Mathew Lyons

The complexities of our colonial legacy

It happened by accident. In 1829 the naturalist Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward was trying to hatch a moth pupa. He placed it in a sealed glass container, along with some soil and dried leaves, and set it aside. Sometime later he was surprised to find that a fern and some grass had taken root in the

Downhill all the way: the decline of the British Empire after 1923

The British Empire, the East African Chronicle wrote in 1921, was a ‘wonderful conglomeration of races and creeds and nations’. It offered ‘the only solution to the great problem of mankind – the problem of brotherhood. If the British Empire fails, then all else fails.’ Stirring words – and not those of some sentimental Colonel

An obituarist’s search for the soul

‘“Deep breath”, says the doctor. I take one and hold it.’ Thus begins the fourth chapter of Ann Wroe’s Lifescapes. It is apt because, although the book is part memoir, part essay on the art of biography, it is really about the breath of life itself. Wroe’s writing is intense and visionary, at times almost

Is human migration really a normal activity?

Halfway up the high street in Totnes, a small town on the river Dart in Devon, a modest stone is set into the edge of the road. It claims to mark the point at which Brutus, legendary founder of Britain, first set foot on this island. The grandson of the equally legendary Trojan hero Aeneas,

The bleak brilliance of Peanuts

The numbers are extraordinary. Charles M. Schulz, whose centenary falls next week, spent nearly 50 years of his life producing daily comic strips for Peanuts. Between 2 October 1950 and his death in February 2000, he drew a staggering 17,897 of them. He retired in December 1999 after a series of strokes and a cancer

Why Twitter was right to mock Craig Raine’s poem

Yesterday was a strange day on Twitter. For most of it, a living poet was trending. Unfortunately for Craig Raine, the poet in question, he was trending because a poem of his entitled ‘Gatwick’ had appeared in the LRB and Twitter didn’t like it. Most comments ranged from amused contempt to, well, just plain old