Tory Historian cannot praise highly enough the current exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, Constable Portraits - the Painter and his Circle. Despite several tragic tales behind the portraits, it is a happy exhibition because of the light in the pictures and in the sitters.
Constable is the compleat English painter. His landscapes seem to be England and many a person who had never seen the country arrived here convinced that everything will look like those pictures of Suffolk or Hampstead. Strangely enough, there is some truth in that. Though much has changed, the essential landscapes are still there.
The portraits, too, present a gallery of English faces - fine-featured and blunt, shrewd and innocent. A particular form of entertainment for those who manage to get to the exhibition is to try to pick some of the portraits for characters in the novels of Jane Austen, Constable's contemporary.
The artist's sisters can fit several heroines, as Miss Austen liked writing about sisters. The young man, Dr Herbert Evans, Constable's family doctor, on the other hand, has a distinct air of Mr Darcy about him, despite the class difference between them. Would Mr Darcy have liked being compared to a mere physician?
Tory Historian is bemused. There are airy references to the Speaker who was expelled in 1695 for taking bribes but no explanation as to the mechanism whereby this was achieved.
The Daily Telegraph gives a swift summary of some of the highlights in the history of that venerable institution. Well, highlights and low lights:
In the years before 1560, seven speakers were beheaded and one was murdered.The idea of a "Bad Parliament" is rather appealing.
The office of speaker was first held by Sir Peter de la Mare, knight for Herefordshire, in 1376's "Good Parliament", so-called because the Commons refused to grant the Crown any new taxes until its grievances had been addressed.
In the dispute with Edward III, Sir Peter acted as spokesman for the Commons and their collective strength prevailed.
But as soon as Parliament was dissolved, Sir Peter was thrown into prison and his successor Sir Thomas Hungerford presided over the "Bad Parliament", which reversed most of the gains of the previous year.
Wikipedia has a more detailed history though the same stories appear. Tory Historian suspects it was the source of the Telegraph hack's information. Let's be fair - it is not easy to find out so much information at such a short notice.
As this list shows, the power to expel members has not been used often by the House (some might say not often enough) and the habit has fallen off in recent decades. A pity really.
Now to the Speaker who was expelled. He was Sir John Trevor (c.1637 - 1717), a man who was less than impeccable in his general honesty as an MP or as a judge. He was also severely cross-eyed so it was difficult to know at times whom he was calling upon to speak.
In March 1695 Sir John was given 1,000 guineas (quite a sizeable amount in those days) by the City of London to aid the passage of the Orphans' Bill through the House. He was found out (somebody presumably leaked the information) and, as this was considered to be "a high crime and misdemeanour" expelled from the House. One assumes that he lost his seat as well, though not, perhaps the seat in the Irish House of Commons. Certainly he was not expected to resign as a judge or restore the money. One wonders why the City of London did not insist on the latter.
The concise Dictionary of National Biography (Tory Historian has inherited some splendid books) merely says that Sir John was "deprived of his speakership for taking bribes" without explaining the mechanism for doing so. In fact, this seems to have been a more comprehensive expulsion.
When King Charles I entered the House of Commons on January 4,
1842 1642 (shame!) to arrest five members who had criticized him in what he felt was a treacherous manner, Speaker William Lenthall, not known until then for his particular courage or ability to control the House sat in his Chair, looked around, noted that the "birds" had, indeed, "flown" and said to the King:
May it please your Majesty, I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as the House is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am here.Which is, indeed, what the Speaker is supposed to be. The rest of his career seems to have been somewhat mixed.
Alistair Cooke, the man who has forgotten more about Conservative and Tory history than most of us ever hope to learn and a frequent contributor to the Conservative History Journal, reviews David Torrance's "We in Scotland: Thatcherism in a Cold Climate". The story is somewhat different from the way it is usually presented in the media but that is not surprising. Oh, by the way, David Torrance is also a contributor ot the CHJ.
… than the detective novels of the so-called Golden Age, that is the twenties and thirties. To be perfectly honest, even Tory Historian finds many of them a tad tedious but they have their virtues. The one under discussion is “Colonel Gore’s Second Case” by Lynn Brock (real name Alexander McAllister but also wrote under the name Anthony Wharton), once a very well known and popular writer of detective stories, now barely remembered.
Willard Huntington Wright (otherwise S. S. Van Dine) thought Colonel Gore to be “ponderous and verbose”. Then again, most readers think that the precious hero of Van Dine’s novels, Philo Vance, needs, as Ogden Nash so aptly put it, “a kick in the pance”.
