Would anyone go to a blockbuster still life exhibition? I would, even if by the end I longed to escape and hungered for a landscape or figure. It’s hard to find a book on still life, but it might be soothing to indulge oneself in something so limited. Still life, or it could equally be Roman Britain, the history of Australia, French tapestries or the Palliser novels.
Small differences would become important. And there’s a lost language of allegory and symbols to learn.
And seventeenth-century lemons, pomegranates, loaves and fish have more DNA, more layers of reality, than their etiolated supermarket descendants.
We rarely see a butcher (or butchery, as they call them in Africa), never mind abattoir. In the middle east, even urban families are about to start slaughtering animals in their own bathrooms for Eid al-Adha.
Jacopo da Empoli (1551-1640), Still Life (c 1625)
Luis Meléndez (1716-80), Still Life with Apples, Grapes, Melons, Bread, Jug and Bottle
Odilon Redon (1840-1916), Flowers (1903)
George Clausen (1852-1944), Michaelmas Daisies and Cornflowers in a Jug (1940), exuberant piece painted at the age of 88
The Chinese Pot (still life by Clausen, old post).
Archive for the 'Europe' Category
The joy of dawn is the emotional charge in some of the most famous scenes in Western history – the Latin Christian warriors’ shout of “Deus le volt” in response to Pope Urban II’s preaching of the First Crusade, the ministry of Saint Francis of Assisi seen through Giotto’s and through Saint Thomas of Celano’s eyes, the landfalls of the Pinta [footnote: Though the first member of Columbus’s first expedition to sight land was a sailor on board the Pinta, this vessel’s name had not won equal renown with the Santa Maria, which was the Admiral’s flagship.] and the Mayflower, the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the taking of the Tennis Court Oath – and the poetry in some, at least, of these historic events has been uttered in lines that speak more eloquently than volumes. The poetry in the American Revolutionary War has been distilled by Emerson into one quatrain:
By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood
And fired the shot heard round the World.
[Footnote: Emerson: Concord Hymn, stanza 1.]
The poetry in the French Revolution has been distilled by Wordsworth into two lines:
Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very Heaven.
[Footnote: Wordsworth: The Prelude, Book XI, ll. 108-9, incorporating The French Revolution as it appeared to Enthusiasts at its Commencement.]
It is no wonder that, in these rejoicings at a dawn, the historians should have had to let the poets be their spokesmen; for the joy awakened by the dawn of a new era of History is the Soul’s response to an epiphany that is something more than a merely temporal event. The dawns that awaken such joy as this are irruptions into Time out of Eternity. What has happened on these historic occasions likewise happens at the birth of every child:
“A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come; but, as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the World.”
[Footnote: John xvi. 21.]
In a mother’s joy the Soul hails an incarnation; and, since “alles Vergängliche ist nur ein Gleichnis”, [footnote: Goethe: Faust, ll. 12104-5.] the dawns of mundane eras that have this poetry in them are antitypes of cosmic dawns in which a Divine Light breaks into This World. A radiance which shines in upon us through Botticelli’s picture, in the National Gallery in London, of the birth in the stable at Bethlehem is likewise manifest in the enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree, in the descent of the Dove at the baptism in Jordan, in the transfiguration on the mountain, in the vision on the road to Damascus, and in the imprinting of the stigmata in the wilderness; and, as Milton’s voice strikes up in a Franciscan ode on the morning of Christ’s nativity, Gibbon’s voice dies away.
A Study of History, Vol X, OUP, 1954
[The] Faustian insatiability of inquiring Western minds [...]. The impetus of a curiosity that had pressed on from an exploration of a physical ocean in the fifteenth century of the Christian Era to the sounding of the psychic abyss of the Subconscious in the twentieth century [...].
A Study of History, Vol X, OUP, 1954
Primitive African art (it was called primitive), therefore, was the second non-European subverter of Europe’s academic tradition. It dealt the death blow. The first subversive influence, starting half a century earlier, had been the more widely-, sometimes unconsciously-assimilated art of Japan. Toynbee constantly writes about the impact of the West on Japan in the nineteenth century, but he never once mentions the profound influence out of Japan, which operated at a high-cultural, not a political, economic or religious level.
He never mentions Ife, nor shows any taste for the primitive. On the contrary, in 1939 he sees European engagement with barbarous African art only as a sign of a loss of vitality in Europe’s own art.
He cannot see modern art as a revitalised art. I don’t think his visual or musical sensibilities were highly developed; they were in any case Victorian. Victorians of his background and education were not known for visual or musical sophistication. He can think only of a breakdown.
One could make a fascinating anthology of reactionary writing about modern art, and especially about jazz. High learning, high culture were opposed to popular culture and to barbarous art. The mish-mash of high and low that almost all educated people embrace today was outside his and his generation’s experience. There are Economist pieces about modern mish-mash here and here.
In a late dialogue, Toynbee says:
“Recreation” in the present-day Western sense has always seemed to me to be an unhealthy regression to childishness. I have therefore despised it, and I believe I have been right.
European art wasn’t moribund in 1900. It was vital because it was changing. Artists, even relatively conservative ones, were caught up in a great movement. Academic establishments were becoming trivial or dull. (Even Brahms could seem dull, and when Britten said that he played Brahms once a year to remind himself how bad he was, and a friend of mine spoke to me about “eine verdammt tote Musik” without naming a composer, they perhaps had at the back of their minds some of his late piano pieces. I suspect Britten of thinking of opus 117, no 1. Re-enter rhythm with the Rite of Spring and jazz.)
In Vol IV “Benin” meant barbarism in art. But he had modified his views slightly by the time he got to Vol IX.
The Kingdom of Benin, including the site of the modern Benin City, was in modern Nigeria, east of Ife, and further east of the country called Benin. It was destroyed by the infamous Punitive Expedition of 1897 (last post). The only reason the new country called Benin has that name is that Dahomey was not considered neutral for all ethnic groups; and Benin referred to the Bight or Bay, not to the Edo kingdom.
I am sure he would have gone on to study African history had he lived longer. A travel book called Between Niger and Nile, published in 1965, does not count, and he does not seem to have noticed Ife, though he warmed to Nigeria. He spoke loudly and consistently against white settlement in Kenya and apartheid in South Africa and in the US, and was quoted approvingly by Malcolm X in his autobiography for having referred, in the New York Times on September 29 1963, to the white race as the “bleached” race. Perhaps he would even have come to see something in African art worth absorbing, but before post-colonialism it was thought reasonable to place cultural attitudes in a different compartment from racial and colonial ones.
Experiences, OUP, 1969
We may [ask ourselves] why our own traditional Western styles of music and dancing and painting and sculpture are being abandoned by our own rising generation. In our own case, is the explanation a loss of artistic technique? Have we forgotten the rules of rhythm and counterpoint and perspective and light and proportion which were discovered, or invented, by that Italian and Flemish creative minority which carried our Western Society out of the second chapter in its history into the third chapter some four or five centuries ago? In this case, in which we happen to be first-hand witnesses, the answer to our question is palpably in the negative. In these days of mass-education our Western World is more amply supplied than ever before with virtuosi who are masters of these techniques and who could put them into operation again any day if they felt the impulse in themselves and received the demand from their public. The prevailing tendency to abandon our Western artistic traditions is no involuntary capitulation to a paralytic stroke of technical incompetence; it is the deliberate abandonment of a style of art which is losing its appeal to the rising generation because this generation is ceasing to cultivate its aesthetic sensibilities on the traditional Western lines. We have wilfully cast out of our souls the great masters who have been the familiar spirits of our forefathers; and, while we have been wrapt in self-complacent admiration of the spiritual vacuum which we have discovered how to make, a Tropical African spirit of music and dancing and statuary has made an unholy alliance with a pseudo-Byzantine spirit of painting and bas-relief, and has entered in to dwell in a house that it has found empty and swept and garnished. [Footnote: Matt. xii. 43-5, Luke xi. 24-6.] The decline which betrays itself in this revolutionary change in aesthetic taste is not technical but is spiritual. In repudiating our own native Western tradition of art and thereby reducing our aesthetic faculties to a state of inanition and sterility in which they seize upon the exotic and primitive art of Dahomey and Benin as though this were manna in the wilderness, we are confessing before all men that we have forfeited our spiritual birthright. Our abandonment of our traditional artistic technique is manifestly the consequence of some kind of spiritual breakdown in our Western Civilization; and the cause of this breakdown evidently cannot be found in a phenomenon which is one of the subsequent symptoms.
From the fourth volume of the Study. From “We have wilfully cast out” onwards, he sounds like the headmistress Miss Strudwick, whom he would quote twenty years later: see August 26 post. He started work on Vol IV in the summer of 1933. She made her speech that June. I am sure he filed a cutting. We know from the same volume what he thought about the state of universal education, and from Vol IX his views (expressed just after the Strudwick quotation) on neo-barbarian city-dwellers and their entertainments.
See an old post on dated pessimism.
Benin bronzes became known in the West somewhat earlier than the historically-earlier stone, bronze and terracotta heads of Ife. But they have nothing to do with the country of Dahomey, now called Benin. This looks like a howler. The Empire of Benin was in what is now Edo state. Ife was in Yoruba country, further west.
Toynbee, like many of his English class and generation, had, when he wrote this, no grasp of what modern art was or of what made it happen. His taste in modern literature, such as it was, was also unreliable.
For all his awareness of the impact of the West on Japan, he does not mention in a single place, even a caption in the Caplan abridgement, and may not even have known about, the effect on art in the West in the nineteenth century of the West’s discovery of Japanese aesthetics.
In the passage I have quoted, he sees a “breakdown” of the culture that had come before, rather than a prescient response to what was approaching or a dynamic response to what was new. European culture had never been something static and therefore liable to break down. It was breaking down all the time. Why, nevertheless, did things change so dramatically when even comparatively conservative artists seemed unexhausted? I asked that question, in relation to music, here and here.
