Tory Historian is not a great fan of "A Christmas Carol" despite that work having some of Dickens's finest writing. And finest with Dickens is very fine, indeed. But the rather old-fashioned Christmas with the Wardles in Dingley Dell warms the cockles of one's heart. Isn't it odd that Dickens, who lived in the age of the railway boom should have written almost exclusively about travelling by coach? The only important episode that involves a train that Tory Historian can recall, comes in "Hard Times".
All that is by the by. A very happy Christmas to all our readers.
Tory Historian feels a little overwhelmed by the number of important dates in December that have not been noted on this blog. Let us have a go at making up for lost time.
The first one is the death of Henry I from a surfeit of lampreys on December 1, 1135. This is not specifically conservative news but is of importance in its influence on that great history text book "1066 and All That" as well as on Dame Ngaio Marsh who produced a seriously daft novel of that title in 1941.
December 2 is the anniversary of something far more important - the opening in, 1697, of Sir Christopher Wren's masterpiece, the new St Paul's Cathedral, one of the most beautiful buildings in the world, seen above in the iconic World War II photograph.
Of course, one of the problems with dates before the Calendar Act of 1751 is that we do not know how accurate they are but we have to assume that these dates have been adjusted.
Moving right along, we come to a more ambiguous date. On December 6, 1921 (St Nicholas Day) the Irish Free State was created. Cue, methinks for an argument about the Irish Question.
Then we come to the most important date of all from a conservative historian's point of view. December 7, 1783, William Pitt the Younger became Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer at the age of 24. Was he, perhaps, the greatest British Prime Minister? This blog will have to have a competition on that subject. How many votes will our readers give Pitt the Younger, Disraeli, Churchill, Thatcher or sundry others, I wonder. Should we allow the likes of Gladstone, on the grounds that he is unlikely to be Lib-Dem or Labour nowadays?
December 9, 1608 saw the birth of John Milton, one of the greatest English-language poets in a literature that is filled with wonderful writers and poets. It is words that the Anglosphere excels in, though there are more gret English artists and musicians than some people allow. (Another posting on that subject will follow.)
One of those great writers, Jane Austen, who has already figured on this blog, was born on December 16, 1775.
Then there are a couple of dates in American history, of importance to the whole of the Anglosphere. On December 16, 1773, some colonists over the Pond boarded three ships in Boston harbour and emptied the tea over board. Known as the Boston Tea Party, it was, of course, a tax riot and was to lead to important developments just three years later.
On December 15, 1791 the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution, the Bill of Rights, are incorporated into that document. Their sole purpose is to protect individual rights and liberties from possible government encroachment.
Let us end on science and engineering. On December 12, 1955 Christopher Cockerell patented his new invention, the hovercraft.
And today, December 17 is the anniversary of the birth in 1778 of Sir Humphrey Davy, inventor of the safety lamp for miners, who also discovered sodium, magnesium, calcium, barium and strontium.
Not too bad for one month that is not finished yet.
Then again, one cannot really leave the subject without quoting a couple of clerihews about two of the people mentioned above.
Sir Christopher Wren
Said "I am going to dine with some men.
"If anybody calls,
"Say I am designing St Paul's"
Sir Humphry DavyMany more where those came from.
He lived in the odium
Of having discovered sodium
Tory Historian is not a great fan of John F Kennedy's. To put it more precisely, Tory Historian finds the adulation slightly nauseating and entirely unrealistic. He was a politician and, therefore, not to be adulated. As it happens, the entire Kennedy family has lacked moral compass but, probably "Jack" was a better man than his father or his brothers.
He and his well-known speech-writers were mentioned in a previous posting, so it may be a good idea to remind our readers of one of his sayings. This is not one of the really well known ones but one to ponder over, anyway, especially in view of developments in the European Union in the last couple of days:
Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.Tory Historian cannot help wondering which of his speech-writers crafted that sentence.
Tory Historian, as regular readers of this blog know, is a film fan (would like to be a film buff but there is a long way to go). For any conservative film fan the American blog Libertas is compulsory reading, what with the main blogger, a complete film buff as well as screen-writer and convinced conservative, calling himself Dirty Harry and that great picture of Orson Welles as Harry Lime.
Every now and then there is an entry entitled “And now we pause for a …… moment”. The latest was a Tyrone Power moment. Not long ago there was a Helen Mirren moment and a Lauren Bacall moment. (This is an equal opportunity blog and there are links to cheer both male and female readers.)
Of course, it is very difficult for Tory Historian to come up with anything equally glamorous by way of historians. Lord Acton? Dame Veronica Wedgwood? Sir Geoffrey Elton? Our own Andrew Roberts is the only one who comes anywhere near the mark.
So let us pretend that historians might be made glamorous by their achievements in life and in the writing of history. Let us, therefore, pause for a Marc Bloch [in French with English-language pages under construction] moment. He is something of a hero to Tory Historian, despite the very difference in political views.
There is an excellent intellectual biography of Marc Bloch around, by Caroline Fink, which seems to pay less attention to his private life than to his work as an historian. As this reviewer, Tory Historian applauds that.
Bloch was both a highly influential historian, founding with Lucien Febvre the journal Annales d'histoire économique et sociale and the Annales School of historical study, which has been debated over since then by historians inside and outside France. (Tory Historian is hoping for some debates in the Comments section of this posting.)
He was also the author of three highly important books on mediaeval history, the greatest one of which, “Feudal Society”, was Tory Historian’s textbook at university.
In actual fact, it was Bloch’s unfinished “The Historian’s Craft” that particularly influenced Tory Historian at an even earlier educational stage. The book is unfinished because one fine morning in June 1944 as Marc Bloch was preparing for another day’s work, the Gestapo came to arrest him. As a Jew and a member of the Resistance he stood no chance. He was imprisoned, tortured and shot.
Apart from “Historian’s Craft” Bloch left another posthumous book: “Strange Defeat”, an account of the French army’s collapse in 1940. Bloch was in the army and experienced the defeat, the subsequent shame and bewilderment and the panic in the country.
Tory Historian was particularly impressed by one particular poing in “The Historian’s Craft”. Everyone on this blog knows full well that there can be no understanding of the present without a knowledge of the past but how many, one wonders, thought of the opposite? That is what Marc Bloch affirms and it is worth thinking about.
In his case, as he explains, it was participation in the 1940 debacle that made huge devastating defeats of the Middle Ages more comprehensible.
Similarly, one could argue that the reason sixteenth and seventeenth century with their, to the nineteenth century mind incomprehensible, wars and massacres caused by finer points of theology, became more popular in the twentieth century when wars and massacres were caused by finer points of ideology. That people should kill each other because of differences between transubstantiation and consubstantiation is no mystery to those of us who have known people who lived through or participated in ferocious killings because of differences between permanent revolution and socialism in one country.
No pause for an historian’s moment would be complete without a quotation or two. So here are a couple of pithy comments by Marc Bloch:
The good historian is like the giant of the fairy tale. He knows that wherever he catches the scent of human flesh, there his quarry lies.
History is, in its essentials, the science of change. It knows and it teaches that it is impossible to find two events that are ever exactly alike, because the conditions from which they spring are never identical.Tory Historian cannot recommend “The Historian’s Craft” highly enough. In fact, another re-read might be in order.
