See Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944) and others.
My grandfather was fond of saying that Tenniel’s illustrations for Alice were the best ever made for a book, or books.
The nineteenth century (old post)
Archive for the 'Family' Category
Have only just noticed this letter, dated August 18 1939, by Arthur Rackham to George Clausen, my great-grandfather. It might have been the last Rackham ever wrote.
Rackham was at his house, Stilegate, at Limpsfield, Surrey, Clausen at 61 Carlton Hill in St John’s Wood.
“The times are tragic. [...] I feel overwhelmingly for our young people, who can see nothing in front of them. We thought, we late Victorians, that we had got past all such criminal folly & expected that those after us would have finer & wiser lives than we had had. And now! … If by any good fortune we did tide over without a hideous conflagration there is one thing that seems more and more ‘in the air’ – the realisation that the supremacy of the machine, which is rapidly making robots of humanity, must be faced. And the machine must be put in its place as a servant to do the servile work only, freeing humanity to exercise its birthright of imaginative creative work. One hardly takes up a thoughtful journal without seeing that the danger is at last recognised. That, I think, is the main charge to be laid against the wonderful Victorian days – when the world was so elated at ‘conquest of nature &c’ that it was not seen [sic] [my bracket] what the penalty must inevitably be of this eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
“Art may indeed be under a cloud. But if it is not the spirit of the Creator working in us I do not know what it is. And it cannot be eternally killed.”
Quoted in James Hamilton, Arthur Rackham, A Life with Illustration, Pavilion Books, 1990. The book is beautifully produced, but calls Clausen President of the Royal Academy: he was never that and can hardly have been at the age of eighty-seven.
Rackham died less than three weeks later, three days after the declaration of war.
See comments after these posts:
Brünnhilde throws herself on the flames in Rackham, Siegfried and The Twilight of the Gods by Richard Wagner (1911)
This volume followed The Rhinegold and The Valkyrie by Richard Wagner (1910).
Schlagobers. Whipped Cream. Performers not stated. There haven’t been many.
Strauss wrote this two-act ballet in 1921-22, at the beginning of the so-called fallow years which followed Die Frau ohne Schatten and ended with Daphne.
The only complete recording I have ever heard of is from the ’80s. Hiroshi Wakasugi, Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra.
A Straussian, in charitable mood, can defend even Schlagobers if he doesn’t know the story. One can enjoy a failure. Even Strauss’s longueurs are for connoisseurs. But a failure it is.
Premiere: Vienna State Opera, May 9 1924. Later that year would come his first postwar opera, Intermezzo, premiered in Dresden. Strauss was co-director of the Vienna Staatsoper with Franz Schalk from 1919 until 1924.
Choreography: Heinrich Kröller.
Characters: Die Prinzessin Pralinée – Fürst Nicolo, ihr Hofmarschall – Prinzessin Teeblüte – Prinz Kaffee – Prinz Kakao – Don Zuckero – Mademoiselle Marianne Chartreuse – Ladislaw Slivowitz – Boris Wutki – Firmlinge mit ihren Paten – Arzt – Knallbonbons – kleine Pralinées – Quittenwürstchen – 4 Herolde mit Trompeten – Chor der Marzipane, Lebkuchen und Zwetschgenmänner – Orientalische Magier – Gugelhupfe – Weihnachtsstollen – Schillerlocken – Schmalznudeln – Kaffeestriezel – Schlagobers.
The extravagance of the production – it cost four billion Kronen, a contemporaneous new staging of Rienzi allegedly only two hundred million, but during hyperinflation, do such comparisons mean anything? – led to it being dubbed, at a time of food-shortages, the Milliardenballett. Strauss, lamely: “I cannot bear the tragedy of the present time. I want to create joy.”
Story: I believe Strauss’s wife Pauline had something to do with it. A group of children celebrate their confirmation by visiting a Konditorei. The confections come to life, with marzipan marches and cocoa dances. Having overindulged, one of the boys becomes ill and goes to hospital, where he has hallucinations concerning a rebellion against Princess Pralinée and her court led by lowlier creations such as Gugelhupfe.
A contemporary illustration shows the riot pacified by an oversized barrel of Hofbräu beer. At one stage Strauss planned a Revolution Polka led by Jewish matzos, who were going to wave red banners above the proletarian cakes.
Marianne Chartreuse, Ladislaw Slivovitz and Boris Wutki form an amorous trio. I am not sure whether it is Ladislaw or Boris who gets Marianne, but the original intention was to have a German, Michel Schnapps, winning her hand as a symbol of reconciliation, or even of a resurgent Germany. This was taken out after the Occupation of the Ruhr (1923-25).
We have here Tanz der Kakao; Tanz des Zuckers; Reigen (round dances) von Zucker, Kaffee und Kakao; and Schlagoberswalzer. The orchestra isn’t bad, but we need just a bit more character in the playing. The second half of the first minute of the Tanz der Kakao seems to look forward to the late concerti.