Was he so ignorant of modern art in his old age? Perhaps not. An artist such as Epstein (August 27), whom I took as a bogeyman for his class and generation, should have had great appeal for him. Epstein wasn’t even avant-garde at the end. He was quasi-religious and humane, like Toynbee.
Toynbee’s travel in his retirement (1955-75) included Latin America several times between 1956 and 1966, India in 1956-57 and 1960, the US repeatedly during the civil rights struggle, Japan in 1956 and 1967, Nigeria in 1964. His perspectives on art must have changed. From April 1970 to August 1972, he worked on an illustrated abridgement of A Study of History with Jane Caplan, which contained images by Raoul Hausmann, Rivera, Franz Wilhelm Seiwert, CRW Nevinson, Magnus Zeller, Bruno Caruso, Picasso, Dix. He was ready at the end of his life to take African and southeast Asian history seriously, about which he had known nothing earlier. He quotes TS Eliot on the title page of his Gifford lectures (published 1956).
We have evidence of a pre-retirement change of outlook in the ninth volume of the Study (1954). There is a section about renaissances of the visual arts of a dead civilisation in the history of an affiliated civilisation of the next generation. The Sumeric style of carving in bas-relief was revived under the Neo-Assyrian Empire (911-612 BC). The style of sculpture and painting of the Old Kingdom was revived in the Saite age (Twenty-Sixth Dynasty, the last before the Persian conquest). The Hellenic style of carving in bas-relief (see Attic masterpieces of the fifth and fourth centuries BC) was nostalgically revived on Byzantine diptychs carved not in stone but in ivory in the tenth, eleventh and twelfth centuries CE. The Babylonic civilisation was indeed, in Toynbee’s scheme, affiliated to the Sumeric, and the Orthodox Christian civilisation to the Hellenic. But why is he suggesting that Saite Egypt was part of a civilisation affiliated to the Egyptiac?
The example on which he dwells, however, is a further one, namely
the renaissance of Hellenic visual arts in Western Christendom which made its first epiphany in a Late Medieval Italy and spread thence to the rest of the Western World during a Modern Age of Western history. This evocation of ghosts of Hellenic visual arts was practised in the three fields of Architecture, Sculpture, and Painting; and, in every one of these three fields, the revenant style of art made so clean a sweep of the style that it found in possession of the corresponding sector of a Western artistic arena that, by the time when the aggressive ghost had spent his formidable force, Western Man had become so thoroughly used to living his aesthetic life under this alien ascendancy that he did not know what to do with a liberty that was not recovered for him by his own exertions, but was reimposed upon him by the senile decay of a pertinaciously tyrannical intruder. When the evaporation of an Hellenic spectre presented Western souls with an aesthetic vacuum, they found themselves at first unable, for the life of them, to say what was the proper visual expression for the West’s long-suppressed native artistic genius.
Hellenism had been an “intruder”. Now he seems to want modernism to hurry up, as if it might be the expression of “the West’s long-suppressed native artistic genius”. “Vacuum” now means something different.
The most extraordinary episode [had been] the triumph of an Hellenic revenant over the native genius of the West in the province of Sculpture in the Round; for, in this field of artistic endeavour, the thirteenth-century Northern French exponents of an original Western style had produced masterpieces that could look in the face those of the Hellenic, Egyptiac, and Mahayanian Buddhist schools at their zeniths, whereas in the field of Painting, by the time when a revenant Hellenic style invaded it, Western artists had not yet shaken off the tutelage of the more precocious art of a sister Orthodox Christian Society, while in the field of Architecture the Romanesque style – which, as its latter-day label indicates, was a nascent Western World’s variation on an architectural theme inherited from the latest age of an antecedent Hellenic Civilization – had already been overwhelmed by an intrusive “Gothic” style which, contrary to the implication of its misnomer, had originated, not among the barbarians in a no-man’s-land beyond the European limes of the Roman Empire, but in a Syriac World which, in articulo mortis, had made a cultural conquest of the savage Western Christian military conquerors who had seized upon fragments of a dissolving ʿAbbasid and a dissolving Andalusian Umayyad Caliphate.
So Gothic had been another alien intrusion. This nativism seems out of place in a man who had never been taken in by racial theory. Whatever the eastern influences in Gothic, to suggest that its small debt to something external made Hellenism’s subsequent triumph over it less surprising than its triumph over an “original” Medieval sculpture is extreme sophistry.
The sterility with which the Western genius had been afflicted by a renaissance of Hellenism in the domain of Architecture was proclaimed in the West’s surprising failure to reap any architectural harvest from the birth-pangs of the Industrial Revolution. In Great Britain at the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and in the Western World as a whole before the nineteenth century reached its close, a mutation in industrial technique that had begotten the iron girder had suddenly thrust into the Western architect’s hands an incomparably versatile new building-material; and this gift of the grimy gods might have been expected to inspire the favoured Western human recipient to break even the toughest cake of inherited architectural custom in an eager exploration of the potentialities of a hitherto untried instrument. As it happened, no great effort was required of a Western architect of that generation to break a Hellenizing architectural tradition that was then already crumbling between his fingers; yet the architect who had been presented by a blacksmith with the iron girder, and by Providence with a clean slate, could think of no better ways of filling an opportune vacuum than to cap an Hellenic Renaissance with “a Gothic Revival” and to recoil from the “Gothic” ironmongery of Ruskin’s Science Museum at Oxford [1855-61] and the Woolworth Building in New York [1910-13] into a “Colonial” brickwork [equivalent of our Georgian] reproducing the Hellenizing Western style of architecture as this had been practised during an eighteenth-century North American “Indian Summer”.
Ruskin had deemed the use of iron improper in neo-Gothic buildings, but it became increasingly common. In France, Viollet-le-Duc made a virtue of it.
The first Westerner to think of frankly turning the iron girder to account as a building material without bashfully drawing a “Gothic” veil over his Volcanic vulgarity was not a professional architect but an imaginative amateur; and, though he was a citizen of the United States, the site on which he erected his historic structure overlooked the shores of the Bosphorus, not the banks of the Hudson. The nucleus of Robert College – Hamlin Hall, dominating Mehmed the Conqueror’s Castle of Europe – was built by Cyrus Hamlin in A.D. 1869-71; [footnote: “The building is 113 feet by 103. … The stone is the same as that of the fortress built in A.D. 1452-3. … It is fire-proof, the floors being of iron beams with brick arches” (Hamlin, Cyrus: Among the Turks (London 1878, Sampson Low), p. 297). [...]] yet it was only within the life-time of the writer of this Study, who was born in A.D. 1889 and was writing these lines in A.D. 1950, that the seed sown by Hamlin in Constantinople bore fruit in a Western World that was Brunel’s as well as Hamlin’s homeland.
Toynbee had known Robert College since 1921 and had written about it before that, but was it really the first non-Gothic architectural marriage of stone and iron?
Iron had been married to glass in the revolutionary Crystal Palace and had been used in bridges earlier still. By about 1890, steel frames would enable skyscrapers.
It is true that modernism had a delayed entrance. The steel-framed Woolworth Building, and much of early twentieth-century New York, was a halfway house. But while it was going up, so were the earliest examples of modernism in the US.
Toynbee’s generation had been taught to despise neo-Gothic. The generation which valued it – which included, among English taste-makers, Evelyn Waugh, Kenneth Clark and John Betjeman – was a little younger.
This sterilization of the West’s artistic genius, which was the nemesis of a Hellenizing renaissance in the realm of Architecture, was no less conspicuous in the realms of Painting and Sculpture. Over a span of more than half a millennium running from the generation of Dante’s contemporary Giotto (decessit A.D. 1337), a Modern Western school of Painting, which had unquestioningly accepted the naturalistic ideals of an Hellenic visual art in its post-archaic phase, had worked out, one after another, divers methods of conveying the visual impressions made by light and shade until this long-sustained effort to produce the effects of photography through prodigies of artistic technique had been stultified, on the eve of its consummation, by the invention of photography itself. After the ground had thus inconsiderately been cut away from under their feet by the shears of Modern Western Science, Modern Western painters made a “Pre-Raphaelite” Movement, in the direction of their long since repudiated Byzantine provenance, before they thought of exploring a new world of Psychology which Science had given them to conquer in compensation for the old world of Physical Nature which she had stolen from the painter in order to hand it over to the photographer. After the invention of photography the best part of a century had to pass before the rise of an apocalyptic school of Western painters who made a genuinely new departure by frankly using paint – veritably more Byzantino – to convey the spiritual experiences of Psyche instead of the visual impressions of Argus; but the increasing sureness of foot with which the Western painters were advancing along this new road by the close of the first half of the twentieth century seemed to augur that the Western sculptors, in their turn, would eventually set their faces in the same direction after discovering, by trial and error, that the broken road to Athens, which they had been following ever since a Niccolò Pisano had swerved into it in the thirteenth century, could not, after all, be regained by a detour through either Byzantium or Benin.
So they would abandon the road altogether? Was it a road to Athens?
More Byzantino. Byzantine art is about the expression, or rather holding or representation, of spiritual reality, not (pace the Medieval ivories) about the representation of surfaces. The bronzes of Benin influenced modern artists. I don’t know whether there were Benin bronzes at the Palais du Trocadéro in May or June 1907, when Picasso experienced his African revelation there.
Thus, at the time of writing, it looked as if, in all three visual arts, the sterilization of a native Western genius by an exotic Hellenizing renaissance might eventually be overcome; but the slowness and the difficulty of the cure showed how serious the damage had been.
Sterilization of a native Western genius! Cure! Damage! This is the kind of thing that made Trevor-Roper write off Toynbee.
A footnote after the reference to Argus shows that his thinking on modern art has advanced:
In IV. iv. 52, this positive aim [Byzantinist rather than Beninist?] of a revolutionary twentieth-century school of Western painting has not been given due recognition.
He has come, in other words, as far as Expressionism, which is a fair way.