Dorothy L. Sayers was more charitable in her famous Introduction to the “Great Short Stories of Crime, Mystery and Horror”, published in 1928 and Marjorie Nicolson, the eminent academic and the author of a wholly delightful essay, “The Professor and the Detective”, published in Atlantic Monthly in 1929 says:
There is the amateur Colonel Gore, who began his career by a chance application for a golf secretaryship, and has now opened his private inquiry office – a movement which his admirers greet with pleasure, as promising an indefinite number of cases for the future.This is not entirely accurate as the book which starts with Colonel Gore applying for that secretaryship and ends with him opening the private inquiry office is the second one, the book mentioned in the first paragraph, in fact. But there were, indeed, several further adventures.
The book is certainly well written though the plot is over-elaborate; there are two whole maps to delight Tory Historian’s heart but it cannot be said that they are at all helpful in following our hero’s movements around the specified area.
The novel is, naturally enough, extremely conservative in its attitude to social mores and to moral certainties. The latter is a prerequisite to any good detective story. Murder, the crime of the modern detective tale, is not just wrong, it is wrong on a cosmic scale. Morality has to be restored and the murderer apprehended, though it is true that on various occasions said murderer is allowed to take his own way out (i.e. suicide) if the victim is judged to be a real bad ‘un, usually a blackmailer.
On at least one occasion Roger Sheringham lets the murderer off completely on the grounds that the vile chap who had blackmailed and tormented women deserved what was coming to him. But that does not condone murder, merely accepts that there are extreme circumstances that need extreme measures. One does not need to condone war to accept that sometimes it is inevitable and, probably, necessary.
Then there is the curious circumstance of a gentleman, in this case Colonel Gore, being able to ask questions from anyone and not told to mind his own business; at worst he has to dispense largesse in the form of half-crowns or sovereigns, depending on the recipient.
The press are not seen much in this novel but what we know of them is that they cannot be allowed to share space with decent folk. That, oddly enough, is a continuing theme in detective novels even when the investigator is a journalist. Then it is other journalists and, particularly, editors and newspaper proprietors that are scum.
The local police are consistently stupid though honest and not venal. Even when the investigator is from the Yard, that remains true. If he is an amateur as Colonel Gore is, the invincible stupidity of the local constabulary is almost a given, though the reader has to suffer through many examples.
In a typically entertaining essay, “Murder at $2.50 a crime”, the great Canadian humorist, Stephen Leacock, wrote:
So there is the story away to a good start – Sir Charles’s Body found next morning by a “terrified” maid – all maids are terrified – who “could scarcely give an intelligent account of what she saw” – they never can. Then the local police (Inspector Higginbottom of the Hopshire Constabulary) are called in and announce themselves “baffled”. Every time the reader hears that the local police are called in he smiles an indulgent smile and knows they are just there to be baffled.In “Colonel Gore’s Second Case” the local police are worse than baffled – they are convinced they know who the murderer is in at least one crime and can hardly bear to give up their conviction even when the man in question is found heavily drugged and hidden in a subterranean chamber.
Meanwhile various members of a fabulously wealthy family keep meeting apparently violent ends and nobody in any constabulary thinks “’ullo, ‘ullo, ‘ullo, wot ‘ave we ‘ere?”. To be fair, neither does the coroner or the gentlemen of the press or the remaining members of the family (though, naturally, some of them have very good reasons for insisting that the deaths are unconnected) and even Colonel Gore spends some time being baffled and bewildered.
Colonel Gore also finds himself led badly astray by an obvious red herring in the shape of a very brightly coloured golf sweater and an abandoned monogrammed golf ball. Tsk, tsk. Every tyro reader can see what those clues signify but not Colonel Gore or, at least not till the last twenty pages of the actual story. (After which there are many pages of explanation as the entire plot had been too complicated to understand at first reading.)
It is interesting how often that contempt for local police or, rather “village bobbies” crops up even in modern detective stories. In Caroline Graham’s “Faithful unto Death” Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby is irritated by the gentle village policeman and allows his sergeant to bully him mercilessly. In fact, he contemplates moving the unfortunate chap to a tougher district, which would probably break him and deprive the villages of their much liked bobby.
In the end he realizes that his own mistakes in the investigation are far worse because of his greater experience. He never learns that the bullying had prevented information from being passed on that would have put him on the right track and saved one person from being killed. The attitude remains but the surrounding facts have become more complicated. The detective hero has never been infallible, as Colonel Gore proves but these days the mistakes are more serious.
