My end of the year reading is, among others, The Secret World by Hugh Trevor-Roper, a collection of his writings on Intelligence, counter-Intelligence, various ideas behind both as well as personalities involved in wartime secret work. There are articles, letters and the full text of his book on Philby and Admiral Canaris. a good deal of it will have to be written about another time.
In this posting I should like to quote from the Foreword by another brilliant historian, Sir Michael Howard, who touches on Trevor-Roper's post war activity or lack of in the field though, fortunately, he wrote about such matters.
If Hugh did any work for the Intelligence Services after the war he left no trace, but it is not likely. His professional colleagues had always resented the wartime intrusion of interlopers and were glad to see the last of them - with the exception, of course, of the deferential and reliable Kim Philby, the only one they really trusted.Thereby, as we all know, hangs a very painful tale about which Trevor-Roper had much to say. I shall return to this book and to the great historian's letter published last year in the very near future.
In the meantime, a very happy and prosperous 2015 to all readers of this blog and let us not forget all the many important anniversaries that are coming up.
A very merry Christmas to all the blog's readers and to ensure that it is that, here is a version of the mediaeval carol Gaudete, performed by the choir of Clare College, Cambridge:
The BBC History Magazine asked several historians which history books of 2014 would they rate most highly. The replies made me realize that I had better get reading those books before the 2015 ones start coming out. (As it happens I already noticed a book that will not be published till next year but is in London Library: Boris Volodarsky's Stalin's Agent, a biography of the famous and infamous Alexander Orlov.) But I digress.
Back to 2014:
Nigel Jones nominates Roger Moorhouse's The Devils' Alliance, a detailed study of the Nazi-Soviet Pact from the moment it was signed to the moment it was broken.
Helen Castor, author of the highly praised recent biography of Joan of Arc, lists three books on the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth century. In that order they are Dan Jones's The Hollow Crown: the Wars of the Roses and the Rise of the Tudors, Jessie Childs's God's Traitors: Terror and Faith in Elizabethan England and Charles Spencer's Killers of the King: The Men Who Dared to Execute Charles I. The last title is particularly fascinating to me as I have long found it fascinating to imagine the minds of people who dared to do the unthinkable: not to kill a king as a good many kings had been killed in England and other countries but to try and execute him. Surely that is the event that can be seriously called the beginning of the modern era.
Finally, Simon Sebag Montefiore picks Jessie Childs's book, as well as Serhii Plokhi's The Last Empire: The Final Days of the Soviet Union and Victor Sebestyen's 1946: The Making of the Modern World. Clearly Mr Sebestyen and I (we are acquainted) would disagree on that assumption as on a number of other issues as always, I hope, in a friendly fashion.
This morning I heard the news that my good friend and well known political scientist Dennis O'Keeffe has passed away. He is, I was rightly told, at peace after his appalling suffering.
About three and a half years ago Dennis had a very nasty accident and his life since then has been very difficult and constrained, the last couple of weeks particularly so. It would be far too easy to remember that and not the Dennis O'Keeffe of many social and political meetings, the man who would manage to crack jokes about the most unlikely subjects.
My other friend John O'Sullivan described him as a brave and strong fighter for the right cause and that could be described as the cause of the right. Dennis wrote extensively about social and educational problems, arguing on the basis of much evidence that intervention by the state and control by the state made those problems far worse. (Here is a list of some of his publications.)
Nor must we forget Dennis's work in Eastern Europe, particularly in Poland, which he visited several times in the eighties as part of the Jagiellonian group, giving various talks to the underground university. It is fair to say that he and his colleagues were at some risk but continued the work because they thought it was necessary. Dennis learned some Polish and had a decent accent though his vocabulary, as he admitted himself, was limited. Nor did he forget it. I heard him speak Polish to at least one nurse in the care home where he, unfortunately, spent the last few years.
From the conservative point of view, Dennis's achievements are great. He wrote the best introduction to Edmund Burke anyone would need, as this blog has pointed out before, better really, for someone who does not know much about the subject than Jesse Norman's study.
He also translated into English Benjamin Constant's Principles of Politics Applicable to All Governments, first published in 1815. For anyone who is interested in an interview Dennis gave about Constant, they can listen to it here.
At the time of that terrible accident Dennis O'Keeffe was working on a six volume edition of Frédéric Bastiat's work, editing and translating it. Several of the volumes were completed and published and are available on the Liberty Fund website, an outstanding source for all who want to read the conservative and liberal (in the old, true sense of the word) classics.
One can only rejoice that the work Dennis did has been done and will be of use to many of us and many to come while feeling sad that there will be no more as there will be no more jokes and laughter, talks and arguments. Rest in Peace Dennis. We shall miss you.
A day much celebrated in countries where children cleaned their shoes yesterday and placed them in the window for St Nicholas (in his many names) to fill either with sweets or a small birch, depending on their behaviour. He is also the patron saint of of sailors, merchants, archers, repentant thieves, children, pawnbrokers and students in various cities and countries around Europe as well as of the Varangian Guard of the Byzantine emperors, who protected his relics in Bari.
Tory Historian has already written about the British Library's excellent idea to reprint little known Victorian detective stories and to do the same for less well known writers of the Golden Age though this might turn out to be a task beyond even that formidable institution. New books are, however, being published with remarkable speed and it is quite a task to keep up with them. A number of them are selling very well both on Amazon and in bookshops, Waterstone's in Piccadilly being a prime example.
Martin Edwards, who has been appointed Series Consultant to the Crime Classics series gives some figures here. They are impressive.
Tory Historian has now read three more books, one of the early ones, Mr Bazalgette's Agent and two of the Golden Age ones, both by Mavis Doriel Hay, Murder Underground and Death on the Cherwell.
Leonard Merrick's Mr Bazalgette's Agent is the third book of the Victorian period to have a female detective at its centre (though in this case there are many qualifications) and is usually described as the first actual novel about one such lady but as Mike Ashley explains in his excellent introduction, Miss Miriam Lea, who becomes a Private Agent as she cannot find more "respectable" employment is really the second one, the first being an American, The Lady Detective, Kate Goelet, whose investigation of The Great Bond Robbery was told by "Old Sleuth" alias Harlan Page Halsey (1837 - 1898) was told in 1880. Leonard Merrick's novel appeared in 1888.
Leonard Merrick (1864 - 1939), an unknown figure these days, was according to J. M. Barrie "a novelist's novelist" and was highly regarded in his day. He, on the other hand, disliked Mr Bazalgette's Agent so much that he tried to buy up and pulp every copy of it. Mike Ashley speculates that his dislike may have been based on some feeling of guilt for using Harlan Page Halsey's material.
In Mr Ashley's expert opinion Mr Bazalgette's Agent is a better novel than its predecessor. Undoubtedly, it is well written and extracts some sly enjoyment out of the narrator heroine's diary, which shows her to be strong-minded and determined but also not very good at recognizing certain truths about herself and other people. Miss Lea is not particularly likeable, being insufferably snobbish and supercilious, even towards the other strong-minded female in the book, a professional detective who travels with her as her maid.
The plot is exciting and the ending is amusing as well as unexpected (TH will not even hint at it) but the ease with which Mr Bazalgette's Agency finances Miss Lea's somewhat speculative travels across Europe, back to Britain, then to South Africa and its diamond fields is astonishing. What sort of a budget do they have and how is it that they do not go bust?
The other two books under discussion are of the later and by some definition golden age of the detective story, published respectively in 1934 and 1935. There were a good many writers in that period, many of good and even outstanding quality and the British Library, one hopes, will get round to a number of them so that supposed historians of the genre stop thinking that hardly anyone existed outside the "four queens", Christie, Sayers, Marsh and Allingham.
