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