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“for i must tell you,” Freud wrote to his colleague Pfister, “that in private life I have no patience at all with lunatics.” Not just with them, I would add; I have little more patience with cranks. Or so I used to think.

Although Nicolas Walter-who died a few weeks ago-wasn’t a lunatic, there was an obsessive quality in the concentration of his passions which made many people think that he was, at best, a boring crank. If so, he converted me to the virtues of crankiness. I greatly relished his writing, not least in the pages of Prospect, as…

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