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27 June 1991
The Noble Savage: Jean-Jacques Rousseau 1754-1762 
by Maurice Cranston.
Allen Lane, 399 pp., £20, February 1991, 0 7139 9051 1
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Writings of Rousseau. Vol I: Rousseau: Judge of Jean-Jacques. Dialogues. 
translated by Judith Bush, edited and translated by Christopher Kelly and Roger Masters.
University Press of New England, 277 pp., $40, March 1990, 0 87451 495 9
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... About Rousseau, as about Romanticism, it is tempting to use the word ‘disorderly’. Maurice Cranston showed us in the first volume of this, the most masterly of biographies how he had spent his early life as a wanderer and adventurer, he had been an itinerant tutor, a humble music-copier, an ambitious composer; the lover of a Swiss countess and the secretary to a diplomat; he had become a fashionable ...

Make it more like a murder mystery

Eleanor Birne: The life and death of Stuart Shorter

19 May 2005
Stuart: A Life Backwards 
by Alexander Masters.
Fourth Estate, 295 pp., £12.99, April 2005, 0 00 720036 6
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... The first time Alexander Masters met Stuart Shorter, he was crouched in a doorway next to the discount picture-framing shop round the corner from Sidney Sussex College in Cambridge: as it happens, the framing shop I used to work for ...
18 February 1988
Bound for America: The Transportation of British Convicts to the Colonies, 1718-1775 
by Roger​ Ekirch.
Oxford, 277 pp., £25, November 1987, 0 19 820092 7
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... poor.’ This passage refers principally to the experiences of those Europeans who volunteered to become servants, who freely chose to come to America in the hope of improving their lives. But, as Roger Ekirch now explains in his splendid new book, a very large number of migrants did not want to leave 18th-century Britain at all. These were the convicts. Historians once thought that no more than ...

Uncle Max

Patricia Craig

20 December 1984
The man who was M: The Life of Maxwell Knight 
by Anthony Masters.
Blackwell, 205 pp., £9.95, November 1984, 0 631 13392 5
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Unreliable Witness: Espionage Myths of the Second World War 
by Nigel West.
Weidenfeld, 166 pp., £8.95, October 1984, 0 297 78481 1
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The Great Betrayal: The Untold Story of Kim Philby’s Biggest Coup 
by Nicholas Bethell.
Hodder, 214 pp., £9.95, October 1984, 0 340 35701 0
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... Like most biographers, Anthony Masters starts by announcing his subject’s date of birth; unlike most biographers, he gets it wrong. Charles Henry Maxwell Knight was born on 9 July 1900, not 4 September, under the sign of Cancer, not ...

Jesus Christie

Richard Wollheim

3 October 1985
J.T. Christie: A Great Teacher 
by Donald Lindsay, Roger​ Young and Hugh Lloyd-Jones.
Plume, 211 pp., £12.50, September 1984, 0 947656 00 6
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... notebook with marbled covers. It was marked ‘Private’ or ‘Secret’, and it contained lists of house colours, of school slang (some of it obsolete), of the forms in the school and of masters’ nicknames. A brief note advised us to learn the book by heart, for we would be examined on its contents on arrival and the slightest mistake would earn us a beating. Around the same time, one ...

Running on Empty

Christopher Hitchens: The Wrong Stuff

7 January 1999
A Man in Full 
by Tom Wolfe.
Cape, 742 pp., £20, November 1998, 0 224 03036 1
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... checking into a motel on the Buford Highway with a 23-year-old girl – but he had lost his mind to her demented form of lust. Danger! Imminent exposure! That thing with the cup! A Man in Full From Masters of the Universe to ‘master builder’. From class-and-race New York to race-and-class Atlanta. From a wrong turn on a Bronx exit ramp to – in the first pages of this new novel – an unsettling ...

In the Know

Simon Schaffer

10 November 1994
Science and the Secrets of Nature: Books of Secrets in Medieval and Early Modern Culture 
by William Eamon.
Princeton, 490 pp., £38.50, July 1994, 0 691 03402 8
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The Business of Alchemy: Science and Culture in the Holy Roman Empire 
by Pamela Smith.
Princeton, 308 pp., £30, July 1994, 0 691 05691 9
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... the Scientific Revolution. The quick-witted medical improviser was Leonardo Fioravanti, an eminent ‘professor of secrets’, one of a number of Renaissance writers who traded on their reputation as masters of tricks, clues and recipes long lost to, or hidden from, common knowledge and now at last revealed to an amazed public. They foresaw laboratories and workshops, gardens and libraries, where old ...

