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Jews on horseback

Peter Clarke, 10 May 1990

Disraeli 
by John Vincent.
Oxford, 127 pp., £4.95, March 1990, 0 19 287681 3
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... No, what scotched the Disraelian legend as serious history was the standard biography by Robert Blake in 1966. Lord Blake possesses unimpeachable credentials as the eminent chronicler of the evolution of the Conservative Party. But he maintains also irreproachable standards as an academic historian, and these ...

Finding a role

Peter Pulzer, 5 September 1985

The Decline of Power: 1915-1964 
by Robert Blake.
Granada, 462 pp., £18, June 1985, 0 246 10753 7
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... to make a chain of events comprehensible. The choice of dates, as well as the title, betrays Lord Blake’s theme. In 1915 Britain was still the world’s premier power, challenged and threatened, no longer truly hegemonic, yet superior to any other single rival. As late as 1964, he observes, ‘the rulers of England, Conservative and Labour alike, still ...

The Man Who Never Glared

John Pemble: Disraeli, 5 December 2013

Disraeli: or, The Two Lives 
by Douglas Hurd and Edward Young.
Orion, 320 pp., £20, July 2013, 978 0 297 86097 6
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The Great Rivalry: Gladstone and Disraeli 
by Dick Leonard.
I.B. Tauris, 226 pp., £22.50, June 2013, 978 1 84885 925 8
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Disraeli: The Romance of Politics 
by Robert O’Kell.
Toronto, 595 pp., £66.99, February 2013, 978 1 4426 4459 5
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... reinvents himself as a Tory: the Tories are now led by his contemporary and old school friend, Robert Peel. At Harrow, Peel was a model pupil; Byron was a madcap, and he still thinks a lot more of Peel than Peel thinks of him. Peel is committed to transforming the Tory Party. He’s out of sympathy with horsey aristocrats, rustic squires, dissolute ...

Refuge of the Aristocracy

Paul Smith: The British Empire, 21 June 2001

Ornamentalism: How the British Saw Their Empire 
by David Cannadine.
Allen Lane, 264 pp., £16.99, May 2001, 0 7139 9506 8
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... Victoria in 1897. The thumping Unionist electoral triumph of 1895 was confidently ascribed by Sir Robert Ensor (who had been a Winchester schoolboy at the time) to an upsurge of expansionist imperialism, while A.G. Gardiner, the biographer of Sir William Harcourt, spoke of ‘a tidal wave of Jingoism’, as ‘the arrogant nationalism of Mr Kipling and the ...

I am a false alarm

Robert Irwin: Khalil Gibran, 3 September 1998

Kahlil Gibran: Man and Poet 
by Suheil Bushrui and Joe Jenkins.
One World, 372 pp., £18.99, August 1998, 1 85168 177 9
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Prophet: The Life and Times of Kahlil Gibran 
by Robin Waterfield.
Allen Lane, 366 pp., £20, August 1998, 0 7139 9209 3
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... political figure. In Paris he knew Debussy, while Rodin went so far as to acclaim him as ‘the Blake of the 20th century’. As it happened, Gibran could remember not only his previous reincarnation as William Blake, but also a subsequent incarnation as Dante Gabriel Rossetti. During the First World War he was offered a ...

Silly Willy

Jonathan Bate, 25 April 1991

William BlakeHis Life 
by James King.
Weidenfeld, 263 pp., £25, March 1991, 0 297 81160 6
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... To write well about William Blake you need to be enthusiastic, aphoristic and contrary. It also helps to be slightly mad. You need to begin your book with a paragraph like this: When Blake spoke the first word of the 19th century there was no one to hear it, and now that his message, the message of emancipation from reality through the ‘shaping spirit of imagination’, has penetrated the world, and is slowly remaking it, few are conscious of the first utterer, in modern times, of the message with which all are familiar ...