It is not clear why anyone thought Miss Hay was so good that all three of her novels had to be reprinted though the suggestion that it was easy to negotiate with her estate is one to be taken seriously.
The novels are introduced by Stephen Booth who is more interesting on Miss Hay's life than on her writing. The introduction to Murder Underground gives a general outline and the one to Death on the Cherwell fills in some details. It seems that Miss Hay was at St Hilda's about the same time as Sayers was at Somerville 1913 - 1916 so one can, perhaps speculate about them meeting at some tea party or literary discussion though Sayers does not mention her in her letters. Hay does not seem to have gone back in 1920 or subsequently to collect her degree when women were finally allowed to have them. Sayers did. Another interesting parallel between the two is them both publishing novels about Oxford in 1935, the year of Gaudy Night as well as Death on the Cherwell.
Stephen Booth speculates briefly why there were no more detective stories from Mavis Doriel Hay after 1937 (the year Sayers also stopped writing them with the unfinished Thrones Dominations) and comes to the conclusion that the general situation that eventually led to the war was too serious for her to produce frivolous novels. Given how many Golden Age writers went on working in that field, this does not sound adequate. It has to be said, though that Miss Hay lost one brother in the First World War and two brothers as well as her husband in the Second one. A higher than average rate.
Murder Underground is described by Curtis Evans as being underwhelming and TH has to agree with that. There are some good aspects to the book: the description of life in London in the early thirties, of the various people in Frampton Guest House (a genteel boarding house) as well as of its owner are amusing and probably accurate. The description of servants and a good time girl one of the Bright Young Things picks up and then uses to cover up his stupidity is less successful though there is some indication that the author is not altogether enamoured of the BYTs' attitude to the rest of the world.
What is particularly problematic about the book is its laughing attitude to a gruesome crime (an old woman is strangled with a dog leash, causing suffocation by falling forward on the stairs of Belsize Park station). Stephen Booth, whose understanding of Golden Age Detective (GAD) novels is of the superficial and dismissive kind, quotes P. D. James on the subject:
The detective stories of the interwar years were paradoxical. They might deal with violent death, but essentially they were novels of escape. We feel no real pity for the victim, no empathy for the murderer, no sympathy for the falsely accused.Actually, this is wrong but Baroness James has never shown herself to be especially knowledgeable about the history of detective stories despite writing a slim volume on the subject. A good many books of the period show real pity, empathy and sympathy but, alas, not Murder Underground.
Even the detection is limited: the police appear briefly at the beginning and reappear "unobtrusively" towards the end, having not solved anything; the Bright Young Things who usurp the action (if one can call it that) behave with unparalleled stupidity; and the solution both of the method and the motive is almost accidental.
There are two maps to gladden Tory Historian's heart and a very simple and pointless family tree. Are the maps useful? Passing Tramp (a.k.a. Curt Evans) thinks not. Well, they are not completely useless either.
There is a map of the Cherwell, real with imaginary additions in Death on the Cherwell but that does little except confuses the issue. In fact all the various descriptions of the river do just that. However, people who know it, North Oxford and Marston now will be astonished to read of farmland extending all the way to the Cherwell in the mid-thirties.
This is a better novel than its predecessor: the plot is tighter and though there is an attempt at silly facetiousness about the death of an unloved college bursar, Miss Denning, that quickly disappears and the Bright Young Things, in this case undergraduates of Persephone College (St Hilda's) are brought under control by the police who investigate the crime, using old-fashioned methods of working out time tables and geographic locations. (Somewhat more irritating is the slang used by the various undergraduates, also mercifully absent from modern Oxford.)
Oddly enough, two of the BYTs of the previous novel appear but behave like responsible adults. Amazing what marriage and writing success can do for one.
The questionable part is Stephen Booth's introduction though further details of Miss Hay's biography are fascinating as mentioned above. But did Mr Booth actually read the novel before writing his introduction? This is what he says:
Hay seems to have been pleased with the police inspector who made an unobtrusive entrance in her previous novel, because here we meet Inspector Wythe, a sympathetic and intelligent character, not the typical clodhopping local bobby. He is not quite quick enough to beat the amateur sleuths to the solution, but he gives them a run for their money. The sleuthing becomes a competition between rival groups of male and female students from Persephone and St Simeon's. In the end, it seems none of the people concerned may be capable of crime, though moral guilt turns out to be a powerful thing in Mavis Doriel Hay's world.This is almost entirely incorrect. Inspector Wythe does appear at the beginning and continues to play a secondary role when Detective-Inspector Braydon of Scotland Yard comes to his assistance and "moral guilt" is, indeed, mentioned at the end. The rest, the bulk of the book and of the summary is completely different.
There is no competition between the male and female students, only the latter being interested in sleuthing and they are induced to tell all and to hand over their find to the police very swiftly. The amateurs do not get a look in this time and the case is solved by DI Braydon.
It has to be said that just as in the first novel there is no multitude of serious suspects. In fact, the killer in each one is very obvious. It must also be added that there is a good deal of genuine emotion in the second novel and an understanding of sorrow and waste. This might surprise Baroness James.
It was one of those events all who lived through will remember. Where were you when you heard about the Wall being opened up and coming down? I was at home, glued to the radio (not having a TV set), tears welling in my eyes. Could we really believe it?
Yes, it did happen and on that day, the Second World War was finally over.
Wir sind ein Volk said the placards and the Germans asserted their right to be one united country. It was the people of East Germany and Eastern Europe in general who brought down the Wall and Communism as a whole with a little help from President Reagan and Prime Minister Thatcher.
The beginning of the Wall
And the end
Finally, a wordless history:
Yes, it's that date again. As 1066 And All That said, the day and the month are memorable but not the year. (1605 in case you are interested but, really, I do not see why you should be.)
We must assume that readers of this blog are more or less knowledgeable of the story so there is no need to rehash it. Instead I am linking to a blog I wrote earlier on another outlet, drawing some parallels with the present situation.
It is, perhaps, worth adding that this blog does not subscribe to the theory that Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators were innocent victims to the Machiavellian Cecil's machinations nor was he a freedom-fighter. On the contrary: the man and his comrades were anxious to impose the most autocratic and obscurantist system of that time on England. Guy Fawkes himself is supposed to have fought on the Spanish side in the Lowlands and to have offered his services to the King of Spain on a subsequent occasion.
This really is just a posting about random thoughts and a short one at that. (Phew! I hear you say.) I went to an interesting talk about the Human Rights Act and whether it is a good thing or not by Guy Herbert, the man who runs NO2ID. His conclusions were not quite what people might expect, unless you knew Guy and his habit of thinking every issue through to the logical and unpalatable end.
During the discussion, almost inevitably, the subject of Magna Carta came up with somebody arguing that a great deal of the discussion is conducted on an emotional level. Thus, people who were "against" the Magna Carta were deemed to be bad or very bad whereas those who were "for" it were obviously the good guys. He was not talking about the actual participants of that event in 1215 but about people who talked about the subject now.
How, I asked, can one be for or against something that happened in the thirteenth century and was, whichever way you look at it, of some importance in this country's history? That reminds me of the possibly apocryphal story about Thomas Carlyle hearing that Margaret Fuller said that she had decided to accept the universe. "Gad!" - said the great conservative sage. - "She'd better."
Of course, one is for Magna Carta but what one might be against is the hysteria that is already growing around that event, important though it was, the political shenanigans that we shall see with different parties claiming that mediaeval document for themselves and, of course, the miasma of inevitability that will surround so many of the discussions. Magna Carta in 1215 ergo Britain being uniquely free and democratic. Not so, but far from it.