Just a reminder that the next speaker meeting is this Tuesday (4 December), when we'll be hearing from Alistair Cooke OBE, the author of a new history of the Carlton Club. Do join us in the Boothroyd Room, Portcullis House at the House of Commons at 6.30pm on Tuesday. After the meeting the group's AGM will take place. More details by emailing info AT conservativehistory DOT org DOT uk
I received this link by e-mail from one of my Anglospheric contacts in the United States. It is a historically changing map or Australia. Great fun and, dare I suggest it, something children who are learning history might enjoy playing with.
Tory Historian maintains that the American Thanksgiving celebration ought to be an Anglospheric fesitivity. It grew out of the Harvest festivals of this country (and many others) and there is no getting away from the fact that many of the ideas the Pilgrim Fathers carried with them to the new land were those of England and became the seeds of Anglospherism.
Let us not push it too far but celebrate the day with the somewhat anachronistic picture above and a quotation from the editorial that the Wall Street Journal publishes every year, which is a version of the records kept by Nathaniel Morton and based on the account by William Bradley, governor of the Plymouth Colony.
Besides, what could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wilde beasts and wilde men? and what multitudes of them there were, they then knew not: for which way soever they turned their eyes (save upward to Heaven) they could have but little solace or content in respect of any outward object; for summer being ended, all things stand in appearance with a weatherbeaten face, and the whole country, full of woods and thickets, represented a wild and savage hew.It was merely the beginning.
If they looked behind them, there was a mighty ocean which they had passed, and was now as a main bar or gulph to separate them from all the civil parts of the world.
It is not often that I do more on this blog than make announcements, mostly about the Journal (and yes, I am looking for articles, preferably very soon and, if possible, about the Anglosphere) but I was present at Jonathan Aitken's talk and was greatly intrigued by one or two things he said.
Mr Aitken told a number of highly entertaining stories, including one about a dinner at which there were present former Prime Minister Harold Wilson, former President Richard Nixon, Marcia Falkender (Baroness Falkender or Forkbender as Private Eye used to call her) and Mr Aitken himself.
The highlight of the dinner was, apparently, the two politicians singing, as a duet, Sir Joseph Porter's song from HMS Pinafore, "When I was a lad..". Clearly a dinner to remember.
Mr Aitken spoke at length about being a speechwriter (that being one half of the advertised title) and how seriously he took his duties when he wrote speeches for John Selwyn Lloyd, Chancellor of the Exchequer, political fixer and, later, Foreign Secretary.
Being a speechwriter is not easy, as one has to produce speeches that sound as if the person who is saying them wrote them himself (or herself, Margaret Thatcher famously went over her speeches many times, changing them and honing them till they became her own). The young Mr Aitken consulted the man who was then and probably until now the greatest speechwriter, Ted Sorensen, who worked for JFK.
The point Mr Aitken was making is that a speechwriter has to get into the speech-maker's head and that is what Ted Sorensen maintained he did. In question time I asked whether the movement was only one way or whether the speechwriter also shaped the speech-maker.
Mr Aitken thought about it and agreed that there was a great deal of it. For instance, JFK was not a particularly eloquent personality though he had a dry wit, whose flavour his speech writers managed to capture. But the great orator with vision and ideas was largely created by Ted Sorensen and Arthur Schlesinger.
The whole concept is fascinating. I see it as something like the famous Escher drawing of one hand drawing the other, which is drawing the first, the two in slightly different positions.
This evening's meeting of the Conservative History Group will take place in the Wilson Room, not the Thatcher Room. Don't know what the speaker, Jonathan Aitken, will think of that.
The Wilson Room is in Portcullis House and the meeting will start at 6.30 pm. The title of Jonathan Aitken's talk will be: "Confessions of an old speech-writer and speechmaker". Should be very interesting and entertaining.
It has been suggested once to Tory Historian that, perhaps, another time and day should now be chosen for Remembrance as this time and day are too closely connected with the First World War. Naturally, Tory Historian disagreed. If there is no need to change there is every need not to change and the words "the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month" have come to mean much more than just the ending of that terrible conflict.
Having listened to the prayers led by the Bishop of London and the other parts of the ceremony by the Cenotaph Tory Historian remains certain that this is the time we must dedicate to remembering the sacrifices made and being made by so many on our behalf.
As ever, there are excerpts from two poems to be quoted. The first is by the Canadian medical officer John McCrae, who wrote the poem in 1915 and died of pneumonia towards the end of the war. It is odd to recall that more people of influenza in 1918 throughout the world than were killed in the Great War, terrible though the casualties were.
In fact, the Second World War was the first war in history in which direct casualties were higher than those of attendant and subsequent illness. Whether that is a reflection on medical or military developments remains to be an open question.
In Flanders fields the poppies blowFor personal reasons Tory Historian finds Lawrence Binyon's lines particularly moving:
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard beneath the guns below.
They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old.We should never forget them but this is the time we really remember.
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
Tory Historian has already attended a bonfire and fireworks event and can report with some disgust that there was no Guy on the fire. This is a relatively new development as for many years this particular bonfire did have a Guy and one year the fireworks culminated in a picture of Guido Fawkes himself slowly disappearing.
Why so many of these events have abandoned any historical link to the festivities is a mystery. Some people consider it to be the result of political correctness.
Tory Historian thinks it has more to do with the curious development that is unique to Britain whereby all celebrations, all entertainments have been separated or are being separated from their meaning, historical, social or simply seasonal.
This does not work with the celebrations that the various ethnic minorities have, no matter how hard people like Mayor Livingstone try but otherwise it has taken hold. Nothing needs to have a reason any more.
There is nothing like this anywhere in the world, not in Europe, not in Asia, not in America; developed and industrial countries retain their knowledge of history and traditions. Why is Britain the exception? Why are people satisfied with amusing themselve to death?
Then again, the tale of the Catholic Plot, the attempted terrorist outrage, the arrest of the plotters, their torture, confession and horrific execution is a strange and grisly event to celebrate.
Remember, remember,And there is no reason. Grisly and unpleasant but part of our history.
The fifth of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.
The Russian myth of the Third Rome grew out of the fall of Constantinople to the all-conquering Ottoman army in 1453. In 1510 the monk Filofei wrote to the Grand Duke Vasili III: “Two Romes have fallen. The third Rome stands and there shall be no fourth.” Recently, during the usual falling out between various Orthodox priests and patriarchs, the theory was denounced but the Russians do not really care.
Moscow remains the third Rome. After all, the Russians never did get Constantinople though given the number of them who seem to be domiciled in Istanbul one wonders whether they are using a different method to the same end.
All this is a preliminary to a paean of praise by Tory Historian to the city of Istanbul, known for many centuries as Constantinople, the second Rome. It is not a city that buzzes nowadays though the melancholy mentioned by Orhan Pamuk is not exactly discernible. Quite simply, Istanbul is what Vienna was in the twenties and thirties – an imperial city that has lost its role.
When, in 1923, the Turkish Republic was formed, Kemal Atatürk was so anxious to break with the Ottoman past and to create a new, secular state that he settled on a new capital, Ankara. For the first time in many centuries Constantinople was not the heart of a great empire (though Byzantium was considerably less than great by the time of the final conquest in 1453).
It is taking a long time for the city to come to terms with that but it is also taking a long time for Turkey to settle down with its own Turkish identity, no matter how strongly people feel it inside them. The uncertainty over the mildly Islamist party taking power and the whole row over the Armenian massacre of 1915 are evidences of that uncertainty.
One must wish Istanbul well because it is such a glorious and fascinating city. Surely, it will reacquire a role for itself but there is no doubt that its role is tied in closely with Turkey’s ability to define more securely her identity and her own role in the world. In that, too, one must wish the country well. It is, at present, the one fully secular Muslim country and if that experiment fails, there is little hope for peace between Islam and the West.
