As mentioned before, Tory Historian is reading Roger Scruton’s fascinating little book, called “Beauty”. It is taking longer than expected because there is rather a lot to digest and several passages need to be read over and over. (And also because time in Prague was taken up with meetings.)
In his chapter on “Natural Beauty” he contrasts our understanding of nature and its beauties with that of art, where there is a deliberation in what is seen and presented. Then he adds:
Although true so far as it goes, that observation ignores two vital features of our encounter with the natural world. The first is the role of nature as raw material for visual art. The great landscape gardeners of the eighteenth century, such as William Kent and Capability Brown, were responding to the taste of their patrons. They lived at a time when cultivated people made discrimination between landscapes, argued over what was or was not in good taste, and set out to build, dig, plant and adjust with intentions comparable to that of the painter whom they would later commission to record the outcome.It is hard to imagine a view of nature that is not, somehow, influenced by at least some of the great artists whose work one has seen. has seen.
Indeed, the cult of the ‘picturesque’ arose because our responses to landscape and our responses to painting feed into each other. The eighteenth-century habit of decorating the landscape with ruins began from a love of the Roman Campagna not as it is, but as Poussin and Claude had painted it. Tourists in the eighteenth century would often travel with a ‘Claude Glass’: a small tinted convex mirror, which helped them to appreciate the landscape by compressing and composing it in a manner reminiscent of Claude. And the landscape architects of the day regarded architectural ruins and follies, as well as classical bridges and temples, as continuous with the trees, lakes and artificial mounds of earth which were the raw material of their art.
It is difficult to believe that our attitude to natural beauty is founded completely differently from our attitude to art, when the two are so intimately connected.
Twenty years ago today the people of the Soviet Union went to the polls, for the first free election since that day in January 1918 when the Bolsheviks disbanded the more or less freely elected Constituent Assembly.
As the BBC reported, it became clear early on that many official Communist candidates would lose, that Yeltsin would win handsomely in his own Moscow district and that the anti-corruption prosecutor in Uzbekistan, Telman Gdlyan (himself an Armenian), would get the largest majority in the country.
How hopeful it all seemed at the time and how much has changed since then in most post-Soviet countries.
Tory Historian is off tomorrow for a couple of days to Prague. Sadly, most of the time will be taken up by work and meetings but there will be some time for walks and sitting in cafes without which no visit to Central Europe is complete.
Two books will be in the luggage: Peter Demetz's "Prague in Black and Gold" and Roger Scruton's "Beauty", just received for review.
The picture is of the Jan Hus Memorial, a slightly less well known landmark in that city.
One of Tory Historian’s favourite childhood writer was Jules Verne with “Around the World in Eighty Days” being one of the most cherished and frequently re-read books. However entertaining and glamorous the film was with David Niven in the main part, it could never live up to the splendour of the book.
Imagine Tory Historian’s excitement at finding a copy of the Penguin Classics edition of this wondrous novel in a charity shop. £1.99 was quickly handed over that book brought home to be read with delight.
Ahem, there seems to be something wrong here. When did somebody get hold of the novel and slip in completely idiotic things about English customs?
One of the curious things about Jules Verne is the frequency with which he makes Englishmen (sometimes Scotsmen) or Americans his heroes and, conversely, Frenchmen the entertaining secondary characters. He makes gentle fun of the heroes as well but clearly perceives them as the can-do people that he so admires, who are so in tune with the modern world. (Though Brian Aldiss’s introduction to the Penguin Classics edition insists that M Verne, like H. G. Wells, eventually lost faith in technological advance and, indeed, became horrified by its possibilities. In Tory Historian’s opinion that case remains unproven.)
The hero of “Around the World in Eighty Days”, as every school child knows, is the unflappable and rather mysterious Englishman, Phileas Fogg, whose past is never quite explained but there is some indication that he must have made his money by being master of some merchant vessel. There is double praise there – not only is he completely unflappable but adventurous, he is also a practical man, something that Mr Aldiss does not mention in his introduction, preferring to dwell extensively on the alleged rather distasteful importance of money.
The first three chapters of the novel remained in Tory Historian’s memory as among the most delightful ones – the description of Mr Fogg’s life in Savile Row, the arrival of Passepartout (one of those charming comical Frenchmen, Verne was so fond of) and the time passed in the Reform Club before the fateful card game and bet.
Many of the memories proved to be accurate on re-reading, though Tory Historian had forgotten the detail that Mr Fogg was supposed to live in the house once occupied by the great Sheridan. (Actually, the number is wrong but that is a minor detail.)
The number of steps taken by Phileas Fogg by his right foot (575) and his left foot (576) to reach the steps of the Reform Club may or may not be correct. Verne visited England only once and very briefly so he is unlikely to have counted out those steps, but the image is a delight.
Then we get inside the Club and we have trouble. Tory Historian did vaguely recall that the description of the food was somewhat less than appetizing for when it came to gastronomy, Jules Verne had no opinion of the British or the Americans.
For all of that, the description of Phileas Fogg’s day until he sits down to play whist with his acquaintances (he has no friends, of course) is rum, to put it mildly:
Mr Fogg leaves his house at half past eleven and, we must assume, arrives at the Reform Club around quarter to twelve.
Phileas Fogg went immediately to the dining-room, with its nine windows opening on to an attractive garden with trees that had already turned an autumn brown. There he sat down at his usual table where his place was already set. His lunch consisted of a starter, followed by poached fish served with a first-rate Reading sauce, a blood-red steak accompanied by mushroom ketchup, a rhubarb and gooseberry pie and a slice of Cheshire cheese, all of which was washed down by several cups of tea, an excellent variety that had been specially picked for theHalf an hour later his whist-playing companions appear and the plot begins to unfold.
pantry of the Reform Club.
