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Catacomb Graffiti

Clive James, 20 December 1979

Poems and Journeys 
by Charles Johnston.
Bodley Head, 97 pp., £3.90
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Eugene Onegin 
by Alexander Pushkin, translated by Charles Johnston.
Penguin Classics, 238 pp., £1.50
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... Appearing unannounced in 1977, Charles Johnston’s verse rendering of Eugene Onegin established itself immediately as the best English translation of Pushkin’s great poem there had yet been. It was an impressive performance even to those who could not read the original. To those who could, it was simply astonishing, not least from the technical angle: Johnston had cast his Onegin in the Onegin stanza, a form almost impossibly difficult in English, and had got away with it ...


Claude Rawson, 1 October 1981

The Sinking of the Titanic 
by Hans Magnus Enzensberger.
Carcanet, 98 pp., £3.95, April 1981, 0 85635 372 8
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Paul Celan: Poems 
translated by Michael Hamburger.
Carcanet, 307 pp., £7.95, September 1980, 0 85635 313 2
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Talk about the Last Poet 
by Charles Johnston.
Bodley Head, 78 pp., £4.50, July 1981, 0 370 30434 9
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... is not an ornament for the horror but the exact measure of its unspeakability. Sir Charles Johnston, a distinguished retired diplomat, is probably best-known to readers as the translator of the recently Penguined Eugene Onegin, said to be the best English version of Pushkin’s poem. The title of his new book comes from a review by Clive ...

Wild Horses

Claude Rawson, 1 April 1983

‘The Bronze Horseman’ and Other Poems 
by Alexander Pushkin, translated by D.M. Thomas.
Penguin, 261 pp., £2.95, September 1982, 0 14 042309 5
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Alexander Pushkin: A Critical Study 
by A.D.P. Briggs.
Croom Helm, 257 pp., £14.95, November 1982, 0 7099 0688 9
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‘Choiseul and Talleyrand’: A Historical Novella and Other Poems, with New Verse Translations of Alexander Pushkin 
by Charles Johnston.
Bodley Head, 88 pp., £5.25, July 1982, 0 370 30924 3
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Mozart and Salieri: The Little Tragedies 
by Alexander Pushkin, translated by Antony Wood.
Angel, 94 pp., £5.95, September 1982, 0 946162 02 6
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I have come to greet you 
by Afanasy Fet, translated by James Greene.
Angel, 71 pp., £5.95, September 1982, 0 946162 03 4
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Uncollected Poems 
by John Betjeman.
Murray, 81 pp., £4.95, September 1982, 0 7195 3969 2
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Travelling without a Valid Ticket 
by Howard Sergeant.
Rivelin, 14 pp., £1, May 1982, 0 904524 39 6
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... Pushkin’s various notes are not fully reproduced in D.M. Thomas’s new translation, nor in Sir Charles Johnston’s of 1981). But ambiguity has always surrounded the statue, along with its imperial subject. The city which stood for a modernised and liberalised Russia was said to have cost a hundred thousand lives in the building, and the intended ...

We shall not be moved

John Bayley, 2 February 1984

Come aboard and sail away 
by John Fuller.
Salamander, 48 pp., £6, October 1983, 0 907540 37 6
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Children in Exile 
by James Fenton.
Salamander, 24 pp., £5, October 1983, 0 907540 39 2
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‘The Memory of War’ and ‘Children in Exile’: Poems 1968-1983 
by James Fenton.
Penguin, 110 pp., £1.95, October 1983, 0 14 006812 0
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Some Contemporary Poets of Britain and Ireland: An Anthology 
edited by Michael Schmidt.
Carcanet, 184 pp., £9.95, November 1983, 0 85635 469 4
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Nights in the Iron Hotel 
by Michael Hofmann.
Faber, 48 pp., £4, November 1983, 0 571 13116 6
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The Irish Lights 
by Charles Johnston and Kyril Fitzlyon.
Bodley Head, 77 pp., £4.50, September 1983, 0 370 30557 4
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Fifteen to Infinity 
by Ruth Fainlight.
Hutchinson, 62 pp., £5.95, September 1983, 0 09 152471 7
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Donald Davie and the Responsibilities of Literature 
edited by George Dekker.
Carcanet, 153 pp., £9.95, November 1983, 9780856354663
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... wholly different life-style and sensibility. A much more old-fashioned stylisation is achieved by Charles Johnston, who writes with verve and elegance in many forms. Expressing admiration for Lowell’s Life Studies, he produces his own version about his own past, his schooldays and episodes from his time en poste abroad, combining these in a little ...

To Stir up the People

John Barrell: Pitt’s Reign of Alarm, 23 January 2014

Unusual Suspects: Pitt’s Reign of Alarm and the Lost Generation of the 1790s 
by Kenneth Johnston.
Oxford, 376 pp., £30, July 2013, 978 0 19 965780 3
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... war and to fix a French taint to the movement to reform a thoroughly corrupt parliament. Kenneth Johnston’s Unusual Suspects are men and women who fell foul of ‘Pitt’s determination to crush his domestic opponents’ and whose lives, careers, reputations were irrevocably damaged as a result. They were members of a brilliant generation of imaginative ...

