Well, one cat at the moment. One cat at a time. Tory Historian decided to spend some time in the British Museum this afternoon but the place was just a little packed. Saturday in half term may not be the best time for museum visits. And when, may we ask, will those long-promised European galleries be open?
A quick trip round some of the favourites and some mooching in the Enlightenment Gallery - full of surprises as ever - and a photograph of the Cat Bastet, otherwise known as the Gayer-Anderson cat after the man who donated her to the museum.
Recently some scientific work on the cat has shown that Colonel Gayer-Anderson probably mended a crack in the body and inserted a piece of steel into the head to keep the statue together, painting it green afterwards. A great deal more was established about the material from which the cat was made. And it has been known for a long time that the cat dates from a fairly late period: after 600 BC.
No amount of scientific work can deal with the extraordinary personality the statue possesses. Tory Historian is rather proud of the photograph. So much so that coffee and cake in the nearby London Review Bookshop was called for afterwards.
Tory Historian loves maps. Maps of any kind – black and white or coloured; political or geographical; historical or up-to-date ones. One of the most wonderful events in Tory Historian’s life was being allowed by that great personage, the librarian of the Royal Geographical Society, to handle and examine the first atlases ever made in the fifteenth and sixteenth century. Bliss!
History books need maps, travellers’ accounts need maps, biographies often need maps, even detective stories are better if there is a map or a chart with X marking the spot where the body was found.
So why are there no proper maps in Niall Ferguson’s “Empire”? There are nice pictures and lots of graphs – line graphs, block graphs, even pie-charts possibly, as Professor Ferguson is an economic historian but no proper big maps that show journeys, discoveries, battles, acquisitions? The odd small map of the British Caribbean or of the global telegraph network or a schematized, uninteresting chart of British Africa do not make up for the fact that one cannot follow Dr Livingstone’s various journeys, not even the really important ones.
What is the point of talking about Livingstone’s serious misunderstanding of what the Zambezi was really like if one cannot turn a page and chart the progress of his first and second expeditions?
How can one grasp what really happened during the American War of Independence without a map of the 13 colonies with battle lines carefully drawn?
Maps, we need more maps. Here is one for starters.
Browsing through the November edition (November? Where has the year gone to?) of History Today Tory Historian came across an article by Trea Martyn, who teaches history of gardening and has just published a book called “Elizabeth in the Garden”.
At the heart of the book is the horticultural rivalry for Queen Elizabeth’s favour between William Cecil, Lord Burleigh, whose chief gardener was the great herbalist John Gerard (c.1545 – 1612) and Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester. Gerard supervised Burleigh’s main garden in Theobalds Palace in Hertfordshire against which Leicester pitted his Italianate garden at Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire where he held a 19-day festivity for the Queen in 1575.
This is what Ms Martyn says about the great Queen herself:
Elizabeth inherited her interest in herbalism from her father, who had his own collection of herbal potions. She was fiercely opposed to physic (more akin to what we would now call conventional medicine), refusing to take it even when close to death. This gave her something in common with her people, most of whom relied on herbal remedies, if only because English physicians charged the highest fees in Europe.A few interesting points in that. Firstly, the reference to Henry VIII’s herbal potions is intriguing though one must remember that a great deal of all medicine was based on that in the sixteenth century with many theories about humours abounding. Indeed, further down Ms Martyn explains that the arguments between physicians and poor women who sold those potions were usually about money – the physicians wanted a monopoly.
Which brings one to the most entertaining point: English physicians charged the highest fee in Europe. Was that for the same herbal potions or for bleeding patients or for providing them with leeches? In the end, it all comes down to money rather than medical arguments.
Tory Historian possesses a number of old cookery books, alas mostly in reprinted or edited versions and they all have sections for all kinds of herbal and other potions and remedies. One of the most interesting “illnesses” is not really that but something called “green sickness” from which girls and young women suffered, especially towards the end of winter. The remedy was a drink laced with iron filings, created within the household, not bothering any physician. In other words, anaemia in young women and teenage girls was a widely recognized phenomenon and the remedy for it was also known.