The Viennese can’t dance. Or rather, their abilities go as far as the waltz. The anyway undancerly Schlagobers has rarely or never been revived. Strauss’s Diaghilev ballet, Josephslegende (Paris Opera, May 14 1914), had been somewhat more successful, even though “the chaste Joseph isn’t at all up my street, and if a thing bores me I find it difficult to set it to music”.
If the Schlagobers plot reminds you of The Nutcracker, it is worth remembering the almost incredible fact that Tchaikovsky’s ballet had still not been performed in the West. (The first performance outside Russia was in Budapest in 1927, of an abridged version. The first complete performance was in London in 1934.) There is nothing Tchaikovskyan in Richard Strauss, but you can find the influence of The Nutcracker in more than one work by Ravel.
Alex Ross surely makes too much of the relationship between Mahler and Strauss in The Rest Is Noise. It seems to me, at least, a matter of almost no significance. I love AR’s quiet journalism, and have a few quibbles with the book.
While on this Schlag theme, one of my mother’s schoolteachers during the War described Strauss’s songs, a little contemptuously, as Edelschlager.
Charles XII [...] defiantly courted death in the trenches before Frederiksten in A.D. 1719 [...].
He was invading Norway – and died in 1718, not ’19. Denmark-Norway was one of Russia’s allies in the Great Northern War of 1700-21 (Sweden and others vs Russia and others).
Charles had already led Sweden to its major defeat by Russia in the Battle of Poltava (Russian Empire territory in the Ukraine) in 1709. This was the occasion on which the Dniepr Cossack Mazeppa, who been helping the Russians to suppress a rebellion of the Don Cossacks, unwisely switched sides and supported Sweden.
Peter the Great’s callow peasant army had won its spurs in A.D. 1709 at Poltava, in the Ukraine, against Charles XII’s far-ranging Swedes [...].
The Battle of Poltava, orchestral passage in Tchaikovsky’s Mazeppa; the opera is after Pushkin’s narrative poem Poltava, which was an answer to Byron’s Mazeppa; performers not stated
With peace in 1721, Protestant Sweden and Catholic Poland-Lithuania (1385-1795) ceased to be major powers. Russia gained its Baltic territories and became the greatest power in Eastern Europe.
Voltaire published his Histoire de Charles XII in 1731. Charles ought to have been a hero in Cold-War America.
Between A.D. 1494 and A.D. 1952 the only other actor of a leading part in the Western power game who had lost his life in battle had been one of Charles XII’s predecessors on the throne of Sweden, Gustavus Adolphus. Napoleon, like Francis I, had died in his bed; Hitler had died in his bunker.
The great-power century for Sweden had begun with Gustavus Adolphus. He died in 1632 at the Battle of Lützen in Saxony, near Leipzig, during the Thirty Years’ War (Sweden and others vs Holy Roman Empire and Spain).
For Toynbee, 1494, the date of Francis I’s invasion of Italy, was the beginning of modern international power relations in Europe: the age which ended in 1945.
A Swedish militarism that had been rampant since Gustavus Adolphus (regnabat A.D. 1611-32) had disembarked his expeditionary force on German soil on the 27-28th June, 1630, had been extinguished by a subsequent and consequent Swedish experience of being bled white by Charles XII (regnabat A.D. 1697-1718).
Gustavus Adolphus was a hero in Protestant Germany. My grandfather had an engraving of him hanging in the hall of his house in Baden-Württemberg.
Gustavus Adolphus in a Polish coat, Matthäus Merian the Elder, 1632, Skokloster Castle, Stockholm
Charles XII, David von Krafft workshop or circle, 1724 (posthumous), location?
A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954 (passages not contiguous)
A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954 (footnote) (third extract)
1959. CBC source. Russell’s essay Why I Am Not a Christian had been published in 1927 and had originally been a talk given on March 6 that year at Battersea Town Hall under the auspices of the South London Branch of the National Secular Society.
One Sunday morning (I’m told), when I was a young boy, and at about the time of this interview, my parents pointed out to me, as he walked on the edge of Richmond Green, a “very famous person”.
A few feet away was a godson of John Stuart Mill and a man whose grandfather, the prime minister, had visited Napoleon on Elba and whose maternal grandmother had been a friend of the widow of the Young Pretender.
“The mind refers naturally to the beauty of the great elementary things – the sky, the sunshine, and the hills, rivers, fields, and trees; and in people to those things which suggest beauty, activity, and health. We all have a longing for the perfect things.”
George Clausen, from Taste, in Aims and Ideals in Art, second series of Royal Academy lectures, Methuen, 1906.
Thomas Derrick’s career changed abruptly in 1931. He became a cartoonist. There are no Derrick cartoons before 1931. He didn’t cease to be an illustrator, but he began to do something new. I am not sure what brought about the change. School fees and family commitments, no doubt, though the former I believe were paid by George Clausen. Perhaps it was his reaction to the newly-urgent Zeitgeist of 1931. His figures, which had been so static in his early work, suddenly sprang to life.
