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Guide

Robert Crawford, 11 March 2010

... Year in, year out The guide still follows A well-paced route Through those small rooms Until the tour group Have all been told And told again About the diarist, About the poet, Brother and sister, Husband and wife; So their plain life Stays still Green in the rain, The stress Less on fame Than on wee mundane Details: How He once failed To neatly ink His name Inside the lid Of His sole suitcase, Though He did Just Find space For that last aitch North of the rest Of wordswort And hunched in the small Window seats You can hear Repeated Still Year in, year out How they strode off-road Down gills, by crags Over the hills, Then nightly cleaned their teeth With salted twigs Dipped In polishing soot From the grate, the hearth, And how The Great Poet of the Heart Walked and talked And talked and talked About his cuckoo clock; How Mrs De Quincey tripped With a bucket of coals; How Coleridge called Then later screamed, Locked In an upstairs room’s Opium dream; How when winter came They skated on the lake, William nicely Getting his skates on To slice His zigzag initials Precisely As he whizzed By on the ice; How, through long nights, They quizzed Friends, Lighting a candle’s rushlight At both ends; How, fond of good food At his Edinburgh club, Walter Scott thought They downed too much porridge, So sneaked out a window To dine well at the pub; How every five weeks They washed their underclothes; What the rent cost; How frost Made the children ill And how those children slept Cold, and no doubt wept In their room upstairs Above the downstairs chill Of an underground stream That streamed More and more Up through the floor Of that slate-floored larder; How Mary Loved Point d’Angleterre lace; And the whole place, Dark now, was dark then, Walls all smoke-blackened, reeking ...

Rongorongo

John Sturrock: The Rosetta Stone, 19 September 2002

Keys of Egypt 
by Lesley Atkins and Roy Atkins.
HarperCollins, 335 pp., £7.99, September 2001, 0 00 653145 8
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The Rosetta Stone: The Story of the Decoding of Hieroglyphics 
by Robert Solé and Dominique Valbelle, translated by Steven Rendall.
Profile, 184 pp., £7.99, August 2002, 1 86197 344 6
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Lost Languages: The Enigma of the World’s Undeciphered Scripts 
by Andrew Robinson.
McGraw Hill, 352 pp., £25.99, June 2002, 0 07 135743 2
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The Man who Deciphered Linear B: The Story of Michael Ventris 
by Andrew Robinson.
Thames and Hudson, 168 pp., £12.95, April 2002, 0 500 51077 6
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... In the shopping precinct that now clings to the skirts of the old Reading Room, a table is laid with portable derivatives of the Rosetta Stone. The number of them hints at a BM merchandising frenzy: for sale, and I may have miscounted, are a mug, a mouse-mat, a ceramic tile, a tie, a teacloth, a scarf, a T-shirt and two sizes of replica, all of them stamped with a presumably random excerpt from the Stone’s inscriptions ...

At the Connaught

Robert Morley, 5 May 1983

An Orderly Man 
by Dirk Bogarde.
Chatto, 291 pp., £8.95, March 1983, 0 7011 2659 0
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... madness. It is a lesson many actors never learn. Of whom was he thinking do you suppose? Possibly Robert Mitchum. Certainly his own concentration is remarkable. In An Orderly Man there are no less than five colour photographs of his home in Provence. Once a shepherd’s cottage and now the sort of property you find advertised for sale in the back pages of ...

Short Cuts

Paul Laity: Alternative Weeping, 7 September 2000

... which seems closer to the mark. Perhaps the Penguin compilers should also have reached for their Robert and looked up the French verb blairer, as in je ne peux pas le blairer (‘he gives me the creeps’). Those easily offended should on no account read the following quote: This was not a young man making love to a girl. This was the meeting of twin ...