Of course, one could argue that there was rarely peace between Islam and the West and why should there be.
In the meantime Istanbul is extraordinary in the way one can quite literally walk though several centuries in one afternoon’s progression through the city. There are slums of the kind one would see in Third World countries cheek by jowl with highly respectable middle class areas that remind one irresistibly of Eastern and Central Europe.
The public transport is excellent and the food is uniformly superb whether it is a borek-seller in a street or a restaurant that boasts of its “Ottoman” food.
Antiquities, whether Byzantine or Ottoman have not been well preserved though efforts at restoration are being made and clearly there is a renewed interest in the city’s pre-Ottoman history, which is all to the good.
Functioning mosques are beautiful and well-kept as well as surprisingly welcoming, something not a few tourists seemed to abuse. Courtesy requires that one obeys the rules of the place of worship one visits. If women do not like wearing headscarves they do not have to go into the Blue Mosque.
Tory Historian’s abiding memory is sitting outside a Greek monastery (not functioning but relatively well preserved, drinking coffee and looking at the Turkish flag flying proudly as at four o’clock the muezzins began their call for prayer (largely ignored by the population at large). Oh well, of course, there is the other abiding memory of discussing Anatolian rugs over a little glass of chai in the Grand Bazaar.
The next two speaker meetings of the Conservative History Group are as follows
Monday 19 November, 6.30pm
"Confessions of a speech-maker and speechwriter"
Thatcher Room, Portcullis House
Tuesday 4 December, 6.30pm
"The history of the Carlton Club"
Boothroyd Room, Portcullis House
The latest copy of the Conservative History Journal has just been sent to members. Anyone who has not received their copy yet should email info AT conservativehistory DOT org DOT uk
October 12 seems to be a particularly sombre day. Looking at the BBC site "On this day" we find that this is the day on which the USS Cole was attacked in 2000 and the Bali nightclub explosions killed dozens of people.
Though the number of casualties was smaller, in many ways for Britain the biggest and most horrific anniversary is that of the Brighton bomb in 1984. Aimed to kill the Prime Minister and any member of the Cabinet that got in the way, it did kill 4 people and injure many more, some, like Lady Tebbit, permanently.
Miraculously, the Prime Minister survived and came out to address briskly the assembled media. It was a frightening day for many of us.
It only needs to be added that the perpetrators were caught, tried and sentenced only to be released as part of the dubious peace process.
On a more cheerful personal note: Tory Historian will be away for a week or so, visiting Constantinople or Istanbul, depending on which bit of history you happen to approve of.
Tory Historian has been reading about social mobility in Victorian England. The book in question is Kathryn Hughes’s biography of Mrs Beeton, author of that famous cookery book and manual of domestic arrangements. It seems to have been one of those biographies that Eng.Lit. reviewers liked more than readers if the comments on Amazon are anything to go by – lukewarm at best.
Indeed, the book is probably a little too long. Ms Hughes is given to padding. Writing about the fact that the Mayson-Dorling family (Isabella’s mother and step-father who had 21 children between them and jointly) decided to send the girls to a boarding school in Heidelberg that provided a better education than anything they might have found in England at the time and that certain families that had been the Maysons’ neighbours in the City did the same, she writes:
This decision of friends and neighbours to send their daughters to the same school on the other side of Europe might seem quaint to modern eyes but it made sense.She then proceeds to enumerate the various ways in which it made sense and, indeed, she is right: it did make sense. But there is a great deal too much of this condescension at the expense of the early Victorians and inhabitants of early nineteenth-century England with too many comments about how odd it must all seem to modern eyes. One must assume that a person who has decided to read about Mrs Beeton is not going to be too astounded by the fact that the world was a somewhat different place 150 or 200 years ago.
Speculating on what the girls might have been doing when they were not being put through their severe curriculum, Ms Hughes surmises that they must have spent their Sundays trailing up to the castle. Um, maybe. Then again, they may have gone to church and for walks or done botanizing – a favourite occupation of the time – or allowed out to the town’s cafes under proper chaperonage. Who knows?
Is there really any need for the following piece of padding?
In the midst of all this chocolate box prettiness it is worth remembering the odd fact that by the time the last of these quaint young ladies had died – Isabella’s sister Esther Mayson, as it turned out, in 1931 – Hitler was only two years away from becoming Chancellor and the infamous Nazification of Heidelberg University was on its way.Actually, it is not worth remembering at all in the particular circumstances of trying to understand how several Victorian families chose to educate their daughters. The chocolate box prettiness is introduced quite gratuitously by Ms Hughes and the young ladies in question can be regarded as quaint only if we take the rather bizarre view that whatever we see around us at this moment is the absolute norm. Surely, no historian or biographer can think that way.
Tory Historian is beginning to think that the ordinary commenters on Amazon were nearer the mark than the EngLit critics in the various newspapers and magazines.
As to the theory, based on Nancy Spain’s guesswork that Sam Beeton probably had syphilis and infected his wife on their honeymoon – Tory Historian has not read far enough to find out how well founded the guess is.
Of greater interest are the early descriptions of the various parts of Isabella Beeton’s family – haven’t reached Sam’s yet – rising rapidly through early Victorian society in a way that would have been very difficult at best in a pre-industrial age.
Isabella’s grandfather, the Rev. John Mayson was an intelligent son of a farmer who was educated at school till the age of 14 and then somehow (he is lost from sight for many years) managed to become a curate. At that position he stayed for most of his career because of lack of social contact and, presumably, formal education. He became a vicar towards the end of his life because the man at whose disposal the living was temporarily had no member of the family to whom he could give it.
John Mayson’s surviving son Benjamin, on the other hand, made a spectacular career through the cotton industry, becoming a well-off warehouseman and agent in the City of London. Had he lived longer he, too, would have been able to give his children a very good education.
Elizabeth Jerrom, the woman whom Benjamin Mayson would marry, was born on 24 May 1815, three weeks before the great victory of Waterloo. Her parents Isaac and Mary were domestic servants working for one of the big houses around Marylebone, part of the feverish development of gracious squares that had been built towards the end of the last century to house the newer aristocracy during the ‘London’ part of their wandering year. When the couple had married eleven months earlier at St Martin-in-the-Fields, they had signed the register clearly, confident in themselves and their new merged identity. The same, though, cannot be said of their witnesses. William Standage, Mary’s father, has done his best but the sprawling scratch he makes in the register is indecipherable: underneath the parish clerk has been obliged – tactfully, crossly? – to write out his name properly, for the record. Mrs Beeton is only twenty years away from people who would have been happier signing themselves with a cross.William Standage was, in fact, a highly prized and very well paid groom to the Duke of Richmond and horses figure a great deal in Isabella Beeton’s family. Isaac and Mary Jerrom did very well in the changing new world that Ms Hughes is slightly disdainful of (clerks and shop girls careering round the City in cabs – faugh!). Isaac kept a livery stable, hiring out horses and coaches to those who could not afford their own and ran a hackney cab business. Mary ran a respectable lodging house – a not infrequent combination at the time, which made a good deal of sense.
Elizabeth Mayson was widowed young and, left with four small children, she married a close friend of the family, whose own wife had died some months previously in childbirth (an all too frequent tale). Henry Dorling was second generation of an upwardly mobile family. His father William had moved his small printing business from Bexhill to Epsom, where he gradually expanded it and took over more and more of the town and its biggest business, the annual Derby Day race, in the process cleaning up what was a financially and legally dubious business before that.