There is a tendency now towards joyfulness, levity. Punch is shown off the ground: leaping with the spring lambs, on horseback slaying the devil, up a ladder picking apples, hovering over the Christmas tree, lighting the street lamp, sleigh-riding down the beam of a searchlight, soaring through the air on skis, jumping over barbed wire, skipping up the steps of an air raid shelter, always with Toby in gleeful train.
In the colour Punch drawing called Interlude the riotous god of the woods, fields and mountains abducts two servile victims of the bureaucratic state, working listlessly at their desks – and returns them refreshed to their duties.
Underneath everything there is a riot. Pan’s sportive spirit has been exiled in the Industrial Age, but lives beneath its surface, and may return to haunt and subvert it.
Years ago, I asked some friends in different parts of the world what they thought of the painting at the top, which is called A Woman of the Fields. I didn’t load the question by asking: “What nationality is the woman?”, but they knew the painting was English.
An Englishman said: “She’s not English. She’s certainly French! Look at the face, headdress and shawl.”
A Brazilian emailed: “That doesn’t look English. It is very interesting. I could swear that that woman was a Latin American.” I suppose he meant Amerindian.
A Scot called it a “moving portrait”. He didn’t say: “She’s obviously Scottish”, despite the hint of tartan.
An Egyptian emailed: “That woman looks really like an Egyptian country woman … so strange!”
I haven’t posed the question to a French Algerian friend, but he would surely have said: “She looks like a Berber woman.”
His own grandmother (last picture above) even resembles her.
My mother, who comes from south Germany, emailed: “A Woman of the Fields could most certainly have lived on the Swabian Alb – right up to the time after the war. I have always felt that I know this woman.”
(I know what she means. There’s that Swabian display of folded hands. Veined obduracy. I can even remember peasants in this part of Germany.)
The last painting above (the oil version, not this engraving) was being sold several years ago as a poster by an Australian company which described it, plausibly, but completely inaccurately, as a piece of old Australiana.
Actually, she was an English farm hand.
The paintings are by an English artist called George Clausen, my great-grandfather. Why isn’t he better known? His career was long (seventy years, from the 1870s to the 1940s) and his style evolved continuously. This is discouraging to critics. The quality of his work was uneven, though there are good pieces from every phase. His paintings were quiet and he was personally modest. And there has never been a proper book about him, though Kenneth McConkey, the main living expert on late Victorian and Edwardian painting, is writing one which will be published later this year or in 2013, I hope by Yale. (Kenneth wrote an important catalogue for a Clausen exhibition at the Royal Academy and elsewhere in 1980.)
It has been fun to do some dilettante research of one’s own while in the unusual position (despite Kenneth’s work) of having a subject even somewhat to oneself.
Clausen’s early work has always been admired, especially paintings of the 1880s, but some of the later pieces, until recently, were undervalued. Good work could be bought cheaply.
Van Gogh knew about and admired Clausen, at a time when Clausen could not have heard of Van Gogh. He sends Theo a Clausen print. “Here at last you have something of English art.”
The paintings, from top to bottom, (they all expand) are:
A Woman of the Fields, also known as A Field Hand (1884)
A Moment’s Rest (1882)
December (1882); the workers are topping and tailing turnips for sheep fodder
Day Dreams (1883)
Flora, The Gypsy Flower Seller (1883); she reminds me a little of Picasso’s La Célestine (1904)
Winter Work (1883-4); the girl was painted in after the canvas was finished
Labourers – After Dinner (RA 1884); after the oil painting; The Magazine of Art (check issue and date); scan used with permission of Heritage Images
and at the end of the post
A Field Gang (1883)
and a plate in the possession of the Royal Photographic Society and exposed before April 1884, which shows the same woman cutting a turnip.
She probably appears in some other pictures from the same period.
Clausen painted these pictures at Childwick Green, near Childwickbury, in Hertfordshire. He had studied in London, and then briefly in Belgium, Holland and France. At the end of 1881, he moved to Childwick Green. Between 1882 and 1884 some of his work had a brutal realism which shocked the academicians. He had discovered the work of the French naturalist Jules Bastien-Lepage at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1880 and became his main English champion. But A Woman of the Fields goes beyond Bastien in realism.
He had been exhibiting at the Royal Academy since 1876. Of the pictures here, only Labourers – After Dinner was shown there.
A Woman of the Fields was shown at Coutts Lindsay’s Grosvenor Gallery. She was originally called A Field Hand, and the sexlessness of that title must have made the image seem even more disconcerting. Not all Clausen’s paintings of those years were as stark as these. Clausen’s most Bastien-like images were actually done towards the end of the 1880s.