Eventlessness

Norman Hampson

19 April 1984
France 1815-1914: The Bourgeois Century 
by Roger​ Magraw.
Fontana, 412 pp., £4.95, November 1983, 0 00 635741 5
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... to impose a preconceived pattern on such parts of the evidence as he chooses to examine. Procrustes may have had a tidy mind, but one has doubts about his methodology. On all of these counts Roger Magraw’s book invites serious reservations. He is not much interested in events. His treatment of the 1830 revolution is typical. ‘In July 1830 three days of Parisian street fighting sufficed to ...

Boys wearing wings

Nicholas Penny

15 March 1984
Caravaggio 
by Howard Hibbard.
Thames and Hudson, 404 pp., £22.50, May 1983, 0 500 09161 7
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Circa 1600: A Revolution of Style in Italian Painting 
by S.J. Freedberg.
Harvard, 125 pp., £21.25, January 1983, 0 674 13156 8
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Domenichino 
by Richard Spear.
Yale, 382 pp., £75, November 1982, 0 300 02359 6
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... There is also one Michael Agnolo from Caravaggio who is doing marvellous things in Rome ... He thinks little of the works of other masters ... All works of art he believes to be ‘Bagatelli’, child’s play, whoever by, and whatever of, unless they are made from life, and that there is no better course than to follow Nature. And so ...

At the V&A

Rosemary Hill: Constable

22 October 2014
... going strong. It all contributes to the image of a local artist painting agreeable scenes. Those who have looked more closely at his work have seen more in it, but disagree about what the more is. Roger Fry admired the energy of the sketches, the aspect of Constable that flatters posterity by seeming to point to Post-Impressionism and abstraction. Kenneth Clark also thought that the sketches had a ...

To the Cleaners

Nicholas Penny

4 July 1985
The Ravished Image: Or, How to Ruin Masterpieces by Restoration 
by Sarah Walden.
Weidenfeld, 174 pp., £12.95, April 1985, 0 297 78407 2
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... by systematic restoration. Such awareness can only induce caution, as well as scepticism of the equivalents of miracle drugs and transplant surgery. If picture restorers are serving the old masters, however, they should not be too worried about tact and good taste – or the prejudices of living connoisseurs, which are no more likely to provide a reliable guide than are the expectations of ...
23 April 1987
Molehunt: The Full Story of the Soviet Mole in MI5 
by Nigel West.
Weidenfeld, 208 pp., £10.95, March 1987, 0 297 79150 8
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... agents were sitting at the top of the British security services. From that moment started the long MI5 campaign to root out the traitors in their midst. The finger of suspicion was pointed at Sir Roger Hollis, the hard-working, conventionally-minded former head of MI5, and his deputy Graham Mitchell. Mitchell, Nigel West tells us, had, at some time in his career, ‘gained something of a reputation ...

Feigning a Relish

Nicholas Penny: One Tate or Two

15 October 1998
The Tate: A History 
by Frances Spalding.
Tate Gallery, 308 pp., £25, April 1998, 1 85437 231 9
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... that was associated with Paris. The chief support provided by the state for such works was the Musée du Luxembourg. This was housed in a palace which had long been visited for its gallery of Old Masters. In 1816 it was emptied of its collection to help fill gaps in the Louvre and it reopened in 1818 as a gallery for pictures by great living artists (including David, then in political exile). The ...

Why we have them I can’t think

Rosemary Hill: ‘Mrs Woolf and the Servants’

16 August 2007
Mrs Woolf and the Servants: The Hidden Heart of Domestic Service 
by Alison Light.
Fig Tree, 376 pp., £20, August 2007, 978 0 670 86717 2
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... that ‘last night I would have put my head in the gas oven, if I wasn’t too frightened of the cook to go into the kitchen.’ The uneasy balance of power between domestic servants and their masters and mistresses, especially mistresses, is the theme of Alison Light’s study of the home life of Virginia Woolf, whose complicated relationship with her own cook, Nellie Boxall, involved a degree of ...
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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... was ‘variously interpreted by Ivy’s friends as Elliott Felkin and/or Ernest Thesiger, mixed on a base supplied by Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson and topped off perhaps with an astringent dash of Roger Hinks’. Mrs Spurling’s own dealings with these conjectural parenthoods and genealogies are more circumspect, and do – or so I judge – often sensitively illuminate the traffic of the creative ...

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