Samuel Taylor Coleridge was said to have been the last man who had read everything. That couldn’t have been true two hundred years ago, and it’s even more unlikely now, given the proliferation of books and how much time we all spend consuming internet pap.

In The Rise and Fall of the Man of Letters: Aspects of English Literary Life Since 1800 (1969), the British critic John Gross argued that the heyday of men of letters was long gone.

It was Gross (1935–2011)—himself a worthy candidate for the last Englishman of Letters—who first commissioned a Scotsman of Letters, James Campbell (a.k.a. J. C.), to write for the Times Literary Supplement, Britain’s leading literary periodical, edited by Gross from 1974 to 1981.


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