The British Library is, as everyone knows or should know, one of the finest institutions in the world with a wonderful collection of books and helpful staff in the reading rooms, fascinating exhibitions, a superlatice collection of stamps for those who find the subject interesting (alas, TH seems to have got over that particular obsession some years ago) and a publishing arm of some distinction.
In particular, Tory Historian has been overjoyed by the Library's decision to reprint detective stories from the Victorian period and, more recently, from what is known as the Golden Age that have been forgotten by all except a few historians of the genre. It may be added that not a few of the better known "historians" who are constantly interviewed and commissioned to write articles on the subject know very little beyond the best known authors. But that is another and more painful story that requires at least one separate article.
In the circumstances, the British Library is doing us all a favour by publishing books that are of importance in the history of the genre but have fallen into a literary memory hole.
The Notting Hill Mystery by Charles Warren Adams is, contrary to popular assumptions about Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone the first detective novel, having been serialized in Once A Week in 1862 - 3. In other words it predates both The Moonstone and Emile Gaboriau's first M. Lecoq novel, published in 1869 in two volumes, though Gaboriau's L'Affaire Lerouge was serialized in 1863. Anyway, the British Library has now republished The Notting Hill Mystery and everyone can start making comparisons with the better known novels.
Structurally it is not dissimilar from The Moonstone in that it is a collection of depositions from various people who were involved in greater or lesser degree in the nefarious dealings of the sinister Baron R ___, who is suspected of murdering his wife. The story starts some years before with the birth in particularly shocking and tragic circumstances of twin girls. The evidence is collected painstakingly by Ralph Henderson, an insurance investigator, the very personification, one might say, of the genre and of the investigating detective, being a middle class professional gentleman who is used to collecting evidence in a painstaking manner.
Sadly, Tory Historian, a great fan of Wilkie Collins's works and not only of the best known two novels and one story (The Biter Bit, which is frequently anthologized), did not find Charles Warren Adams's book fascinating though it ws, quite as good as either The Moonstone or The Woman in White, perhaps because the story was a little too obvious and too sensational (very much of its time) and, more to the point, the characters did not shine the way Collins's do. For all of that, The Notting Hill Mystery is very well worth reading by anyone who has the slightest interest in the history of detective novels or sensational literature and by anyone who might be interested in the history of that area of West London.
The British Library has also reprinted the three earliest collections of adventures by women detectives, who are employed as such, sometimes privately as in Mr Bazalgette's Agent, sometimes by the police or in a private capacity as in The Female Detective and the one TH has read, Revelations of a Lady Detective.
This collection of adventures belongs more to the Victorian sensational novels than to the detective fiction as developed by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his rivals and successors of the Golden Age but Mrs Paschal, the heroine/narrator does display great abilities of ratiocination as well as a determined attitude towards the catching of criminals and the claiming of whatever reward might be offered. In the first story she resolutely discards her crinoline (described by her as hateful) in order to pursue the criminal; in others she unhesitatingly disguises herself even as a possible novice in a nunnery run by a very sinister Abbess.
Of the available Golden Age detective fiction Tory Historian has read two by John Bude (pseudonym of Ernest Carpenter Elmore), both introduced by a present-day practitioner of the art and highly knowledgeable historian of the genre, Martin Edwards, The Lake District Murder and The Cornish Coast Murder.
The latter of these was, in fact, published first though both came out in 1935. They were slightly unusual for the period in that they took place in very precisely described English locations, which was not London and not an imaginary county somewhere in the Midlands or the Home Counties. Both are very much of the Golden Age with clever mysteries and painstaking deduction, following up of clues and of various time tables. In fact, they belong to what might be called the Freeman Wills Crofts school of detective fiction but in Tory Historian's opinion John Bude was a better writer.
The Cornish Coast Murder is a mixture of police and amateur investigation, with Inspector Bigswell, a fairly intelligent police officer together with his subordinates and superiors representing officialdom and the Reverend Dodd, the local vicar and detective story addict together with his friend and fellow addict, the local doctor, representing the amateurs. On the whole, the amateurs win but the officials do not come out too badly.
The Lake District Murder introduces Inspector Meredith, who becomes Superintendent by the end of the book, largely in recognition of the way he solves the case in question. There are no amateurs and the work is done entirely by the police team, which appears to have a remarkably large manpower at its disposal.
Inspector Meredith is a likeable and hard-working chap with a long-suffering wife and an eager-beaver son who is apprenticed to a photographer but would probably like to go into the force himself. He has a good relationship both with his superiors and his underlings. In fact, there is a clear indication of police work requiring a team to achieve the desired result. It is, for instance, the Superintendent who understands how the murder was done though Meredith had worked out, following up clues and information provided by his staff, who had done it and why.
Having read The Lake District Murder, Tory Historian decided to try another novel by John Bude while waiting for The Cornish Coast Murder to make its way back to London Library. Such is the influence of the British Library reprints that only one Bude book could be found on the shelves, Death in Ambush, published in 1945 but one that clearly belongs to the inter-war period.
Unfortunately, this turned out to be greatly inferior. The writing is still witty and attractive (still better than Freeman Wills Crofts's) but the plot is considerably sillier than the one in the Lake District or, as it turned out, the one on the Cornish Coast. One murder method is very clever but the second one is complicated to the point of ridiculousness. The only reason nobody understands it to the very end is because there is no autopsy despite death being highly violent.
Superintendent Meredith is now in Scotland Yard and back to being Inspector; his wife has effaced herself almost as much as Inspector French's does in the Crofts series and there is no mention of the son at all.
He investigates the two crimes almost accidentally as he happens to be staying with his friend, the Watson of the book, a successful detective story writer, Aldous Barnet, who finds most of the clues and manages to elucidate the cause of the second murder. Meredith rushes around, accusing first one person then another of the crime and demanding an alibi from the accused. Otherwise, he says darkly over and over again, the prosecutor will make hay. The notion that it is he who has to produce the evidence does not seem to occur to anyone.
Eventually, the last person standing, so to speak, turns out to be Second Murderer (the first murder is sort of solved earlier in the book) and a couple of vital clues are discovered not to be revealed to the reader until the last explanation to Meredith's superiors.
In fact, something of a mess. Fortunately, The Cornish Coast Murder turned up and made up for Death in Ambush. The British Library is planning to reprint at least one more novel by John Bude. Let us hope it is more like the first two and not like the later one.
There will be further reports on the British Library Classic Crimes series.
The Conservative History Group will be holding a meeting on November 24 in the House of Lords in Committee Room 1: Professor Steven Fielding and Michael Dobbs will speak on Politics in Fiction - from Disraeli to Dobbs. You may think that one of the speakers will not be able to avoid a few references to himself but I couldn't possibly comment.
Here is the information as sent out by the Group:
Steven Fielding is Professor of Political History at the University of Nottingham. His new book, A State of Play, explores the depiction of British politics in fiction, from the reverence of Anthony Trollope to the cynicism of The Thick of It. Drawing on a wide range of material - from Yes Mininster and the novels of H.G. Wells to less obvious sources such as Steptoe and Son and the works of Agatha Christie - he argues that these depictions have played an important but insidious part in shaping how we think about our democracy and have helped to ventilate the British public's many frustrations with Westminster.Attendance is free but it is advisable to book here.
