What better way to come back after a slight gap (again) than by two tales of possibly the greatest British Prime Minister of the twentieth century, Margaret Thatcher.
One is a very entertaining account by Nigel Farndale, based on reminiscences, of an event that is not quite as unknown as he seems to make out but not very well known either: a dinner organized by Lord Thomas of Swynnerton (the historian Hugh Thomas) for a large group of litterati and academics to meet the Prime Minister who was not then or later considered to be particularly enamoured of the arts.
It would appear from the accounts that she was fairly knowledgeable about poetry and other literary matters but was not particularly fond of the literary self-regard displayed by several of the guests. Also, she disliked the Arts Council and its various denizens, which was always taken as a sign of philistinism by those who benefited handsomely from its tax-funded largesse.
It would appear, also that the male gathering was smitten by her, which seems to have been true in other male gatherings as well. Anyone who doubts that should listen to some reminiscences by those who fought in the Falklands.
The second tale is of greater political significance. It is a letter, written by the Prime Minister to President de Klerk of South Africa, giving him an outline of the meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government she had just attended where South Africa was discussed at length as well as her ideas on how to proceed with regards to that country and its international standing. The letter is well worth reading for its exceedingly clear-sighted analysis and proposals.
Here are a few excerpts:
My rebuttal of the case for sanctions rested on two main premises: that sanctions do not work, indeed are likely to be counter-productive and damaging to those they are intended to help: and that it was inappropriate to take punitive action against South Africa at the very moment when you are taking steps to get rid of apartheid and to make major changes in the system of government in South Africa. I received a good deal of abuse in response, being accused of preferring British jobs to African lives, of being concerned with pennies rather than principles, of lack of concern for human rights and much more in the same vein. I in turn reminded them of some of the less satisfactory features of their own societies and pointed to the inconsistency of trading with the Soviet Union, with its appalling human rights record, and putting trade sanctions on South Africa.She continued a little further on:
My other main purpose was to secure Commonwealth backing for dialogue between the South African Government and representatives of the black community in the context of a suspension of violence by all sides. The concept of course comes from your earlier letter to me: and I hope you will agree that it is no small achievement to have persuaded the Commonwealth to put its name to a suspension of violence, though there are several governments who will not wish to see substance given to this commitment if they can avoid it.She then makes several proposals, including ideas for what President de Klerk might do. This is the key comment, in view of what has happened just a couple of days ago:
I continue to believe, as I have said to you before, that the release of Nelson Mandela would have more impact than almost any single action you could undertake.There is evidence that Mrs Thatcher's insistence on Nelson Mandela's release played an important part in de Klerk's decision to do so. The whole letter is very well worth reading.
Alas, pressure of time, tasks and duties has prevented Tory Historian from attending the talk on Disraeli given this evening by Lord Hurd and Edward Young, the biography's co-author. Nothing for it: the book will have to be read and reviewed.
The star turn was the Hon. Edward Everett, pastor, politician, former Harvard President, former Secretary of State and Massachussetts Senator, who gave, as was normal in those days, a two-hour speech, entitled The Battles of Gettysburg. It was full of oratoric flourishes and historic references to other wars. Nobody can even recall the name of the man without looking it up (guilty as charged).
Then the President, Abraham Lincoln stood up and said a few words that have resonated through the succeeding century and a half:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.There has been some discussion on whether those words "government of the people, by the people, for the people" were Lincoln's own or was he quoting, again as was normal in those days of greater knowledge of the classics and religious writers, someone else, specifically John Wycliffe.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that this nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
This Bible is for the Government of the People, by the People, and for the People.No reason why Lincoln or many of his audience should not know that, though few people nowadays would remember that Wycliffe is the name of a great scholar, religious teacher, precursor of the Reformation and the first translator of the Bible into vernacular English as well as that of a fictional detective.
However, there is a problem with his authorship of those words. That they appeared in the Bible of 1384 was first mentioned and the words quoted by Clark Ezra Carr in 1906 in his book, Lincoln at Gettysburg : An Address. Colonel Carr, as Galesburg postmaster had represented Illionois on the committee that made the arrangements for the event and it was he who insisted that the President should be invited to the Dedication and asked to say a few words though Lincoln was known as not being much of an orator.
One might, therefore, say that Colonel Carr knew whereof he spoke when he made the connection between the Gettysburg Address and John Wycliffe's great translation.
Indeed, the speech, short but carefully crafted, is "laced with religious language and meaning". But did it quote Wycliffe?
That seems a little more doubtful. It seems reasonable to assume that the General Prologue was written after Wycliffe's death by John Purvey who completed and revised the translation. Indeed, it was probably written about ten years after Wycliffe's death. He had died in 1384 and the Prologue was probably written some time in 1394 or 1395.
Does it matter? The words Lincoln spoke have been more powerful and influential than almost any other in modern history; they were also an echo of a far older tradition which, unsurprisingly, was English, full of English history and English thought.
On October 22 I went to a book launch at the very fine Daunt's bookshop in Holland Park Avenue. The book in question was The Daffodil Party, a debut thriller by the author and quondam editor of Debrett's Handbook and Burke's Peerage, the ever charming and gregarious Charles Mosley (and here).
Charles and I had known each other in the past and shared many friends but had lost touch for years. It was the much derided Facebook, whose ability to encourage renewed friendships ought to be welcomed by all true conservatives, that allowed us to renew our friendship. I was delighted to receive an invitation to the book launch, delighted to attend and delighted to manage to exchange a few words with Charles with ideas for future meetings.