Henry Dorling continued in his footsteps, gradually becoming the most important man in the town and almost the sole controller of the Epsom race course. The fact that he could spend a good deal money on the education of his daughters and step-daughters as well as the boys in the family attests to his wealth and his imagination.
There are many other interesting details about the various families in the book, which Tory Historian does recommend, despite the author’s irritating habits. What is worth remembering as one reads through this early whirlwind activity and social mobility is that Isabella Beeton’s journalism in the “Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine” and other periodicals as well as her monumental “Book of Household Management” was meant for people like her and her family: upwardly mobile, perhaps a little uncertain of their social position, in need of guidance as to how to behave and run a household.
September 28, 1745 was when God Save the King (you see, there was a reason for that title) was sung for the first time after a performance of Ben Jonson’s “The Alchemist” at the Drury Lane Theatre. The tune was Thomas Arne’s.
In the middle of the Jacobite rebellion (or the forty-five as “1066 and All That” refers to it) patriotic fervour was rife in London. After this night it was sung by “the Gentlemen of the House” every night.
This website, Know Britain, tells an interesting detail. The original song, not yet the National Anthem, more by way of prayer for the safety of the Monarchy and the realm, included the following verse:
Lord, grant that Marshal Wade,
May by thy mighty aid,
May he sedition hush and like a torrent rush,
Rebellious Scots to crush,
God save the King.
Inevitably, the story of where the tune comes from has been the source of much discussion and debate, as this Wikipedia entry outlines. The same entry gives a detailed history of its acceptance as the National Anthem and the influence it has had on the national music of other countries, English-speaking or not.
Sadly, we all seem to be writing far too many obituaries these days. The old generation is going. Tory Historian, on the whole, is not in particular sympathy with Lord Gilmour’s “wet” politics, while recognizing that his rather paternalistic “one nation conservatism” does have a serious historical background and a following in the party.
In fact, one might say that a good many of those wet policies are now the policies of the Conservative leadership, though we have yet to see how attractive the electorate will find them.
Having read the excellent and exhaustive obituary in the Daily Telegraph, with an excellent photograph that conveys the man’s personality in one shot, Tory Historian is left with something of a puzzle.
What exactly motivated Sir Ian Gilmour, later Lord Gilmour of Craigmillar? Was it noblesse oblige? Was it a feeling of distaste for the commonness of the new Conservative Party with people like Margaret Thatcher and Norman Tebbit in charge? Surely not.
How is it that he managed to find himself on the wrong side in every debate, except one? For some incomprehensible reason he was quite tough in Cold War politics, while you would expect him to try to find compromises and see good things in the Soviet leadership. But he did not and that is greatly to his honour. Not much else is.
No need to despair: the next issue of the Conservative History Journal has gone to the printer and will be ready for the Party Conference with subscribers receiving their copies after that. More copies will be available from the Conservative History Group.
It is full of goodies, including two cartoons of the Suez Group, one by Vicky, that have not been published for fifty years or more and are the property of Lady Biggs-Davison, the widow of one member of the rebellious group, Sir John Biggs-Davison.
Then there is an article by Alistair Cooke on one of the dames formidables of the Conservative Party, an early organizer (as women could not, at that time, be agents), who ensured that Ramsay Macdonald was re-elected in 1931.
There is an interview with Jonathan Aitken by Mark Coalter, a regular contributor to the Journal with Aitken telling entertaining stories about the 1963 Conservative Party Conference; a piece about the Ukrainian-born MP, Josef Terlezki; two articles with relevance to the present situation, one about the eighteenth century Scottish Prime Minister, Earl of Bute and the other about Anthony Eden’s long wait to inherit Churchill’s mantle. Eden was not, perhaps, the most successful of our twentieth century Prime Ministers.
And, as they say, much, much more.
This is not the forum for discussion of present Conservative Party policy and, in any case, it would be invidious to single out one of the policy commission reports. So Tory Historian prefers to quote from an account of the first few settlements in New England.
This comes from a book Tory Historian has been reading, David Gelernter’s “Americanism – the Fourth Great Western Religion”. This is a fascinating book whose thesis is clear from the title. Gelernter argues that American or American Zionism (not to be confused with the political Zionism of Jewish nationalism) grew out of English Puritanism.
At some later stage there will be a more detailed posting on the book. In the meantime, here is an account of the early Plymouth Plantation, based on that written by William Bradford, the second Governor.
During its first two planting seasons, however, Plymouth Plantation was a farming commune: everyone worked at food production and community chores; the results were doled out to each Pilgrim family according to need. It was pure socialism.Well, well. How many times has that idea been proved to be false since those days in Plymouth Plantation? And yet, some people still believe in it, as long as they are not affected themselves.
But the results were catastrophic. And so “at length,” Bradford writes, the governor (namely himself) “gave way that they should set corn every man for his own particular,” in other words for his own household, “and in that regard trust to themselves”. Bradford “assigned to every family a parcel of land, according to the proportion of their number … This had very much good success, for it made all hands very industrious.” The result proved the falseness of the idea “that the taking away of property and bringing in community into a commonwealth would make them happy and flourishing”.
On the grounds that conservatives must always rejoice in tyrants’ ends, this is a day to be celebrated as the anniversary of Mao Zedong’s death in 1976. We still do not know exactly how many millions of deaths he was responsible for but information is slowly emerging.
Nor can we compute the tens, if not hundreds, of millions of broken lives, bodies and souls; the attempted (thankfully failed) destruction of a great culture; the economic and political catastrophe that the Chinese and through them others still have to deal with.
Then there are the nauseating Western supporters of Mao, all in the comfort of their “despicable” capitalist societies. The sun is shining, the world seems quite a decent place (just quite, you understand) so, perhaps, the less said about them, the better.
Tory Historian has been reading Robert Conquest's latest book (some more are in the pipeline) "The Dragons of Expectation", which is subtitled "Reality and Delusion in the Course of History". Professor Conquest is a man of many parts, a noted Sovietologist and historian, poet, novelist, literary critic and political analyst.
The essays in this book range widely from discussion of the Soviet Union, communism and its misguided supporters in the West to discussions of the state of modern art. There is even a long poem, entitled "Reconnaissance", that summarizes the author's views of the world and the universe.
One particular idea struck Tory Historian as being of great interest (actually, there were others but these will be discussed in other postings):
In the eighteenth century, the English enlighteners, if you wish to call them that, debated in pubs and clubs and homes, the French in châteaux and salons and academies. In politics, there could scarcely be two "activists" more different than John Wilkes and, say, Condorcet.In a way this idea is a continuation of Shakespeare's comparisons as seen in Henry V but, naturally, enough the play was more or a propaganda.
Earlier, Voltair and others validated the British experience, but in the long run it was the theorists and emotionalists who triumphed mentally in Paris.
The French, and European, Enlightenment thus emerged not on the absis of a political class or political institutions, but from minds more or less bombinating in a vacuum.
The two cultures can accept a measure of spillover from each other, as with parts of the U.S. Constitution. So if we speak of the two traditions as muturally exclusive we are only generalizing. Still, the historical or historico-cultural difference stands.
Tory Historian took advantage of the NFT’s Laurence Olivier season in which “Henry V” has been given pride of place with a certain number of disclaimers by critics who, over the years, have had to acknowledge with pursed lips that, despite its heroism and emphasis on patriotism, the film is superb. Some of us might think that contrariwise, the heroism and patriotism add to the quality of the film but that is probably why we are not film critics.
