Rudyard Kipling was born in Bombay on December 30, 1865, the son of John Lockwood Kipling, an artist and teacher of architectural sculpture, and his wife Alice, who was one of the famous four of whom married remarkable men, Sir Edward Burne-Jones, Sir Edward Poynter, Alfred Baldwin, and John Lockwood Kipling himself. John Lockwood Kipling illustrated several of his son's books, including Kim, where he appears as The Keeper Of Antiquities. (I am happy to say that not so long ago I managed to pick up  a second-hand copy of that novel with Lockwood Kipling's illustrations.)

Some years ago I wrote an article about Kipling for the Reputations section of the Salisbury Review but, at the moment, I cannot find it either on the internet or in hard copy, which I do have. As soon as I do so, I shall either link to it or quote from it. I do recall that I referred both to Orwell's and T. S. Eliot's essay on the man and his work. They are both interesting in that they were written at a time when Kipling was seen as something of an embarrassment to the literary establishment and the two critics, approaching the subject from different political perspectives, came to similar conclusions: a very good poet, often a good prose writer, difficult to accept politically but not quite as bad as people make him out.

Times have changed and our attitude to Kipling (give or take idiot students in Oxford, I imagine) has also changed. We still think of hims as a good and accessible poet. If was voted as the nation's favourite poem and I am not surprised. Recessional is not seen as a glorification of imperialism and racism, as it was for many years, by anyone who has actually read it but as a warning against hubris and arrogance. His later poems about the First World War are full of woe, not least because he lost his only son in it and felt guilty about pushing him towards enlistment, despite him being too young.

His children's books are a delight and his Indian stories continue to be popular. He was one of the few authors who understood children and could write about them as well as for them without making one cringe with embarrassment. He also understood and could write about people usually dismissed by the literary establishment, such as ordinary soldiers, the people of India who are between castes and races as well as the lower ranks of the Indian Service.

There are so many things to say about this man who is still underestimated by many but let me just add one highly admirable characteristic: he consistently refused state honours even when George V personally offered him a knighthood. He even declined the Poet Laureateship. A writer and a poet, he thought, should not be accepting such honours. He did accept honorary degrees and, eventually, the Nobel Prize for Literature. How many literary personalities who pretend to be far more radical jump at the chance of a gong, a handle or the ermine?

Meanwhile, here are some links to discussions about Kipling: an OUP blog about what he really wrote about the First World War, an interesting piece about Kipling's birthday being celebrated in India and an excellent piece by Christopher Howse in the Telegraph about Kipling "the misfit poet".

Having not managed to wish readers of this blog a merry Christmas and not put up any illustrations from Dickens, who, to my knowledge, describes festivities only in A Christmas Carol and in Pickwick Papers (by far preferable), I feel I must express a hope that everyone had a merry or jolly or peaceful Christmas according to their preferences. On to the last week of the year and then the new one.

What with one thing and another this blog has been languishing, which shameful. There have been other projects but that is not a real excuse. Anyway, one of the projects concerns Josephine Tey, who is sometimes described as the fifth Queen of Crime, after Christie, Sayers, Marsh and Allingham. I like Tey's novels but am not altogether sure she is up there with the leaders. My own preference for that fifth queen would Edith Caroline Rivett who wrote as E. C. R. Lorac and Carol Carnac. As they say, discuss.

However, reading about Tey I came across an interesting point. In her first detective novel, The Man in the Queue, published in 1929 under the name she used as a playwright and novelist, Gordon Daviot, part of the problem that faces Inspector Alan Grant is the lack of any identification on the victim. There are, for instance, no laundry marks on his clothes. Not a detail that could be used by detective writers these days: we no longer send our shirts, handkerchiefs or other parts of our apparel to the laundry, using washing machines at home or in the nearest launderette. There are, of course, dry cleaners and some clothes do have to go to them but that is a much less reliable form of identification.

That set me thinking about other details of evidence that can no longer be used by detective story writers but were so very popular in the thirties and even the forties. Monograms, for instance. Who on earth has his or her luggage, handkerchiefs, underwear and, in the case of certain very unreliable characters, both male and female, their specially made cigarettes monogrammed?

Then there are bigger issues: train timetables. Inspector French solved many a case in Freeman Wills Crofts's novels by co-ordinating trains whose arrivals and departures could be predicted with the use of the published time table. Imagine trying to do that nowadays. Imagine being the criminal planning an elaborate heist or murder, using that timetable, only to find that the original train has been cancelled and the one that was running later was so delayed that the connection was missed.

Mind you, there were problems even in those halcyon days. In Murder at the Vicarage (1930) Griselda Clements, the vicar's young and irresponsible wife, tells everyone that she came home from London, it being a day when you could get a cheap daily excursion ticket, with a certain train. Miss Marple, on the other hand, knows that the train was late so if Griselda was seen in the village at the "right" time she must have returned with an earlier trains. Sure enough she had done just that in order to carry out a somewhat dubious though not criminal plan with the vicar's nephew.

Then there is a question of postal delivery. I vividly recall a short story by Margery Allingham where the solution depends entirely on when the evening post is delivered in a certain street. First of all, what is this concept, the evening postal delivery? Is there anyone still alive who remembers it? Secondly, the notion that anyone, let alone the man who runs, as I recall the chemist's on the corner, should be able to tell you for certain, what time the post is delivered on any day, is so weird and wonderful as to belong to another genre, fantasy.

Delivery boys play a big part in various detective stories right up to the fifties. Messages are carried by the boy from the butcher, the fishmonger, the grocer to various houses and behaviour in those houses is noted by those self-same boys. We have delivery vans but I somehow do not think the driver from Waitrose or Tesco's is going to be much use to the detective, whether police or private. Then again, with the absence of those boys how would Miss Marple or even Miss Silver find out all that detailed information the police always misses?

