Epstein at war, 1917. Silent Pathé clip. He served briefly in the 38th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers, aka the Jewish Legion. Did he fight in Palestine? Where is his reputation now? It seems uncertain.
Re the last post but one, Jacob Epstein’s sculptures were not really like the ill-defined “pre-Romanesque” sculpture to which Toynbee alludes, but Toynbee’s phrase “clumsy stiffness” is likely to refer to his work.
Through Epstein’s 1908 figures for the façade of the new British Medical Association building in the Strand, now Zimbabwe House, the British public had its first and formative encounter with a version of Modernism.
The encounter was unsettling because it took place in a street. It was known that strange things had been happening in painting, but paintings were in galleries. Sickert painted some of his Camden Town nudes in the same year.
The Epstein sculptures epitomised the modern. Their stripping away of an academic veil, not the subject-matter, made the reaction to them prudish. They might have been at the back of Toynbee’s and Strudwick’s minds a quarter of a century later. The BMA resisted the campaign for their removal.
The Evening Standard warned that Epstein had erected “a form of statuary which no careful father would wish his daughter, or no discriminating young man his fiancée, to see”. Half a century later Mervyn Griffith-Jones would ask during the Lady Chatterley trial: “When you have read it through, would you approve of your young sons, young daughters – because girls can read as well as boys – reading this book? Is it a book that you would have lying around in your own house? Is it a book that you would even wish your wife or your servants to read?”
The building became Rhodesia House (or the High Commission of Southern Rhodesia) in 1923.
Wikipedia: “London was not ready for Epstein’s first major commission – 18 large nude sculptures made in 1908 for the façade of Charles Holden’s building for the British Medical Association on The Strand (now Zimbabwe House) were initially considered shocking to Edwardian sensibilities, [...] mainly due to the perception that they were over-explicit sexually. In art-historical terms, however, the Strand sculptures were controversial for quite a different reason: they represented Epstein’s first thoroughgoing attempt to break away from traditional European iconography in favour of elements derived from an alternative sculptural milieu – that of classical India. The female figures in particular may be seen deliberately to incorporate the posture and hand gestures of Buddhist, Jain and Hindu art from the subcontinent in no uncertain terms. The current, mutilated condition of many of the sculptures is also not entirely connected with prudish censorship; the damage was caused in the 1930s when possibly dangerous projecting features were hacked off after pieces fell from one of the statues.” Not entirely?
If Toynbee and Strudwick had forgotten about the Ages of Man, they were thinking of the likes of Epstein’s Tomb of Oscar Wilde (1912) in the Père Lachaise Cemetery, and the reliefs of Epstein, Henry Moore, Eric Gill and others (1928) for the London Electric Railway headquarters (Moore’s first public commission).
BMA figures post-mutilation (first two images), photographs of original plaster casts (last four); credit: Nick Maroudas, Spike Magazine
Partial photo collage, Flickr credit: Dr Chester Chu
More shots at Flickr. I can’t find good images of the female figures.
“Over against the ever more amazing inventions of Science we see a kind of childishness creeping over our thoughts, our modes of expression, our art, our music, our morals. We talk in words from a very limited vocabulary, we produce pictures and statues of a more than ungainly ‘neo-primitiveness’, we croon nigger songs while we push one another round a room in dances that need no brain, no zest, and no vitality for their successful performance. Many of our buildings have as their chief merits the fact that they can be rushed up quickly and finished within a few weeks. We tear over the Earth’s surface along roads of brick-box straightness, past rows of houses of brick-box exactitude and hideousness, in order to get somewhere, it does not much matter where, in record time. Finally, the novels we read, apparently with pleasure, for there are many of them, show men and women as ill-conducted children whose one concern is that which they share with the animal world.
“There is to me something grim and horrible in an essentially mature civilisation playing at savage immaturity when it knows better. We cannot go back to the beginning of things any more than a mature mind can change into that of a child.”
[Footnote: Miss E. Strudwick, the Headmistress of St. Paul’s Girls’ School, Hammersmith, London, England, in a presidential address delivered on the 17th June, 1933, at Liverpool, at a Conference of the British Association of Head Mistresses. The text quoted here has been taken from the report in The Manchester Guardian of the 19th June, 1933.]
He must have kept the cutting. Quoting this was not, perhaps, Toynbee’s finest moment. He was consistently and passionately anti-racist and did not constantly complain about the modern world, but in 1954 his views on culture were still uncompromising. The N word could be introduced, in a quotation, in that context. No doubt those views were modified. His granddaughter Polly must have told him about pop music. Those were the conversations that happened in the ’60s. The older generation wasn’t entirely unaffected by the Zeitgeist.
“Roads of brick-box straightness [and] rows of houses of brick-box exactitude and hideousness” reminds one of dystopian cartoons of the time and of passages in novels such as Orwell’s Coming Up for Air.
As for neo-primitiveness, I wrote in an earlier post: “Englishmen of Toynbee’s generation and education probably thought, c 1935, of the sculptures of Jacob Epstein, with their ‘lines [...] cunningly reduced to the clumsy stiffness of the pre-Romanesque Dark Ages’, before they thought of buildings in the clean, anti-archaising International Style when Modernism was mentioned.”
See John Carey, The Intellectuals and the Masses, Pride and Prejudice among the Literary Intelligentsia, 1880-1939, Faber, 1992 and Richard Overy, The Morbid Age, Britain between the Wars, Allen Lane, 2009 (subsequently renamed).
Ethel Strudwick CBE (1880–1954) was the daughter of a Pre-Raphaelite painter, John Melhuish Strudwick. She read Classics at Bedford College, London and taught at City of London School for Girls from 1913. She was High Mistress of St Paul’s Girls’ School from 1927 to ’48. She has a DNB entry and apparently had a sense of humour.
Image at spgs.org, artist not stated
A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954
Since I mentioned it in the last post, here is VW’s A Pastoral Symphony conducted by Eugene Ormandy with the Philadelphia Orchestra, October 12 1972. Offstage soprano Benita Valente.
Lento moderato – Moderato maestoso
Roger Norrington on the symphony when playing it with the Deutsches Symphonie Orchester Berlin.
“The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time.”
“A friend came to see me on one of the evenings of the last week – he thinks it was on Monday, August 3rd. We were standing at a window of my room in the Foreign Office. It was getting dusk, and the lamps were being lit in the space below on which we were looking. My friend recalls that I remarked on this with the words: ‘The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time.’”
“I had two short talks with Grey during the ‘twelve days [July 24 to August 4].’ I ran into him on the stairs of the Foreign Office on Saturday, August 1st [...]. I saw him again late in the evening at his room at the Foreign Office on Monday, August 3rd, and it was to me he used the words which he has repeated in his book, ‘The lamps are going out all over Europe, and we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.’ We were standing together at the window looking out into the sunset across St. James’s Park, and the appearance of the first lights along the Mall suggested the thought.”
On August 1 1914, Germany (which was allied with Austria-Hungary) had declared war against Russia (which was allied with Serbia). On the 3rd it declared war against France. Britain entered the war against Germany on the 4th, after it received an “unsatisfactory reply” regarding Belgian neutrality.
“On Sunday – just four weeks after the murder by Servian [sic] assassins [Princip was a Bosnian Serb] of the Austrian Heir-Apparent and his wife in Sarajevo – Europe was suddenly confronted with the fear of a great war on a scale of unprecedented magnitude, involving loss of life and a destruction of all that we associate with modern civilisation too vast to be counted or calculated, and portending horrors so appalling that the imagination shrinks from the task.”
“His ideas on the nature and development of freedom are certainly relevant today; he indicated, for example, how important it is to protect freedom not only from its enemies but also, and even more so, from its well-meaning friends. He was devoted to the Catholic Church, whose communion, he said, was literally dearer to him than life. Yet Acton was not much preoccupied with ‘liberal Catholicism’ [...]. Rather, his essential concern was with truth and how easily it could be manipulated by its apparent servants – in the name of religion or politics – so that the end would appear to have justified the means.”
Patrick O’Donovan in Personal Memoir in Mary Craig, editor, Woodruff at Random, The Universe, 1978: “It was a joyous and exciting house.”
It had been a cell or dependent priory of Abingdon abbey. The sixteenth-century, two-storey building on the right, alongside the garden, became Douglas’s library and their chapel.
Mary Craig in Craig, op cit: “What he was [...] looking for was not a house but a library, and, leafing one day through Country Life, he found [...] what he wanted. It was a picture of the library at Marcham Priory, near Abingdon, in the Vale of the White Horse (shades of Chesterton). ‘He wanted that library whatever happened,’ says Mia. ‘He didn’t care at all what the house looked like.’ On the day that the auction for Marcham Priory took place, Mia was away in the north-east, attending the installation of their friend Gordon Wheeler as Bishop of Middlesbrough. She returned home tired, opened the door, ‘and saw on the hall-table two bottles of champagne, three pictures of Marcham Priory and a huge map of Berkshire.’” I remember him, some days before, calculating on the back of an envelope how much he would need to spend.
The library was not quite on the scale of Acton’s and I am not sure how many of the books he had had in Evelyn Mansions made their way there. He admitted that libraries needed to grow organically, but he bought indiscriminately. The contents of entire (so it looked) antiquarian and second-hand bookshops, from tomes almost as old as printing to ones a few years old, would arrive at Marcham.
Douglas passed on the advice he had been given as a young man: “Read for four hours every day, it doesn’t matter what, and you will become a wise man.” I didn’t take it. I remember him as he often was before a meal, with a book pressed to his nose, so that he could just see the print, in his reclining leather chair, a glass of sherry nearby on one of the precarious piles. When his eyesight started to fail him badly, he would listen to tapes or be read to.
I organised the library’s contents prior to its sale, c 1975, to Notre Dame in Indiana.
The Priory housed a large part of the Acton correspondence until 1973, when these papers joined Acton’s library and the other materials already at Cambridge University Library.
Portrait by Franz Seraph von Lenbach, c 1879
Portrait by Peter Rauter
Roland Hill, the modern biographer of Lord Acton, died on June 21. He was a family friend: I have improved his Wikipedia entry. The only obituary I can find is in The Tablet, but it is rather meanly (for an article published today) hidden behind a subscriber paywall.
His main two books were Lord Acton, Yale University Press, 2000 and A Time Out of Joint: A Journey from Nazi Germany to Post-War Britain, IB Tauris & Co, 2007. On June 12 2000, I attended a lunch at Carlton House Terrace, presided over by Owen Chadwick, for the launch of the first. In 2003, I read a draft of the second in typescript.
Hill, a German Jew, had arrived in England as a refugee, after some continental peregrinations, in July 1939. He came to know the editor of The Tablet, Douglas Woodruff. Later, in 1952, he joined The Tablet’s staff as an assistant. I forget how long he stayed. My father was Woodruff’s deputy. Woodruff was married to Acton’s granddaughter Marie Immaculée Antoinette, Mia Woodruff.
Hill wrote his only piece for History Today in the year he joined The Tablet (History Today’s second year): it was on Acton (HT, August 1952). Paul Lay, the editor, has kindly given me permission to republish it.
The text is from HT’s not always reliable online archive. I have corrected it, made some interpolations in square brackets and added links.
The piece opens with a slip. Acton’s grandfather, Sir John Acton, was the admiral, not the general. The general was his brother Joseph. They were both in the service of Ferdinand I. In 1799 John secured a dispensation from Pius VI to marry his brother’s thirteen-year old daughter, Mary Anne. The older of his two sons was Lord Acton’s father.
“A Liberal, a Catholic and a great Historian who yet never composed a great work of history – these are some of the aspects in which Roland Hill considers Lord Acton’s career.”
“No great liberal historian has had a family background less liberal or more unacademic than Acton. It was love of power and money that brought advancement to his grandfather, General Acton [no, see note above!], in the service of Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies. His father, Sir Richard [or Ferdinand], was a Tory squire, and his mother a member of an old Rhineland family, the Dalbergs, who had safely passed from Napoleonic orbits into the conservative and dynastic society that ruled most of Europe after the Congress of Vienna. John Acton himself was born at Naples in 1834, in Bourbon days. [He was an only child.] At the age of three, when his father died, he first came to live in England, at Aldenham [Aldenham Park or Hall, Shropshire, the family seat]. His young mother [Marie Louise Pelline de Dalberg] married again, and the friendly though remote influence of his stepfather, Lord Leveson, afterwards Earl of Granville and Foreign Secretary, gave the historian his earliest acquaintance with Whig traditions. Perhaps he owed more at this stage, however, to the benevolent concern of his uncle, Monsignor, and later Cardinal, Acton, that he should receive an English education.
“He was sent to school at Oscott, then under the presidency of Bishop Wiseman. [His father’s Catholicism had not prevented him from going to Westminster School.] ‘I am very happy here,’ he wrote to his mother, ‘and perfectly reconciled to the thought of stopping here seven more years.’ He was popular and intelligent, but not very industrious. At the age of sixteen, after a short stay at a private school in Edinburgh, he went to Munich in 1850 to complete his education in the household of Stiftspropst (Canon) Ignaz Doellinger [should be von Doellinger]; since he was a Catholic he could not be accepted either at Cambridge or Oxford. Another reason for the choice of Munich was that the Dalbergs had property nearby, at Tegernsee [which is a town as well as a lake]; there also was the house of Acton’s cousins, the Arco-Valleys, one of whom [Countess Marie Anna Ludomilla Euphrosina von Arco auf Valley, daughter of Count Maximilian von Arco auf Valley] he later married. [So Acton’s grandfather married an Acton. His father married a Dalberg. Acton married an Arco. Acton’s son married a Lyon. His grandson married a Strutt, whom I remember.]
“Doellinger’s influence was the most important in Acton’s life. When his pupil arrived, the Professor was fifty-one; he was a Privat-gelehrter, not formally connected with the University, though he occasionally lectured at it. As Stiftspropst, he was in close contact with the court of Maximilian II of Bavaria and as member of the Landtag he had attended the Frankfurt Parliament of 1848. His reputation as a Church historian was high; in episcopal circles he was very much respected and generally regarded as one of the leaders of the German Ultramontanists. The classical tradition of German literature and the Romantic revival had combined to form his mind, and the young Acton was impressed by his long quotations from Goethe, Schiller, Byron and Scott. In politics he was no Liberal; his sympathies were with the Wittelsbach dynasty and with Austria, and he held that ministers should be responsible to the Crown and not to Parliament. Though he possessed great conversational gifts, which the historian von Sybel compared to Bismarck’s, he never made the least effort to display his learning. Some of his pupils felt that he was only half-human, because he lacked Gemüt (feeling), but in spite of his ugly appearance, Acton liked him immensely. ‘His forehead is not particularly large,’ the boy wrote home, ‘and a somewhat malevolent grin seems constantly to reside about his wide, low mouth … I am inclined to think that he owes more to his character and industry than to his innate genius … He appears to have in some degree the imperfection of neglecting what he has begun.’ The pupil was to share that failing.