Made during the war, with Olivier taking time out from his service with Fleet Air Arm, it does emphasise patriotic ideals, in particular ideals of England. As it happens, none of that was invented by the film-makers – the lines, the images, the concepts are there in Shakespeare’s play, which is what makes them so interesting.
Cinematically the film is mesmerizing, beginning and ending with a panorama shot of Elizabethan London, carefully recreated from contemporary prints. Famously, Olivier accepted and incorporated into the film the sheer theatricality of the play. We start with a raucous performance of “The Chronicle History of King Henry the Fift with His Battell Fought at Agincourt in France”, during which the Chorus, played by Leslie Banks, urges us to expand the play in our imagination to take in England and France, and opens out first into the Boar’s Head Inn, where Falstaff is dying, then the two courts, the armies and the battles themselves. William Walton’s music spreads through the film.
The opened up scenes are not realistic in any sense, showing the castles, the fields, Princess Katharine’s enclosed garden and everybody’s costumes as illustrations from the Book of Hours. The faint artificiality of Technicolour adds to the imagery’s beauty.
There is, throughout the play, an image of England and of the English King that is essentially different from France. The French King is not an unattractive personality but he is weak and has been buffeted by history. The Dauphin is a fool and a braggart, a man who causes trouble through his thoughtlessness. The French nobles have no link with the people. The only truly attractive character is the Herald as he becomes more and more impressed by Henry.
England, on the other hand, is its people; the King is the King of all and the yeomen are as important if not, indeed, more important than the nobles. Although, the core of the play is England as reality and as idea, there is a kind of a proto-Union in the delightful vignette of the four captains: Gower, Fluellen, Jamy and McMorris, representing the four parts of it. They dispute, quarrel and drink together and there is an undying link between them.
In the night before the battle, the French nobles and the Dauphin sit in their own tent and alternate between dismal premonition and braggadocio. The Dauphin, spends not a minute of his time on his troops – they are there to serve him and the nobles. If anything is mourned it is the destruction of its flower at Crecy, though the lesson of that has not been learnt by anyone except the King of France. The heavy and heavily decorated armour in which the knights have themselves mounted onto their unfortunate horses symbolizes France in the same way as swiftness, lightness and, above all, ingenuity symbolize England.
In the night before the battle, Henry leaves his nobles without a single complaint from them, puts on a cloak and walks through the camp, making sure he visits every tent (“a touch of Harry in the night”). He talks to soldiers as well as captains; he listens to their complaints and to their fears; he meditates on the duties and responsibilities of kingship, in some ways echoing his own father’s thoughts on the head that wears the crown lying uneasily. Of course, he does not have his father’s bad conscience, having inherited rather than usurped his position. Nevertheless, he acknowledges his responsibility for whatever horrors might come in the morning.
There is an interesting discussion between two soldiers in which one expresses the view that if the King’s cause be wrong (the very fact that an ordinary soldier can think such a thing is astonishing) he will pay a heavy price for the battle and its outcome:
I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing when blood is their argument?To which another soldier, one who is considerably more rebellious in his attitude to the King, replies:
Every subject's duty is the king's; but every subject's soul is his own.Henry hears it all and thinks his own heavy thoughts.
His prayer at dawn is interesting. He does not pray for victory but for his soldiers to lose their fears:
O God of battles! steel my soldiers' hearts;When he addresses his troops he addresses them all on both occasions. They are all his friends, his brothers:
Possess them not with fear; take from them now
The sense of reckoning, if the opposèd numbers
Pluck their hearts from them.
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me(The film uses the alternative reading of “base” instead of “vile”.)
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile
This day shall gentle his condition:
The battle is won by the yeomen archers and their craft as much as by the outnumbered nobles and the image of England as the land where all are one and the King is at one with all, is complete.
As a coda one sees Henry wooing the French Princess Katharine, who is obviously greatly taken by him, telling her that he is a plain speaking English soldier, who loves her but who will not produce flowery language for her sake. She must take him as he is but as he is he will be hers. This is a wonderful English theme, developed by numerous writers in subsequent centuries.
Of particular interest is Olivier’s Churchillian pronunciation of a few French sentences, which must have been treasured by those who understood the joke.
Olivier’s King Harry shows the actor to be a remarkable film director and producer as well as the greatest Shakespearian actor of the twentieth century. He may not have had Gielgud’s mellifluous and mesmerizing voice but he could say those lines as if they were a natural way of talking. Who can rival that even now?
“Henry V” was most probably written and first performed in 1599, only a decade after England had withstood and triumphed over a great danger from Spain, in the middle of yet another Irish rebellion and a time when folk memory could still recall accounts of the century long civil war that preceded the Tudors. A look across the Channel would have shown countries where civil warfare seemed almost endemic.
Olivier’s film was made at a time when Britain (or England) was once again in danger and the people were united behind the leader (with some very loud grumbling in the ranks).
There have been numerous interpretations of Shakespeare’s attitude to war – was he glorifying it and praising Essex’s incompetent attempt to subdue Tyrone’s rebellion (probably, if he knew which side his bread was buttered on) or undermining it by the presence of such contemptible braggarts as Pistol and cowardly thieves like Bardolph and Nym? The answer, one suspects, is both, which is a happy thought for all those critics and producers. How else could they pretend that they understand what Will said than Will did himself?
The film is on for a few more days.
By now most of our readers (certainly, on this side of the Pond) would have heard of the death of Lord Biffen of Tanat. He was 76 and has been seriously ill for some time.
His name would be familiar to anyone who is interested in the Thatcher premiership. The BBC sums up his career as follows:
Lord Biffen had been the MP for Oswestry from 1961 to 1983 when he won a by-election, then for Shropshire North from 1983 to 1997 when he was given a peerage.He was a man of strong principles, a true free-marketeer, a eurosceptic, one who stood by his ideas and, in some ways, managed to rise above party politics. This, of course, can be seen as sinking below party loyalties. Biffen was, famously, sacked from the Cabinet in 1987, having been described by Bernard Ingham as being semi-detached.
He became chief secretary to the Treasury in 1979, moving on to be trade secretary in 1981 and then leader of the House of Commons until 1987.
John Biffen’s own description of Margaret Thatcher was that “she was a tigress surrounded by hamsters”.
In the House of Lords, to which he was elevated in 1997 he was a notable, almost brooding presence, taking a habitual strong line on the Treaties of Amsterdam and Nice, until his illness prevented him from coming to London.
Below is a tribute paid to him by his successor as MP for Shropshire North, Owen Paterson:
John Biffen was an exceptional man. He was MP for North Shropshire for thirty five years and people of all parties and all interests owe him a great debt. He was greatly admired as a constituency MP for his conscientious hard work, his judgement and his kindness to all, regardless of their political affiliation.Tory Historian can add nothing more to that.
On the national stage, he was first and foremost a great Parliamentarian, still remembered as one of the finest Leaders of the House of the last fifty years. Liked and respected by both friends and opponents, he handled the House with fairness and a deft sense of humour. He was a staunch believer in the sovereignty of the House of Commons.
He played a key role in the revival of the Conservative Party’s fortunes in the 1970s as a member of Margaret Thatcher's inner circle, rethinking and developing the policies that led to eighteen years of Conservative Government and the transformation of Great Britain.However, to the end he was brave and independent-minded, never afraid to part company with the party line if he believed it to be wrong.