It is quite extraordinary and can be attributed only to a deliberate amnesia but I can never remember that November 22 is the anniversary not just of the physical assassination of President John F. Kennedy but of the political assassination of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the 25th one this year, to be quite precise. And yet, if you ask me where I was when I heard about those events I can describe it in great detail in both cases.

Let us turn, instead, to the Thatcher premiership before that assassination; let us turn to the beginning when everything seemed to be going wrong and yet she managed to impose her authority on the party and the government.

There has already been a reference on this blog to Kwasi Kwarteng's book about those crucial six months from Geoffrey Howe's budget of March 1981 to the party conference (oh happy days when there was only one of those a year) of October 1981 in Blackpool. The book is topped and tailed by a chapter by a Portrait of a Lady and an Epilogue that takes us to the summer of 1983 and the triumph of that year's election. Mr Kwarteng acknowledges that the Argentinian junta did Margaret Thatcher a favour by its invasion of the Falklands but also acknowledges that the landslide of 1983 was not occasioned solely by the Falklands war, which is unlikely to have been fought by any other Prime Minister, in any case.

The six months in question were eventful: the March budget, now seen as the foundation of Thatcherite economic policy that eventually turned the country round, was attacked on all sides, including the Conservative. Among other derisory descriptions it was characterized as one that gave no hope to the young and the unemployed, often by the politicians and economists who had brought the country to the economic crisis. which necessitated the budget.

Those six months also saw the death of Bobby Sands, the Sinn Fein MP, and other hunger strikers in the Maze, riots in Toxteth, Brixton, Moss Side and one or two other areas as well as a split in the Labour Party, which could have resulted in a genuine social-democratic party that might have been victorious in 1983. But it did not do so.

Thatcher's Trial goes through the various events in great detail, something that even a hefty three-volume biography cannot do but there is a problem with it all: one gets the distinct impression that Mr Kwarteng dislikes Margaret Thatcher and would like to side with her various opponents, particularly the wet grandees she eventually got rid of. It is of them that he writes with affection and admiration and it is of her that he is rather dismissive.

We hear a great deal about her "uncomplicated" attitude, her very simple religion, her continuing behaviour as if she were a prize-winning grammar school girl (Mr Kwartend is, as we all know, an Old Etonian), her black and white attitude to the world, which is a complicated and delicately shaded affair. 

It is not entirely clear why saying that the riots were a matter of law and order and criminal behaviour is rather simplistic and worthy of disdain, whereas saying that spending more government money was politically astute, subtle and complex.

Nor can one be all that impressed by Mr Kwarteng's sympathetic attitude to the various opponents of Geoffrey Howe's budget because they were people who cared about the social fabric of the country. Those riots could not have been caused by the less than two years of the Thatcher government. Even David Owen wrote about the problems that had accumulated for twenty years though he seems to have forgotten that for more than half of that period there was a Labour government and towards the end he was part of that. The social fabric of the country had worn very thin, indeed, by 1979 under the great care of those who were wringing their hands at Thatcher's "cruelty" and "uncompromising hardness".

The same applies to the problems of Northern Ireland, inherited by Thatcher from three of her predecessors. Even the rule to which the Maze prisoners objected to and, which pushed them into those hunger strikes had been put into place by the Labour government. 

The truth is that Thatcher was faced with a very difficult situation and had to take very difficult decisions. Had some of her predecessors who allegedly cared so much about that social fabric, were more subtle and did not take a supposedly uncomplicated attitude she had imbibed with her Methodism taken some of those decisions, those early months of her government (as well as the later struggle with the unions) would have been very different. 

She was, however, lucky in her opponents from the "wets" in her own party to the Argentinian junta, from the outdated and increasingly extreme Labour party to the incompetent Social-Democrats. Even Arthur Scargill played it all wrong but one cannot really blame him: he thought he was still dealing with her complex, politically subtle. intellectually broad-minded (or so Mr Kwarteng will have us believe) predecessors. 

If one can put up with the author's rather unexpected attitude to his subject one finds a great deal of interest in the book. Mr Kwarteng has done his research and has shaped it into a very interesting, fluent account. Higher praise one cannot give. 

Kwasi Kwarteng: Thatcher's Trial
Six Months That Defined A Leader

2015 Bloomsbury, London

... in 1874, Sir Winston Spencer Leonard Churchill. The current Conservative History Journal has a couple of extremely interesting articles about him that remind us of the fact that he remains a controversial figure as is right and proper.

At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month the guns fell silent. It was not the war to end all wars and we have had a number since then. But at that time we remember all the dead of all the wars and honour those who survived.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Dorothy L. Sayers, for reasons that are still debated by literary critics and historians, abandoned the writing of detective stories in 1937 though she continued to review other books in he genre and was very active in the Detection Club (here is my review of Martin Edwards's history of that august institution, in case anyone is interested). She became more interested in theological matters, social commentary and, eventually, translation of Dante. With C, S. Lewis and Charles Williams she became during the war a popular commentator from the right-wing perspective (unlike J. B. Priestley whom she greatly admired) and a popular theologian.

The long essay I have just finished reading, Begin Here, was commissioned and written at the end of 1939, during what is known as the "phony war" and published in early 1940. It was reprinted and republished many times during the no longer phony war, despite paper rationing.

In this Sayers tried to sum up what she felt had gone wrong with the country, its society and the its people and proposed some tentative ideas about what might have to be done after the war. It is curious how many people at various points of the political spectrum started thinking about post-war society almost as soon as the war began, there being a general assumption that this war would really change everything.

There are too many things in the book for me to discuss in just one posting but let me refer to something that amused me intensely and made me realize that some annoying aspects of our own society goes back a lot further than we sometimes think.

On pages 116 to 117 (I managed to find a copy of the Second Impression, from February 1940) we find the following, which will sound familiar to many people:

I am perpetually disquieted by the popular appetite for what is (horribly) called the "personal angle" on every question. This irrational obsession pervades the newspapers, makes the lives of public characters a burden to them, distracts public worship from its proper object, and is rapidly destroying the intelligence of the people.

