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Dome Laureate

Dennis O’Driscoll: Simon Armitage, 27 April 2000

Killing Time 
by Simon Armitage.
Faber, 52 pp., £6.99, December 1999, 0 571 20360 4
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Short and Sweet: 101 Very Short Poems 
edited by Simon Armitage.
Faber, 112 pp., £4.99, October 1999, 9780571200016
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... Simon Armitage likes to have it both ways. He is the streetwise poet who is at home in a Radio 1 studio; but he is also the ambitious literary figure who aspires to ‘nothing less’ than a Nobel Prize. He is at ease with youth culture (‘I didn’t have a classical education of any type, so I tend to use characters from popular culture’), yet, far from stoking rebellion, he writes tenderly of his parents and looks up to Ted Hughes and W ...

Short Cuts

Tom Crewe: Chicanery and Fantasy, 6 June 2019

... Robert Peters​ , né Parkins, wasn’t much to look at. He was ‘a little man with a stiff back who walked like a penguin’. Photographs show him as steeply balding, with a rice puddingy face that glooped onto his dog collar. He was tubby, and got tubbier. But something about him made a certain kind of woman sit up ...

Somewhat Divine

Simon Schaffer: Isaac Newton, 16 November 2000

Isaac Newton: The ‘Principia’ Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy 
translated by I. Bernard Cohen.
California, 974 pp., £22, September 1999, 0 520 08817 4
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... predecessors. Others, including Halley and his London colleague, the irascible natural philosopher Robert Hooke, had the idea that orbiting bodies tended to move in straight lines while at the same time being pulled towards some force-centre. Only Newton fully exploited its implications. He defined forces by the changes they produced in the motions of bodies ...

His Spittin’ Image

Colm Tóibín: John Stanislaus Joyce, 22 February 2018

... who will fly to avoid what seeks to ensnare him. As he flies, however, his father always follows. Simon Dedalus appears or is mentioned in seven of the 18 episodes of Ulysses. In some of the other versions we have of him, in Stanislaus’s My Brother’s Keeper and in the biography by Wyse Jackson and Costello, where he is installed at home, he is ...

Diary

David Gascoyne: Notebook, New Year 1991, 25 January 1996

... libre ou mourir’, but that wouldn’t have rhymed with ‘holocauste fort’. Plenty of Hubert Robert (‘du plus pur Hubert Robert,’ as Jouve used to say). Found a Folio series edition of Restif de la Bretonne’s Nuits de Paris in the tempting bookshop. When I first knew the Marais in the late Forties it was ...

Diary

Robert Walshe: Bumping into Beckett, 7 November 1985

... terms of immediate neighbourhood, I live sandwiched between the houses of Chateaubriand and Saint-Simon. From here I go daily to cross steps with Jacques Laurent (Prix Goncourt, Grand Prix de I’ Académie Française), Max Gallo, Kenneth White (Prix Médicis Etranger), Jean-Edern Hallier, Marcel Schneider, Bernard Frank, Sartre when he was alive, Barthes ...

Who whom?

Christopher Ricks, 6 June 1985

The English Language Today 
edited by Sidney Greenbaum.
Pergamon, 345 pp., £12.50, December 1984, 0 08 031078 8
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The English Language 
by Robert Burchfield.
Oxford, 194 pp., £9.50, January 1985, 9780192191731
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A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language 
by Randolph Quirk, Sidney Greenbaum, Geoffrey Leech and Jan Svartvik.
Longman, 1779 pp., £39.50, May 1985, 0 582 51734 6
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Words 
by John Silverlight.
Macmillan, 107 pp., £17.50, May 1985, 9780333380109
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Faux Amis and Key Words: A Dictionary-Guide to French Language, Culture and Society through Lookalikes and Confusables 
by Philip Thody, Howard Evans and Gwilym Rees.
Athlone, 224 pp., £16, February 1985, 0 485 11243 4
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Puns 
by Walter Redfern.
Blackwell, 234 pp., £14.95, October 1984, 0 631 13793 9
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Fair of Speech: The Uses of Euphemism 
edited by D.J. Enright.
Oxford, 222 pp., £9.95, April 1985, 0 19 212236 3
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... good and bad angels, the authoritative and the authoritarian. Linguistic conservatives like John Simon, who sometimes seem not only not to mind being disliked but to thrive on it, do not shrink from such acts of authority as will promptly be branded authoritarian – a word wielded in Sidney Greenbaum’s tour de task-force The English ...