My thoughts go out to his wife Sarah and his stepchildren Lucy and Nicholas. She has always been a tower of strength and in particular, has looked after him with unfailing care in recent years as his health declined.
An interesting analysis of the position of the conservative academic in Britain and the United States by Professor Jeremy Black. Most of it, I am glad to say, is not yet anothe complaint about the difficulties of academic life but there is not enough on the most difficult subject of all - financing of universities. Worth reading, though.
Tory Historian's duty would not be fulfilled if there were no mention of the England World Cup win on July 30, 1966. Not a particularly conservative occasion, unless we count the game (actually it is not all that beautiful) one of this country's traditions, as it happened under a Labour government who proceeded to take credit for it. Harold Wilson was a spin doctor on a level to which Tony Blair can only aspire.
Let the row about those two goals begin. Tory Historian will take no part, though remembers watching the game.
The anniversary is sandwiched between two that appeal to Tory Historian a great deal more. July 29, 1588 was when the Spanish Armada was sighted off the coast of Cornwall and the English fleet under Admiral Howard and Sir Francis Drake (who had, presumably, finished his game of bowls) set out in pursuit.
July 31, 1667 is an even more important date for England and the Anglosphere. The Second Anglo-Dutch War ended with the Treaty of Breda. The Dutch lost Delaware and New Jersey and New Amsterdam was renamed New York. The Dutch empire in North America did not happen.
The BBC has its uses. Not many, admittedly, but it is useful to find out that July 22 is the anniversary of Sir Alec Douglas-Home's resignation from the Conservative Party leadership.
It seems many MPs were surprised by his decision, taken during a week-end in Scotland, and blamed the relentless campaign conducted against him by the media. Hmmm. Sounds vaguely familiar.
Sir Alec was lambasted for being a toff, for having mild manners, for seeming out of date, for being an idiot. The first two were certainly true. What the media could not explain was why a toff with mild manners who is completely out of date and is also an idiot nearly managed to swing the election in the Conservatives' favour, after a number of unpleasant scandals, and as the next Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, liked to say, "thirteen years of Tory misrule and incompetence".
Sir Alec's successor was to be chosen by an electoral procedure, for the first time in the Party's history, a procedure put into place by him. The two main candidates were Reginald Maudling and Edward Heath. When asked, Sir Alec refused to offer support to either and explained that he would be happy to serve the Party in any capacity under any ruler. I don't recall his successor making such promises.
There are some people in history who fill Tory Historian with a deep sense of inadequacy (OK, less of that sniggering at the back).
Today's birthday boy, Sir Kenelm Digby, is one of them. A man, who managed to be a Catholic, an Anglican and a Catholic again; a courtier to Charles I and Charles II but also an emissary from Oliver Cromwell to the Papacy; a sailor, politician, dueller, scientist (one of the earliest members of the Royal Society); a famous husband and widower of a lady of doubtful virtue, Venetia Stanley; he was also a man interested in cooking, spirit-making, preserving, candying and the creation of lotions and potions.
His recipes were collected after his death by a servant and the ‘The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digbie Kt Opened: Whereby is Discovered Several ways for making of Metheglin, Sider, Cherry-Wine, &c. together with Excellent Directions for Cookery: As also for Preserving, Conserving, Candying, &c.’ has remained one of the most entrancing historical cookery books in the English language.
Sir Thomas More, former Chancellor of England and particular friend of Henry VIII’s was executed on July 6, though it is not clear from the accounts whether this is according to the Julian or the Gregorian calendar.
More was, as mentioned in a previous posting, one of the people who had helped to create the malign image of Richard III, undoubtedly because of his loyalty to the Tudor dynasty or, at least, Henry VIII.
Tory Historian recalls teaching history of political thought to some students many years ago, in the course of which Thomas More’s “Utopia” was discussed and being somewhat astounded to read an essay in which the student in question maintained that it was that rather turgid novel that brought about the author’s fall from favour and eventual demise. That would have been an interesting theory to propagate.
It is worth remembering that More remained loyal to the King for a very long time, even accepting that Parliament had the right to proclaim Anne Boleyn as Queen. It was the need to swear to the Act of Succession and, above all, the Act of Supremacy that put the King at the head of the English church that he found impossible to square with his conscience.
More was, in many ways, a much more interesting character than the one in Robert Bolt’s play, “A Man for All Seasons”, even as portrayed by the great Paul Scofield. A learned man, an enlightened man, a humanist, he was, nevertheless, ferocious in his hunt of all “heretics” and determined that they should suffer torment on earth as a foretaste of eternal torment in hell.
Tory Historian, being an Anglospherist, takes the view that the Declaration of Independence and the subsequent war was, in actual fact, another civil war within the English commonwealth, the last act of that struggle between autocracy and liberty that started in the 1640s and continued through the 1680s.
A recent book by Michael Barone, the well-known American political analyst, “Our First Revolution”, deals with that theme through a history and discussion of the 1688 Revolution.
Here we run into a difficulty for it was a Whig Revolution. In the case of the American Revolution, political opinion was divided in Britain not according to party lines in so far as there were set political parties at the time. The great hero of conservative thought, Edmund Buke, famously supported the colonists. Others, such as Dr Johnson, were more sceptical, to put it mildly.
How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?Given the important part played by Virginia plantation owners in those events of 1776, this remains an important and hard to answer question.
For all of that few can resist the words of that Declaration:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.James Rummel defines Fourth of July on Chicagoboyz while Rick Moran on Right Wing Nuthouse “liveblogs” from the Continental Congress.
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. —
Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
Tory Historian intended to put up a couple of serious conservative quotes but found the following two comments from P. J. O'Rourke:
You say we [reporters] are distracting from the business of government. Well, I hope so. Distracting a politician from governing is like distracting a bear from eating your baby.I am not sure bears on this side of the Pond do eat babies but the sentiment is impeccable. How about this:
There is only one basic human right, the right to do as you damn well please. And with it comes the only basic human duty, the duty to take the consequences.Tory Historian is expecting lots of angry comments.
Today is the anniversary of the Duke of Gloucester, ascending the throne no more legitimately than his immediate predecessors or his successor, as Richard III.
The details of his reign are less important than the propaganda that has blackened his name since the sixteenth century on. He is regarded as a usurper (as were Henry IV, Edward IV and Henry VII) and a man who disposed of all his opponents (as did all the Lancastrians, Yorkists and, particularly, the two first Tudors). In particular, he is seen as the murderer of his two nephews, the Princes in the Tower. Available evidence on that deed (again, hardly unusual for the period) points as much to Henry VII as the villain as to Richard III.
Ah but Henry VII, who had no rights to the throne whatsoever and he knew it, won the war, had himself crowned and, just as his son, systematically disposed of anybody and everybody who might have had a better claim and who simply opposed him. The two Henrys were considerably more efficient than Richard in this respoect and they and their dynasty, consequently, survived.
It is not the various political innovations that were truly the Tudors' achievement, as much of that had been started by the Yorkist kings, but by the efficient and skilful use of propaganda.
The court historian Polydore Virgil, the courtier (until his coscience got the better of him) Sir Thomas More and the playwright who knew which side his bread was buttered on, William Shakespeare produced a vivid but villainous figure of the evil, monstrous, hunchbacked usurper.
Interestingly enough the whole Shakespearian sequence of the Wars of the Roses is considerably more balanced than the last play in it and it is notable that Shakespeare never managed a play about Henry VII. In fact, the worst episode in the entire cycle is the murder of the Rutland, the Duke of York's youngest son and the witch-like Queen Margaret's taunting of the captured general with a napkin dipped in the boy's blood. Margaret, herself responsible for much of the trouble that undermined Henry VI's reign, is, of course, a Lancastrian.
