I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

David Askew

The Gentleman Naturalist

Charles Darwin’s theories of natural selection and evolution have weathered well and he cannot be held responsible for those who have developed a repugnant politics on the back of a vulgarisation of them.

Violent Remedies

The same year Rodrigo Borgia, one of the most controversial of the many controversial Renaissance popes, became Pope Alexander VI. As Unger notes, he “was on intimate terms with … Greed, Wrath, Lust, Gluttony, and Pride”. He was widely reported to have turned the Vatican into a brothel. Alexander’s son, Cesare Borgia, of whom, Capponi writes that “deceit, corruption, fraud, and murder were merely part of a very pragmatic approach to politics”, was to cast a long shadow over Machiavelli’s thought.

The Visionary Upholsterer

He was involved in the Gothic revival in, for example, stained glass. In textiles, he was both a weaver and a dyer –both the technical and the aesthetic aspects of his work are of interest. He was a businessman and manufacturer, and founded a successful company, Morris & Co. He combined his publishing and entrepreneurial expertise to become one of the most important private printers of the modern era. He was a noted translator.

One Part Prescient, Five Parts Puerile

Highly promiscuous, he was unfaithful to all his women, and never – quite – managed to love anyone else as much as he loved himself. He was chauvinistic and seemed to have very little respect for women – Rebecca West was informed of her duties “as a custodian of genius” – “You have to take care of me and have me fed and peaceful and comfortable.” He was puffed up with a sense of importance that his considerable abilities did not quite justify, and had an unpleasant proclivity to explode into furious rage at the smallest imagined slight.

Not Pulling Punches

As Swift knew, his complex irony can be challenging. He was aware that he had often been misunderstood, to his own detriment. Looking back on his own life, he concluded that “Had he but spar’d his Tongue and Pen, / He might have rose like other Men”. His irony, Hammond observes, “sometimes seems to saw through the branch of religious orthodoxy upon which he tried to perch”.

Fugitive Pleasures

These then are the lives Hastings tackles – those of playwright, short story virtuoso and novelist, traveller, millionaire art collector, exile, homosexual, secret agent and unhinged old man. Maugham had a long life – he published his first books while Queen Victoria was on the throne, and at least one of his lovers, David Posner, lived long enough to die of AIDS in 1985.