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The Earnestness of Being Important

P.N. Furbank, 19 August 1982

John BuchanA Memoir 
by William Buchan.
Buchan and Enright, 272 pp., £9.95, May 1982, 0 907675 03 4
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The Best Short Stories of John Buchan. Vol. II 
edited by David Daniell.
Joseph, 240 pp., £8.50, June 1982, 9780718121211
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... The nice thing about John Buchan is that he was on the side of books. He thought, it is true, that he ought to have been a Guardian, shaping the Empire, or dominating Cabinets, or, at worst, ‘a power behind the throne’. However, after his spell in Milner’s ‘Kindergarten’, the nation didn’t seem to want him in the Guardian line, so he did the next best thing and became an entertainer ...

The First Hundred Years

James Buchan, 24 August 1995

John BuchanThe Presbyterian Cavalier 
by Andrew Lownie.
Constable, 365 pp., £20, July 1995, 0 09 472500 4
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... with a Cabinet Minister will know that it is not just the labourer who is thus incapable. John Buchan, whose grandson I am, was a late and flesh-and-blood representative of that lost epoch before economic expediency: a writer who not so much rejected the division of labour (Baudelaire and the Romantics do that) as overcame it. He fascinated his age and its ...

That sh—te Creech

James Buchan: The Scottish Enlightenment, 5 April 2007

The Enlightenment and the Book: Scottish Authors and Their Publishers in 18th-Century Britain, Ireland and America 
by Richard Sher.
Chicago, 815 pp., £25.50, February 2007, 978 0 226 75252 5
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... 1776, James Boswell and Samuel Johnson visited Pembroke College, Oxford and called on the master, William Adams. According to Richard Sher, Boswell wrote in his journal how dismayed he had been to see in the master’s library a copy of the quarto edition of David Hume’s Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects of 1758, handsomely bound in morocco ...

Pretence for Prattle

Steven Shapin: Tea, 30 July 2015

Empire of Tea: The Asian Leaf that Conquered the World 
by Markman Ellis, Richard Coulton and Matthew Mauger.
Reaktion, 326 pp., £25, May 2015, 978 1 78023 440 3
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... philosophers continued to oppose tea on grounds of its stimulating and anti-soporific effects – William Buchan thought that tea was to be avoided in cases of melancholy and flatulence – but an expert consensus in its favour emerged. To the extent that tea was understood as a drug, it was generally judged a good one, repressing ‘vapours’, calming ...

Good Things

Michael Hofmann, 20 April 1995

Heart’s Journey in Winter 
by James Buchan.
Harvill, 201 pp., £14.99, April 1995, 9780002730099
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... I don’t believe this country has a better writer to offer than James Buchan. I can’t think of anyone who concedes so much of his own intelligence to his protagonists – doesn’t mock or belittle them – and gives them so much world to do battle with. I see no particular limitation to his scope or style: his stunningly curt dialogues and ravishing recitatives are equally persuasive ...

For a Few Dollars More

Frank Kermode, 18 September 1997

Frozen Desire: An Inquiry into the Meaning of Money 
by James Buchan.
Picador, 320 pp., £17.99, September 1997, 0 330 35527 9
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... be Frozen Desire, but when it thaws out Desire may emerge less lively than one had hoped. James Buchan would agree that it isn’t much use talking to economists about these money mysteries, for they will all tell you different things, with little in common except their unintelligibility. He himself clearly does know a lot about all these matters and is ...

Undertellers

Walter Nash, 18 February 1988

The Panda Hunt 
by Richard Burns.
Cape, 189 pp., £10.95, August 1987, 0 224 02445 0
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Davy Chadwick 
by James Buchan.
Hamish Hamilton, 145 pp., £9.95, September 1987, 0 241 12115 9
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Overhead in a Balloon: Stories of Paris 
by Mavis Gallant.
Cape, 196 pp., £10.95, August 1987, 0 224 02426 4
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Black Idol 
by Lisa St Aubin de Teran.
Cape, 157 pp., £9.95, September 1987, 9780224024372
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... but felt, after all, that his inventive capacity had only served to botch his argument. Mr Buchan is also highly inventive, but he, in Davy Chadwick, is a rigorous underteller, a demonstrator who compels his readers to scrutinise every event, watch every sentence, not allowing them to enjoy for a moment the relaxing, gossipy irrelevance of mere ...

