Tory Historian was reading some of the essays in H. R. F. Keating's splendid collection, Agatha Christie - First Lady of Crime and found a highly entertaining one by Emma Lathen (really two formidable ladies, Mary Jane Latsis and Martha Hennisart). Entitled Cornwallis's Revenge, it analyzes Christie's technique and her extraordinary popularity, especially in the United States. In fact, posits Ms Lathen, it is the return battle of the War of Independence and it has made the outcome somewhat doubtful.
In 1781 Lord Cornwallis surrendered to George Washington at Yorktown and, for all practical purposes, the Revolutionary War was over. The viscount went on to a distinguished career in India, the rebels became preoccupied with the problems of forging a new political state, and the world assumed that British domination over the colonies was at an end. There the matter rested until 1920 which saw the publication of the first American edition of The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Now, fifty-six years later, any detached observer on these shores would have to admit that the second British Expeditionary Force had been considerably more successful than the first.Heh! That would be the force led by General Hercule Poirot, ably assisted by Brigadier Jane Marple and Lieutenant-Colonels Battle and Race. I think we might forget about the Beresfords for the time being.
Calling all those interested in history in the West Midlands (the historic counties of Shropshire, Staffordshire, Derbyshire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire) and those who might think of visiting: there is a new site, called History West Midlands. It is an independent site (not attached to any academic institution, I assume) and gives a full list of events that could be of interest to anyone interested in the history of that area. In addition, the first issue issue of History West Midlands Magazine, that deals with the fascinating topic the West Midlands Enlightenment is now available to download or to order. Good reading.
This article came my way for reasons that are a little hard to explain. It goes into some detail about peer reviews of different kind in scientific journals. To be honest, most of the argument is a little beyond me and if there are any scientists among this blog's readers they might like to enlighten the rest of us.
However, the article did turn my attention to a rather peculiar development among some journals and, especially, publishers who are insisting on what they call "peer review" in arts and social sciences. This, I maintain, is not just completely unnecessary but is actually harmful.
When I was still editing the printed version of the Conservative History Journal I was asked once or twice whether the articles were peer-reviewed. Until then it had not occurred to me that history articles could be. Factual inaccuracy, if not caught by the editor, is usually pointed out by some alert reader while interpretations one can argue about but they do not come under the rubric of peer review. That would imply that certain interpretations ought not to be published as they are somehow outside the peer consensus. That, as far as I can make out, is exactly what is happening with some publishers. At least one person I know has had trouble after the publisher had accepted her book with peer reviews because her writing was "outside the academic consensus" according to one reviewer. The publisher seems to be in a dither.
My reply was that CHJ is not peer reviewed and nor is it. Mistakes can be picked up and interpretations should be varied. I recall going through an article about Margaret Thatcher's premiership that was really rather hostile to her policies and achievements. I disagreed with every word but corrected only the grammar and punctuation as necessary. Maybe I tightened the text up a little but left all the arguments I considered wrong-headed in place. That, in my opinion, is what an editor does. Running off to a bunch of peer reviewers is not the answer.
Having thought about the subject I realized that a couple more points need to be made. One is that peer review looks at methodology. Any editor of a history journal or of a history book should be able to see whether the methodology makes sense and whether too many relevant facts and developments had been left out. I presume that is not so with science publications as no editor or a journal could understand the methodology of all branches of research. Therefore, peer review makes some sense.
On the other hand, as we have seen with the scandal that surrounds a good deal of the so-called "climate change science" and, specifically, with the e-mail controversy (or scandal) to do with the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, in any controversial subject peer review can be and is used to prevent a break in the consensus.
I am hoping there will be comments on this piece as I would like to start a discussion. It is important for the future of history writing whether we accept the need for peer reviewing or not.
No, this is not to Margaret Thatcher but by her to Ian Gow, who was assassinated by the IRA (well, murdered is as good a word but I prefer assassinated) on July 30, 1990. Mrs Thatcher's tribute was published in The House Magazine in October, 1990, not long before her resignation. Here it is reprinted on PoliticsHome.
The intention is to write a long piece about the first volume of Charles Moore's authorized biography of Margaret Thatcher, Not for Turning, and I have started reading it. Unusually, the Preface is fascinating as it describes how the whole project came about and Lady Thatcher's own attitude and behaviour. Much of it Mr Moore told us at the launch, which was held, rather grandly in the Banqueting House in Whitehall, beneath the Rubens ceiling with the speakers standing by the window through which Charles I had stepped out to the scaffold. (But I digress.)
