Notebook

The lost allure of alchemy

Alchemy embraces a sophisticated set of beliefs and a high-minded cosmology, much to the chagrin of the pure rationalist.

Grey matters

Beneath the stiff upper lip of Edward Grey, British Foreign Secretary in 1914, lay a passion for politics and for love.

the remains of a 13th-century Franciscan priory at Dunwich

Dunwich’s very English apocalypse

Dunwich, once a bustling medieval city, was swept under the waves in a series of storms. Little now remains of this English Atlantis.

City-states are back

With globalism disrupted by Covid, cities offer a tried and tested way of binding people together.

Missing the theatre of everyday life

While celebrity has ruined many a talent, the rest of us miss those small public performances in the pub or theatre, which make life that little bit more exciting.

Singing Byrd in a cage

Tudor composer William Byrd concealed his true faith in music – and his yearning for a return to better times resonates with us today in the chimes of the chapel choir.

Rediscovering Germany

The pandemic coincided with the 30th anniversary of the reunification of Germany – the crisis is a chance to find that sense of optimism again.

Blinded by the light

Blindness offers a metaphor for the perils of worldly delusion. And the physically blind can sometimes discover new ways of seeing.

Maggi Hambling and the trouble with statues

Statues have become the object of frenzied debate in recent months. They must persist, at least, as a memorial to themselves – to stand above fleeting passions in reach of the eternal.

Thank goodness for gardens

Throughout history communal spaces have provided refuge and reconnection. We need them more than ever.

Neverending story

Sometimes when a tale concludes we want to know what happens next to fascinating characters. Even Shakespeare leaves his readers wondering.

When artists retrain

The fine hand of the artist and the musician has gone a long way for some of history’s great and terrible figures.

The medieval mobile home

‘Home is homely, though it be poore in sight,’ wrote J.Heywood in 1546. Heywood is an obscure author but many people today will agree with him, having

Alexander Mosaic (detail), House of the Faun, Pompeii

Like so many Alexanders

Few historical figures have left such a lasting impression on such a variety of cultures as Alexander the Great.

Good poetry in a crisis

Seamus Heaney’s poems are a valuable, moving register of individual intimacy and national pain.

On the art of metallurgy

Georgius Agricola’s De Re Metallica gives us a fascinating insight into the late medieval view of metal and its uses.

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