A Poke of Sweeties

Andrew O’Hagan

  • The Death of the ‘Fronsac’ by Neal Ascherson
    Apollo, 393 pp, £18.99, August 2017, ISBN 978 1 78669 437 9

Coleridge’s favourite novelist, John Galt, had a gift for encapsulating disgrace under pressure, and his novels of small-town Scottish life are among the early masterpieces of British political fiction. After a life of robust colonial effort, during which he founded the Canadian city of Guelph, Galt – exhausted and impoverished – came back to Greenock and died there in 1839. He admits in his autobiography that Greenock wasn’t entirely the place for him. ‘I was never there in my element,’ he wrote, and ‘something of constraint environed me.’ He felt like a pre-person there, or a post-person, which isn’t quite the same thing as a non-person, but he knew he could never belong to the place in the way that the view of Ben Lomond did. ‘We hear,’ he wrote, ‘of many who seem changed by being removed from home. I am not, however, who think mankind ever undergo any alteration. Men are like the chameleon: they take a new colouring from the objects they are among: the reptile itself never alters either in shape or substance.’

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