“Acton’s years in Munich saw the end of the Romantic age and the beginnings of Realism. The humanist traditions of the German Universities, then leading Europe in historical and philological studies, were being imperceptibly displaced by relativism and scepticism; technological developments and nationalist feelings were moving towards the triumphs they were to enjoy in the latter half of the century. Humanitarian ideals gave unexpected birth [thirty years later] to the Nietzschean superman; confidence in human reason was superseded by belief in the primacy of the will; hero-worship by the cult of the masses. Kant, Rousseau, French revolutionary ideas and the drama of the rebellious Dr. Faustus worked spiritual and intellectual disintegration. The Universities of Berlin, Goettingen and Heidelberg were the centres of the new age; and at first the tranquil and traditional world of Munich was undisturbed. But the arrival at the University – on the King’s invitation – of great scholars like Bluntschli, Siebold and von Sybel foreshadowed changes even here. The Bavarians resented the influx of the ‘northern lights,’ as they called them, for they were Protestants or non-practising Catholics. Von Sybel’s and Ranke’s influence, nevertheless, was providing the historical [historiographical] basis for the future victory of the Gotha or Prussian party. [Northern lights refers to Sybel and Ranke. Did Ranke actually work in Munich?]
“It was not contemporary trends, however, but the study of the past that Acton followed in Dr. Doellinger’s house. Bacon, Burke, Newman, Leo, Bourdaloue and Möhler [the text says Möller] were his early masters. Doellinger introduced him to the study of the Middle Ages, and the prevailing idea was to expose the Protestant falsifications of history – Macaulay was not among the Professor’s favourites. The ferment of German ideas left Acton unconcerned: ‘It is not German ways of thinking that I go there to seek,’ he wrote to his stepfather in 1854, ‘but in pursuit of my chosen branches of learning I must go to German sources, and the longer I stay in Germany the better I shall know them and know how to discriminate them.’ And he added: ‘If they [German books] have an almost universal characteristic, it is the absence of artistic management, a defect no one can acquire by studying them. The only effect they have produced on a class of persons in other countries is to make them infidels, like Carlyle.’ He was attracted neither by infidelity nor by Carlyle.
“With the Professor he visited Italy and France, meeting Minghetti, Tocqueville, Dupanloup and Montalembert. After eight years he returned in 1858 to the secluded world of Aldenham. He was twenty-four and in search of a platform; in the following year, he seemed to find one when he became editor of The Rambler, and was elected to Parliament, with Cardinal Wiseman’s blessing, for the Irish borough of Carlow [MP 1859-65]. It was Acton’s purpose in The Rambler, later replaced by the Home and Foreign Review, and in his contributions to the Chronicle and the North British Review, to teach English Catholics what he had learned in Munich – the practice of scientific enquiry in the disinterested love of truth. In England the Catholic body had only recently emerged from long isolation. More than ten years had passed since Newman’s conversion; there had been an influx of educated Anglican converts, and the Restoration of the Hierarchy had given new life to the Church. But in the world of learning, in which Acton was chiefly interested, changes were slow to come. As a cosmopolitan, he noted the provincialism, the atmosphere of authority and respectability, and the prevalence of dusty volumes, among which Lingard’s History of England held a lonely place of eminence; and he missed the sensibility to the arts, the respect for science and the open mind which were his inheritance from Munich. His fellow-Catholics, he complained, were under the delusion that their truths had only to be communicated, not to be discovered, and that their knowledge needed no increase except in the number of those who participated in it. His object was to emancipate the English Catholic mind, and to teach it the lessons, political and otherwise, which Catholics in Europe were beginning to learn: that ‘democracy is no friend of religion,’ and he would point to the example of France, Switzerland and the United States; ‘that despotism either oppresses or corrupts it,’ and there was the instance of Naples; ‘that representative institutions might be the protection of the Church in Protestant States, like Prussia, but in Catholic States, like Austria, only too frequently her scourge.’
“From political, not religious, systems came the real danger for the Church. Perfect liberty, it was his constant theme, required a scrupulous distinction between dogma and opinion; a true principle must be held more sacred than the most precious interest. He advocated the doctrine, unpopular with many ecclesiastics, that in science as in politics there was an authority distinct from that of the Church. ‘In each sphere,’ he wrote, ‘we are bound to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, but only Caesar’s. There can be no conflict of duties or of allegiance between them, except inasmuch as one of them abandons its true purpose: the realization of right in the civil order, and the discovery of truth in the intellectual.’ And there was all the optimism of his age in the demand ‘that science should be true to its own method, and the State to its own principle, and beyond this the interests of religion require no protection.’
“But the English Catholic body were not prepared for the sudden appearance in their midst of this extraordinarily gifted young man. Cardinal Wiseman and his successor, Manning, were deeply suspicious of Acton’s, and Newman’s, efforts on behalf of the spiritual rights, privileges and duties of the laity. The Rambler and the Home and Foreign Review were in continual conflict with the ecclesiastical authorities. Newman’s essay On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine was censured in Rome. Richard Simpson, a brilliant convert, and Acton’s friend and co-editor [on the Review], called down the wrath of authority by, as Newman put it, ‘his provoking habit of peashooting at any dignitary who looked out of the window as he passed along the road.’ The eminent lay professor of theology at Old Hall, W. G. Ward, whom Simpson had told ‘Come for a walk with me, and I will make your hair stand on end,’ could not but be confirmed in his aversion from ‘clever devils and Liberals,’ products, as it were, of intellectual pride.
“‘I agree with no one and no one agrees with me,’ wrote Acton later. This was certainly true of his position inside the Catholic community. In 1864 his six years of editorial activity came to an end. He had obtained the collaboration of the best European scholars for the two reviews, and probably no English periodicals have ever shown so wide a cosmopolitan interest and such a deep knowledge of European affairs. Of the Home and Foreign Review Mathew Arnold could say, at a time of many other distinguished reviews, that ‘in no organ of criticism in this country was there such knowledge, so much play of mind.’ Acton’s own written contributions were massive. In one issue of the quarterly ‘H&F’ alone ninety-four notices of books appeared, of which he had written thirty-four as well as contributing two long articles. But he felt that his objects were not being realized. In the last number of the ‘H&F’ he took leave of his readers with these words: ‘I will sacrifice the existence of the Review to the defence of its principles, in order that I may combine the obedience that is due to legitimate ecclesiastical authority with an equally conscientious maintenance of the rightful and necessary liberty of thought … To those whom, not being Catholics, this Review has induced to think less hardly of the Church, or, being Catholics, has bound more strongly to her, I would say that the principles it has upheld, of the harmony between religious and secular knowledge, will not die with it, but will find their destined advocates, and triumph in their appointed time.”
“It was as an editor that Acton came into close contact with John Henry Newman. But the young historian, fresh from Munich, and the older, delicate, sensitive man from Oriel never became real friends. Acton must have seemed very much a bull in a china shop, and though they were at one in their dislike of the narrow authoritarianism of some of the bishops and leading converts, in most other respects they differed widely. At first, Newman supported Acton’s and Simpson’s work in their reviews, but he was easily discouraged by the opposition they encountered. ‘Our part is obedience,’ he wrote to Acton, ‘if we are but patient, all will come right. The logic of facts will be the best and most thorough teacher.’ But patience was not one of Acton’s virtues. And there were deeper intellectual differences between them. ‘Everything is for him a personal matter,’ Acton wrote to his Professor in 1864, ‘and he is unable to understand the idea of objectivity in science.’ Newman had a particular devotion to St. Pius V and to St. Charles Borromeo. Acton saw in the one ‘the Pope who held that it was sound Catholic doctrine that anyone may stab a heretic condemned by Rome, and in the other an advocate of the murder of Protestants.’ For such men there was no place in his heaven. Newman remained for him ‘the finest intellect in England whose arguments are a school of infidelity.’ They drifted apart, Newman into the past, and Acton into his long and intimate friendship with Gladstone.
“Historians have treated their relationship as if the admiration was all on Acton’s side. He did, indeed, think of Gladstone as the embodiment of all the statesmanlike qualities in which he felt himself lacking, but though Gladstone seemed to him to combine ‘the virtues of Chatham, Fox, Pitt, Canning and Peel’ without their drawbacks, his admiration was by no means uncritical. His influence over the older man grew with the years. Gladstone himself, shortly before his death, remarked that in the last ten years he had trusted Acton more than any other man. One channel of his influence was through correspondence with [his daughter] Mary Gladstone: ‘It is a way of conveying some things which I cannot say right off,’ Acton wrote to his own daughter. The formation in 1892 of Gladstone’s fourth administration owed much to his efforts in persuading Lord Rosebery to follow the old Liberal leader once more. It was Acton who induced Gladstone to adopt the Home Rule policy, yet he declined all possibility of office, on the grounds that friendship alone gave him no claim for rewards. He had received his peerage in 1869, and remained the trusted counsellor behind the scenes. It was his task to try to bring the remote Gladstone into closer touch with the world of affairs. Familiar with continental politics as few other Englishmen were, Acton could point to the difference between English and continental Liberals ‘who regard the State and the popular will as the seat of all power.’ Together they travelled to Monte Cassino, stayed at the Acton villa in Cannes [La Madeleine], and went to see Doellinger at Tegernsee. Acton, too, had a large hand in rewriting and correcting the First Romanes Lecture delivered by Gladstone at Oxford. ‘Politics are more like religion for me,’ he once wrote. That was the basis of his sympathy with Gladstone. Both believed in a system of politics which combined Christianity with respect for the authority of political principle – ‘and by political principle I do not mean principles in politics.’ Toryism, in Acton’s definition, ‘is to be entangled in interests, traditions, necessities, difficulties, expedients, to manage as best one may, without creating artificial obstacles in the shape of dogma, or superfluous barriers of general principle.’ It was to the moral and religious content of Gladstonian Liberalism that he was drawn. To be a Liberal meant to him simply that one put liberty first, and it did not so much matter whether one was also a reformer or a free thinker, an intelligent Conservative or a radical democrat.
“Acton was confronted by the greatest trial in his life when in 1869 the summons to the Vatican Council was issued. He had never believed in Gallicanism, or shown the slightest sympathy for its Austrian equivalent, Josephism, but he was opposed to the false conception of history underlying the current Ultramontane attitude, according to which rights and principles were scarcely recognized, except as subordinate to the arbitrary will of the Papacy. This feeling also provided the ground for his mistrust of the dogma of Papal Infallibility. His reasons were ethical and historical, not theological. ‘Rome taught for four centuries and more,’ he wrote, ‘that no Catholic could be saved who denied that heretics ought to be put to death.’ And it was his fear, as it was Newman’s, that the extreme Ultramontanists might prevail at Rome and include in the proposed dogma the temporal power and all the pronouncements of the Popes to the Church as a whole, and in particular, confer a retrospective infallibility on a number of decrees and Bulls, chiefly about the deposing power, the Inquisition and other practices or ideas which had never been established under penalty of excommunication. Anxiously he watched the proceedings of the Council from Rome, sending daily reports to Doellinger, and was in close contact with the gradually shrinking numbers of the opposition and the Inopportunists [party opposed to the dogma of infallibility]. As in the end defined, however, the dogma did not fulfil the desire of the Infallibilists by increasing the powers of the Pope, but rather set limits on it. Acton accepted the decree, and Newman’s defence of it, admitting that he thought better of the ‘Post-July’ than of the ‘Pre-July’ Church; the very use of these words perhaps showed, however, that, unlike Newman, he was unable to look beyond the political implications of the new dogma. The threatened excommunication never came; he satisfied his own Bishop [Bishop James Brown of Shrewsbury], if not Manning, that he had not contradicted the decree, and he defended the dogma against Gladstone in his Letters to the Times. ‘Communion with the Catholic Church,’ he wrote, ‘is to me dearer than life itself,’ and to his old teacher who had not submitted to the dogma: ‘I have arrived at the conclusion that you have less hopes for the Church than I, or at least that the hopelessness is more certain for you than for me. I will not say that you are wrong. Dans le doute je m’abstiens de désespérer.’ [Embellishment of a proverb?] But he discouraged Doellinger from giving his name to the Munich Movement, which was the beginning of the Old Catholic Church – a name, he wrote, which the leaders of the Movement would merely exploit.
“In 1879 Newman’s patience was rewarded by the red hat. Equally late recognition came to Lord Acton in 1895, but from a different quarter: on Seeley’s death he was appointed Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge. It was a unique appointment for one who had never been to a University and who had not written a single book, though he had collected 40,000, and had the reputation of being one of the most learned men in Europe. His great conception of history, which he outlined in his Inaugural Lecture, was based on the gradual emancipation of the conscience; Mommsen had written history to glorify power; Macaulay to illustrate the politics of his time; Ranke to relate what happened; for others history was merely a matter of documentary evidence; but for Acton modern history was primarily the history of ideas, and the Universal History which he planned for inclusion in the Cambridge Modern History, but did not complete, was placed on that elevated field beyond the technicalities and meaningless surface of events, where the historian should be above prejudice, party, religion and nationality. In his work, as in the History of Liberty for which he amassed his library but which was never accomplished – and perhaps could not be by a single author – he aimed at perfection; that, indeed, was his greatest failing, if failing it is. He was for ever trying to read everything that could be read on a given subject, making notes and filling cardboard boxes with the thoughts of other men. Dr. Doellinger foretold that ‘if Acton does not write a book by the time he is forty, he will never write one.’ Yet he had written a great deal, and his essays and book reviews are masterworks of compression. His powers were perhaps wasted in a full social life, in his duties as Lord in Waiting, in an immense correspondence, and in political missions which he undertook for Gladstone. Among his hitherto unpublished letters to Dr. Doellinger and to his daughter, those to Mary Acton show a warm humanity of which there was otherwise little evidence in his marriage. He could rightly say on being asked to write his own life: ‘My autobiography is in my letters to my girls.’
“A gifted but not an easy writer, he possessed a combination of qualities rare in great historians: an intimate knowledge of sources, a sharpness of considered judgment, subtlety, irony and a wealth of allusion. In his careful choice of words, in his portrayals of every facet of a subject, he could be compared to the sculptor rather than to the painter. Many of his judgments have the impact of brilliance. He defined liberty as ‘the freedom to do not what we like but what we ought.’ He said that the Roman Empire perished for the lack of a Land Bill. Of Peter the Great: ‘He raised the condition of the country with great rapidity, he did not raise it above his own level.’ And prophetically of Prussia and Russia: ‘That is the tremendous power, supported by millions of bayonets which grew up at Petersburg and was developed, by much abler minds, chiefly at Berlin; and it is the greatest danger that remains to be encountered by the Anglo-Saxon race.’ His condemnation could be scathing; so of one historian: ‘His lectures are indeed not unhistorical, for he has borrowed quite discriminately from Tocqueville.’ And of another: ‘Ideas if they occur to him he rejects like temptations to sin.’ His answer to Creighton’s views on the Popes of the fifteenth century has become famous: ‘I cannot accept your judgment that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favourable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption it is the other way, against the holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.’
