Each man's death diminishes me. John Donne's words echo in my mind as I think of the death, first heard of late last night, of Professor Ken Minogue (whoever called him Kenneth except as a joke?), a towering intellectual and writer, a man who thought deeply about our society, our basic ideas and our political structures, and expressed his ideas lucidly and entertainingly. He was also a friend of whom I was very fond and with whom I spent many hours, eating, drinking, talking, laughing and joking. His death definitely diminishes me.

With his permission I shall quote Ed Feulner's account of Ken's last hours:
Last night Ken Minogue and I shared the duties of the chair. I did the thanks, and Ken the introduction of Allan Meltzer, who spoke to us via teleconference. Over dinner, Ken was in great humour, telling us about the next book he was working on, etc. Earlier in the week he had given a fine paper, and yesterday afternoon he chaired a session with that fine, delicate and yet steady hand that made him so beloved to all.

This morning 8 of us were on a bus tour looking at iguanas, sea lions, birds, etc, and enjoying ourselves immensely. Then we went back to the town of San Cristobal, had sandwiches and an hour later left for the airport. Westholms, Lals, Feulners, Fr. Sirico and Ken Minogue.

After our lunch, we went to the Galapagos airport, where the group was split between two flights to Guayaquil, an easy hour-long flight back to the mainland (on an Airbus, not a small plane.) Ken and many of the others were on the other flight.

Our flight landed first at Guayaquil. The other plane ten minutes later. We were collecting our luggage when we heard the horrible news that Ken had been stricken on the plane (a heart attack, we assume). There were four MD s on the plane, including two from the MPS meeting. They tried everything, but to no avail.
Sad though it is to think of the book that will not be finished, there is some pleasure in the description of Ken working, talking, being on top of the world to the last. And there is pleasure in knowing that his other books and articles, essays and recordings are with us. RIP Ken.

Sir Harold Nicolson, diplomat, writer, diarist, politician and gardener, belonged to several parties but never the Conservative one. In fact, he thought of himself as something of a radical and was, though not in domestic matters. There, he and his Conservative supporting wife, Vita Sackville-West (poet, writer and gardener) inhabited an area of confluence between high Toryism and socialism. Also he was, briefly, a junior member of Churchill's war-time cabinet and managed to annoy his leader by producing a document that discussed peace aims as well as war aims. Up with that the Prime Minister would not put.

It is not, therefore, entirely wrong to write a blog about Nicolson, especially as I have just finished reading Derek Drinkwater's Sir Harold Nicolson and International Relations - the Practitioner as Theorist, a book that has doctoral thesis written all over it. It is, nevertheless interesting though convincing only intermittently about the importance of Nicolson's contribution to the theory of international relations. A good deal of the time Nicolson, lucid, knowledgeable and passionate, still wavered as to what he really believed in, thus annoying and frustrating friends and allies (as well as opponents).

Nevertheless, the book is a useful study and analysis of all Nicolson's pronouncements in print, in manuscript (the unpublished parts of his diary) and on the radio and many interesting conclusions can be drawn from it. (Let us not forget that the Marginal Comments that he wrote for many years in the Spectator are all available on line now.)

In an early chapter of the book there is discussion of Nicolson's view of "old" (pre-First World War) and "new" (post-First World War) diplomacy and he found both wanting as we have all done ever since. Indeed, this discussion raises the issue whether diplomacy and democracy, particularly in the age of mass communication that can whip up emotions very quickly, are compatible.

Expanding Nicolson's ideas about the two kinds of traditional diplomacy, Drinkwater writes:
He [Nicolson] identified two contrasting conceptions of diplomacy and argued that a compromise between them constituted the soundest approach to diplomatic intercourse. The first was the German "warrior or heroic" theory, whose exponents perceived diplomacy as war by other means. The second was the British "mercantile or shop-keeper" theory, whereby diplomacy is seen as an aid to peaceful commerce based on the assumption that there exists a middle point at which the negotiators can reconcile their conflicting interests.
Of course, it could be argued that this is just a long-winded way of saying "speak softly and carry a big stick".