At forty-seven minutes past midday, the gentleman got up and walked over to the main drawing-room a magnificent place decorated with richly framed paintings. There a servant handed him an uncut copy of The Times, which Phileas Fogg proceeded to carefully unfold with a skilfulness that demonstrated a considerable familiarity with this delicate operation. Phileas Fogg continued reading this newspaper until three forty-five, followed it with the Standard, which took him up to dinner. The meal followed the same pattern as lunch, except for the addition of “Royal British
At twenty to six the gentleman appeared again the main drawing-room and engrossed himself in the Morning Chronicle.
Well now. What Tory Historian recalls from childhood reading, apart from the reference to the poached fish, which somehow remained in the memory, is the astonishment that anybody can pass days like that. In any case, the subsequent card game, discussion and bet drive the description of Mr Fogg’s behaviour out of the reader’s mind.
Let us look at it a little more carefully. All those sauces are Jules Verne’s joke at the expense of the blandness of English food. But why does Mr Fogg eat lunch at such an unearthly hour? Is it because the equivalent word in French is déjeuner, a midday meal, which is really a second breakfast, the first one being petit déjeuner? That would account for the peculiar idea of a solid meal being washed down by cups and cups of tea, however excellent it might be.
Even more peculiar is the fact that Mr Fogg seems to have dinner at around twenty to five, not really the habit in the better classes of London by 1870 when the book was written. Whatever happened to tea? And why does Mr Fogg wash his extremely solid dinner down with tea? We are not talking about the homely habits of a train driver or a factory foreman.
Most peculiar. There is no need even to enquire why the man eats rhubarb and gooseberry pies in the autumn. That Jules Verne should have known as gooseberry certainly is eaten in France but much earlier in the year.
So what is Tory Historian to do? Persevere and risk further disappointments as well as, possibly finding some forgotten gems or retreat into the happy memories of a much-loved book?
... a new, though not apparently revised edition of Kathryn Tidrick's Empire and the English Character - The Illusion of Authority, due out on March 19. Dr Tidrick is a psychologist or, at least, she has a Ph.D. in Psychology from London Univeristy, as the blurb on the book tells us.
This interesting sounding book was written in the late eighties (published in 1990) when, in the author's opinion "hardly anyone regretted the passing of the British empire" but, as she adds, many things have happened since. Tory Historian's recollection is that it was about then that articles and books that argued that the British empire was actually not a bad thing at all started to appear. That, of course, does not mean that its passing was regretted except, maybe, by people who have had a considerably worse time since then.
Still, the book will have to be read before any opinion is to be passed. First impressions are not good: no maps for one thing; no mention of Deepak Lal's In Praise of Empires or of anything by Alan Macfarlane, for another.
The Conservative History Group has received the following e-mail from an obviously keen young member of the party:
To whom it may concern,
I am an 18 year old Conservative Party member and have for some time been lobbying my local authority - Stockton Borough Council - in the hopes of creating some form of commemoration to Harold Macmillan, in recognition for his services to Stockton (which he served as MP 1924-9; 1931-45) and the Country as a whole. Recently the council have accepted and examined my nomination. I was wondering wether you have any information on Harold Macmillan in relation to Stockton that may assist in creating an appropriate form of commemoration e.g. place of residence etc. Any information would be extremely appreciated.
Anyone with information can send it to the blog or to Marcus directly on elmarko5_at_hotmail.com.
The CHG will be watching developments with interest and reporting on them as and when they happen.
G.K.Chesterton is a difficult person to write about or to assess. He was, in that much overused phrase, larger than life, physically and intellectually, though in the latter he often produced small mean-minded ideas.
The Father Brown stories, possibly the best known of his output, are largely so-so as detective stories though immensely enjoyably for other reasons, not least the protagonist's philosophical and theological musings. Those famous paradoxes, on the other hand, do pall after a while.
Chesterton also wrote about the art of detective fiction and many of his ideas are of great interest. In "A Defence of Detective Stories" published in 1901 in a not very well remembered collection, "The Defender" he had this to say:
There is, however, another good work that is don by detective stories. While it is the constant tendency of the Old Adam to rebel against so universal an automatic a thing as civilization, to preach departure and rebellion, the romance of police activiey keeps in some sense before the mind the fact that civilization itself is the most sensational of departurres and the most romanticThat last sentence might have been said by many people but the notion that it is the policeman who is the real romantic rebel is true Chestertonianism. Then again, it was this blog that pointed out the fact that the protagonist of that essentially conservative film "The Young Mr Pitt" is really a true romantic hero. Romanticism, let us not forget, was, in the first place a conservative rebellion against the all-embracing ideas of Enlightenment that had gone so badly wrong during the French Revolution and the Terror.
By dealing with the unsleeping sentinesl who guard the outsposts of society, it tends to remind us that we live in an armed camp, making war with a chaotic world, and that criminals, the children of chaos, are nothing but the traitors within our gates.
When the detective in a police romance stands alone, and somewhat fatuously fearless amid the knives and fists of a thieves' kitchen, it does certainly serve to make us remember that it is the agent of social justice who is the original and poetic figure, while the burglars and footpads are merely placid old cosmic conservatives, happy in the immemorial respectability of apes and
The romance of the police force is thus the whole romance of man. It is based on the fact that morality is the most dark and daring of conspiracies. It reminds us that the whole noiseless and unnoticeable police management by which we are ruled and protected is only a successful knight-errantry.