Every now and then one can find some truly useful information on Wikipedia. This list of the world's Independence Days, sent to Tory Historian by a well-wisher, is one of them. It has all the national flags as well, which is an added bonus.

Some countries have several Independence Days. Armenia, for example, celebrated one on September 21 and will be celebrating one on May 28. The first commemorates independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, the second from the Ottoman Empire in 1918.

The Baltic States have separate days to commemorate independence from the Russian (and, possibly, German) Empire and the Soviet Union. Naturally, they do not commemorate liberation from Nazi Germany as that involved enslavement by the Soviet Union.

Tory Historian has been unable to find a country with three Independence Days.

As usual, Tory Historian will produce the odd blog or two on the subject but it is worth reminding readers in or near London of this wonderful event. If I may make a suggestion, try to buy the whole booklet of what is open in some friendly bookshop (too late to do so on line) rather than try to figure out what to do and where to go from the website. Happy hunting!

Tory Historian has never quite understood why the bien pensants otherwise known as people who never read detective stories, considering them to be inferior, but like pontificating consider Agatha Christie's novels to be particularly unrealistic. It is true that criminals are not always brought to justice (and they are not always in her novels either) but that is the premiss of that most conservative of genres, the detective story.

It is also true that she is often slapdash and cavalier about certain details, in particular dates, time spans, ages. All of that annoys Tory Historian as readers can imagine. This is so different from the silly but precise novels by Georgette Heyer. But when it comes to descriptions of life and social mores she is far more realistic and accurate than her contemporaries Ngaio Marsh or Margery Allingham.

The accusations that she wrote about large country houses and aristocratic families and parties is completely untrue. Her milieu was the middle class, her people almost entirely professionals, lawyers, doctors, clergymen, the occasional businessman, maybe members of the squierarchy like Colonel Bantry. That is why she managed to write well about changes in social life. The village in A Murder is Announced is very different from the village of Murder in the Vicarage. The people who may have had a couple of servants before the Second World War have maybe a foreign refugee, a cleaning woman or an au pair after it. The large households either disappear or are reinvented to suit some Hollywood star. All very realistic.

People who consider Raymond Chandler to be more realistic have, one assumes, read neither author but have dimly heard the expression about the man in the mean streets. Murder happens in mean streets and in well-appointed homes or flats shared by three middle-class girls. Are those convoluted, incomprehensible plots of Chandler's, full of wisecracking people truly realistic? Hardly.

So we come to Tory Historian's reading matter of the day and that is John Curran's Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks. Some interesting stuff about the way Christie developed her plots though after a while one loses interest in the minutiae of literary invention. There are also two stories that have never been published before, one called The Incident of the Dog's Ball, which, Mr Curran works out, was probably written in 1933 but never offered to Christie's agent. Readers of her novels will instantly recall one of her best, Dumb Witness, published in 1937. Mr Curran thinks the story was withheld because the author decided almost immediately to turn it into a novel. That seems a little odd. After all, Yellow Iris, which became Sparkling Cyanide, was published and Mr Curran lists several others. On the whole, Christie's novels are better than her short stories, entertaining though these often are. In that respect she is the opposite of Conan Doyle.

The Incident of the Dog's Ball is not bad but Dumb Witness is excellent if one forgets about the peculiar incident of Captain Hastings and the dog. At the beginning of the novel Hastings explains that he has just come back from Argentina, leaving his wife "Cinderella" Dulcie to manage the ranch while he deals with business matters in England. By the end of the novel he seems to have acquired a dog, settled back into English life an forgotten all about his wife, his ranch and Argentina. (Yet we know from later novels that he does go back. Most mysterious.)

The story does, however, show village life of the period in brisk and amusing fashion as is Christie's wont. In particular she destroys the myth of the wonderful food one could have in country inns and pubs back in the good old days, whenever these might have been. This is what Captain Hastings says:

Little Hemel we found to be a charming village, untouched in the miraculous way that villages can be when they are two miles from a main road. There was a hostelry called The George, and there we had lunch - a bad lunch I regret to say, as is the way at country inns.
What wealth of suffering and realism lies in that last phrase.

