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This article is taken from PN Review 218, Volume 40 Number 6, July - August 2014.

Fragments of the Past David Herman
erich auerbach, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature (New Expanded Edition) (Princeton University Press, 2013) £16.95
jonathan wittenberg, Walking with the Light: From Frankfurt to Finchley (Quartet Books, 2013) £20.00
stefan zweig, Shooting Stars: Ten Historical Miniatures (Pushkin Press, 2013) £14.99

One of my favourite books as a child was Hendrik Willem Van Loon’s The Story of Mankind, an illustrated children’s history of the world, written almost a hundred years ago. In the Foreword, he describes how as a child his uncle took him to the top of the tower of Old St Lawrence in Rotterdam, a church built in the fifteenth century. When they get to the top, he and his uncle look out over the whole city. As they look, their guide points out various landmarks. Those trees, he tells the young boy, are ‘where the Prince of Orange cut the dikes to drown the land and save Leyden’. The old Meuse carried ‘the ships of De Ruyter and Tromp upon that famous last voyage, when they gave their lives that the sea might be free to all’. In the distance, they can see Delft, where William the Silent was murdered and where ‘Grotius had learned to construe his first Latin sentences’. Still further away is the church of Gouda, ‘the early home’ of Erasmus.

‘History,’ Van Loon continues, ‘is the mighty tower of experience, which time has built amidst the endless fields of bygone ages. It is no ...

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