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A Talented Past

Linda Colley, 23 April 1987

The History of Parliament: The House of Commons 1790-1820. Vol. I: Survey 
edited by R.G. Thorne.
Secker, 400 pp., £225, August 1986, 0 436 52101 6
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The History of Parliament: The House of Commons 1790-1820. Vol. II: Constituencies 
edited by R.G. Thorne.
Secker, 704 pp., £225, August 1986, 0 436 52101 6
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The History of Parliament: The House of Commons 1790-1820. Vol. III: Members A-F 
edited by R.G. Thorne.
Secker, 852 pp., £225, August 1986, 0 436 52101 6
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The History of Parliament: The House of Commons 1790-1820. Vol. IV: Members G-P 
edited by R.G. Thorne.
Secker, 908 pp., £225, August 1986, 0 436 52101 6
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The History of Parliament: The House of Commons 1790-1820. Vol. V: Members P-Z 
edited by R.G. Thorne.
Secker, 680 pp., £225, August 1986, 0 436 52101 6
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... by Harold Macmillan and is protected now by the enthusiasm of men such as Roy Jenkins and Robert Rhodes James. But why should those of us who are excluded from this desirable club at Westminster want such an extended work of collective biography? In the case of these volumes one obvious reason lies in the period that they cover. They begin one year after the ...

For Church and State

Paul Addison, 17 July 1980

Sir John Seeley and the Uses of History 
by Deborah Wormell.
Cambridge, 233 pp., £15, March 1980, 0 521 22720 8
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... survived as long as the Empire itself, but otherwise Seeley was neglected until in recent years Richard Shannon and Sheldon Rothblatt both identified him as a leading figure in the reorientation of the Victorian élite. Plainly there was scope for an intellectual biography to match the ideas to the man, and the task was undertaken as a PhD by Deborah ...

Poets and Pretenders

John Sutherland, 2 April 1987

The Great Pretender 
by James Atlas.
Viking, 239 pp., £10.95, February 1987, 9780670814619
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The Position of the Body 
by Richard Stern.
Northwestern, 207 pp., $21.95, November 1986, 0 8101 0730 9
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The Setting Sun and the Rolling World 
by Charles Mungoshi.
Heinemann, 202 pp., £10.95, February 1987, 0 434 48166 1
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Conversations with Lord Byron on Perversion, 162 Years after his Lordship’s Death 
by Amanda Prantera.
Cape, 174 pp., £9.95, March 1987, 9780224024235
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... elegantly demonstrates how ‘the idea of the poet’ framed literary lives from Keats onwards. Richard Helgerson’s Self-Crowned Laureates (1983) does the same for the English Renaissance. The title of The Great Pretender is triple-loaded: the hero Ben Janis is a claimant for poetic fame, a laureate hoping to crown himself. His claims, he suspects with ...

Himbo

James Davidson: Apollonios Rhodios, 5 March 1998

Apollonios Rhodios: The Argonautika 
translated by Peter Green.
California, 480 pp., £45, November 1997, 0 520 07686 9
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... for setting unseens. There are, however, excellent reasons for the obscurity of Apollonius of Rhodes, a poet from the age of Alexander’s successors, one of the first to be born in an Egypt conquered by Greeks. For translators he is a nightmare: Homeric morphology, long sentences writhing with syntactical convolutions and a vocabulary full of ...

World’s Greatest Statesman

Edward Luttwak, 11 March 1993

Churchill: The End of Glory 
by John Charmley.
Hodder, 648 pp., £30, January 1993, 9780340487952
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Churchill: A Major New Assessment of his Life in Peace and War 
edited by Robert Blake and Wm Roger Louis.
Oxford, 517 pp., £19.95, February 1993, 0 19 820317 9
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... Amery among other things, but his co-editor Lord Blake is ... Lord Blake, former Chairman of the Rhodes Trustees, former editor of the Dictionary of National Biography, former ... no, the Disraeli biographer and Tory historian of the Tory Party. Although Lord Blake is Lord Blake, it is exceedingly surprising that Louis did not instead procure the ...

Excessive Bitters

Jenny Diski: The blind man who went around the world, 7 September 2006

A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History’s Greatest Traveller 
by Jason Roberts.
Simon and Schuster, 382 pp., £12.99, August 2006, 0 7432 3966 0
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... Colebrook, was completely deaf. They were the inspiration, it might seem, for the movie starring Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder called See No Evil, Hear No Evil, which had the immortal tagline ‘Dave is deaf, and Wally is blind.’ ‘It may be regarded,’ Holman wrote in his account of the journey, ‘as a curious incident in our travelling connection ...

Diary

Stephen Sedley: Judges’ Lodgings, 11 November 1999

... Platts-Mills. John, now in his nineties and still occasionally practising, came to Balliol as a Rhodes Scholar from New Zealand in 1928. He boxed, rowed and through the Carlton Club became a protégé of Nancy Astor. Their friendship continued, with some alarming contact with a blood-and-nation group called the English Mistery and the offer by an emissary ...