Here are a few questions to mull over: Which was the largest popular political organization in this country? Which political organization first ensured that membership was open to all classes and people of all incomes? Which political organization involved public activity by women of all classes and in large numbers? Which political organization first had events, both social and educational, for children and young people? [The picture below is of a group of Headington Buds.] Which political organization set up co-operative funds to help those of their members who were less well off?

Do not bother to search through your knowledge of various self-aggrandizing left-wing organizations. The answer, as many readers will know, to all those questions is the Primrose League, founded in 1883 at the Carlton Club by Lord Randolph Churchill for his own political purposes and nurtured into a powerful organization by his own family or, rather, its female members and others.

Yet, how little do we know about this extraordinary phenomenon. The assumption that all ideas to do with popular politics, women's political activity, social welfare and children's organization come from the left has become a given for most historians and political thinkers. As Alistair Cooke (now Lord Lexden), the Conservative Party's official historian, says in his elegantly written little volume, A Gift from the Churchills, published appropriately enough by the Carlton Club, the Primrose League is barely mentioned in some of the standard histories and biographies.

There have been a few accounts of it in the past, notably Martin Pugh's The Tories and the People and Janet Robb's The Primrose League, but its importance is rarely acknowledged either by more or less left-wing historians, for understandable reasons, or by conservative ones. As for the party, it prefers not to talk about the much more popular rival organization of the late nineteenth, early twentieth century, whom it eventually supplanted. Since then, it is fair to say, the Conservative Party managed to destroy much of the popular support that was first built up by the Primrose League.

A Gift from the Churchills is a labour of love and that shows. Lord Lexden clearly finds the League, its history and its members, some illustrious some not, fascinating. He wears his knowledge lightly and tells his story with great enjoyment. I would suggest that the Carlton Club looks a little more carefully at its printers but that is a minor, technical problem. I can think of no better introduction to the Primrose League, an unjustly forgotten organization, than this little volume. For those who know the history it will be an enjoyable recapitulation.

Here is an interesting article by Charles Moore, which purports to be a review of Lord Lexden's book but is really a summary of it.

As the debate about education and its failings rages and as new attempts are made to counter what is seen as the pernicious influence of various educational theories, it is useful to look back on what was said in the past. David Linden, a Ph.D. student at King's College, London, whose interests lie in the modern day Conservative Party looks at a previous educational debate in the sixties and seventies, when the authors of the Black Papers on Education clashed with the educational establishment.

There is always something interesting in History Today. Sometimes it is very little but always something. Today's e-mail brought two links that were worth following up.

One is to blog posting by Lulu Ramsey, which analyses the history of the term "terrorism" from its first use in the Revolutionary France of the late eighteenth century where the government used terror to control the country to the present usage, taking into account the evolution of perception of the Gunpowder Plot and anarchist terrorist outrages of the late nineteenth century. There are links to previous postings.

However, TH is finding it hard to take any article that does not even mention the use of terror by Russian radicals hard to take seriously.

The second link is highly entertaining. It is to an interactive map of international conflict in history. Not only it is a map, it has a dateline AND you can play with it by looking up various regions and periods. There are problems and missing parts. Where, for instance is the Battle of Mohács of 1526? The defeat of the Hungarian King Louis II opened Central Europe to the Ottomans. Come to think of it where is the second Battle of Mohács of 1687 that drove the self-same Ottomans out of Central Europe? Or the Siege of Vienna a.k.a. Battle of Vienna of 1683? Why exactly do the compilers of this map not think the war between the western allies and the Ottoman Empire was so unimportant (it is mentioned but only just)?

