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Writing it down

Peter Parsons, 31 August 1989

Oral Tradition and Written Record in Classical Athens 
by Rosalind Thomas.
Cambridge, 321 pp., £27.50, March 1989, 0 521 35025 5
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... sprinkling of casual facts, which prove nothing unless they are typical and their society static. Rosalind Thomas’s rich and invigorating book takes a more concrete and profitable stance. The real question is not how many were literate, but literate in what, and for what? The uses of literacy do not determine social attitudes, but depend on them. She ...

Foremost Economist

Rosalind Mitchison, 25 October 1979

Population Malthus 
by Patricia James.
Routledge, 524 pp., £17.50
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... the Malthus family, part of the middling ranks of 18th-century society, the education of the young Thomas Robert, his friends and the development of his ideas till in 1805 he was an established figure, the author of the famous Essay on Population (by then in the sophisticated form of the later editions), a rector of the Church of England, professor at the new ...

Happier Days

Rosalind Mitchison, 4 April 1991

Scottish Voices 1745-1960 
by T.C. Smout and Sydney Wood.
Collins, 334 pp., £16.95, August 1990, 0 00 215190 1
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... memoirs and mostly familiar to historians. Old friends include George Robertson, Joseph Mitchell, Thomas Somerville and Ramsay of Ochtertyre. The accounts are separated into themes, such as school, factory and mine, leisure, crime (though none of the memorialists claim active participation in this). The excerpts are long enough to carry the style and emphasis ...

High Time for Reform

Rosalind Mitchison, 1 May 1980

The Philosophic Radicals: Nine Studies in Theory and Practice, 1817-1841 
by William Thomas.
Oxford, 491 pp., £15, December 1979, 0 19 822490 7
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... which carried popular feeling and those that really mattered. As an instance of this, William Thomas holds – rightly, I think – that the Municipal Corporation Reform of 1835 was really more important than Parliamentary Reform. He expects his readers to understand the interactions of the two elcctoral systems. He shows, in detail, how well the Tory ...

South Britain

Rosalind Mitchison, 1 April 1982

The Economic History of Britain since 1700. Vol. 1: 1700-1860 
edited by Roderick Floud and Donald McCloskey.
Cambridge, 323 pp., £25, October 1981, 0 521 23166 3
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The Economic History of Britain since 1700. Vol. II: 1860 to the 1970s 
edited by Roderick Floud and Donald McCloskey.
Cambridge, 485 pp., £30, October 1981, 0 521 23167 1
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... twist, or are taken down to an altogether deeper level of thought. In Volume I, McCloskey and R.P. Thomas measure the cost to the American colonists of trade control by the British Navigation Acts, and end up with the figure of under 1.8 per cent of colonial income: a new low. As a price to pay for the services of British military forces, participation in ...

Bench Space

Mary Beard: Norfolk Girl gets Nobel Prize, 15 April 1999

Dorothy Hodgkin: A Life 
by Georgina Ferry.
Granta, 425 pp., £20, November 1998, 1 86207 167 5
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... combine to outweigh the charisma that might attach to scientific discovery. The paradigm case is Rosalind Franklin, who died of cancer at 37 and was posthumously written out of the story of the discovery of DNA, in which she had played a crucial part. James Watson’s outrageously self-heroising Double Helix systematically ridiculed and patronised ...

Carlyle’s Mail Fraud

Rosalind Mitchison, 6 August 1981

The Collected Letters of Thomas and Jane Welsh Carlyle: Vol. VIII 1835-1836, Vol. IX 1836-1837 
edited by Charles Sanders and Kenneth Fielding.
Duke, 365 pp., £32.95, May 1981, 0 8223 0433 3
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... Carlyle’s brother, whom he had earlier aided, was now ready to repay the money, so that Jane and Thomas had some two and a half years in reserves when Volume VIII opens. Book-writing was a total activity, putting tremendous strain on Jane and requiring that whoever they had as servant had to be trained to subordinate everything to Carlyle’s stringent ...

Modern Wales

Rosalind Mitchison, 19 November 1981

Rebirth of a Nation: Wales 1880-1980 
by Kenneth O. Morgan.
Oxford, 463 pp., £15, March 1981, 0 19 821736 6
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... ought to be his language,’ and repeats the attack by Bobi Jones, a learner of Welsh, on Dylan Thomas for ‘importing and adapting culture from an uninteresting and impoverished England’. In both statements Welsh-speakers are not only claiming what is certainly their right and privilege, to prefer one culture to another: they are also seeking to limit ...