English Butter

David Trotter, 9 October 1986

Englishness: Politics and Culture 1880-1920 
edited by Robert Colls and Philip Dodd.
Croom Helm, 378 pp., £25, June 1986, 0 7099 0849 0
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The Character Factory: Baden-Powell and the Origins of the Boy Scout Movement 
by Michael Rosenthal.
Collins, 335 pp., £15, August 1986, 0 00 217604 1
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Oxford and Empire: The Last Lost Cause? 
by Richard Symonds.
Macmillan, 366 pp., £29.50, July 1986, 0 333 40206 5
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... the shadow of that period, and its meanings, that we still live.’ They choose as their epigraph Richard Shannon’s claim that ‘the characteristic “Englishness” of English culture was made then very much what it is now.’ The essays they have collected aim to describe the institutions, policies and symbols by and through which that characteristic ...

Stardom

Megan Vaughan: Explorers of the Nile, 8 March 2012

Explorers of the Nile: The Triumph and Tragedy of a Great Victorian Adventure 
by Tim Jeal.
Faber, 510 pp., £25, September 2011, 978 0 571 24975 6
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... them? In the course of twenty years in the mid-19th century a group of British explorers – Richard Burton, John Hanning Speke, David Livingstone, Samuel Baker (with his wife, Florence), Henry Morton Stanley and James Grant – slogged out on their respective expeditions through East and Central Africa, and engaged in an intense and bitter battle over ...

My son has been poisoned!

David Bromwich: Cold War movies, 26 January 2012

An Army of Phantoms: American Movies and the Making of the Cold War 
by J. Hoberman.
New Press, 383 pp., £21.99, March 2011, 978 1 59558 005 4
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... Crowd tells of the rise of a country singer and cracker-barrel politician, Larry ‘Lonesome’ Rhodes, of his authentic talent and the authenticity merchants who sell him, of his contempt for his audience and the self-contempt that grows with his facility at pleasing the people. A Face in the Crowd comes from 1957: a post-McCarthy production, in which the ...

A Life without a Jolt

Ferdinand Mount: M.R. James, 26 January 2012

Collected Ghost Stories 
by M.R. James.
Oxford, 468 pp., £14.99, October 2011, 978 0 19 956884 0
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... endeavours. It went all the way down. His friends thought him as sexless as an angel. Montague Rhodes James (1862-1936) lived the unexamined life in spades, in the way that only an unmarried don of his generation could. The son of an Anglican vicar of evangelical inclinations, he won a scholarship to Eton, then another to Henry VI’s sister ...

Enjoying every moment

David Reynolds: Ole Man Churchill, 7 August 2003

Churchill 
by John Keegan.
Weidenfeld, 181 pp., £14.99, November 2002, 0 297 60776 6
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Man of the Century: Winston Churchill and His Legend since 1945 
by John Ramsden.
HarperCollins, 652 pp., £9.99, September 2003, 0 00 653099 0
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Clementine Churchill: The Revised and Updated Biography 
by Mary Soames.
Doubleday, 621 pp., £25, September 2002, 0 385 60446 7
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Churchill at War 1940-45 
by Lord Moran.
Constable, 383 pp., £9.99, October 2002, 1 84119 608 8
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Churchill’s Cold War: The Politics of Personal Diplomacy 
by Klaus Larres.
Yale, 583 pp., £25, June 2002, 0 300 09438 8
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... more to those discussed here – as are the movies and documentaries, with Albert Finney following Richard Burton and Robert Hardy as a screen Churchill. As for approval ratings, in an admittedly contrived phone-poll BBC2 viewers last November voted him the greatest Briton of all time. Most Churchill biographies have been massive: Roy Jenkins’s weighed in at ...

McNed

Gillian Darley: Lutyens, 17 April 2003

The Architect and His Wife: A Life of Edwin Lutyens 
by Jane Ridley.
Chatto, 524 pp., £25, June 2002, 0 7011 7201 0
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Edwin Lutyens, Country Houses: From the Archives of ‘Country Life’ 
by Gavin Stamp.
Aurum, 192 pp., £35, May 2001, 1 85410 763 1
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Lutyens Abroad 
edited by Andrew Hopkins and Gavin Stamp.
British School at Rome, 260 pp., £34.95, March 2002, 0 904152 37 5
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... he christened Wrennaissance. He was mortified to lose, especially since one of the judges was Richard Norman Shaw, the living architect he most admired. But if Lutyens had been known solely for the unexceptional commercial offices and banks he produced in the interwar period, as he struggled to keep offices in London and India and support his family, he ...

Nixon’s Greatest Moments

R.W. Johnson, 13 May 1993

Nixon: A Life 
by Jonathan Aitken.
Weidenfeld, 633 pp., £25, January 1993, 0 297 81259 9
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... Winding up his efforts in the 1954 mid-term elections Vice-President Richard Nixon handed an aide the notes of his last campaign speech and said: ‘You might like to keep it as a souvenir. It’s the last one, because after this I am through with politics.’ Suffering one of his periodic depressions, Nixon had considered the matter with his wife Pat, and decided that he should retire from politics once his term as Vice-President finished in 1956 ...

You can’t prove I meant X

Clare Bucknell, 16 April 2020

Poetics of the Pillory: English Literature and Seditious Libel, 1660-1820 
by Thomas Keymer.
Oxford, 352 pp., £25, October 2019, 978 0 19 874449 8
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... read Dryden’s Mac Flecknoe (1682), with its delicate possible parallel between the dunce writer Richard Flecknoe and Charles II, but not Nero the Second. Charles can’t be twinned with Flecknoe as straightforwardly as George I with Nero but, as Keymer shows, it’s the non-straightforwardness of the parallel – the way it’s built up from detail to ...

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