Oliver Goldsmith once wrote a ‘Reverie’ in which he imagined standing in an inn yard, trying to board ‘a small carriage, Berlin fashion’ that would take a few choice passengers to the Temple of Fame. Two hopeful men of letters (names withheld, but easily recognisable by most readers in 1759 as Arthur Murphy and John Hill) were refused entrance by the driver of this ‘fame machine’; Smollett, Johnson and Hume all got on board. Goldsmith himself tried to gain access by showing the driver a copy of The Bee, the magazine in which his odd little fantasy appeared. But The Bee was his undoing; the driver took one look at it and told him to buzz off.
Who’s in, who’s out and who’s dropped off the fame machine as it shuttles to and from the Temple of Worthies is as difficult to determine as ever. Who would have thought, back in the 1970s, that Anthony Powell and Angus Wilson would fall completely out of fashion? I never