Once we get to the last play, Richard III, all nuances disappear and one can see why. The Tudors were, rightly, uncertain of their rights to the throne and had to paint their immediate predecessor as a usurper.
The first two Tudor kings were not precisely popular and their memory, even in Elizabeth's day, was far from rosy so the immediate predecessor had to be a double-dyed villain. And so he has remained largely to this day though not for all. In Tory Historian's view the best analysis of the problem of the Princes in the Tower is in a novel, Josephine Tey's "Daughter of Time".
We all know that science does not develop in a straight line. Well, most of us know that. We also know that consensus in science is not necessarily a good thing. In fact, consensus in science is almost always wrong. Think Galileo, Louis Pasteur and Joseph Lister among many others.
Do we know, however, how very complicated scientists' attitudes are to the world around them? An interesting example has appeared on Tory Historian's horizon.
Three-century-old manuscripts by Isaac Newton calculating the exact date of the apocalypse, detailing the precise dimensions of the ancient temple in Jerusalem and interpreting passages of the Bible — exhibited this week for the first time — lay bare the little-known religious intensity of a man many consider history's greatest scientist.That would be Isaac Newton who was one of the greatest and most revolutionary scientists in the age of enlightenment, which truly wrenched historical development out of its accustomed groove. Well, well, well. You just never know.
Newton, who died 280 years ago, is known for laying much of the groundwork for modern physics, astronomy, math and optics. But in a new Jerusalem exhibit, he appears as a scholar of deep faith who also found time to write on Jewish law — even penning a few phrases in careful Hebrew letters — and combing the Old Testament's Book of Daniel for clues about the world's end.
The Serjeant at Arms has unfortunately notified us of a change of venue for the Douglas Hurd meeting tomorrow (Tuesday) starting at 6.30pm. If you are attending, please note that the event will now take place in Committee Room 17 (which I think is in the Upper Committee Room Corridor) in the main building of the House of Commons. For those coming from outside, please enter the building via the St Stephens Entrance. Please allow enough time to get through security. Do NOT try to enter the building via Portcullis House.
Tory Historian is covered in shame. Call for the sackcloth and those ashes. This blog did not mention the ending of the Falklands War with the surrender of the Argentine forces on June 15. Oh the shame of it! No, Tory Historian has no excuse.
Instead, there are a couple of pictures. One of our lads celebrating in the Falklands 25 years ago and one of the fly-past today in London. Tory Historian was fortunate enough to see the helicopter fly-past (was Prince Andrew piloting one of them?) but, sadly, not the Red Arrows. Sigh. Maybe next time.
Of course there can be no doubting of John Buchan as a Conservative. He was one of Lord Milner’s young men; he was a great Empire man, believing in its future as well as its past; he was, of course, a Unionist; he was Scottish Unionist MP for Edinburgh University from 1927 to 1935.
Beyond that he was a man who believed in public life, in ambition, in bettering oneself for one’s own good and that of one’s country. A son of the manse, he became a successful lawyer, writer, politician and, finally, Governor-General of Canada.
The question of whether he was a Tory or not arose in Tory Historian’s mind on re-reading the splendid “Huntingtower”, first of the Dickson McCunn stories. Mr McCunn is a highly successful Glasgow grocer, who sells his business and retires at the beginning of the novel.
Being an incurable romantic he decides to celebrate the beginning of his retirement by a jaunt and runs into remarkable adventures that severely test his intellectual and physical stamina. The adventures involve a Russian princess on the run from a particularly evil Bolshevik who had been a rather unpleasant Tsarist officer, the Tsar’s jewels (though this is a side issue), an English poet by name of John Heritage, Sir Archie Roylance, one of Buchan’s reappearing heroes, slightly lame as a result of dare-devil behaviour as a Great War pilot and, above all, the Gorbals Die-Hards.
The latter is a group of tough boys who live on the streets and survive by their wits until they are taken under Mr McCunn’s wing. Uncared for and discarded by society they show their courage, intelligence and superlative morals in the fight for Princess Saskia.
The novel, like many others by Buchan, have little time for authorities. The police in “Huntingtower”, as everyone keeps repeating are of little use and will arrive too late as they always do. It is up to the disparate individuals to win the tremendous battle with the forces of evil. They do so through steadfastness and intelligence, although they are severely outnumbered.
It is not society or the authorities who understand the goodness of the Gorbals Die-Hards but a particular individual, himself a grocer, a bourgeois, not a man highly regarded by the average Tory squire but greatly admired by Buchan.
Nor are the views about the Russian Revolution expressed in the book entirely what one would expect. The Bolsheviks are power-crazed criminals but the worst of them had had a bad reputation in Bokhara in 1912 as Archie Roylance makes it clear. He is simply evil and goes with whoever will let him exercise control. (Oddly enough, there is a note of compassion even for him.)
While Russia and Russians are seen as victims of the most terrible historical tragedy, there is a clear indication that Buchan and his characters feel strongly that the tragedy was brought about by the carelessness and thoughtlessness of the Russian aristocracy.
The man Saskia marries, the erstwhile Prince Alexis Nicolayevich, now Alexander Nicholson, an Australian engineer and budding businessman, makes it clear that he had left Russia because he was disgusted by the behaviour of his own class, going back only to fight in the War and then joining the Australian divisions. He it is, who explains to Saskia that Dickson McCunn, far from a figure of fun, is the real strength of a country and a nation. Russia will not become truly great until she has people like him. (Sadly, that remains true to this day.)
Interestingly enough, Richard Usborne, in his highly entertaining “Clubland Heroes” shows himself to be far more of a Tory than Buchan. In fact, he does not exactly like Buchan, partly because his were the “clean” adventure stories that parents and teachers always approved of but partly because of his tendency to write about outsiders who make good. Usborne prefers the upper class thugs of Sapper and Dornford Yates, characters who have long been forgotten, while in one form or another (usually the wrong one) Buchan’s heroes and heroines go on, appealing to generation after generation of readers.
On Tuesday 19 June the Conservative History Group is holding a speaker meeting at 6.30pm in the Grimond Room of Portcullis House at the House of Commons. Douglas Hurd will be talking about his new book on Sir Robert Peel, and Peel's relevance to the modern Conservative Party.
If you'd like to attend, and are not yet a member, please email iain AT iaindale DOT com
Tomorrow is the 150th anniversary of Sir Edward Elgar and the media is falling over itself to try to justify the fact that this serious and melodious composer remains so popular.
It is not just the Pomp and Circumstance Marches that are loved by many but his symphonies, "Dream of Gerontius", "Enigma Variations" and many others. He is loved by musicians and singers. In a recent article Dame Janet Baker wrote excitedly about the joy of singing in the "Dream of Gerontius", the glory of that wonderful music. Sir Georg Solti was a great advocate of Elgar's music; Sir John Barbirolli conducted him; other conductors found great riches there.
So what is the problem? Why this rather shame-faced apology by critics and columnists. Well, first of all, the very fact that the music is popular makes the man unacceptable to many of them. But, more importantly, there is the question of the Last Night of the Proms (boo, hiss) that rumbustious letting off of steam and display of high spirits that include a certain amount of singing of patriotic songs. Well, up with this we cannot put.