“In his moral judgments, he became increasingly severe, but at the end of his life he solemnly adjured his son to take care always to make allowance for human weakness. His severity was perhaps pardonable, living as he did in the midst of a moral relativism in which there was a glaring need to uphold the supremacy of conscience. His isolation seemed to be complete when he found that Doellinger, from whom he had learned the principles of toleration, regarded persecution as an evil rather than as a crime. The sanctity of human life seemed to him the only independent principle on which historical judgment could be based. Whoever violated that without just cause ‘I would hang higher than Haman.’ On those who knew him, his personality and striking appearance, with the high forehead and black beard, made an unforgettable impression. He had that most un-English of traits, a passion for ideas. Hearing him speak, Lord Bryce wrote: ‘It was as if the whole landscape of history had been suddenly lit up by a burst of sunlight.’ In the fifty years which have passed since Lord Acton’s death at Tegernsee in June 1902, freedom has suffered many deaths, and a revaluation of his thought is more than ever worth while. Alone in his day he recognized the destructive element in the triumphant principle of nationality and advocated a community of autonomous nations, a Federal system, as the most effective means of checking the tendency of autocracies, and of democracies, to centralized, concentrated and unlimited power.”
Through Mia Woodruff, Roland came under the spell of the Actons, as did I, in a younger generation. His biography begins with an Author’s Note:
“The Hon. Marie Immaculée Antoinette (Mia) Woodruff was the eldest of seven daughters and two sons of the second Lord Acton. Although she never met her grandfather, the first Lord Acton, she was devoted to his memory and ideals and familiar with the painful struggle of his life. With her husband, Douglas Woodruff, who died in 1978, she temporarily had the care of the extensive family papers, which they made readily available to scholars once the family seat, Aldenham Hall, was sold . Ultimately the papers found a permanent home at the Cambridge University Library.
“Like her husband, who for thirty-one years was the editor of the British Catholic weekly the Tablet, Mia Woodruff was a leading figure in the Catholic world of her generation. She was a veritable grande dame, a woman of great spirit, trenchant wit, and deep religious devotion who cared for others in numerous voluntary organizations, particularly for refugees of all races and creeds before, during, and after World War II. It was a fitting gesture, when she was buried next to her husband in the little Anglican churchyard of Lyford, Oxfordshire, that the tin hat she had worn as an air-raid warden in wartime London should have been placed in her grave. She died, aged eighty-nine, on 5 March [no, 5 April!] 1994, not long after she prepared these words.
‘I never knew my grandfather. He died in 1902, and I was born in 1905. What I do know about him is what my Aunt Mamy told me. She was his favourite child [Marie Elizabeth Anna Dalberg-Acton], and he wrote the most wonderful letters to her as well as telling her many fine tales about himself. I think of him as a lonely young man spending much of his time at St. Martin’s, the holiday home of the Arcos in Upper Austria, in the company of his future bride and his very beloved future mother-in-law [Anna Margareta Maria Juliana Pelina Maresclachi], who was a great influence on his life. I imagine him at Aldenham in the vast library he built himself – which has since, alas, been demolished – surrounded by his thousands of books, now at the Cambridge University Library. I think of him at Tegernsee in Bavaria, where the Arcos had a lovely villa, and where we used to stay as young children, my brother and I. It was a most beautiful chalet with balconies all round, covered with verbena and wisteria, and the garden leading right down to the lakeside, where we used to fish. My grandfather spent the last days of his life there and is buried at Tegernsee. My grandmother and her two daughters remained there until the outbreak of the Great War in 1914 and then moved to Switzerland, where my aunts both died, Annie [Annie Mary Catherine Dalberg-Acton] in 1917, Simmy [Jeanne Marie Dalberg-Acton] in 1919. [Mamy survived until 1951.] After that their mama [Acton’s widow] came to live with us at Aldenham for the rest of her life, and there she died on 2 April 1923. There is a plaque in the church at Bridgnorth to the memory of my grandfather and various members of the Acton family. He was MP for Bridgnorth at one time [1865-66], and he helped in the building of St. John’s parish church.
‘I feel my grandfather lived by his conscience, which enabled him to fight his battle against Papal Infallibility in 1870 as well as practise a very simple private religion. I hope that from him I have inherited a great love for history and keen interest in the affairs of the Church. I hope that Roland Hill’s sympathetic biography will interpret my grandfather’s enigmatic personality for his readers and enhance his memory. He must have been a very fine man. May he rest in peace.
Marcham Priory, Oxon’”
The second “I hope” in the last paragraph was characteristic. She was not going to commit herself to more than “sympathetic” before she had seen the book, which she did not live to do.
Hill’s book was important and the result of many years of work. It was generally well-reviewed, but not universally. There were some who felt that Acton had, once again, eluded us.
“A veritable grande dame”, indeed. Mia Woodruff seemed an embodiment or projection of the Catholic aristocratic history of Europe. She was very grand and had grand faults. She was also content, in her charitable work and in attending to her friends, to be a low-ranking Christian soldier. She had a deadpan and mordant wit.
Roland should have made tapes. It’s a matter of regret to me that I was too immature or too busy to interview her properly. Her world is gone: “a thing never known again”.
Portrait by Bassano Ltd, January 29 1944, National Portrait Gallery
Since all history writing is about two things, the perspective of the historian and the purported subject, I am happy with out of date books. I suspect that these have, in any case, lasted rather well.
The successor-series, in print now, are the Penguin History of Britain and Penguin Social History of Britain.
I remember finding, in 1987, a pile of dusty and fragrantly-damp History Todays in the sunny attic of a country house. They looked welcome there, as Country Life and Horse and Hound would have done: article after article on Melbourne and the Years of Reform, The Great Siege of Malta and Portuguese Missionaries in Ceylon, 1515-1658. The copies were from the ancien régime of Peter Quennell and Alan Hodge, which began with the first issue in January 1951. Hodge died in May 1979. Quennell retired in October. Michael Crowder took over in November.
History Today was a cosy presence in English life. It was the magazine of the general reader who was interested in history and wouldn’t read academic journals. It also (no contradiction here) had an air of the educated middle and upper classes writing for each others’ bedside tables.
Early contributors: Max Beloff, Asa Briggs, DW Brogan, Alan Bullock, Kenneth Clark, GDH Cole, Keith Feiling, Jacquetta Hawkes, Michael Howard, Michael Jaffé, Eric Linklater, Philip Magnus, LB Namier, JH Plumb, GM Trevelyan, Hugh Trevor-Roper, Arthur Waley, Veronica Wedgwood, Elizabeth Wiskemann, GM Young (Drogheda’s selection).
It sometimes did the work of the nine volumes of the old Pelican History of England (England, note), which appeared between 1950 and ’65 and were in part digests of academic research, not the mere narratives that would have been offered to earlier mass-readerships.
A comment from The Listener quoted in editions of those Pelicans well into the 1970s, and perhaps even later, is fascinatingly old-fashioned:
“As a portent in the broadening of popular culture the influence of this wonderful series has yet to receive full recognition and precise assessment. No venture could be more enterprising or show more confidence in the public’s willingness to purchase thoughtful books … ”
For the ethos of History Today, see the 11th Earl of Drogheda’s article about the founding (November 1979), AL Rowse’s tribute to the old editors (November 1979) and Michael Grant’s tribute to PQ after Quennell’s death (December 1993).
Quennell was a man of letters of the Brideshead generation. He wrote books about Byron, Baudelaire, many others, nearly all of them on literature, not history. Married five times. I have his A Superficial Journey through Tokyo and Peking. Before co-founding History Today, he had edited The Cornhill Magazine. (Who knew that that rival of Dickens’s All the Year Round survived until 1975? Who remembers that The Listener survived until 1991?) Here are Quennell’s Desert Island Discs.
Rowse – whose Teach Yourself History series, launched in 1946, had been another “portent” in the “broadening” – writes that Hodge had shown his talent “in co-operation with the poet Robert Graves in an original book as historical as it is literary, The Long Week-end, [...] a portrait of the period between wars; in his wartime experience of writing and writers at the Ministry of Information; [and] in a book of his own [actually, it was another collaboration with Graves] on readership and reading”. There was a later “collaboration with P.Q. in an historical book [on England and America], The Past We Share”.
Drogheda says that the idea for History Today came from Brendan Bracken, Churchill’s Minister of Information during the war and the refounder, in 1945, of the Financial Times. “He visualized as editor Alan Hodge, who had been his assistant private secretary when he was Minister of Information, and whom he had recruited to the staff of the Financial Times to help him particularly with the weekly ‘Men and Matters’ column [...]. I told Brendan that I thought it essential to have alongside Alan someone else who was a more publicly known figure, and I suggested the name of Peter Quennell, a personal friend, whose culture, wide-ranging knowledge and contacts would, I felt sure, be of immense value.”
It was conceived, perhaps, in the popularising spirit, missionary and patrician, of the BBC and of Pelican books. Had there been popular history magazines before it? There had been history “encyclopaedias” which came out in stages, and literary magazines, but general history?
According to Wikipedia, History Today “has been independently owned since 1981”. What does that mean and who owned it in the first thirty years? Was Drogheda an investor? Was Bracken?
Rowse and Grant make much of the use of pictures. They were in black and white in the body of the magazine until at least 1980, and on the cover (barring a Coronation Number) until August 1965. Grant’s praise reminds us that illustrations were felt to be precious even in 1993, the last pre-Internet year.
There were few design changes under Quennell-Hodge. In January 1980 came a new look. The page was enlarged and the cover redesigned. I can’t remember what has happened to the format since then (I think it has shrunk again), but there were further changes to the cover in October 1989, October 1998, October 2004, October 2009. There will doubtless be one this October.
US magazines and newspapers are more conscious than ours now are of design and typographic, never mind other editorial, traditions. Of institutional continuity and memory. The Economist is a UK exception.
In the UK, editors don’t know what happened before they arrived. Their assistants know even less. Magazines are run at a few desks in shared spaces. No more leisure areas, dining rooms, corridors with framed covers. No trappings of editorial power. I am sure none of this applies to the “independently owned” HT!
History Today’s editors since Quennell and Hodge have been Michael Crowder, the historian of Nigeria (1979-81), with whom I once spent an interesting evening, Michael Trend (1981-82), Juliet Gardiner (1982-85), Gordon Marsden (1985-97), Peter Furtado (1997-2008), Paul Lay (current). Lay’s interesting thoughts on history are here (for Kindle).
It hasn’t, on the whole, dumbed down. I was getting ready to write “it hasn’t even had Hitler on the cover”. That would indeed have been a distinction. But it did, twice, under Furtado’s editorship, in October 1998 and November 2001, and the same editor put a swastika there in January 2006. (I haven’t seen December 1957.) Admirable restraint nevertheless.
Of course, there are fewer articles about the siege of Malta and a disproportionate number on Africans in Victorian Britain. It is still very weak on East Asia: only five articles so far this year, and only one of them (on Louis XIV and Siam) taking us outside the twentieth century. Not a single one on the classical civilisations of China or Japan.
“P.Q. and A.H.,” says Rowse, perhaps not over-generously for the time, “were exemplarily aware of [China and Russia], and gave us of their largesse articles about India, the Middle East, Europe, South America, Africa – all with their informative illustrations.”
On the non-Roman ancient world, we have only a short piece on Howard Carter, who hardly counts, an even shorter review of a book on Delphi and a short piece on Dura Europos.
The previous cover strapline – “What happened then matters now” (2006-13, preceded by a few short-lived experiments) – has been scrapped. (Much better without one.)
The website is still announced as “History Today | The World’s Best History Magazine”. This is the kind of statement we make about our institutions. It must be, mustn’t it? Do none of the far more numerous French history magazines compete? Can they, without sometimes commissioning in English and translating?
I haven’t looked at HT’s digital edition. What about the online archive? Here they have gone for bronze. The gold standard is a fully searchable archive of crisp, high-resolution page and article images. Then you have everything. The Times has managed this with some difficult typography for every page of every issue since 1785. It’s the only good thing that has happened to it under Murdoch. The project was carried out by Gale, which is now part of Cengage Learning. It can be done.
Jpegs protect intellectual property, since you can’t cut and paste. The alternative, scanned and OCRd text, will be full of mistakes. One can’t expect History Today to proofread 50,000 pages going back to 1951. (One can expect lazy publishers like Bloomsbury to proofread individual books for Kindle, but they don’t.) But the disadvantages of OCR go beyond this. You get no sense of the real magazine, of the relative importance of the articles, and no images. None of the cultural meanings which come with page images. You don’t even know who the editor is: there are no mastheads.
You don’t know whether you are getting everything either. HT say they are “currently” digitising “the 1951-79 portion of the archive, and hope to complete it by the end of 2013”. 2013 ended seven months ago. Before taking a subscription last week, I asked what that meant. They replied “95%”.
Where are book reviews in the early issues? Did the May 1956 issue really contain only two articles? June 1956 one? January 1968 three? Why no Hodge death announcement?
With an OCR archive, the user also relies more on metadata – which is the unpoliceable frontier of data and always inaccurate. Tiny examples here: the archive shows the June 1952 contents under August 1952. And Drogheda was the 11th Earl, not Derry Moore. (Could that conceivably be a mistake in the original?)
See The Chronicle of Higher Education’s, Google’s Book Search: A Disaster for Scholars, Geoffrey Nunberg, August 31 2009.
Oh well. In storage, I have a bound set of the ancien régime, 29 volumes. If they ever come out, it will be worth having ’flu in the knowledge that I’ll at last have the time to reach for one of the red leather spines and read about Lord Melbourne and Portuguese missionaries in Ceylon and the Great Siege of Malta.
Random cover (there is no high-resolution cover archive):
Ken Russell’s, Tony Palmer’s and John Bridcut’s films about English composers (two early ones by Russell anyway) have a special place in English affections. Russell’s Elgar (his first one: there was a bad remake) is the nations’s favourite documentary, at least in “middle England”. His Song of Summer is a work of art.
Paul Driver on Palmer’s film on Arnold: “An amazing film, the most rawly truthful of its kind that I’ve ever seen, though full of artistic subtlety. It’s a totally dramatic entity, because from start to finish you’re aware of two antithetical Malcolm Arnolds tugging in opposite directions and feel the tension between them constantly – yet the film manages somehow to be celebratory in the end. I think it must surely set the country alight when broadcast.”
AntPDC has got away with posting a monochromised low-resolution version of Bridcut’s The Passions of Vaughan Williams on YouTube and writes, in the continuing absence of a commercial download or DVD:
“One is impelled to share art when it can’t be appreciated by any other means. It’s been almost five years now since this marvellous film first aired on BBC Television, and it was until recently available to UK viewers via the BBC’s i-Player, in glorious HD. No longer alas, and given the many requests I have seen here and elsewhere for a viewing, I have uploaded it, at the risk of upsetting some parties. I seldom upload entire videos on my Channel which contain no original content of my own, but I felt this case should be another of those few exceptions.”
Bridcut makes us look afresh at composers we think we know (not that I ever think that). He did this in a remarkable way with Elgar and Parry. He made the Parry film in a kind of partnership with Prince Charles. He shows the English royal family as less philistine than we are usually told they are, especially when he writes about their relationship with Britten.
His film Britten’s Children is also a book. It is impossible nowadays for people to believe that paedophiles can have beneficent friendships with children. The Oliver Knussen interview in The Guardian last year echoes everything in that book, which does not mention Knussen.
Here’s a checklist. As far as I know, all the films were made for television, but I haven’t given release details in most cases. Tippett is missing! Who is working on him? Palmer or Bridcut?