It is as though nobody cred fro what is said, but only for who says it. an unsigned article in a newspaper carries no weight, however sound its arguments; except in those few national organs that are still read by highly educated people, articles on theology, drama, science, sociology, poetry or any other special subject have to be sponsored by "a name" if they are to attract attention - nor does it seem to matter in the least whether "the name" knows anything about the subject or not.
Another aspect of the subject is covered at a later point of the book, at the start of the last chapter, called Begin Here, where she outlines her various suggestions for the future:
All questions of fact and all judgements calling for specialised experience must be referred to the people who have that special knowledge and experience. But when we have heard what they have to say, we must use our individual judgment as to the action to be taken, bearing always in mind the geral principles by which we have decided that the world should be governed.

We must also remember that an expert in one department is only an amateur in another; a biologist is no more specially qualified to pontificate about theology than a theologian to lay down the law about stage-management.
What, I wonder, would be Miss Sayers's opinion of the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch, a successful and fairly talented actor, who seems to have set himself up as an expert on all subjects to do with morality.

This, as it happens, came out before the second volume of Charles Moore's magisterial (the only word one can use) biography and concentrates on just two years of Margaret Thatcher's premiership: the first two, before she established her control over the party and laid the foundation for her achievements (or otherwise, if you happen not to like what she managed to do).

I found Kwasi Kwarteng's Thatcher's Trial on the shelves for new books of London Library and took it down immediately.

This is how the author sums up the theme of the book:
Thatcher's Trial is a short account of the six months which defined Thatcher as a leader. These six months started with the budget delivered on 10 March 1981 and ended with the reshuffle of her government which took place on 14 September. during this period, Margaret Thatcher showed herself to be inflexible, tough minded and courageous.

Her judgements were clear but often wayward; her self-belief sometimes faltered, although publicly she never let any hesitation blunt her message. She always conveyed an image of utter certainty, even when some of her closest allies openly expressed reservations.
I am looking forward to reading Mr Kwarteng's description of all of that.

In the first place, however, I was reminded of the fact that the famous September 1981 reshuffle got rid of a number of wets and, more to the point, a number of grandees who had assumed that the Conservative Party was theirs to run. Among these were Sir Ian Gilmour and Lord Soames whom Mr Kwarteng describes as having had "a political career of considerable distinction" but whose achievements (with the possible exception of his stint as Our Man in Paris) depended very largely on the fact that he was Sir Winston Churchill's son-in-law. Neither of them every forgave her.

Various versions of what happened when Thatcher had given Soames his marching orders have circulated the political world then and have done so ever since. Quoting from Thatcher's own The Downing Street Years, Mr Kwarteng says:
His sacking was a notable scalp for the daughter of a Lincolnshire grocer. To Margaret Thatcher, who was not so often as obviously class conscious, Soames gave 'the distinct impression' that he felt the natural order of things was being 'violated' and that he was, in effect, 'being dismissed by his housemaid'.
Other versions were more colourful, notably Hugo Young's in One of Us, which is the basis of this:
Soames decided to give Thatcher a piece of his mind as is reported to have 'assailed her for twenty minutes for her various shortcomings'. His irritation was manifest and it was said that his 'thunderous' and booming voice 'could be heard out of the open window halfway across Horseguards Parade.
Exactly as he would have spoken to a recalcitrant footman or under-gardener (housemaids being in his wife's domain). The lady must have given as good as she received because Soames was by the account many of us have heard, severely put out. Charles Moore describes his reaction in his first volume:
Christopher Soames reportedly complained to friends that he would have sacked his gamekeeper with more courtesy than Mrs Thatcher had shown him (though why one should expect gamekeepers to be shown less courtesy than Lord Soames in matters of employment was not clear).
On the other hand, it is abundantly clear that Margaret Thatcher had summed up Christopher Soames and his attitude to her and to the Conservative Party fairly accurately.

I have just finished proof-reading the forthcoming hard copy of the Conservative History Journal and I can tell you that there are lots of good things in it about Wellington, Churchill (several pieces), the First World War, curious nuggets from the party's history and a piece by me about Lady Knightley of Fawsley. (Yes, indeed, you have not heard the end of that subject.)

There is an interesting and entertaining piece by Charles Clarke (yes, that Charles Clarke), entitled 'David Cameron top of the league? You're having a laugh!'. It is based on a talk he gave at a symposium on Conservative Leaders at Queen Mary College in London last December and on work produced in a book he co-edited with Toby James, Tim Bale, Patrick Diamond, British Conservative Leaders.

What Clarke writes about in the article, backed by tables from Rallings and Thrasher's British Electoral Facts 1832 - 2012 is the relative placing of various Conservative Prime Ministers on the basis of how many seats and what proportion of the electoral vote they managed to gain.

So who do you think might be the top three? Well, number one is Sir Robert Peel who fought three elections and who oversaw the acquisition of 192 seats and a cumulative change in 21.5% of the votes in the Conservatives' favour. Number two is the Marquess of Salisbury who fought five elections and acquired 165 seats and 8.3% of the electoral vote for his party. And number three? Ha! I bet you cannot guess who it is. In fact, it is David Cameron with two elections, 133 seats and 4.5% of the vote.

When it comes to electoral changes rather than seats there is a slight confusion as the correlation is not that straightforward. Thatcher, with three elections, comes fourth in the number of seats (99) and in percentage of vote (6.5%) but Baldwin who comes fifth in number of seats (75) comes second in share of votes that changed to the Conservatives (15.8%). So the much despised David Cameron ranks third by seats and fifth by share of votes.

It so happens (she says casually) that I predicted that the Conservative would win the General Election of May 2015 and would be forming a government on their own. So all comments about how surprising the result was leave me cold or, to be precise, cold and disdainful. Not to some of us, it was not. But I had not realized Cameron's achievement as Leader until I read the article and looked at the figures.