A friend of TH's points out that while the Great Arab Uprising of 1936 - 1939, there is nothing "nothing for Iraq in 1941, although it does cover British and Soviet operations in Iran/Persia in 1941. British troops (including some Arab Legion, and British cavalry (mechanized - incl. Yeomanry) had to rush from Palestine and elsewhere to relieve the RAF bases in Iraq (mainly Habbanyiah) which were defended against the Iraqi 'rebel' forces by the RAF and the RAF Iraq Levies - ground defence troops mainly recruited from the 'Assyrians' (Iraqi Christians) - from memory."

Readers of this blog might like to find some more omissions.

If ever there was a conservative writer of detective stories it was Cyril Hare, a.k.a. Alfred Alexander Clark, a County Court judge, even if an aunt of his seems to have been a socialist politician. (Well, a Labour politician, at least, one of the large group of wealthy non-working class socialists, ever present in the Labour Party.)

Cyril Hare's novels are based on his own experiences in various parts of the legal system and, even, the Ministry of Economic Warfare, a fascinating bit of wartime bureaucracy, which figures in the novel With a Bare Bodkin.

The detective novels and stories are highly amusing but are, quintessentially English in their depiction of a changing society and country. Oddly enough, the least successful of the novels, in Tory Historian's opinion is called An English Murder but that might be caused by the absence of Hare's two serial detectives, Inspector Mallett, the jovial police officer with a Gargantuan appetite and Francis Pettigrew, who first appears in the best of the books, Tragedy at Law and is shown to be an unhappy and unsuccessful barrister, somewhat in the Sidney Carton mode. Happily, Mr Pettigrew is not executed. Instead, he develops a flair for solving difficult criminal puzzles and turns up again in several short stories and novels, even managing to marry a young lady at the end of With a Bare Bodkin. Contrary to his own and our expectations, the marriage is a happy one, as we see in subsequent books.

Today, as The Bunburyist notes, is Cyril Hare's birthday. And let us not forget that Cyril Hare's works have been reprinted in the last few years by Faber and Faber.

Many people know what the Whig interpretation of history is, if only in the hilariously parodic version of 1066 And All That, a book I always recommend to anyone who wants a quick summary of English history. (Here is a link to the text but, really, one needs the book in front of one because of the illustrations and because it is easier to shed tears of laughter over a book than in front of a screen.)

The man who first analyzed and defined that school of history, showing that it was not simply the right and inevitable way of looking at the subject, was Sir Herbert Butterfield, a man well known and highly regarded for most of his career, forgotten and dismissed by the "cognoscenti" after his death and one who is obviously due for a revival that may well begin with a new biography by Michael Bentley, recently reviewed in the Wall Street Journal.

In "The Life and Thought of Herbert Butterfield," Michael Bentley draws on a range of private letters and papers to sharpen our appreciation of Butterfield's actual accomplishments, particularly "The Whig Interpretation of History," the 1931 book that made his reputation by forcing historians to reconsider their discipline. Butterfield argued forcefully against the then-common practice of honing a historical narrative so that it neatly progresses, seemingly inevitably, to the enlightened present or tailoring descriptions of the past to reflect contemporary concerns.
While it seems sensible not to stick to the view of history, especially that of England and Britain, being a more or less clearly ascending line towards a sensible and progressive society, it cannot be said that the alternative teaching that has developed since the Whig theory has been abandoned, has been an improvement.

By discarding the apparent linear progression of history schools, teachers and, above all, creators of the national curriculum and examination topics, have discarded all narrative. That, in turn, has meant a loss of understanding as it is impossible to grasp what certain events might mean if the background to them is unknown; and a loss of interest for most pupils. How can one be interested in history if it consists of disconnected topics of varying interest and importance? Ironically, while Butterfield's name is all but unknown these days, Our Island Story, the pre-eminent children's book that was so ably parodied by 1066 And All That, was, on its reprinting, a huge success. As a matter of fact, it is not a very good book and its over-reliance on Shakespeare's plays for information is regrettable. But it gives what many children need: a story in an attractive format with many exciting illustrations.

The review does make one want to read the biography itself, which, clearly deals with the difficult aspects of Butterfield's life while presenting the argument for a reappraisal of his work.

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