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Unpranked Lyre

John Mullan: The Laziness of Thomas Gray, 13 December 2001

Thomas Gray: A Life 
by Robert Mack.
Yale, 718 pp., £25, October 2000, 0 300 08499 4
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... of syntax and the personification of abstract ideas (another of Wordsworth’s special hates). Robert Mack, properly enough, sets out to be Gray’s advocate and though not all his vindications of individual poems are persuasive, his biography does add an important consideration to our understanding of Gray’s poetic values, and therefore of his high ...

Bad Shepherd

Robert Crawford: James Hogg, 5 April 2001

The Collected Works of James Hogg. Vol. VIII: The ‘Spy’ 
edited by Gillian Hughes.
Edinburgh, 641 pp., £60, March 2000, 9780748613656
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... George Buchanan’s over-the-top ‘Elegy for Jean Calvin’. The volume remains high in some of Robert Fergusson’s sophistic-performative street-talk, Burns’s on-off, rip-roaring ‘Tam o’Shanter’, MacDiarmid’s last trump blawing ‘tootle-ootle-oo’, Edwin Morgan’s Loch Ness Monstering ‘Splgraw fok fok splgrafhatchgabrlgabrl fok ...

Putting Down the Rising

John Barrell, 22 February 1996

The Collected Works of James Hogg. Vol. I: The Shepherd’s Calendar 
edited by Douglas Mack.
Edinburgh, 287 pp., £29.50, July 1995, 9780748604746
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Collected Works of James Hogg. Vol. II: The Three Perils of Woman 
edited by David Groves, Antony Hasler and Douglas Mack.
Edinburgh, 466 pp., £32.50, July 1995, 9780748604746
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Collected Works of James Hogg. Vol. III: A Queer Book 
edited by P.D. Garside.
Edinburgh, 278 pp., £29.50, July 1995, 0 7486 0506 1
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... In Scotland, however, and mainly thanks to the enthusiasm and industry of Douglas Mack, modern editions of two of Hogg’s novels, The Three Perils of Man and The Brownie of Bodsbeck, have been published in the fairly recent past, together with various selections of his poems and of the shorter fictions he contributed to Blackwood’s and ...


Alan Brien: Finding Lenin, 7 August 1986

... Wilson tells a funny anecdote about Mussolini that was new to me, though I had just finished Denis Mack Smith’s Mussolini. It runs: ‘Mussolini had in fact modelled his style of dress on that of his favourite film stars, Laurel and Hardy, whose sartorial distinctiveness he regarded as the embodiment of trans-Atlantic chic. He only abandoned it when he was ...

Dixie Peach Pomade

Alex Abramovich: In the Room with Robert Johnson, 6 October 2022

Brother RobertGrowing Up with Robert Johnson 
by Annye C. Anderson with Preston Lauterbach.
Hachette Go, 224 pp., £20, July 2021, 978 0 306 84526 0
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... Columbia Records released King of the Delta Blues Singers – a collection of tracks by Robert Johnson – in 1961, it was the first time in decades that more than a handful of people had access to more than a handful of songs by any country bluesman. Bob Dylan got an acetate from his producer, John Hammond, and played it for his mentor, Dave Van ...

Top Grumpy’s Top Hate

Robert Irwin: Richard Aldington’s Gripes, 18 February 1999

Richard Aldington and Lawrence of Arabia: A Cautionary Tale 
by Fred Crawford.
Southern Illinois, 265 pp., £31.95, July 1998, 0 8093 2166 1
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Lawrence the Uncrowned King of Arabia 
by Michael Asher.
Viking, 419 pp., £20, October 1998, 0 670 87029 3
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... starring as Rafe Ashton in his former wife Hilda Doolittle’s novel Bid Me to Live (1960), and as Robert Cunningham in D.H. Lawrence’s Aaron’s Rod (1922), he may have had the misfortune to furnish the model for Sir Clifford Chatterley. Aldington’s maledictory novel, Death of a Hero, has not worn well. The parents of George, the ‘hero’, are parodic ...

Ten Thousand Mile Mistake

Thomas Powers: Robert Stone in Saigon, 18 February 2021

Child of Light: A Biography of Robert Stone 
by Madison Smartt Bell.
Doubleday, 588 pp., £27, March 2020, 978 0 385 54160 2
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The Eye You See With: Selected Non-Fiction 
by Robert Stone, edited by Madison Smartt Bell.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 320 pp., £20.99, April 2020, 978 0 618 38624 6
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‘Dog Soldiers’, A Flag for Sunrise’, Outerbridge Reach’ 
by Robert Stone, edited by Madison Smartt Bell.
Library of America, 1216 pp., £35, March 2020, 978 1 59853 654 6
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... Robert Stone​ was the feral child of American literature. He arrived in the world with no one to explain or defend him, except his mother, Gladys. About her we know only stray bits of personal history. The chief evidence that Stone’s father existed is the fact of Stone himself. All other claims – that he was a railroad detective, was a Greek or a Jew, had been killed by a bomb in Shanghai in 1937, even that his given name was Homer – are hearsay, most of them floated by Gladys one day, taken back the next ...