Comet Mania

Simon Schaffer, 19 February 1981

The comet is coming! 
by Nigel Calder.
BBC, 160 pp., £8.75, November 1980, 0 563 17859 0
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... were more and more professionally organised, and more and more separate from their public. Robert Peel complained in the 1840s about the difficulty of justifying government support for astronomy to a Parliament of country gentlemen. Science was specialised, divided, demarcated. At the same time Peel’s problems could have been solved by keeping the ...

Learned Insane

Simon Schaffer: The Lunar Men, 17 April 2003

The Lunar Men: The Friends who Made the Future 
by Jenny Uglow.
Faber, 588 pp., £25, September 2002, 0 571 19647 0
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... was able to leave the vast sum of £25,000 to Susannah, who very soon married Erasmus’s son Robert. And when the son of this union, Charles, married his cousin Emma Wedgwood, another of Josiah’s grandchildren, she brought a lavish dowry of £5000 and an annual allowance of £400. Darwin later joked that his family were ‘the degenerate descendants of ...

Crypto-Republican

Simon Adams: Was Mary Queen of Scots a Murderer?, 11 June 2009

Burghley: William Cecil at the Court of Elizabeth I 
by Stephen Alford.
Yale, 412 pp., £25, May 2008, 978 0 300 11896 4
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... and collecting books; hers were travel, hunting and the theatre. The man who shared her tastes was Robert Dudley, with whom she enjoyed the main emotional relationship of her adult years. Much of the celebrated rivalry between Cecil and Dudley grew out of jealousy on Cecil’s part and his ill-suppressed belief that Dudley was a bad influence. What Cecil and ...

Unction and Slaughter

Simon Walker: Edward IV, 10 July 2003

Arthurian Myths and Alchemy: The Kingship of Edward IV 
by Jonathan Hughes.
Sutton, 354 pp., £30, October 2002, 0 7509 1994 9
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... seeking. Particular attention is paid to alchemists with Court connections, such as Thomas Norton, Robert Barker and George Ripley, whom Hughes represents as exercising a shaman-like influence over the King, inducing their royal patient to meditate on the physical processes of transmutation as a path to self-knowledge. Ripley, in particular, emerges as a ...

Haleking

John Bossy: Simon Forman, 22 February 2001

The Notorious Astrological Physician of London: Works and Days of Simon Forman 
by Barbara Howard Traister.
Chicago, 260 pp., £19, February 2001, 0 226 81140 9
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Dr Simon Forman: A Most Notorious Physician 
by Judith Cook.
Chatto, 228 pp., £18.99, January 2001, 0 7011 6899 4
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... private-enterprise medical practitioner, counsellor, sexual athlete and compulsive writer Simon Forman. Forman’s voluminous papers, case-notes, diaries and all sorts of other writings had been in the Bodleian Library since Elias Ashmole presented them in the late 17th century. They contained a vast amount of anecdote about all sorts of ...

Family Stories

Patrice Higonnet, 4 August 1994

The Past in French History 
by Robert Gildea.
Yale, 416 pp., £30, February 1994, 0 300 05799 7
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La Gauche survivra-t-elle aux socialistes? 
by Jean-Marie Colombani.
Flammarion, 213 pp., frs 105, March 1994, 2 08 066953 2
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... Robert Gildea’s subject is less French history than French ‘political culture’. His method eschews ‘the theorising pretensions of the Marxist and the Annales schools’ without ‘reducing history to one senseless deed of violence after another’, as he presumes (wrongly) Simon Schama to have done ...

Perfect and Serene Oddity

Michael Hofmann: The Strangeness of Robert Walser, 16 November 2006

Speaking to the Rose: Writings, 1912-32 
by Robert Walser, translated and edited by Christopher Middleton.
Nebraska, 128 pp., £9.99, November 2005, 0 8032 9833 1
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... So irregular, appealing and – if one may say – so pitiable a figure is the Swiss writer Robert Walser (1878-1956) that he comfortably resists summary description. Even his biographer, Robert Mächler, begins by warning himself, via a feisty sentence of his subject’s: ‘No one is entitled to behave towards me as if they knew me ...

Evil Man

Simon Schaffer: Joseph Priestley, 21 May 1998

The Enlightenment of Joseph Priestley: A Study of His Life and Work from 1733 to 1773 
by Robert Schofield.
Pennsylvania State, 328 pp., £35.95, January 1998, 0 271 01662 0
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... and benefactors, as an attempt, he claimed, to ‘promote virtue and piety’ in his readers. Robert Schofield is well qualified to follow Priestley’s uneven path across the intellectual landscape of 18th-century society. He was trained during and after World War Two as an atomic physicist and engineer, at a moment when once again practical science ...

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