Prof. Fielding will be talking to us about his book, focusing particularly on the way Conservatives have been portrayed down the ages. He will be joined by Michael, Lord Dobbs, the political author and creator of one of the most famous fictional Tories - Francis Urquhart of the House of Cards trilogy, which has now spawned award-winning TV adaptations on both sides of the Atlantic.
Ahem, I seem to have blogged about one of the speakers in another place, here and here. The talks should be interesting, though. Try and get to the event if you are anywhere near Westminster that evening.
The British Library is bringing together all four existing versions of that great document but, it seems, only for one day. There is a ballot for 1,215 people "to be part of history" and to take advantage of "the unique opportunity to see all four Magna Carta documents at the British Library in London". Despite those words I considered taking part in the ballot but abandoned that idea when I read about the circus I would have to submit to, should I win (an unlikely event but one must consider all possibilities.
On arrival, winners will be welcomed to the British Library by historian and TV presenter Dan Jones, who will explain the history and significance of Magna Carta. To the sound of live medieval music in the British Library’s entrance hall, winners will then be taken by costumed characters from the 13th century to view the four original Magna Carta manuscripts on display together for the first time.One can only hope that there will be other exhibitions and events without the faux mediaeval atmosphere.
In the meantime, this blog will indulge in some random thoughts on the subject of the Great Charter and related events. The first random thought came to me as I considered other countries in which similar documents were produced, one of them, Hungary, then a great kingdom, where the magnates forced King Andrew II to sign The Golden Bull in 1222. (Here is a somewhat more romantic view of the event that reminds one of many a comment about the Magna Carta.) The notion of The Golden Bull being Hungary's Magna Carta is not particularly odd as anyone who compares the Articles of the two documents can see. Of course, what with the Mongol invasion, subsequent wars and the Ottoman occupation, Hungary's history turned out to be somewhat different from England's though even the latter saw the imposition of authoritarian government under the Tudors as well as a civil war or two. Here is what the historian László Kontler says on the subject in his carefully argued book, A History of Hungary.
In 1222, the country-wide movement of the servientes compelled Andrew II to issue the famous Golden Bull, sometimes mentioned as a counterpart of the English Magna Carta of 1215. Most of its thirty articles concerned the encroachment of the king and his barons and the unlawfulness of these as well as the alienation of large royal estates, but the ones most important for posterity decreed the uniform rights and privileges of the nobility: the exemption from taxes and from quartering troops, from the jurisdiction of others than the king and thepalatine, the freedom of the servientes from harassment by the barons, the requirement of a legal warrant to detain them, etc. An additional clause invested the secular and ecclesiastical lords with a right of resistance in case the aforementioned were violated by the king; a clause rarely invoked during the rest of the Middle Ages, but all the more often during the long period of Hungary's association with the House of Habsburg. However much of a mere plot the movement of the servientes, and however rudimentary the Golden Bull was, these were the beginnings of a process in which the idea of communitas regni became influential in Hungary and an estates based parliamentarianism developed, and groups outside the royal council had access to policy-making (for the first time at the assembly of 1277).Clearly, a few explanations are needed. Who were the servitas, for instance? Back to László Kontler's book:
Of the many opposition movements [to Andrew II] the most important was that of the so-called royal servientes. "Servants" by name, they were in fact the freest agents in a society where even the relatively independent jobbágy warriors were high-placed subjects within the manorial system; the servientes themselvese were landlords, small or great, and possessed subjects, few or many, and called themselvess "servants of the king" because it was only to the king that they owed service and obedience - not as their landlord but as the ruler of the country.The concepts and ideas are not unfamiliar to those who know English mediaeval history and neither is that of communitas regni: as this dictionary of mediaeval legal terms explains it is "the Community of the Realm; the general representation of the nation in Parliament".
There were some differences, obviously, one of which was the murder of Queen Gertrude, Andrew II's German wife who had brought with her, as was usual, large numbers of courtiers and relatives, whose influence and privileges were resented by the Magyar nobility of whatever status. This story is told (somewhat romantically and patriotically) in József Katona's play Bánk bán (1819) that was performed at the National Theatre on March 15,1848 and in the opera by Ferenc Erkel (1861) that was performed in the Opera House on a crucial day in 1956. The opera has a very fine patriotic aria sung by Bánk bán himself.
None of this aims to diminish the importance of Magna Carta. Indeed, it is possible, as Wikipedia says, that "[i]t may even have been inspired by Magna Carta, as its greatest supporters met with exiled Magna Carta leaders such as Robert Fitzwalter during the Fifth Crusade". And that would make the influence of the Great Charter even more obvious.
Captain Frederick Burnaby has appeared on this blog before (here, for example) and deserves a great deal of attention. It so happens that I have recently finished his second book of adventures to do with Russia, whom he did not trust in the slightest, On Horseback Through Asia Minor, written and published in 1877.
Burnaby was definitely in the Turcophile camp, politically speaking, though he found some of the Turkish attitudes frustrating. He also found it hard to understand why the Turks should be so anxious to fight Russia (though sometimes this seemed like a fatalistic acceptance of the inevitable) while doing so little to build up their military strength, defence structures and equipment (also shrugged off fatalistically). Nevertheless, he thought that Britain should support Turkey against Russia whom he saw not just as an enemy but also as a barbaric country whose treatment of numerous people, especially in her push forward in the Caucasus and Central Asia, was abominable. Turkey, he thought, could conceivably become a well governed country with Britain's help but Russia was determined to prevent that as the idea of a well-governed country on her border was an abomination to her. (Ahem, sounds familiar?)
During his ride, Burnaby spent some time in Erzingan [sic] where he had a long conversation with Mutasaraf Pascha, the civil governor of the province, who told him of the capture of a Russian agent with various incriminating papers on him that proved beyond doubt that the Russians were fomenting trouble in Bulgaria and various vulnerable parts of the Ottoman Empire. The papers were sent to Constantinople but nothing was done about them or the information in them because the Sultan was under the control (more or less) of the Russian ambassador, Count Ignatieff. [Needless to say, Russian historians view the period differently.]
Burnaby asked Mutasaraf Pascha whether there were any names in the papers that had been taken from the Russian agent.
Yes, names implicating some very high Russian functionaries. I hope that we shall soon be engaged in hostilities with Russia. Ever since the battle of Sedan she has been secretly at war with Turkey, and trying to stab us under the guise of friendship. Ignatieff encouraged Abdul Aziz in his extravagance. He knew this would lead to bankruptcy and to a rupture of the alliance with England; and you may depend upon it, that the Russian Ambassador was one of the first men to advise his majesty to repudiate the debt.This was meat and drink to Burnaby who considered that Russia was a definite threat to India as well as to Constantinople.
They are very clever, these Russian diplomats and however poor Russia may be, she has always enough gold to sow the seeds of sedition and rebellion in her neighbour's territory. You will find this out for yourselves one day.
Later, especially under the Soviet regime it became obvious that poverty and even famine could be disregarded if money was to be spent on propaganda and destabilization abroad. As to sowing the seeds of sedition and rebellion, it is possible that many Ukrainians, Georgians and Moldovans would agree with the Turkish official.
Lord Lexden, official historian of the Conservative Party (and who could fill that position better?) and Chairman of the Conservative History Group has a long article on the transition from the last Stuart Monarch, Anne to the first Hanoverian one, George I and what that meant in political terms for the two parties: the Tories and the Whigs. He explains very clearly how the Tories mismanaged their affairs to the extent they did and how they lost their political supremacy (brief though it was) to the Whigs who maintained it more or less for the rest of the eighteenth century.
Lord Lexden also gave a talk on the subject at the Carlton Club on October 9.
