Christopher Howse rss

St George as depicted in The Golden Legend

St George: patron saint of England, patronised by all

25 April 2015
St George: A Saint for All Samantha Riches

Reaktion Books, pp.144, £14.95, ISBN: 9781780234489

What did St George do? Killed a dragon, as everyone knows. And yet, as Samantha Riches points out, no mention of the dragon is made before the Norman Conquest. Nor… Read more

The two billionth view

Christmas Quiz

13 December 2014

So they say In 2014, who was quoted as saying: 1. ‘There is no status for the partner of a head of state, and there has never been one.’ 2.… Read more

Even Cilla’s biographer admits that critics were justified in knocking the ‘prurience ‘of Blind Date

The tat-world of dystopia that celebrities construct for themselves: five of the year’s top biographies

6 December 2014

Cilla Black has become a strange creature during her 50 years in showbiz. When her husband Bobby was in hospital she found to her dismay that she didn’t now how… Read more

The jilted bride

Charles Saatchi’s new book of photos makes me feel sick

13 September 2014
Known Unknowns Charles Saatchi

Booth-Clibborn Editions, pp.480, £25, ISBN: 9781861543608

Charles Saatchi, the gallery owner, has created his own Chamber of Horrors in this thick, square book, ‘inspired by striking photographs’. One of the most successful of these is a… Read more

‘Flying Rock’

Floating bodies, seeing hands, rippling skies - is Jerry Uelsmann’s photomontage a tragic dead-end?

30 August 2014
Uelsmann Untitled: A Retrospective Jerry Uelsmann, with an introduction by Carol McCusker

University Press of Florida, pp.266, £35.95, ISBN: 9780813049490

An untitled photograph by Jerry Uelsmann from 1991 shows a rock like Magritte’s floating in the sky between an Ansel Adams mountainside of conifers on one side and a bare… Read more

What! Has John Sutherland really not read Don Quixote from cover to cover?

Judge a critic by the quality of his mistakes

10 May 2014
How to be Well Read John Sutherland

Random House, pp.576, £20, ISBN: 9781847946409

What the title promises is not found inside. It is a tease. John Sutherland says he has ‘been paid one way or another, to read books all my life’, yet… Read more

A street in Madrid: there is something more interesting behind the sunny façade…

The right way to see Madrid

29 March 2014

I got Madrid utterly wrong for quite a long time. It’s a lovely city to walk in, and I thought it was idealistic and innocent, like Don Quixote. But its… Read more


The Spectator's Christmas Quiz

14 December 2013

Says who? In 2013, who said: 1. ‘To me it’s not a marriage, it is, if you like, a Ronseal deal.’ 2. ‘Marriage is abolished, redefined and recreated, being different… Read more


The Christmas Quiz answers

14 December 2013

Says who? 1. David Cameron. 2. The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Revd Justin Welby. 3. Nick Clegg. 4. Prince Harry. 5. Eddie Mair (to Boris Johnson). 6. Nigel Farage,… Read more

P G Wodehouse writing at his home in Paris, 1945 Photo: Getty

What's notable about 'a lovely little old rectangular green French silver whittling knife'? 

30 November 2013
The Elements of Eloquence Mark Forsyth

Icon Books, pp.208, £12.99, ISBN: 9781848316218

In the reminiscences of Bertie Wooster we find this: As I sat in the bathtub, soaping a meditative foot and singing, if I remember correctly, ‘Pale Hands I Loved Beside… Read more

‘For most of us, ballet is simply a bore’, says Charles Saatchi — 
except when photographed by Tatiana Mikhina

Charles Saatchi's photo play

23 November 2013
The Naked Eye Charles Saatchi

Booth-Clibborn, pp.252, £14.99, ISBN: 9781861543400

The game that Charles Saatchi plays in The Naked Eye is to find photographs of subjects that look surprisingly like something else. A stork in mid-flight seems to have a… Read more

E.E. Cummings, ‘looking like a plainsman fresh out of the barbers after delivering 300 head of Texas longhorns’

How much can you tell about E.E. Cummings from this photo?

