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Turf

C.H. Sisson, 10 May 1990

... What fever is Burning under the shrunk turf of our days? The sky is dark with winter, but what rises Smokily from the heap distinctly says: Here is fire: and yet a thousand ways Promises chill. A vast uneasiness shifts in the air. No one can name it, and whatever ill It brings forebodingly cannot declare Itself. Is then nothing but nothing there? Nothing perhaps Is what it is ...
... Another candidate for recollection Is Charles Worlock, surely from my mother’s family, For they farmed in Gloucestershire since who knows when – Perhaps since Saxon times there on the marches – And he embarked under the shining arches Of North Star and Plough, 22, fair, 5 ft 10, No further away than Bristol, to where he would see The blaze instead of southern constellations ...

Poor Harold

C.H. Sisson, 3 December 1981

Harold Nicolson: A Biography. Vo. II: 1930-1968 
by James Lees-Milne.
Chatto, 403 pp., £15, October 1981, 0 7011 2602 7
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... In 1930, Harold Nicolson gave a series of broadcasts on ‘The New Spirit in Modern Literature’. The pamphlet which the BBC published to accompany the series gave me my first sight of the work of T.S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, and I believe James Joyce, though I learn from the volume before me that Sir John Reith, reigning at the BBC, forbade Nicolson to mention Ulysses, then banned ...

States’ Rights

C.H. Sisson, 15 April 1982

Philosophy and Ideology in Hume’s Political Thought 
by David Miller.
Oxford, 218 pp., £15, November 1981, 0 19 824658 7
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... It would be an exaggeration to say that when David Hume, at the age of 26, came back to London after his retreat at La Flèche, he had already thought all the thoughts he was going to think. On the other hand, there is a sense in which the famous Hume, who lived among the learned and judicious in Edinburgh so comfortably and, one might say, so smugly in his 18th-century way, was a superfluity ...

Convictions

C.H. Sisson, 9 November 1989

Edgell Rickword: A Poet at War 
by Charles Hobday.
Carcanet, 337 pp., £16.95, October 1989, 0 85635 883 5
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... The greatest men grow so long as they live.’ There is a touch of bravado about this assertion. Rickword was in his middle twenties when he made it, and he may have thought differently before his death at the age of 84. Be that as it may, he would almost certainly have stood by the reflection with which he concluded his sentence: ‘no one,’ he said, ‘has ever changed the fibres of his character ...

Modest House in the Judengasse

C.H. Sisson, 5 July 1984

Random Variables 
by Lord Rothschild.
Collins, 238 pp., £12.50, May 1984, 0 00 217334 4
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... It is delightful and unexpected to open a book by a public Eminence to find the blue wings of Morpho cypris spread out before one. Then a few pages later there is the green and orange of Ornithoptera paradisea. This is, however, not a work of lepidopterology, except in the sense that it records that the author was ‘born into a family in which lepidopterology was a ruling passion ...

Bouvard and Pécuchet

C.H. Sisson, 6 December 1984

The Lyttelton Hart-Davis Letters: Correspondence of George Lyttelton and Rupert Hart-Davis. 
edited by Rupert Hart-Davis.
Murray, 193 pp., £13.50, April 1984, 0 7195 4108 5
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... We now have the sixth and final volume of the Lyttelton Hart-Davis Letters. George Lyttelton died on 1 May 1962, thus ending a correspondence which had begun in 1955; the first of the volumes edited by the survivor was published in 1978, the rest have appeared at intervals since. ‘For beginners’, as Rupert Hart-Davis puts it, mindful of those who have had to pick up the thread at some intermediate stage of the correspondence, the editor ‘had been taught by George at Eton, where he was an outstanding teacher and house-master ...

Beddoes’ Best Thing

C.H. Sisson, 20 September 1984

The Force of Poetry 
by Christopher Ricks.
Oxford, 447 pp., £19.50, September 1984, 0 19 811722 1
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... This is,’ as Professor Ricks says, in his rather baroque manner, ‘a gathering of essays, not a march of chapters’; each essay ‘attends to an aspect, feature, or resource of the language manifested in poetry’. The book is true to this prospectus insofar as the subject of most of the essays is some point to which the critic wishes to ‘give salience’, rather than the poet whose name appears in the title ...

