six volumes of his letters, also immaculately edited by Pamela Clemit. The volume starts in 1778, when Godwin took up his first post as a dissenting minister, through the publication of An Enquiry concerning Political Justice in 1793 and The Adventures of Caleb ...

Unreasoning Vigour

Stefan Collini: Ian Watt

9 May 2019
Ian Watt: The Novel and the Wartime Critic 
by Marina MacKay.
Oxford, 228 pp., £25, November 2018, 978 0 19 882499 2
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... work it is. Watt cites Lukács in German and Durkheim in French, alongside works by Weber, Troeltsch, Mannheim, Merton, Parsons, Radcliffe-Brown and more. In his preface he thanks Adorno, Henry Nash Smith, I.A. Richards, Talcott Parsons and Peter Laslett, among others. The standard caricature of the Cambridge-influenced criticism of the postwar years represents it as blunderingly empirical and cosily ...
2 March 1989
Friends of Promise: Cyril Connolly and the World of ‘Horizon’ 
by Michael Shelden.
Hamish Hamilton, 254 pp., £15.95, February 1989, 0 241 12647 9
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Coastwise Lights 
by Alan Ross.
Collins Harvill, 254 pp., £12.95, June 1988, 0 00 271767 0
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William Plomer 
by Peter Alexander.
Oxford, 397 pp., £25, March 1989, 0 19 212243 6
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... the war, and throughout the Forces – was in its strange flair for what might be called Mandarin Democracy. It reconciled the toughs with the aesthetes, proletarian writers with the Logan Pearsall Smith generation (Connolly had been for a time his secretary); Orwells with Sitwells; the new Continental heavyweights like Giono, Sartre and Camus with snugly parochial English eccentrics. It inaugurated ...

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