It is normally in one’s youth that one prefers rather pretentious novels, particularly if they are written in a beautiful and elaborate style, replete with quotations and abstruse references. How clever one thinks oneself to be in one’s late teens and early twenties, reading this sort of stuff before sneaking away for a quick perusal of thrillers or romances (to be disowned and despised). Later in life one finds those pretentious novels to be utterly dull and unworthy of attention.
The one exception to this rule, in Tory Historian’s experience is Michael Innes (though not in his J. I. M. Stewart persona – there the rule applies in full). What seemed utterly dull and pretentious in those halcyon days of intellectualism has, for the last few years, appeared to be amusing and entertaining with quite interesting apercus. Ha, Tory Historian can do pretentious as well.
A recently picked up novel is about the art world (they often are) and forgeries. Silence Observed is highly entertaining and has a remarkable summary of English life early on. John Appleby is now at the top of his profession in Scotland Yard as Commissioner of Metropolitan Police but still finds people approaching him informally about their problems in his club.
He muses on this extraordinary phenomenon:
There are levels of English society in which nearly all professional advice is picked up free. Cabinet ministers murmur their symptoms negligently into the ear of distinguished consultant physicians when the ladies have withdrawn from the dinner-table. Leading Queen’s Counsel know precisely what lies ahead of them when they find themselves on the right hand of brilliant and frequently dis-married hostesses. Top-ranking architects, summoned to indigestible feasts in ancient colleges, commonly take the precaution of bringing a junior staff with them and lodging them in an adjacent hotel.Tory Historian cannot help wondering how much that has changed, if at all.
The next meeting will take place on November 3, at 6.30 in the Grimond Room, Portcullis House (that's the one that looks like a giant crematorium on the embankment). The speaker will be Ion Trewin, author of Alan Clark: the Biography. All are welcome but you may be encouraged to join the CHG.
I return you many thanks for the honour you have done me; but Europe is not be saved by any single man. England has saved herself by her exertions, and will, I trust, save Europe by her example.
The Battle of Hastings, which changed English history, was fought on October 14, 1066 with the Normans (who were not actually French but Norsemen) winning a decisive victory. King Harold II killed as the piece of the Bayeux Tapestry above shows.
Here and here are some serious accounts of the battle, its causes and outcomes. Incidentally, it was not the last successful invasion of England. Henry Tudor invaded with a French army and some disaffected nobles to overthrow King Richard III in 1485.
Tory Historian thinks that the most appropriate account is at the beginning of Chapter II, William I: A Conquering King, in that historical masterpiece by W. C. Sellar and R. J. Yeatman, 1066 And All That:
In the year 1066 occurred the other memorable date in English History, viz. William the Conquerer, Ten Sixty-Six. This is also called the Battle of Hastings, and when William I (1066) conquered England at the Battle of Senlac (Ten Sixty-six).How can one better that?
When William the Conqueror landed he lay down on the beach and swallowed two mouthfuls of sand. This was his first conquering action and was in the South; later he ravaged the North as well.
The Norman Conquest was a Good Thing, as from this time onwards England stopped being conquered and thus was able to become top nation.
Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Lepanto, fought on October 7, 1571. The Holy League that somehow managed to come to an agreement had a fleet of 206 galleys and 6 galleasses, commanded by Don Juan of Austria, illegitimate son of Emperor Charles V and half-brother of Philip II.
The Ottoman galleys were manned by 13,000 sailors and 34,000 soldiers. Ali Pasha (Turkish: "Kaptan-ı Derya Ali Paşa"), supported by the corsairs Chulouk Bey of Alexandria and Uluj Ali (Ulich Ali), commanded an Ottoman force of 222 war galleys, 56 galliots, and some smaller vessels. The Turks had skilled and experienced crews of sailors, but were somewhat deficient in their elite corps of Janissaries.Not only that, but they were less well armed and less experienced.
The Ottomans had not lost a naval battle since the fifteenth century and was mourned throughout the empire as an act of Divine Will (not the best way of learning from experience). In Europe, particularly its Catholic part, this was seen as a hopeful sign: the Ottomans could be defeated and their retreat from Christian countries could now be envisaged. In actual fact, there was still some time to go.
Tory Historian's first acquaintance with the battle came through the very fine poem, written by a man who may have considered himself to be a radical but was, in reality, a Tory in the truest and most old-fashioned sense of the word, G. K. Chesterton.
There are many quotable lines in that poem of heroism and contempt for rulers but the last verse may be the best:
Cervantes on his galley sets the sword back in the sheath
(Don John of Austria rides homeward with a wreath.)
And he sees across a weary land a straggling road in Spain,
Up which a lean and foolish knight for ever rides in vain,
And he smiles, but not as Sultans smile, and settles back the blade....
(But Don John of Austria rides home from the Crusade.)
As today is the anniversary of the great Victorian poet's death, Tory Historian decided to post a quotation or two. Naturally enough, there will be no references to valleys of death or canons on various sides, as that poem is a little too well known even by people who have no idea of what it is really about. (Incidentally, the same battle saw the charge of the Heavy Brigade, which achieved its aim with the participants coming back more or less intact. No poems were written about that.)
Here are a few gems, randomly chosen:
He makes no friends who never made a foe.
There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds.
We cannot be kind to each other here for even an hour. We whisper, and hint, and chuckle and grin at our brother's shame; however you take it we men are a little breed.
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
Far it be from Tory Historian to suggest that these and others of his memorable lines could be studied with some profit by politicians nowadays.
Aficionados of the classic detective story will recall that Patricia Wentworth's formidable heroine, Miss Silver, was inordinately fond of quoting Lord Tennyson's apposite phrases.