In his basement kitchen Raphael Samuel had a cabinet of curiosities, a glass-fronted corner cupboard filled with dusty objects. Among them, a lump of coal from the Durham coalfields and a plastic National Coal Board mug; a yellow and black theatre programme for a 1956 performance of Brecht and Weill’s Threepenny Opera, with Mack the Knife sketched on the cover as a predatory city gent, with bowler and cane, about to fleece the poor; a misshapen pottery animal, half-cow, half-crocodile, made by one of the children Raphael had helped to bring up; and some relics as old as the house itself, stems and bowls from 18th-century workmen’s clay pipes with a tuft or two of the horsehair they had used to pack the plaster. I didn’t make much of the coin from the London Corresponding Society, apparently discovered, like the pipes, when the floorboards were taken up. Dated 1795, it read: ‘United for a Reform of Parliament’. When I moved in, I began ruthlessly to thin the collection, shuffling off items into Raphael’s study, replacing them with wine glasses to reflect the light. The coin stayed where it was.
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