In The Margins
Reading this piece in today's Grauniad - with its customary reference to Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell and its reminder of that little tease Pierre de Fermat (and how it took over three hundred and fifty years before Andrew Wiles finally put all mathematicians out of their misery by proving it; although it omits the fact that Wiles was honoured in song by the great Tom Lehrer for his achievement) - I was reminded of an anecdote I heard from the doctor, author and broadcaster Michael O'Donnell on the radio some years back.
In 1944, the English writer Francis Brett Young published an epic poem entitled The Island, which purported to tell the tale of Britain (that is to say, England) from prehistoric times up to The First Of The Few.
The book sold hugely, particularly under wartime rationing conditions, because its overwrought jingoism was perfect for catching the wave of populist exceptionalism which was going around The Hackneyed Empire at the time, what with Our Brave Boys having Corporal Carpet-Chewer on the run, rah-rah!. Couldn't happen nowadays, of course.
Some were not taken in by this, however, and O'Donnell tells of one copy in - I think - Doncaster Public Library, where one fan of the book had written on the flyleaf:
"This book will be read long after Homer and Shakespeare have been forgotten".
To which someone of a less excitable and more fastidious bent had added:
"But not before then."