Labourers – After Dinner had the naturalism of A Woman of the Fields, but on a much larger scale. It seemed uncouth. For George Moore and others, it was an entirely inartistic realism, without fantasy or imagination. Leighton must have hated it, though he later became an admirer of Clausen.
Clausen’s 1885 Royal Academy picture was a portrait called An Old Woodman. He then became a founding member, in 1885-6, with Sargent, Steer and others, of the New English Art Club and was absent from the Academy until 1891.
This was the English Secession, though it isn’t called that. Secessions were withdrawals from official academies: independent exhibiting societies, anti-academic, and international in outlook. The Vienna Secession was a seed of extremely radical, but also particularly coherent, thinking about art. It’s hard to call the earlier New English Art Club seminal, though it absorbed and then rejected more radical elements, led by Sickert. But it was a secession.
It is also a mistake to think of the three great secessions in the German-speaking world in the 1890s – Munich 1892, Vienna 1897, Berlin 1898 – as being entirely about avant-garde work. But what a resonance that word Secession has! Clausen himself exhibited at least in Munich.
(Some of the tenets of the Viennese, such as a refusal to make distinctions between art and craft, or high art and low art, or art and life, or art for the rich and art for the poor, had long been explicit or implicit in the thinking of the leaders of the Arts and Crafts movement in England and elsewhere. And in the particular area of reform of the applied arts, we were first. The refusal to distinguish between art and life could lead one, depending on one’s inclination, into the purest aestheticism and the most engaged socialism.)
Since Moore – garrulous Irish literary figure on the London art scene, as Shaw was on the musical one – is remembered now as a follower of Zola and the writer of the first naturalist novels in English (the first, A Modern Lover, appeared in 1883), he might have been expected to approve of Clausen at his most photo-realistic: but he didn’t. He was too strongly connected with the French impressionists. But after Clausen’s style changed in the ’90s, he became an admirer, and spoke about him with real warmth. Perhaps he had approved of a few earlier pieces as well, I’m not sure.
On August 7 1886, after the first New English Art Club exhibition, Clausen, Walter Crane and Holman Hunt wrote a letter to The Times advocating reform of the Royal Academy. The painter Luke Fildes read it and wrote to his brother-in-law Henry Woods, who was working in Venice:
“I suppose you have read the correspondence and articles this last two weeks in the ‘Times’ about the R.A. I am confidentially informed we are all to be done away with. Messrs. Crane, Clausen and Holman Hunt have appealed to give us another chance, but I believe they are very firm, and though they admit they have no personal objection to some of the Academicians, being personal friends of theirs, still they will not raise their hands to stem the torrent of indignation that is sweeping us away […].”
To which Woods replied:
“My God! When I think whilst I have been sweating and trying to work out here, my Academy has been, and is, in danger still, bombarded with rotten eggs. An imitator of the newest French fakements, and painter of corns and dirty nails, a purveyor of affected muck for infant snobs, and worst of all, the painter of the Flight into Egypt. I wonder who has stirred up all this?”
From LV Fildes, Luke Fildes, RA, A Victorian Painter, Michael Joseph, 1968. No dates given. One would like more of this! They sound like a particular pair of stuffed dermots, though Fildes at least had a social conscience. His most famous painting, The Doctor (1891), reminds one of Picasso’s Science and Charity (1897).
The “purveyor of affected muck for infant snobs” was obviously Crane. Clausen was the “imitator of the newest French fakements, and painter of corns and dirty nails”. Holman Hunt’s offence, I assume, had been to apply excessive naturalism to religious subjects.
In 1945, F Gordon Roe wrote in an obituary of Clausen in The Old Water-Colour Society’s Club 23rd Annual Volume: “I look back to days when George Clausen was still regarded by some as a dangerous innovator. It seemed that he broke all the rules. He had ‘no idea of a subject’. He just looked out of window [sic: old locution] and painted whatever he saw there. He has painted young peasant-women with grimy finger nails – this seemed very important [...].”
Caravaggio, who had so shocked his contemporaries with the dirty finger-nails of his Bacchus and the dirty soles of the pilgrim in the Madonna of Loreto, might as well not have lived. And, of course, Caravaggio had almost no reputation among the Victorians. He was a long way from pre-Raphaelite. Clausen’s Royal Academy lectures (delivered 1904-6 and 1913) contained lessons for students from the old masters (they were much admired by EH Gombrich), but in nearly 400 pages Caravaggio gets not a single mention. Joshua Reynolds does not mention him either in his Seven Discourses on Art, delivered at the Royal Academy on its foundation. Yet you would have thought that the Caravaggio of the Cardsharps, especially, would have appealed to artists who were so smitten by Bastien-Lepage.
The grey chest hair of the main stonepicker (the same colour as the stones) in Clausen’s Stonepickers – Midday (watercolour, 1882, V&A) must have been as disconcerting as the corns and nails of the Woman of the Fields would be. Come to think of it, had grey chest hair ever been painted in art before? These pictures were literally not, to use a German word, salonfähig.
