Raymond Carr

The enemy within

On the 9 August 378 AD near Adrianople in Thrace the Roman army of the East was massacred and the Emperor Valens left dead on the battlefield by an army of barbarian Goths. It was, as Alessandro Barbero’s title claims, ‘The Day of the Barbarians’. He gives a highly readable account of the campaign and

Warding off the barbarians

Counterpoints: 25 Years of ‘The New Criterion’ on Culture and the Arts edited by Roger Kimball and Hilton Kramer The 40 or so reviews and essays in this book celebrate the 25th anniversary of the publication of the New Criterion. It saw itself as the heir of T. S. Eliot’s Criterion. In 1922 Eliot wrote

A nation transformed in two generations

When in November 1975 Franco died, he still possessed the powers granted him by his fellow generals after the outbreak of the Civil War. Such powers, a French general observed, had been enjoyed by no leader since Napoleon. For 36 years, ‘all important decisions’, in John Hooper’s words, ‘were taken by one man’. In the

Bouncy castles in Spain

Hugh Thomas is widely known as the author of scholarly blockbusters 1,000 pages long. He now excels in what he calls an intermezzo, a learned and lively book of 192 pages, full of good things including splendid pen portraits of worthies: of Choiseul, the easygoing foreign minister of France; of King Charles III of Spain,

From West Dorset to Westminster

Claire Tomalin is an accomplished biographer. While she recognises Hardy’s genius, this book is not an essay in literary criticism. With great skill and sensitivity she uses his poetry, novels and his extensive correspondence to illuminate the life of a man for whom she writes ‘the wounds inflicted by life never quite healed’. He never

Gates to, or escapes from, reality

This anthology is a sheer delight, full of good things. It gets off to a splendid start. On its dust- cover is a picture of a dog with a light bulb in its stomach; underneath is a gem from Groucho Marx: ‘Outside a dog a book is a man’s best friend. Inside a dog it’s

A tapestry’s rich life

Listing page content here The Bayeux tapestry records pictorially in a series of 56 panels, stretching for 70 metres, the last successful invasion of England. It reveals that the invasion of 1066 was a combined operation involving the building of 800 ships to transport an army of some 12,000 men and 2,000 horses across the

Ventures into the Spanish past

The complex plots of C. J. Sansom’s novel revolve around the adventures in Spain during the civil war and its aftermath of three old boys of a fictional public school. Harry Brett comes from an army family, prospers at school and is elected a fellow of a Cambridge college. Bernie Piper is a working-class scholarship

Two sorts of ending up

By a fortunate coincidence these books treat the same subject: old age at the mercy of time, the ‘blind rider’ of Goytisolo’s title. Ageing is a matter of temporary victories and final defeats. At 75, you can succeed in getting on your horse by using a mounting block and shortening your nearside stirrup leather; at

A short life and a shady one

Scholars face a formidable task when they set out to write the lives of the playwrights and poets of the Elizabethan age. They do not possess the personal revelations, say, of Byron’s letters. They must piece together scraps of information contained in the lawsuits of an astonishingly litigious population; the comments of friends and enemies

Once upon a time there was . . .

E. H. Gombrich was born in Vienna in 1909. As a boy he had seen the Emperor Franz Joseph walking in his garden. As a young man, himself a Jew, he had watched Jewish students being beaten up in the streets by Nazi thugs. In January 1936, two years before Hitler’s troops marched into Vienna

Playing the marriage market | 3 September 2005

In November 1895 the most eligible bachelor in London society, the ninth Duke of Marlborough, married Consuelo Vanderbilt, the richest American heiress available. It is sometimes assumed that the British aristocracy crossed the Atlantic en masse in search of heiresses who might replenish fortunes devastated by falling rents during the agricultural depression of the late

Goings-on after sunset

After 20 years of hard labour Professor Ekirch has produced an absorbing social history of nighttime in pre-industrial society from the Balkans to the British colonies of North America. His vast accumulation of quotations from diverse sources — he has employed ‘a legion of translators’ — threatens, at times, to overwhelm the reader, but they

The slog of high command

Almost every day throughout the Great War of 1914 to 1918 Douglas Haig kept a diary which its editors describe as ‘an understated account of the day-to-day slog of high command’. It consists of often brief notes of operations and their outcome. Magnificently edited as it is, without maps with arrows showing the directions of

Micawber with a touch of Skimpole

Biographers, in their desperate search for a suitable subject hitherto undiscovered by their professional colleagues, sometimes light on a figure once well known, but who has fallen into disrepute. Such was the fate of Leigh Hunt, now resurrected in these two books. Anthony Holden is a professional biographer whose subjects have ranged from Olivier and

The nature of the beast

Robert Service has set himself a formidable task. He has to explain how the son of a wife- beating, dirt-poor Georgian cobbler, brutalised by drink, became a Russian despot as ruthless as Ivan the Terrible. A master of his sources, which include the partially opened Soviet official archives, Service triumphs in portraying Stalin’s personality in

The outsider who came in from the cold

Professor McIntire disowns any claim to have written a conventional biography of the Cam- bridge historian Herbert Butter- field. His book is a detailed, scholarly study of the intellectual odyssey of a complex character, who wrestled all his life with the problems of writing history. As such it is not an easy read.a His biographer

Rare conjunctions of the stars

Lawyers meet lawyers, historians and economists meet their colleagues. They have a defined profession. Creative writers have no defined profession: their concern is human nature in all its complexity. Yet they do bump into each other and are often obsessively interested in each other’s works and lives. Rachel Cohen is concerned with the way their

Justified surgery or pointless blood-letting?

In June 1937, Nancy Cunard, a supporter of the Republicans’ battle against Franco’s nationalists circulated a questionnaire to the writers of the time. It asked, ‘Are you for, or against, the legal government of the people of Spain?’ Inspired by Authors Take Sides on the Spanish War, Jean Moorcroft Wilson and Cecil Woolf have repeated