15 NOVEMBER 1997, Page 39

Paul Johnson

The handsome paperback edition of The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musi- cians edited by Stanley Sadie in 20 volumes (Grove £350) has given me great pleasure this year. I was so delighted with it that I bought another set for my eldest son's birthday. But I am keeping my old prewar five-volume set for its robust (by contem- porary standards) reactionary views. I also enjoyed Elizabeth Gaskell: The Early Years by John Chapple (Manchester, £25), a mine of information, based on new research into primary sources, about the background to the novelist's life up to her marriage in 1832. For sheer self-indulgence I recommend the latest, and I assume the last, volume of the diaries of James Lees- Milne, published by John Murray (Ancient as the Hills, 1973-74, £20). The diarist is well-read, well-connected, well-endowed with wit, common sense and taste, has a sharp tongue and is invariably frank: in short a feast.