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Castaway

Roy Porter

4 March 1982
The Letters and Prose Writings of William Cowper. Vol. I: 1750-1781 
edited by James King and Charles Ryskamp.
Oxford, 640 pp., £27.50, June 1979, 0 19 811863 5
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The Poems of William CowperVol. 1 1748-1782 
edited by John Baird and Charles Ryskamp.
Oxford, 500 pp., £25, September 1980, 0 19 811875 9
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The Letters and Prose Writings of William Cowper. Vol. II: 1782-1786 
edited by James King and Charles Ryskamp.
Oxford, 640 pp., £27.50, June 1979, 0 19 811863 5
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... Cowper came to me and said: “O that I were insane always. I will never rest. Can you not make me truly insane? … You retain health and yet are as mad as any of us all – mad as a refuge from unbelief ...
2 August 1984
The Collected Letters of Thomas Hardy. Vol. IV: 1909-1913 
edited by Richard Little Purdy and Michael Millgate.
Oxford, 337 pp., £21, March 1984, 0 19 812621 2
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The Letters and Prose Writings of William Cowper. Vol. IV: 1792-1799 
edited by James King and Charles Ryskamp.
Oxford, 498 pp., £48, March 1984, 0 19 812681 6
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The Land and Literature of England: A Historical Account 
by Robert M. Adams.
Norton, 555 pp., £21, March 1984, 0 393 01704 4
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The Complete Poetical Works of Thomas Hardy. Vol. II 
edited by Samuel Hynes.
Oxford, 543 pp., £35, June 1984, 0 19 812783 9
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... letter-writers, and Hardy is not one of those whose communications one reads for their own sakes, as one does the letters of Madame de Sevigné, Madame du Deffand, Edward Fitzgerald – or indeed of WilliamCowper, the new edition of whose Letters and Prose Writings has just reached its fourth volume. Yet Hardy’s letters are admirable in their way, laconic and to the point, written with his eye on the ...

Enormities

C.H. Sisson

27 September 1990
Collected Poems 
by Donald Davie.
Carcanet, 475 pp., £25, September 1990, 0 85635 875 4
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... Roy Campbell. It is significant, however, that the first poems in this Collected show Davie as under the spell, not of Pope or of any of the other primarily satirical authors of the century, but of WilliamCowper. A pasticheur of late-Augustan styles, I too have sung the sofa and the hare, Made nightmare ride upon a private air And hearths, extinguished, send a chill for miles. This ‘Homage’ ends ...

The Powyses

D.A.N. Jones

7 August 1980
After My Fashion 
by John Cowper​ Powys.
Picador, 286 pp., £2.50, June 1980, 0 330 26049 9
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Weymouth Sands 
by John Cowper​ Powys.
Picador, 567 pp., £2.95, June 1980, 0 330 26050 2
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Recollections of the Powys Brothers 
edited by Belinda Humfrey.
Peter Owen, 288 pp., £9.95, May 1980, 0 7206 0547 4
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John Cowper​ Powys and David Jones: A Comparative Study 
by Jeremy Hooker.
Enitharmon, 54 pp., £3.75, April 1979, 0 901111 85 6
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The Hollowed-Out Elder Stalk 
by Roland Mathias.
Enitharmon, 158 pp., £4.85, May 1979, 0 901111 87 2
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John Cowper​ Powys and the Magical Quest 
by Morine Krissdottir.
Macdonald, 218 pp., £8.95, February 1980, 0 354 04492 3
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... Big guns (J. B. Priestley, G. Wilson Knight, George Steiner, Angus Wilson) have been booming the name of John Cowper Powys for many years, outraged that other big guns will not join the salute. In the first number of the Powys Review, in 1977, George Steiner blamed Dr Leavis for praising Theodore Francis Powys ...

Seen through the Loopholes

David Simpson: ‘War at a Distance’

11 March 2010
War at a Distance: Romanticism and the Making of Modern Wartime 
by Mary Favret.
Princeton, 262 pp., £18.95, January 2010, 978 0 691 14407 8
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... French wars in the late 18th century, although there was a lot of dissent among the elites and presumably, though less widely recorded, among others. What there was, according to Favret, was the poet WilliamCowper, publishing The Task in 1785 in the aftermath of the American War of Independence, which must be considered a global war even if it did not involve the sheer manpower of the campaigns against ...

Silly Willy

Jonathan Bate

25 April 1991
William​ Blake: His Life 
by James King.
Weidenfeld, 263 pp., £25, March 1991, 0 297 81160 6
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... To write well about William Blake you need to be enthusiastic, aphoristic and contrary. It also helps to be slightly mad. You need to begin your book with a paragraph like this: When Blake spoke the first word of the 19th ...

A Cheat, a Sharper and a Swindler

Brian Young: Warren Hastings

24 May 2001
Dawning of the Raj: The Life and Trials of Warren Hastings 
by Jeremy Bernstein.
Aurum, 319 pp., £19.99, March 2001, 1 85410 753 4
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... General, Hastings was to become a patron of Oriental learning, overseeing important translations of works on Hindu law and Charles Wilkins’s pioneering translation of the Bhagavad-Gita. When Sir William Jones, the inspirational instigator of Indo-European studies, arrived in Bengal as a judge, Hastings was one of his strongest supporters. Though it has long been fashionable to denigrate such work as ...