Tory Historian is greatly taken by Niall Ferguson's "Empire - How Britain Made the Modern World" and has already done a posting on the somewhat ramshackle beginning of the Empire. (Interestingly, the American edition's subtitle is different: "The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and Lessons for Global Power".)
Moving along historically, this is what Professor Ferguson has to say at the end of his long chapter, entitled "Why Britain?", a question he does not precisely reply to. "Why", in Tory Historian's opinion is not the same as "how". But the "how" is fascinating.
In 1615 the British Isles had been an economically unremarakbale, politically fractious and strategially second-class entity. Two hundred years later Great Britain has acquired the largest empire the world had ever seen, encompassing forty-three colonies in five continents. The title of Patrick Colquhoun's Treatise on the Wealth, Power and Resources of the British Empire in Every Quarter of the Globe (1814) said it all. They had robbed the Spaniards, copied the Dutch, beaten the French and plundered the Indians. Now they ruled supreme.One could simply assume that late entrants are likely to profit by the mistakes of earlier players as well as their exhaustion, but that would hardly be an adequate explanation for it all.
Was all this done "in a fit of absence of mind"? Plainly not. From the reign of Elizabeth I onwards, there had been a sustained campaign to take over the empires of others.
Yet commerce and conquest by themselves would not have sufficed to achieve this, no matter what the strength of British financial and naval power. There had also to be colonization.
The robbing, beating and plundering was done by all, though, perhaps, the copying was a peculiarly sensible British innovation. In other words, Tory Historian is greatly looking forward to an answer to the question "why"?
This blog has not been forgotten. It's just that Tory Historian has been living in a series of rushes. There will be postings in a few hours.
… even though it has become very difficult to find copies without pictures of actors either from the 1981 TV series or the recent film on the cover. The film, “Brideshead Revisited”, has had more or less uniformly bad reviews on both sides of the Pond, comparison being made with the TV series that had started the careers of Jeremy Irons, Anthony Andrews and Diana Quick and featured such luminaries as Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud and Claire Bloom. It also featured another talented young actor, Nickolas Grace, but more of him anon.
The TV series is being touted as a gold standard against which the new film is being found wanted. No critic, so far as Tory Historian can make out, has made a reference to the book “Brideshead Revisited”, though Christopher Hitchins had a long article in the Guardian. In it he discussed, with great erudition, Waugh’s language, the Catholic aspects of the novel (Hitchens finds that a tad distasteful) and the significance of the Great War. He clearly finds the film very inferior and damns the TV series with faint praise:
The directors Charles Sturridge and Michael Lindsay-Hogg achieved their 1981 success by gorgeous photography, of course, and also by generally inspired casting. The locations, plainly, required little or no embellishment. And the music was suitably ... well, evocative. But most of all, they were faithful to Evelyn Waugh's beautiful dialogue and cadence, both in set-piece scenes and in sequences of languorous voice-over in Oxford and Venice and - perhaps decisively - in the opening passage, where the melancholic Captain Charles Ryder hears the almost healing word "Brideshead" spoken again: "a name that was so familiar to me, a conjuror's name of such magic power, that, at its ancient sound, the phantoms of those haunted late years began to take flight".In fact they were not as faithful to Evelyn Waugh’s undoubtedly beautiful dialogue as all that, allowing John Mortimer, the scriptwriter a good deal of freedom to write his own additions. Mortimer is a good writer but he is not in the Waugh class and has very different ways of using words and approaching themes. Quite often his additions were very clunky.
But there was gorgeous photography, evocative music, beautiful buidlings and scenery, wonderful clothes. In fact, the whole series concentrated on heritage nostalgia, making the plot and characterization too slow and too sentimental for the book.
The novel itself, underrated when it first appeared and dismissed as one of Waugh’s snobbish works, is now regarded as one of the great novels of the twentieth century, both as a description (not a very flattering one, which is another thing the dramatizers often miss) of a particular world and as a difficult moral fable. The dramatizations make it into a nostalgic romance in much the same way as recent dramatizations of Jane Austen’s novels turned those into Mills and Boon type romances.