Bumming and Booing

John Mullan: William Wordsworth, 5 April 2001

Wordsworth: A Life 
by Juliet Barker.
Viking, 971 pp., £25, October 2000, 9780670872138
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The Hidden Wordsworth 
by Kenneth Johnston.
Pimlico, 690 pp., £15, September 2000, 0 7126 6752 0
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Disowned by Memory: Wordsworth’s Poetry of the 1790s 
by David Bromwich.
Chicago, 186 pp., £9.50, April 2000, 0 226 07556 7
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... them. Academic critics are often enamoured of Wordsworth’s youthful allegiances. Kenneth Johnston’s The Hidden Wordsworth is almost mystically committed to the idea of his youth. Its prologue declares that, with all the reverence (and matching irreverence) the poet has inspired, there is one image, or story, that we have not seen fully – young ...

Forms and Inspirations

Vikram Seth, 29 September 1988

... the sonnet-stanza of Pushkin’s original poem, which is miraculously and fluidly preserved in Charles Johnston’s translation in the Penguin Classics. One would not think that feminine rhyme and tetrameter, which in the English tradition are usually associated with light verse, would be suitable media for a story which I knew would contain both ...

Miss Joy and Mrs Hayter

Freya Johnston: Anna Letitia Barbauld, 27 September 2018

Eighteen Hundred and Eleven: Poetry, Protest and Economic Crisis 
by E.J. Clery.
Cambridge, 326 pp., £75, June 2017, 978 1 107 18922 5
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... resisting it. The boy in question was probably Barbauld’s adopted son (and biological nephew) Charles Rochemont Aikin, who bore his mother’s maiden name as his surname and took his father’s first name as his middle name. (Miss Aikin married Rochemont Barbauld, a teacher of Huguenot descent, in 1774.) Such latticework sums up the complex, loving and ...
... the lot. By the Thirties the achievements of Arts and Crafts revivalism were petering out: Edward Johnston and Eric Gill look good, calligraphy after Johnston aimless, laboured and weak. Craft pottery and commercial pottery both stand up very well. Furniture, either in the Gimson tradition, of beautifully-finished joinery ...

Our Jewels, Our Pictures

Freya Johnston: Michael Field’s Diary, 1 June 2023

Chains of Love and Beauty: The Diary of Michael Field 
by Carolyn Dever.
Princeton, 261 pp., £30, July 2022, 978 0 691 20344 7
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... Smith remembered Bradley and Cooper visiting his sister’s home and admiring a picture by Charles Condor hanging on a wall. Since they thought the work ‘expressed in a way they felt unique the inspiration of their life’, they swiftly concluded that it ‘belonged to them; and when they left the cottage they took it with them and hung it in their ...


Mary Hannity: Between Britain and Jamaica, 18 March 2021

Imperial Intimacies: A Tale of Two Islands 
by Hazel V. Carby.
Verso, 416 pp., £20, September 2019, 978 1 78873 509 4
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... Carby moves into the archives.Was Beatrice in the audience when the Scottish-born missionary James Johnston lectured on ‘Jamaica: The New Riviera’ in Bristol in 1903? Fruit steamers had recently begun to import bananas from Jamaica to Avonmouth and it was thought that this trade, along with the growth in tourism, would revive the ailing Jamaican economy ...

Short Cuts

Jeremy Harding: Handwriting, 8 November 2012

... press as the inventor of ‘zigzag writing’ after a remark in the introductory note by Edward Johnston, a founding father of modern calligraphy. Richardson’s ideas were ‘child-centred’ but she wasn’t a pushover. Pupils who forgot their paintbox were sent to sit in the garden (‘you can go to the devil for all I care’). Hensher loves her for the ...

Britain is Your Friend

Rosemary Hill: British WW2 Propaganda, 15 December 2016

Persuading the People: British Propaganda in World War Two 
by David Welch.
British Library, 224 pp., £25, September 2016, 978 0 7123 5654 1
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... of the newly amalgamated Underground Electric Railways Company briefed the calligrapher Edward Johnston and his pupil Eric Gill to create a symbol and a typeface that would give visual identity to the unified network. The Johnston Sans lettering and red, white and blue roundel of the London Underground marked the ...

In Myrtle Bowers

Blair Worden: Cavaliers, 30 June 2011

Reprobates: The Cavaliers of the English Civil War 
by John Stubbs.
Viking, 549 pp., £25, February 2011, 978 0 670 91753 2
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... The bulk of the book is set in the generation before it, from the years around the accession of Charles I to the outbreak of fighting in 1642. ‘Cavalier’ meant more things after 1642 than before it. It was in the mid-winter of 1641-42, in the crisis which turned on the king’s entry into the House of Commons in an attempt to seize five of its leading ...

Bring some Madeira

Thomas Keymer: Thomas Love Peacock, 8 February 2018

Nightmare Abbey 
by Thomas Love Peacock, edited by Nicholas A. Joukovsky.
Cambridge, 297 pp., £84.99, December 2016, 978 1 107 03186 9
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Crotchet Castle 
by Thomas Love Peacock, edited by Freya Johnston and Matthew Bevis.
Cambridge, 328 pp., £79.99, December 2016, 978 1 107 03072 5
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... employment (having first aced an exam about land revenue collection) at India House. Ineffectual Charles Lamb was already there, his essayist persona ‘Elia’ having already written about what working in the adjacent South Sea House was like decades before. The East India Company was a powerhouse of idealistic utilitarianism. Peacock began in the ...

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