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One Minute You’re Fine

Eleanor Birne: At what point do you become fat?, 26 January 2006

Fat Girl: A True Story 
by Judith Moore.
Profile, 196 pp., £12.99, June 2005, 1 86197 980 0
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The Hungry Years: Confessions of a Food Addict 
by William Leith.
Bloomsbury, 296 pp., £10.99, August 2005, 9780747572503
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... doesn’t actually eat all that much, but for some reason she just can’t help but gain weight. William Leith, on the other hand, admits that he can’t stop eating. At the start of The Hungry Years he tries to describe his addiction. He says of a BLT sandwich: it ‘practically fell down my throat; it was like dropping a billiard ball down a ...

Special Frocks

Jenny Turner: Justine Picardie, 5 January 2006

My Mother’s Wedding Dress: The Fabric of Our Lives 
by Justine Picardie.
Picador, 336 pp., £12.99, September 2005, 0 330 41306 6
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... them in its Soft Dressing department – not at all to be confused with the sartorial despair William Leith has recently called ‘going floaty’.) Ruth wore them first, apparently, when she was expecting her twins, then later when she knew she was dying and was ‘spending money like there was no tomorrow’. She liked them, her sister ...

Sick Boys

Jenny Turner, 2 December 1993

by Irvine Welsh.
Secker, 344 pp., £8.99, July 1993, 0 436 56567 6
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... is a young man called Mark Renton or Rents, a heroin addict who was born and brought up in Leith, the old port neighbourhood on the north-eastern side of Edinburgh. Renton has had it with steady work, having been an apprentice joiner for a while and given it up. He has tried, and also given up on, being a university student in Aberdeen, where he blew ...

That sh—te Creech

James Buchan: The Scottish Enlightenment, 5 April 2007

The Enlightenment and the Book: Scottish Authors and Their Publishers in 18th-Century Britain, Ireland and America 
by Richard Sher.
Chicago, 815 pp., £25.50, February 2007, 978 0 226 75252 5
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... 1776, James Boswell and Samuel Johnson visited Pembroke College, Oxford and called on the master, William Adams. According to Richard Sher, Boswell wrote in his journal how dismayed he had been to see in the master’s library a copy of the quarto edition of David Hume’s Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects of 1758, handsomely bound in morocco ...

Middle Positions

John Hedley Brooke, 21 July 1983

Archetypes and Ancestors: Palaeontology in Victorian London 1850-1875 
by Adrian Desmond.
Blond and Briggs, 287 pp., £15.95, October 1982, 0 85634 121 5
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Evolution without Evidence: Charles Darwin and ‘The Origin Species’ 
by Barry Gale.
Harvester, 238 pp., £18.95, January 1983, 0 7108 0442 3
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The Secular Ark: Studies in the History of Biogeography 
by Janet Browne.
Yale, 273 pp., £21, May 1983, 0 300 02460 6
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The Descent of Darwin: A Handbook of Doubts about Darwinsm 
by Brain Leith.
Collins, 174 pp., £7.95, December 1982, 0 00 219548 8
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... planetary orbits by thinking God’s thoughts after him, but obstructive in the 19th century, when William Whewell, Louis Agassiz and Richard Owen resisted the transmutation of species. Desmond’s informed analysis points to a more subtle conclusion. An idealist metaphysic may not have contributed to the science of evolutionary mechanics, but it did make a ...


Gillian Darley: John Evelyn and his gardens, 8 June 2006

... paper chase at the British Library, where his archive arrived as late as 1995. In the early 1800s, William Bray, a solicitor and antiquarian, and William Upcott, a librarian whose address was Autograph Cottage and who was a notorious ‘collector’ of other people’s unconsidered trifles, arrived at Wotton and were invited ...