Waugh, himself, would not have been surprised at this development. In a way, he predicted it through one of the characters in “Brideshead Revisited”. Anthony Blanche, played by the excellent Nickolas Grace in the TV dramatization but not emphasised nearly enough and, if the reviews are anything to judge by, downgraded quite severely in the film, is one of the most interesting personages in the book.
He does not appear much but he is the one who perceives matters more clearly than anyone else. Fittingly, the first time we see him, at Sebastian’s luncheon party, he declaims lines from the “Waste Land”:
And I, Tiresias, have foresuffered allIn his notes to the poem Eliot says:
Enacted on this same divan or bed;
Tiresias, although a mere spectator and not indeed a ‘character’, is yet the most important personage in the poem, uniting all the rest. … What Tiresias sees, in fact, is the substance of the poem.Anthony Blanche, in some ways, is the Tiresias of the novel, knowing and observing, and this includes the sexual conundrum: is he male or female, or might he be said to be both? He is, however, clear-sighted in his own, deliberatly absurd fashion, about the Flyte family and about art. Waugh always denied that Blanche was based on the aesthete and art historian Harold Acton, preferring to point to Brian Howard, a less well known and considerably less interesting personality, as the original.
Whatever the truth of that is, it is clear that Anthony Blanche is a true aesthete in the sense of understanding and appreciating art and artistic endeavour. He appears about four times in the book. The first time at Sebastian’s luncheon, where he makes a strong impression on Charles Ryder and recites the Tiresias lines to undergraduates who are off to do a spot of rowing.
Subsequently, he takes Charles out to dinner during which he tells the story of him being debagged by some rowdy undergraduates in excruciating and, probably, inaccurate detail. But, above all, he warns Charles against Sebastian, the Flyte family and, more generally, against “creamy English charm” that suffocates and destroys everything it touches, particularly artistic talent.
Charles is a little afraid of Anthony and disturbed by the remarkably accurate prediction of his own and Sebastian’s behaviour. Sebastian, on the other hand, rather unwisely dismisses Anthony as being a silly show-off.
There is another brief appearance when Blanche tells Charles that he had seen Sebastian in his travels; the latter has become effectively an alcoholic and has acquired a disreputable German companion, whom Charles later meets and dislikes.
The fourth and final appearance of Anthony Blanche is at a crucial moment in Charles Ryder’s life. Having become successful as a painter of country mansions, Charles finds that his talent is stultifying so he goes off to Central America to paint in the jungle. On the way back he meets Julia Flyte, now Mottram, and they begin their affair.
In London Charles exhibits his pictures, which the visitors to the private view find “barbaric” and “unhealthy”. Anthony turns up and carefully examines the paintings then takes Charles off to a louche place we would now call a gay bar and delivers his verdict. Charles Ryder the artist has been destroyed. His new paintings are nothing but “charm again, my dear, simple creamy English charm, playing tigers”.
His final comment before he dismisses Charles is quite chilling but appropriate to the dramatizations:
I took you out to dinner to warn you of charm. I warned you expressly and in great detail about the Flyte family. Charm is the great English blight. It does not exist outside these damp islands. It spots and kills anything it touches. It kills love, it kills art; I greatly fear, my dear Charles, it has killed you.The rest of the novel unfolds, mostly at Brideshead, around Charles’s affair with Julia and the rest of the surviving Flyte family to the dramatic high point of Lord Marchmain’s death and the consequent collapse of what was not perhaps the great love that Charles had imagined. There is no more mention of his work as an artist, though, presumably, he continues to paint.
The TV dramatization and, by all accounts, the film even more so prove Anthony Blanche’s point. That creamy charm has spotted and killed the great novel that Evelyn Waugh had written, at any rate for most people, and, it would seem, most critics. For many of us, though, the novel will remain and will overcome the blight. Well, one can hope.