Oh and if you are interested, Churchill comes fifteenth in ranking by seats, having cumulatively lost 108 over three elections and twelfth in share of votes, having lost 5.3%. Whatever one may think about him as a politician and a war leader (two very separate things) one thing we can say with certainty: he remained unpopular until he actually retired and was raised to the status of a political demi-god in the ten years between his retirement and his death.

Tomorrow is St Crispin's Day and 600 years ago it was the day upon which the Battle of Agincourt was fought. Here, as you would expect, is the speech made on the eve of the battle in Shakespeare's play by Sir Laurence Olivier:

And here is part of the battle from the same film:

One of the most famous battles in English history, a stupendous achievement by English arms but did it achieve anything? Well, it made the English temporarily victorious in the Hundred Years' War, created a great legend, which, oddly enough was largely true - the English and the Welsh army was considerably smaller than the French, which they defeated - and staved off the war between the House of York and the House of Lancaster.

Here is a useful account and a list of ten reasons why the French were defeated by numerically inferior forces.

Margaret Thatcher was born Margaret Roberts in Grantham on October 13, 1925 in Grantham. As the second volume of Charles Moore's biography is being read (though not yet by me as I am still immersed in Rab Butler who is unlikely to have approved of the Iron Lady) there seems no point in going through her various deeds and achievements here but a brief chronology, as posted on the Margaret Thatcher Foundation site is useful.

Her importance can be measured not through the words and attitudes of her admirers, especially as a number of us have managed to perceive that she was wrong from time to time either because she had to placate and earn the loyalty of all members of her party or because certain measures would not have been passed or because she was simply wrong. It is the fury and hatred that her name excites in so many people of varying ages who do not even know what it is they hate and certainly cannot argue any valid alternative ideas that is the true measure of her greatness.

Here, as ever for this blog, a few pictures of the greatest Prime Minister of the twentieth century, chosen at random.

By which I obviously mean the First World War since neither before or since has our perception of a war been so influenced by literary output, particularly of outstanding poetry. Since most British poets and writers seem to have served on the Western Front, the literature has contributed to the country's obsession with that part of the war, important but not the only one. Even the lavish centenary celebrations last year have not changed that attitude much.

Furthermore, because of the high calibre of the literary output we do think of the First World War as being unparalleled in horror. I have no desire to go into a discussion about the technological developments that had made the war different from many others though the truth is that it was not till the Second World War that more people had died because of enemy action than because of diseases. As Paul Delany points out in his biography of Rupert Brooke, Fatal Glamour,
in the Gallipoli campaign, bloody as it was, two-thirds of he two hundred thousand Allied casualties were caused by disease rather than enemy action.
One of those was Rupert Brooke who died of septicemia, caused by a mosquito bite and exacerbated by general weakness and low immunity.

It always seemed to me rather touching that the wonderful memorial to the Camel Corps on the Embankment, commemorates all the dead, whether in battle, of wounds or disease.

Fatal Glamour is an interesting biography and deals with Brooke as he was, warts or feet of clay and all, much of which was hidden for many years by the people who published his poetry, letters and a few biographies. The image of the golden boy (and he really was extraordinarily good looking), the poet (he certainly was talented as several of the best poems show), the warrior (that is more dubious but not for lack of trying) being struck down as he went to war for his country and for Western civilization had to prevail.

There is no question, there were many faults in Brooke and his personality had many problems and episodes of instability. Would he have overcome them, had he survived the war or would he have descended into manic depression, which is one possible explanation for his break-down in 1912 and his behaviour afterwards? None can tell. No more can we tell whether his talent would have developed into something truly magnificent or whether he would have become another second-rate poet like the other Georgian poets? Would his literary talent have stayed with the war like Sassoon's did or moved forward like Graves's did? We can but speculate and, sensibly, Paul Delaney does very little of it. There is so little to go on.

He does make a very interesting point about the role of Brooke and the other poets and writers, people who came from a class that had not, traditionally, sent its sons to war and who, therefore, reacted with greater horror to what they faced.
Rupert's death would have counted for much less if he had been a conscript. As a volunteer, it mattered little that he had died of illness just before his fellow officers were mowed down by the Turks. He had chosen to face death for his country; his country had not chosen for him. And he had volunteered as a poet, who in his war sonnets had expressed the volunteer's creed of self-sacrifice. Nor did all war poetry need to be of that kind: the poets of disillusion - Sassoon, Graves, Owen - had been volunteers, too.

The 1914 - 15 generation of volunteers had a unique moral authority, sandwiched between the professionals of the British Expeditionary Force and the conscripts of 1916 - 18. No other belligerent country had met its wartime needs for soldiers in the British way; not coincidentally, none of those countries produced a comparable generation of poets. Whatever the excesses of Rupert's war poems, he still had his place in that lyrical flowering, without precedent before or since.
Numbers of volunteers went down as the news from the Western front and Gallipoli came in and by 1916 those who maintained that the war could not be fought or won without conscription were politically victorious. The idea that had been proclaimed as un-British for decades became acceptable and by 1939 taken for granted.

After Denis Healey's death a few days ago I wondered whether any of the old Labour politicians were still around and came to the conclusion that Healey was the last link with the Labour Party that still had some kind of a vision of the future. As it happens, their vision was all wrong and the Wilson/Callaghan governments were incompetent to an extraordinarily high degree. I hope my readers will not misunderstand me: I have no nostalgic feelings for the Labour Party of those years except that I do miss the personalities and the fact that there were some ideas, however wrong-headed, floating about on the left. What we have now is a party that has absolutely no notion of what it would like to see except for the fact that it does not like the way the world and, particularly, this country has developed in the last few decades and would like to turn the clock back to some mythical socialist or semi-socialist paradise. For that reason, I could not help sighing when I read about Healey's death though I also could not help remembering all the many things he and his colleagues got wrong.