Elgar (1962, for Monitor, BBC television documentary series), KR
Benjamin Britten and His Festival (1967), TP
Song of Summer (1968, on Delius, Omnibus, BBC television arts series), KR
A Time There Was (1979, on Britten), TP
At the Haunted End of the Day (1980, on Walton), TP
Toward the Unknown Region (2003, on Arnold), TP
Britten’s Children (2004), JB
“O Thou Transcendent …” (2007, on Vaughan Williams), TP
The Passions of Vaughan Williams (2008), JB
The Man behind the Mask (2010, on Elgar), JB
In the Bleak Midwinter (2011, on Holst), TP
The Prince and the Composer (2011, on Parry and Prince Charles), JB
Delius: Composer, Lover, Enigma (2012), JB
In July 1914 (date according to this source), Parry was working on a suite for strings whose movements, except for the last?, are named after baroque dances or musical forms: Prelude, In minuet style, Saraband, Caprice, Pastoral, Air, Frolic. The performers here are not named.
Britain declared war on Germany on August 4.
Jeremy Dibble, C Hubert H Parry, OUP, 1992 (text via Questia, my links and subbing):
“Emily Daymond undertook the editing of those completed works which, because of the war, had not achieved print. [...] The bulk of the English Suite dates from 1914 and 1915, though some movements were written much earlier. The Pastoral dates from about 1890 appearing in a different key (B flat) as a piano piece and also as a piece for violin. [What key is used in the suite?] The Saraband is also earlier and includes a quotation from the Lullaby of the Twelve Short Pieces, Set 1 No 4 for violin and piano written in 1894. This was probably the date of the movement’s composition and it may well have been a rejected movement for the Lady Radnor Suite which dates from the same year. The last of the movements to be written (sometime between 1916 and 1917) was the Air – originally entitled Intermezzo by the composer but altered by Daymond ‘to match the other names’. Similarly the Caprice and the last movement Frolic were chosen and given titles by the editor since the composer had not decided on any definite names, nor had he settled on any definitive last movement. The movements of the English Suite are generally larger in scope than those of the Lady Radnor, and the harmonic language is more capricious, particularly in the jocular Caprice and Frolic. The Air attempts to recapture the serenity of the earlier suite’s Slow Minuet but never quite achieves its sensuous intimacy. In Minuet Style is distinguished by particularly imaginative string writing and a colourful mixture of tonality and modality. Most distinctive of all is the stately Elgarian Saraband with its broad diatonicism and liberal dissonance. After two semi-private performances under [Hugh] Allen’s direction, one at a [Royal] College [of Music] orchestral concert [in 1920], and the other at the Bach Choir’s Parry Concert on 10 May 1921, the Suite was given its first fully public hearing on 22 October 1922 at a Promenade Concert under Henry Wood.”
That date looks wrong: there were no Sunday performances. The BBC Prom archive says October 17. I sense generally that Dibble’s book, although indispensable, needed a better editor.
There was a fashion for neo-baroque and neo-classical suites before the launch of modern neo-classicism (which is usually dated to the premiere, in 1920, of Stravinsky’s Pulcinella).
An English Suite is occasionally im alten Stil, but the music is all Parry. The best recording is with the LSO and Boult on Lyrita.
The exulting, complaining, torn Saraband is one of his finest tunes and should be ranked as a hit with Blest Pair of Sirens, Repton, I Was Glad and Jerusalem. The slight but moving Air may also belong in that group. It has a Celtic rather than English lilt.
Why did he do nothing with the saraband for twenty years and perhaps even reject it for the earlier suite?
In English terms, An English Suite looks forward to Peter Warlock’s Capriol Suite (1926), which is loosely based on tunes in a French Renaissance manual, but amounts to an original work.
“It is paramountly English, as English as a Shakespearean comedy or a Herrick poem, and the stately prelude and sarabande, the delicious quasi menuetto, the pastoral with its touching yet happy charm, the expressive intermezzo [air] and lively finale might well stand as incidental music to ‘Twelfth Night’ or ‘As You Like It.’
“The suite [...] was designed for one of his most brilliant pupils, Dr. Daymond, who amongst other musical avocations, conducted a string orchestra. [...]
“Another point that strikes one in the suite is the strong ease, almost Handelian, with which Parry could deal with a string orchestra. He evoked rich, pure-toned masses of sound, or a singing and sympathetic quality from the instruments in combination as naturally as he wrote vital contrapuntally moving parts for each. There is never any stuffing in a score of his.
“The suite was played con amore by the college orchestra (many of whom had been under Sir Hubert as students) and was conducted by Dr. – now Sir Hugh – Allen, director of the Royal College of Music.” According to the article, the performance was on June 4.
Female conductors were rare in Parry’s day. Emily Daymond was one. The Countess of Radnor (1846-1929), for whom he had written the earlier, and less interesting, suite known as Lady Radnor’s Suite, was another and had an orchestra charmingly called Lady Radnor’s Band. He was not, as far as I know, romantically involved with either of them, though his marriage was not especially happy.
This post contains a remarkable YouTube discovery.
George Butterworth is famous for having written music of extraordinarily high quality which seems to be about AE Housman’s land of lost content.
“Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?
That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.”
And for having died, at the Schubertian age of thirty-one on August 5 1916, in the Battle of the Somme. We may call Housman second-rate (I like second-rate poetry of this period), but I do not think we can use that word about Butterworth, limited though his range may have been.
I wrote about him in this post on Housman. Butterworth is the ghost of English music. A presence, an absence. Would he have been able to develop or was his whole style formed by a presentiment of war and of his death?
Housman wrote the poems in A Shropshire Lad twenty years before the end of the peace. Nearly all the music of Butterworth which survives is from 1910-13.
It is startling and moving to find him on film.
Who said or did not say “Try everything once except incest and Morris dancing”? Beecham probably. It is, on the whole, the world’s least sexy dance. But this delightful film would incline me to exclude only incest. Here, at least, performed by the leaders of the folk revival, it does not look ridiculous. First we see (the silent film tells us)
Maud Karpeles dancing part of Princess Royal (Bampton version), then
George Butterworth dancing extracts from Molly Oxford (Field Town jig), then
Maud and Helen Karpeles dancing extracts from Lumps of Plumb Pudding (Bampton version), then
Maud Karpeles dancing the first part of Jockie to the Fair (Headington version), then
Cecil Sharp, George Butterworth, Maud Karpeles and Helen Karpeles dancing Hey Boys Up Go We, and at the end
Butterworth dancing something which is not identified.
The YouTube poster, pabmusic1, tells us that
“the music (which of course has been added later) is Ribbon Dance (rec. 1933), The Triumph [my link] (rec. 1927), The Queen’s Jig (rec. 1934), Sellinger’s Round (rec. 1938) and Hunt the Squirrel (rec. 1938). The music bears no relation to what they are dancing, but there’s no record of what music was being used.”
Cecil Sharp was the founding father of the folklore revival in England. Many traditional dances and much folk music owe their continuing existence to his work in recording and publishing them. I’ll say more about this and about Morris dancing in another post.
I can’t say much on the esoteric subject of the dances and tunes, but Sellinger’s Round is famous from Glenn Gould’s recording of William Byrd’s variations on it and from the modern variations written collaboratively in 1952 by Lennox Berkeley, Benjamin Britten, Arthur Oldham, Humphrey Searle, Michael Tippett and William Walton to celebrate the coming coronation of Princess Elizabeth.
The music is, anyway, charming, and as a commenter says: “even though the film and the accompanying music as we are receiving it in this video have no direct relationship, whoever put these two elements together did a marvelous job of it so that the feeling we get is that of total compatibility.”
The moment in the film where Sharp comes in (to Sellinger’s Round) is especially delightful. Maud Karpeles was his collaborator and biographer (not wife, though he was married), Helen was her sister.
Butterworth went to Eton (like Thomas Arne and Hubert Parry) and met Sharp while at Trinity College in Oxford. He became a close friend of Vaughan Williams.
“Whether any of Butterworth’s friendships were more than platonic is uncertain; although he seems generally to have preferred the company of men, his sexual orientation remains unclear. His modesty, kindness, and natural gifts of leadership were commented on as early as his prep school days. He was a good-looking man, of medium height and build, dark-haired and with the full moustache fashionable in his day, and the most notable feature of his face in photographs [there are really only two] is the sensitive and humorous cast of the eyes.” Sensitive remarks by Alain Frogley in the Dictionary of National Biography.
Or rather, accents of the British Isles. A brilliant but not exhaustive tour:
No Brummie (Birmingham), Geordie (Newcastle), Manchester, Cumbria, Potteries (Stoke-on-Trent), Derbyshire, Black Country (between Birmingham and Wolverhampton). The first three are big omissions. There are more variations within regions. He does Scouse or Liverpudlian.
He deals with some regional, but not class or “ethnic” or English-diaspora nuances. His Devon-Cornwall needs some polishing.
Voice of Andrew Jack, a dialect coach. He should do another, five-minute, take.
… or, The binding force
Helen to her sister Margaret towards the end of Forster’s Howards End (1910).
“‘All the same, London’s creeping.’
“She pointed over the meadow – over eight or nine meadows, but at the end of them was a red rust.
“‘You see that in Surrey and even Hampshire now,’ she continued. ‘I can see it from the Purbeck Downs. And London is only part of something else, I’m afraid. Life’s going to be melted down, all over the world.’
“Margaret knew that her sister spoke truly. Howards End, Oniton, the Purbeck Downs, the Oderberge, were all survivals, and the melting-pot was being prepared for them. [...]
“‘Because a thing is going strong now, it need not go strong for ever,’ she said. ‘This craze for motion has only set in during the last hundred years. It may be followed by a civilization that won’t be a movement, because it will rest on the earth. All the signs are against it now, but I can’t help hoping, and very early in the morning in the garden I feel that our house is the future as well as the past.’”
“Margaret was silent. Marriage had not saved her from the sense of flux. London was but a foretaste of this nomadic civilization which is altering human nature so profoundly, and throws upon personal relations a stress greater than they have ever borne before. Under cosmopolitanism, if it comes, we shall receive no help from the earth. Trees and meadows and mountains will only be a spectacle, and the binding force that they once exercised on character must be entrusted to Love alone. May Love be equal to the task!”
Why do Scandinavians use the Christian name Magnus?
Because Charlemagne conquered and christianised the Saxons and brought a sort of civilisation to the pagan Scandinavians’ border. Whether that was or was not connected with the start, immediately afterwards, of the Scandinavians’ raids and conquests to their east, south and west is another matter.
At the Canadian lunch in London in 1933 at which Kipling proposed the toast (last post), the seconder was Chesterton. No film (or none that I am aware of), but here is a complete sound recording.
Is there a complete recording of Kipling? The YouTube poster and commenters wrongly assume that Chesterton is speaking in Canada. Also, he is not “introducing” Kipling.
He refers to the President of the Royal Society of Literature, Lord Crewe.
I like his phrase “our more fatigued society” about Britain compared with North America.
When he reads poetry, Chesterton’s voice sounds almost classless, but there is an occasional lower middle-class twang here. Kipling’s accent is that of the broad English educated class, of which the Oxford accent and the BBC accent were distinct offshoots.
Who even knew that there was film of Kipling, and with sound?
Full text here (the Kipling Society has the year wrong and contradicts itself as to the day), with a link to notes. It’s a subtle set of remarks and a fine tribute to Canada.
William Cowper wrote an ode on Boadicea in 1780. There is no doubt that he had the American war in mind and he manages to enlist Boadicea (Boudica, last post) as a heroic model on the side of the British!
In the first century, he is saying, the future belonged not with Rome, but with her subjects and enemies. In short, with the British Empire. (Belongs “with”?) It does not occur to him that if in 1780 Boadicea is the British, then the Romans are really the Americans and are likely to win.
British imperialists are good, but so is a British anti-imperial rebel. Roman imperialists are bad, but so are Roman (ie American) anti-imperial rebels.
“When the British warrior queen,
Bleeding from the Roman rods,
Sought, with an indignant mien,
Counsel of her country’s gods,
Sage beneath a spreading oak
Sat the Druid, hoary chief;
Ev’ry burning word he spoke
Full of rage, and full of grief.
Princess! if our aged eyes
Weep upon thy matchless wrongs,
’Tis because resentment ties
All the terrors of our tongues.
Rome shall perish – write that word
In the blood that she has spilt;
Perish, hopeless and abhorr’d,
Deep in ruin as in guilt.
Rome, for empire far renown’d,
Tramples on a thousand states;
Soon her pride shall kiss the ground –
Hark! the Gaul is at her gates!
Other Romans shall arise,
Heedless of a soldier’s name;
Sounds, not arms, shall win the prize –
Harmony the path to fame.
Then the progeny that springs
From the forests of our land,
Arm’d with thunder, clad with wings,
Shall a wider world command.
Regions Cæsar never knew
Thy posterity shall sway,
Where his eagles never flew,
None invincible as they.
Such the bard’s prophetic words,
Pregnant with celestial fire,
Bending, as he swept the chords
Of his sweet but awful lyre.
She, with all a monarch’s pride,
Felt them in her bosom glow;
Rush’d to battle, fought, and died;
Dying, hurl’d them at the foe.
Ruffians, pitiless as proud,
Heav’n awards the vengeance due;
Empire is on us bestow’d,
Shame and ruin wait for you!”
To give Cowper his transatlantic due, he also wrote poems against the slave trade.
Boudica’s husband, Prasutagus, had been an ally of Rome and a Roman citizen. Was she one too? He died and gave half his kingdom to Nero and half to his wife and two daughters. Rome refused to acknowledge her inheritance, Romans flogged her and raped the daughters.
Her subsequent rebellion caused Nero to consider withdrawing all Roman forces from Britain, but Gaius Suetonius Paulinus eventually defeated her. Boudica then either killed herself to avoid capture or fell ill and died: the sources, Tacitus (Latin) and Cassius Dio (Greek), differ. There are no archaeological sources that say anything about her directly and no native British written sources.
Dio says that she was “possessed of greater intelligence than often belongs to women”, was tall and had reddish hair hanging below her waist and a harsh voice and piercing glare, and habitually wore a large golden necklace (perhaps a torc), a many-coloured tunic and a thick cloak fastened by a brooch.
Tacitus gives her a speech in which she exhorts her troops from her chariot, her daughters beside her. She presents herself not as an aristocrat avenging lost wealth, but as an ordinary person avenging her lost freedom, her battered body, and the abused chastity of her daughters. Their cause is just, the gods are on their side, the legion that had dared to face them had been destroyed. “Though a woman, my resolution is fixed: the men, if they please, may survive with infamy, and live in bondage.”
Effeminate Nero versus masculine Boudica.
In Roman inscriptions, she is Boudica in Lusitania, Boudiga in Bordeaux, Bodicca in Algeria. By the Middle Ages she was forgotten. She makes no appearance in Bede, the Historia Brittonum, the Mabinogion or Geoffrey of Monmouth. (Geoffrey believes in the Trojan origins of the British.) But the rediscovery of Tacitus during the Renaissance allowed Polydore Vergil to reintroduce her into British history as Voadicea in 1534.
Holinshed calls her Voadicia in his Chronicles. James Aske’s poem Elizabetha Triumphans compares Elizabeth’s speech to the troops at Tilbury to Vodice’s speech from her chariot. Spenser calls her Bunduca in The Faerie Queene. John Speed gives a positive portrait of her as Boudicca in his Historie of Great Britaine (1611). John Fletcher has her as Bonduca. (Many writers use more than one variant of the name – there are about thirty – in a single work.) The later, more euphonious Boadicea may derive from a medieval mistranscription of Tacitus. The best manuscripts of Tacitus have Boudicca. We call her Boudica.