In Mankind and Mother Earth, we have:
Artists have psychic antennae that are sensitive, in advance, to portentous coming events.
They did before 1914. But this isn’t a historical law either. Did Athenian artists have the jitters before the Peloponnesian War, which is Toynbee’s Hellenic First World War?
Perhaps northern European artists on the eve of the Reformation had presentiments of an end of an order.
And in the illustrated abridgement of A Study of History, we have an illustration of Picasso’s Woman with a Fan of 1907, with a caption probably written by Caplan:
The camera’s conquest of the visual world left twentieth-century artists free to explore the hidden worlds of the mind and its modes of perception; art finally exorcized its Hellenic ghost: Picasso, Woman with a Fan, 1908 [pablopicasso.org says 1907].
Archaism in art (old post).
A Study of History, Vol IV, OUP, 1939
A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954
Mankind and Mother Earth, A Narrative History of the World, OUP, 1976, posthumous
With Jane Caplan, A Study of History, new one-volume abridgement, with new material and revisions and, for the first time, illustrations, and with a Foreword by Toynbee, Thames & Hudson, 1972
It is useless to fortify our new European organism by guarantees of the old order, because we cannot fortify such guarantees themselves against the sovereign national state. Whenever it chooses, the sovereign unit can shatter the international mechanism by war. [...]
“You ask,” the Germans say, “why we broke our contract towards Belgium? It would be more pertinent to ask how we were ever committed to such a contract at all.
“The heart of modern Germany is the industrial world of the Rhineland and Westphalia. The Belgian frontier and the Belgian tariff-wall rob this region of its natural outlet at Antwerp, yet the contract expressly forbids us to right this economic and geographical wrong by uniting the sea-port to its hinterland.
“The chief need of modern Germany is a source of raw produce and a market for her finished products in the tropical zone. Belgium has staked out for herself the one important region in Africa which was not already occupied by France or Great Britain. She can do nothing with it, while we –– but this contract expressly forbids us to kick the Belgian dog out of the manger.
“Because of this Belgian guarantee we must go in want of almost everything we need, yet meanwhile our great neighbours on either flank have conspired to take from us even the little we possess already. The struggle with France and Russia on which we are now engaged has been impending for years, and on our part it is a struggle for existence, but even here the same remorseless contract operates to paralyse our efforts. On the scale of modern warfare the Western battlefront must extend from Switzerland to the North Sea, yet the greater part of this immense zone is neutralised by natural and artificial obstacles on either side. From Switzerland to the Ardennes there will be stalemate: the decision will be reached in the open country between the Ardennes and the coast. Here, as soon as war broke out, France and our own fatherland had to concentrate the terrific energy of their armaments, yet we had contracted away our initiative in this vital area, for it lies within the frontiers of the Belgian state. The government we had guaranteed might prepare the ground for France and ruin it for ourselves, yet because of the guarantee we must look on passively at the digging of our grave.
“Why, then, had we suffered ourselves to be bound hand and foot? We had not: our grandfathers had entailed the bonds upon us. When they signed the contract in 1839, they knew not what they did. At that time Germany had no industry, Belgium had no colonies, and the Franco-German frontier between the Ardennes and the Jura was not closed to field operations by two continuous lines of opposing fortifications. Had their signature been demanded in 1914, they would have refused it as indignantly as we should have refused it ourselves. To us no choice was offered, and if we have asserted for ourselves the right to choose, who dares in his heart to condemn us? Who will impose a changeless law upon a changing world?”
Nationality and the War, Dent, 1915
Guarantee! The formula coined in 1814 rings ironical to-day. Belgium was guaranteed [Treaty of London, 1839] in order to secure the stability of Europe, yet on account of that guarantee Great Britain and Germany, two of the greatest sovereign units in the European complexus, are at this moment engaged in a life-and-death struggle. Germany violated the Belgian guarantee deliberately in her attempt to destroy the European system by war. The effect of the guarantee may still prove momentous: it has drawn us into the war, and our intervention may turn the scale. Yet even if the Allies are victorious, and the new Europe is fashioned by them after their own hearts and not by Germany after hers, this will not save the credit of the guarantee itself. Germany may be punished for her work, but the work cannot be undone. Europe must drink the cup of war to the dregs – the pain, the hate, the waste, the pure evil that is not diminished one drop by cause or consequence. The guarantee was invented to avert that catastrophe from Europe. The catastrophe has happened and the invention is bankrupt.
See The question of a general guarantee in Mark Jarrett, The Congress of Vienna and Its Legacy, IB Tauris, 2013.
Ukrainian sovereignty would be guaranteed by NATO if Ukraine were a member of NATO, but see 1994 Budapest Memorandum.
Nationality and the War, Dent, 1915
Who wrote: “Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made”?
Kant in Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose, or rather, it is Isaiah Berlin’s translation of Kant’s ungainly
“Aus so krummem Holze, als woraus der Mensch gemacht ist, kann nichts ganz Gerades gezimmert werden.”
Frederick’s unprincipled attack on the dominions of Maria Theresa in A.D. 1740, within Gibbon’s [...] lifetime, was the first step in a German descensus Averni which was to reach the bottom of the infernal pit in A.D. 1933-45.
A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954
From an unidentified British documentary.
In the series The Reunion, BBC Radio 4. Sue MacGregor reunites British personnel involved in the operation. Listen here.
The same page has a link to the back series, going back to 2006. Most programmes are accessible, including one on the Hitler diaries.
Wikipedia page on the blockade.
Reading in German of Walter Flex’s story Das Weihnachtsmärchen des 50. Regiments, a fantasy about a war widow and a tribute to the dead of the war. The reading is preceded by a short documentary in German about Flex.
This was presumably a CD-Rom. Credits at 4:45. The music at the beginning is Götterdämmerung. I can’t identify the still.
On Flex, see posts since August 18.
The Wanderer between the Two Worlds (recent post).
German mini-docudrama about Walter Flex and the Europeana Collections 1914-1918 project, which has included digitising material about Flex held in the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin; full credits in film, English subtitles:
British Museum virtual exhibition of some of the Berlin Flex material.
For a vast photographic archive of soldiers and sailors doing everything except fighting, go to this ipernity collection. Camp captions present the images as soft porn, although these people were fighting in real wars and some must still be alive.
FT Prince’s poem Soldiers Bathing was published in a collection in 1954. Here is Prince reading it in 1993. Obituaries: Guardian, Telegraph, Independent, The New York Times. The Independent calls Soldiers Bathing “one of the two best-known [English] poems of the Second World War”, the other being Henry Reed’s Naming of Parts. Guardian review (2012) of his collected poems.
German soldiers, Russian Front, First World War
German soldiers, Russian Poland, First World War
Postcard, First World War
Eakins-like: German soldiers, location not stated, Second World War
Images via ipernity.
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.
“A literary event of the first importance” used to be the publisher’s phrase. The first publication in English translation of Walter Flex’s First World War novella (the best-selling German novel of the whole war) Der Wanderer zwischen beiden Welten is of some importance.
It was published in Germany in 1916. Flex had been born in Thuringia. He died on the Eastern front. This wasn’t his only work (Wikipedia has a bibliography on its English and German pages). Its subtitle is Ein Kriegserlebnis, or An Experience of War. It is partly autobiographical and is narrated in the first person.
It was published in English on August 4 by Rott Publishing (with which I have an involvement). You can buy it here. The fine translation is by Brian Murdoch, who published the modern English translation of All Quiet on the Western Front with Random House. We are proud to have him with Rott.
“By 1917,” says Wikipedia, “over 700,000 copies had been printed in Germany – a testament to his extreme popularity with the wartime public. His reputation grew in the post-war years and his romantic idealism was exploited by the Nazi party, which found his evocative and romantic lyricism especially appealing and considered it an expression of Aryan ideals.” It was popular with the Nazis because of its glorification of the soldier’s struggle in war.
Murdoch’s source is “a soft-cover edition with the imprint Oskar Beck (C. H. Beck), Munich, 1922 (210-215th thousand)”, a reprint of “the most familiar edition, that published in Munich by Beck in 1918 and in very many later editions, and which sold in their thousands in hard covers and paperback”. Statements which, I suppose, are not necessarily incompatible with Wikipedia’s.
Without the hint of a spoiler, or links to one, I can say that it is about a friendship between two German soldiers who meet in Lorraine in 1915. In the same year, having expected to go to an Italian front, they are transferred to the Eastern front. Places in the Baltic States, Poland, Belarus are mentioned. The action ends in 1916 in Lithuania.
It isn’t repulsive, but is full of the sentiments of its time and of what one might call that terrible German purity of heart. The Japanese had something similar. Strip away the culture and all you have is young people in a war and ordinary purity of heart.
Murdoch translates Der Wanderer zwischen beiden Welten as The Wanderer between the Two Worlds, not as The Wanderer between Two Worlds, because beiden implies that the two worlds have been identified. (We are speaking of both worlds, not any two worlds.) But it might, by that very reasoning, have been more natural to drop the article.
So what are the two worlds? That would be a spoiler. Nor is it entirely clear. Anyone who has heard a rumour that this is a gay novella will assume that the wanderer between them is a Uranian. He isn’t. We aren’t in the world of Magnus Hirschfeld.
The book has many references to the Wandervogel (singular). Wanderer is a potent word. Young Romantic Germans wandered in the forests with a book held open in front of them. There’s a Hölderlin elegy called Der Wanderer. A German car made from 1911 to ’45 was called the Wanderer. An Anglo-Saxon poem, The Wanderer, sounds ripe for Schubert as you read it.
Flex quotes Goethe (who wrote two poems called Wandrers Nachtlied) and his own verses. The main Flex poem is Wildgänse rauschen durch die Nacht, Wild geese rush through the night. The geese are a leitmotif in the novella.