Conservative in moral and social attitudes books like “Colonel Gore’s Second Case” might be but in one respect they are anything but that. There is no assumption about who might or might not be the killer.
The local constabulary may not like interviewing robustly members of an important, let alone landed gentry, family and are horrified at the thought of suspecting any member of it. But the reader and the detective hero know that crime knows no class boundaries – anyone could have done it and usually did.
Yesterday Tory Historian attended a reception where there were British and American guests. One of the plates of canapes had little tartlets with what the waiter cheerfully explained was coronation chicken. American guest drew back, alarmed by the yellow colouring.
Tory Historian explained equally cheerfully that it was merely cold chicken in mayonnaise, adding as an afterthought, with curry powder. It is, in fact a matter of some wonder to TH why this dish so redolent of the fifties should have survived into the age of far greater choice in spices and Indian food.
There was then a discussion among the British guests as to the origin of the dish, one person opining that it was created for the coronation of either Victoria or Edward VII with ingredients from every member of what was then the Empire.
Tory Historian remained doubtful, having been convinced some time ago that it was created for the coronation of Elizabeth II. It seems that TH was right. The dish was, indeed, created for the Queen's coronation banquet by Constance Spry (not exactly a florist as Wiki has it by a woman who changed the whole concept of flower arranging and formal cooking in this country) and the chef Rosemary Huyme.
It does, indeed, consist of cold chicken, mayonnaise and curry powder or paste with various additions, like raisins and almonds that were, possibly, seen as exotic in post-war Britain. Of course, one can have a rather grand recipe as supplied by Sophie Grigson.
For various reasons Tory Historian is beginning to be immersed in Xenophon's account of the march of 10,000. The English version that is under discussion (for a Roundtable later in the year) is the recent translation by Wayne Ambler. Still, there is no harm in looking at alternatives and when the opportunity of acquiring a copy of Rex Warner's translation, published in Penguin Classics for the vast sum of £1.99, Tory Historian could not resist.
It may be a "pretty sleepy translation" but it does have quite an interesting introduction by George Cawkwell and a map. Hurrah, a map, a map. It is not a particularly good map but it does give an indication of what the original long march covered.
The one above is somewhat better because of the colours.
Tory Historian wandered into the newly opened Mediaeval Gallery of the British Museum (well, partially opened) and was suitably impressed. The rooms have been restored to their pre-wartime incendiary bomb splendour and the exhibits are well displayed with many visible that were not in the past. There is a fine attempt to give an overall picture of life from highest to lowest in mediaeval Europe.
One question remains and Tory Historian is determined to find the answer: what happened to the Hinton St Mary pavement of which only the central head of Christ seems to have remained? Where is the rest of it? A photograph of what it looked like is not enough. Where is the actual pavement?
Tory Historian decided that the best way of celebrating Victory Day is to have a good look at one of David King’s books: “Ordinary Citizens – The Victims of Stalin”. As the Bard said: “If you have tears, prepare to shed them now” (from Julius Caesar, as it happens).
Most of the book consists of the last mugshots taken in the Lubyanka, the Moscow prison that was (and is) the headquarters of the Soviet (Russian) secret police in its various manifestations from Cheka to KGB (and now the FSB), though the book goes up to the death of Stalin only. These are the people who were executed very soon after the pictures were taken.
Mr King, who used to be Art Editor at the Sunday Times, explains in the Introduction that the Soviet method of police photography was different from western in that it used natural light. Therefore, the shutter time was longer and the people in those pictures look more human; they have different reactions – fear, hatred, sadness, panache, resignation; the police photographers unintentionally created a series of tragic and sensitive pictures.
There they are, a tiny proportion of all those shot in the years between 1918 and 1953: men and women, young and old, Russians, Poles, Hungarians, Chinese, Japanese, Indians, Jews; most employed in various positions, others not; some Communist party members, others not; some showing signs of torture, others merely fear and duress.
One or two worked for the NKVD themselves, others were related to important officials. One senior NKVD officer’s son was shot at the ripe old age of 17. There are women who may have simply complained about food shortages; there are students who presumably shot their mouths off as young people do; there are workers and engineers who were executed as wreckers and saboteurs because they could not fulfil the hair-raising plans Stalin insisted on. One cannot list them all, and, as mentioned above, this is a very small proportion of those murdered in the various prisons.