Tory Historian has launched into Niall Ferguson’s highly praised “Empire” and found a fascinating analysis of how the British Empire began. Of course, the role of the privateers (pirates as far as the Spanish and the Portuguese were concerned) is well known.
English and Scottish explorers arrived in the New World a little late and could not find what they wanted – large amounts of gold that was enriching the King of Spain. Therefore, they acquired riches by raiding the Spanish and Portuguese ships and settlements, causing periodic small wars in Central and Southern America as well as the various islands.
On the other hand, it was a cheap way of finding new lands and of fighting the Spanish who had become a direct threat to England under Elizabeth. Send the ships out and let them earn their own keep. If they returned with gold and pearls a percentage went to the Queen. If not, they could take their chances.
The privateer (or pirate) Professor Ferguson spends some time on is the infamous Captain Henry Morgan who tried to terrorize Spanish settlements in present-day Cuba, Panama and a few other places. As Professor Ferguson points out:
The scale of such operations should not be exaggerated. Often the vessels involved were little more than rowing boats; the biggest ship Morgan had at his disposal in 1668 was no more than fifty feet long and had just eight guns. At most, they were disruptive to Spanish commerce. Yet they made him a rich man.The real point of interest is what Captain Morgan did with his money. He claimed to be a “gentleman’s son of good quality” from Monmouthshire. This was disputed by some and a Frenchman, Exquemlin, who had probably taken part in some of the raids, wrote an account of Captain Morgan’s career, in which he implied that the man had arrived in the Caribbean as an indentured servant. The book was published first in Dutch, then in English.
This, Captain Morgan felt, was an insult to him, though he did not mind the descriptions of what he and his men did during those raids. When “The History of the Bucaniers” came out in England, the good captain sued the publisher and was awarded £200. Subsequent editions of the book had to be amended. It just goes to show that libel tourism has a longer history than any of us knew.
Well, what did he do with his ill-gotten gains?
He invested in Jamaican rreal estate, acquiring 836 acres of land in the Rio Minho valley (Morgan’s Valley today). Later, he added 4,000 acres in the parish of St Elizabeth. The point about this land was that it was ideal for growing sugar cane. And this provides the key to a more general change in the nature of British overseas expansion. The Empire had begun with the stealing of gold; it progressed with the cultivation of sugar.The sugar duties brought the Crown substantial earnings and Jamaica became a prime economic asset that had to be defended. Fortifications were built to protect the harbour at Port Royal.
Significantly, the construction work at Port Royal was supervised by none other than Henry Morgan – now Sir Henry. Just a few years after his pirate raid on Gran Grenada, Morgan was now not merely a substantial planter, but also Vice-Admiral, Commandant of the Port Royal Regiment, Judge of the Admiralty Court, Justice of the peace and even Acting Governor of Jamaica.And so the greatest Empire the world has ever known began in this rather ramshackle fashion.
Once a licensed pirate, the freelance was now being employed to govern a colony. Admittedly, Morgan lost all his official posts in 1681, after making “repeated divers extravagant expressions …. in his wine. But this was an honourable retirement. When he died in August 1688 the ships in Port Royal harbour took turns to fire twenty-two gun salutes.
Last Tuesday saw the seventieth anniversary of Neville Chamberlain’s return from the Berchtersgarten negotiations with the infamous “piece of paper” in his hands. A good deal of ink has been spent over the years in discussions of the Munich agreement with surprisingly little in the way of new thinking rather than repetition of the old myth, started by Churchill, who was quite conscious of doing “poor old Neville” down and by the Labour Party in its dishonest “guilty men” campaign of 1945.
It is a little unfortunate that so many of today’s historians and writers are prepared to go along with that. Robert Self’s excellent biography that came out in 2006 does not seem to have challenged those widespread assumptions.