In 1916 Robert Götz set this poem to music as a march. Here it is on YouTube. I suppose this is repulsive. (The words were later changed to remove a reference to the Kaiser.) After writing this, I tested the song on someone who had grown up in the Nazizeit. She recognised it, but didn’t want to hear more than the first few seconds.
Remarque alluded to Flex’s novel in a sequel to All Quiet on the Western Front. Murdoch:
“Of the Weimar anti-war novelists, Remarque alluded, I think quite deliberately, in his far less familiar sequel to All Quiet on the Western Front, a novel called Der Weg zurück (The Road Back, 1931), to Flex’s motif of the wild geese and to the Wandervogel youth movement. In fact Remarque concludes his second war-novel – written not too long before Hitler came to power – with some almost elegiac regrets on the part of some ex-soldiers that the more or less harmless pre-war movement of which Flex was such a great proponent, with its quasi-ecological brand of (fairly local) patriotism, had been replaced already in the immediate post-war years by the new and belligerent right-wing militaristic movements from the Freikorps down, eventually, to the Hitler Youth, and of course to another war.”
Murdoch: “Flex’s scenes of the actual fighting can be vivid, but there is always a feeling that they have been sanitised, and his heroes die too cleanly.”
The only reference to Jews is in relation to a wish for death for the nation rather than ignoble life: “Do you wish to drag with you a prolonged existence, like the Wandering Jew, unable to die, the whipping-boy of all the newly arisen nations, even though he had buried the Egyptians, the Greeks and the Romans?” But one wouldn’t necessarily expect Jewish references here.
We have the translation of the novella, then an Afterword about Walter and Walter’s death in action in Estonia in October 1917 written by his brother Martin, who signs his piece “On the battlefield, November 1917”. What battlefield, what was Martin Flex doing there, and what happened to him?
Walter’s younger (youngest?) brother Otto had been killed on the Marne at the start of the war.
After Martin’s statement comes a lucid essay by Brian Murdoch and his notes on the translation and on further reading. His essay places the novella in the context of other novels written during and after the war and of diaries and letters written during it.
Part of the rich literature produced by the citizen armies of the First World War was their letters and diaries. My own German grandfather wrote pious and patriotic letters, some of which I hope to publish here. Walter Flex’s novella partly reflects that informal literature.
The soldiers were conscious, as soldiers must always have been, of the nature around them as they fought, distracting them, perhaps subverting their will. The chaos of war nothing to the riot of Pan. There is something of this in War and Peace. Nature is omnipresent in this novella. There are many passages of lyrical beauty. The pastoral theme is present in English poetry of the war. Vaughan Williams’s quiet, tense A Pastoral Symphony is a musical memory of wartime France, not of peacetime England.
Our cover image varies a motif which appeared on the cover of the early Beck editions.
“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.”
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
The Umayyad Caliphs, 661-750
The dynasty starts with Muawiya (ruled 661-80), who had been governor of Syria. Uthman had also been an Umayyad, but is classed as one of the four Rightly-Guided caliphs. Shia Muslims believe that the succession should have gone through Ali.
Muawiya had fought against Byzantium and had a well-trained army to set against the anarchic Bedouin who had followed Ali.
The Shia vilify Muawiya. They believe that his conversion to Islam was superficial, that he was motivated by lust for power and that he secured it by force. They point out that he is the only Sahaba Caliph (companion of the Prophet) who was not regarded as righteously guided by the Sunni. (He was related to the Prophet, like the others.)
His son and heir Yazid I is hated for his actions towards the house of Ali, in particular for sending forces against Ali’s son Husayn ibn Ali at the Battle of Karbala in 680.
The great administrators of the dynasty, Muawiya I, Abd al-Malik (ruled 685-705) and Hisham (ruled 724-43) took over many of the systems of the Greeks and Persians.
In 661-71 the Arabs conquered Tokharistan (Bactria), which the Persian Empire had won from the Ephthalite Hun Empire. This put the Islamic state astride the overland route between India and China via the Oxus-Jaxartes basin.
They had completed the conquest of North Africa by 698.
In 706-15 they conquered Transoxiana and Khwarezm, which had been the Turkish steppe-dwellers’ share of the Ephthalite Empire. They consolidated their position there in subsequent decades.
In 710-12 they extinguished the Visigothic Kingdom in Spain.
In 711 they conquered Sind and the southern Punjab, up to and including Multan.
On four fronts, they were defeated.
In order to conquer Asia Minor and take Constantinople, they needed naval command of the Mediterranean. In 669 Muawiya built a fleet. In 674-8 and in 717-18 the Arabs besieged Constantinople by sea and land and were defeated.
In 677 they gained a temporary foothold in the Lebanon. In 741 they were brought to a halt along the line of the Amanus range in southern Turkey. They did eventually carry their frontier beyond the Amanus to the Taurus.
In 732 they failed to conquer Carolingian France. Before reaching the Loire, they were checked at Poitiers.
In 737-38 they failed to conquer the empire of the Khazar nomads, between the Volga (which flows into the Caspian) and the Don (which flows into the Sea of Azov).
The Umayyad caliphs faced the opposition of Shiite Arab tribesmen of Iraq and that of pious elements in Medina who favoured the claims of Ali’s descendants, the Imams of the Shia (Shiʿat Ali or party of Ali).
The masses of non-Arab peoples in the conquered territories, the Mawali, began to stir and to resent their position as second-class citizens.
In 750 the Umayyads were overthrown by a revolution which began in Khurasan in eastern Persia, led by Abu Muslim Khorasani. One of the few members of the Umayyad family to survive was Hisham’s grandson, Abd al-Rahman, who escaped to North Africa and continued the Umayyad line in Spain.
See Clifford Edmund Bosworth, The Islamic Dynasties, A Chronological and Genealogical Handbook, Edinburgh University Press, 1967, revised 1980. There have been subsequent revisions. It contains complete lists of rulers. I am partly following it in this series, but leaving out most diacritics used in romanisations of Arabic.
Umayyad Moque, Damascus, picture: studyblue.com
Toynbee names a
Pleiad of historians – Thucydides and Xenophon and Polybius; Josephus and Ibn Khaldūn; Machiavelli and Clarendon and Ollivier – who [...] started life as soldiers or statesmen and [...] made the transit from one field of action to another in their own life-histories by returning as historians to a world from which they [had] previously been expelled as prisoners-of-war or deportees or exiles.
Émile Ollivier (1825-1913) is, he admits, its dimmest member – but why, even in a second edition, is he writing about a Pleiad? He even mentions “eight lives”. Somervell omits the section in his abridgement.
Ollivier started as a republican opposed to Napoléon III, but pushed the Emperor toward liberal reforms. He entered the cabinet and was prime minister when Napoléon fell.
His father had opposed the July Monarchy of Louis Philippe (1830-48) and was returned by Marseille to the Constituent Assembly which established the Second Republic (1848-51). He opposed the coup d’état of the head of state Louis-Napoléon, as he was then called, and was exiled for nearly a decade.
Émile Ollivier started to rise during the Republic. He re-entered politics, still a republican, but prepared to work with the Empire, in 1857 after a period in law.
He was one of the early Parisian champions of Wagner. His first wife, Blandine, was the daughter of Liszt and Marie d’Agoult (who wrote as Daniel Stern). She died in 1862. In 1869 he married Mlle Gravier.
Early in 1870 Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen revived his candidature for the Spanish throne. The French government instructed its ambassador to Prussia, Vincent, Count Benedetti, to demand from the king, Wilhelm I, that he withdraw it.
Ollivier was won over by the war party. On July 15 he declared in the Chamber that the Prussian government had issued a note, the Ems Telegram, announcing that his envoy had been rebuffed. He accepted the responsibility of the war, the Second War of the Spanish Succession, “with a light heart”, since it had been forced on France. But on August 9, with the news of its first disasters, his cabinet was driven from office. He sought refuge from the general rage in Italy.
He returned to France in 1873, but his political power was gone. During his retirement he employed himself in writing an apologia in the form of a history of L’Empire libéral in seventeen volumes (1895-1915). (Toynbee counts as far as the sixteenth, which appeared in 1912.)
Josephus, in his latter-day literary work, is in some sense pursuing his previous “practical” activities in a new medium. And this fault is still more conspicuously apparent in the literary work of the French member of our Pleiad: Émile Ollivier.
Ollivier is not without excuse for his frailty, for his personal identification with the disaster that overtook his country in his day was much more intimate, and much more serious, than Thucydides’ identification with the fall of Athens or Josephus’s with the fall of Jewry. Ollivier was a Frenchman who lived through the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1. For France, this war, which brought to an end a French political and military hegemony of two centuries’ standing on the European Continent, was not only a supreme national catastrophe; it was also a supreme national humiliation, since the war was lost by no honourable defeat but by a lamentable débâcle. And for Ollivier this tragic experience of France was a personal tragedy of equal magnitude; for, at the moment when the disaster occurred, Ollivier occupied in France the principal position of political responsibility next to the Emperor Napoleon III himself. While the Emperor was saved from the fury of the French people by falling into the enemy’s hands, his minister had to fly the country. Ollivier took refuge in Italy, and when he ventured to return to France in 1873 his life was in ruins. Born in 1825, engaged in politics from 1848 to 1870, and virtually Prime Minister in the Imperial Government during the fatal days between the end of 1869 and the 9th August, 1870, Ollivier now found himself, at the age of forty-eight, a scapegoat in the wilderness, with all the transgressions of the Second Empire heaped upon his devoted head. [Footnote: Ollivier applies the simile of the scapegoat to himself in L’Empire Libéral, vol. i, p. 30.]