It is, however, fascinating to read how little interest Lady Thatcher had in self-analysis or in examination of her past life. In this she was the exact opposite of Sir Winston Churchill: for her the deed was the only thing that mattered, not its description (accurately or otherwise) afterwards.
Like all remarkable leaders, she had a great egotism. She always believed that she, and she alone, rescued Britain from its post-1945 years of semi-socialist decline. She believed that the "-ism" which derived from her married name would make a permanent different to the history of human freedom.But she was not at all touchy, or even anxious, about what history might say about her.A remarkable case of self-confidence. How many other leading politicians could show anything similar?
History Today has a wonderful timeline of English and British monarchs. You click on one of them and get a brief summary (with a couple of dates) and their immediate predecessors and successors. You can then click on the name and get a list of articles on the monarch in question that is in the magazine's online archives. Then you have to subscribe to get to the archives but even without that subscription one can have a great deal of fun.
Today, as every school child ought to know, is St George's Day, something that, according to Ed West, became a matter for celebration in the 1990s and then for purely commercial reasons. True, to some extent, but a little unfair. The Scouts, for instance, always celebrated the day. St George remains the Patron Saint of several countries and organizations - in fact, he is a very busy sort of saint.
Many Patronages of Saint George exist around the world, including: Georgia, England, Egypt, Bulgaria, Aragon, Catalonia, Romania, Ethiopia, Greece, India, Iraq, Israel, Lithuania, Portugal, Serbia, Ukraine and Russia, as well as the cities of Genoa, Amersfoort, Beirut, Botoşani, Drobeta Turnu-Severin, Timişoara, Fakiha, Bteghrine, Cáceres, Ferrara, Freiburg im Breisgau, Kragujevac, Kumanovo, Lebanon, Ljubljana, Pérouges, Pomorie, Preston, Qormi, Rio de Janeiro, Lod, Lviv, Barcelona, Moscow and Victoria, as well as of the Scout Movement and a wide range of professions, organizations and disease sufferers.April 23 is also the birth- and death- day of William Shakespeare. Actually, nobody is too sure on which day he was born but he was baptized on the 26th so it is fair to assume that he was born shortly before that. The parallel of his birth and death has always pleased people.
April 23 also happens to be the day W. J. M. Turner claimed as his birthday but there is no real evidence for that. He was baptized on May 14 and that is all we know definitely. Still, it would be pleasant to think that the greatest English playwright and one of the greatest English artists were both born on St George's Day.
An even more interesting anniversary is a round one. We are celebrating the 90th anniversary of the real founding of the 1922 Committee, a little emasculated recently, but still something of a fighting force in the Conservative Party. As Lord Norton of Louth explains here:
The 1922 Committee derives its name from the fact that it was formed by some MPs who were first elected in 1922. Led by the MP for Lowestoft, Sir Gervais Rentoul, they decided to create a body ‘for the purpose of mutual co-operation and assistance in dealing with political and parliamentary questions, and in order to enable new Members to take a more active interest and part in Parliamentary life’. As new MPs, they had little knowledge of Parliament. There was no party structure, other than the whips, within the House to assist. The new Tory Members showed feelings, in Rentoul’s words, of ‘ineffectiveness and bewilderment’.Many things to celebrate, then. You will forgive me, however, for putting up the most obvious sequence for this day.
A preliminary meeting was held on 18 April 1923, at which Rentoul explained the purpose of having a Committee, and the Members then adjourned until 23 April. At this second meeting, the principles on which the body was founded were agreed and the meeting elected officers and an Executive Committee. Rentoul was elected chairman. It was also agreed to meet each week – on Mondays at 6.00 p.m. – when the House was sitting. The first of the scheduled meetings was addressed by the Chief Whip, Leslie Wilson, who offered his assistance and that of his colleagues. The Committee also set up a series of Sub-Committees, though these were superseded in the next Parliament by formal backbench Committees set up by the Party Leader.
An interesting article by Richard Overy and an equally interesting discussion in History Today about the use of the word Nazi, not even nowadays to describe anything and everything some people of the left persuasion happen to disagree with but in the period the party was in power: 1933 - 1945. Well worth reading.
Yesterday was the anniversary of the death of Benjamin Disraeli, Lord Beaconsfield. It was also and for the same reason Primrose Day, created by the Conservative Party to honour one of their greatest and certainly most influential leader.
Lord Lexden, the eminent historian of the Primrose League, has an excellent article on ConHome, in which he draws on his knowledge of the first great popular political organization to suggest that something along those lines could be done to honour Margaret Thatcher.