While I do not agree with Andrew Roberts (please, nobody tell him that) about Denis Healey being the worst Chancellor Britain has ever had, I do not think he was much good. One cannot deny that Mr Roberts is correct in the following assessment:
The British are famously indulgent when it comes to elderly politicians, turning them into cuddly national treasures regardless of what they did in their prime, especially if they are on the left. It happened to Tony Benn and Michael Foot, is happening to Shirley Williams and is even going to happen to Neil Kinnock.‎ Having reached the splendid age of 98 it was always going to happen to Denis Healey, but that doesn’t excuse the Sunday Times obituary by the novelist Robert Harris which described Healey’s five years at the Treasury in the 1970s as “bruising” when they were in fact catastrophic and humiliating for a western democracy.

They were the years of going cap in hand to the IMF, of the winter of discontent when the rubbish lay uncollected in the street and the dead went unburied, of the confiscatory 98 percent top rate of income tax when Healey deliberately chose to tax the rich till the pips squeaked (a phrase he unconvincingly afterwards denied using). All of these national humiliations were Healey’s fault, though you wouldn’t have guessed it from the adulatory obits on the BBC and other media.
A couple of days after that article appeared, there was a response by Oliver Kamm who insisted that Denis Healey was not the worst Chancellor this country has ever had. (To be fair, there is hot competition for that title.)

Let us now turn to the man whose death we are mourning today and whose tenure as Chancellor is usually judged to have been remarkably successful: Geoffrey Howe, who has died at the age of 88.

The BBC gives a general overview of the man and his career, mentioning that he died of a suspected heart attack "after attending a jazz concert with his wife Elspeth". Being acquainted with the redoubtable Lady Howe, the supposed real author of her husband's infamous resignation speech of 1990, I can well believe it.

The Independent gleefully provides a video of that speech in 1990, which is commonly held to be the beginning of the end for Margaret Thatcher's premiership. It also provides an extraordinarily badly written article by someone called Olivia Blair (no relation, I assume). Has the Indy given up hiring hacks who have writing and research skills?

The Telegraph has put up a picture gallery of Lord Howe of Aberavon's life and, one assumes, will  have a more balanced obituary tomorrow. It is, perhaps, unfortunate that Geoffrey Howe's life and illustrious political career will be for ever defined by that resignation speech. A few years ago, in the course of some research, I looked up the text in Hansard and was stunned anew by the sheer venom it expressed towards the Prime Minister. It is no wonder she and many others were shocked.

Several points need to be made. The first, a minor one, is that the American journalist who introduces the recording for an American audience, unlike the Indy hack, gets the title right: he was Sir Geoffrey Howe not Sir Howe. Which takes me back to my question about the Indy.

More importantly, Sir Geoffrey's analysis of the history and developments in the European Community (as it then was) is somewhat inaccurate and his predictions are wrong. Then again, many of the same arguments are being used now by the people who want us to vote to stay in the European Union. I suspect Lord Howe was not happy about political developments in this country in the last few years as far as the membership of the European Union is concerned.

Nor could he have been happy with the political development of the man who was sitting next to him and to whom he referred several times as one who was in agreement with him. The Rt Hon. Member for Blaby was Nigel Lawson, also a former Chancellor of the Exchequer, subsequently Lord Lawson of Blaby and most recently President of Conservatives for Britain. He is likely to play a prominent role  in the campaign for Brexit.

No, not the second volume of Charles Moore's monumental biography of Margaret Thatcher, something I am looking forward to reading, but a book that is almost more interesting to an historian: a biography of Rab Butler, usually described as the best Prime Minister we never had.

When I first heard about it from the author, Michael Jago, I told him (by e-mail) that my attitude to Butler was ambivalent. In other words, I am not sure that he is the best Prime Minister we never had as I cannot help thinking that a man who allows the premiership to slip away from him three times had the necessary fire in the belly for the job. Without discussing all that, Mr Jago said that he, too, is ambivalent, despite or because of the biography he has just written. That is a fascinating attitude and I am greatly looking forward to reading the book.

Hatfield House closes for the winter today but a couple of weeks ago Tory Historian went to visit that very fine home of generations of English, later British politicians, Conservative ever since that became possible. This blog will consist largely of pictures taken inside and outside the house, starting with the grand statue of the 3rd Marquess that greets visitors outside the main entrance to the estate.

Tory Historian is aware of some controversy about the latest addition, the fountain in front of the House itself but comes down on the side of those who like it. The title Renaissance recalls past glories and the golden globe that rises and falls in the water is a reminder of those elaborate renaissance structures as well as a play on the original meaning of the word, rebirth. Yes, it is very modern but that adds to the attraction. Hatfield House is still the home of the Marquess of Salisbury and his family; even the stately rooms are used for such events as Christmas dinner and the present holder of the title takes his duties to the name, the estate and the house seriously. That means adding new furniture, new structures, new decorations - Hatfield is part of English history and that goes on.

What of the pictures and furniture inside? Readers must forgive TH's particular interest but this Primrose League cover caused much delight.

A more recent involvement in British political and literary life by members of the Cecil family was illustrated in one of the drawing rooms by a display of copies of the Salisbury Review.

A lion that guards the entrance:

And a lion that makes music on the stairs:

For the moment we shall stop here. Another posting will have portraits of Queen Elizabeth I and of members of the Cecil family. 

Today Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II becomes this country's longest serving monarch and she is celebrating that day in Scotland, in many ways a very appropriate thing to do. She is, as all but her most venomous opponents know, half Scottish. Recently I watched another production of Macbeth (a Chinese one by a theatrical company from Hong Kong, since you ask) and was once again amused by the witches' prediction that Banquo's descendants will rule the Kingdom of England, Scotland and Ireland. Well, maybe they did for a while. But the Queen Mother was, before she became the Duchess of York, Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, the daughter of Lord Glamis (later the 14th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne in the Peerage of Scotland). Elizabeth of Glamis, in other words. And who was the Thane of Glamis before he went on to bigger things and eventually his downfall? Macbeth.

I have selected some random pictures of Her Majesty, some better known than others:

There are many more that other people might prefer. The Conservative History Blog wishes Her Majesty a very happy day and many more to come.