One paragraph particularly caught my attention as it demolishes so many modern myths about politics at the end of the seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth centuries:
Frequent elections, required under the Triennial Act of 1694, ensured that the country as a whole was divided as sharply and passionately as Parliament itself. Both parties had highly developed organizations which attracted abundant support in the constituencies amongst voters and the unenfranchised alike (the latter enjoyed the excitement and money that elections brought), and both maintained close links with journalists and pamphleteers committed to their cause in a country where literacy rates were high by European levels (perhaps nearly two-thirds of men and one-third of women).Naturally, things did not work out quite as planned, partly because of Queen Anne dying and partly because of the in-fighting within the party as well as sympathy for the Jacobite cause expressed by some Tories.
It is estimated that at this time Britain had an electorate of some 250,000, or 4.7 per cent of the population, a slightly higher proportion than after the Reform Act of 1832. [Another myth that needs to be destroyed: the notion that the First Reform Act enfranchised people.]
The country went to the polls no fewer than ten times between 1690 and 1714, far more frequently than any modern generation of democrats would contemplate in such a short period. The pendulum swung between the two parties, producing either small or significant majorities for one or the other until 1710. Then the Tories achieved two landslides in a row. In 1719 they won 346 seats, leaving the Whigs with 193; three years later, following a sudden upsurge of fanatical popular support for the Church, the margin was even greater: 370 Tory MPs were returned and only 177 Whigs. The party of Church and King had at last secured the ascendancy for which it had worked since 1688. Moreover, the monarch was a staunch Anglican. The Tories looked forward to serving her in government indefinitely
It would be useful if people who talk loudly about politics being particularly venomous at the moment would spend a modicum of time on reading history. They might find much to surprise them and to put "the present discontents" into perspective.
The more Tory Historian reads works by and about Dorothy L. Sayers (who has appeared on this blog a few times) the more it becomes apparent that Miss Sayers (who was, for certain purposes Mrs Fleming) would not have liked the appropriation of her carefully crafted characters by Jill Paton Walsh. She spent some time discussing the whole process of creation both in literary and theological terms in The Mind of the Maker, a book TH has read twice and intends to read again at some later stage. She has also referred to the subject if obliquely in the letters she exchanged with Dr Eustace Barton, her co-author or, at least, collaborator in the unusual Documents in the Case. [The link gives away some of the plot.]
Dr Barton was a fascinating character, a doctor and a writer of mystery stories (not an unusual combination) but mostly a collaborator with other writers like L. T. Meade and, in the case of one novel, Dorothy L. Sayers. He supplied the outline of the plot and the scientific details about which there was a great deal of discussion in various letters and scientific journals after the book's publication. So far as Tory Historian who is, most definitely not a scientist, can tell, the general view now is that the detection of the crime is entirely possible but there might be more recent theories that say otherwise. Catherine Kenney discusses his role in the creation of the book here as part of her own study, The Remarkable Case of Dorothy L. Sayers, mentioned on this blog before.
I am so glad you like Lord Peter. I certainly don't intend to kill him off yet, but I think it would be better to invent a new detective for any tales we do together. For one thing, people would associate his name with mine and be inclined to hand me out more than my half-share of credit for the story, which wouldn't be just. Also, it would simplify matters to have somebody with more scientific surroundings, don't you think? Lord Peter isn't supposed to know a lot about chemistry and that sort of thing, and it would mean inventing a docotr or somebody to help him out. Also, I'm looking forward to getting a rest from him, because his everlasting breeziness does become a bit of a tax at times!A whole list of reasons for not writing a novel about Lord Peter in collaboration with "Robert Eustace" but what one cannot help feeling behind it is a reluctance to share the character and his associates. They are her creation and hers they must remain. Which raises a question or two about Ms Paton Walsh's calm appropriation of them all.
Interestingly the first volume of the letters that takes up the story to 1936, with the last complete Lord Peter Wimsey novel, first written and produced as a play, Busman's Honeymoon, does not solve the mystery of why he and his entourage were abandoned. Sayers did not comlete the novel she started that year, Thrones, Dominations, later completed by Paton Walsh, and produced only odds and ends about the Wimseys and those around them: a couple of short stories and a series of letters, published in The Spectator in 1939 - 40 as part of her war effort.
There are indications in the letters of 1935 and 1936 that Sayers was planning further adventures. There are references to Viscount St George (Wimsey's nephew and the heir to the Dukedom of Denver) coming a cropper matrimonially (to Helen Simpson 25 March 1936) but also losing his life (eventually she told somebody that he would be killed in the Battle of Britain but she could not have had that in mind in 1936)), leaving Lord Peter as the "heir to those damned strawberry leaves" (to Donald Tovey 22 November 1935). In the same letter she outlined plans for tidying up the chronology a little and to dispose of various ladies in Lord Peter's pre-Harriet life. She certainly made plans for Thrones, Dominations and produced ideas for the Wimseys' future. None of that seems to have materialized and though Tory Historian has read various theories by authors who had known the lady and others who had not but read everything by and about her (TH has a long way to go), none of them seem completely satisfactory. Possibly, she did suddenly get bored with the whole menage but that does not mean that she would have liked someone else appropriating them.
The excitement of the Scottish referendum is over and it is time to turn our attention to other and, possibly, more important matters: the coming issue of the Conservative History Journal. First things first: if, by some remote chance, you have not subscribed to this excellent publication, you still have time to do so by using this link. As to why you should do it? Well, here are a few answers:
Matthew Francis writing about the search for Constructive Conservatism, which will discuss the idea of "property owning democracy". I must admit that I am particularly looking forward to this as I am in the middle of a book about Noel Skelton, the onlie begetter of that concept. In fact, I may preempt the Journal and write a blog on the subject before that.
Articles by Nigel West on MI5 and the First World War (was it really called that at the time?) and Professor Simon Ball on Prime Ministers in the First World War (hmm, I wonder whose side he will take).
Dr Richard A. Gaunt, an expert on Robert Peel has an article entitled A Power Behind the Throne? Sir Robert Peel, Prince Albert and the Making of the Modern Monarchy and Dr John W. Hawkins on The Queen’s Member: The unregretted life of Colonel Robert Richardson-Gardner.
There is much more but those are enough to be going on with.
On September 17, 1939 the war that is known as the Second World War entered its crucial phase though, possibly, this was not recognized at the time. The Soviet Union, acting in accordance with the Pact that the two Foreign Minister, Molotov and Ribbentrop had signed, invaded eastern Poland, thus squeezing the Polish army and the population of that country between themselves and Nazi Germany.
One cannot really ignore Low's brilliant cartoon on the subject.
Here is a photograph that remains one of my favourites from that period and that region: the jolly meeting at a German military parade in Brest of two tank commanders, General Heinz Guderian and General Semyon Krivoshein who was, as it happens, Jewish. Astonishingly enough, General Krivoshein survived two purges: that of the armed forces in 1938 and that of prominent (and not so prominent) Jews in 1951. As the great Sovietologist, Robert Conquest, said to me when I asked him why he thought Krivoshein survived: "Someone had to".
Both generals were prominent in the Battle of Kursk. Friendships between tyrants have a short life.
I wrote more about that here.
So spoke the Prime Minister, the Rt Hon. Neville Chamberlain at 11.15 BST on September 3, 1939. After the announcement by Alvar Lidell that the Prime Minister would now address the nation, Mr Chamberlain said:
This morning the British Ambassador in Berlin handed the German Government a final Note stating that, unless we heard from them by 11 o'clock that they were prepared at once to WITHDRAW their troops from Poland, a state of war would exist between us.In the end, right did but it took a good many more decades than just the Second World War and the news from eastern Ukraine makes one feel that the battle is not over yet.
