“The Trouble with Literary Prime Ministers”
Adam Kirsch, The Wall Street Journal

In his essay “Consistency in Politics,” Winston Churchill defends his political past with gentle euphemism: “First, a statesman in contact with the moving current of events and anxious to keep the ship on an even keel and steer a steady course may lean all his weight now on one side and now on the other.” One senses inurement to the charge of inconstancy. As Adam Kirsch, our new poetry editor, points out, both Churchill and Benjamin Disraeli were possessed with a redoubtable and literary spirit, in that “they acted like people who saw themselves as the hero of a story.” Detractors considered them “unprincipled, unreliable, knockabout characters”—but the fact of the matter, Kirsch explains, is that both their greatest successes and failures stem from their industrious, if indulgent, imaginations. The freewheeling, Iliad-reciting Boris Johnson has something of the same disposition. Is he more Achilles? Or Quixote? Time will tell.

Ulysses on Trial”
Michael Chabon, The New York Review of Books

There are whispers, in obscure, shadowy corners, of a time when the aclu actually defended civil liberties; the landmark 1933 obscenity case, United States v. One Book Called “Ulysses, reminds one of a bygone era. The publishing history of Joyce’s modernist masterpiece is a convoluted one: it was banned in the United States two years before it even went to press in 1922, and, by 1931, one’s options for procuring the book stateside were to buy a pirated copy or to somehow arrange for a clandestine delivery from Shakespeare & Company, the first publisher, in Paris. But the story of the legal proceedings that authorized its distribution in the United States is even wilder. Morris Ernst—the co-founder of the aclu and the lawyer who represented, ahem, One Book Called “Ulysses”—deployed stratagems of astonishing complexity to win his client’s case, including stuffing a copy of the novel with reviews both lavish and critical so that, when it was seized by customs officials on grounds of obscenity, a sort of bootleg critical apparatus would have to be submitted into evidence with the book, elevating its profile in the eyes of the judge. In a similar vein, the aclu has recently tried stuffing the pockets of illegal immigrants with editorial clippings from The New York Times, but with little success. Too unwieldy.

“Is this $30m portrait the ‘last Botticelli’?”
Scott Reyburn, The Art Newspaper

Like Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi (ca. 1500), whose auction price of $450.3 million shocked the art world in 2017, Botticelli’s Portrait of Michèle Marullo Tarcaniota (ca. 1496–97) purports to be the last autograph work by the artist left in private hands. The painting, which spent a good chunk of the past fifteen years on loan to the Museo del Prado, Madrid, is expected to sell for at least $30 million, due to its above-average, but far from perfect, condition. Granted, when collectors with deep pockets compete on a bidding floor such as this one, projections mean little. We can’t wait to watch.

From our pages:

From Paris to Palm Beach
by Paul du Quenoy
On “Posters by Toulouse-Lautrec” at the Norton Museum of Art.

1619 and all that
by Timothy Jacobson
On archaeology, history & remembrance.

A Message from the Editors

Receive ten digital and print issues plus a bonus issue when you subscribe to The New Criterion by August 31.