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Rupert Christiansen's 'Tales of the New Babylon', a portrait of Paris during the Second Empire, is published by Minerva

In the summer I picked up a copy of Memoirs of a Bengal Civilian by John Beames (Eland) in a hotel bookshop in Jaipur. It's an absolute gem. Beames, a District Officer in Bengal from 1858-1879, was the best kind of man produced by the British Empire: just, tolerant, kind and with complete integrity. His prose, the product of a good, ordinary classical Victorian education, is almost indistinguishable from the man - sober and sane and progressing from A to B to C in everything, including his loathing of Indian rent collectors (against whom he waged war) and the worst excesses of the British in India. He is terribly funny and wise and you end up really loving him. Anyone who thinks the Empire was a deplorable institution, or just a waste of time, should read his book.