Prince Harming

Spare, Prince Harry, London: Transworld, 2023, hb., 410pps., £28 There are times when English feelings for their royal family come close to obsession. Through all the tumults of England’s trajectory, its monarchy has formed an imaginative bond between Anglo-Saxon origins and today’s Kingdom – celebrated by its greatest writers, and extolled as an exemplar of… Continue reading

Empire state of mind

Colonialism: A Moral Reckoning Nigel Biggar, London: William Collins, 2023, 480pps., $34.99 Ideologues are frequently performative, but sometimes they are simply pantomimic. One of today’s major stock villains is the British Empire – seen in melodramatic minds as a swaggering dastard, slashing through global history like Captain Hook in murderous search of Peter Pan and… Continue reading

From myth to mob-rule, and back

The Prophets of Doom Neema Parvini, Exeter: Imprint Academic, 2023, pb., 227pps., £14.95 The West, it is said, is modernity, but if it is, there is melancholy at its core. Our most confident centuries have subsisted in the shadow of Rome – our Ozymandian awareness that the greatest powers must pass, and all empires will… Continue reading

Writing ruins

Shadowlands: A Journey Through Lost Britain Matthew Green, London: Faber, 2022, hb, 358pps, £20 An unknown Anglo-Saxon wrote The Ruin, a poem about Roman remains, which starts: “This masonry is wondrous; fates broke it / Courtyard pavements were smashed; the work of giants is decaying…” Ethnic inheritors took up this mordant tradition, especially after the… Continue reading

Refracted future

The Mirror, Tim Bragg, Sycamore Dystopia, 2023, pb., 292pps., £10 Ever since the ancients invented automata, writers have wondered about the implications for humanity, and ruminated about the nature of consciousness. The Industrial Revolution would spawn increasing concern about subservience to machines and “Satanic mills.” The Great War and then Karel Čapek’s 1920 play R.U.R…. Continue reading

Heart of the island nation

A Man of Heart Liam Guilar, Swindon: Shearsman Books, 2023, pb., 197pps. The state of modern poetry can be a cause of acrimonious arguments, with critics reprehending poets’ loss of interest in craft, opacity of meaning, and the burgeoning of often McGonagallesque political verse. Liam Guilar demonstrates that at least some modern poets reverence their… Continue reading

The prices of freedom

Obedience is Freedom Jacob Phillips, London: Polity, 2022, pb., 172 pages, £13.55 Johannes Brahms had a personal motto, frei aber froh (‘free but happy’), which features famously as the note sequence F-A♭-F in the first movement of his Third Symphony. He adopted this cheerful philosophy as a jovial riposte to his friend, the violinist Joseph… Continue reading

The imperial imperative

In the Shadow of the Gods: The Emperor in World History Dominic Lieven, London: Allen Lane, 2022, 500 pps. hb., illus., £35 In the battle for precedence between the ‘great man’ and more ‘inclusive’ views of history, an account of emperors across centuries and cultures feels like a defiant assertion of the older school. Cambridge… Continue reading

A poet’s pole position

Arctic Elegies Peter Davidson, Carcanet, 2022, pb., 72pps. £11.99 There are poets associated with particular places, or special states of mind, but Peter Davidson has made a genre of his own, as celebrant of a cardinal point. His interests are wide-ranging, but magnetized in one compass direction – towards ‘Norths’ geographical and conceptual, Norths as… Continue reading

England in infra-red

Nightwalking – Four Journeys Into Britain After Dark John Lewis-Stempel, Doubleday, 2022, hb, 104pps, £9.99 John Lewis-Stempel is nearly as prolific as the natural world about which he writes so famously, and so well. His voice is welcomely distinctive – a traditional agriculturist of lyrical articulacy, an observant ecologist who finds mythopoeic magic in everyday… Continue reading