While Lady Thatcher was the first and so far only woman to lead the party, Disraeli was the first and so far only Jew. But in both cases, initial status as an outsider did not prevent - indeed may well have encouraged - the securing of a deep place in Tory affections.It would be hard to repeat the success of the Primrose League for many reasons. Still, Lord Lexden argues his case persuasively.
And Disraeli's case shows that if only someone can hit on a happy form of commemoration, it ought to be possible to do something genuinely popular, which would make up for some of the present weaknesses in Conservative organisation and the dramatic fall in party membership. A party that cannot call on large numbers of committed activists labours under a severe handicap. Perhaps some genius among the readers of ConservativeHome can even think of a project that will bring UKIP activists flocking back to the Tory colours.
Those who try to depict Margaret Thatcher as a great radical leader uninterested in the historic Conservative heritage often claim that she repudiated the one nation tradition. But in reality she drew heavily upon it. Her patriotism, for example, cannot be understood without reference to it. Tories (sadly) no longer hold a great festival on 19 April, but the values it expressed live on vigorously. We should start thinking what we shall do on 8 April 2014, the first anniversary of Lady Thatcher’s death.This blog will be ready to assist should these ideas be taken seriously by the party.
While on the subject of Dizzy, I have been wondering why he had not been given a state funeral. After all, his great rival, Gladstone was as was, surprisingly enough, Lord Palmerston. I am sure Queen Victoria would have loved to attend a state funeral for her beloved Dizzy.
Apparently this was proposed but Lord Beaconsfield turned it down in his will. Here is a list of people who have had a state funeral. Only four Prime Ministers, one of whom, the Duke of Wellington, was given what, by all accounts, was a shambolic state funeral for his achievements as a military commander.
You can't read the whole article on the net (unless you subscribe) but I thought I'd boast of my article in History Today about the early Russian embassies to London.
Tory Historian was delighted not only with the choice of music for Lady Thatcher's funeral (her choice) but the fact that the two readings were from the Authorized Version of the Bible. What a pleasure to hear those sonorous words again. It is one of the finest pieces of English writing and, as Adam Nicolson points out in his excellent history of how King James Bible was created, it was written to be read out. Sound was everything. The words, pregnant with many meanings, also had to be sonorous.
It so happens that TH is also reading one of E. C. R. Lorac's post-war detective novels, Policemen in the Precinct, the precinct being that of a cathedral, or, to be quite precise a Norman abbey in Paulborough in the Midlands. It starts with discussions of a death. The woman most feared and hated in the precinct because of the way she spread nasty rumours has been found dead of a heart attack (but we know better, do we not?).
Mrs Lilian Mayden is not exactly mourned by anyone but many turn up for her very fine funeral in the abbey, including the one woman who feels sorry for her and who has known her since schooldays, Mrs Alison Bentham. She even finds herself shedding tears but knows that it is the ceremony that invokes the emotions.
As a ceremony it was as near perfection as humanity can attain: every movement, every cadence, every phrase was right with the rightness only attainable by age-old tradition and expert direction.How else can one describe the funeral on Wednesday at St Paul's Cathedral?
The news in yesterday's Evening Standard that among those invited to Lady Thatcher's funeral are her old "friends and colleagues" the Lords Howe and Heseltine (what glorious revenge to make them listen to all those eulogies) reminded me of the time I took over the editing of the Conservative History Journal.
The issue came out in summer 2004 and naturally enough we had to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the 1979 Conservative victory that was to become momentous in the history of the country and the Conservative Party. I decided to ask some of Margaret Thatcher's colleagues to write short pieces about her. For reasons I can no longer recall, only two were approached, the Lords Tebbit and Howe. Both agreed with alacrity and sent me their pieces (in hard copy, being true Tories).
The time has come to republish them. This is what Lord Tebbit wrote:
Margaret Thatcher took office as Prime Minister of a country possessed by both hope and fear. The Heath government had been defeated following its failure to defeat a miners’ strike in 1974. The Callaghan government fell in 1979 , following the “winter of discontent” during the strike of local government workers. Many voters hoped she would go the same way. Rather more hoped she would not - but many even of these feared that she might.
Foreign embassies were reporting to their governments that Britain had become ungovernable. Multi-national companies had all but ceased to invest as the English Disease, a lemming-like propensity to strike, savaged businesses. The vast stateowned sector of industry gorged itself on taxpayers’ money with no prospects of profitability.
Inflation was endemic and conventional wisdom held that it could be restrained only by a state sponsored “prices and incomes policy”, that is either voluntary or state control of prices and incomes.
During Margaret Thatcher’s term British industrial relations changed from the worst in the developed free world to the best.
She went on to win two further elections, defeated the unions’ “nuclear option” of a miners’ strike, and was brought down not by an ungovernable nation - but an ungovernable cabinet.