Portrait of the Scottish Poor

Rosalind Mitchison, 5 June 1980

The State of the Scottish Working Class in 1843 
by Ian Levitt and Christopher Smout.
Scottish Academic Press, 284 pp., £7.50, December 1979, 0 7073 0247 1
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... in many parishes. The Scots had had a large share, through Adam Smith, Samuel Smiles and Thomas Chalmers, in the fashioning of a theory of economic individualism, and their working class was now paying for it. The special and appalling hardships of Paisley, which had forced on Peel’s government the decision to tackle the Scottish poor law ...

Room at the Top

Rosalind Mitchison, 15 November 1984

An Open Elite? England 1540-1880 
by Lawrence Stone and Jeanne Fawtier Stone.
Oxford, 566 pp., £24, September 1984, 0 19 822645 4
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... Of course the county already possessed a large collection of sumptuous houses. Somehow the Sir Thomas Bertrams of the day resisted the urge to build extra wings for male recreation – smoking and billiards – to enlarge and systematise the laundry and kitchen quarters, to house an enlarging bevy of servants in separate blocks, whereas in the other two ...

Green Films

Geoffrey Hawthorn, 1 April 1982

Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage 
by Stanley Cavell.
Harvard, 283 pp., £12.25, December 1981, 0 674 73905 1
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... are going to get married.’ It is The Awful Truth. Grant sits down at a table with Bellamy and Rosalind Russell in 1940 and says again: ‘So you two are going to get married.’ It is His Girl Friday. Asked what the Bellamy character in the film, the man who plans to marry his former wife, looks like, Grant replies: ‘Like that fellow in the ...

The Cinderella Molecule

Steven Shapin: Solving the Ribosome, 24 January 2019

Gene Machine: The Race to Decipher the Secrets of the Ribosome 
by Venki Ramakrishnan.
Oneworld, 272 pp., £20, September 2018, 978 1 78607 436 2
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... remained to be done was a series of mopping-up operations or puzzle-solving, what the historian Thomas Kuhn called ‘normal science’. By the 1950s it had become clear that the cellular organelle where proteins were manufactured was the ribosome – given its name by an American microbiologist. The ribosome was known to be an extremely complex ...

Somewhere else

Rosalind Mitchison, 19 May 1988

The Peopling of British North America: An Introduction 
by Bernard Bailyn.
Tauris, 177 pp., £12.95, April 1987, 1 85043 037 3
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Voyagers to the West: Emigration from Britain to America on the Eve of the Revolution 
by Bernard Bailyn.
Tauris, 668 pp., £29.50, April 1987, 1 85043 038 1
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Migration and Society in Early Modern England 
edited by Peter Clark and David Souden.
Hutchinson, 355 pp., £25, February 1988, 0 09 173220 4
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Gypsy-Travellers in 19th-Century Society 
by David Mayall.
Cambridge, 261 pp., £25, February 1988, 0 521 32397 5
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... was raised by Lord Hillsborough, Secretary of State and owner of a large chunk of County Down, and Thomas Miller, Lord Justice Clerk and a custodian of the vast Sutherland estates. Both realised the reverse of the speculative impulses in the Americas: land without labour would produce no income. If people fled from rent-paying in Sutherland to rent-paying in ...

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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... almost exclusively at the power politics of theocracy, except for a few eccentrics such as Sir Thomas Urquhart of Cromarty. Theocratic failure and national defeat took place before the first signs of intellectual innovation. The most interesting 17th-century forerunner of the 18th-century efflorescence is Stair, whose Institutions captivate by their simple ...

Great Instructor

Charles Nicholl, 31 August 1989

Ben Jonson: A Life 
by David Riggs.
Harvard, 399 pp., £27.95, April 1989, 0 674 06625 1
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... from too much canary wine, and the warts and blemishes which more malicious caricaturists like Thomas Dekker dwell on: ‘a face full of pockey-holes and pimples ... a most ungodly face, like a rotten russet apple when ’tis bruised’. You can confirm that, as Aubrey noted, he had one eye bigger and lower than the other. And you can guess at what was by ...

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