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Large and Rolling

Penelope Fitzgerald, 31 July 1997

The Scholar Gypsy: The Quest for a Family Secret 
by Anthony Sampson.
Murray, 229 pp., £16, May 1997, 0 7195 5708 9
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... Anthony Sampson begins and ends his book with an account of his grandfather’s funeral, held, as requested in his will, at the top of a Welsh mountain, Foel Goch. Among the mourners were Gypsy harpers and fiddlers, scholars, civic officials and ‘the painter Mr Augustus John’. ‘Hundreds of spectators,’ it was reported, ‘waited for the coming of the mortal remains of Dr John Sampson, the well-known philologist and librarian of Liverpool University ...

Cheeky

J.I.M. Stewart, 23 October 1986

H.G. Wells: Desperately Mortal 
by David Smith.
Yale, 634 pp., £18.50, September 1986, 0 300 03672 8
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... of what’s past, present, or to come: insensible of mortality, and desperately mortal’. David Smith finds most of this description eminently applicable to H.G. Wells (whom he intensely admires) and he adopts its final two words as a subtitle for his biography. What sense Shakespeare attached to them is doubtful. Johnson suggests ‘likely to die in ...

Infidels

Malise Ruthven, 2 June 1983

The Helen Smith Story 
by Paul Foot and Ron Smith.
Fontana, 418 pp., £1.95, February 1983, 0 00 636536 1
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... sixth floor of a Jeddah apartment block in May 1979. There were no other women, except for Helen Smith, a 23-year-old nurse from Yorkshire who worked in the same private hospital as Richard Arnot, a surgeon. What actually occurred at the party is still the subject of dispute, and is related to a pending legal action. But everyone knows what happened ...

Short Cuts

Frederick Wilmot-Smith: RBG’s Big Mistake, 8 October 2020

... gambit paid off. Trump filled Scalia’s seat with Justice Neil Gorsuch. Soon after, Justice Anthony Kennedy retired. At 81, Kennedy was older than a Supreme Court judge should be; but he wasn’t ill (and is still alive). Nevertheless, he decided that President Trump and the Republican Senate were the ones he wanted to nominate and confirm his ...

Lord Vaizey sees the light

Geoffrey Hawthorn, 20 October 1983

In Breach of Promise 
by John Vaizey.
Weidenfeld, 150 pp., £9.95, September 1983, 0 297 78288 6
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... has no doubt at all. ‘They were the best.’ Hugh Gaitskell, Iain Macleod, Richard Titmuss, Anthony Crosland and Edward Boyle. They were all ‘clever, honest, admirable and honourable’. They were all, except Boyle, who was at school at the time, affected by the slump. They were all excited by the political changes and administrative advances of the ...

Great Expectations of Themselves

Anthony Pagden: Was there a Spanish Empire?, 17 April 2003

Spain’s Road to Empire: The Making of a World 1492-1763 
by Henry Kamen.
Allen Lane, 609 pp., £25, November 2002, 0 7139 9365 0
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... in gold and what in the long run would prove to be infinitely more valuable, silver. As Adam Smith wryly remarked, for the first time in human history, Fortune had granted her devotees ‘something not very unlike that profusion of precious metals’ they had spent centuries looking for. ‘One might call oneself emperor of this kingdom,’ Cortés ...

Best at Imitation

Anthony Pagden: Spain v. England, 2 November 2006

Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America 1492-1830 
by J.H. Elliott.
Yale, 546 pp., £25, May 2006, 0 300 11431 1
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... quantities of what they had originally gone there to find: precious metals. ‘Fortune,’ Adam Smith remarked dryly, ‘did upon this what she has done upon very few other occasions. She realised in some measure the extravagant hope of her votaries.’ The British (and the French), who had gone with the same extravagant hope, had come home ...

Beastliness

Harry Ricketts, 16 March 1989

Rudyard Kipling 
by Martin Seymour-Smith.
Macdonald, 373 pp., £16.95, February 1989, 0 356 15852 7
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... for instance, is both meticulous and plausible. The same can hardly be said of Martin Seymour-Smith in his new critical biography of Kipling. In addition to being one of the most lopsided lives ever written – 23 chapters on the first forty years, only two chapters on the last thirty – this is also one of the most incorrigible in its ...