Bonduca is a Jacobean tragi-comedy in the Beaumont and Fletcher canon, but probably by Fletcher alone. The main hero is not the unattractive Bonduca, but “Caratach”, who is anachronistically depicted as her general. The resistance led by Caratacus or Caractacus of the Catuvellauni was earlier than that of Boudica of the Iceni. Nennius, the legendary British opponent of Julius Caesar, is included still more anachronistically.
Two Roman officers, Junius and Petillius, fall in love with Bonduca’s daughters. Petillius is a version of Quintus Petillius Cerialis. Fletcher’s Britons may in part stand, by allegory, for the savage native Americans of Virginia. Nevertheless, the play invites the audience to sympathise with their resistance to Rome.
In 1695, Purcell composed his last music for an adaptation of Fletcher, Bonduca, or the British Heroine. Suite from it – Overture, Hornpipe, Air, Trumpet tune; Quintette de cuivres Ars Nova, Marcel Lagorce and Bernard Jeannoutot, trumpets, Georges Barboteu, horn, Camille Verdier, trombone, Elie Raynaud, tuba:
Engraving of John Opie’s Boadicea Haranguing the Britons of 1793, the year Britain joined the First Coalition:
Boadicea becomes another Britannia (the female personification of Britannia goes back to Roman times) and an earlier Victoria, since, it was discovered, her name derived from the Proto-Celtic word for victory, bouda.
Tennyson, in his Boädicéa, too long to quote in full, gets carried away and is rather shocking in his violence (lines broken into two to fit column width):
“Cut the Roman boy to pieces in his lust
Lash the maiden into swooning,
me they lash’d and humiliated,
Chop the breasts from off the mother,
dash the brains of the little one out,
Up, my Britons! on, my chariot!
on, my chargers, trample them under us!”
Typically choppy Tennysonian rhythms.
Text from WJ Rolfe, editor, The Complete Poetical Works of Tennyson, Cambridge, Massachusetts, The Riverside Press, 1898.
The subject would have suited Donizetti or the young Verdi, but there is no opera.
In Our Time discussion with Melvyn Bragg, BBC Radio 4, March 11 2010. With Juliette Wood, Associate Lecturer in Folklore, Cardiff University; Richard Hingley, Professor of Roman Archaeology, Durham University; and Miranda Aldhouse-Green, Professor of Archaeology, School of History and Archaeology, Cardiff University.
On the Victoria Embankment opposite Parliament is Thomas Thornycroft’s bronze statue, commissioned by Prince Albert but not cast until 1902, of Boadicea, now the veritable goddess of empire, in a scythed chariot with her daughters, with Cowper’s lines on the plinth:
“Regions Caesar never knew
Thy posterity shall sway.”
The bombing that ravaged Victorian London brought Roman London to light. When, after the end of the Second World War, the debris of Victorian London were being probed in order to find solid ground below them to carry the foundations for ponderous new buildings, these soundings revealed almost the whole of the tracée of the Roman city-wall, of which, previously, only a few fragments, here and there, had been located, and a Roman temple, dedicated to the god Mithras, was uncovered  close to the starting-point of Watling Street, the Roman road that ran diagonally across Britain from Thames-side to Mersey-side. These excavations gave the measure of the rise in the level of the surface of the City of London within a span of eighteen centuries. It is impossible to estimate how much of this rise was due, before the Second World War, to deliberate destruction and how much to natural decay and to the excess of intake over discard which is a normal feature in the life of any city. The fate of London after the Roman evacuation and during the English invasion is unknown, and we also lack precise information about the extent of the destruction that was the price of London’s defeat, in A.D. 895, of a Danish armada’s attempt to force a passage, past London, up the Thames.
Wikipedia: “The first extensive archaeological review of the Roman city of London was done in the 17th century after the Great Fire of 1666.”
It was founded c AD 50 after the Claudian invasion. Ten years later it was sacked by the Iceni led by their queen Boudica. It was at its height in 122, when Hadrian paid a visit. The Wall was built between 190 and 225. By then, it was declining somewhat, perhaps as a result of the Antonine Plague. There were Romano-British as well as post-Augustinian bishops of London.
London passed from Middle Saxons (whence Middlesex) to the Kings of the East Saxons (Essex, regnabant 527-825) and/or their overlords, the Kings of Kent (regnabant fifth century-871) or East Anglia (regnabant sixth century-869) or Mercia (regnabant 527-918, but as client kings of Wessex from c 879).
The 895 armada was neither the first nor the last Danish attack. London was at the southern edge of the Danelaw. The Danes controlled it directly between 871 and 886 and later under Cnut. After the first occupation, London was reincorporated into Mercia. Mercia was then absorbed by Wessex (durabat 519-after 925).
Cities on the Move, OUP, 1970
I used to watch, after breakfast, to see Mr Hale, the solicitor who lived in the opposite house across the street, ride off to his office on the horse that his groom had brought to the door. I used to linger by the cab-ranks to look at the horses drinking from the troughs and the sparrows scuffling with each other for the bran that had been spilled from the horses’ nosebags.
He is living at 12 Upper Westbourne Terrace.
Cities on the Move, OUP, 1970
“During my childhood and growing up no attempt was made to develop the artistic, musical and literary side of life.”
I had an encounter with Benn which suggested that. The magazine Artists and Illustrators interviewed him for its March 2006 issue to ask him about a favourite painting. He chose one by my great-grandfather. The Wikipedia article on George Clausen isn’t very good, so that is a link to one of my own posts.
“The English People Reading Wycliffe’s English Bible, by Sir George Clausen. It’s part of a series of murals entitled The Building of Britain that were commissioned for St Stephen’s Hall in the Palace of Westminster and painted in 1926-27. I think it was my father who pointed out the original to me, when I first visited St Stephen’s Hall in 1937. I passed it regularly after I was first elected as an MP in 1950. I have two copies of it, one of which hangs in my bedroom.” I once had it in mine.
“On the surface it looks like a peaceful rural scene, but when you look closely you realise it tells the story of a group of people – a lawyer, some women and farm workers, one of whom is looking out in case they are spotted – meeting in secret to listen to a reading of the Bible. In the 14th century it was a criminal offence to read the Bible, which was then a revolutionary document, if you were not a priest.
“The painting reminds me of things that are important today. Moses, Jesus, Mohammed and Buddha all taught us how to lead our lives in peace, but the painting symbolises how a religious group that gets control can use their power to kill and persecute others – Guy Fawkes, for example, whose 400th anniversary was in 2005, was protesting against the persecution of Catholics.
“[...] Any one of the people in the painting, if they were caught, could have been burnt at the stake. In my view it’s rather like the Terrorism Act today – anyone thought of being [sic] a Muslim extremist will he held in prison without a trial. [...]
“I am not a great collector of art, but I do have various things that people have sent me. The Yorkshire miners gave me one of their banners, which hangs in my back corridor. On it are the words ‘Out of the darkness cometh light and heat’. [Source?] It’s a reminder that the coal that keeps us warm and lights us comes from the depths of the earth. I find it very moving and that’s the sort of thing I like.
“I rarely dip into art galleries and don’t claim to be an art critic but I have put up quite a few things in the House of Commons. I put up a plaque in a broom cupboard to mark the place where a suffragette called Emily Wilding Davison [post here] hid on the night of the census in 1911. She wanted to be able to say that she lived in the House of Commons to make her point about women’s right to the vote.
“Something else I like is a statue of Lord Falkland, again in St Stephen’s Hall. One of his spurs got broken off after a suffragette [Marjory Hume in 1909] chained herself to it [...] it is the social, historical and political interest in art that I find useful. [...]”
He might have been interested to know that a suffragette named Maude Smith, alias Mary Spencer, attacked a Clausen painting, a nude called Primavera, as it hung in the Royal Academy in the early summer of 1914. Clausen supervised its repair and then it disappeared from public view and knowledge until last November, when it was auctioned in Connecticut. It will probably turn up soon, close to the centenary of its first hanging, in a more important auction in London.
St Stephen’s Hall is the neo-Gothic public approach to the public Central Lobby which separates the two Houses. It stands on the site of the royal Chapel of St Stephen’s, where the House of Commons sat until the Chapel was destroyed by the fire of 1834.
The only structures of the old Palace of Westminster to survive the fire were Westminster Hall (old post), the cloisters of St Stephen’s, the chapel of St Mary Undercroft and the Jewel Tower. The Queen gave permission for Benn’s body to lie (not “in state”) in St Mary Undercroft on the eve of his funeral.
In 1843 Sir Charles Barry suggested that panels be commissioned for St Stephen’s Hall on events in British history. Daniel Maclise was approached in 1857, but nothing resulted. Both sides of the Hall were lined then with marble statues of statesmen. Are any still there? Where did they go?
In 1909 work started on a scheme directed by the Royal Academy. One painting was completed by Andrew Carrick Gow (Speaker Finch Held in His Chair by Holles and Valentine, 1629) and was hung in 1912. By 1924 only two more had been added, by Seymour Lucas and Frank Salisbury. Of what, and where are they now? Presumably none were real murals.
In 1925 the Speaker, John Henry Whitley, proposed a new series and spoke to Salisbury and to Frank Dicksee, President of the Royal Academy. Sir David Young Cameron was appointed to find eight artists.
It was to be called The Building of Britain. Sir Henry Newbolt, GM Trevelyan (whose first book had been about Wycliffe), AF Pollard and others advised on the history. A working committee included the Speaker, Lord Peel, the First Commissioner of Works, Lord Crawford, the Chairman of the Fine Arts Commission and Newbolt.
The eventual series:
Colin Gill. King Alfred’s long-ships, newly built for defence of the realm, attack vessels of the Danish invaders storm-beaten in Swanage Bay. 877.
Glyn Philpot. King Richard the First, afterwards called Cœur de Lion, leaves England with an expeditionary force, to join the Crusade in Palestine for the recovery of Jerusalem from the Saracens. Dec. 11. 1189.
Charles Sims. King John confronted by his Barons assembled in force at Runnymede gives unwilling consent to Magna Carta, the foundation of justice and individual freedom in England. 1215.
George Clausen. The English people, in spite of prosecution for heresy, persist in gathering secretly to read aloud Wycliffe’s English Bible.
Vivian Forbes. Sir Thomas More, as speaker of the Commons, in spite of Cardinal Wolsey’s imperious demand, refuses to grant King Henry the Eighth a subsidy without due debate by the House. 1523.
Alfred Kingsley Lawrence. Queen Elizabeth, the Fairie Queen of her Knights and Merchant Venturers, commissions Sir Walter Raleigh to sail for America and discover new countries.
William Rothenstein. Sir Thomas Roe, envoy from King James the First of England to the Moghul Emperor, succeeds, by his mingled courtesy and firmness at the Court of the Ajmir, in laying the foundation of British Influence in India. 1614.
Walter Thomas Monnington. The English and Scottish Commissioners present to Queen Anne at St James’s Palace the Articles of Agreement for the Parliamentary Union of the two countries. 1707.
The original choice for the last had been William Orpen.
Two of the painters, Philpot and Rothenstein, also did portraits of the Speaker.
Donors were found for each of the works. The donor for the Clausen was the Duke of Portland.
The pictures were large canvases in wooden mounts set into stone bays, not strictly murals, but in part the product of a revived interest between the wars, not only in Britain, in mural painting. It had pre-1914 roots, and in England pre-Raphaelite roots. The fresco colours of medieval wall painting, applied with the pre-oil medium of tempera, were imitated in oil. My grandfather owned magnificent volumes by EW Tristram on English Medieval Wall Painting which were like buildings themselves.
McConkey calls the series an “imperialist fanfare”, but it was that grafted onto a domestic constitutional fanfare. The sense of “the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire” was powerful between 1918 and 1945, and was sharpest when Churchill used those words in 1940.
“Mingled courtesy and firmness.” Thus might the British have described their conduct abroad. Alla marcia quasi andante. Through courtesy and firmness they chanced upon their Empire.
King George V and Queen Mary were given a private view of The Building of Britain on June 26 1927.
Stanley Baldwin unveiled the eight paintings with one pull of a cord on June 28. He declared that Clausen’s canvas represented “… the incident fullest of imagination and possibilities for the future of any of the pictures which we have here today”. The Times, June 29. McConkey speaks of platitudes, but surely Baldwin was thinking of the fragility of freedom and parliamentary democracy in Europe. (Toynbee quotes from a speech by him in the Albert Hall on December 4 1924 on that. See The World after the Peace Conference, Being an Epilogue to the “History of the Peace Conference of Paris” and a Prologue to the “Survey of International Affairs, 1920-1923”, OUP, 1925.)
“At the end of the ceremony Mr. Baldwin announced that the King, in honour of the occasion, had been pleased to confer a knighthood on Mr. George Clausen, R.A., as representing the artists concerned in the work.” In the illustrations on the back page are the Philpot and the Clausen and a recent Clausen self-portrait.
Clausen was knighted at Buckingham Palace on July 7.
Benn would have agreed with Furst’s “Pictures should have a concrete relation to life”.
Furst was buffeted by a crowd which had come to see the paintings. It was a Saturday and the House was not in session. As he was making notes, the policeman in the Hall asked him: “Which is the best picture here?” Furst equivocated, but the constable pointed a finger at the fourth, The English people, in spite of prosecution for heresy, persist in gathering secretly to read aloud Wycliffe’s English Bible, then walked away and came back with the Speaker.
“This was an unexpected honour and good fortune, for the Speaker was, in Sir Henry Newbolt’s words [where?], ‘the initiator and sympathetic director of the whole scheme.’”
“I ventured to comment on the fact that all the subjects seemed remote and hardly in contact with the present at any point. In reply to this criticism Mr. Whitley told me that the committee [...] had [...] decided that the eight subjects should illustrate eight main incidents symbolic of the building of Britain. First comes the beginning of the British Navy [under Alfred, defending us against Vikings]; next expansion of power [Third Crusade]; then the foundation of the British constitution based on individual liberty [Magna Carta]; after this the freedom of religious faith [Wycliffe]; then the control by the people of the purse of the nation [More as Speaker]; then the beginning of colonial enterprise [Raleigh in the Americas], and thereafter the spirit in which England deals with an ancient civilization ‘destined to mingle with ours under a constitution unexampled elsewhere’ [Thomas Roe with the Mughals]; and, finally, the union of ‘our two nations at home’.” (Speaker’s words?)
“[...] The Speaker assured me that Mr. George Trevelyan, the historian, had described the pictures as historically unexceptionable and, if I remember rightly, had pronounced the hall as now the most beautiful in Europe. We then discussed the medium in which the pictures are painted and its durability. And here I record with satisfaction Mr. Whitely’s statement: ‘No, the paintings will not be glazed. We think it is better that they should last a hundred years and be enjoyed during that time by all who come to see them, than that they should be for ever under glass and be enjoyed by no one. A future generation may have some other pictures when these have perished.’” They were worried about their exposure to crowds. There was nothing wrong with the medium, oil.