9 November 2013
Portrait of the Writer: Literary Lives in Focus Goffredo Fofi

Thames & Hudson, pp.512, £24.95, ISBN: 9780500517177

Do you think you can tell things about writers from the way they look in a painting or photograph? A more demanding test: from their books can you predict how… Read more

Charing Cross Road, 1951

Notes on…London’s secondhand bookshops

8 June 2013

After seeing the Dalai Lama receive an award at St Paul’s Cathedral, I thought I’d look in at some secondhand bookshops around the British Museum on my walk home. They… Read more

The Cleansing of Naaman by Elisha. Woodcut from the Biblia Sacra Germanaica

The Serpent’s Promise, by Steve Jones - review

11 May 2013
The Serpent’s Promise Steve Jones

Little, Brown, pp.446, £25, ISBN: 9781408702851

The weight of bacteria that each of us carries around is equal to that of our brain, a kilogram of the creatures, billions of them, ten times as many in… Read more

‘Ware’s Victorian Dictionary of Slang and Phrase', by J. Redding Ware - review

9 March 2013
Ware’s Victorian Dictionary of Slang and Phrase J. Redding Ware

Bodleian Library, pp.382, £25, ISBN: 1851242627

James Redding Ware, with his idiosyncratic treatment of slang, plunges the reader straight into the late 19th-century Bartholomew Fair of undeserving paupers, loafers, Ally Slopers, theatrical types and demi-mondaines. He… Read more


Christmas Quiz

15 December 2012

It’s time for the immemorial Christmas custom in which the family gathers round the iPad, cracks another walnut, and sharpens its competitive claws on the Spectator’s traditional challenge to suppressed… Read more

The answers

15 December 2012

Weird world 1 Mark Rothko’s 2 George Washington 3 Nadine Dorries 4 The Duchess of Cornwall 5 Sakhalin 6 The 158th Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race 7 Harry Redknapp, when… Read more

Ceiling fresco of the Last Judgment in Marienburg Abbey, South Tyrol, Italy

The beating of heavenly wings

8 December 2012
From Gabriel to Lucifer: A Cultural History of Angels Valery Rees

I.B. Tauris, pp.256, £18.99, ISBN: 1848853726

How did the cherubim, solemn figures of beaten gold in the Holy of Holies of the Hebrew Temple, become chubby toddlers (such as the pair in Raphael’s Sistine Madonna), popular… Read more


Catalonia Notebook

6 October 2012

We sang a hymn called ‘Poble en Marxa’ at the beginning of Mass in the working-class parish of Sant Blai. ‘Marxa’ was not a reference to the bearded prophet of… Read more


Spanish Notebook

24 March 2012

Round a bend in the mountain path, between the flowering rosemary and the wild box bushes, above the spine of bare rock that stretched like a dragon’s tail hundreds of… Read more


Christmas Quiz

17 December 2011

Set by Christopher Howse Illustrated by Castro Ipsissima verba In 2011, who said: 1 This is the most humble day of my life. 2 We will turn around the lives… Read more


Landscapes of grief

29 October 2011

The caption on the photograph (above) makes a difference: ‘A young boy grieves at the funeral of his father who died of Aids at Ndola, Zambia, 2000.’ There were two… Read more


What the eye don’t see

20 August 2011
The Redstone Book of the Eye Julian Rothenstein

Square Peg, pp.286, 20

  Since I began to watch films on video and not so much in cinemas, I have found that I sometimes get the itch to rewind reality itself, in order… Read more

Low life and high style

13 August 2011
Raised on Skiffle Roy Kerridge

Custom Books, pp.179, £10

In 1977, Roy Kerridge was a lavatory cleaner; in 1979 he was a well-known contributor to The Spectator. Yet this was no rags-to-riches discovery of a literary talent. Apart from… Read more


Into the maze

22 January 2011

With its fretted Gothic canopies, the railway station at Oxford (before it was torn down) seemed to ‘whisper to the tourist the last enchantments of the Middle Age’, joked Max… Read more