The most appropriate reading matter at the moment is The Tory World, edited by Professor Jeremy Black and published earlier this year. The book's subtitle is Deep History and the Tory Theme in British Foreign Policy, 1679-2014, which speaks for itself. It is a collection of essays by various luminaries (some more than others and none of them female) about Tory and Conservative ideas about foreign policy, not as simple a subject as it might appear to those who think only in terms of Disraeli or Churchill.

In fact, on reading the Introduction by Professor Black himself, I recalled a conversation I had with Professor John Charmley, who has made a few appearances on this blog already, in which he argued forcibly that we  misunderstand Conservative thinking about foreign policy because we concentrate on the adventurous, often imperialist and always pro-active ideas of such people as Benjamin Disraeli and Winston Churchill. In the light of that, I am looking forward to reading Richard Toye's chapter in this collection, entitled Winston Churchill - Conservative or Liberal Imperialist?.

Here is Professor Black's definition of 'deep history' or, at least, an attempt at a definition. Thus, the extent to which there is 'deep history' in Conservative views on the outside world and to which views on this subject provide a 'deep history' and continuity for Conservatism, are central issues. 'Deep history' is the long-term, seemingly inherent assumptions, the emotions of policy that help create teh context for the politics of the shorter term.
As they used to say, discuss. That is precisely what I intend to do as I continue reading the book.

Working on an article about the prominent Conservative activist Lady Knightley of Fawsley who has been ignored by feminist historians for far too long I came across an interesting quotation in the first volume of her diaries, edited by Julia Cartwright (Mrs Ady) and published in 1915, two years after the diarist's death.

The entry is for July 30, 1860 when the then Miss Louisa Bowater was eighteen years old, well educated (at home), widely read and fascinated by many things: politics, religion, art, literature and social matters as well as day to day gossip and entertainment. From the age of fourteen she had kept a meticulous diary that is not only very well written but is a fascinating source of information about life and political matters of the period.

This is what Miss Bowater wrote that evening:

I was in great luck this evening for my cousins Charles and Harriet Ridley came down for the night, and at dinner I sat between Charles and Mr Hough, the Vicar of our church at Ham, with Harriet on the other side. The two latter had not been together many minutes before they were deep in theology, and presently I contrived to get a word in. We discussed Kingsley first of all. Mr Hough knows him intimately, and says he is a most extraordinary mixture, a rationalist and man of very unsound principles, an inveterate sportsman, greatly in earnest and at the same time undoubtedly attractive.

The word 'earnest' made Mr Hough remark that a great deal of mistaken homage is paid to earnestness without much regard to what the earnestness is about. I said, surely there was more hope of a man who was really in earnest about something, becoming earnest about the best things, than of a trifler. He disagreed, saying that the more firmly a man was wedded to wrong opinions the more difficult it was to turn him from these.
A few explanatory points need to be added before I turn to my main one.

The Kingsley mentioned in the entry can be no other but Charles Kingsley, a well known and controversial figure of the period. The Bowater family lived for at least half the year, sometimes longer at Thatched House Lodge in Richmond Park, which in 1843 had been given to Louisa's father, General Sir Edward Bowater, a veteran of the Peninsular War and of Waterloo, who was Equerry to Prince Albert and, later, Groom-in-Waiting to the Queen. On his death, in December 1861 the house was given to Lady Bowater for life. Hence "our church at Ham", whose vicar seems to have been a narrow-minded sort of person and whom Miss Bowater seems to have found rather amusing and intellectually not very inspiring.

Nevertheless, one cannot help feeling that on this point he was more nearly correct than she. Earnestness, in itself, is no recommendation any more than the presence of principles, the modern equivalent of that. We do not value earnestness particularly but there is a great deal of praise for people, especially politicians, who "at least have principles". Depends on what those principles are, say I. Vladimir Lenin had principles as did many of his predecessors in the Russian radical movement. Can we really honestly rejoice in the fact that he came out on top in 1917 - 18?

Some time ago there was a brief posting on this blog about Russian conservative thinkers who, though more influential in that country, tend to be overshadowed in the West by the more glamorous liberal and radical activists and theoreticians.
Tory Historian’s own view that a good deal of trouble has come from Sir Isaiah Berlin, who first popularized Herzen and his successors in the West in the twentieth century. This was real popularization. No university course on Russian history managed to get by without studying Russian Radical Thought. And Sir Isaiah’s admiration prevailed. He ignored the nastier aspects of that thought and concentrated on what he saw as the nobility of the struggle. Our perceptions of Russian history are still coloured by that.
Sir Isaiah Berlin, though an important theoretician of liberalism, is not a hero on this blog, partly because of his behaviour at various times and partly because of his thinking about other people, such as the Russian radicals. To him, their principles, their earnestness (and goodness me, were they earnest!) and their undoubted courage in their fight with the Tsarist regime was sufficient. Their actual ideas he skated over lightly.

From 1689 to 1697 Britain was at war with France - one of the consequences of the Glorious Revolution that Whig historians do not emphasise too much. In 1702 the country went to war again with France. During the summer of 1711 Lord Bolingbroke, Queen Anne's Secretary of State for the Northern Department began secret peace negotiations with the French Foreign Minister, Torcy and a preliminary peace treaty was signed on September 27.

Two months later Jonathan Swift published The Conduct of the Allies, a withering attack on the Whig Ministry, its bellicose behaviour, Britain's allies and the great commander, the Duke of Marlborough.

In a country, exhausted by the war, the book became a great popular success and by the end of January 1712 11,000 copies were sold - a respectable number that would be envied by almost all writers even now.

What caught my eye is a comment the Dean made in his discussion of the people who, for their own nefarious purposes, opposed the peace negotiations, one that can be applied to a good many other times and political situations:
It is the Folly of too many to mistake the echo of a London coffee-house for the voice of the Kingdom. 
He then explains at length why the denizens of the City and of Westminster coffee-houses are not to be trusted.