In the meantime inflation had been controlled by monetarism - not incomes policy - and foreign investment had poured into Britain. The financial haemorrhage of the nationalised industries had been stanched. After privatisation they became profitable corporation taxpayers.
Living standards soared, millions of the “working classes” had become homeowners and shareholders and Britain’s occupational pension schemes were the envy of Europe.
In passing Margaret Thatcher defeated Argentina, bringing down the junta and by a military operation pursued with purpose, skill and daring, established that Britain still had the will and power to defend unilaterally its people and its interest.
She left a great deal still undone, having had neither time - nor enough competent Ministers with courage to resolve other issues. Neither education, the Health Service, nor the welfare system were properly reformed. Local government finance reform was botched by Christopher Patten. Reform of the European Community was sabotaged by Geoffrey Howe. Nor did Thatcherism cure the sickness of the permissive society, which has - as some forecast - become the yob society of the 21st century.
Abroad Margaret Thatcher stiffened the resolve of President Reagan to defeat the challenge of the Soviet Union and bring a decisive victory in the Cold War. Thatcherism” was widely adopted throughout the world.
So much achieved - so much more to be done.
Who can argue that it was a fine piece in Tebbit's inimitable style? The same could be said for the piece sent to me by Lord Howe, which had been typed on a typewriter with the paper clearly torn out of the carriage with fury. There was a corner missing. Perhaps, he had been chewing it.
This is what the article said:
No government, in my judgement, did more in the last quarter of the twentieth century to change the shape of our world. Some mistakes, of course - but overall it was fundamental and enduring change for the better.
Margaret Thatcher’s most important domestic achievement was the dismantling of the unspoken, but crippling, compact between state ownership and monopoly trade unionism. Almost as crucial was the recovery of control over the public finances and the key switch of Britain’s tax structure away from on which positively obstructed enterprise.
The real triumph was to have transformed not just one party but two - so that when Labour did finally return, these changes were accepted as irreversible. The irony is that Thatcherism might never have survived at all, had it not been for John Major’s success in consolidating it.
The one sadness is that Michael Heseltine might have done better still, by securing as well the European role for Britain, which Ted Heath had made possible.
As editor, I was overjoyed to have these two pieces, so clearly in furious disagreement with each other. (We editors are a heartless race.) Readers were pleased. Not so Lord Howe, who wrote to me soon after the journal's publication. He thought I ought to have warned him that his contribution was going to go in next to Norman Tebbit's.
We interrupt the non-stop broadcast of matters to do with the late great Prime Minister to bring news of a stunning archaeological find in the City of London. As the BBC put it yesterday, entire streets of Roman London are being uncovered. The preservation of the many objects and parts of buildings has led to people referring to this as the "Pompeii of the north" and it is assumed that our knowledge and understanding of Roman London will be transformed.
One of the most important finds, as today's article in the Evening Standard explains, is a batch of about 100 wax tablets "which are written records and which experts hope will reveal the names of Roman Londoners and the streets they lived on". A directory of Roman London. What could be more exciting?
Interestingly, the site was supposed to have been thoroughly excavated in the fifties when the Temple of Mithras was found. It seems not.
The Roman temple of Mithras — dating from the 3rd century AD — was discovered in 1954 and experts from the Museum of London Archaeology believed that the surviving parts of the temple had already been fully excavated and dismantled, and that no other remains would have survived the extensive building work of the Fifties and Sixties.The remains of the temple will now be moved back to where they were found in the first place and the new discoveries properly exhibited. Eventually. Oh yes, and Bloomberg will have their new headquarters.
However, they were astonished to discover even more of the temple, including walls to the vestry and other finds which will help to put it into context.
“All the 50 archaeologists who are working on site at the moment know they are unlikely to see one like it again,” said project manager Sophie Jackson. “Why the site is so incredibly important is the quality of the preservation of the archaeological finds that are normally lost or decayed on other sites.”
Finds include the second Roman door to be discovered in the capital, a complete amber gladiator amulet, the largest ever collection of good luck charms in the shape of phalluses and fists, and a giant decorated piece of leather that is believed to be part of an item of soft furnishing, and which is without parallel in the known Roman world.
Although Lady Thatcher has been out of action for some years and has not even made any public appearances for the last couple of them, her presence was something many of us took almost for granted and found reassuring. Her death has temporarily united the Conservative party in grief and admiration and somewhere behind that unity are the thoughts that her political "defenestration" in 1990 left a wound that the party has not yet healed. It is a bigger wound than the Maastricht debates and quarrels of the Major years. Will the lady's death finally heal that wound?