Ollivier’s retort to the outrageous Fortune which had felled his country and himself by the same terrific blow was to write, on the grand scale, a history of the whole unhappy chapter in French history in which he had played his own unhappy part. The prologue to the drama, as he presents it in L’Empire Libéral, [footnote: L’Empire Libéral: Études, Récits, Souvenirs, par Émile Ollivier (Paris 1895-1912, Garnier Frères, 16 volumes] begins with the morrow of the peace-settlement of 1815; the curtain descends upon the débâcle of 1870 after Ollivier’s fall from office on the 9th August of that year and his subsequent abortive private mission to Italy. The first volume was published in 1895, a quarter of a century after the catastrophe, when the author himself was already seventy years old; [footnote] and thereafter volume followed volume year by year until the sixteenth and last volume was published in 1912, when the author was eighty-seven and when the greater war of 1914-18, which was to reverse the result of the war of 1870-1, was only two years ahead in the future. [Footnote: The writer of this Study, who was an undergraduate at Oxford at the time when the last volumes of L’Empire Libéral were appearing, can well remember the interest which their publication aroused.] In thus transferring to historiography the energies that had been expelled from the field of politics twenty-five years earlier, Ollivier was not achieving a spiritual catharsis and was not pursuing the path of “etherialization”. To parody a notorious maxim of his Prussian enemies, [footnote: “War is only a continuation of State policy by other means” (Clausewitz, General Karl von: On War. Translated by Colonel J. J. Graham from the third German edition (London 1893, Trübner), p. vii).] he was rather taking up the historian’s pen in order to pursue the politician’s aims by the best alternative means that still remained at his disposal. The driving force that impels him to write and write from his seventy-first to his eighty-eighth year is a burning desire to vindicate France and to vindicate Ollivier.
Second footnote in that paragraph:
The final and effective decision to write seems to have been taken by Ollivier as a consequence of Bismarck’s outright avowal that he [Bismarck] had deliberately precipitated the war by tampering with the text of the famous “Ems Telegram”. This outright avowal was not made until 1892, after Bismarck’s dismissal from the Chancellorship of the German Reich by the Emperor William II. Ollivier appears to have been stirred by this revelation in two ways. He was elated to see the responsibility for the outbreak of the war transferred from the shoulders of France to the shoulders of Germany by so conclusive an authority as Bismarck himself; and he was outraged to find that Bismarck’s confession was not being taken by public opinion as an exoneration of Ollivier for his own part in those transactions. L’Empire Libéral seems to have been committed to writing under this twofold stimulus. The context in which Ollivier gives his account of Bismarck’s avowal is illuminating. (See L’Empire Libéral, vol. i, pp. 24-31.)
The dispatch was an internal message from the Prussian King’s holiday site to Bismarck in Berlin, reporting demands made by Benedetti; it was Bismarck’s released statement to the press that became known as Ems Telegram.
Back to main text:
The first of these two motives is proclaimed at the beginning of the book:
“À la veille de disparaître de ce monde, je veux donner une dernière preuve de dévouement à la patrie bien aimée à laquelle j’ai consacré toutes mes pensées. Je veux la laver devant la posterité de la tache d’avoir déchaîné parmi les hommes la misère, la défiance, la haine, la barbaric Je veux démontrer qu’en 1870 elle n’a pas été plus agressive qu’elle ne l’avait été en 1792 et en 1806; qu’alors comme autrefois elle a défendu son indépendance, non attenté à celle d’autrui. Laissant aux contempteurs de son droit les gémissements dont depuis tant d’années ils affaiblissent son courage, je lui tends la coupe où l’on boit le cordial qui rend la foi, la force, l’espérance. Si elle l’accepte, tant mieux pour elle!” [Footnote: Ollivier, E. O.: L’Empire Libéral, vol. i, pp. 32-3.]
The patriotic motive, here confessed, is plain to read; but the personal motive, which Ollivier is at pains to deny, is equally unmistakable. It is revealed in the author’s chagrin that Bismarck’s avowal of his responsibility for precipitating the war has not served to vindicate his own – Ollivier’s – reputation. [Footnote: Ollivier, op. cit., vol. i, p. 30.] It is revealed in the ostentation with which he abstains from vindicating himself (for “on s’excuse même en renonçant aux excuses”). Above all, it is revealed in his grand finale, which is not the débâcle at Sedan and is not the fall of Metz and is not the fall of Paris and is not the signature of the Peace of Frankfurt, but is – at the end of sixteen volumes – the fall of the Ministère Ollivier!
Benedetti and Wilhelm I at Ems; Ernst Engelberg, Bismarck, Akademie-Verlag Berlin, 1985 via Wikimedia Commons, no more information given
A second-rate practitioner of a dangerous trade (old post).
A Study of History, Vol III, OUP, 1934
Pan-Islamism is dormant – yet we have to reckon with the possibility that the sleeper may awake if ever the cosmopolitan proletariat of a “Westernized” world revolts against Western domination and cries out for anti-Western leadership. That call might have incalculable psychological effects in evoking the militant spirit of Islam – even if it had slumbered as long as the Seven Sleepers – because it might awaken echoes of a heroic age. On two historic occasions in the past, Islam has been the sign [under] which an Oriental society has risen up victoriously against an Occidental intruder. Under the first successors of the Prophet, Islam liberated Syria and Egypt from a Hellenic domination which had weighed on them for nearly a thousand years. Under Zangi and Nur-ad-Din and Saladin and the Mamluks, Islam held the fort against the assaults of Crusaders and Mongols. [In] the present situation of mankind [...] Islam might be moved to play her historic role once again. Absit omen.
Civilization on Trial, OUP, 1948
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.
After-comment to a recent post on Peter Maxwell Davies:
“When Max dramatises Borromini in his symphony with a baritone setting of his last testament, one thinks of operatic dramatisations of Renaissance, Reformation, Counter-Reformation minds and consciences: Pfitzner’s Palestrina, Krenek’s Karl V, Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler about Grünewald and his Die Harmonie der Welt about Kepler, Max’s own Taverner.
I don’t particularly want to add Philip Glass’s Galileo here, but perhaps I should.
And of Britten’s and Shostakovich’s Italian settings of Michelangelo and Henze’s of Bruno in Novae de infinito laudes.
There’s no opera about Luther, but he is a protagonist in Karl V.
Could Sessions’s Montezuma be brought in, via the mind of Cortés?
Charles V 1500
BBC, and on the day of the Crimean referendum.
“Once did she hold the gorgeous east in fee;
And was the safeguard of the west: the worth
Of Venice did not fall below her birth,
Venice, the eldest Child of Liberty.
She was a maiden City, bright and free;
No guile seduced, no force could violate;
And, when she took unto herself a Mate,
She must espouse the everlasting Sea.
And what if she had seen those glories fade,
Those titles vanish, and that strength decay;
Yet shall some tribute of regret be paid
When her long life hath reached its final day:
Men are we, and must grieve when even the Shade
Of that which once was great, is passed away.”
Wordsworth, On the Extinction of the Venetian Republic.
The Victorian beard has returned at last. It started to die out c 1890 as a cleaner-cut military look came in.
Then, it was often adopted with a certain maturity. Now it’s worn by young men. Last autumn I reckoned that a quarter of young Greeks, who seemed neither especially fashion-conscious nor religious, had real beards. Was that simply traditionally Greek? Is this an unconscious echo among non-Muslims of the Muslim beard?
The Elizabethans and their Stuart successors had worn goatees.
The modern Victorian beard, when it is Parnell-like, is subtly transgressive.
Mahler in his beard phase; first photo looks earlier than second, which was taken in Kassel, where he worked for two years from summer 1883, aged 23-5, when he might have been expected to be clean-shaven:
Sir Harold Acton died twenty years ago today.
Tribute by Luca Vidmaker. L’ultimo grande inglese sull’Arno. Music Schumann, Piano Quartet.
I visited the great aesthete at La Pietra, above Florence, the villa in which he was born and died, twice in the ’70s: a story for another time.
The Last of the Medici, Florence, G Orioli, 1930 (translation of a lubricious eighteenth-century memoir, by whom?, of Gian Gastone de’ Medici, the last Medici Grand Duke of Tuscany, introduction by Norman Douglas)
The Last Medici, Faber and Faber, 1932 (a study of the later Medici Grand Dukes and the first of his own historical works)
The Bourbons of Naples (1734-1825), Methuen, 1956
Ferdinando Galiani, in Art and Ideas in Eighteenth-Century Italy, Rome, Edizioni di storia e letteratura, 1960 (lectures by various people given in English at the Istituto Italiano di Cultura di Londra in Rome, 1957-58)
The Last Bourbons of Naples (1825-1861), Methuen, 1961
The Pazzi Conspiracy, Thames and Hudson, 1979
II Florence and Tuscany
Florence, Thames and Hudson, 1960 (photographs by Martin Hürlimann)
Tuscan Villas, Thames and Hudson, 1973 (photographs by Alexander Zielcke)
Edward Chaney, editor, Florence: A Travellers’ Companion, Constable, 1986 (Introduction to anthology)
III Translations from the Chinese; Acton lived in China from 1932 to 1939
With Ch’en Shih-Hsiang, Modern Chinese Poetry, Duckworth, 1936 (young poets)
With Lee Yi-Hsieh, preface by Arthur Waley, Glue and Lacquer: Four Cautionary Tales, illustrated with drawings by Eric Gill interpreted on copper by Denis Tegetmeier, The Golden Cockerel Press, 1941 (selections from the seventeenth-century writer Feng Menglong’s Tales to Rouse the World)
Aquarium, Duckworth, 1923
An Indian Ass, Duckworth, 1925
Five Saints and an Appendix, Holden, 1927
This Chaos, Paris, Hours Press, 1930
Cornelian, The Westminster Press, 1928 (prose fable)
Humdrum, The Westminster Press, 1928 (novel)
Peonies and Ponies, Chatto and Windus, 1941 (novel about expatriate life in China)
Prince Isidore, Methuen, 1950 (novel)
Old Lamps for New, Methuen, 1965 (novel)
Tit for Tat, Hamish Hamilton, 1972 (stories)
The Gift Horse
A Modern Vestal
“A Sketch, Lent by Miss Temple”
“O Thou I”
Resting on His Laurels
An Old School Pal
Tit for Tat
The Machine Is Broken Down
His Serene Highness
The Soul’s Gymnasium, Hamish Hamilton, 1982 (stories)
The Marchesa Carrie
Leo’s Ivory Tower
Fin de race
Flora’s Lame Duck
The Soul’s Gymnasium
A Phantom Botticelli
A Morning at Upshott’s
The Narcissus Elegy
Memoirs of an Aesthete, Methuen, 1948
More Memoirs of an Aesthete, Methuen, 1970
Nancy Mitford: A Memoir, Hamish Hamilton, 1975
Edward Chaney and Neil Ritchie, editors, Oxford, China and Italy: Writings in Honour of Sir Harold Acton on His Eightieth Birthday, Thames and Hudson, 1984 (contributions by John A Wood, David Rundle, John Betjeman, Iris Origo, Sacheverell Sitwell, Anthony Powell, Joan Haslip, John Lehmann, Antony Lambton, Cyril Birch, Charles Wilson, Peter Quennell, Christopher Sykes, AL Rowse, Laurence Sickman, Amanda Lillie, Nicolai Rubinstein, Anna Maria Crinò, Maurice Cranston, Peter Gunn, Edward Chaney, Michael Grant, John Fleming, Francis Haskell, Carlo Knight, Hugh Honour, Denys Sutton, John Pope-Hennessy and Neil Ritchie)
Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what’s a heaven for?
