Tim Stanley's article in History Today says what we all think: a good funeral creates and propagates myths. He tries to lay to rest some of the myths that surround Margaret Thatcher on both sides but one cannot help feeling that it is a lost cause. At least, in her case, there are arguments, discussions and books that are more or less objective being written now. Not so with Churchill or not so for a good long time after his funeral.
As Tim Stanley rightly says, Churchill's funeral produced no discussions, no debates, only a general mourning across the country as people were saying goodbye to their own youth but also to a certain period in the country's history whose end, ironically, Churchill had helped to bring about.
It took a little time for some historians to start recalling that in his lifetime and during his active period as a politician Churchill was very unpopular in his party and in the country. Even after the war during which he had led the country to victory against many odds he managed to lose two of the three elections he fought as leader of the Conservative Party and barely won the third one.
Churchill's overwhelming popularity that amounts to secular sainthood for many people emerged and flourished in the decade between his enforced retirement and his death. It is interesting that there were no discussions about his political legacy while Thatcher's legacy remains a matter of furious debate.
Tory Historian finds it extraordinary that those in the culture industry (and it has become an industry though not all of it creates anything) should have such a sneering attitude to the businessmen and women who have made the money that made much of our cultural heritage possible. According to many of them the proper person to subsidize their activities is the taxpayer whose opinion is never asked and who contributes the money involuntarily. The alternative, they so often pronounce, money contributed voluntarily by the person who made or earned it, makes that lucre somehow tainted.
One has to admit that with government cuts, though they do not go far enough in TH's opinion, this attitude is changing. Even the BBC, usually the leading apostle of the ideology of sneering at people who actually make money, has put up a fascinating article about Sir William Burrell,
celebrated as an art lover and philanthropist. He left a wealth of objects to the people of Scotland in the magnificent Burrell Collection.The reason who could collect and then leave that wealth of objects was because he had been a highly successful shipping merchant.
"It was often said he was ruthless, but that's not the right word," says maritime historian Martin Bellamy, Head of Research at Glasgow Museums. "He was an innovative business operator with an inspired commercial mind.The rest of this fascinating article tells of the business Sir William built up and of the art collection he amassed. One cannot help wondering at the naiveté of the people who work in the BBC who seem to be astonished and feel the need to repeat several times that Burrell's activities as an art collector and philanthropist would not have been possible without his activities as a ruthless and imaginative businessman.
"He was a typical Victorian entrepreneur. He exploited the world of opportunities that the British Empire created.
"Burrell took over a modestly successful family business and expanded it enormously."
Burrell's secret was his ground-breaking operation of a type of trade called 'tramp shipping'.
Unlike liners which followed a set route of destinations, tramp ships did not have scheduled deliveries. They sailed to whatever port their cargo took them.
While a ship was unloading, the captain would make arrangements to find the next job. This led to delays and meant ships often sailed only part full. But Burrell had a solution.
"He travelled the world and set up a network of agents," says Bellamy. "They would do the work of the captains and secure the next cargo before his ships arrived.
BBC2 will be showing a programme on this great man this evening at 9 but only in Scotland. However, it will be available across the UK for seven days on iPlayer.
History Today blog informs us that the two winners of the 2012 Wolfson History Prize are Christopher Duggan for Fascist Voices: An Intimate History of Mussolini’s Italy and Susan Brigden for Thomas Wyatt: The Heart’s Forest. Both sound very interesting and are hereby added to the notional pile of books to be read.
The rest of this long posting is on the secondary blog (for long postings)
A real-life paper copy of the West Midlands History Magazine that analyzes Enlightenment, its people and organizations in that part of the country. The article on Industrial Enlightenment is fascinating. More goodies to read.
Also a gem of a book: The Odd Thing About the Colonel, a collection of articles and essays by one of the greatest of conservative journalists of the twentieth century, Colin Welch, sent to me, very kindly by his daughter, Frances Welch, herself a formidable historian.
Last year Tory Historian wrote an angry and scathing posting about the mess that Tate Britain (the Tate to many of us, harrumph) had become. Well, there was some good news in the Evening Standard today. According to the Director, Penelope Curtis,
A complete rehang of the collection at Millbank will give visitors a chronological history of British art, says director Penelope Curtis — and throw up some exciting juxtapositions.One worries a little (well, TH does) about those "exciting juxtapositions" but displaying the British art collection and in a chronological order (just like they used to do in the dear old days gone by) sounds like an excellent idea. On the other hand, it does not sound like a particularly radical one. Is that not what Tate Britain is for?