Paying for the paper

Robert Alter, 6 August 1992

Life with a Star 
by Jiri Weil, translated by Rita Klimova and Roslyn Schloss.
Flamingo, 247 pp., £4.99, February 1991, 0 00 654329 4
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Mendelssohn is on the Roof 
by Jiri Weil, translated by Marie Winn.
HarperCollins, 228 pp., £14.99, February 1992, 0 00 223863 2
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... at the Prague Jewish cemetery: “ ‘What’s left for us?” I asked. “Only time,” said Robert. “But there’s not much of it.” ’ Indiscriminate murder of civilian populations is, alas, at least as old as recorded history. What differentiates the modern German version, as has often been observed, is its implementation through industrial ...

Words about Music

Hans Keller, 30 December 1982

Stravinsky: Selected Correspondence, Vol. I 
edited by Robert Craft.
Faber, 471 pp., £25, September 1982, 0 571 11724 4
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Igor Stravinsky: The Rake’s Progress 
by Paul Griffiths, Igor Stravinsky, Robert Craft and Gabriel Josipovici.
Cambridge, 109 pp., £9.95, September 1982, 0 521 23746 7
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... me of something I’d never heard – a commercial traveller’s overtures. There is nothing in Robert Craft’s skilful, conscientious, copiously annotated selection to get me over the shock I then received: on the contrary, there’s plenty to revive it. Boring as many of the composer’s letters are (which, then, have remained unselected?), about one ...

Mighty Merry

E.S. Turner, 25 May 1995

The Diary of Samuel Pepys. Eleven Volumes, including Companion and Index 
edited by R.C. Latham and W. Matthews.
HarperCollins, 267 pp., £8.99, February 1995, 0 00 499021 8
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... first published in 1971 by R.C. Latham and W. Matthews (designated thus on the cover, but becoming Robert Latham and William Matthews on the title-page). If some books are classifiable as blockbusters, these 11 stout volumes are more of a Thames barrage. The last two of them, the Companion and Index, were the sole responsibility of ...

Dark and Deep

Helen Vendler, 4 July 1996

Robert Frost: A Biography 
by Jeffrey Meyers.
Constable, 424 pp., £20, May 1996, 0 09 476130 2
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Collected Poems, Prose and Plays 
by Robert Frost, edited by Richard Poirier and Mark Richardson.
Library of America, 1036 pp., $35, October 1995, 9781883011062
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... It would be hard,’ Robert Frost wrote, ‘to gather biography from poems of mine except as they were all written by the same person, out of the same general region north of Boston, and out of the same books.’ Frost’s biographers, who began their collective labours well before he died, were not to be put off by such a statement, and the early collections of memoirs and reminiscences culminated in Lawrance Thompson’s three-volume biography published between 1966 and 1976 ...

The chair she sat on

J.I.M. Stewart, 19 July 1984

Secrets of a Woman’s Heart: The Later Life of Ivy Compton-Burnett 1920-1969 
by Hilary Spurling.
Hodder, 336 pp., £14.95, June 1984, 0 340 26241 9
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... this persuasion she did nothing to controvert – so that when her ardent admirer and close friend Robert Liddell engaged in a somewhat demeaning rummage in Burke and Crockford in search of distinguished Compton-Burnetts whether living or dead and gone, he was astonished to discover none at all. Both Burnetts and Comptons had in fact been farm labourers not ...

Plato Made It Up

James Davidson: Atlantis at Last!, 19 June 2008

The Atlantis Story: A Short History of Plato’s Myth 
by Pierre Vidal-Naquet, translated by Janet Lloyd.
Exeter, 192 pp., £35, November 2007, 978 0 85989 805 8
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... answer for half a century: Plato made Atlantis up. That was his response to a lecture by Fernand Robert in 1956, when the speaker tentatively referred to the theory that Atlantis was inspired by the lost Minoan civilisation, and he had not changed his mind by the time of his death in 2006, shortly after correcting the manuscript of The Atlantis Story, a ...