Anyone who has ever been to the Last Night or watched it on TV (the real Last Night not the rather silly extensions to Hyde Park and ever more cities in the UK) knows that it is not precisely ultra-nationalistic. It is jolly and happy and rousing, a party for those who had attended the concerts throughout the summer and paid serious attention to them. (Yes, I know other people go as well but they are not the real prommers.)
The Last Night as an institution was invented not by Sir Henry Wood but by Sir Malcolm Sargent, "Flash Harry" himself. It has been changed and refined over the years and every change is greeted with dismay by the faithful and every year that does not do away with "Land of Hope and Glory" or "Rule Britannia" invokes gloom among the self-righteous and trendy commentators who see nothing wrong about display of patriotism by almost any other country except Britain. The other exception is the United States.
Just like the Proms in general, with Nicholas Kenyon finally releasing his deadly grip on them, will continue to evolve and change and, one hopes, improve, so will the Last Night of the Proms that will retain much of its traditional character as well.
Behind it all, there will remain the inescapable figure of Sir Edward Elgar, a man whose music is loved by many, high and low, for many different reasons. Long may that continue.
On May 14, 1607 the Virginia Company explorers, 108 of them, landed on Jamestown Island. Their intent was to establish the Virginia English colony on the banks of the James river, 60 miles from the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. This is the real beginning of the history of what later became the United States of America and is now the sole real superpower in the world. It is also the beginning of the spread of Anglospheric ideas across the world.
This brief history tells an interesting tale of the settlement and its subsequent history. Tory Historian was particularly taken with the point that historians and archaeologists have discovered that probably the “gentlemen” and certainly the others worked hard to create the new colony and to make it successful.
The early history of English colonization of North America (an attempt to rival and overcome the Spanish, Portuguese and French colonizers, often by warfare) had a mixed history.
As it happens, Tory Historian visited the excellent British Museum exhibition, “A New World”. Astonishingly enough, this exhibition has not closed, which indicates some attempts at good timing on the part of Tory Historian, and is strongly to be recommended to anyone who happens to be in London.
The core of the exhibition is a selection of watercolours made by John White in what was called Virginia but is now North Carolina during several voyages there in the late sixteenth century. The man was interested in everything he saw: people, their habits, their buildings, the birds, plants and animals around them.
His paintings and John Harriot’s descriptions, reprinted subsequently on the Continent, influenced greatly the Old World’s view of the New World, particularly in England. John White’s influence went on as his paintings were copied and engraved for a long time.
He was interested in establishing an English colony in Chesapeake Bay, not far from where the Jamestown settlement was built eventually. However, when he took a number of potential settlers, including his daughter and son-in-law, matters did not work out well.
The second colony of Roanoke was founded in 1587 with John White as governor. Somewhat mysteriously, he was persuaded to return to England by the other settlers, for more supplies and more people. Having fitted out several ships he found that because of the threat of the Spanish Armada he could not leave the country until 1590.
When he finally reached Roanoke he found that the entire colony had disappeared with only the word “Croatan” carved on one of the posts as an indicator as to where the settlers might have gone to. Croatan was an island where, it was assumed, the Indians were still friendly towards the English settlers.
The “Lost Colony of Roanoke” has remained a mystery. Sir Walter Raleigh, who had been given the rights to “Virginia” by Queen Elizabeth found himself in disgrace, as well as without the necessary funds. So the attempts to establish an English colony were abandoned until King James and the Virginia Company.
On August 21, 1602, in a letter to Sir Robert Cecil, Raleigh expressed his undying faith in the overseas English Empire which he had attempted to establish, saying, ". . . I shall yet live to see it an English Nation."Not quite English, perhaps, but as the Queen expressed it on her recent visit, closely related.
It is not often that Tory Historian recommends extreme libertarian publications but this long essay by Murray Rothbard seemed interesting enough to recommend to readers of this blog.
With celebrations of the Act of Union and forthcoming celebrations (one hopes) of the Jamestown settlement, the Anglosphere and its various members are being discussed. Naturally, the American Revolutionary War, to some extent another English civil war, is an important part of that history.
Rothbard, the well known economist of the Austrian school, libertarian historian and philosopher, here analyzes the work of various modern historians who have looked at the American Revolution.
Tory Historian is due to attend a dinner this evening, which will celebrate the Act of Union that came into effect 300 years ago. (Actually, there may be a problem here because of the changes in the calendar but the wording says Ist Day of May, so that is when we celebrate it.) Among the speakers will be the Countess of Mar, whose ancestor, the 23rd Earl of Mar played a prominent part in bringint the union of the two parliaments and the creation of the new one. So the more interesting blog will come tomorrow. But it was not right that a day of such importance in this country's history should pass unnoted on this blog.
Commissioned portraits throughout history have, in one way or another, shown the social standing and political and cultural viewpoint of the sitter, whether it is done through the pose, the artfully arranged clothing or the extras in the painting – books, works of art, other implements such as swords or paintbrushes.
The recently closed exhibition at the Royal Academy, mentioned by Tory Historian before, “Citizens and Kings 1760 – 1830”, was of particular interest from this point of view, this being a period in which most political and social ideas were turned upside down. With it went many of the ideas of how to paint portraits.
Interestingly enough, the last of those was not entirely true. While Enlightenment ideas of greater emphasis on private and family life certainly took hold, attitudes to the correct way of posing and the correct understanding of aesthetic forms remained not dissimilar and, therefore, very different in Britain from the Continental ones.
On entering a room it is possible to pick out the English and Scottish paintings immediately, not just because Gainsborough, Lawrence and Reynolds are unmistakable or because there is a curious continuity about English physiognomy, but because of the attitude to and by the sitters.
No Continental painter, however hard he tried, could produce that odd feeling of relaxation and certainty that the British ones did. (It is important to remember that there were several extremely good Scottish portraitists at the time.) The one exception is Elisabeth Vigée LeBrun, who even managed to paint children credibly and certainly produced interesting portraits that were much discussed as the emphasis was on the likeness instead of the sitter’s position.
Even or, perhaps, especially the animals in British paintings are relaxed and certain of their position – it being the most important in the household as is clear from the dogs and horses one saw in the exhibition.
The curator of “Citizens and Kings 1760 -1830”, whose notes and explanations were, as is common with the Royal Academy, excellent, drew attention to an interesting comparison between royal portraits.
At the start of the period the Continental countries were largely absolutist monarchies with Britain being the only country where the King’s power was circumscribed by Parliament. This, he thought, may well have been the reason why Reynolds painted King George III and Queen Charlotte in far more relaxed poses than his contemporaries painted other monarchs.
Interestingly enough, George IV eschewed that attitude. The famous Lawrence portrait shows him in an almost Continental manner, bestriding his space, full of “empty pomp”, according to the curator, who is clearly not a Whig.
Looking at other portraits, Goya’s Ferdinand VII, for instance, or the various ones of Napoleon, one can see the difference between attitudes very clearly. In many ways, it is not the great imperial splendour of Napoleon or his appearance as conqueror of Europe that is particularly interesting but David’s portrait of him in the study at the end of a long night’s work “for the good of the French people”, as the curator sardonically notes.
Napoleon is always the ultimate romantic hero, despite his less than total love of freedom, but this portrait surpasses all others. He is in uniform as he is about to inspect a regiment, surrounded by charts and documents, including the Code Napoleon, still the basis of French law. The man who is full of pride and is, yet, ready to sacrifice himself for his country. As it happens, he sacrificed the country to his ambitions for it and himself. How very different from the relaxed view of George III and the stiff emptiness of George IV imitating the Continentals.