In his book Diplomacy, which remains a classic on the subject, Nicolson compiled a list of sixteen qualities of both the ideal diplomat and the ideal diplomacy. It is, apparently, known in diplomatic theory as the "Nicolson test". Here is the list:
truth, accuracy, calm, patience, good temper, modesty, loyalty, intelligence, knowledge, discernment, prudence, hospitality, charm, industry, courage, and tact.
Hmm. Those of us who have met diplomats and have studied the outcome of some of their activity would be hard put to acknowledge that few of them have even half of those qualities. It remains a very useful list.

Yesterday was the 110th anniversary of George Orwell's birth and History Today has published what TH considers to be rather a silly open letter to the great man by Professor Robert Colls who has written a book about him but seems to think that his own personality is far more interesting.

However TH can fully agree with one point that Professor Colls makes: George Orwell, despite his loudly proclaimed preference for socialism, was in reality a conservative. Indeed, this has been mentioned in a previous blog on Dickens and Orwell who shared certain attitudes.

At one time Tory Historian used to go past Staple Inn every working day and sometimes twice a day, always assuming that it was Tudorbethan mock-up of an earlier structure. On Saturday, during a visit to the Geffrye Museum TH was disabused of this. Apparently Staple Inn, built in 1585 is one of the survivors of the Great Fire of London though it was damaged somewhat during the 1944 bombing of London and had to be restored. But it is mostly original and still in use.

Here is a list of other buildings in the City and along the Strand that survived the Great Fire. TH thinks that a Sunday will have to be spent investigating them very soon.

Yes, it is that day again. We celebrate the Battle of Waterloo.

On June 14 as the defences of Port Stanley faltered and Mount Tumbledown was captured, a ceasefire was declared in the Falklands. On the same day the commander of the Argentine garrison in Stanley, Brigade General Mario Menéndez surrendered to Major General Jeremy Moore.

During the night, Major General Moore sent back the following signal:
Major General Menendez surrendered to to me all the Argentine armed forces in East and West Falkland together with their impedimenta ... The Falkland Islands are once more under the government desired by their inhabitants. God Save the Queen. 
The casualties were: 255 British deaths, 649 Argentinian (though there is some debate about that) and 3 Falkland Islanders. 11,000 Argentinians surrendered in, apparently, bad state of health and nutrition, giving the British commanders some extra headaches.

It so happens, that I was reading this two days ago as I was finishing Charles Moore's monumental first volume of Margaret Thatcher - the Authorized Biography. A long review will be posted very soon.

Guildhall Library will be holding an Open Day on Saturday, July 20 with a number of interesting talks listed, all of which are related to their collection. There is not one event on that list that I would not recommend or want to attend. Better start planning my visit now.

This is wonderful news for all historians: the Spectator has "scanned and digitised copies of the magazine from July 1828 to December 2008 can be browsed online using the beta Spectator Archive. Everything in the last five years can of course be found on spectator.co.uk".

I have just tried looking up articles from the late sixties and the system works. The articles and letters in question appeared on my screen both as text and as scanned pages. Of course, the archive in the basement of the building in Old Queen Street is a great deal more interesting to peruse. Digitisation is all very well and very useful but I trust the Spectator will never even consider getting rid of that.

The British Museum was established by an Act of Parliament on June 7, 1753. As a frequent visitor to that splendid place, Tory Historian can feel nothing but gratitude to the long-living Sir Hans Sloane (1660 - 1753) , physician, collector, naturalist and the man whose will led to the establishment to what must be the finest museum in the world. (TH is prepared to fight all comers on that subject.) Gratitude is also due to the Parliament of the day whose far-sightedness enabled the museum to come into existence.