Joining the New English did not confirm Clausen in the brutal style of Labourers. After 1884, he sweetened his style overall, while coming even more strongly under Bastien’s influence. He took some of the criticism to heart. That may or may not have been to the long-term advantage of his art. With a young family to support, he no doubt wanted to sell more.
In 1885, he moved from Childwick (where all the pictures shown here were done) to Cookham Dean in Berkshire.
By 1890 he had started to feel that Bastien-influenced realism was a dead end. He returned to the Academy. The Mowers (RA 1892) introduced a new style. His figures came to life. Movement and light were brought into the pictures. Naturalism gave way to a modified impressionism, containing elements of Millet. Paintings were done or finished in the studio. Painting entirely out of doors had had to be done on grey days, when the light was constant. Posing figures had had to stand still.
New as The Mowers seemed, there is a watercolour sketch for it from as early as 1885. Clausen could experiment in watercolour with ideas that he did not yet dare to transfer to canvas.
George Moore was conscious by 1892 that Clausen was developing and Stanhope Forbes was not. He sighed with relief and looked back:
“Realism, that is to say the desire to compete with nature, to be nature, is the disease from which art has suffered most in the last twenty years. The disease is now at wane, and when we happen upon a canvas of the period like ‘Labourers after Dinner’, we cry out, ‘What madness! were we ever as mad as that?’” (Modern Painting, 1893).
In 1891 Clausen left Cookham (it was the year Stanley Spencer was born there) for Widdington in Essex. (Graves’s list of RA exhibitors does not show him in Widdington until 1893.)
He didn’t stop developing. After 1900, his figures are mainly elements in a landscape, rather than subjects in their own right. The last painting I can think of that shows any figures doing field work is Haymaking (RA 1921), and they are distant. At no point had he painted a flourishing countryside. I am not even sure that he tried to give the impression of one.
He was Professor of Painting at the Royal Academy from 1903 to ’06. For this he had to return to London. He bought a house at 61 Carlton Hill in St John’s Wood in the summer of 1905. That was his home until 1940, when he moved again, to live with my grandfather at Cold Ash in Berkshire. Between the wars he had a country house in Essex. “One day in 1917, when he was pushing his bicycle up Duton Hill, Clausen noticed that a house, then called Hillside, was for sale. Having recently sold some pictures to a Japanese client, he was sufficiently well off to purchase the house as a country retreat” (McConkey). Carlton Hill and Duton Hill passed to his children and were sold during or at the end of the war.
A kind of monumentality came into some of his work between about 1908 and 1918, though he had sought monumental effects in some pictures of the 1890s – and in general Clausen’s pictures are smaller in reality than we expect them to be from reproductions, sometimes disconcertingly so. In the 1920s, he became interested in early mornings. Often misty ones. He created what has been called an “Essex arcadia”. There were no cars in it and few people.
Then: “The new canvases of the ’thirties often show stormy skies, or clumps of trees in a midday sun” (McConkey).
The career of his son-in-law, Thomas Derrick, whom I have also introduced here in a small way, also changed abruptly. He became a cartoonist. There are no Derrick cartoons before 1931. He didn’t cease to be an illustrator, but he began to do something new. I am not sure what brought about the change. School fees and family commitments again, no doubt, though the former I believe were paid by Clausen. Perhaps it was his reaction to the newly-urgent Zeitgeist of 1931. His figures, which had been so static in his early work, suddenly sprang to life. Perhaps Clausen’s stormy skies were a similar reaction.
Clausen continued to send paintings to the Royal Academy until 1942. He died on November 22 1944.
I have shown some of his works in earlier posts; the images are not as high-resolution as here:
The Vendée, perhaps 1944.
Occupation. Maquisards. A countryside of shortages. A rite of passage.
“He had been lying there for two hours without sleeping, his eyes fixed on a corner of the room where the moon illuminated the whitewashed wall, a black frame that contained a print, the posts of his sister’s bed. He could discern his father’s snoring in the neighbouring room. He had intentionally chosen a market night, because on those days his father would drink a few glasses of white wine and be sleepy.
He got out of bed, dressed silently, his bare feet sticking to the coolness of the tiles. He knew well, by the quality of the silence, that his sister wasn’t asleep – he sensed her tense nerves. He could nearly have foretold at what moment, as he took a step, she would reveal her wakefulness.
‘Are you going there?’
It was hardly a whisper. The vibration of the syllables just reached him, and, shoes in his hands, he approached her bed, touched with his lips a forehead moist with her scent.
‘I think this is it,’ he breathed. ‘Tomorrow, you will tell them …’
How had she guessed? And he, on his side, for several days, had he not been sure that she knew? She’d never said anything. Besides, she worked all day long as a maid for the butcher and she didn’t even take meals with them. It had always been like that – they hardly spoke and she knew. Only with him. You had to believe that there was a link between them that didn’t exist between other humans.