I want to be an Admiral

N.A.M. Rodger: The Age of Sail, 30 July 2020

Sons of the Waves: The Common Seaman in the Heroic Age of Sail 1740-1840 
by Stephen Taylor.
Yale, 490 pp., £20, April, 978 0 300 24571 4
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... to the lucky and ambitious. Overall they give a vivid sense of the variety of the seafaring life. William Spavens’s Narrative was published by a Louth printer in 1796, and has been reprinted in recent years. Growing up in Cleethorpes on the Lincolnshire coast, he believed that ‘sailors must be happy men to have such opportunities of visiting foreign ...

Drinking and Spewing

Sally Mapstone: The Variousness of Robert Fergusson, 25 September 2003

‘Heaven-Taught Fergusson’: Robert Burns’s Favourite Scottish Poet 
edited by Robert Crawford.
Tuckwell, 240 pp., £14.99, August 2002, 1 86232 201 5
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... to translate Virgil’s Eclogues and Georgics. He abandoned a (now lost) dramatic tragedy about William Wallace after two acts, and his best-known poem, ‘Auld Reekie’, was envisaged as a work in more cantos than the magnificent one and a bit that survive. Fergusson’s oeuvre, as we have it today, consists essentially of brilliant, occasional, often ...

Hello, Fred

David Marquand, 21 March 1985

Hugh Dalton 
by Ben Pimlott.
Cape, 731 pp., £25, March 1985, 0 224 02100 1
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... front rank of politics. To be sure, he was a robust and formidable party warhorse – a kind of William Harcourt or Roy Hattersley, say – with enormous energy, considerable administrative drive and a powerful debating style. But he captured no imaginations, lifted no horizons and inspired no disciples. He left worthy memorials – the National Parks, for ...


Peter Pulzer, 4 September 1986

Little Germany: Exile and Asylum in Victorian England 
by Rosemary Ashton.
Oxford, 304 pp., £17.50, July 1986, 0 19 212239 8
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... their distress. Gottfried Kinkel’s and Carl Schurz’s first taste of freedom was in the port of Leith on a Sunday. It took them seven hours to find somewhere to eat. What the exiles faced was that tyranny of the majority that Mill excoriated in On Liberty, where he observed that, while the yoke of law was lighter in England than in most other countries of ...

Were I a cloud

Patricia Beer, 28 January 1993

Robert Bridges: A Biography 
by Catherine Phillips.
Oxford, 363 pp., £25, August 1992, 0 19 212251 7
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... merely makes the line difficult to say. It presents, in fact, the same trap as does ‘The Leith police dismissed us’ which was once allegedly used to discover whether people were drunk or not. Though currently neglected, in his lifetime Bridges had far more than his fifteen minutes. For decades he was in everybody’s top three and frequently ...

Cape of Mad Hope

Neal Ascherson: The Darien disaster, 3 January 2008

The Price of Scotland: Darien, Union and the Wealth of Nations 
by Douglas Watt.
Luath, 312 pp., £8.99, January 2007, 978 1 906307 09 7
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... all, let alone an even closer one, and that Scotland should choose its own Protestant monarch when William III died. That this desire did not prevail, and that the Scottish Parliament voted for its own abolition only a few years later while hostile crowds rampaged through the streets of Edinburgh, had a great deal to do with Darien but little to do with any ...

The Reptile Oculist

John Barrell, 1 April 2004

... by political disagreements, Taylor, a known and convinced Tory and devotee of the prime minister, William Pitt, managed to remain on friendly terms with men such as William Godwin and the great satirical poet John Wolcot, ‘Peter Pindar’, whom Pitt’s government regarded as dangerously disloyal.Friendship was his true ...

Let us breakfast in splendour

Charles Nicholl: Francis Barber, 16 July 2015

The Fortunes of Francis Barber: The True Story of the Jamaican Slave Who Became Samuel Johnson’s Heir 
by Michael Bundock.
Yale, 282 pp., £20, May 2015, 978 0 300 20710 1
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... luminaries. In fact the picture is Victorian, painted in about 1845, but the artist – James William Doyle, an uncle of Arthur Conan Doyle – was known as a meticulous historian, and the figures are vividly and accurately presented, using known 18th-century likenesses. Dr Johnson is holding forth, with the professional eavesdropper Boswell at his ...

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