[Footnote: Browning, R.: Andrea del Sarto, ll. 97-98.]
Andrea del Sarto was regarded highly by his contemporaries. Michelangelo introduced Vasari to him. Vasari, however, was critical of his teacher, alleging that he had the skill of a great artist, but lacked the divine fire which animated the work of Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael. Browning’s poem is a dramatic monologue in which Andrea addresses his unfaithful wife Lucrezia.
A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954
By A.D. 1871 War was not “the sport of kings” any longer. It had become the serious business of peoples who were inspired with all the enthusiasm that Democracy could excite and were armed with all the weapons that Industrialism could forge; and in these circumstances there was a choice between taking active steps to put an end to War altogether, or else seeing it rankle into an enormity without precedent in our Western history.
If the experience of the wars of 1861-71 had evoked an anti-war movement of anything like the same intensity and persistence as the anti-slavery movement which had been set on foot before the end of the eighteenth century, then our position to-day might perhaps have been more favourable than it actually is. It happened, however, that the crop of wars in the seventh decade of the nineteenth century was followed, like the General War of 1792-1815, by half a century of general peace, which was only broken by a few local wars of a semi-colonial character: the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-8; the Spanish-American War of 1898; the South African War of 1899-1902; the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5. These latter wars at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries did not afford much new insight into the general tendency of warfare in the Western World in this age, because they were fought between not more than two belligerents in each case, and not in any instance in regions lying near the heart of the Western World.
1871-1914 was called the belle époque. Who, after the First World War, invented that phrase?
Hence the terrible transformation in the character of War which had been brought about by the introduction of the new driving-power of Industrialism and Democracy took our generation by surprise in 1914. This time the shock has been so profound that an eager and active movement for the abolition of War has followed the Armistice of 1918. But this movement is gravely handicapped by its belated birth on the morrow of the World War, when it should have been born in 1871 or, better still, in 1815.
A Study of History, Vol IV, OUP, 1939
The civilisation in which we lived was like a labyrinth, so huge and intricate that none of the dwellers in it could altogether grasp its structure, while most of them were barely conscious that it had any structural design at all. But now that the War has caught it and it is all aflame, the unity and symmetry of the building are revealed to the common eye. As the glare lights it up from end to end, it stands out in its glory, in matchless outline and perspective; for the first time (and possibly for the last) we see its parts simultaneously and in proper relation, and realise for one moment the marvel and mystery of this civilisation that is perishing – the subtle, immemorial, unrelaxing effort that raised it up and maintained it, and the impossibility of improvising any equivalent structure in its place. Then the fire masters its prey; the various parts of the labyrinth fall in one by one, the light goes out of them, and nothing is left but smoke and ashes.
Editor, The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, 1915-16: Documents Presented to Viscount Grey of Fallodon, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, by Viscount Bryce, with a Preface by Viscount Bryce, Hodder & Stoughton and His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1916, online here
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.
YouTube blurb by Thomas Andrenyi (my links):
“1 Taormina – Ricordo
2 Gustav Klimt – Theater in Taormina, 1886-88, 750 x 400 cm, Burgtheater, Vienna, Austria
3 Taormina – Mappa
4 Taormina – Baedecker 1912
5 Teatro Greco – Wilhelm v Gloeden
6 Entrata di Villa Gloeden
7 Entrata di Villa Gloeden 1904 – Charles King Wood
8 Villa Falconara Duca di Bronte – F Galifi Crupi
9 Taormina – Vista dell’Etna – F Galifi Crupi
10 Grand Hotel Timeo – Giovanni Crupi
11 Vista dell’Etna
12 Taormina – 1920s
Arturo Toscanini conducts the Cantabile from the Overture to I vespri siciliani by Giuseppe Verdi, NBC Symphony Orchestra, 1942
Starting from the 19th century Taormina became a popular tourist resort in the whole Europe: people who spent vacation in Taormina include Oscar Wilde, Nicholas I of Russia, Goethe, Nietzsche, Richard Wagner and many others.
In the late 19th century Taormina gained further prominence as the place where Wilhelm von Gloeden worked most of his life as a photographer. Also credited for making Taormina popular was Otto Geleng, best known for his fine paintings, which he composed and painted in Italy but exhibited in Paris.
During the early 20th century the town became a colony of expatriate artists, writers, and intellectuals. DH Lawrence stayed here at the Fontana Vecchia from 1920 to 1922, and wrote a number of his poems, novels, short stories, and essays, and a travel book, Sea and Sardinia.
Thirty years later, from April 1950 through September 1951, the same villa was home to Truman Capote, who wrote of his stay in the essay Fontana Vecchia.
By this time Taormina had become ‘a polite synonym for Sodom’ as Harold Acton described it. Later, however, after the Second World War Acton was visiting Taormina with Evelyn Waugh and, coming upon a board advertising ‘Ye Olde English Teas’, he sighed and commented that Taormina was ‘now quite as boring as Bournemouth’.”
“He makes much of Atlas and Anteaus – the ‘Atlantean stance and the Antaean rebound’. Atlas has to hold up the weight of the Heavens upon his shoulders; Antaeus could not be defeated so long as he was able to evade his enemy’s grasp and touch the earth once again with his feet. Toynbee’s finds in these two contrary movements great meaning for the historical fate of civilizations responding to challenge. The danger of the Atlantean stance is to rigidify into ‘mimesis’ and obsession. The Antaean rebound enables new beginnings, the reappropriation of culture from the depths.”
Atlas’s crime had been an attempt to scale high Heaven; the punishment inflicted on him was to hold high Heaven up; and this was the stance in which the melancholy giant was eventually found by his visitor Hêrakles. In order to grasp the relation between an Atlantean stance and an Antaean rebound, we have to recognize that the Earth, off whose fostering breast a buoyant Antaeus was perpetually bouncing up like an india-rubber ball, and the Firmament whose dead weight was constantly pressing down upon the head and hands of an immobilized Atlas, are merely two different aspects of one and the same psychic continent as seen from opposite quarters of the spiritual compass. This depressing Firmament and refreshing Earth are, in psychic reality, identical. “The choice” between falling into an Atlantean stance and making an Antaean rebound is in truth “fundamentally a question of attitude”.
No footnote to the last phrase, but it is from
Baynes, H. G.: Mythology of the Soul (London 1940, Baillière, Tindall & Cox; 1949, Methuen) [...].
Toynbee, as we know, mistrusts renaissances, using words such as “mimesis”, “necromancy”, “archaism”, and is sometimes reluctant to see them as themselves Antaean.
The Hapsburg stance was Atlantaean:
The Danubian Hapsburg Monarchy had been called into existence after the collapse of the Kingdom of Hungary in A.D. 1526 to serve as a carapace for protecting the south-eastern land-frontier of the Western World against Ottoman aggression [...]; a union of the remnant of Hungary with the lands of the Bohemian Crown and with the hereditary dominions of the House of Hapsburg proved to be a sufficient mobilization of Western strength to prevent the ʿOsmanlis from making further continental conquests at Western expense; and the rest of the Western World therefore left it to the Danubian Hapsburg Monarchy to perform this public service for the Western common weal, without acknowledging its obligation to the Monarchy by submitting to the hegemony of a Caesarea Maiestas whose suzerainty, even within the limits of the Holy Roman Empire, had never been more than nominal, outside the frontiers of the hereditary dominions of the imperial house of the day, since “the Great Interregnum” (vacabat A.D. 1254-73).
The role of unprofitable servants, who had done that which it was their duty to do, without having earned thereby any claim to recognition or reward (Luke xvii. 7-10), was naturally resented by the Hapsburgs of the Danubian line when it was imposed upon them by their Western beneficiaries, and they expressed this resentment by making their weight felt in the interior of the Western World whenever any slackening of the pressure from their Ottoman adversaries gave them an opportunity to neglect their task of serving as wardens of the West’s anti-Ottoman marches. Such opportunities for occasional intervention in the domestic politics of the Western World were expended by the Danubian Hapsburg Power, with remarkable consistency, on Atlantean efforts to uphold lost causes. The ninety-years-long eclipse of the Ottoman Power from the death of Sultan Suleymān I in A.D. 1566 to the appointment of Mehmed Köprülü to be Grand Vezīr in A.D. 1656 – an eclipse that was only momentarily relieved by the meteoric career of Sultan Murād IV (imperabat A.D. 1623-40) – was spent by a Viennese Caesarea Maiestas in Counter-Reformational activities culminating in the Thirty Years’ War (gerebatur A.D. 1618-48). The temporary exhaustion of the Ottoman Power after the Great War of A.D. 1682-99 was taken by the Danubian Hapsburg Power as an opportunity for joining forces with the Netherlands and Great Britain in order to repress King Louis XIV of France for the benefit of British interests. The relief from Ottoman pressure after the collapse of the Ottoman Power in the Russo-Turkish War of A.D. 1768-74 tempted the Danubian Hapsburg Monarchy into committing itself to the forlorn hope of repressing the hydra-headed “Ideas of Seventeen Eighty-Nine”, which had no sooner been crushed in their first avatar in the form of a Napoleonic imperialism than they reasserted themselves in the form of a nineteenth-century Romantic Nationalism which the Danubian Hapsburg Monarchy was so far from being able to repress that it was first encircled and finally disrupted by it.