Incidentally, Sir Hans seems to have been an excellent doctor as well:

An innovative doctor, Sloane promoted inoculation against smallpox, the use of quinine (a treatment for malaria) and the health-giving properties of drinking chocolate mixed with milk.
By the time he died in Chelsea
his collection amounted to more than 71,000 objects. Chiefly natural history specimens, the collection also included:

23,000 coins and medals 50,000 books, prints and manuscripts a herbarium (a collection of dried plants) 1,125 'things relating to the customs of ancient times'.
That became the nucleus of the new museum.
The British Museum opened to the public on 15 January 1759 . It was first housed in a seventeenth-century mansion, Montagu House, in Bloomsbury on the site of today's building. Entry was free and given to ‘all studious and curious Persons’.

With the exception of two World Wars, the Museum has remained open ever since, gradually increasing its opening hours and moving from an attendance of 5,000 per year to today's 6 million.
Indeed, that is likely to grow.

Historical myths are hard to understand. Why is Jack the Ripper so fascinating? We have had far worse cases of serial murders since yet none to excite quite so much interest. Why is Watergate seen as the epitome of political corruption in the United States when there have been far worse developments in the last two or three years alone? Actually, we probably know the answer to that and it has something to do with the political make-up of the American media.

In Britain the acme of political scandal remains the Profumo affair of 1963, which did not, as it happens, bring down a government, no matter what some hacks say. It led to the resignation of the Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan and contributed to the feeling that the Labour Party was bound to win in 1964. In fact, despite the long Conservative dominance, the many scandals and difficulties, the Conservative Party under Sir Alec Douglas-Home very nearly won that election.

 Looking back on the events, sordid though they were, one can say that the actual scandal did not amount to much: the Secretary of State for War, the glamorous Jack Profumo married to the beautiful actress Valerie Hobson, slept a few times with a young call girl, Christine Keeler, who had associates in the seedy underworld, and who might have also slept with the Soviet Defence Attaché. Of course, there was more to it than that. The Profumos may have been glamorous but their life style was distinctly louche, as was that of their various friends, such as the Viscount Astor at whose home Profumo met Keeler. The circle around Christine Keeler and her friend Mandy Rice-Davies was full of criminals and there was the dubious role played by the "society osteopath" and many other things, Stephen Ward, who was charged with living off immoral earnings and committed suicide as the trial came to an end.

Numerous books have been written on the subject, this, by Richard Davenport-Hines, which has some controversial comments in it, being the latest. There were summaries of the scandal in the various obituaries in 2006 when Profumo died. (Telegraph, Guardian, Independent and New York Times)

Fifty years ago today, Jack Profumo was finally forced to admit that he lied to Parliament and to his immediate associates about his affair (if one can call it that) with Christine Keeler and he resigned. On the one hand, he, like many other politicians, hung on in there for three months, hoping that the storm will pass; on the other hand, he made no attempts to come back into politics but devoted the rest of his life to charitable work in Toynbee Hall.

When the TLS asked various people in 1977 to name the most under-rated writer of the twentieth century, two respondents, Philip Larkin and Lord David Cecil named Barbara Pym, born 100 years today. This revived and enhanced the publishers' and the literary world's influence in her clever, witty and rather low-key writing, which reminds one a great deal of Jane Austen's.

Barbara Pym wrote about women of the mid-twentieth century, who had varied lives, often careers though equally often not, an interest in the Church of England and its parish doings and a penchant for unsuitable men (a characteristic they shared with their creator). Though they are not strong on plot, they are beautifully crafted (an old-fashioned virtue in writing, one sometimes feels) and alternately very funny and sadly wistful. They also provide a fascinating picture of certain parts of English life in the two decades after the Second World War.

The DNB entry on her does Miss Pym (she was never a Ms) full justice.

Coronation Day. On History Today's website the redoubtable Lord Wakehurst's short film about the day Queen Elizabeth II was crowned. You can also watch this one and many other videos of the Royal Family on the The Royal Channel.

Powered by Blogger.




Blog Archive