The Stream in the Sky

John Barrell: Thomas Telford

22 March 2018
Man of Iron: Thomas Telford and the Building of Britain 
by Julian Glover.
Bloomsbury, 403 pp., £10.99, January 2018, 978 1 4088 3748 1
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... The stream in the sky’, as Walter Scott called it, at Pontcysyllte on the Llangollen Canal, is also attributed to Telford, though with the active collaboration of the more senior engineer William Jessop and the ironmaster William Hazledine. It consists of an iron trough supported on arched iron ribs and carried more than 120 feet above the Dee Valley on delicately tapered stone piers. It is ...
26 September 1991
The Faber Book of Madness 
edited by Roy Porter.
Faber, 572 pp., £14.99, September 1991, 0 571 14387 3
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... madness would be invisible in England, because ‘there the men are as mad as he.’ It’s quite rightly a frogmarch, maybe even a toad’s march, to Pseud’s Corner even to bring up the name of William Blake, but historians of English madness, including Porter, help us see the Blakean contradictions: all those élitist mouthings-off about Reason, all that hypochondriacal cool, all those dancing ...

Walking on Eyeballs

E.S. Turner: The history of gout

7 January 1999
Gout: The Patrician Malady 
by Roy Porter and G.S. Rousseau.
Yale, 393 pp., £25, September 1998, 0 300 07386 0
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... person who would “help him to the gout”, looking upon it as the only remedy for the distemper in his head, which he feared might in time prove an apoplexy; as in fine it did and killed him’. WilliamCowper congratulated a friend on contracting the disorder, ‘because it seems to promise us that we shall keep you long’. Hester Piozzi’s husband grew worried and alarmed if his gout did not ...
16 October 1980
The English Heartland 
by Robert Beckinsale and Monica Beckinsale.
Duckworth, 434 pp., £18, June 1980, 0 7156 1389 8
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The English Village 
by Richard Muir.
Thames and Hudson, 208 pp., £8.50, May 1980, 0 500 24106 6
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... of the wagon-builders and wheelwrights that grace museums of rural life, the carved stones of a multitude of masons, the spider’s web lace displaced beside silent bobbins in such a home as that of WilliamCowper in Olney, betoken craft workers whose skills lifted them above the level of ordinary labourers. While examples of their handiwork remain, little is left save statistics to tell the tale of the ...

Nate of the Station

Nick Richardson: Jonathan Coe

3 March 2016
Number 11 
by Jonathan Coe.
Viking, 351 pp., £16.99, November 2015, 978 0 670 92379 3
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... headline ‘The Art of Deception: black, disabled lesbian on benefits is actually black, disabled lesbian benefits cheat.’ Alison ends up in prison. ‘The Winshaw Prize’ opens with a quote from WilliamCowper which reminds us that satire can be ‘either grave or gay’ – Number 11 is mostly grave – but goes on to bemoan satire’s ineffectiveness: ‘What vice has it subdued? whose heart ...

Part of the Fun of being an English Protestant

Patrick Collinson: Recovering the Reformation

22 July 2004
Reformation: Europe’s House Divided 1490-1700 
by Diarmaid MacCulloch.
Allen Lane, 832 pp., £25, September 2003, 0 7139 9370 7
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... and has been in deacon’s orders. But he has changed. ‘I do not now personally subscribe to any form of religious dogma (although I do remember with some affection what it was like to do so).’ WilliamCowper wrote: ‘Blind unbelief is sure to err.’ But so is blind belief. Standing where he does, MacCulloch is aware of the importance of understanding his subject for those who are not religious ...

Sinking Giggling into the Sea

Jonathan Coe: Giggling along with Boris

18 July 2013
The Wit and Wisdom of Boris Johnson 
edited by Harry Mount.
Bloomsbury, 149 pp., £9.99, June 2013, 978 1 4081 8352 6
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... Footlights revue, directed and largely devised by John Bird. CND was just beginning to gather momentum and the show opened with a huge nuclear explosion, following which, in the words of the producer William Donaldson, the audience was treated to a whole evening’s worth of ‘terrible gloomy stuff – the punchline of every sketch was people dying.’ Nonetheless, it was undoubtedly a strong influence ...

Little Mania

Ian Gilmour: The disgraceful Lady Caroline Lamb

19 May 2005
Lady Caroline Lamb 
by Paul Douglass.
Palgrave, 354 pp., £16.99, December 2004, 1 4039 6605 2
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... There never was such a Woman!!!’ Emily Cowper (later Palmerston) wrote of her sister-in-law, Lady Caroline Lamb. Lady Cowper was not being complimentary. She later described Caroline as being ‘more termagant than ever’. Such disparagement of the woman, who in 1812 had a notorious affair with Byron and was married to a ...

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