With the Woolwich

C.H. Sisson, 18 July 1985

New and Collected Poems: 1934-84 
by Roy Fuller.
Secker in association with London Magazine Editions, 557 pp., £14.95, June 1985, 0 436 16790 5
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The Sea at the Door 
by Sylvia Kantaris.
Secker, 70 pp., £3.95, June 1985, 0 436 23070 4
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... Roy Fuller was born in 1912, under what conjunction of planets I do not know, but the place of his birth was somewhere between Manchester and Oldham. His next stop was Blackpool, where he attended the High School until the age of 16. He might even in those distant days have been expected to go on at the age of 17 or 18 to a university, but, whether through parental or his own native caution or some other cause, he was instead articled to a local solicitor and was admitted in 1934 ...

Defender of the Faith

C.H. Sisson, 16 February 1984

The Essays, Articles and Reviews of Evelyn Waugh 
edited by Donat Gallagher.
Methuen, 662 pp., £20, February 1984, 0 413 50370 4
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... Very occasionally it is worth noticing a bad book at some length’ – we have it on Evelyn Waugh’s own authority – ‘if only to give reputable publishers a reminder that they must not be insolent in what they try and put over on a public already stupefied by literary overproduction.’ The present case is not quite of the kind Waugh had in mind ...

Houses at the end of their tether

C.H. Sisson, 17 March 1983

Caves of Ice 
by James Lees-Milne.
Chatto, 276 pp., £12.95, February 1983, 0 7011 2657 4
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... When one opens a diary there are two things one wants to know. The first is the date of the entries; the second is the age of the author. James Lees-Milne was 36, rising 37, when he started this record on 1 January 1946. He had, however, kept a diary before, during the years of the war, and abandoned it only three months earlier, so he starts here with a practised hand ...

A Whale of a War

C.H. Sisson, 3 March 1983

By Safe Hand: Letters of Sybil and David Eccles 
Bodley Head, 432 pp., £16, January 1983, 0 370 30482 9Show More
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... It is hardly an odd notion for a man approaching 80, who has held office as Minister of Education, President of the Board of Trade and Paymaster-General, to look back to the beginnings of his public career and to see what he can make of it, at a distance of forty years or more. And nothing could be more natural for any man, after the death of a wife to whom he had been married for 50 years, to turn out a heap of old letters which had been exchanged between them long ago ...

Our Hero

C.H. Sisson, 25 January 1990

Richard Aldington: A Biography 
by Charles Doyle.
Macmillan, 379 pp., £19.95, November 1989, 0 333 46487 7
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... Charles Doyle’s biography of Richard Aldington opens so readily at the 24 excellent photographs with which the book is illustrated that the temptation to look at them, before one gets involved with the text, is irresistible. The series starts with a rather determined-looking boy with cap and striped jersey, holding a football. This is our hero at the age of 13 ...

Worthies

C.H. Sisson, 6 February 1986

The Queen has been pleased: The British Honours System at Work 
by John Walker.
Secker, 216 pp., £9.95, January 1986, 0 436 56111 5
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... Whether one regards the honours system as a comedy, or a scandal, or merely as a perfectly ordinary bit of government machinery – like other bits not always as sensibly managed as it might be – is a question about which it hardly seems necessary to get excited. The system can hardly avoid being all these things, and anyone who has watched its operations, even intermittently, over a number of years is likely to accept it more or less as he accepts the rest of our constitutional arrangements ...

Angry Waves

C.H. Sisson, 18 December 1986

Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai 
translated by Chana Bloch and Stephen Mitchell.
Viking, 173 pp., £12.95, October 1986, 0 670 81454 7
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Hurricane Lamp 
by Turner Cassity.
Chicago, 68 pp., £12.75, May 1986, 0 226 09614 9
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Selected Poems 
by Robert Wells.
Carcanet, 95 pp., £2.95, September 1986, 0 85635 669 7
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... The writing of verse is a disease to which too little attention has been paid by the public health authorities. The number of more or less unavoidable cases is small, but the contagion is everywhere. The Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai shows clearly, even through the medium of translation, that its author is among the small number in whom the disease was, if not congenital, at any rate not to be avoided by any reasonable precautions ...

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