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Clive James: ‘I have put aside Shakespeare, to remind myself that others can write, too’


The best artists are a bit like children and the best critics are a bit like artists

Matthew Arnold once called them “the barren, optimistic sophistries”: the bright new beliefs that were going to improve the world. You can tell from his bleak tone that he didn’t think they would.

Quite a lot of them did, however, and Arnold himself benefited from the belief, then new, that travel by rail would broaden the mind even of someone with a classical education. For all we know, some of the most resonant phrases in his wonderful poem Dover Beach came into his mind at Crewe Junction. Sophocles makes an appearance, but has nothing particularly classical to say. Possibly a station master’s announcement drowned him out.

Related: Clive James: ‘I regret not calling my book Nail-Biting Slug-Fest On The Last Green’

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