Let us be reasonable. In the autumn of 1938 neither Britain nor France was in a position to go to war with Germany. France was not in a position to do so even in 1939 – 40 and Britain did not exactly perform well in the first months of the war. Those who maintain that Chamberlain should have resisted Hitler, if necessary by declaring war, do not give any clear ideas as to what the country could have done, particularly as at that stage the Empire and the Dominions would not have given their support.
So, in reality, Chamberlain ensured that Britain did not lose the war against Germany and was much better equipped to fight when the inevitable time for it came. Tory Historian has to disagree with the great Andrew Roberts, who wrote in his article in the Daily Telegraph that
Although the Chamberlain Government had allowed Czechoslovakia to be abandoned and dismembered by the Munich agreement, it had (unwittingly, since Chamberlain had trusted Hitler) bought Britain and her Commonwealth nearly a year which they used to rearm.Rearmament had been going on for some time and Chamberlain was not so trusting of Hitler as to abandon it. Indeed, he remained proud even after his resignation from the premiership right up to his death soon after it that he had helped to make Britain more capable of fighting the war and, certainly, defending herself. There was nothing unwitting about that. Avoiding or, more likely, postponing war seemed like a good idea.
Two questions are of particular interest. One is how is it that Munich has become such a word of shame when, for example, Yalta, a far greater betrayal of allies who had fought with Britain and the United States, is usually cited as an example of statesmanly conduct on the part of the two Western leaders. (The role of Soviet agents like Alger Hiss, in the background, is rarely mentioned.)
People who urge appeasement at every possible opportunity still fulminate when the word Munich is mentioned and weep crocodile tears over the unfortunate Czechs, without once explaining what exactly Britain could have done in practical terms in 1938.
The other rarely asked question is what would have happened if the Czechoslovak armed forces had resisted the German invasion of Sudetenland in 1938. After all, whatever one may think about French or British obligations, surely the obligations of President Beneš’s government to defend their country were far greater. Yet they refused to give the order, preferring to blame the western powers for the greatest betrayal history had ever known.
Could they have fought with any possibility of success? Most assuredly. In their 1997 biography of Edvard Beneš the Czech historians Zbynĕk Zeman and Antonín Klimek wrote:
The prospect of going to war with Germany came as no surprise to the Czechoslovak government of the 1930s. Prague had, in fact, been preparing for war seriously for years: by some estimates, over half of all government spending from 1936 to 1938 was for military purposes. Much of this went towards the construction of an elaborate system of bunkers and other defences in the Sudetenland, the border region shared with Germany.Furthermore, it has been estimated that there were 200 fortified artillery batteries and 7,000 bunkers along the border. The Czechoslovak army was the third largest in Europe and a few days before the Munich Agreement 1.5 million people had been mobilized. The German mobilization of August 1938 resulted in 2 million people. In other words, this was not a titchy, badly prepared little force facing up to the might of Germany (at that time somewhat overestimated by Britain and France).
The Wikipedia entry on the occupation of Czechoslovakia says, for once reasonably accurately:
Czechoslovakia was a major manufacturer of machine guns, tanks, and artillery, and a highly modernized army. Many of these factories continued to produce Czech designs until factories were converted for German designs. Czechoslovakia also had other major manufacturing concerns. Entire steel and chemical factories were moved from Czechoslovakia and reassembled in Linz, Austria which, incidentally, remains a heavily industrialized sector of the country.Given that the less well armed, Polish army that was relying on a smaller industrial base and was also attacked by the Soviet army simultaneously with the German one managed to inflict a great deal of damage on the Wehrmacht in 1939, the Czechoslovak forces might well have tied up the German for a considerable length of time, making Hitler’s claim to the inevitability of victory seem hollow. Yet the order to fight never came and the mobilized men went home.
Undoubtedly, this caused anguish in the way Czechs viewed their multinational country and their government. The myth of the supreme treachery of Munich may well have buried some of those feelings but they do surface from time to time.
In the meantime, it might be a good idea for us to rethink our conventional wisdom.
Tory Historian finds that re-reading George Orwell's essays is a remarkably useful exercise as one always finds something new and something appropriate. It is also interesting to look out for Orwell's weak points in politics and literature.