It is true that these Atlantean reactions to the raising of a ghost of a Roman Caesarea Maiestas at Vienna were not entirely unaccompanied by Antaean symptoms. The most lively of these was the role which Vienna came to play as a melting-pot for transforming Orthodox Christians or ex-Orthodox Christian Uniates into Westerners. An eloquent memorial of this Antaean activity was the Vienna telephone directory [...]; yet, when the history of the Danubian Hapsburg Monarchy from A.D. 1526 to A.D. 1918 is viewed as a whole in perspective, this Antaean twitch does not perceptibly relax the rigidity of the Monarchy’s Atlantean stance.
If one is speaking about immigration, the UK recently has been Antaean, Japan Atlantaean.
The Hapsburgs and the Ottomans (old post).
A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954
A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954 (footnote)
Gabriel Prokofiev, London-dwelling garage and classical composer, DJ, record producer, grandson of Sergei, slight Nigel Kennedy accent, has a good basic programme on BBC Radio 4 for a few more days about what happened to classical music in the twentieth century and why it became difficult and alienated people.
Johnson is good on Darmstadt orthodoxy and total serialism, on the audience as the class enemy, on serialism as a reaction to fascism, and on the USSR, where composers may, paradoxically, have had more freedom and at least retained their publics.
Hewett and Prokofiev make a connection between Paganini and Hendrix.
Goehr says that Darmstadt was particularly misguided in rejecting Dallapiccola and Britten. Why is Goehr not better known by now and not a grand old man? Is it his music?
Prokofiev’s conclusion: we now have so many possibilities, since we are free from the socio-political hangups of the post-1945 generation, that we can all look forward to a bright future. Or are too many possibilities the problem?
Henze would have said: stop worrying. This prolific composer who, nevertheless, could not think of writing a violin concerto without thinking about the entire tradition of violin concerti, every violin concerto ever written, and what it meant to be a German writing one now, told young composers to shake all that off and, still loving and studying the past, go ahead.
He trusted the globalised world to forge its own disciplines.
I find that I wrote to some friends on September 7 2006 an email headed The facelessness of Abbado and continuing
“… is a myth. There’s an immediately recognisable Abbado sound: a spray or zest which flies out of the pit.
It isn’t like Karajan’s smooth sound, and Rattle doesn’t have a sound with them, only an over-careful attention to dynamics.
There is nostalgia in Berlin for Abbado and a suspicion that Rattle is somehow empty. Or is it Rattle criticism that’s empty? Vide current articles by the Lebrechts, even in Germany, which share the tone, if they can’t rival the triviality, of restive talk about our prime minister.
The Phil was on pretty good form under Sir (as the Germans invariably call him) Simon with their Bruckner 7. You could have mistaken his performance for Furtwängler. Even the patina of an old recording seemed to be there. It was the same ensemble. (Furtwängler, whom Rattle’s only rival in Germany, Thielemann in Munich, more consciously imitates.) Only the light and shade told you it was Rattle.
Up with Abbado. Karajan was Karajan and at his best in London, not Berlin. F was unsurpassable except when classical values were called for, which is why I have issues even with his sometimes hysterical Brahms. And Rattle’s crisis in music making is part of a more general one which doesn’t really exist, but is mainly a crisis of the auditor. So two and a half cheers for Sir Simon.”
I ran into Menuhin at Davos in 1997 and ’98. I’m sure he was there from ’93 to ’96. Why did I never meet him then?
In 1997 he presided over one of the small dinners which required one to sign up. Sixteen or eighteen people, including me, waited for him around a square table in a wood-panelled room on the ground floor of the dowdy Kongress Hotel, next to the Congress Centre. The session was called “Economics, the sacred and social wellbeing”.
He came in from the snow with his wife, gave his hat and coat to the porter, glanced at us and muttered, quietly but audibly, “I thought I was meeting people who could influence world opinion”. The pomposity seemed unMenuhinlike. But he settled down, sitting opposite me, and led a conversation at the table over the meal. He had just been in Poland with the Sinfonia Varsovia to record the complete Schubert symphonies and said what a pleasure that had been. A look of intense concentration would cross his face occasionally, but unaffectedly, and reminded one of the nobility, transcendence and force of his playing.
It was hard to do the math with Menuhin. He had known George Enescu and Adolf Busch. He had played under Elgar in London and in Paris and had seemed to rejuvenate the old composer. Had commissioned a solo sonata from Bartók. His early recordings of Sarasate, Bazzini, Kreisler, Rimsky-Korsakov, Wieniawski, Moszkowski seemed to come from old Europe, not from an American born in 1916.
With Britten, he had performed for the surviving inmates of Bergen-Belsen. Later that year he had paid his first visit to Russia, at the invitation of the Soviet government before the Iron Curtain had fully fallen, and begun his friendship with David Oistrakh. It was a life almost impossibly full of memories and memorabilia and he was conscious of its extraordinariness. And here he was, only eighty years old.
The next morning, on the Davos Promenade, someone trotted up behind me and said: “Mr Derrick! You saved the evening.” It was Menuhin’s amanuensis. I can’t remember his name. I must have looked surprised. I can’t now, and could hardly then, remember anything I had said. “You certainly broke the ice. Lady Menuhin would like to send you her book and I am sure they would like to see you in London.”
She had probably said to him: “Really, Yehudi, you weren’t exactly charming when you came in.” I said I’d be delighted to meet her. She had been wonderful at the dinner: funny and outspoken, so outspoken at times as to be a bit embarrassing, like Pauline Strauss or Susana Walton.
“She is not well today, and is in bed.” But I took their London number and later that day an inscribed copy of Diana Gould’s, Lady Menuhin’s, A Glimpse of Olympus arrived at my hotel.
It was difficult to grasp that I was living in the same city as them and within walking distance. Diana Gould, four years older than Yehudi, had been a dancer. She had studied with Lubov Egorova in Paris and Marie Rambert in London. Diaghilev spotted her and invited her to join his Ballets Russes (in Paris), but he died before it could happen. She was then engaged to dance with Anna Pavlova’s troupe in London, but she also died. I presume the company was dissolved. She continued to dance at Rambert’s Ballet Club and created roles there with Frederick Ashton.
She danced in Max Reinhardt’s production of The Miracle at the Lyceum in 1932 and with George Balanchine’s Les ballets 1933 in London and Paris. She declined Balanchine’s offer to join his school in the US, which became the New York City Ballet. “Longing to say yes, but young and frightened at such a great leap into what might be the dark, this idiotic English virgin [...] said no.” (A Glimpse of Olympus.)
She also worked for a time with the Alicia Markova- Anton Dolin company in London. She acted in theatre. During the war she was the leading dancer of the Arts Theatre Ballet and prima ballerina of Jay Pomeroy’s Russian Opera and Ballet Company at the Cambridge Theatre. From 1944 to ’46 she acted, danced and sang the role of Frou Frou in The Merry Widow in London and on an ENSA tour in Egypt and Italy. She married Menuhin in 1947, after he had divorced his Australian wife Nola.
She was described by Anna Pavlova as the only English dancer she had seen who “had a soul”, by Arnold Haskell as “the most musical young dancer the English dance has produced”, and by herself as “the awfully frank and frankly awful Diana”. (Wikipedia, first and last; Guardian.)
A Glimpse of Olympus appeared in 1996 and was about her own life. There had been an earlier memoir, in 1984, Fiddler’s Moll.
She threw herself into Menuhin’s life, but sometimes felt an “agonising nostalgia” for her years in the ballet. “He cannot fight for himself.” His memoirs speak of her “grace, intelligence, ardour, vitality and depth of feeling”. “It is a joy, a comfort and an inspiration to know beauty in many different forms: the sound of a violin, the objects around one, above all the beauty of one’s wife.” (Telegraph, first two and last; Guardian.)
Unsympathetic ears can find the Menuhin sound harsh on occasion, like Callas’s voice. As his technique declined, there were no doubt some scratchy performances. His commanding playing of the Chaconne from the second Bach Partita might be too emotional and subjective for some Bach tastes (not for mine).
Michael Kennedy, DNB: “His technique was often suspect mainly because of a weakness of his bowing arm, causing the bow to ‘stutter’ on the strings. He traced the fault to his studies with Adolf Busch: ‘If you look at the old photographs, the position of the bow arm is absolutely atrocious – the high elbow with a pressure exerted through the first finger and hence the lack of a proper balance in the bow. The trouble is I played too well. I never studied with a pedagogue like Carl Flesch.’ [...] Whatever imperfections there may have been in his technique on occasions, [...] at its best his playing had a seraphic spiritual quality which seemed to come from some supernatural source.”
Enesco and Dinu Lipatti were for him manifestations of a “spiritual realm, impregnable in its resistance to [...] pain and suffering”. (Foreword to Dragos Tanaescu, Grigore Bargauanu, Lipatti, English edition, London, Kahn and Averill, 1988.)
I called 65 Chester Square on returning to London. Menuhin picked up the phone. “Oh yes, yes …” The call wasn’t awkward, but, of course, it led to nothing. I had thanked his wife at Davos with a note, but why didn’t I ask to speak to her?