A Betting Man

Colin Kidd: John Law, 12 September 2019

John Law: A Scottish Adventurer of the 18th Century 
by James Buchan.
MacLehose, 513 pp., £14.99, August 2019, 978 1 84866 608 5
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... and at some point in 1705 or early 1706, he left Scotland. ‘There is no evidence,’ James Buchan writes, ‘he ever returned.’ Law was born in 1671, the son of William Law, a master goldsmith who, like other goldsmiths of his time, drifted from metallurgy into finance, becoming a lender to clients. Success in this ...

Bangs and Stinks

James Buchan, 22 December 1994

Test of Greatness: Britain’s Struggle for the Atom Bomb 
by Brian Cathcart.
Murray, 301 pp., £19.99, September 1994, 0 7195 5225 7
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... in British self-consciousness after the war. Soon after the test, the Daily Graphic apostrophised William Penney, the project’s leader: ‘Britain and the Commonwealth owe a debt – almost impossible to repay – to you ... the fact that you and your team have made it possible for Britain to make and store atom bombs has made the country a world power once ...

Make mine a Worcester Sauce

John Bayley, 23 June 1994

Richard Hughes 
by Richard Perceval Graves.
Deutsch, 491 pp., £20, May 1994, 0 233 98843 2
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... Scottish, and Hughes partly Welsh. The presidential or father figure of the group would be John Buchan, another Scot, whose innings was over before the younger ones started to play, although he was still around as they became famous. This English angle was partly suggested to me at the time when Hughes’s penultimate novel, intended as the first of a ...

‘A Little Feu de Joie’

Adam Shatz: Khomeini rises, 25 April 2013

Days of God: The Revolution in Iran and Its Consequences 
by James Buchan.
John Murray, 482 pp., £25, November 2012, 978 1 84854 066 8
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... a minority in the house of Islam, had rewritten the script of revolution in the Middle East. James Buchan’s Days of God shows how a radicalised clergy took control of a popular uprising against a Western-backed dictator and set up the world’s first and only Islamic republic. Buchan tells that story as well as anyone has ...

Mauve Monkeys

William Fiennes, 18 September 1997

Wilde’s Last Stand: Decadence, Conspiracy and the First World War 
by Philip Hoare.
Duckworth, 250 pp., £16.95, July 1997, 0 7156 2737 6
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... impishly rhetorical. Germans were commonly assumed to be sexual perverts, like the villain of John Buchan’s Greenmantle, the ‘huge, brutal’ Ulrich von Stumm with his ‘perverted taste for soft delicate things’. ‘Do you speak German?’ was among the most familiar graffiti in the public conveniences of Paris. Signs of Teutonic deviation at home had ...

The End

James Buchan, 28 April 1994

The City of London. Vol. I: A World of Its Own, 1815-1890 
by David Kynaston.
Chatto, 497 pp., £25, February 1994, 0 7011 6094 2
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... trolleys at the check-out, to see what people were buying. The third of Kynaston’s heroes is William Lidderdale, a Scotsman and partner in the Liverpool merchants Rathbone Bros, who rose to be Governor of the Bank of England and save the toffs in 1890: for this admirable man, Kynaston has a special sympathy. That these men were, respectively, a German ...

Presto!

James Buchan, 14 December 1995

The Life of Adam Smith 
by Ian Simpson Ross.
Oxford, 495 pp., £25, October 1995, 0 19 828821 2
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... are brought into a sort of relation in the classic fashion of economics: a century earlier. Sir William Petty had valued an Englishman at £86/13/3, but then he probably would have applied a discount to Highlanders because of their violence, tartan, bagpipes, chivalry, Gaelic etc. Over the fate of the 800 men, let us not linger: actually, it doesn’t bear ...

No Longer Merely the Man Who Ate His Boots

Thomas Jones: The Northwest Passage, 27 May 2010

Arctic Labyrinth: The Quest for the Northwest Passage 
by Glyn Williams.
Allen Lane, 440 pp., £25, October 2009, 978 1 84614 138 6
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Franklin: Tragic Hero of Polar Navigation 
by Andrew Lambert.
Faber, 428 pp., £20, July 2009, 978 0 571 23160 7
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... Walsingham that ‘the northwest passage is a matter nothing doubtful.’ Thirty years later, William Baffin wrote to one of his financial backers that ‘there is no passage nor hope of passage.’ Baffin did see a lot of whales though, and most of the ships that sailed to the Arctic from Europe in the 17th century were whalers, heading ever further ...

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