David King is an interesting person. He appears to be a somewhat old-fashioned leftie and in this interview he even manages to look like the man he clearly admires, Leon Trotsky. (Though to be fair, he shows no signs of agreeing with the sub-Marxist rubbish that the interviewer spouts.) His fascination with the pictorial falsehood that is Soviet history has produced three books so far, all of them fascinating, as well as his own personal collection that he clearly opens up to historians and researchers as asked. (Tory Historian is meditating an approach.)
“The Commissar Vanishes” deals with the fascinating story of the altered historic photographs from which people disappeared as they had been purged or their memory expurgated. Some photos started with five or six people and were eventually reduced to two, the only remaining ones being Lenin or Stalin and a. n. other, who was safely dead or, less safely, still in good odour.
Now that the original photographs have been traced the story has become even more fascinating. The picture above shows the disappearance of Yezhov from Stalin's side after his own arrest, torture and execution in 1939.
In 2002 Mr King followed this up with “Ordinary Citizens”, the book under discussion here and this year he produced “Red Star Over Russia”, published amazingly enough by Tate Publications, that traces some iconic Soviet images, the photographs on which they are based but also the changes in those photographs and the images. Again, we have a number of those last mugshots, this time of leading Communists like Zinoviev and Kamenev or important cultural figures like Isaac Babel and Vsevolod Meyerhold (the last two pictures are particularly harrowing - readers can see Meyerhold above).
Given David King’s apparent political stance it is natural for him to try to present the view that it was Stalin who destroyed the great hope of socialism and plunged the country into a bloodbath; given his honesty he cannot avoid making it clear that Stalin inherited the bloodbath, merely making it more intense.
In the Introduction to “Ordinary Citizens” David King is a little too kind to Trotsky, describing him as the “only political figure with a viable alternative to Stalinism”. World Revolution and the continuation of war communism were not only not viable, as Lenin had realized, they were potentially fully as brutal as Stalin’s rule.
As Richard Armour said in his brilliant “It All Started with Marx”: “Some people say that if Trotsky had won, things would have been different. They would, for Trotsky.” Actually, they may have been different for others as well – Trotsky was so brutal and so stubborn that he would not have been able to keep in power and the country and system together as long as Stalin did.
Interestingly, David King never mentions Nikolai Bukharin who really did have somewhat different political and economic ideas, which have fascinated historians ever since. He did not have the basic stamina or cunning to outwit Stalin either.
Nor is the author correct in saying that the Red terror, which he describes accurately as a destruction of all human decency, began with the failed attempt on Lenin’s life in 1918. From the moment the Cheka was formed it was dedicated to revolutionary terror against all and sundry.
But these are political quibbles. David King provides some interesting information and, above all, there are the pictures – those tragic haunting photographs. Tory Historian considers that all those who are convinced that there is no difference between Gordon Brown’s Britain and Communist totalitarianism should spend time studying this book of mugshots.
In actual fact, General Alfred Jodl signed the Instrument of Surrender early on May 7 at Rheims but it was due to come into effect late on May 8, after another Instrument had been signed in Berlin at the Soviet insistence. To this day, the
Soviet Union Russia celebrates Victory Day on May 9. Wikipedia gives the timeline here and here.
Although it is the twenties and thirties that are considered to be the golden age of detective story writing, Tory Historian, on the whole, prefers their Victorian and Edwardian predecessors. One reason is the more leisurely and better written style (with some exceptions on both sides).
Then there is the fact that many of the Victorian stories, of whatever length, are about other crimes, not just murder, which is unthinkable either with the golden age writers or the considerably more prolix and slapdash modern ones.
Murder is, after all, a relatively unusual crime while theft, robbery, fraud and other suchlike activities are far more common. Reading about them and the detectives who solve them give an impression of real life disintegrating and being reconstituted. Of course, there are writers like the great Emma Lathen who follow the Victorian pattern and start with some kind of financial shenanigans, which degenerate into an often reluctant murder.
It is also fair to say that the villains of Victorian detective stories are considerably more satisfying than those of subsequent periods. Admittedly, they are not real dyed-in-the-wool villains and there are various occasions when unfortunate or noble-but-walked-into-a-nasty-situation criminals are released by detectives on condition that they go off to the colonies and redeem themselves. Sherlock Holmes was particularly apt to exercise such stern compassion.
These thoughts have been floating in Tory Historian’s head as a result of reading a volume, acquired for £2 in a charity shop, gradually the only remaining second-hand bookshops in London, entitled “Three Victorian Detective Novels” one of the numerous excellent reprints by Dover Publications.