Identity Parade

Linda Colley, 25 February 1993

People and Places: Country House Donors and the National Trust 
by James Lees-Milne.
Murray, 232 pp., £19.99, October 1992, 0 7195 5145 5
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The Making of the National Poet: Shakespeare, Adaptation and Authorship, 1660-1769 
by Michael Dobson.
Oxford, 266 pp., £30, October 1992, 0 19 811233 5
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Myths of the English 
edited by Roy Porter.
Polity, 280 pp., £39.50, October 1992, 0 7456 0844 2
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Fields of Vision: Landscape Imagery and National Identity in England and the United States 
by Stephen Daniels.
Polity, 257 pp., £39.50, November 1992, 0 7456 0450 1
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... contributed to the undermining of Britishness. One reason for this, as the Party’s historian Robert Blake comments, is that Tories have always tended towards English nationalism, enjoying electoral paramountcy in the Southern counties, but possessed of far less secure roots in the North or in Wales or in Scotland. Predictably, therefore, the recent ...

Boxes of Tissues

Hilary Mantel, 6 March 1997

As If 
by Blake Morrison.
Granta, 245 pp., £14.99, February 1997, 1 86207 003 2
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... Blake Morrison begins his account of the murder of James Bulger with a delicate diversion into the story of the Children’s Crusade. The year 1212: at Saint-Denis, a boy of 12 begins to preach. He has received word from God that it is the mission of Christian children to free the Holy Land from the infidel. He draws crowds, draws followers: boys and girls swarm from street and field ...

Customising Biography

Iain Sinclair, 22 February 1996

Blake 
by Peter Ackroyd.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 399 pp., £20, September 1995, 1 85619 278 4
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Collected Edition of William Blake’s Illuminated Books: Vol I: Jerusalem 
editor David Bindman, edited by Morton D. Paley.
Tate Gallery, 304 pp., £48, August 1991, 1 85437 066 9
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Collected Edition of William Blake’s Illuminated Books: Vol. II: Songs of Innocence and Experience 
series editor David Bindman, edited by Andrew Lincoln.
Tate Gallery, 210 pp., £39.50, August 1991, 1 85437 068 5
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Collected Edition of William Blake’s Illuminated Books: Vol III: The Early Illuminated Books 
series editor David Bindman, edited by Morris Eaves, Robert Essick and Joseph Viscomi.
Tate Gallery, 288 pp., £48, August 1993, 1 85437 119 3
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Collected Edition of William Blake’s Illuminated Books: Vol. IV: The Continental Prophecies: America, Europe, The Song of Los 
editor David Bindman, edited by D.W. Dörbecker.
Tate Gallery, 368 pp., £50, May 1995, 1 85437 154 1
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Collected Edition of William Blake’s Illuminated Books: Vol. V: Milton, a Poem 
series editor David Bindman, edited by Robert Essick and Joseph Viscomi.
Tate Gallery, 224 pp., £48, November 1993, 1 85437 121 5
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Collected Edition of William Blake’s Illuminated Books: Vol. VI: The Urizen Books 
 editor David Bindman, edited by David Worrall.
Tate Gallery, 232 pp., £39.50, May 1995, 9781854371553
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... to display. Alan Bennett’s Diaries and, of course, Peter Ackroyd’s gold-brick biography of Blake. Bennett, Ackroyd and Jonathan Miller – these were the figures who mattered most. The Christmas parcels of English literature. Enough of threadbare bohemia, paranoid narcissism, chemical tourism through the Third World. Enough of ill-disciplined prose and ...

So what if he was

Paul Foot, 25 October 1990

No Other Choice 
by George Blake.
Cape, 288 pp., £12.99, September 1990, 0 224 03067 1
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Inside Intelligence 
by Anthony Cavendish.
Collins, 181 pp., £12.95, October 1990, 9780002157421
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... Here are two more spy books from authors who worked long ago for British Intelligence. George Blake was very left-wing, and is now slightly less so. Anthony Cavendish has always been very right-wing. Both authors write of their profound respect for one of their former bosses, George K. Young. Young, who died recently, was deputy head of MI6 until he joined the merchant bankers Kleinwort Benson in 1961 ...

