Alas, pressure of time, tasks and duties has prevented Tory Historian from attending the talk on Disraeli given this evening by Lord Hurd and Edward Young, the biography's co-author. Nothing for it: the book will have to be read and reviewed.
The star turn was the Hon. Edward Everett, pastor, politician, former Harvard President, former Secretary of State and Massachussetts Senator, who gave, as was normal in those days, a two-hour speech, entitled The Battles of Gettysburg. It was full of oratoric flourishes and historic references to other wars. Nobody can even recall the name of the man without looking it up (guilty as charged).
Then the President, Abraham Lincoln stood up and said a few words that have resonated through the succeeding century and a half:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.There has been some discussion on whether those words "government of the people, by the people, for the people" were Lincoln's own or was he quoting, again as was normal in those days of greater knowledge of the classics and religious writers, someone else, specifically John Wycliffe.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that this nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
This Bible is for the Government of the People, by the People, and for the People.No reason why Lincoln or many of his audience should not know that, though few people nowadays would remember that Wycliffe is the name of a great scholar, religious teacher, precursor of the Reformation and the first translator of the Bible into vernacular English as well as that of a fictional detective.
However, there is a problem with his authorship of those words. That they appeared in the Bible of 1384 was first mentioned and the words quoted by Clark Ezra Carr in 1906 in his book, Lincoln at Gettysburg : An Address. Colonel Carr, as Galesburg postmaster had represented Illionois on the committee that made the arrangements for the event and it was he who insisted that the President should be invited to the Dedication and asked to say a few words though Lincoln was known as not being much of an orator.
One might, therefore, say that Colonel Carr knew whereof he spoke when he made the connection between the Gettysburg Address and John Wycliffe's great translation.
Indeed, the speech, short but carefully crafted, is "laced with religious language and meaning". But did it quote Wycliffe?
That seems a little more doubtful. It seems reasonable to assume that the General Prologue was written after Wycliffe's death by John Purvey who completed and revised the translation. Indeed, it was probably written about ten years after Wycliffe's death. He had died in 1384 and the Prologue was probably written some time in 1394 or 1395.
Does it matter? The words Lincoln spoke have been more powerful and influential than almost any other in modern history; they were also an echo of a far older tradition which, unsurprisingly, was English, full of English history and English thought.
On October 22 I went to a book launch at the very fine Daunt's bookshop in Holland Park Avenue. The book in question was The Daffodil Party, a debut thriller by the author and quondam editor of Debrett's Handbook and Burke's Peerage, the ever charming and gregarious Charles Mosley (and here).
Charles and I had known each other in the past and shared many friends but had lost touch for years. It was the much derided Facebook, whose ability to encourage renewed friendships ought to be welcomed by all true conservatives, that allowed us to renew our friendship. I was delighted to receive an invitation to the book launch, delighted to attend and delighted to manage to exchange a few words with Charles with ideas for future meetings.
Alas, there will be no meetings. This wonderful and talented man, the epitome, surely, of Englishness died not long after that event. It seems that he already knew that he had inoperable cancer when he sat there smiling and joking with his friends, signing books and exchanging gossip. The Daily Telegraph gives a very fine obituary that brings a lump to one's throat.
For various reasons to do with ongoing research I have been reading some of the essays in the volume edited by T. G. Otte, The Makers of British Foreign Policy. The first chapter, an introductory overview of the period "from Malplaquet to Maastricht" (a proper acknowledgement of the importance of both those treaties) and written by Professor Otte has this to say among many other interesting matters (p. 12):
The changing political structure of Britain after the extension of the franchise in 1867, moreover, affected the framing and executing of foreign policy. The rising middle class's stringency began to outweigh the aristocracy's traditional appreciation of Europe's significance for British interests, though between Canning and Grey only three Foreign Secretaries sat in the House of Commons. Victorian finance pursued strictly economic ends. Between the Crimean War and the Boer War, Britain's national debt fell steadily. With the reduction in government expenditure, the size and preparedness of Britain's army declined.This raises several interesting points not least that European entanglement was not new to Britain in the twentieth century but it was something that was seen by a growing section of the extended electorate as not being wholly desirable.
The relative insignificance of Britain's armed forces compared with the mass armies of France and Prussia-Germany, and the inapplicability of naval pressure against the dominant Continental powers further restricted Britain's ability to interfere in Europe. The prevailing economizing consensus, indeed, created a mindset that would ultimately contribute to Neville Chamberlain's problems in the late 1930s. The desire of mid-Victorian public opinion for abstention sapped the ability of governments to lead with confidence.
Disraeli (later Lord Beaconsfield) was prepared to challenge that opinion and, if needs be to manipulate it both in his readiness to threaten Russia with a naval squadron and to run rings round it in diplomacy (and that, despite the fact that the Russian Foreign Ministry managed to intercept and decipher most diplomatic telegrams that came anywhere near them or their agents).
It was Gladstone whose policy was beset by ambiguity that has dogged all liberal interventionists ever since, particularly if they wanted to control expenditure. On the one hand, he saw it as Britain's duty to develop an active European policy, on the other hand he wished to eschew Continental entanglements that were liable to cost the country dear and bring no immediately obvious benefits.
A couple of pages later Professor Otte writes:
The underlying problem for British diplomacy at the close of the nineteenth century was that British governments saw European affairs in light of Britain's imperial interests. Continental governments, by contrast, viewed colonial problems in terms of the general great power constellation in Europe.The Anglo-Russian agreement of 1907 was fraught with even more difficulties and misunderstandings (not to mention bad faith on both sides) and was fraying badly by the summer of 1914.
As a result, British diplomacy tended to regard agreements on issues arising from the geostrategic periphery as a means to reduce European frictions, which, in turn, could impinge on Britain's overseas interests. The European powers judged the value of any agreement with Britain by its utility in forcing Britain in taking part in Continental affairs. Thus, Anglo-German alliance talks in 1898 and 1900 - 01 came to nothing and the Anglo-French entente after 1904 was plagued by different interpretations as to the nature and extend of the understanding.
For many of the same reasons I have also been reading a somewhat less satisfactory book by Marina Soroka, Britain, Russia and the Road to the First World War, which does, however, have an interesting comment about the ideas behind diplomacy in that period.
In the 1900s European governments tried to implement their foreign policies without losing sight of two guiding principles. One stated that the "man in the street never cares two damns about foreign politics until he finds himself landed in the wary". The other cautioned that if a government went against the "national feeling" too often or too openly, it might undermined the popular confidence in its foreign policy. How universal these axioms were is obvious from the fact that the first one was expressed by a Foreign Office bureaucrat in parliamentary Britain and the second by the Russian autocrat Alexander III.The two opinions are related though Marina Soroka does not exactly explain how. In general, her book proposes certain theses and then floods the pages with detailed facts and quotations from official and unofficial correspondence, hoping that the theses will find support somewhere in that flood.
While British governments of the late nineteenth century found it difficult to conduct a foreign policy with the electorate more interested in balanced budgets than doubtful European glory, it it also true that by the time of the early twentieth century many diplomats and officials in various foreign ministries found themselves driven to a more aggressive foreign policy than they would have preferred by popular opinion, expressed by the newspapers all too often and by politicians who felt they had to react to that opinion.