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Issue 07 – Saint Rose 2021

The Publisher's Desk

The Publisher's Desk

On imposters.


This is not, of course, my desk. Our esteemed publisher is in the middle of moving his family from not one but two cities in the state of New York to Virginia. (It’s a long story.) As the editor, I don’t mind filling in, though I am afraid I haven’t got his knack for charming personal anecdotes. While I attempt one, our oldest, who has just turned six, is sitting next to me, asking when I am going to get on with reading the next Nancy Drew to her.

Because I am writing this column despite not being the publisher of this magazine, one could say that, like many of the villains in her favorite mystery series, I am an imposter. Imposters fascinate us. One of the first pieces ever commissioned for this magazine was a review of The Professor and The Parson by Adam Sisman, our greatest living biographer. (For another excellent piece by the review’s author, one also concerned with crime and deceit, see B.D. McClay’s reflection on detective shows on page 56.) The subject of Sisman’s book is Robert Parkin Peters, a fantasist who secured academic posts, multiple livings in the Church of England, and several wives on the strength of his lies. Why did he pretend to have credentials he did not in fact possess? Why would anyone lie about such things? Sisman came across Peters in the papers of Hugh Trevor-Roper, about whom he also wrote a book some years ago. Trevor-Roper himself was the author of The Hermit of Peking, a fascinating biography of Sir Edmund Backhouse, a man who convinced journalists, scholars, corporations, and the British government that he was not only an expert on Chinese calligraphy but a spy, an arms dealer, and the onetime lover of the fearsome Empress Dowager. That book in turn owes a great deal to The Quest for Corvo. Many of Frederick Rolfe’s exploits cannot be discussed in a family periodical, but among the most harmless were his Reviews of Unwritten Books, a series of anachronistic parodies: Machiavelli on the Boer War, Dr. Johnson on Carlyle, Lord Bacon on the telegram, and so on. (Peter Hitchens reviews the diaries of another great serial liar, Henry “Chips” Channon, on page 43.)

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