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A good man up against it

Basil Hume, when a young Benedictine monk from Ample- forth in Yorkshire, was sent to study in Switzerland at the Catholic university of Fribourg. While he was there, two young men, staying at the same college, went mountaineering and got lost. The priest in charge of the seminary told the students that two young Englishmen

Prophet of doom and gloom

Those who can, do; but all too often they cannot resist pontificating as well. John Lukacs is a historian of Hungarian origins and conservative inclinations with a number of important if idiosyncratic books to his credit, including biographical studies of Churchill and Hitler. His aim in Democracy and Populism, however, is more far-reaching. He seeks

Too bloody writerly

Novelty alone — with writing as with condoms — should not ever be the overriding criterion when making an important selection. Unfortunately, in their introduction to New Writing 13, Toby Litt and Ali Smith make clear that they have only chosen authors practically squeaking with novelty: writers ‘for whom everything they write is a renewal

Cold comfort on the wolds

Moving to a farm cottage 700ft up in the Pennines, surrounded by sheep and serenaded by curlews, and conscious of the dawn-to-dusk regime of the family next door, one begins to understand life on a small mixed farm. It is unrelenting work. No wonder Richard Benson preferred the glitzy attractions of Grub Street. But if

The shooting gallery

The Rules of Perspective is set in a provincial German art museum as it is bombed by the Americans at the end of the second world war. The pivotal scene is revealed at the outset: Corporal Neal Parry comes across four corpses seated in the ruined museum’s vaults. There are two men and two women,

A box of delights

There is a dizzying profusion of texts and writers in Nicole Krauss’s second novel, The History of Love. There is an inset novel bearing the same name, written by one of her principal characters, Leo Gursky, excerpts from which are strewn throughout. Gursky, an 80-year-old Jewish refugee in New York, doesn’t know whether his book

The man who knew ‘everyone’

Not long after Alexander Chancellor had been appointed editor of The Spectator in 1975, and had then lightheartedly or pluckily taken me on to his small crew at Doughty Street, we had lunch at Bertorelli’s with David McEwen and a great friend of his: a man once met not easily forgotten. He was imposing or