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Index: Biography and Memoir

Reflections on my first thirty years. Part V.

Alan Macfarlane: I began to realize that effective recall and research and discovery of new connections depended on how I indexed my materials. This led through my two doctorates into an elaborate hand-indexing system based on the ‘One Fact One Card’ method of Beatrice Webb, mediated to me through another very large influence on my intellectual life, Brian (now Sir Brian) Harrison, a few years ahead of me at Oxford.

Reflections on my first thirty years. Part IV.

Alan Macfarlane: ‘Because of the contending influences of my mother and devout uncle, perhaps partly because of the good fortune of living in Wordsworth’s valley, perhaps because of my experience of having feet in Protestant England, Celtic Scotland (through my father and Scottish ancestors) and polytheistic Assam and Nepal, I was always interested in spiritual matters.’

Blind boys.

Stephen Ward: ‘What both Pearson and Scapini realised- and acted upon – was that the ‘despair’ Lucas wrote of, was not insurmountable. One of the secrets of success in this respect was the kinship and the support systems among those afflicted. Life could go on.’

Olive Custance.

Ferdi McDermott: ‘A hitherto unpublished poem by Lord Alfred Douglas is a good example of the ability which he had to nurse a sense of personal hurt into a sense of invincible and righteous indignation. Although he did not include it in his published collections, he must have known that in sending it to his wife, at some time probably between 1913 and the late 1920s, it would eventually reach a wider audience…’

Poems from ‘The Messenger House’.

Janet Sutherland: ‘During the second journey they met Captain Spencer, a travel writer, who had just emerged from Quarantine having inadvertently crossed and re-crossed a border in dense woodland. Captain Spencer writes about meeting Davies and Gutch in one of his travel books. I loved the roundness of reading both their accounts, something I hadn’t expected to find when I first read the family journals.’

Reflections on my first thirty years. Part III.

Alan Macfarlane: ‘This was also a period when my teachers and  fellow doctoral students were being invigorated by new ideas of social and population history coming from France and by the archival revolution made possible by growing national wealth. it was a hopeful time, with a new engagement with international philanthropy and new experiments in cinema, drama, poetry, classical and ‘pop’ music.’

Reflections on my first thirty years. Part II.

Alan Macfarlane: ‘It is difficult to remember those pre-internet ages and to remember that until the 1960s a family such as ours did not even have a telephone in the house. Even when we moved to Cambridge in 1971 home phones were not commonplace and we did not have one in our fenland home until the 1980s.’


Enzo Kohara Franca: ‘In the New World the new language turned out to be the obstacle. Jichan failed to learn Brazilian Portuguese. The morphemes, phonemes, the cadence – none of it made any sense to the Japanese speaker inside his head.’

Reflections on my first thirty years. Part I.

Alan Macfarlane: ‘I first wrote down everything I thought I could remember about the period I was about to investigate. I then checked this against the diaries, letters and school reports. This has thrown some light on the way in which my memory works. It shows that, at least before I was ten, without supporting documentation almost everything would be irretrievable.’

Harold Dickson, British Political Agent.

Piers Michael Smith: ‘This museum aims to remind us that the Dickson life is part of larger whole called Britain in relation to another whole called Kuwait, and that these two are themselves (implicitly) only parts of a still larger whole itself representational of another grander understanding.’

E. M. Cioran and puttering therapy.

James Gallant: ‘Cioran in his mature writing evinces little interest in “good chunks of experience,” and as a recluse, he would have had few enough to contemplate. But given his disposition of mind that would not really have mattered. He was always concerned with human realities of a “universal” kind whose apprehension does not require extensive experience: the obfuscation of mortality by “doing”…’

Empyrean Suite.

Anthony Howell: ‘James Kirkup said that “decidedly, Fawzi Karim is a poet for our times, with his strong yet beautiful voice, his indignation…and the haunting memories of certain lines that seem intended for all of us, but that few can hear in the endless tumult of what is called life.”’

Maria, towards Cartoceto.

Franca Mancinelli: ‘Among the hearts on the walls, I search, in jest, the initials of my name. I know they have also come here for me. They have knelt at the wooden pew, lit a candle. I was heading towards death, with the instinct of a migrating animal. But even the tiny divinities of the water and the heavens can be tricked: you find them beached, caught in nets, bewildered by their wounds.’

Mourning and Memory: Public and Private.

Jerry Palmer: ‘The personal experiences that compose these memoirs – as well many novels based on them – entered the public domain to become parts of the collective memory of the war. If few of them survive as literature, the fact that there is a collective memory of the experience of a war that ended a hundred years ago suggests that they had their impact, at least cumulatively. ‘

Mr James, Miss Bosanquet, her palpitations.

Pamela Thurschwell: ‘Bosanquet’s interactions with [Henry] James and his family at the end of his life, are often touched with a sense of insecurity about her place in the household. The intimacy with the secretary, keeper of an author’s words, can be a strange and intense one…’