Secret Services

Robert Cecil, 4 April 1985

The Soviet Union and Terrorism 
by Roberta Goren.
Allen and Unwin, 232 pp., £17.50, November 1984, 0 04 327073 5
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The Great Purges 
by Isaac Deutscher and David King.
Blackwell, 176 pp., £12.50, November 1984, 0 631 13923 0
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SOE: The Special Operations Executive 1940-46 
by M.R.D. Foot.
BBC, 280 pp., £8.50, October 1984, 0 563 20193 2
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A History of the SAS Regiment 
by John Strawson.
Secker, 292 pp., £12.95, November 1984, 0 436 49992 4
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... Roberta Goren’s book should be compulsory reading in every course of peace studies. It explains in great detail how the USSR after Stalin’s death adapted to the nuclear age its strategy for achieving hegemony in a world dominated by the mass media and by weapons of mass destruction. It was a dual strategy, with an upper and a lower face. The brightly-lit upper face comprised the campaign for peace and disarmament, promoted by Communist ‘front’ organisations; the darkened, lower face involved the use of very different means to achieve the same end without provoking nuclear war ...

Turning Turk

Robert Blake, 20 August 1981

The Rise and Fall of the Political Press in Britain. Vol. 1: The 19th Century 
by Stephen Koss.
Hamish Hamilton, 455 pp., £20, May 1981, 0 241 10561 7
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... This is the first of two volumes designed to describe the British press and its connection with politics and politicians from 1850 to 1951. It is a formidable task, and one cannot be surprised that it has never hitherto been successfully achieved, though many attempts have been made. Such success as can be found in press historiography during these years lies more in studies of individual newspapers or particular editors than in any synthesis of the whole story ...

Diary

Robert Irwin: The Best Thing since Sex, 2 December 1993

... I have been working on a review of a facsimile edition of Vivant Denon’s Voyage dans la Basse et la Haute Egypte (first published in 1802). After only a couple of hours of typing and revising, I am tense. I visualise the tension as a spider perched on the nape of my neck, where it inserts its poison-tipped legs into my flesh. From the neck, the tension spreads to the back and the head ...

Just a smack at Grigson

Denis Donoghue, 7 March 1985

Montaigne’s Tower, and Other Poems 
by Geoffrey Grigson.
Secker, 72 pp., £5.95, October 1984, 0 436 18806 6
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Collected Poems: 1963-1980 
by Geoffrey Grigson.
Allison and Busby, 256 pp., £4.95, October 1984, 0 85031 557 3
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The Faber Book of Reflective Verse 
edited by Geoffrey Grigson.
Faber, 238 pp., £7.95, October 1984, 0 571 13299 5
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Blessings, Kicks and Curses 
by Geoffrey Grigson.
Allison and Busby, 279 pp., £4.95, October 1984, 0 85031 558 1
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The Private Art: A Poetry Notebook 
by Geoffrey Grigson.
Allison and Busby, 231 pp., £4.95, October 1984, 9780850315592
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Before the Romantics: An Anthology of the Enlightenment 
by Geoffrey Grigson.
Salamander, 349 pp., £5.95, September 1984, 0 907540 59 7
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... Philip Larkin’, etc? If he despises William Carlos Williams, Dylan Thomas, Gertrude Stein, Robert Lowell, Charles Olson, Edith Sitwell, Augustus John and Ted Hughes, what’s the merit of vulgarity and spleen? Many trees have been cut down to make the paper on which Grigson has spewed his contempt for teachers, critics, literary editors, the scholars ...

Lord Fitzcricket

P.N. Furbank: The composer’s life, 21 May 1998

Lord Berners: The Last Eccentric 
by Mark Amory.
Chatto, 274 pp., £20, March 1998, 1 85619 234 2
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... just been a nuisance to him. However, in 1932, he got to know the young, beautiful and dotty Robert Heber Percy, otherwise known as ‘the Mad Boy’, for whom he fell and who became a fixture in his household, eventually inheriting Berners’s estate. ‘No one,’ Mark Amory writes, ‘could liberate Berners himself at this stage, but Heber Percy ...

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