Something good

H. Stuart Hughes, 13 September 1990

All or Nothing: The Axis and the Holocaust 1941-1943 
by Jonathan Steinberg.
Routledge, 320 pp., £20, June 1990, 0 415 04757 9
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... ruling house. This much needs to be said in defence of a series of kings whose reputation Denis Mack Smith’s recent Italy and its Monarchy* has left in tatters. However ‘insulated’, Steinberg’s conspirators well knew how to operate within the guidelines of Italy’s mainstream culture. They knew that ‘the best tactic available’ was ‘to do ...

Making doorbells ring

David Trotter: Pushing Buttons, 22 November 2018

Power Button: A History of Pleasure, Panic and the Politics of Pushing 
by Rachel Plotnick.
MIT, 424 pp., £30, October 2018, 978 0 262 03823 2
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... Towards​ the end of his time at Mack Sennett’s Keystone Studios, Charlie Chaplin began to direct as well as star in the short slapstick films that were the company’s staple product. The crucial event in one of these films, The New Janitor, which was released in September 1914, is the pressing of an electric button ...

Ludic Cube

Angela Carter, 1 June 1989

Dictionary of the Khazars: A Lexicon Novel in 100,000 Words 
by Milorad Pavic, translated by Christina Pribicevic-Zoric.
Hamish Hamilton, 338 pp., £11.95, February 1989, 0 241 12658 4
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... of language games, some rude mirth. In culinary terms, the book is neither tofuburger nor Big Mack, but a Chinese banquet, a multiplicity of short narratives and prose fragments at which we are invited, not to take our fill, but to snack as freely or as meagrely as we please on a wide variety of small portions of sharply flavoured delicacies, mixing and ...

Enlightenment Erotica

David Nokes, 4 August 1988

Eros Revived: Erotica of the Enlightenment in England and America 
by Peter Wagner.
Secker, 498 pp., £30, March 1988, 0 436 56051 8
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’Tis Nature’s Fault: Unauthorised Sexuality during the Enlightenment 
edited by Robert Purks Maccubin.
Cambridge, 260 pp., £25, March 1988, 0 521 34539 1
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The New Eighteenth Century: Theory, Politics, English Literature 
edited by Felicity Nussbaum and Laura Brown.
Methuen, 320 pp., £28, February 1988, 0 416 01631 6
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... what of Pope himself, and his Scriblerian confederates? Why, Rousseau demands, are Ehrenpreis and Mack so reticent about the ‘frequently homoerotic correspondence’ between Pope and Swift? What of Gay, ‘who never married and whose psychological attachment to the older, if occasionally paternal, Pope merits more attention than it has received?’ Not for ...

Family Values

Michael Wood, 17 October 1996

The Last Don 
by Mario Puzo.
Heinemann, 482 pp., £15.99, October 1996, 0 434 60498 4
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... whether they want to or not, and the connection is eerily alive in Frank Sinatra’s version of ‘Mack the Knife’, where he sings of making an offer you can’t refuse. There is almost too much to unravel here. The song comes from (the English translation of) Brecht’s re-creation of Gay’s play, and has been separately sung by, among others, Lotte ...

It should have ended with Verdi

John Davis: The Battle of Adwa, 24 May 2012

The Battle of Adwa: African Victory in the Age of Empire 
by Raymond Jonas.
Harvard, 413 pp., £22.95, November 2011, 978 0 674 05274 1
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... missionaries, to which Parliament responded in 1868 by authorising a punitive expedition. General Robert Napier raised 13,000 troops, 20,000 logistic personnel, many thousands of mules and camels and 44 elephants in India, and shipped them to the Red Sea. After marching 780 miles overland to Tewodros’s capital, he defeated the imperial army (with the loss ...


Tim Radford: Yuri and the Astronauts, 5 March 1998

Korolev: How One Man Masterminded the Soviet Drive to Beat America to the Moon 
by James Harford.
Wiley, 392 pp., £24.95, June 1997, 0 471 14853 9
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Countdown: A History of Space Flight 
by T.A. Heppenheimer.
Wiley, 398 pp., £24.95, June 1997, 0 471 14439 8
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Something New under the Sun: Satellites and the Beginning of the Space Age 
by Helen Gavaghan.
Copernicus, 300 pp., £15, December 1997, 0 387 94914 3
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Space and the American Imagination 
by Howard McCurdy.
Smithsonian, 294 pp., £19.95, November 1997, 1 56098 764 2
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... for a few hundred feet? How do you explain the Romanian-German Hermann Oberth, and the American Robert Goddard, who pursued the mad ambition of space with rockets that lifted themselves only a few yards, before collapsing under their own contradictions? Even more remarkable are the interlinked stories of the two men who actually took humans into ...

Jungle Joys

Alfred Appel Jr: Wa-Wa-Wa with the Duke, 5 September 2002

... impossible pace, rushing back and forth, herky-jerky, as in a speeded-up old slapstick comedy – Mack Sennett in blackface, Show Boat aground. Satire and brass can bring down any construct, especially if it’s as friable as the idea of minstrelsy.The Ellingtonians have thoroughly denuded the famous song. The bass-baritone Noble Negro is now just another ...

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