I have now finished Hugh Tulloch's Acton,as blogged about here, and should like to quote a couple of paragraphs about Acton the historian, who remains a somewhat controversial figure.

Here is Tulloch on Acton's writing style:
He attempts to disarm and persuade with the aid of every cunning literary device. The insidious conjunction of adjectives in his essay on the St Bartholomew Massacre - 'holy deceit'. 'pious dissimulation', 'cruel clemency', 'inhuman mercy' - subtly suggests moral disorientation and reinforces the central thesis of the Counter-Reformation's perversion of religious faith.

In private correspondence, especially, he rarely enters a qualifying clause and the unequivocal assertions harden into ruthless gems. His editors Figgis and Laurence, asserted euphemistically that Acton was not prone to doubts; the more detached Henry Sidgwick observed that he threw off highly questionable assertions as if they were trite commonplaces. Readers of Acton should always beware and be on their guard.
Later he adds:
He [Acton, obviously] leaves an uncertain legacy: an unobtainable ideal and a life and writings whose flaws exemplify its impossibility. But perhaps his sublime confidence is a worthwhile corrective to the more prevalent vanity of misguided humility. Acton's historical vocation was shaped from his childhood. He possessed the necessary fascination and respect for facts and for details of the actual.
He possessed a highly developed sense of historical continuity and was intensely aware that the unseen past was always present and weighed down upon us. He wished to reimagine and recreate that elusive but significant past, and its physical remains helped to evoke it: the singed volume which Servetus carried with him to the stake that Acton inspected in the Bibliothèque Nationale, the yellowing plumes on Henry IV's armour which he saw in the Venice arsenal, the almost perfectly preserved remains of Tilly, the imperial commander during the Thirty Years' War.

He believed that a study of the past bestowed an extra sense, which enabled the historian, steeped in time and the specific, to step outside it altogether. Why wait for posterity's judgement on Mr Gladstone? Following an earlier conversation, Acton offered it at once: 'shut your eyes to my handwriting,' he wrote to Mary Drew, 'and ... you shall hear the roll of the ages.' By a strange alchemy a contemplation of the unique and particular allowed the historian to escape the temporary and the transient, and to fasten on abiding issues. History redeemed man from time.
How many academic historians have the imagination to see matters in that way?

The character and achievement of Lord Acton, quondam Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge (though he had not been allowed to study there as a Roman Catholic) and editor of the Cambridge Modern History remain fascinating and controversial among historians. On the whole he is now considered to be of greater significance than he was at one time when all his work had been dismissed by such men as G. R. Elton and A. J. P. Taylor. There have been numerous books written about hims and most of his writings, including letters have been published.

I was rather pleased to find a short summary of his life and work by Hugh Tulloch, published in the series Historians on Historians. (In fact, I am now on the look-out for other volumes in the series). Tulloch's attitude, as he says himself, wavers between admiration and dislike, thus making it possible for him to give a more or less objective account of this complex man and his voluminous writings (oh yes, he did write).

This is what he says at the end of the introductory chapter, which charts Acton's reputation during his live and after his death:

For I do not believe that he was whig or naive, innocent or optimistic, and in hoping to rescue him from his detractors I have had to to treat him in a profoundly un-Actonian way. He always insisted that the historian must disappear entirely from his history:  I am unable to separate the two. Despite his many disavowals, the man and the historian were not distinct, nor were his historical writings separate from his personal history.

At each juncture of his life, as combative Catholic, as arch-enemy of ultramontanism, as Gladstonian Liberal, the pressures of his current preoccupations subtly intrude, moulding and distorting his vision. I hope that a study of the historian enmeshed in his time will contribute towards a clearer and more balanced understanding.
The historian whose personality and preoccupations do not intrude into his (or her) writing is, I suggest, impossible to find.

Seventy years ago the first atom bomb to be used in war was dropped on the  city of Hiroshima, the second one, on Nagasaki to follow two day later. It undoubtedly ushered in a new world politically and militarily and has remained in many people's minds the pre-eminent example of a war crime. In fact, the casualties incurred by the firebombing of Tokyo were higher and when it came to war crimes, there were many competitors for the title of the worst.

The decision to drop the two atom bombs was taken by President Harry S Truman because he  considered, probably rightly, that the this was the only way to bring the war in the Pacific to an end speedily without further very high American and Japanese casualties. That alternative would have probably meant many more British, Australian, Indian and other casualties.

As last year's overwhelming and not always accurate memorials to the outbreak of the First World War slide away into memory, we can start discussing the subject a little more seriously and look at the conflict as well as its aftermath, the Versailles order, from other points of view. In January after watching Testament of Youth, I wrote a dissatisfied posting. I had hoped that the centenary would bring out more than just more stuff about the Western front, the mud, the barbed wire, the sensitive young men hardened by the horrors, etc etc. The film, as I said, was very much in that group and not a particularly good example of it, either. As it happens, the film did not garner particularly good reviews and disappeared from the cinema screens surprisingly quickly. Had everyone had enough of the whole subject by the beginning of this year? Or was the film simply not appealing enough?

There were, of course, a number of serious historical works published as well and, maybe, I should do a blog about some of them but the one that came out recently is of superlative interest to anyone who really wants to know about the causes of the war, its development and its aftermath.

The book is called Towards the Flame and subtitled Empire, War and the End of Tsarist Russia and is by the eminent historian, Professor Dominic Lieven (yes, he is of that family though not, I believe, a direct descendant of the Russian Ambassador of the early nineteenth century).

Professor Lieven chastises his colleagues, historians in the English-speaking world for concentrating too much on the Western European aspect of the war. In his Introduction he says:
This underlines a basic point about the First World War: contrary to the near-universal assumption in the English-speaking world, the war was first and foremost an eastern European conflict. Its immediate origins lat in the murder of the Austrian heir at Sarajevo in southeastern Europe. The assassination of Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914, led to a confrontation between Austria and Russia, eastern Europe's two great empires. France and Britain were drawn into what started as a conflict in eastern Europe above all because of fears for their own security: the victory of the Austro-German alliance over Russia would tilt the European balance of power decisively towards Berlin and Vienna.
The question before 1914 was who would be the dominant power in Central and Eastern Europe: Germany and Russia, with Austria-Hungary (as it was by then) naturally inclining to support Germany.

