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That sh—te Creech

James Buchan: The Scottish Enlightenment, 5 April 2007

The Enlightenment and the Book: Scottish Authors and Their Publishers in 18th-Century Britain, Ireland and America 
by Richard Sher.
Chicago, 815 pp., £25.50, February 2007, 978 0 226 75252 5
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... propagated Scottish notions of liberty, improvement, politeness and sentimentality. Rather as Robert Darnton a generation ago diverted scholarly attention from the philosophes to the printers, engravers and booksellers of Paris in The Business of Enlightenment: A Publishing History of the ‘Encyclopédie’, so Sher looks through all that Scottish mind ...

Short Cuts

Andrew O’Hagan: Jeffrey Epstein’s Little Black Book, 15 August 2019

... him by his friend Ghislaine Maxwell, the daughter of the late newspaper magnate and pensions-thief Robert Maxwell), and there are industrialists, publicists and the editors of fashion magazines, most of whom, in my experience, would happily attend a party in the gusset of a Nazi commandant’s breeches. Candace Bushnell, author of Sex and the City, is there ...

Subsistence Journalism

E.S. Turner, 13 November 1997

‘Punch’: The Lively Youth of a British Institution, 1841-51 
by Richard Altick.
Ohio State, 776 pp., £38.50, July 1997, 0 8142 0710 3
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... know you’re out?”, “Has your mother sold her mangle?” and “You can’t lodge here, Mr Ferguson.” ’ Altick could have added that we now have a generation which has probably never seen a snook cocked; the universal gesture replacing it requires only two fingers, or one, and the cognate expression is ‘Up yours!’ We also have a generation ...

Regret is a shabby thing

Bernard Porter: Knut Hamsun, 27 May 2010

Knut Hamsun: Dreamer and Dissenter 
by Ingar Sletten Kolloen, translated by Deborah Dawkin and Erik Skuggevik.
Yale, 378 pp., £25, September 2009, 978 0 300 12356 2
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Knut Hamsun: The Dark Side of Literary Brilliance 
by Monika Zagar.
Washington, 343 pp., £19.99, May 2009, 978 0 295 98946 4
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... which has now appeared, abridged and translated, as Knut Hamsun: Dreamer and Dissenter; and Robert Ferguson’s Enigma: The Life of Knut Hamsun (1987). Žagar’s assessment doesn’t seem fair to Ferguson and Kolloen (unless the latter’s original version differs substantially from this one), neither of whom ...

Loaded Dice

Thomas Chatterton Williams: Ta-Nehisi Coates, 3 December 2015

Between the World and Me 
by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Text, 152 pp., £10.99, September 2015, 978 1 925240 70 2
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... Soon after​ Michael Brown was shot in Ferguson, Missouri, a book called The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace was published, describing one New Jersey man’s dual existence as a top student at Yale and an incorrigible drug dealer.1 Peace was an alarmingly precocious black boy whose mother toiled in hospital kitchens to raise the money to send him to parochial schools, where he thrived ...

Malvolio’s Story

Marilyn Butler, 8 February 1996

Dirt and Deity: A Life of Robert Burns 
by Ian McIntyre.
HarperCollins, 461 pp., £20, October 1995, 0 00 215964 3
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... as inescapable in Burns’s life as in his poetry, McIntyre comes across something of a Malvolio. Robert Heron in 1797 was the first to reveal that Burns’s behaviour deteriorated on his visit to Edinburgh, thanks to his introduction to the Crochallan Fencibles, a club for serious, professional-class drinkers. McIntyre’s distaste is quite as decided as ...

Godmother of the Salmon

John Bayley, 9 July 1992

‘Rain-Charm for the Duchy’ and other Laureate Poems 
by Ted Hughes.
Faber, 64 pp., £12.99, June 1992, 0 571 16605 9
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... yawning fissures left by Sassoon and Owen and Graves. But from the Laureate none was forthcoming. Robert Bridges was too aggressively uncommitted, and perhaps too honest a poet, to do the right thing. (When he went to the Palace in 1913 to receive the office he snapped at Lord Stamfordham, who was in attendance, ‘I don’t want any of your Stars and ...

Highway to Modernity

Colin Kidd: The British Enlightenment, 8 March 2001

Enlightenment: Britain and the Creation of the Modern World 
by Roy Porter.
Allen Lane, 728 pp., £25, October 2000, 0 7139 9152 6
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... it is their constant execration and denunciation of Enlightenment culture.’ Indeed, William Ferguson, the leading proponent of a nationalist interpretation of Scottish history, pointedly refers to 18th-century Scotland’s ‘so-called Enlightenment’, a Trojan horse concept smuggled into the historical canon by Hugh Trevor-Roper. Yet, in spite of its ...