I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received, and that consequently this country is at war with Germany.
You can imagine what a bitter blow it is to me that all my long struggle to win peace has failed. Yet I cannot believe that there is anything more or anything different that I could have done and that would have been more successful.
Up to the very last it would have been quite possible to have arranged a peaceful and honourable settlement between Germany and Poland, but Hitler would not have it. He had evidently made up his mind to attack Poland whatever happened, and although He now says he put forward reasonable proposals which were rejected by the Poles, that is not a true statement. The proposals were never shown to the Poles, nor to us, and, although they were announced in a German broadcast on Thursday night, Hitler did not wait to hear comments on them, but ordered his troops to cross the Polish frontier. His action shows convincingly that there is no chance of expecting that this man will ever give up his practice of using force to gain his will. He can only be stopped by force.
We and France are today, in fulfilment of our obligations, going to the aid of Poland, who is so bravely resisting this wicked and unprovoked attack on her people. We have a clear conscience. We have done all that any country could do to establish peace. The situation in which no word given by Germany's ruler could be TRUSTED and no people or country could feel themselves safe has become intolerable. And now that we have resolved to finish it, I know that you will all play your part with calmness and courage.
At such a moment as this the assurances of support that we have received from the Empire are a source of profound encouragement to us.
The Government have made plans under which it will be possible to carry on the work of the nation in the days of stress and strain that may be ahead. But these plans need your help. You may be taking your part in the fighting services or as a volunteer in one of the branches of Civil Defence. If so you will report for duty in accordance with the instructions you have received. You may be engaged in work essential to the prosecution of war for the maintenance of the life of the people - in factories, in transport, in public utility concerns, or in the supply of other necessaries of life. If so, it is of vital importance that you should carry on with your jobs.
Now may God bless you all. May He defend the right. It is the evil things that we shall be fighting against - brute force, bad faith, injustice, oppression and persecution - and against them I am certain that the right will prevail.
On September 1, 1939 German troops crossed into Poland and the Second World War began. Britain and France, having guaranteed Poland's borders, would declare war on Germany in two days' time. The Soviet Union was, at that stage, Germany's ally and would, itself, invade Poland on September 17. Nobody guaranteed the country's eastern borders.
This is a well known picture: German soldiers move Polish border fences to open the road to tanks, armoured vehicles and for the troops to march in.
Below is a more optimistic picture: Poland for years under German and Soviet occupation became independent again in 1989. Today they were commemorating the German invasion and the tragedies that followed for many years.
On August 24, 1814 Washington burned.
Soldiers and marines under Major-General Robert Ross and Rear Admiral Sir George Cockburn put Washington’s public buildings, including the Senate, the House of Representatives, the Library of Congress, the Treasury building, the State and War Departments, the historic Navy Yard and the President’s House (as the White House was then known), to the torch.Mr Madison's war seemed of little importance to the British who were fighting Napoleon and many Americans have preferred to forget what was a serious national humiliation created by a series of misjudgements on the part of the President and the Secretary of War.
An interesting account and analysis in History Today, as ever.
It is possible that the remembrance season we entered two days ago will last the four or five years until it will be time to commemorate the tragic peace that followed the unusually tragic war but it is much more likely that there will be a complete exhaustion of commemoration all round and even politicians and media hacks will stop reminding us about the need to remember those who died for us and to draw the necessary lessons.
It seems very unlikely that people will remember the dead of the various wars of the last century on a day to day basis but equally unlikely that they will forget them completely. We are, after all, reminded of them every year at the moving and solemn Remembrance Day events. Is that not enough? In recent years, because of Britain's involvement in two major wars in Iraq (at an end for several years) and Afghanistan (coming to an end) there has been a revival of interest and emotion connected with that solemn moment of the Eleventh Hour on the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month, which has become a time when we recall all the other wars as well and their various heroes and victims. It is my great fear that the multiplication of remembrance and the outright gorging on sentimentality of the last few days will take away attention from Remembrance Day. People may well feel quite bloated with remembrance by the time we get to the right day.
And so, on to August 4, 1914, generally seen as the beginning of the First World War, the horror unleashed on Europe and the world that, in its turn, precipitated further horrors. On that day Britain declared war on Germany. While there is evidence that politicians and diplomats felt that they had failed in solving the crisis, the public in both countries was enthusiastic about the war but, as is natural, lost that enthusiasm in years to come.
In Britain, when Asquith addressed a packed House of Commons, he said:No reply came and the Foreign Office released the following statement:
“We have made a request to the German Government that we shall have a satisfactory assurance as to the Belgium neutrality before midnight tonight. The German reply to our request was unsatisfactory.”
Asquith explained that he had received a telegram from the German Ambassador in London who, in turn, had received one from the German Foreign Secretary. Officials in Berlin wanted the point pressed home that German forces went through Belgium to avoid the French doing so in an attack on Germany. Berlin had “absolutely unimpeachable information” that the French planned to attack the German Army via Belgium.
Asquith stated that the government could not “regard this in any sense a satisfactory communication.”
“We have, in reply to it (the telegram), repeated the request we made last week to the German Government that they should give us the same assurance with regard to Belgium neutrality as was given to us and to Belgium by France last week. We have asked that a reply to that request and a satisfactory answer to the telegram of this morning, should be given before midnight.”
Owing to the summary rejection by the German Government of the request made by His Majesty’s Government for assurances that the neutrality of Belgium would be respected, His Majesty’s Ambassador in Berlin has received his passport, and His Majesty’s Government has declared to the German Government that a state of war exists between Great Britain and Germany as from 11pm on August 4th.The nightmare began and has lasted to this day. Two days ago, on August 4, 2014, a great deal of commemoration went on.
We cannot argue with the importance of the date or the fact that the centenary should, in some way, be remembered. But one cannot help thinking that it was all overdone to an almost nauseating extent. Military parades, restrained speeches, the laying of wreaths (will they all be laid again in November?), beautiful services in various cathedrals are all solemn and, up to a point, moving. Photographs and newsreels of the period are enormously interesting and a number of exhibitions around the country have been fascinating.
But did we really need the call for darkness and the lighting of candles? Sir Edward Grey's famous comment about the lamps going out in Europe was not a literal description of what happened. Did we really need all the commentary, the endless sentimentality, the glorification of Britain's decision to go to war? Let me make it quite clear: I am not, in this posting, discussing either that or the various military campaigns, merely the surfeit of remembrance. We must remember! We must learn our lessons! But what must we remember? That war is hellish? Who doesn't know that? Given the fact that most of what was repeated in those endless comments was the old old myths about the war and the trenches, as if there had been no naval war, no air war, no fighting elsewhere in Europe and the world, nothing much seems to have been learnt about the actual events outside the pages of such magazines as History Today.
Those lessons we must learn? What are they exactly? That war is a bad thing? Well, who knew? That war is sometimes unavoidable? I am shocked, I tell you, shocked. The slightest suggestion that perhaps British generals were not quite as stupid as the mythology would have it, that many people came back from the war and got on with their lives, that British casualties were not as high as other countries', that, perhaps, signing those treaties with France and Russia was not such a good idea when we look at what they led to, that maybe it was not simply Germany's fault though they were hardly victims and of other not very controversial matters was greeted with hysterical outbursts about visiting battle fields (I have not done that but have visited at least one military cemetery and it was very moving) and the need to remember. Not to understand, not to keep a stiff upper lip but to remember.
It is one of the curious developments of the last few years that as Britain becomes less and less of a military power for psychological as well as practical reason, so there is a greater proliferation of memorials and remembrance festivities, till they have become a season, whose end is not in sight.
