The Diary of John Evelyn

9781108078832fc3dOne of my vital tools as a scribbler of blogs on books is a little pack of those things – I don’t even know what they are called – which you can stick on to a page to mark a particular passage/anecdote/image that you want to return to. They are obviously offspring of the Post-It note: is it true that when somebody came up with the peel-off glue that makes it possible, nobody could think what to do with a sticky but removable note, and so the invention had no future? Continue reading

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Illustrations of Roman London

9781108081764fc3dCharles Roach Smith was born on the Isle of Wight in 1806, and reared by his mother and older sisters after his father’s death when he was six years old. He was educated in Hampshire, and then brought back to the island in 1821, to be apprenticed to a lawyer. However, Charles and the law appear not to have suited each other, because the following year he was apprenticed to a chemist in Chichester. Continue reading

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SweetIt’s really too early in the year for a blog on this topic: galanthophilia is in full swing around the country. But we have just received the first copy of Sweet’s Hortus Britannicus, Or, a Catalogue of Plants, Indigenous, or Cultivated in the Gardens of Great Britain, Arranged According to their Natural Orders (second, revised edition, 1830), which contains an amazing snapshot of Regency tulip hybridising. Not a thing one usually spends much time thinking about, but bear with me… Continue reading

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The Roll Call

9781108081283fc3d…or, to give it its full title, Calling the Roll after an Engagement, Crimea, a large military history painting exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1874, was so popular as an exhibit that a policeman, ‘poor, hot man’, had to be posted to guard it and the ‘two lovely little pictures of Leighton’s, past which the people scraped’, and which had to be inspected for damage every day after closing time. Presumably one of the reasons it was so sensational was that the artist was a twenty-seven-year-old, rather pretty, woman. Continue reading

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Winter Journey

SchubertLast Saturday, in ‘CD Review’ on BBC Radio 3, they discussed and played extracts from various new recordings of Schubert song cycles, of which the least satisfactory (in my view) was a Winterreise by a counter-tenor. Not the strangeness of a high voice (there are after all versions by Brigitte Fassbaender and Nathalie Stutzmann – though it’s a safe bet that this is not quite what Schubert had in mind (and, in passing, has a bass done Frauenliebe und -Leben yet?)), but a somewhat shrieky, Italianate delivery at odds with the introverted, reflective, gloomy (dare one say northern?) feeling which Schubert’s masterpiece conveys. Continue reading

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