What Fred Did

Owen Bennett-Jones: Go-Betweens in Northern Ireland, 22 January 2015

... In 1990 his interlocutor was a former MI6 officer seconded to MI5 who introduced himself as Colin Ferguson and later said his name was Robert McLarnon. Believing in neither name, Duddy called him Fred. The Northern Irish members of the link were relatively optimistic that a peace deal might be possible. The conflict had ...

The money’s still out there

Neal Ascherson: The Scottish Empire, 6 October 2011

To the Ends of the Earth: Scotland’s Global Diaspora, 1750-2010 
by T.M. Devine.
Allen Lane, 397 pp., £25, August 2011, 978 0 7139 9744 6
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The Inner Life of Empires: An 18th-Century History 
by Emma Rothschild.
Princeton, 483 pp., £24.95, June 2011, 978 0 691 14895 3
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... a slave-driver’s lash. Scots, in that sense, were the non-commissioned officers of empire; even Robert Burns, a sentimental abolitionist, planned to take a job in Jamaica as an overseer of slaves. The same myth suggested that Gaelic emigrants raised in a clan system had a special rapport with traditional societies. In fact, Highlanders behaved with ...
... European revolution that there has ever been. Carl Steffeck’s painting of the execution of Robert Blum. It was also in some respects a global upheaval, or at least a European upheaval with a global dimension. The news of revolution in Paris had a profound impact on the French Caribbean and the measures adopted by London to avoid revolution on the ...

Northern Lights

Rosalind Mitchison, 19 April 1984

Literature and Gentility in Scotland 
by David Daiches.
Edinburgh, 114 pp., £6.50, June 1982, 9780852244388
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New Perspectives on the Politics and Culture of Early Modern Scotland 
edited by John Dwyer, Roger Mason and Alexander Murdoch.
John Donald, 340 pp., £15, August 1982, 0 85976 066 9
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Adam Smith 
by R.H. Campbell and A.S. Skinner.
Croom Helm, 231 pp., £12.95, June 1982, 9780709907299
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Sister Peg 
edited by David Raynor.
Cambridge, 127 pp., £15.50, June 1981, 0 521 24299 1
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Boswell: The Applause of the Jury 1782-1785 
edited by Irma Lustig and Frederick Pottle.
Heinemann, 419 pp., £15, July 1982, 0 434 43945 2
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Muir of Huntershill 
by Christina Bewley.
Oxford, 212 pp., £8.50, May 1981, 0 19 211768 8
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... There is no hard evidence, and the soft evidence is very soft indeed. Traditionally, Adam Ferguson has been promoted as the likely author. All that seems clear is that it was someone who admired Gilbert Elliot of Minto and was annoyed by Robert Dundas of Arniston, second Lord President. Quite a lot of Scottish ...
On Historians 
by J.H. Hexter.
Collins, 310 pp., £6.95, September 1979, 0 00 216623 2
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... ci-devant Marxist historians as Hill. The other heroes of Hexter’s book, Carl Becker, Wallace Ferguson, Hiram Hayden and J.G.A. Pocock, were, I have to admit, infinitely less familiar to me. Thus it is thanks to Hexter that I have learnt that, around 1930, Becker was a relativist, just as Raymond Aron was to become one on our side of the Atlantic a few ...

Tory History

Alan Ryan, 23 January 1986

English Society 1688-1832 
by J.C.D. Clark.
Cambridge, 439 pp., £30, November 1985, 0 521 30922 0
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Virtue, Commerce and History 
by J.G.A. Pocock.
Cambridge, 321 pp., £25, November 1985, 0 521 25701 8
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... to the textbook view that John Locke’s contractual theory of government simply demolished Robert Filmer’s efforts at assimilating the authority of kings and fathers, Locke’s Two Treatises of Government did not drive patriachal ideas out of circulation. Indeed, it was Locke who was hardly read in the early 18th century: his ideas struck no ...

People shouldn’t be fat

Zachary Leader, 3 October 1996

Orson Welles: The Road to Xanadu 
by Simon Callow.
Cape, 640 pp., £20, March 1995, 0 224 03852 4
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Rosebud: The Story of Orson Welles 
by David Thomson.
Little, Brown, 460 pp., £20, September 1996, 0 316 91437 1
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... in The Citizen Kane Book), which argues the case for Mankiewicz’s authorship, but on Robert Carringer’s The Making of Citizen Kane (1984), which takes the question of collaboration further still and stresses the decisive influence of financial, legal and other contingencies. When told the thesis of Carringer’s book, Welles responded ...

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