I should like to quote relevant comments from two writers, both, as it happens conservative. Dorothy L. Sayers's novel The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club which starts on Remembrance Day (and raises an interesting question about the wearing of the poppy) has a number of characters who had gone through the war and had been affected by it in a greater and lesser degree. Lord Peter Wimsey who, as readers of Sayers's books know, had suffered from shell-shock but had more or less overcome it meets at the beginning of the novel George Fentiman who seems to have been gassed and shell-shocked. He is in a bad state and seems unable to recover from his experiences. (There is a sort of a happy solution at the end of the novel but it does not ring true. Sayers's own marriage to a man who had never really recovered from the war was not happy.)
Listening to George Fentiman's complaints, Wimsey diagnoses the problem:
Cheer up. All this remembrance-day business gets on your nerves, don't it? It's my belief most of us would only be too pleased to chuck these community hysterics if the beastly newspapers didn't run it for all it's worth. However, it don't do to say so.That was written in 1928.
My other quotation is from John Dickson Carr, a writer who was more than a conservative, positively a Tory, and it refers to the period immediately after the Second World War. Carr was in Britain at the end of the war and was not particularly happy by the regime imposed on the country by the Labour government (a good many people were unhappy about it, feeling justifiably that war-time rationing and regulations should not intensify once the war was over).
In November 1945 he went back to the States and together with Frederick Dannay (one half of Ellery Queen) scoured the second-hand bookshops for the detective fiction of his youth. He emerged with what must have been a remarkable haul, including a complete set of novels by Carolyn Wells, an extremely popular writer in her day but almost forgotten now. Carr wanted to bring the books back to Britain but found it an incredible chore, it being necessary. apparently, to obtain a licence for the process from a government that rather sniffily discouraged, according to what Carr quoted in a letter to Dannay, the importation of fiction. (Who but a socialist government would think of that?)
As Douglas G. Greene quotes in his superlative biography of Carr and as Curtis J. Evans re-quotes in his essay on Carolyn Wells in the recent collection Mysteries Unlocked, Carr wrote to Dannay in May 1946 that the British government has finally (after six months) agreed to grant that licence though he also received "a stern letter saying it is not customary to allow importation of fiction". Carr goes on:
The regulations in this country go more and more damnable. One more war for liberty and we shall all be slaves.Something to mull over in this remembrance season.
The point is that the WSPU, though it is extraordinarily well known and has had a great deal of attention devoted to it by the journalists, writers and the entertainment industry, was only one of several organizations and not a particularly popular one among suffragists in general. (The word "suffragette" was first coined by the Daily Mail as an insult and has been used as a sort of rough distinction from "suffragists" who wanted to achieve votes for women through peaceful means and rational arguments.)
Looking at the undoubtedly fascinating collection of photographs, some known but mostly not, and documents issued by the police and the Home Office I was reminded that I still have not written sufficiently about Conservative suffragists, which I shall do very soon.
However, it was undoubtedly annoying to see some of the old myths being peddled if only indirectly. The introductory comments explained that the fight for women's suffrage had been going on for almost a century before the WSPU was formed but with no success. Therefore, some of the suffragists, led by Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters, especially the lawyer Christabel, decided on ever more violent action. This made the cause well known though divided opinion, added the note. The implication, unstated because it would not be true, that the militant activity of the Pankhursts was successful in the way previous peaceful campaigning had not been.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Women did not get the vote until 1918 and that was the result of their supreme war effort that really destroyed the argument that women cannot be trusted to think about bigger issues than their homes.
It does seem to me that the myth of the victorious violent and often left-wing (certainly as far as Sylvia and Adela Pankhurst were concerned) should be laid to rest. Would the National Portrait Gallery consider an exhibition of portraits of Suffragists, many of whom were Conservative?
Having just read one of E. C. R. Lorac's novels, These Names Make Clues, (not one of her best, as it happens though it strengthens my suspicion that Edith Caroline Rivett, a. k. a. E. C. R. Lorac, a. k. a. Carol Carnac, was a crossword addict who would not have dreamed of starting her day's activity without finishing the one in the Times first) I have once again noted a curious aspect to Golden Age Detective (GAD) novels. The characters, if they happen to be educated literate ones, which they often are, always seem to have read every single recently published book.
When did they have time to do all that and do their own work as well as other activities and keep up with their knowledge and reading of the various classics? Were there fewer books published in the thirties? There certainly were in the forties because of paper shortage but it all picked up again in the fifties. Were there more hours in the day, more days in the week? Books were certainly cheaper but not that cheap, relative to income, so there is the financial consideration to be taken into account. Or was it simply the fact that they did not have to do the washing up and there was no TV to watch?
While we are on the subject of detective fiction characters' reading, I may add that one aspect of P. D. James's novels have always bemused me. Her hero, who rises through the higher ranks of the Metropolitan Police is Adam Dalgliesh, Commander, I believe, towards the end of the series (so far) and a well-known and highly regarded poet. Now, I happen to be acquainted with poets and know about the extent of poetry reading in this country. Actually, extent is not really a word one would use, so negligible it is, when it comes to newly published poetry. Yet, whenever Adam Dalgliesh with whatever rank turns up to investigate a crime and interview the various suspects and people involved, among them he always finds a number who have read his poetry and have acquired his latest book. This is not remotely realistic.
Before TH moves to a discussion of the two titles, the collection as a whole and of its astonishing author, let us look at the curious conundrum raised by Bryan Morgan (himself a railway enthusiast, author of books on the subject and editor of The Railway Lover's Companion as well as of an exellent collection, entitled Crime on the Lines):
The nexus between railways and the clergy (today including at least two bishops, and extended to include such fringe churchmen as organists) has been often remarked upon but never fully explained. Should one, for instance, accept the view of a current professor of scripture that the organisation of a railway is a microcosm of God's organisation of the universe, or agree with that vicar and author of popular children's books who claims that despite their faults the railways and the church are the best ways of transporting a man to his final destination? Or should one look to the late Canon Roger Lloyd's opinion that railway-lore is 'morally good in the sense that it healthily occupies the mind and so becomes a subsidiary and indirect cause of that self-forgetfulness which is at the root of all virtue'?Most certainly there is a link between railways and spy stories, at least those of that period as well as detective ones. But why the clergy should find itself so enamoured with trains and all matters to do with them remains a mystery and if Bryan Morgan cannot solve it, nobody can.
Certainly, though, the clerical or lay enthusiast of the early years of the present century was a happy man; for Britain's railways were then at their peak of glory. 'Brief years, from the death of Queen Victoria to the outbreak of war', as Mr Hamilton Ellis has written, 'were proud years. Enormous coal-trains rumbled and handsome expresses rushed about the country. Maintenance was high and locomotives were often painted in gorgeous colours.' Bradshaw ran to nearly 1200 pages (a figure never preceded or exceeded) and in many a country rectory stood as a work of reference beside Crockford's. Numerous parsons stumped while drafting a sermon must have relaxed intellectually by working out the quickest route between Saxmundham and Blisworth.
Whitechurch was an astonishingly prolific author of detective and other novels and short stories as well as books of topography and autobiography. As Mr Morgan says, his duties in the Church could not have been particularly onerous.
His knowledge of the railways seems to have been outstanding and several of the short stories have pages of incomprehensible detail about the various activities, which does not, oddly enough, detract from the actual plots that are usually very straightforward, sometimes of the detective, sometimes of the thriller variety.