Menuhin had a feeling for England and he became a British citizen. His relationship with English music – Elgar, Delius, Vaughan Williams, Walton, Tippett, Britten – is a subject by itself. He was a fine Elgar conductor as well as player. Delius must have heard of Menuhin, because when Elgar flew to Paris in the early summer of 1933 to conduct Menuhin in his concerto in the Salle Pleyel, he also took a taxi to Grez to spend an afternoon with the blind composer. Eric Fenby was away, but decades later, Menuhin recorded the three Delius sonatas with Fenby accompanying. (Delius had completed the third of them in 1930 with Fenby’s help.) He also recorded Delius’s concerto, and, with Paul Tortelier, the double concerto. Menuhin discography (covers him as performer, not conductor).
He took up conducting as director of the Bath Festival (1958-68). In the ’80s, he began to withdraw as a soloist and to conduct more. His last appearance as a violinist was at the Gstaad Festival in 1996. His style as conductor was swift, intuitive, poetic, the results notably unportentous. He recorded a Beethoven cycle with the Sinfonia Varsovia. I found myself missing something weightier and more ernst in the fifth.
Menuhin was indiscriminately generous in his views on many people and liberal in his views on social matters. Hard as he worked, he was fond of saying that one did not always need to be doing something: he knew the benefits of idleness. For all his new-age diet and his yoga, he knew the value of comfort and safety. In the last part of his life he had houses in Belgravia and Gstaad and on Mykonos. He could be vain.
Michael Kennedy in DNB: “In New Zealand [in 1951] Menuhin read a book about yoga, which he practised for the rest of his life. He learned more about it when he toured India in March 1952. After discussing it with the Indian prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, he was challenged to stand on his head in full evening dress at a state reception. He did so, whereupon Nehru followed suit. He also formed a firm friendship with the great sitar player Ravi Shankar. Thereafter he was an enthusiast for Indian music and played in partnership with Shankar, just as some years later he played violin duos with the jazz virtuoso Stéphane Grappelli.”
The Nehru challenge would have made a good Davos moment. Menuhin was often or always at Davos with Shankar.
“The performing artist continually reviews the hours, days and weeks preceding a performance, charting the many elements that will release his potential – or put a brake upon it. He knows that when his body is exercised, his blood circulating, his stomach light, his mind clear, the music ringing in his heart, his violin clean and polished, its strings in good order, the bow hair full and evenly spread, then – but then only – he is in command. But neglect of the least of these elements must gnaw his conscience. The audience, even the critic, may not suspect his troubled conscience, or may ascribe a blemish to an irrelevant cause, all unaware of the player’s silent admission of insufficiency, his self-disgust, his begging to be given another chance. Even if no fault is noted, the audience’s plaudits, their stamping and standing, are of no comfort to him then.
“So a violinist (like any other artist) lives in training. He makes his body his vocation. His stance must be erect yet supple so that, like a graceful reed, he may wave with the breeze and yet remain perfectly aligned from head through spine to feet. He is a living structure stretched between the magnets of sun and earth.” (Unfinished Journey.)
Some of these may have come back, but after Menuhin died, the WEF became more celebrity-conscious than it had been before (Bono, Hollywood). The celebs jumped on the bandwagon. This year, Gergiev was there, but, one feels, partly as a brand and star.
There was another dinner in 1998. His wife, increasingly bedridden, wasn’t in Davos. Somebody said after it that his relation to the discussion was that of a soloist with an ensemble, coming forward, picking up the argument, withdrawing. He said at one stage: “Of course this [life] isn’t everything.”
No dinner in ’99, or none that I got to, but he conducted a closing concert in the Sanada room, the first Menuhin Davos concert I’d been aware of. I think a Rossini overture, a Mozart violin concerto and Mendelssohn’s Italian symphony. I don’t have programmes for ’98/’99 and can’t remember who the players were. He came to the back of the room between bows at the end, arms swinging in fatigue. (I remember swinging arms the last time I saw another immigrant Jew married to an English Diana: Fred Uhlman.)
It was one of the last concerts of a performing career that had begun in San Francisco seventy-six years earlier. Six weeks later he died in a Berlin hospital, having written from his bed a letter on some social matter to a policy-maker and world opinion-influencer, Gordon Brown. His wife died four years later.
I was riveted by at least one Menuhin recording before I could read, a ten-inch EP of Bach and Handel: the double concerto with Gioconda de Vito and the Philharmonia Orchestra under Anthony Bernard, and the second trio sonata in Handel’s opus 5, in D, with Menuhin, John Shinebourne and George Malcolm. It’s considered a rare record. I’m told that I listened to it “very quietly and intently” at the age of three. The performance style is old-fashioned. Are there really only three players in the Handel? YouTube has the first movement of each piece:
Elgar, Menuhin, Albert Hall, November 20 1932; Menuhin is glancing towards Beecham, who conducted him before the interval in Bach and Mozart; Elgar took over in the second half in the second of his three Menuhin collaborations:
We have heard a piece of choral music which he composed there.
On the way to Davos, in Berlin in the same month, he composed this:
Chamber Orchestra Kremlin, Misha Rachlevsky, Rachmaninov Hall of the Moscow Conservatory, September 2008
Tchaikovsky left Saint Petersburg for Davos on 1/13 November. He stopped in Berlin for four days. There, on 6/18 November, the piece was completed (according to the date on the manuscript).
He called it A Grateful Greeting. It had been commissioned by the Moscow Society of Artists as part of a tribute to an actor and director, Ivan Samarin.
On 7/19 November 1884, he wrote from Munich to his brother Modest: “I stayed so long in Berlin, because I needed to be able to compose quickly [...] an entr’acte for the Samarin production. The latter has been done and dispatched.”
He saw Weber’s Oberon there which, to his surprise, he enjoyed.
Tchaikovsky-research.net has details of all Tchaikovsky’s travels. One could write an essay called Tchaikovsky’s hotels.
A little of the ethos of those hotels lingered in 2006, when I was last there, at the Schatzalp in Davos, with its soup at mealtimes, its Tauchnitz library, its regular hours, its airy and austere rooms. I think they were still keeping your napkin for you from meal to meal. The few WEF participants who stayed there dimly suggested the international society which gathered in Swiss hotels in the belle époque.
Foreboding at Vevey (old post).
The Schatzalp was not the unnamed Davos hotel which Tchaikovsky visited. Nor, though it started as a sanatorium, was it the one where Yosif Kotek, his tubercular friend, whom he was visiting, was staying.
The first performance of the Samarin piece was conducted by Ippolit Altani at Samarin’s jubilee concert at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow on 16/28 December, under its original title, A Grateful Greeting.
Samarin died in the following year. Tchaikovsky published the piece in 1890 with the title Elegy and dedication In Memory of I.V. Samarin and used it as the entr’acte preceding Act IV in his music for a production of Hamlet at the Mariinskii Theatre in 1891.
There are other versions on YouTube, with the USSR Symphony Orchestra and Svetlanov, with the Academia de Muzică, Teatru și Arte Plastice of Chișinău and Patrick Strub, and with the Novosibirsk Philharmonic and Thomas Sanderling. There is also the complete Hamlet music with the Russian National Orchestra and Pletnev. (Or nearly compete. Didn’t it have a soprano song?)
Elegies belong to strings. Fauré’s and Elgar’s were for strings. Grieg wrote Two Elegiac Melodies for Strings. Stravinsky wrote one for solo viola. Tchaikovsky’s other elegy for strings is the third movement of the 1880 Serenade.
There are really two Tchaikovsky winter symphonies: the first, which I posted recently, and Manfred. The marking lugubre occurs in both. The finale of the first begins with an andante lugubre. Manfred begins with a lento lugubre. For me, Manfred is, on the evidence of Svetlanov’s reading, Tchaikovsky’s greatest orchestral composition. That is a controversial view. He wrote it at the same time as Brahms was writing his greatest, the fourth symphony.
Poulenc composed much of the Dialogues des carmélites at the Majestic Hotel in Cannes in the ’50s and talks on film somewhere about a cycle of working in his room and going down to the bar and going back to work.
From Davos Tchaikovsky travelled to Paris and thence, in December, back to Russia.
I suppose the French attitude on this is the equivalent of their secularism. Gopnik is worth reading. Avoid any in the series by that dreary faux-intellectual Will Self, unless you want to be depressed.
Music from Chopin’s second piano concerto, performers not stated.
Was he working in 1915? Like Balzac (post here), Rodin married in the year he died.
“The footage was taken in 1915, two years before Rodin’s death. There are several sequences. The first shows the artist at the columned entrance to an unidentified structure, followed by a brief shot of him posing in a garden somewhere. The rest of the film [...] was clearly shot at the palatial, but dilapidated, Hôtel Biron, which Rodin was using as a studio and second home.
“The mansion was built as a private residence in the early 18th century, and served as a Catholic school for girls from 1820 until about 1904, when it became illegal for public money to be used for religious education. When the last of the nuns cleared out, the rooms of the Hôtel Biron were rented out to a diverse group of people that included some notable artists: Jean Cocteau, Isadora Duncan, Henri Matisse and Rainer Maria Rilke, who served for a time as Rodin’s secretary. It was Rilke’s wife, the sculptor Clara Westhoff Rilke, who first told Rodin about the place in 1909.
“Rodin first rented four rooms on the main floor, but was alarmed when he learned of plans to sell the property off in pieces to developers. So he made a deal with the government: In exchange for bequeathing all his works to the French state, the sculptor was allowed to occupy the mansion for the rest of his life, and after he died, the estate would become the Musée Rodin.
“By the time actor Sacha Guitry and his cameraman arrived [...], Rodin was the sole occupant of the Hôtel Biron. The film shows the 74-year-old artist walking down the weed-covered steps of the mansion and working inside, chipping away at a marble statue with a hammer and chisel. When Rodin was asked once about how he created his statues, he said, ‘I choose a block of marble and chop off whatever I don’t need.’”
Rodin photographed by Charles Hippolyte Aubry circa 1862