‘England is not a bad country – it’s just a mean, cold, ugly, divided, slagheap’

From the archive: The curdled cream of literary barbs, political insults and celebrity slaps from Matthew Parris’s collection, Scorn

“There are probably more annoying things than being hectored about African development by a wealthy Irish rock star in a cowboy hat, but I can’t think of them at the moment” – Paul Theroux on Bono, pictured her with his wife Ali. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

“There are probably more annoying things than being hectored about African development by a wealthy Irish rock star in a cowboy hat, but I can’t think of them at the moment” – Paul Theroux on Bono, pictured her with his wife Ali. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

There are probably more annoying things than being hectored about African development by a wealthy Irish rock star in a cowboy hat, but I can’t think of them at the moment.
Paul Theroux on Bono

Pass a law to give every single whingeing bloody Pommie his fare home to England. Back to the smoke and the sun shining ten days a year and shit in the streets. Yer can have it.
Thomas Kenneally, The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith

Sara could commit adultery at one end and weep for her sins at the other, and enjoy both operations at once.
Joyce Cary, The Horse’s Mouth

The Rev Ian Paisley has died. The authorities have asked that we should all observe a minute’s shouting.
David Baddiel

Critics are like eunuchs in a harem; they know how it’s done, they’ve seen it done every day, but they’re unable to do it themselves.
Brendan Behan

George Bernard Shaw writes like a Pakistani who has learned English when he was twelve years old in order to become an accountant.
John Osborne on George Bernard Shaw

Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology.
Terry Eagleton on Richard Dawkins

We have met too late. You are too old for me to have any effect on you.
James Joyce to WB Yeats

An essentially private man who wished his total indifference to public notice to be universally recognised.
Tom Stoppard on James Joyce

The stupid person’s idea of a clever person.
Elizabeth Bowen on Aldous Huxley

Writers, like teeth, are divided into incisors and grinders.
Walter Bagehot

I object to publishers: the one service they have done me is to teach me to do without them. They combine commercial rascality with artistic touchiness and pettishness, without being either good business men or fine judges of literature. All that is necessary in the production of a book is an author and a bookseller, without any intermediate parasite.
George Bernard Shaw

Henry James writes fiction as if it were a painful duty.
Oscar Wilde

The work of a queasy undergraduate scratching his pimples.
Virginia Woolf on Ulysses by James Joyce

Oh for the hour of Herod.
Anthony Hope Hopkins on Peter Pan by JM Barrie

Having to read a footnote resembles having to go downstairs to answer the doorbell while in the middle of making love.
Noel Coward

The Church is like a swimming pool: most of the noise comes from the shallow end.
Theologian WH Vanstone

Clergyman: How did you like my sermon, Mr Canning?
George Canning: You were brief.
Clergyman: Yes, you know I avoid being tedious.
Canning: But you were tedious.

England is not a bad country – it’s just a mean, cold, ugly, divided, tired, clapped-out, post-imperial, post-industrial, slag heap covered in polystyrene hamburger cartons.
Margaret Drabble

America is the only nation in history which miraculously has gone from barbarism to degeneration without the usual interval of civilisation.
Georges Clemenceau

He has the judgement of King Lear, the decisiveness of Hamlet, the paranoia of Othello, and the loyalty of Brutus. But at least we’ve got rid of Lady Macbeth.
Bob Marshall-Andrews MP on Gordon Brown, shortly after he succeeded Tony Blair as British prime minister

I return your seasonal greeting card with contempt. May your hypocritical words choke you and may they choke you early in the New Year, rather than later.
Prof Kennedy Lindsay, a Vanguard member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, returning a Christmas card from then minister for foreign affairs, Garret FitzGerald, as reported in The Irish Times

Scorn by Matthew Parris is published by Profile Books, at £10.99

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