Nine of the fifteen are concerned with the activities of the "first railway detective" as acknowledged by no less an authority as Ellery Queen and Dorothy L. Sayers, Thorpe Hazell, who shares his creator's knowledge of trains and railways but is also something of a diet and exercise weirdo. TH has wondered idly whether Mrs Ariadne Oliver's creation, the vegetarian Finn, Sven Hjerson might not have been influencd by the character of Thorpe Hazell, though the latter sticks to a seriously unhealthy diet of milk, lentils, macaroni and Dutch cheese with nary a piece of fruit or vegetable. He also eats Plasmon biscuits and chocolate and does quite ridiculous exercises before and after meals. But give him a problem such as how to stop a German messenger from taking a stolen document out of the country or how to ensure that an important diplomatic meeting takes place or what happened to a valuable picture and, indeed, the carriage it was in and Hazell is in his element.
There are also six non-Hazell stories and these are all thrillers with the villains ranging from German agents to Russian police officials and violent union leaders. All in all, quite interesting but not altogether thrilling. According to Bryan Morgan, the British Library catalogue renamed the collection from Thrilling Stories of the Railway to just Stories of the Railway, and that is how they were reprinted in 1977. As indicated above the Australian on-line version restores the original title as did the BBC when it recorded Benedict Cumberbatch reading inexplicably abridged versions of the stories.
Even better, this was a new edition, published by John Murray (sadly now a part of Hodder and Stoughton) in 2006, sixteen years after the original, during which time many things happened in Central Asia and a new Great Game started. Mr Hopkirk acknowledges this by a new Preface and a whole new map. TH is lost in admiration. There were five maps before and now there are six, with an extra one that depicts The Battlefield of the New Great Game. Excellent.
Equally excellent is the conclusion of the new Preface:
For the collapse of the Russian rule in Central Asia has tossed the area back into the melting pot of history. Almost anything could happen there now and only a brave or foolish man would predict its future. For this reason I have note attempted to update my original narrative beyond adding this brief foreword. Among all the uncertainties, however, one thing seems certain. For good or ill, Central Asia is back in the thick of the news once more, and likely to remain there for a long time to come.Eight years on, that remains true.
The picture above, in the National Portrait Gallery, shows him in a slightly unusual mode, as an art collector.
Here, on the other hand, is an article from History Today about the politician and his end.
Burke comes into that category of people about whom we all seem to know a little but few of us know much or with any accuracy. Most of the quotations attributed to him are bogus or misquotations. He did not exactly say that all it took for evil to triumph was for good men to do nothing or various words to that effect, which one can find on the internet. What he wrote in his seminal 1770 book Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents was:
When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.That actually makes sense. To be fair, having silly but plausible quotes attributed is a problem Burke shares with, among others, Churchill and Lincoln. He also shares with them the fact that people tend to assign to them their own opinions and political affiliations. Thus, Churchill's checkered party political career is little known or ignored by many and Lincoln is routinely assumed to have been a Democrat though he was a Republican.
With Burke the situation is even more complicated as he lived, wrote and was politically active long before the modern British political parties were formed. No reader of this blog needs to be told that Edmund Burke was not a Conservative as that party did not exist in his day nor a Tory as he was a Whig. A Rockinghamite Whig, to be precise, and as Mr Norman shows in his book, the main creator of a group that could be seen as the prototype of later political parties. The Rockinghamites were more than just a faction or a following that many eighteenth century aristocrats who bothered with politics had: though in opposition for many years they kept together and developed a core body of opinions on a number of subjects such as the need to come to an agreement with the North American colonies that they kept throughout their existence.
To many Burke may seem to have been a somewhat changeable thinker and politician. Why, people ask, did he support the Americans in their fight against the British Crown but was so vehement in his denunciation of the French Revolution from a very early stage? Burke denounced the French Revolution, the destruction of the French Monarchy and what he saw a sinking into mob rule as early as 1790 before the full horrors had developed. His Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) and Letter to a Member of the National Assembly (1791) were accurate predictions of what was to follow. He proved to be much more capable of understanding events than many of his allies and opponents such as Charles James Fox, Thomas Paine or Mary Wollstonecraft. (Online Library of Liberty has a fascinating section in which one can read all the most important works in The Debate about the French Revolution.)
In fact, Burke's thinking was mostly consistent and it is a rare historian who cannot see the basic difference between the ideas that motivated the American "rebels" and the French revolutionaries. Burke was simply ahead of most people. He could also see what the British government was doing wrong in Ireland and the problems with the East India Company - both being species of oppression and unaccountability. Many of these ideas have been discussed by previous biographers, particularly by Conor Cruise O'Brien in his magisterial work The Great Melody. (Curiously, Mr Norman does not mention an excellent short introduction to Burke, which has figured on this blog by Dennis O'Keeffe.
Jesse Norman divides his book into two, dealing with the great man's life in the first half and his ideas as well as their possible influence on present day political thinking in the second. The life is detailed enough but is not in the O'Brien category and rightly so. The chapters present a good account of his life and his writings, including a discussion of the relatively recently discovered early essay on political parties. (While I have no complaints about the text, I have very serious reservations about the scrappy notes and references as well as the less than adequate index.)
Mr Norman is clearly an admirer of Burke but is, nevertheless, ready to be critical when he thinks it is necessary, for example when he talks of the latter's behaviour during the Regency crisis. There is also a certain reticence over the impeachment of Warren Hastings, a controversial subject, though Burke's attitude to His Majesty's Indian subjects was clearly well ahead of his time and in keeping with his belief in freedom and dignity as the necessary portion of all.
The second part of the book is less happy in this reader's opinion. Burke's thoughts, writings and speeches had already been analyzed in the first half and there is little to add. Mr Norman concentrates on the question of how Burke's ideas are to be used today, a laudable enterprise, but he goes further and falls into the error that previous authors, notably Jim McCue had fallen into, by discussing how Burke might or might not have reacted to certain modern political ideas. This is futile. We cannot tell how an eighteenth century thinker, brilliant though he was, would have reacted to ideas of the late twentieth or early twenty-first century.
Jim McCue in his Edmund Burke and Our Present Discontents introduced a long (perhaps the longest) chapter which ranted at feminism and proved beyond any doubt in the author's mind that Burke would have hated feminism. Jesse Norman does not go that far but he does discuss a great many modern political, economic, social and anthropological ideas to prove that many things he does not like in our present state Burke would have disliked, too.
Mr Norman's particular bugbears are modern economists none of whom, according to him, can see beyond simple wealth creation or money making and liberal individualism, which denies the need for social networks and institutions. To say that this is a simplification of modern economics and of the theory of liberal individualism is to understate the case. One cannot help being a little worried about a politician who asserts over and over again that social and political structures are more important than individualism and individual liberty, particularly if he simplifies what the latter two mean. Is there not a suspicion that his idea of what a satisfactory social and political structures would be gives a primary position to politicians as creators and guardians of those structures?
Despite the long and sometimes only tangentially relevant discussions of modern sociology and social anthropology together with the often conflicting findings, the book is worth reading, not least because we must all rejoice in the existence of a literate politician who has some interest beyond vote getting tactics.
Beyond that, there is no doubt that Edmund Burke and his thoughts are of significance today just as they were in the past. He laid down many fundamental ideas about politics, gradual change, the need for a coherent social structure and the notion that there is a seamless whole between past, present and future generations and these are still relevant though many of the details have changed. At a time when the Conservative Party and the right in general are searching for definitions we could all do much worse than study those provided by Edmund Burke two hundred odd years ago.
Jesse Norman: Edmund Burke - Philosopher, Politician, Prophet
2013 London, William Collins