She didn’t cry, didn’t give him any advice. He moved away, opened the door and continued to feel her open eyes turned toward him in the blackness of the room. He left by the courtyard, jumped the hedge at the bottom of the garden and crossed the wet fields behind the church. Far enough from the village, he put on his shoes and tied them.
He was very quiet. He had thought through these movements so often that he accomplished them mechanically. A thick moon swam in the sky. A layer of moisture spread across the meadows and fields.
In that way he covered two kilometres, close to the river, the point that he had decided, and there, in the hollow of a dead chestnut, he located the shotgun.
Would he be lucky? Would he have to do this again another two or three nights? His father’s gun [fusil], that he had taken fifteen days before without his knowledge [the text says déterré: would his father have buried it or is this metaphorical?], was perfectly clean, without a trace of rust. In each barrel was a cartridge of buckshot, and three more were in his pocket, within reach of his hand. But would he have time to reload? Better not to count on it.
He got to his lookout, the site he had prepared, behind the hedge. He saw the road that came up toward him from the bridge. And, on the tarmac he had taken the precaution, this very day, to make a mark in chalk. When the motorcycle arrived at this mark, not before, he had to fire.
Afterward, everything would be changed. Now, he was alone, he was nothing. He was, in the night, a boy of twenty with cold-numbed fingers. The air was so still that he could hear, at more than hundred metres, the whisper of the river where there was sometimes a slight plop. A water rat? A fish?
More than a week before, nine days, he had gone to find them, over there in the forest, a dozen kilometres away, where he knew that they hid. In the middle of the day. He had advanced, hands in pockets, throat tight. He had always expected to see the gleam of the barrel of a submachine-gun [mitraillette], but they let him get to the farm. A big guy wearing dungarees and clogs sat on the doorstep, playing with a child.
‘What do you want?’
‘To see the chief.’
‘Where are you from?’
He had named his village and told them that he worked as a cartwright, and from the back of the room some boys emerged, spread them themselves around and watched him.
‘Do you think we should wake him?’
He slept in the straw of the barn, the chief. He was a very young boy too, curly hair, blue eyes, with a blue sweater with narrow red stripes and sandals. A Parisian. A mechanic. Bristling with golden straw.
‘You are well kind, my boy. But what the hell do you want us to do with you? We have one rifle for four and a couple of clodhoppers for two …’
That phrase he repeated to himself all along his path back …
‘… one rifle for four and a couple of clodhoppers for two …’
And he had presented himself with empty hands! He was ashamed of it now, as if he had committed some faux pas with very high-class people. Was it perhaps the desire to erase that shame, even more than the need to no longer be alone, that enflamed him while he waited behind the hedge?
There had been nights when, from his bed, he had heard motorcycles passing at all hours. Autos also, but he couldn’t think of autos. He heard one of then, very far off, that turned before reaching the river. Then silence. He wanted to smoke. The gun was truly frozen. Bells, those of his village, seemed to chase after him.
Then, suddenly, finally, a buzzing which could not be mistaken. He didn’t move, didn’t shudder … had maybe a little too much saliva in his throat. It was at first very slow. It seemed that the motorcycle would never reach the river. After that, it was very fast, very simple, nearly too simple. The machine, with its weak pink gleam, touched the chalk mark and he fired. The motor whined louder, as if to explode … the motorcycle rolled on about another twenty metres, with its rider dancing wildly, landing very close to the ditch, while the motor continued to whine.
He hadn’t moved. He waited. The man moved in the wet grass. He fired his second shot.
At that precise instant, hadn’t his sister shuddered in her bed? In any case, he thought about her, without knowing why. He put the shotgun back in the hole of the dead tree, slipped onto the road. First he had to stop the motor, to extinguish the light.
Then, calmly, without panicking, without forgetting a detail, doing what he had to do. He didn’t need to think. He knew. And he was without astonishment.
First, the Jerry. He had a carbine [carabine, a kind of long firearm] on his back and a revolver [revolver] in his belt. With the meticulous care of an ant he stashed the carbine in the tree, along with the ammunition. The boots? He wanted to take them, but he had not thought of that and he preferred not to depart in any way from his programme.
Some two hundred metres away there was an abandoned well into which he slipped the cadaver. It was no longer cold out, but very warm. He just had to drag the motorcycle into the meadow and take the tires. He had thought so well about all this that he had the tools in his pockets.
The machine, in its turn, toppled into the well.
In that way he would avoid reprisals to his village. Nothing was left on the road, not a shred of glass.
But there were still kilometres to cover, with tires on his shoulders. Dawn was about to break when he reached the door of the shoemaker in a neighbouring village whom he had seen three days earlier. A window opened up. A man in a nightshirt.
‘It’s you? At this hour?’