Writing about propaganda, for instance, he rightly compares Soviet films about the Civil War in which the evil Whites are vanquished by the heroic Reds after a great deal of fighting and with many losses with Hollywood films where similar scenarios are played out on the opposite side. However, the films with heroic Reds, in Orwell's opinion, are more useful in the long run than the ones with heroic Whites. Admittedly, this was written before he recognized fully the evil of Communism but he remained a man of the left.
The essay that Tory Historian concentrated on this time was "Notes on Nationalism", written in 1945 and an excellent analysis of the intelligentsia and its political attitudes before and during the Second World War.
The whole piece is worth reading but here are two quotations that remain relevant:
It is curious to reflect that out of all "experts" of all the schools, there was not a single one who was able to foresee so likely an event as the Russo-German pact of 1939. [It is worth adding that Orwell always referred to Russia when he meant the Soviet Union and, also, that, as he himself acknowledges in a footnote, some conservative writers, such as Peter Drucker, did realize that there would be some kind of an alliance.] And when the news of the Pact broke, the most wildly divergent explanations of it were given, and predictions were made which were falsified almost immediately, being based in nearly every case not on a study of probabilities but on a desire to make the U.S.S.R. seem good or bad, strong or weak.The other quotation Tory Historian found particularly apt comes from the same essay in the discussion of political Catholicism, the precursor of Communism as the intelligentsia's nationalism of choice.
Political or military commentators, like astrologers, can survive almost any mistake, because their more devoted followers do not look to them for an appraisal of the facts but for the stimulation of nationalistitc loyalties.
Writing about G. K. Chesterton's later work Orwell points out that it consisted almost entirely of loud statements that demonstrated "beyond possibility of mistake the superiority of the Catholic over the Protestant or the pagan".
This was not enough:
But Chesterton was not content to think of his superiority as merely intellectual or spiritual: it had to be translated into terms of national prestige and military power, which entailed an ignorant idealization of the Lating countries, especially France. Chesterton had not lived long in France, and his picture of it - as a land of Catholic peasants incessantly singing the Marseillaise over glasses of red wine - had about as much relation to reality as Chu Chin Chow has to everyday life in Baghdad.One can argue about the literary merits of Chesterton's poems (Orwell is falling into the trap he so clearly describes of dismissing the literary merits of a work with which he disagrees) and, undoubtedly, Tennyson's can be used for pacifist arguments but the main argument remains as valid as ever.
And with this went not only an enormous overestimation of French military power (both before and after 1914 - 1918 he maintained that France, by itself, was stronger than Germany), but a silly and vulager glorification of the actual process of war. Chesterton's battle poems, such as Lepanto or The Ballad of Saint Barbara, make The Charge of the Light Brigade read like a pacifist tract:
they are perhas the most tawdry bits of bombast to be found in our language.
The interesting thing is that had the romantic rubbish which he habitually wrote about France and the French army been written by somebody else about Britain and the British army, he would have been the first to jeer.
In home politics he was a little Englander, a true hater of jiongoism and imperialism, and according to his lights a true friend of democracy. Yet when he looked outwards into the international field, he could forsake his principles without even noticing that he was doing so.
Thus, his almost mysical belief in the virtues of democracy did not prevent him from admiring Mussolini. Mussolini had destroyed the reperesentative government and the freedom of the Press for which Chesterton had struggled so hard at home, but Mussolini was an Italian and had made Italy strong, and that settled the matter.
There was nothing new about this curious juxtaposition of ideas. The crusading left-wing journalist W. T. Stead was also one of the strongest supporters of Alexander III's authoritarian regime in Russia. Nor has anything much changed. We know about the left-wing support for every kind of oppressive and totalitarian regime in the twentieth and twenty-first century. But less has been said about people, on the left and on the right, who while arguing for democracy and national sovereignty as far as Britain is concerned, also support certain Russian and Balkan leaders whose views and behaviour are the very antithesis of that. Chesterton's spirit hovers over them all.