“‘Many people,’ he continued, ‘are rather startled by the bright positive colours, but they are in keeping with the decoration of medieval churches; and although this particular building is not ancient, it is in the Gothic style, and stands upon the old crypt and exactly follows the outline of the old chapel.’ [...]
“Coming now to the critical part of my duty, I must confess that the first impression of the pictures is: plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” Conservatism, perhaps, but sameness? The Sims is out of place and does not have the “static quality” necessary in a mural. The Gill combines “a certain restlessness in design with a timidity in draughtsmanship” which comes from a lack of confidence in the project, not of skill. In the Philpot, on the other hand, “there is [...] an unexpected stiffness and staginess, and a lack of linear rhythm. But this picture keeps its place, like Mr. Gill’s, and is, moreover, relieved by some quite enchanting detail [...].” “The Forbes is – of the paintings we have so far considered – the best. Mr. Forbes has cleverly utilized the Holbein portraits, and there is dramatic action without staginess.” “Professor W. Rothenstein has also had recourse to contemporary documents, Moghul illuminations to wit [...].” “Mr. A. K. Lawrence had obviously the frescoes of the Italian Quattrocento in his mind [...] and has admirably succeeded in his task.” Monnington, the youngest in the group, is only twenty-four. His painting is still unfinished, but promises to be one of the most successful.
“Sir George Clausen is the doyen of the team, and all things considered one must agree with the aforementioned policeman that his picture is the best of the series. It has its faults: it is not unexceptionable qua illustration, for there is really no secrecy at all about this meeting in the open, which could easily be espied from the tower of the little church in the delightful distance. Nor can one honestly say that the grouping is free from staginess. Against this, however, must be set its overwhelming merits. It is simple in arrangement; each of the four times three figures can be easily seen, and each, particularly the charming maid in the centre, is worth looking at. The landscape setting is of singular beauty; the treatment of the foreground, the care bestowed upon each little flower and plant, deeply moving. The colour-scheme, but for its one brilliant red note in the cloak of the man, is cool and reticent. The linear rhythm is most satisfying. The picture, as a whole, sits comfortably on the wall, though it is by no means a flat pattern. For this picture alone, not counting his long and honourable career as a virile protagonist of English painting, Sir George deserved his knighthood.”
The Times, anon, St Stephen’s Hall – The New Mural Paintings – An Artistic Unity, June 28, praised the picture’s “architectural stability of design, depth of sentiment, and [...] full interpretation of the national character in the lovely landscape.” The reviewer again finds the Sims below the level of the others. (I find it quite interesting, especially in the context of his other late paintings.)
“Justice would demand homage to Sir George Clausen, that Grand Old Man of English painting, who when nearing eighty had so clear an eye and so steady a hand that he could conceive and execute his Wycliffe panel in firmer line and in fresher and younger colour than any of his juniors could attain. For sheer beauty the Clausen must be awarded the palm.”
Clausen had had some experience in mural painting in 1918-19, when he painted four lunettes for a house near Huddersfield. He had experimented with a mural-like scale in his canvases before the war.
His Wycliffe studies are mainly at the RA: you can see the design evolving. Artists were required to submit studies for approval. A monk appears in some of them.
The final caption does not include a date. It had been commissioned as The Wycliffe Bible read in secret meetings, 1390. By the time the full scheme was presented to the Commons in January 1926, 1390 had been revised to 1400-1430, in order to relate the picture to the Heresy Act of 1401.
On the Lollards, see letters patent of 1382 of Richard II, the Heresy Act 1401 (De heretico comburendo) of Henry IV and the Heresy Act 1414 of Henry V. The 1401 Act was repealed under Henry VIII (1533, or 1534 Act of Supremacy?), the others under Edward VI; all three were revived under Mary and repealed again under Elizabeth in the Act of Supremacy 1559.
While completing the painting (with help from his daughter Kitty), Clausen was called in as a caretaker Keeper of the Royal Academy Schools following the sudden departure of Charles Sims. Sims killed himself in the following year.
McConkey: “The scene opens out to an idealized English summer derived from Clausen’s deep immersion in the fields around Tilty and Clavering [in Essex].”
In several early paintings, the “one brilliant red note” had been the neckerchief of a peasant.
Furst is right about the absence of any feeling of secrecy. Clausen could paint the drama of nature, and the drama of field workers struggling with heat, wind or rain. Political and psychological drama were outside his range.
There are older pictures by William Frederick Yeames, painter of “And when did you last see your father?”, perhaps at the Suter Art Gallery in New Zealand, of Wycliffe giving copies of his Bible to his followers; and by Ford Madox Brown of The Trial of Wycliffe, A.D. 1377, a mural in Manchester Town Hall in which Wycliffe is defended by John of Gaunt, while Chaucer, another protégé of Gaunt, acts as recorder.
Benn grew up on Millbank, next to the Tate Gallery, but the family never went inside.
As I read the magazine piece, I thought: “I bet he doesn’t know that the artist who painted this favourite painting of his also painted his grandfather.”
If he had heard of a portrait somewhere in the collections of the defunct LCC and GLC, I was sure he had not connected it with the painter of the panel in St Stephen’s Hall. There was nothing about it on the internet then, certainly no image.
It is, I now know, in the Guildhall Art Gallery. It’s not bad, but official portraits did not bring out the best in Clausen. He painted fine ones of peasants early in his career and of family members and higher craftsmen of one sort or another later.
Bored at work, I rang the House of Commons. The switchboard answered instantly, with no menu. A man, without apparent searching and without asking questions, gave me a number which was Benn’s home.
Benn had, after all, retired in 2001 (“to devote more time to politics”). The Data Protection Act had been passed in 1998. Was this ease of access because the House of Commons still had proper rules for a democracy or because Benn had given special instructions?
He answered immediately. “Astonishing! I had no idea! I must look it up.”
As to the Wycliffe painting, “I thought it was eighteenth century!”
Was I disabusing him of that idea then and there or had the magazine already done so? They had probably edited the dates into his remarks after interviewing him.
I asked whether he remembered my uncle Paul Derrick. He said he remembered him well. Paul, a Christian Socialist and an unremitting lobbyist for the Cooperative movement, shared with Benn a strong consciousness of his own archive, but Benn’s, I think, was more organised. I thought Paul had sent his papers – tomato-trays full of typescripts, cuttings and pamphlets – to New Lanark itself, but some of them, I see, are at the Bishopsgate Institute in London.
This isn’t the only Clausen in a legislature. In 1918, Lord Beaverbook’s Canadian War Memorials Fund (established November 1916) commissioned eight artists to paint scenes in France and Flanders. The paintings are now in the Senate chamber in Ottawa. Were they originally intended for it or for a war museum?
Edgar Bundy. Landing of the First Canadian Division at Saint-Nazaire, 1915.
Algernon Talmage. A mobile veterinary unit in France.
Leonard Richmond. Railway construction in France.
James Kerr-Lawson. Arras, the dead city.
Clare Atwood. On leave.
James Kerr-Lawson. The Cloth Hall, Ypres.
William Rothenstein. The watch on the Rhine.
George Clausen. Returning to the reconquered land.
Clausen was expected to paint agriculture behind the lines. Having recovered from influenza, he set out on January 28 1919 to visit the snow-covered battlefields of Arras, Bapaume, Cambrai and Lens, and returned on February 7. The visit affected him. The large picture which he eventually painted showed a line of refugees returning through the snow to their homes after the Armistice.
McConkey: “A young mother, wrapped in a shawl and carrying an infant calls to a girl in a red scarf [another “brilliant red note”] at the front of the cart, gesturing towards an elderly woman who has slumped down in the snow. Melodrama was not his forte. In other hands, this incident might be played to effect, but here it merely passes with the flow of humanity. When shown in Canada [at an exhibition of war paintings] in 1920, the picture was associated with Frederick Varley’s Some day the people will return, a complementary picture of a [French] war-torn graveyard [which] carried the caption: ‘Some day the people will return to their village which is not; they will look for their little church which is not; and they will go to the cemetery and look for their own dead, and even they are not – in a land pounded and churned and poisoned, that once was fertile and rich with golden grain and good things for the welfare of the race.’”
Clausen’s canvas was despatched to Canada on March 26.
Britain had no propaganda department at the war’s outbreak. A War Propaganda Bureau was established at Wellington House under Charles Masterman in 1914, but for most of the war responsibility for propaganda was divided between various agencies. The Bureau turned into the Department of Information in 1917 and a Ministry of Information in 1918, the last under Beaverbrook.
In 1917 the Department of Information commissioned nine artists to produce six lithographs each on aspects of the war “Effort”, and a further twelve to produce a single image (or “up to twelve”, McConkey) representing the “Ideals” for which the war was fought. Clausen’s son-in-law, Thomas Derrick, an instructor at the Royal College of Art, was in charge of the series, having been assigned to assist Masterman at Wellington House. It belonged to the initiatives which, it was hoped, would bring the US into the war.
Clausen’s Efforts were six monochrome lithographs called Making Guns. His Ideal lithograph was The Reconstruction of Belgium, which contained no more drama than the Canadian painting.
A War Memorial Committee was formed by the Ministry of Information on the Canadian model to give out more substantial commissions. Derrick set strict briefs which discouraged artistic fantasy. Derrick’s own mural-like American troops at Southampton embarking for the Western front, 1918 (Imperial War Museum, oil) certainly had the “static quality” which Furst misses in Sims, and perhaps the “lack of linear rhythm” which he finds in Philpot.
The Committee commissioned the large and sonorous In the Gun Factory at Woolwich Arsenal from Clausen in 1918 (Imperial War Museum, oil). It was intended for a large Hall of Remembrance which was never built. Clausen based it on one of his Efforts lithographs.
A later Derrick from this time was Canadian troops crossing the Rhine. Its history is obscure, at least to me. Could it have been rejected for the Senate? It was shown in Canada in an unfinished state (why?) at the same exhibition of war paintings that showed Returning to the Reconquered Land. What happened to it after that? I have only ever seen one photograph of it and don’t have it to hand. The 1st Battalion, 1st Canadian Division, crossed by the Suspension Bridge at Cologne on December 3 1918. The twin spires of the cathedral made a pattern with the Canadian bayonets.
Westminster behind Closed Doors, 50-minute BBC documentary by Benn on the 700th anniversary of Parliament, defined not as the Parliament of Simon de Montfort, unrecognised by Henry III, but as the Model Parliament of Edward I:
1995 seems a long time ago here. Can one imagine anything as eccentric, as expert, as light-hearted and as deep done about the German Bundestag? This is in a fine tradition of English documentary-making and institution-exploring.
Benn mentions (without naming the artists) the Clausen and the Philpot.
He calls the Third Crusade the First Gulf War because it was a war between Christianity and Islam. Leaving aside the things wrong with that statement, he makes a comment which was wise in 1995, if not quite accurate in what it foresaw: “Unless we are very careful the religious war between Christianity and Islam will curse the next generation as the Cold War did the last.”
It was provoked by the assertion in that year by Willy Claes, Secretary-General of NATO, that the new threat to the West, with the passing of Communism, was Islam.
A dreary BBC radio series some years ago explored the art of Parliament as something dusty and oppressive. But I can see no reason why the walls of St Stephen’s Hall should not be covered in 2025 with a new series. Would Speaker Whitley not have given that idea his blessing? The old paintings could be rolled up whether they have perished or not and kept in an archive or preserved digitally. Digitisation and holograms can be our liberation from monuments. If a series were commissioned now, it would be about immigration.
McConkey does not mention the Benn accounts I refer to, but another, in this footnote:
“For its insistence on ‘the right to read what you wanted to read’ the [Wycliffe] picture has been a seminal influence on the thinking of the Labour politician Tony Benn. He stated in 2006, ‘I … have a copy of it at home and draw comfort from the courage of those who have risked their lives by defying the law as the only way to enjoy the freedom in which they believed passionately’ (The Guardian Magazine, 2 September 2006, p.78.).”
I can’t find a good colour image of the Wycliffe painting. I once gave up doing a Clausen blog because I wasn’t happy with the way scans were coming out or how I could adjust them.
In the Hall, front right; Flickr, source lost:
Royal Academy Collections, silver gelatin print with pencil doodling, given by Hugh Clausen, the artist’s son, 1970:
“McConkey” here refers to Kenneth McConkey, George Clausen and the Picture of English Rural Life, Atelier Books, 2012; or his catalogue for the Clausen exhibition organised in 1980 by Bradford Art Galleries and Museums and Tyne and Wear County Council Museums and held at Cartwright Hall, Bradford; Royal Academy, London; Bristol City Art Gallery; Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
On Thomas Derrick’s war work, see also Meirion and Susie Harries, The War Artists, Michael Joseph, 1983.
(On the centenary of the 1911 Parliament Act the present Speaker of the House of Commons set up some annual lectures with invited audiences in the State Apartments, his Palace of Westminster residence. Other apartments are used by the Lord Speaker, the head of upper chamber since it ceased, in 2006, to be the Lord Chancellor. The 2011 series was on twentieth-century parliamentarians.)
Hunt places Benn in the English Puritan and dissenting tradition. Much of what he says had been said by Benn himself in interviews and books, especially in the rather charming early chapters of his 2004 autobiography, Dare To Be a Daniel, whose title quotes a Salvation Army hymn.
His background contained religion and politics. On his father’s side, he came from a line of radical Dissenters: Congregationalists. His mother became a Congregationalist later in life, having been Anglican. He himself was an agnostic, but with sympathy for religion in its inward form, including Islam.
Antecedents (apologies if there is too much detail here, but it matters):
An ancestor, William Benn (1600-81), was an ejected minister.
His great grandfather, the Reverend Julius Benn (c 1826-83), was a Congregationalist Minister in Manchester and then in the East End of London. He nominated James Bryce, Toynbee’s friend, as the Liberal MP for a Tower Hamlets constituency (not the one I’m about to mention).
His grandfather, Sir John Williams Benn, (1850-1922), sat on the London County Council from its foundation in 1889 until his death, in the Progressive Party. Was active in the 1889 Dock Strike. Liberal MP for St George in Tower Hamlets 1892-95 and for Devonport 1904-10. Chairman of LCC 1904-5 and leader of the Progressives on the Council 1907-18. Knighted 1906. Created baronet 1914. Married Elizabeth (Lily) Pickstone, who was distantly related to Josiah Wedgwood, though, as Hunt says, the scholarship on that is unclear.
The Wedgwoods produced, in Tony Benn’s father’s generation, a notable Parliamentarian in Colonel Josiah Wedgwood, great-great-grandson of the potter. His work led to the establishment of the History of Parliament Trust.
Tony Benn’s father, William Wedgwood Benn, 1st Viscount Stansgate (1877-1960), born when Disraeli was Prime Minister, was Liberal MP for St his father’s old constituency in Tower Hamlets 1906-18. Government whip under Asquith 1910-15. Served in the war in Near East and Italy. Member for Leith 1918-27. In opposition to Baldwin in first part of 1924-29 parliament. In 1927 resigned from the Party and from Parliament. Came back as Labour member for Aberdeen North 1928-31 in Ramsay MacDonald’s second government. Secretary of State for India 1929-31. Refused to follow MacDonald into National Government coalition with the Conservatives. Lost seat in ’31 election. Member for Gorton near Manchester 1937-42. Raised to peerage as Viscount Stansgate 1942. Vice President of Allied Control Commission charged with reconstructing democratic government in Italy 1943-44. Secretary of State for Air under Attlee 1945-46. Then backbench Labour peer. Like his son, he became more left wing as he grew older. For a charming snippet of a BBC interview with Lord Stansgate and the young Benn in 1959, start at 6:30 in this BBC Radio 4 portrait of Benn by David Davis.