‘I’ve brought what I promised …’
Because the other had said: ‘Boots? I can’t give you boots. But then, if you could find me two motorcycle tires, I might manage to …’
He wore his slippers in the shop.
‘Aren’t you thirsty?’
‘No … I need you to lend me an old sack to carry them in … Four pair then …’
‘Small or large?’
‘Preferably large …’
The shoemaker was thinking, of course, but he preferred, he also, not to seem to think.
‘If you go home, tell your father …’
‘I’m not going right back …’
‘Good luck, then …’
He remembered: ‘Oh, the bag, you’ll have to bring back the bag …’
One could begin to see light in the cowsheds, women in the yards with buckets of milk.
It was a little after six o’clock when he reached the farm in the woods. Or rather, at fifty metres away a voice, ‘Stop! Come this way … On the left …’
He walked without seeing anyone and a man emerged, who felt the bag.
‘What do you have in there?’
‘Boots … new … four pair …’
Sweat poured off his forehead, his legs weakened. He was in a such a hurry now, to enter this house, to drop himself onto a bench, close to the others, that he blurted out quickly, in unintelligible words, all his treasure.
‘The two tires of the Jerry … don’t worry … he’s in the well … there’s a carbine in the tree … and this …’
A beautiful black automatic [automatique, ie the revolver], gleaming, that he produced in offering to the lookout, with tears in his eyes.
This time, he had come with his hands full.”
Georges Simenon, Les mains pleines, written in the Vendée in March 1945, published in the daily La Patrie, Brussels, No 39, June 7 1945, and in book form in the story collection La rue aux trois poussins, Paris, Presses de la Cité, 1963. In July 2000 I bought a reprint of part of that collection at a bookstall on the Avenue Habib Bourguiba in Tunis.
This translation by Steve Trussel (the only one, and never printed) appears here, under the title Hands Full, at his Maigret website, although the story has nothing to do with Maigret. I have reproduced it with Steve’s permission and made some small changes, but the copyright remains with him.
Steve’s Maigret site is one of the richest on the web devoted to any novelist, though you have to dig a bit to get its full measure. It hides its secrets.
You couldn’t use this story to argue that Simenon was one of the great writers of the twentieth century, but that argument has been won in any case. I was saying this when his reputation in the English-speaking world was in a recession after his death in 1989. It started to return at his centenary in 2003. Now everybody is saying it.
But it is interesting as one of the few pieces of his fiction which deal with the Second World War. Two novels – out of a core list of 192 – do: Le clan des Ostendais (1947) and Le train (1961). I haven’t read the first, but The Train is not a full war novel even if it is about trainful of refugees moving south through France. One of his very finest books, La neige était sale (1948), is set in an unidentified town under occupation. He insisted that the setting was not France, but rather Austria or Czechoslovakia. The snow is a metaphor of the occupation. For other, minor references to the war in his work, go to this Trussel page.
Simenon lived in the Vendée, in the occupied zone, during the war, first at Fontenay-le-Comte, then at Saint-Mesmin-le-Vieux, and at the end at Les Sables-d’Olonne, where he wrote this story. Most of the Vendée, originally Bas-Poitou in the old province of Poitou (the provinces were abolished in 1790), on the coast of the Pays-de-la-Loire, had been the seat of a royalist uprising between 1793 and ’96, and sporadically up to 1815. Balzac published Les Chouans, which is partly about guerrilla fighting during this revolt (though the Chouans operated in Normandy, Maine and Brittany) in 1829, Trollope La Vendée in 1850, Hugo Quatrevingt-treize (Ninety-Three) in 1874. Marx used the word Vendée to refer to counter-revolutionary activities in various countries. Thus to “organise a Vendée”.
Les Sables-d’Olonne, however, supported the Republic. The departing German army destroyed the port during the night of August 27 1944.
The very young man, or adolescent on the edge of manhood, who transgresses, but whose heart is in the right place, is a recurring character in Simenon’s work. He exists in Balzac too. One of the people charged with investigating Simenon for collaboration in early 1945 was Jean Huguet, who is described by Simenon’s biographer Pierre Assouline as “a nineteen-year-old from Sables-d’Olonne, [and what] you might call a romantic of the Resistance”, though he was “more keen on literature than on political policing”.
Simenon’s record had not been spotless. He had not been an active collaborator, but perhaps an opportunist. He escaped further questioning by living in the US and Canada from ’45 to ’55. One wonders whether he wrote this story almost in self-defence, sensing what might be coming. Could its hero have been modelled on Huguet?
Rural resistance fighters during the war were called maquisards. Maquis is a type of high ground in Corsica covered in vegetation, like North American chapparal, where privateers used to hide. The picture at the top, from here, has the caption Un maquisard et sa sten. A sten gun is a submachine gun, not the simple shotgun which the hero in the story seems to have been carrying.