The three novellas are “The Unknown Weapon” by Andrew Forrester, “My Lady’s Money” by Wilkie Collins and “The Big Bow Mystery” by Israel Zangwill. The first of these is one of the earliest modern English detective stories, part of a collection of tales about the exploits of a woman police officer, known only as Mrs G--- (though Katherine Gregory Klein seems to think that she is Mrs Gladden). The whole collection, published in 1846 was called “The Female Detective” (a very hard to find volume).
Wilkie Collins’s relatively late novella, published in 1879, is a disappointment, largely because Collins was a near-genius in his best works. “My Lady’s Money” is beautifully written with highly entertaining characters – an excellent villain and a rather annoying detective who shuffles around doing no detecting but being a character as well as very good female personalities. But the plot is ridiculous. Every reader knows what is going to happen a page or two before it does and once the theft takes place it ought to be clear to the meanest intellect who the criminal is. There is only person with the necessary opportunity, motive and personality, yet that person’s guilt is dismissed as being out of the question.
Undoubtedly the best is the last tale, a classic of its genre, that being the locked room mystery. Israel Zangwill was a writer, journalist and Zionist activist, most of whose novels and plays concerned various social issues, often but exclusively to do with Jewish immigrants to London’s East End and New York’s Lower East Side. “The Big Bow Mystery” is a delightful exception, a tale of crime and detection written to order in the space of a fortnight and published in the same space of time in the daily newspaper Star in 1891.
Locked room mysteries are rather tiresome, in Tory Historian’s opinion, because of the need either to cheat or to produce an extraordinary number of coincidences for the solution. One by Edmund Crispin presupposes the firing of a bullet through several open windows in order to hit the required target with the loud and engrossing music making it impossible for the people in the first room to realize what is going on. Too ridiculous for words.
The "Big Bow Mystery" is just about credible, largely because, as Julian Symons points out in his seminal history of the genre “Bloody Murder” it is really a parody; it is not, on the other hand, parodic enough to make it dull – the story is still there. There is something else there: a thrilling and highly amusing account of the East End at the end of the nineteenth century, seething with meetings, organizations, debates, disputes and manifold ambitions. It is, in a way, a microcosm of the whole Victorian era and, perhaps, that is why those years produced some of the greatest detective stories.
The media and the blogosphere are buzzing with that anniversary. Thirty years ago the Conservative Party, led by Margaret Thatcher, won the first of four elections and began a government that proved to be the most radical in its reforms than any since Attlee's 1945 one that sealed this country's socialism.
Tory Historian is not going to rehash all the arguments for and against (mostly for as the lady was undoubtedly the greatest prime minister of the 20th century, Churchill being a great war leader and bad politician) but wants to raise a few questions that, perhaps, readers of this blog might discuss.
We can discard the left-wing canard that Mrs Thatcher destroyed this country's economy and political life, both of them, in the minds of these commentators having acquired some kind of a rosy glow that certainly is not present in anybody's real memory. We were poor but we were happy is a stupid mantra. Britain in the 1970s was not a happy country.
A more insiduous myth is propounded by some of the younger Conservatives that in 1979 the country deliberately voted for radical reform. Absolute rubbish. The country rather hesitantly voted for the Conservatives, anyway, and nobody outside the immediate circle around Thatcher knew that she had any ideas beyond the widely shared rather vague assumption that "something needs to be done" with a country that had, apparently, reached rock bottom.
James Callaghan who lost in 1979 also promoted the idea that there was a sea-change in opinion because it suited him to say so. In actual fact, he lost the election because he was perceived to be a bumbling incompetent.
The third question that needs to be asked is whether those radical reforms have really changed the country or were they as Mark Steyn says in a recent article, largely about Obama, just a blip, a slowing down in the collapse?
John O'Sullivan disagrees with Mark Steyn and sees the date as crucial and the effects irreversible.
Tory Historian is looking forward to a vigorous debate.
Well, new to Tory Historian who was directed to it by a reader. Other readers may recall Tory Historian's gushing praise of the Histories performed by the RSC at the Roundhouse (they had been performed over two years at Stratford's Courtyard before that) here and here.
Since then Tory Historian, in company with many of the 250,000 or thereabouts who had seen the Histories, has searched on and off the names of the actors to find out what they are doing now.
Well, no need to search. There is now a blog that deals with just that topic, Beyond the Histories, written by a "self-confessed theatre dork based in the UK". Long may it continue.