Meltdown

Anthony Thwaite, 26 October 1989

Bitter Fame: A Life of Sylvia Plath 
by Anne Stevenson.
Viking, 413 pp., £15.95, October 1989, 0 670 81854 2
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... American academics – all become the occasions of poems. The suicide attempt, on vacation from Smith College in the summer of 1953, is crucial. It seems likely that the ECT treatment that followed it, as an attempted ‘cure’, affected her for the rest of her life. In most circumstances, evidently, she could carry on in her ...

Top Failure

John Rodgers, 17 September 1981

R.A. Butler: An English Life 
by Patrick Cosgrave.
Quartet, 167 pp., £6.95, April 1981, 0 7043 2258 7
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... of Douglas-Home, and in 1957 instead of Macmillan; he has even said that he felt he, rather than Anthony Eden, should have followed Churchill as prime minister. Butler had little regard for Eden, of whom he said, ‘he is the best prime minister we have got,’ adding when asked to amplify the remark: ‘Oh, capax imperii and all that.’ In other ...

All hail, sage lady

Andrew O’Hagan: ‘The Crown’, 15 December 2016

... in the home he had chosen for them, and his frustrations grew dark. Recently, when the actor Matt Smith was introduced to Prince William and the prince was told Smith would soon be playing his grandfather in an epic Netflix series, The Crown, William offered only one word. ‘Legend,’ he said, as if they were talking ...

Demonising Nationalism

Tom Nairn, 25 February 1993

... framework of development. This failure was remedied by the important work of Ernest Gellner, Anthony Smith and others from the Sixties to the Eighties. They showed, to my mind conclusively, that nationalism was in separable from the deeper processes of industrialisation and socio-economic modernity. Far from being an irrational obstacle to ...

What’s not to like?

Stefan Collini: Ernest Gellner, 2 June 2011

Ernest Gellner: An Intellectual Biography 
by John Hall.
Verso, 400 pp., £29.99, July 2010, 978 1 84467 602 6
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... nationalism ‘springs, inevitably, from the requirements of a modern economy’. Critics such as Anthony Smith (once Gellner’s student) have argued that this determinedly modernist account underplays the role both of actual historic continuities and of the emotions that make nationalism more than a set of bureaucratic edicts. Or as Anderson puts ...

Musical Beds

D.A.N. Jones, 30 December 1982

On Going to Bed 
by Anthony Burgess.
Deutsch, 96 pp., £4.95, August 1982, 0 233 97470 9
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The End of the World News 
by Anthony Burgess.
Hutchinson, 398 pp., £8.95, October 1982, 0 09 150540 2
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This Man and Music 
by Anthony Burgess.
Hutchinson, 192 pp., £7.95, September 1982, 0 09 149610 1
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... Thrice has Anthony Burgess begun a novel in bed, with intimations of impropriety and guilt. Getting out of the dreadful thing was the problem posed for the bold bigamist of Beds in the East, the third volume in his Malayan trilogy: ‘Either side of the bed was the wrong side. True it was possible to get out of it by inching slowly forward, on one’s fat brown rump, to the foot; but that, for some reason, often woke both of them ...

History’s Revenges

Peter Clarke, 5 March 1981

The Illustrated Dictionary of British History 
edited by Arthur Marwick.
Thames and Hudson, 319 pp., £8.95, October 1980, 0 500 25072 3
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Who’s Who in Modern History, 1860-1980 
by Alan Palmer.
Weidenfeld, 332 pp., £8.50, October 1980, 0 297 77642 8
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... by the entry first consulted can be led on a treasure hunt for further clues. Start with Adam Smith and you find a picture and a few key dates in his career. But see Free Trade. Here not only the meaning of the term but also the influence of the policy is suggested. See Richard Cobden. This leads us to the Anti-Corn Law League, and in turn to John ...

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