One of the first European colonizers of America is alive and well at 383 years. A story on treehugger, not usually included in Tory Historian's reading matter, tells us that a pear tree, planted in 1630 by John Endicott, first governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, is still alive, having been rescued after hurricanes and even a vandal attack in the sixties, and is bearing fruit, though the pears do not sound particularly appetizing.


Tory Historian apologizes for a long absence and returns with a favourite topic: maps. Maps are the most wonderful things any historian can wish for. New maps, old maps, historic maps and fictional maps (in detective stories) - they are all a joy to scan and to read.

Here, however, is the map to end all maps. It is the 1931 Histomap that distils 4,000 years of world history and it is fully "zoomable". In all probability many readers cannot wait to trawl through it and all TH can say, using the modern idiom, is go for it.

Some time ago I mentioned that I was reading Dick Leonard's double biography (though for some reason he describes it as a "comparative biography") of Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone, a book that has turned out to be interesting and annoying in more or less equal measures.

The great rivalry itself, though it appears to dominate nineteenth century politics, took up less of it than we assume, though while it lasted it was vicious, not least because of the added personal animosity: Gladstone and Disraeli, as Dick Leonard shows, were so very different in their background, their thoughts, their attitudes.

There are eleven chapters in The Great Rivalry and it is not till chapter eight that we reach the moment when first Disraeli, then Gladstone, then Disraeli again actually rose to the premiership (in the case of Disraeli, the first government was actually led by Lord Derby with Dizzy at the head of the party in the Commons). By chapter ten it was all over with Gladstone towering above British politics on his own.

Yet there is no doubt that these two dominated the political life for several decades and, separately, laid down parts of the foundation for modern British politics inside and outside Parliament. It is possible to argue that the political structures the two giants created are now coming to a natural end with something new evolving, what with the membership of the European Union, the growth in power of extra-parliamentary bodies and the need to change many of those things. Mr Leonard's view (as that of several commentators) is that the reason matters seem unsatisfactory is that we no longer have politicians of the Disraeli-Gladstone calibre. To some extent his book is aimed at people who want to use it and the material in it to analyze and, perhaps, change modern politics. This seems to me to be unnecessary. Nineteenth century politics was very different and, even so, few politicians were of this calibre.

So much of what we do have (whether we want to preserve it or change it) is the outcome of those years and the political activity of the time, whether it is the spread of the vote through Reform Acts, the birth of mass politics with the Primrose League (a homage to Disraeli), the elevation of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to second position after the Prime Minister and of the annual Budget into the most important event of the political calendar (something that causes a good many problems these days), or a number of other developments.

Dick Leonard, though also an historian, was once a Labour MP and for a long time a journalist with The Economist and The Observer, concentrating on matters to do with the EU. (Yes, his son is the egregious Mark Leonard but people cannot be blamed for their offspring.) He has the good journalist's enviable ability to assimilate and digest complicated material and to reproduce it as a clear brief or historical analysis. The book is easy to read and the various complex political manoeuvres as well as the protagonists' private lives easy to follow.

The disadvantages of a journalistic text are also there. The style is really poor with strange neologisms popping up here and there. I really do not thing "heroisation" is a word. Nor do we need to be given a brief history of income tax in Britain three or four times or informed at least four times that Derby's first Ministry suffered from a paucity of talent in the House of Commons. Then there are the forced parallels with modern life and politics that jar so much. The expression "metropolitan elite" used about the politica classes of the mid-nineteenth century is celarly wrong. The elite's basis of power was outside London and a good many politicians understood life as it was lived by landowners, small or large. I suppose, one can describe various Victorian politicians as "big hitters" and, it is possible, that Mr Leonard does so with a knowing smirk but I doubt if that many readers would be impressed. One can go on enumerating infelicities of this kind for a long time and they do detract from one's enjoyment of the tale he tells, which simply cannot be made boring, however hard one might try.

The book is over-hyped by the publisher: this is hardly the first time that the two personalities have been studied together and in parallel. But they and the author were probably right in thinking that, probably, it was time to produce another account, based on previous biographies, histories and, of course, Gladstone's astonishing diaries, now available to all. The Great Rivalry may well encourage interest in two great political personalities, in all others around them and in the period that saw the invention of our modern political system.



Dick Leonard: The Great Rivalry
Gladstone and Disraeli - A Dual Biography

2013 I. B. Tauris, London

This is surely unmissable: an article on Kentnews.co.uk tells us that the week-end of September 21 - 22 (which will be Open House Weekend in London but more of that anon) will be very special in Chartwell.

The origins of Sir Winston Churchill’s writing, painting and entertaining will be explored in a special weekend at his former Chartwell home.

Part of a National Trust programme, Uncovered: The Story of British Landscape is a series of events and activities taking place across seven Trust places around the country aiming to give an insider look at the many uses of our landscapes over the centuries.

Taking place at Chartwell over the weekend of Saturday 21 and Sunday 22 September, visitors will have the chance to see how the landscape was a source of mental and spiritual refreshment during and after the war, as well as explore how Chartwell served as a backdrop to the wide ranging interests of Churchill himself.

Visitors will have exclusive access to a team of National Trust specialists, as well as property and volunteer experts, leading activities on butterflies, painting, architecture and the changing landscape.
For more information call 01732 868381 or email chartwell_at_nationaltrust.org.uk.

When I wrote about the Labour landslide victory in 1945 it was pointed out to me, inter alia, that the Golden Age Detective (GAD) writers did not like the victory or the country it created. They certainly did not. Let me just mention a few.

Cyril Hare's post-war novels are full of sad nostalgia and his non-series book, An English Murder, published in 1951 is not just nostalgic and unhappy but shows real anger towards socialist politicians and their destructive actions. Agatha Christie largely took the changes in her stride and carefully adjusted her description of middle class life (unlike Margery Allingham or Ngaio Marsh, for example, who still produced examples of country houses with grandes dames in them) but even she made disdainful comments.

In Mrs McGinty's Dead (1952) there is a sad acceptance that the government is always sending your forms that you need to fill in, a theme that is repeated in other novels. In A Murder Is Announced (1950), one of Christie's best, there is a clear indication that everybody is involved in the black market because it is the only way to survive. When Inspector Craddock chides the vicar's wife with it being against the law, she spiritedly replies that there should not be such silly laws.

The dislike for the controls, the shortages and, especially, the bureaucracy that seems to have flourished in the war and continued to do so afterwards runs through many novels of the period, such as Michael Gilbert's Smallbone Deceased (1950).

In Duplicate Death (1951) Georgette Heyer makes cutting remarks about the destructively high taxation that makes life difficult for people who want to lead a middle class life.

One could go on listing novels and, perhaps, quoting from letters for a while but, undoubtedly, the situation was most devastatingly summed up by John Dickson Carr in a letter to Frederic Dannay (one half of Ellery Queen) in mid-1946, as quoted in Douglas G. Greene's biography:

The regulations in this country grow more and more damnable. One more war for liberty and we shall all be slaves. 
I suspect very many people felt the same way though they might not have been able to express their feelings quite so pithily.


Powered by Blogger.

Followers

Labels

Counters




Blog archive