Alas, there will be no meetings. This wonderful and talented man, the epitome, surely, of Englishness died not long after that event. It seems that he already knew that he had inoperable cancer when he sat there smiling and joking with his friends, signing books and exchanging gossip. The Daily Telegraph gives a very fine obituary that brings a lump to one's throat.
For various reasons to do with ongoing research I have been reading some of the essays in the volume edited by T. G. Otte, The Makers of British Foreign Policy. The first chapter, an introductory overview of the period "from Malplaquet to Maastricht" (a proper acknowledgement of the importance of both those treaties) and written by Professor Otte has this to say among many other interesting matters (p. 12):
The changing political structure of Britain after the extension of the franchise in 1867, moreover, affected the framing and executing of foreign policy. The rising middle class's stringency began to outweigh the aristocracy's traditional appreciation of Europe's significance for British interests, though between Canning and Grey only three Foreign Secretaries sat in the House of Commons. Victorian finance pursued strictly economic ends. Between the Crimean War and the Boer War, Britain's national debt fell steadily. With the reduction in government expenditure, the size and preparedness of Britain's army declined.This raises several interesting points not least that European entanglement was not new to Britain in the twentieth century but it was something that was seen by a growing section of the extended electorate as not being wholly desirable.
The relative insignificance of Britain's armed forces compared with the mass armies of France and Prussia-Germany, and the inapplicability of naval pressure against the dominant Continental powers further restricted Britain's ability to interfere in Europe. The prevailing economizing consensus, indeed, created a mindset that would ultimately contribute to Neville Chamberlain's problems in the late 1930s. The desire of mid-Victorian public opinion for abstention sapped the ability of governments to lead with confidence.
Disraeli (later Lord Beaconsfield) was prepared to challenge that opinion and, if needs be to manipulate it both in his readiness to threaten Russia with a naval squadron and to run rings round it in diplomacy (and that, despite the fact that the Russian Foreign Ministry managed to intercept and decipher most diplomatic telegrams that came anywhere near them or their agents).
It was Gladstone whose policy was beset by ambiguity that has dogged all liberal interventionists ever since, particularly if they wanted to control expenditure. On the one hand, he saw it as Britain's duty to develop an active European policy, on the other hand he wished to eschew Continental entanglements that were liable to cost the country dear and bring no immediately obvious benefits.
A couple of pages later Professor Otte writes:
The underlying problem for British diplomacy at the close of the nineteenth century was that British governments saw European affairs in light of Britain's imperial interests. Continental governments, by contrast, viewed colonial problems in terms of the general great power constellation in Europe.The Anglo-Russian agreement of 1907 was fraught with even more difficulties and misunderstandings (not to mention bad faith on both sides) and was fraying badly by the summer of 1914.
As a result, British diplomacy tended to regard agreements on issues arising from the geostrategic periphery as a means to reduce European frictions, which, in turn, could impinge on Britain's overseas interests. The European powers judged the value of any agreement with Britain by its utility in forcing Britain in taking part in Continental affairs. Thus, Anglo-German alliance talks in 1898 and 1900 - 01 came to nothing and the Anglo-French entente after 1904 was plagued by different interpretations as to the nature and extend of the understanding.
For many of the same reasons I have also been reading a somewhat less satisfactory book by Marina Soroka, Britain, Russia and the Road to the First World War, which does, however, have an interesting comment about the ideas behind diplomacy in that period.
In the 1900s European governments tried to implement their foreign policies without losing sight of two guiding principles. One stated that the "man in the street never cares two damns about foreign politics until he finds himself landed in the wary". The other cautioned that if a government went against the "national feeling" too often or too openly, it might undermined the popular confidence in its foreign policy. How universal these axioms were is obvious from the fact that the first one was expressed by a Foreign Office bureaucrat in parliamentary Britain and the second by the Russian autocrat Alexander III.The two opinions are related though Marina Soroka does not exactly explain how. In general, her book proposes certain theses and then floods the pages with detailed facts and quotations from official and unofficial correspondence, hoping that the theses will find support somewhere in that flood.
While British governments of the late nineteenth century found it difficult to conduct a foreign policy with the electorate more interested in balanced budgets than doubtful European glory, it it also true that by the time of the early twentieth century many diplomats and officials in various foreign ministries found themselves driven to a more aggressive foreign policy than they would have preferred by popular opinion, expressed by the newspapers all too often and by politicians who felt they had to react to that opinion.
Technical problems have prevented postings on this site and on Tory Historian's blog. These have now been solved or so we have been led to assume. Postings will resume in a very short time.
The Sackville family became great supporters of cricket on their estate and, indeed, played it themselves, putting together teams at various times to play others.
In 1783 the third Duke of Dorset was appointed ambassador to the court of Louis XVI. By all accounts, he was a lazy and not very intelligent though amiable sort of chap, who was fond of cricket, tennis and billiards as well as society gossip. He did manage to be on very good terms with Marie Antoinette but had little appreciation of the storm that was brewing in France during his term as ambassador.
One thing he did try to achieve, with indifferent success, was to introduce cricket to the French society. As Robert Sackville-West says, the historian G. M. Trevelyan claimed that
If the French noblesse had been capable of playing cricket with their peasants [as the English aristocracy and their tenants and labourers did] their chateaux would never have been burnt.Which suggests that if the British ambassador had been successful in getting the French aristocracy to play cricket, preferably with their peasants, which begs the odd question, the French Revolution might never have happened. A sobering thought.