Ezra Pound and Evil

Jerome McGann, 7 July 1988

The Genealogy of Demons: Anti-Semitism, Fascism and the Myths of Ezra Pound 
by Robert Casillo.
Northwestern, 463 pp., $34.95, April 1988, 0 8101 0710 4
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A Serious Character: The Life of Ezra Pound 
by Humphrey Carpenter.
Faber, 1005 pp., £20, May 1988, 0 571 14786 0
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... of his life’s work, inextricable from his larger concerns about history, culture and economics. Robert Casillo is therefore entirely correct to say that Pound’s writing raises ‘the problem of evil in literature’ in an especially clear way. ‘For it must be emphasised that Pound’s anti-semitism is quite different from Dostoyevsky’s and ...

Taking Flight

Thomas Jones: Blake Morrison, 7 September 2000

The Justification of Johann Gutenberg 
by Blake Morrison.
Chatto, 259 pp., £14.99, August 2000, 0 7011 6965 6
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... Towards the end of And When Did You Last See your Father? (1993), Blake Morrison says:Stand them up against grief, and even the greatest poems, the greatest paintings, the greatest novels lose the power to console. I used to think that solace was the point of art, or part of it; now it’s failed the test, it doesn’t seem to have much point at all ...

Perfect Companions

C.K. Stead, 8 June 1995

Christina Stead: A Biography 
by Hazel Rowley.
Secker, 646 pp., £12.99, January 1995, 0 436 20298 0
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... with her! The other man was one who had engaged Stead as his secretary. William Blech – Bill Blake as he was to become – was a New York Jew, autodidact, intellectual, Marxist, and investments manager of a grain firm then operating out of London. When Blake learned, from a disdainful remark of Duncan’s, that his ...

Power Systems

John Bayley, 15 March 1984

Dante and English Poetry: Shelley to T.S. Eliot 
by Steve Ellis.
Cambridge, 280 pp., £20, October 1983, 0 521 25126 5
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Dante the Maker 
by William Anderson.
Hutchinson, 497 pp., £7.95, September 1983, 0 09 153201 9
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Dante: Purgatory 
translated with notes and commentary by Mark Musa.
Indiana, 373 pp., £19.25, September 1981, 0 253 17926 2
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Dante: Paradiso and Purgatorio 
with translation and commentary by Charles Singleton .
Princeton, 610 pp., £11.80, May 1982, 0 691 01844 8
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Virgil: The Aeneid 
translated by Robert Fitzgerald.
Harvill, 403 pp., £12.50, March 1984, 0 00 271008 0
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... the same reason, that what the poet has said may be taken in many different ways by his readers. Blake would have agreed with Shelley’s note about God at the end of ‘Queen Mab’, that ‘the works of His fingers have borne witness against Him.’ In whatever spirit of humility a great poet undertakes to demonstrate a transcendental view of our ...

Want-of-Tin and Want-of-Energy

Dinah Birch: The lives of the Rossettis, 20 May 2004

The Correspondence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti: The Formative Years 1835-62: Charlotte Street to Cheyne Walk. Volume One 
edited by William Fredeman.
Brewer, 464 pp., £95, July 2002, 9780859915281
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The Correspondence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti: The Formative Years 1835-62: Charlotte Street to Cheyne Walk. Volume Two 
edited by William Fredeman.
Brewer, 640 pp., £95, July 2002, 0 85991 637 5
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William and Lucy: The Other Rossettis 
by Angela Thirlwell.
Yale, 376 pp., £25, October 2003, 0 300 10200 3
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... as family banker, William played a small but crucial part in promoting the reputation of William Blake. Gabriel bought a major Blake manuscript as a 19-year-old, with ten shillings borrowed from his younger brother. The notebook’s juxtaposition of poetry and drawing gave new impetus to Gabriel’s own work and was ...

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