Germany, says Professor Lieven, did not really have to win in the West: a draw would have been sufficient as long as Russia was defeated, something that was confidently predicted by 1916. In the end, Russia's defeat did not help Germany as the war in the West ended with the Allies' victory, thanks to the American entry into the war and those Eastern gains had to be surrendered.

I must admit this all seems fairly obvious to me but, perhaps, not to a number of better known historians. (Much better known.)

The Versailles order, set up in the wake of the victory in the West could be put together only because the situation in the East was rather peculiar. A war that started as a bitter to-the-death contest between Russia and Germany ended with both countries defeated and destroyed. It was, therefore, possible to dismember the Austro-Hungarian Empire and set up a number of small states that could not defend themselves against a strong and aggressive Germany or Russia (or, perhaps, both as it happened in 1939 in Poland and the Baltic states). The assumption that this state of affairs could go on indefinitely was rather strange. Sooner or later and probably sooner rather than later Germany and/or Russia would become strong again and there would be another catastrophe for Europe. So it turned out. The Versailles order that had excluded both Germany and Russia was inherently unstable.

I hesitated whether this should come in this series of articles or not as it is a short piece, linked to an article by an historian who is most definitely not a Conservative and raises a question about modern politics. However, the article by Linda Colley, the well known historian, links present day arguments to Magna Carta and who am I to disagree with that.

The article is well worth reading in full as it quotes various constitutional historians and thinkers with great verve and knowledge. Essentially, Professor Colley argues that Britain's exceptionalism in that the country with some of the oldest constitutional documents in modern history has no written constitution has to be brought to an end. Britain must have a written constitution, especially as, Professor Colley argues, Scotland is probably about to have one.

There are one or two points on which I disagree with Professor Colley if I may be so bold and, indeed, insolent. In the first place, the idea of an independent Scotland has been put on what might be called a back burner since the referendum in which the Scots voted with a handsome majority in favour of staying in the United Kingdom. In any case, the offer of independence within the EU was a constitutional oxymoron.

Secondly, it is not entirely true that Britain has no written constitution. She does not have a single constitutional document along the lines of the United States Constitution and it might be a very good idea to acquire one. I see no particular need for a Constitution like the French one, which has been re-written on a number of occasions and that applies to most others that are around. But the American one is important, particularly as it and its first ten Amendments, better known as the Bill of Rights, utilized many English ideas.

Britain has a series of constitutional documents, of which Magna Carta is the first (well, more or less) and one of the most important ones. There are many others and the present government is suggesting that we should add to it with a new Bill of Rights. I wonder if Professor Colley agrees with that idea. Somehow I suspect that she might prefer the Human Rights Act and its overarching document the European Charter of Human Rights. But I may be wrong.

That brings me to the most important problem: we do, as it happens have a written Constitution and that is the Consolidated European Treaties, which are the Constitution for the EU and its Member States. For some reason Professor Colley does not refer to it.

Whether we need a single written constitution or not (and that needs to be discussed) there is no point to it while we are in the European Union, while European legislation comes above British Parliamentary legislation, while the ECJ and the ECHR are considered to be superior to British courts and while the Consolidated Treaties remain the overarching constitutional document. Is Professor Colley arguing for Brexit?

Tory Historian's interest in the history of food ought to be well known to readers of this blog though not much has been written about that recently. But a new book on the subject is always good news, especially when that books is by the great Massimo Montanari.

Medieval Tastes, first published in Italian and now in English by Columbia University Press is a fascinating account and analysis of what we know and what we can surmise about life and food in the Middle Ages, a long and ever changing period.

In his introductory chapter Professor Montanari tackles the ambivalent attitude so many of us take towards the Middle Ages (a vague and simplified term along with "long ago"), on the one hand hankering for some strange notion of purity and supposed healthfulness (an attitude that disregards the reality of life for most people, including the rich in those centuries) and on the other hand seeing those centuries as uniformly dark and oppressive (which disregards the many and varied achievements).

The two attitudes, which he calls the "tenebrous" and the "luminous" Middle Ages have grown out of different post-Mediaeval historic and literary developments.

The obscure Middle Ages and the luminous one live side by side today in the collective imagination, which has digested and assimilated both premises, blending them in an unforeseeable manner. But when it comes to food, the Middle Ages are decidedly and exclusively good, for they represent the nostalgic dream of a pure and uncontaminated past that guarantees authenticity and quality.

Things change when the marketing of the Middle Ages introduces theme events, festivals, and rural and municipal feasts - all very common in many European countries - offering historical processions with ladies in costume, knights in noble combat, archery contests, games in the central square along with reconstructions of artisans's shops and markets and all kinds of amenities under the aegis of a Middle Ages filled with warmth and goodness, genuine humanity and profound sentiments. During those festivals, however, even the other Middle Ages are revealed (and later become preponderant), reflecting the obscure and malevolent, with their classic stereotypes of black magic, witches, torture, poisoning and exorcisms of fears and anxieties that are in us but that we prefer to relegate to a finished past.

Even gastronomy enters into this world of festivals when the tenebrous Middle Ages cohabit with the luminous Middle Ages. this would seem to be the "good" side, with its habitual trousseau of platitudes about the healthfulness, tastiness, and purity of medieval food. But beware: here, we are no longer talking about simple products, or products that boasts "medieval origins". Here, we are talking about cuisine and recipes prepared in the medieval manner, or presumed such.
Marketing of entertainment tends to follow certain fashions and one just has to accept that. Of greater interest is what transpires from that rather muddled attitude to "mediaeval food" and customs and that is a complete lack of desire to understand, merely to use the expression "mediaeval" as a symbol of various modern fears and longings.

There will be more as TH progresses with the book.

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