Karl Miller’s great achievement was to found the London Review of Books during the year the Times Literary Supplement was not published. Almost immediately, the LRB felt like an institution, something you did not want to miss reading. Before that, Miller had been the Literary Editor of The Listener, the Spectator and the New Statesman. These things aren’t in themselves achievements, and it might surprise some readers that a man whose life has seen so little incident should have decided to publish a second stout volume of memoirs.
That said, Miller was a very good editor and over the years he commissioned many fascinating reviews and diary-items. He quotes one of the best of them in this book. It is by A J P Taylor. Miller had asked the great historian to write the Diary for the LRB, without realising that Taylor had suffered a coup de vieux. The piece reads:
Most of my life seems to have been passed in some part of the North of England and at different periods. My first stretch was in Roman Britain, when I lived in York and was afterwards stationed on the wall. These experiences were very instructive to me as an historian. The Romans did not remain long. Nor did I waste time at the Court of King Arthur.
I could read this sort of thing for hours. It has the same fascination as Henry James’s confident battle-instructions, dictated when he was under the impression, following a stroke, that he was Napoleon.
But being mad does not always make you interesting. Karl Miller’s previous books, particularly his study of doppelgängers, gave adequate demonstration that, even without a clot on the brain, a man can write prose which appears to be completely deranged. Alas, he is a much less amusing writer than A