Tony Benn’s father and grandfather were effervescent characters. The strongest religious influence on him was his mother, Margaret Wedgwood Benn (née Holmes), 1st Viscountess Stansgate (1897-1991), a Scot and daughter of a one-time Liberal MP. Although from a Calvinist background, she became an Episcopalian as a child. Her family moved to London before the First World War. There she became an Anglican. She married the much older William Wedgwood Benn in 1920. In the ’20s she was member of League of the Church Militant, predecessor of the Movement for the Ordination of Women. In the 1940s she moved from the Anglican Church to Nonconformity. In doing so, she embraced the dissenting Benn tradition. In 1972, at the age of seventy-five, she became the first President of the Congregational Federation.
She read him Bible stories night after night. Taught him that the stories were about the struggle between prophets and kings and that he ought in his life to support the prophets. Righteousness over power. Emphasised individual autonomy and the priesthood of all believers. Whatever her nominal affiliation, “Tony Benn was nurtured a Dissenter.” (Hunt.) “Dissenters think for themselves and claim the right to do so, even in matters of faith.” (Dare To Be a Daniel.) “I was brought up on Bible stories – I absorbed the Christian ethic by a form of osmosis. It was a real influence in my life.” (Catholic Herald.) Religion was sharply to be distinguished from power structures of religion.
The Benn household on Millbank was teetotal and full of clocks. All time was God’s time. For Dissenters, keeping a diary was a kind of daily accounting, a literary opening-up to God, a profit and loss account of supposed shortcomings and achievements. The agnostic Benn kept one obsessively for most of his life and felt uneasy if he went to bed without having written it.
“Two competing inheritances: Parliament and Puritanism, the constitutionalism and the crusading, were apparent from the start.” (Hunt.)
The Labour Party, which his father had joined in 1927, had strong roots in Nonconformity. So did the Trade Union movement. Michael Foot had a religious and political background that was similar, but with a more bookish vein.
Westminster School in its countryside exile. Oxford. RAF. His brother Michael was killed in 1944. Brief stint as BBC radio producer. Married Caroline Middleton DeCamp in 1949. “My socialist soul-mate.”
He entered Parliament in a by-election in 1950 (Stafford Cripps had stood down in Bristol South East on grounds of ill-health) and had nearly a year of Attlee’s abortive second term before the Conservatives came back for thirteen years. He was the Baby of the House for a day (succeeded by an Ulster Unionist, Thomas Teevan, who was two years younger but took his oath a day later and died at the age of twenty-seven). He never became its Father.
He defended the right of free thought and free speech in Parliament, unfettered by the party system and the whips.
His father died in 1960. Anthony Neil Wedgwood Benn inherited his peerage, became the 2nd Viscount Stansgate and was deemed to have vacated his seat in the Commons. (He was not “blue-blooded”. His father got his peerage in his sixties and held it for eighteen years.) A by-election was held. Benn stood. A Conservative came a poor second. Benn arrived to take his seat, but was physically prevented from entering the House.
“I am not a reluctant peer but a persistent commoner,” he said at a press conference in November 1960. He had known that his term in the Commons was limited by the duration of his father’s life, but he now fought to renounce his peerage. His campaign (to which Toynbee sent a letter of support) led to the Peerage Act of 1963 (not to be confused with the Life Peerages Act of 1958). It was, as Hunt says, an epic constitutional struggle, an extra-parliamentary campaign fought for the right to remain an MP, exposing a fault-line which ran through Benn’s career. He revered Parliament and much of his politics was done outside it.
In the Wilson Labour Government of 1964-70 he served as Postmaster General and later as Minister of Technology. In the Heath era, when Labour was in opposition, he was chairman of the Party for a year.
In 1973 he announced that he wished to be called not Anthony Wedgwood Benn, but Tony Benn.
In the Labour Government of ’74-79 he was Secretary of State for Industry, then for Energy. He campaigned strongly against EEC membership in the referendum of 1975, though he had been pro-European a few years earlier.
Harold Wilson resigned as Leader of the Party and Prime Minister in March 1976. Benn withdrew from the second ballot of the leadership contest and supported Michael Foot. James Callaghan eventually won, but kept Benn in his ministerial post.
Thatcher came into office in 1979. Benn’s cabinet career (1964-79 with a break) was over. During Labour’s years in opposition (1979-97) he was the party’s most prominent left-wing figure.
His early politics, as Hunt says, though he embraced all the Labour orthodoxies of 1945, were not far removed from the practical municipal socialism of his grandfather. His later politics were nourished by his discovery of the seventeenth-century radicals. He paid homage to Marx, but on Desert Island Discs in January 1989, the start of the year which would do so much to undermine the traditional left, chose Das Kapital as his book, not having read it in full. The Bible was already there. How much the leftist movements of the ’60s and ’70s all over Europe owed and did not owe to Marx is an interesting question, but it seems to me that Benn’s debt was indirect, and less than his debt to Christianity.
He never used the word “revolution”.
Benn’s political legacy, some think, was to have kept Labour out of office between 1979 and ’97. Many of the most generous comments on his death came from Conservatives.
He was an internationalist, but, by the early ’70s, anti-EEC. He believed that the world could be made better, and that the engendering of pessimism was a tool of entrenched interests for keeping people down. And that improvements had happened before as a result of struggle. Perhaps he underestimated how happy most people are now – or how stupefied by entertainments which are foisted on them to make sure that they remain docile consumers. The well-fed majority in Western societies don’t want leftist ideologies any more than religion. And are aware of the failure of the Left elsewhere and prefer to trust in the likes of Bill Gates and Muhammad Yunus.
Nevertheless, Benn did appeal to people to whom so-called traditional politics are alien. His connection with a new generation was an achievement of his post-Parliament years. Perhaps he left some ideas about where the Left can go from here.
The experience of Cabinet office pushed Benn to the left, from technocrat to radical socialist, and strengthened his distrust of patronage and power structures. He came to regard Parliament as “a means to an end, a weapon in a broader political struggle” (Hunt). Politics was a campaign.
“During the Labour Party’s period in opposition in the 1950s our other great dissenting hero, Michael Foot, had sought solace in the literature of the eighteenth century, writing of the great political tussle between the Duke of Marlborough and Robert Harley, with Jonathan Swift, his great hero, centre stage. Tony Benn in the 1970s returned to the seventeenth century, and there he found the true meaning of his Puritan inheritance. In the words of John Lilburne and the Levellers, of Winstanley and the Diggers, and the English radical Reformation of the late 1640s, Benn found a profoundly prescient political voice. [...] Benn immersed himself in the Putney Debates, the New Model Army and the Agitators, the struggle over the franchise between the grandees and the Levellers and the inspiration of Colonel Rainsborough. [...] Benn started to quote from the Levellers’ 1649 manifesto, An Agreement of the Free People of England. [...] Part of the Levellers’ critique was that Parliament was as dangerous a power as King Charles I [...].” (Hunt.)
Other random Bennite sympathies: Thomas Paine, Luddites, Robert Owen, Tolpuddle Martyrs, Chartists, Charles Bradlaugh, Taff Vale railwaymen, suffragettes, miners, Pentonville Five, Greenham Common women.
“He recalled that back in 1900 his grandfather John Benn, Liberal Home Ruler, was even then being denounced as supporting ‘terrorism’ because of his Gladstonian and Parnellite sympathies.” (Catholic Herald.)
What role did Parliament have in a world controlled by the WTO, the IMF, GATT, America, NATO and the EU? And the whips? The power of prime ministers now exceeded the divine right of kings. Where was the Parliament of Speaker Lenthall?
Callaghan resigned as Labour leader in October 1980. His deputy, Michael Foot, was elected as his successor. Denis Healey beat Benn to the deputy leadership by less than 1% of the vote. Neil Kinnock and some others abstained.
In 1981 Benn developed Guillain-Barré syndrome. He recovered, but it left permanent effects. Some suggested he had been deliberately poisoned.
A secession of four right-leaning former Labour cabinet ministers from the shadow cabinet in 1981 led to the formation of the SDP, the Social Democratic Party. (The Liberals formed an alliance with them in the same year and merged with them in March 1988 to form the Social and Liberal Democrats. A minority of Social Democrats refused to join the Liberals and survived as a rump until June 1990. Since October 1989 the merged party has been called the Liberal Democrats.)
In line with Bennite thinking, the 1983 Labour manifesto, which Gerald Kaufman called “the longest suicide note in history”, called for unilateral nuclear disarmament, withdrawal from the EEC, abolition of the House of Lords and the re-nationalisation of recently denationalised industries. Thatcher got her second term.
Benn lost his Bristol constituency (now reorganised as Bristol South) in the election, but he won Chesterfield in a by-election in the following year.
He dissented, in the House of Commons, from the general celebration of the Glorious Revolution of 1688, which was seen by Parliamentarians as the foundation of modern parliamentary democracy. 1688 was “a plot to get rid of a Catholic king”, and it had left out Catholics and women. It had no popular element to it. (Catholic Herald.) Did he think the people wanted Catholics enfranchised?
The long Conservative ascendancy (1979-97) ended with the election of Labour under Blair – which meant the virtual abolition of Labour. Consistent Thatcherite conviction politics were followed by the wan era of Major and then by the New Labour years of focus groups at home and feverish conviction politics abroad.
His wife Caroline died in 2000.
He decided not to stand at the 2001 general election. “I am leaving Parliament to devote more time to politics.” He became a fixture on protests and demonstrations.
He was President of the Stop the War Coalition from its foundation in 2001, ten days after 9/11, until his death.
He had rooted oaken strength in the face, like Vaughan Williams, another English pilgrim. His first choice of music on Desert Island Discs in 1989 was Bunyan’s To Be a Pilgrim as set by Vaughan Williams: I presume that this will be played at his funeral. But with that plainness he was, one feels, not free of self-love. But so what? Others on the left had the same combination. He was sentimental and, judging from the diaries, much given to tears. He was a happy man. His jokes, when he made them, were good.
Is it possible to get right to the top in politics if you are so interested in your own archive? If you constantly write a diary, tape every interview you give, sometimes even carry a tape recorder into the House of Commons and cabinet meetings? (Benn filed papers like his father, using the Dewey decimal system.)
Benn was admired for his honesty and courage, but seemed, like most of the old Left in Britain, to be living in a world of his own. Does economic sophistication ever belong to socialism? He had not been free of admiration of Stalin, Mao, Castro and others, but one’s final impression is of a good man. There was a simplicity and naivety and a tendency to ramble. At the end of his life he seemed to become more concise.
He published nine volumes of diaries, running from 1940 to 2009, when he stopped. From 1966, instead of dictating them to a secretary, he started taping them. The published volumes contain only a small fraction of the whole.
“‘Who are your heroes?’ SIMON OSBORNE, EALING, LONDON. ‘Teachers. Kings, prime ministers, presidents and emperors come and go, but teachers including Moses, Jesus, Mohammed and Buddha, Galileo, Darwin, Marx and Freud explain the world, help us to understand it and encourage us to think it out for ourselves.’” (Independent.)
Home in Holland Park Avenue: “a room crowded with the artefacts that touch the heart of Tony Benn: Keir Hardie’s chair, busts of Marx and Lenin, decorative plates commemorating Gladstone, folksy miners’ lamps galore, and laughing photographs of Tony and Caroline Benn with their five grandchildren.” (Catholic Herald.)
Benn diaries, published by Hutchinson:
Years of Hope, 1940-62 (1994)
Out of the Wilderness, 1963-67 (1987)
Office without Power, 1968-72 (1988)
Against the Tide, 1973-76 (1989)
Conflicts of Interest, 1977-80 (1990)
End of an Era, 1980-90 (1992)
Free at Last!, 1990-2001 (2002)
More Time for Politics, 2001-07 (2007)
A Blaze of Autumn Sunshine, 2007-09 (2013)
Dare To Be a Daniel (2004)
Letters to My Grandchildren (2009)
Articles, manifestos, polemic, essays
Winchester College War Cloister, memorial to the Wykehamist dead of the two World Wars:
The school also has a South Africa Gate, built 1902, commemorating Wykehamists who died in the Boer War (Toynbee was at Winchester September 1902, start of the first academic year after the war’s end, to summer 1907), and a memorial called Crimea in the entry chamber to Chapel, bearing the names of its alumni who died at the siege of Sevastopol.
Another bad poem that good people enjoyed, and took to the trenches, appeared in Winifred Letts, The Spires of Oxford, and Other Poems, New York, EP Dutton, 1917 and in A Treasury of War Poetry, British and American Poems of the World War, 1914-1917, Boston and New York, Houghton Mifflin, 1917. The latter was extended in a second volume to 1919. What were the English editions?
WM, or Winifred Mary, Letts (1882-1972) was English-born, but lived in Ireland. She wrote other popular poems, including one called The Deserter, which was in her The Spires of Oxford, but not the Treasury. Stanford set some of them.
The Oxford poem might (even in its modesty) have had a meaning for Toynbee, who was an Oxford don when the War began and felt the guilt of a survivor (and was probably a draft dodger on top of it). To the end of his life he kept pictures on his mantlepiece of his friends who had died, and for his Ad Portas speech at his old school, Winchester College, in 1974, his last public appearance, he paid homage to them in Latin. (The phrase “dreaming spires” is from Matthew Arnold’s Thyrsis.)
“I saw the spires of Oxford
As I was passing by,
The gray spires of Oxford
Against the pearl-gray sky.
My heart was with the Oxford men
Who went abroad to die.
The years go fast in Oxford,
The golden years and gay,
The hoary Colleges look down
On careless boys at play.
But when the bugles sounded war
They put their games away.
They left the peaceful river,
The cricket-field, the quad,
The shaven lawns of Oxford,
To seek a bloody sod –
They gave their merry youth away
For country and for God.
God rest you, happy gentlemen,
Who laid your good lives down,
Who took the khaki and the gun
Instead of cap and gown.
God bring you to a fairer place
Than even Oxford town.”
Wordsworth’s poem on Venice (post before last) may not be great. Power of Music must be one of his worst, but I am tolerant of the lesser products of men of genius:
“An Orpheus! an Orpheus! yes, Faith may grow bold,
And take to herself all the wonders of old; –
Near the stately Pantheon you’ll meet with the same
In the street that from Oxford hath borrowed its name.
His station is there; and he works on [vulgar] the crowd,
He sways them with harmony merry and loud;
He fills with his power all their hearts to the brim –
Was aught ever heard like his fiddle and him?
What an eager assembly! what an empire is this!
The weary have life, and the hungry have bliss;
The mourner is cheered, and the anxious have rest;
And the guilt-burthened soul is no longer opprest.
As the Moon brightens round her the clouds of the night,]
So He, where he stands, is a centre of light;
It gleams on the face, there, of dusky-browed Jack,
And the pale-visaged Baker’s, with basket on back.
That errand-bound ’Prentice was passing in haste –
What matter! he’s caught – and his time runs to waste;
The Newsman is stopped, though he stops on the fret;
And the half-breathless Lamplighter – he’s in the net!
The Porter sits down on the weight which he bore;
The Lass with her barrow wheels hither her store; –
If a thief could be here he might pilfer at ease;
She sees the Musician, ’tis all that she sees!
He stands, backed by the wall; – he abates not his din;
His hat gives him vigour, with boons dropping in,
From the old and the young, from the poorest; and there!]
The one-pennied Boy has his penny to spare.
O blest are the hearers, and proud be the hand
Of the pleasure it spreads through so thankful a band;
I am glad for him, blind as he is! – all the while
If they speak ’tis to praise, and they praise with a smile.
That tall Man, a giant in bulk and in height,
Not an inch of his body is free from delight;
Can he keep himself still, if he would? oh, not he!
The music stirs in him like wind through a tree.
Mark that Cripple who leans on his crutch; like a tower
That long has leaned forward, leans hour after hour! –
That Mother, whose spirit in fetters is bound,
While she dandles the Babe in her arms to the sound.
Now, coaches and chariots! roar on like a stream;
Here are twenty souls happy as souls in a dream:
They are deaf to your murmurs – they care not for you,
Nor what ye are flying, nor what ye pursue!”
From Oxford Street to Oxfordshire.
A fiddler gets less attention in the last of Hogarth’s Humours of an Election, oil paintings and engravings illustrating an Oxfordshire election in 1754. An Election Entertainment, Canvassing for Votes and The Polling show corruption. Chairing the Member shows the celebrations of a Tory and his supporters (each constituency elected two MPs). The blind fiddler is a sublime commentary. Sir John Soane’s Museum.
Haydn completed his Symphony no 92 in G, the Oxford, in 1789. He conducted it there in 1791 at a ceremony in which he was awarded an honorary doctorate, but it had been commissioned by the Count d’Ogny for performance in Paris. Vienna Philharmonic, Bernstein:
[March 19: this has been taken offline already, so here is the Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra, Adam Fischer:]
[What is the picture there? It looks like the Louvre.]
The enthusiastic Sir Robert Rogers, Clerk and Chief Executive of the House of Commons. BBC Radio 4, The Westminster Hour, February 9. Podcast at iTunes or the last eleven minutes, starting at 23:40, here.
Wikipedia. 2015 will be the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta and 750th of Simon de Montfort’s parliament. Is an inspired modern reassertion, rejuvenation, reinvention of Westminster democracy too much to hope for?
Transcript of Roger Scruton, BBC Radio 4, A Point of View. Worth reading in full.
“Suppose then we English were finally allowed a say in the matter, which way would I vote? I have no doubt about it. I would vote for English independence, as a step towards strengthening the friendship between our countries. It was thanks to independence that the Americans were able at last to confess to their attachment to the old country, and to come to our aid in two world wars. Independence is what real friendship requires. And the same is true for those, like the Scots and the English, who live side by side.”
The Times, August 5 1914, the day after Britain declared war on Germany.
Private life still came first. Public news did not get onto the front page until one revolutionary day (though not one of any special headline) in 1966. But there are clues here to what was under way.
There are offers to help people who have been stranded, abroad or in England. All Norddeutscher Lloyd bookings have been cancelled. A couple of young gentlemen are offering themselves as secret agents. Large file: will zoom.
I have corrected and added to yesterday’s post on Atlas and Antaeus.
Alan Macfarlane on Oxford and Cambridge; beware his dates; he is at the back of King’s College and Clare:
Toynbee’s paternal ancestors were east of England farmers, but he was an Oxford man who spent most of his working life outside a university. He was, however, invited in 1947 to become Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge in succession to GN Clark. See McNeill, pages 208-10 on his reasons for declining. The chair was taken by JRM Butler instead.
A hinge year:
Elgar dies Worcester February 23
Britten, Simple Symphony premiered Norwich March 6
Holst dies London May 25
Delius dies Grez June 10
Birtwistle born Accrington July 15
Maxwell Davies born Salford September 8
Walton 1 in b flat minor, first three movements, premiered London December 3
Vaughan Williams 4 in f minor completed
Tippett, String Quartet 1, first mature work, begun
(Coward, I’ll follow my secret heart premiered in Conversation Piece London February 16
Glyndebourne Festival Opera inaugurated May 28)
Vaughan Williams 4, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Vernon Handley
Hoping for the best (image in old post).
Milton had joined the Old Vic in 1918. He is forgotten now, but Alec Guinness called him the greatest Hamlet he had ever seen.
Welles respects, perhaps envies, O’Toole. Isn’t it the jealous look of an older man on a younger? Don’t they both subtly patronise Milton?
Wheldon doesn’t interrupt, doesn’t noisily “drive” the conversation, doesn’t worry if there is a pause of a second or two, because the discussion never dries up. This is how British television was.
The Telegraph obituary describes O’Toole’s Hamlet as “acceptable but uninspiring”. His disastrous 1980 Macbeth was also at the Old Vic.
O’Toole is great in Becket (1964), the film after the play by Jean Anouilh. You might expect him to play the turbulent priest and Richard Burton Henry II, but it is the other way round. The turbulent character is the king.
The Lion in Winter (1968) is his other Henry II film, where he plays opposite Katharine Hepburn’s Eleanor of Aquitaine.
Hamlet in performance (Wikipedia).
Keynes buoyant as Britain comes off the gold standard after the financial crisis of 1931. It had come off it in 1914, but returned in 1925. In 2013, no countries use a gold standard.
Harold Wilson and the 1967 devaluation: his metaphor is not cage but straitjacket.
There are certain alarming indications [...] that England in our day is paying her penalty for the perilous honour of having been the first country to achieve the Industrial Revolution.
In our day the country that gave birth to the Industrial System of production is a by-word for its technological conservatism; and its arch-conservatives are not the surviving representatives of the pre-industrial dispensation in those rare patches of the English country-side that have contrived to resist the penetrating and pervasive influence of a latter-day English world of mines and mills. On the contrary, they are the colliers and the textile-manufacturers whose grandfathers and great-grandfathers were the pioneers in the discovery of our modern industrial technique. These pioneers led the way in the Industrial Revolution not only for England but for the World; and it is evidently just for this reason that the epigoni are now making themselves notorious for an êthos which is the exact antithesis of the adventurous, experimental, adaptable, creative spirit that made the pioneers’ fortune. The epigoni cannot believe that all is not “for the best” in a technique which gave its inventors a virtual monopoly of the world market for industrial products for the greater part of a century; and even the belief that they are still living “in the best of all possible worlds” for British manufacturers dies singularly hard in the face of a growing array of increasingly successful foreign competitors. It is now more than half a century since Germany and the United States – relieved, by the outcome of the wars of 1861-71, from their former handicaps of geographical disunity and political preoccupation – first entered the lists of the industrial tournament and threw down the gauntlet to Great Britain; and since the war of 1914-18 the ranks of Great Britain’s industrial competitors have been joined by Japan, who was an alter orbis, unacquainted with any form of Western technique, until “the eighteen-sixties”, and even by France, who missed her opportunity, at the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, of making the inventions which Great Britain then invented, and winning the rewards which Great Britain duly won, because she then allowed Napoleon to recall her from a new industrial adventure to the old enterprise – already proved barren by a series of abortive essays – of establishing a political hegemony over Europe by military force. Yet even this formidable and ubiquitous competition with which the ci-devant “Workshop of the World” is now confronted has not led the British manufacturer to overhaul the technique by which his ancestors once made an easy conquest of a virgin world market; and a fortiori it has not led him to adopt the technique through which his ancestors’ English monopoly has been successfully disputed by his own foreign competitors.
These German, American, and Japanese poachers upon old English industrial preserves have had to face the problem of forcing an entry into a field already occupied by the English pioneers; and they have solved it by working out new kinds of technique which the Englishman had never thought of – or needed to think of – before their intrusion upon the scene: for instance, the technique of co-ordinating under a single management all the successive economic processes from the production of the raw materials to the marketing of the manufactured product, and the technique of procuring an unprecedentedly intimate and effective co-operation between the producer and the financier and between a nationally organized industry and the national Government. Like the English pioneers in their heyday, the present foreign competitors of the English epigoni have been free from the handicap of inheriting an older technique with a record of past efficacity which invites its present possessors to continue to bow down and worship it; and so, like the English pioneers, they have been free to make creative inventions. It is the English epigoni – in contrast to both their English predecessors and their foreign contemporaries – who are captivated by the idolization of an ephemeral technique; and the seriousness of the handicap can be gauged by the plight in which our English industry finds itself to-day.
In this light we can see that Great Britain is suffering doubly from her success, since 1914, in avoiding both the two calamities of invasion and inflation which have overtaken France and Germany respectively. It is not only that these two industrial competitors of hers have been positively strengthened by the stimulus of blows to which they have effectively responded. From the English point of view it is perhaps even more serious that Great Britain herself, in escaping these blows, has lost a golden opportunity of relieving herself from the incubus of her own industrial past. She might have faced an industrially rejuvenated France and Germany with less cause for apprehension if only the same stroke of Fortune which has reinvigorated them had at the same time shattered the British idol of an obsolete pioneer technique.
In other words, she failed to develop a coherent industrial policy. Her later industrialists were amateurs who did not fully understand or respect the craftsman and engineer. They were ignorant of science. The class system widened the gulf between them and their workforces.
The complacent “idolization of an ephemeral technique” is one of many forms of idolatry that Toynbee considers.
Correlli Barnett is a historian of, inter alia, Britain’s industrial decline. Pride and Fall sequence (the last paragraph but one is not a summary of its arguments):
The Collapse of British Power, Methuen, 1972
The Lost Victory: British Dreams, British Realities, 1945-50, Macmillan, 1995
The Verdict of Peace: Britain Between Her Yesterday and the Future, Macmillan, 2001
A Study of History, Vol IV, OUP, 1939
If you ever take the BA flight from Cairo to London, get a window seat on the left (as you face forward) with a full view. On a clear day, as we had yesterday, you get impressive morning views of the city after take-off.
Cairo had seemed scruffier than before the revolution. People are poorer, or more people are poor. More are selling things on pavements. Traffic and parking are worse: the police are busy elsewhere. There seemed to be more animals (donkeys) on the streets in downtown. The hotels near Tahrir Square after nearly three years are at ten per cent occupancy and less. Shepheard’s has closed its bar, not as a nod to religion, but because there is no one there. They suggest you go over the road to the Semiramis.
Delta: mud-coloured villages, rice fields (Egyptian rice is delicious), blue strips of water.
Venice sparkling in the sun: the S of the Grand Canal. Arsenal, station, causeway. Other islands: San Giorgio Maggiore, Giudecca, Lido, San Michele, Murano, Burano, Torcello.
Mestre: the dark side of the Venetian moon, which nobody dreams of entering except a few misguided tourists who are told that it is cheaper. In fact, it seems a pleasant city.
The most sensational view of the Alps I have ever had. Half an hour of them, from horizon to horizon, dusted by fresh snow. We must have flown close to Davos. Was that the Finsteraarhorn, or the Matterhorn?
The fields of Kent looked beautiful too, although it was midday and bright. Late afternoon and patches of sunlight and shade are usually best for England.
Most flights offer nothing to the eye. This one has its rewards, but I was too lazy to get my camera. (I won’t fly Egypt Air. In June 2006 the oxygen masks came down when my evening flight was just over the Mediterranean en route to London. We flew back to Cairo at a low altitude. The whole experience, oddly enough, wasn’t particularly frightening. There seemed to be nothing obviously wrong with the cabin air, so we stopped using the masks. Still, an unpleasant experience. And it’s a dry airline.)
“But whether it is to-morrow, or a day a little more remote, there will be one sense in which the British will never quit India, and that is a spiritual sense. With all our faults of omission and commission, our occasional outbursts of temper, our frequent lack of imagination, we gave India peace, and it was not the peace of the desert; we gave India law, and it was not the law of the strong; and in the final judgment, we gave India liberty, for it was the ideals of Milton, of Locke, of Wilberforce, Mill, Bright and Gladstone that first kindled the Indian mind to an understanding of what liberty really is. Long after we have left, the students of the future will be opening the golden pages of the Areopagitica, and thrilling, as all young men should thrill, to the revolutionary music of Shelley. The ghost of Byron will brood in the quadrangles of universities yet unbuilt, and in the council chambers there will be heard the echo of the distant cadences of Burke. These things we gave to India, as we gave them to the rest of the world, and maybe it is in India that they will have their finest flowering. In the fulfilment of such a hope lies much of the future happiness of mankind.
Many English people thought like this, and so did some Indians, such as Nirad C Chaudhuri. The book is available on Kindle.
Nichols (who once lost his cat in my mother’s garden) spent a year in India, from 1943 to ’44. “I came to India, originally, as a correspondent of Allied Newspapers; a long and serious illness interrupted this connection; I stayed on as an independent observer; and when I felt that I had observed enough, I wrote this book.”
It is, on the whole, not bombastic about Britain. Its main angle is acute distrust of the Hindus and of the Congress Party, where he finds not only fascist sympathisers but fascists; and sympathy with the idea of Pakistan. Some of the criticism of Hindu culture is crude polemic. Descriptions of Hindu politics prefigure the coming third world. He interviews Jinnah.
Edward Gibbon, during his voluntary spells of residence in his father’s country house at Buriton, [...] found himself goaded into making time for intellectual work by early rising, under pressure [...] of “social” demands on his time.
“At home I occupied a pleasant and spacious apartment; the library on the same floor was soon considered as my peculiar domain, and I might say with truth that I was never less alone than when I was by myself. My sole complaint, which I piously suppressed, arose from the kind restraint imposed on the freedom of my time. By the habit of early rising I always secured a sacred portion of the day, and many scattered moments were stolen and employed by my studious industry. But the family hours of breakfast, of dinner, of tea, and of supper were regular and long: after breakfast Mrs. Gibbon expected my company in her dressing-room; after tea my father claimed my conversation and the perusal of the newspapers; and in the midst of an interesting work I was often called down to receive the visit of some idle neighbours. Their dinners and visits required, in due season, a similar return; and I dreaded the period of the full moon, which was usually reserved for our more distant excursions.” – The Autobiographies of Edward Gibbon (London 1896, Murray), Memoir B, pp. 162-3. Cp. Memoir C, p. 286.
The version in Memoir C reads:
“My litterary leisure was much less compleat and independent than it might appear to the eye of a stranger: in the hurry of London I was destitute of books; in the solitude of Hampshire I was not master of my time. By the habit of early rising I always secured a sacred portion of the day; and many precious moments were stolen and saved by my rational avarice. But the family hours of breakfast and dinner, of tea and supper, were regular and tedious: after breakfast Mrs. Gibbon expected my company in her dressing-room; after tea my father claimed my conversation and the perusal of the Newspapers. In the heat of some interesting pursuit, I was called down to receive the visits of our idle neighbours; their civilities required a suitable return; and I dreaded the period of the full moon, which was usually reserved for our more distant excursions. My quiet was gradually disturbed by our domestic anxiety; and I should be ashamed of my unfeeling philosophy, had I found much time or taste for study in the last fatal summer (1770) of my father’s decay and dissolution.”
A Study of History, Vol X, OUP, 1954 (footnote)