In July 1940 Churchill and Hugh Dalton formed the Special Operations Executive – “Churchill’s Secret Army” – a clandestine organisation whose purpose was to conduct guerrilla warfare against the Axis powers. It worked through espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance behind enemy lines. It helped local resistance movements in all the occupied territories, not only France.
The maquis bands relied on airdrops of weapons from the SOE. They were helped by agents who were parachuted in with wireless sets. They also used captured German weapons, especially the MP40 (a French resistance fighter, according to Wikipedia, said “they are as common as hookers on the streets of Paris, and they get about as much action”). They helped downed Allied airmen, Jews, and others to escape from the Vichy and German authorities. They relied on a degree of sympathy or cooperation from the local populace. The maquisards identified themselves to each other by wearing a Basque beret. It was common enough not to arouse suspicion, distinctive enough to be effective.
In March 1944, the German Army began a terror campaign throughout France. It included reprisals against civilians living in areas where the Resistance was active. Maquisards took their revenge against collaborators in the épuration sauvage when the war was over.
I met (as a family friend) Francis Basin (nom-de-guerre Olive, 1903-75), who worked in Section F of the SOE. He was based in London and conducted operations in France. He lost both his legs in a traffic accident after the war. He died in Paris. More on him.
By Thomas Derrick. I can’t remember where this appeared, but it wasn’t Punch. Circa 1933. I will try to do a higher-resolution image later, but it is copyright. It should be as iconic as Savile Lumley’s guilt-inducing recruitment poster of 1915 “Daddy, what did YOU do in the Great War?”, but is unknown.
People ask, more anxiously than in ’08, “Will there be a depression?” in the same way that they asked in the ’30s “Will there be a war?”
“The periphery goes into depression. When you look at a country like Greece, it’s now been in recession for three years. GDP is probably down 15% from the top. The stock market is down 90%, which is the equivalent of 1929 to 1932 in the US. This is depression-like. Then I expect next year one country, probably three, will exit the euro. That will make 2012 very interesting because there are no rules on how to exit the euro. A country exiting the euro means the next day, when they exit, their banking system is bust. That means the banking system has to be immediately nationalized in a new currency. They introduce a new currency, they nationalize the banking system, and then, of course, the government is also bust. Then the government will default. That’s what you have to expect next year. I think Greece will do so and Portugal and Ireland are candidates also.”
[I have] a mental picture of the principal square [Krasiński Square] in the Polish city of Warsaw some time in the late nineteen-twenties. In the course of the first Russian occupation of Warsaw (1814-1915) the Russians had built an Eastern Orthodox Christian cathedral on this central spot in the city that had been the capital of the once independent Roman Catholic Christian country Poland. The Russians had done this to give the Poles a continuous ocular demonstration that the Russians were now their masters. After the reestablishment of Poland’s independence in 1918, the Poles had pulled this cathedral down. The demolition had been completed just before the date  of my visit. I do not greatly blame the Polish Government for having pulled down that Russian church. The purpose for which the Russians had built it had been not religious but political, and the purpose had also been intentionally offensive.
The church had been built in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries for Piarist friars. In 1834, following the failed November Uprising of 1830-31, the Russian authorities turned it into an Orthodox church of the Holy Trinity. Between 1835 and 1837 it was reconstructed by Antonio Corazzi and Andrzej Gołuński in a style reminiscent of Rastrelli. They destroyed much of the interior, inserted Orthodox frescoes and a large iconostasis and added large onion domes to both towers.
When the Russians left Warsaw in 1915, the church was used as a depot by the German army stationed there. When Poland regained her independence in 1918, the decision was taken to restore it to its former look.
Between 1923 and 1927 it was reconstructed by Oskar Sosnowski, who based his design on seventeenth-century drawings, and reconsecrated as a Catholic church, but not returned to the Piarists. Instead, it rose to the dignity of a cathedral (Toynbee, no doubt correctly, calls it a cathedral during the Russian period), as the seat of the field bishop of the Polish Army. Toynbee must have been able to see the new building.
The Luftwaffe detroyed it on August 20 1944, during the Warsaw Uprising.
Between 1946 and 1960 a team of architects led by Leon Marek Suzin rebuilt it. It remained a cathedral and the seat of the field bishop of the army, though the post was purely titular, as religion had no place in the army in Communist-led Poland.
1830, painting by Marcin Zaleski
One World and India, New Delhi, Indian Council for Cultural Relations, Orient Longmans Private Ltd, February 1960
Ian Bostridge introducing his recording of On Wenlock Edge with Bernard Haitink and the London Philharmonic. Short version of the same video here.
I agree with Roger Scruton when he says, in England, An Elegy (2001), that On Wenlock Edge is “one of the masterpieces of modern music” and am glad he doesn’t say only English music.
Vaughan Williams composed these six songs after AE Housman – On Wenlock Edge, From far, from eve and morning, Is my team ploughing?, Oh, when I was in love with you, Bredon Hill and Clun – in 1909 for an unusual combination of forces, though it had precedents in France: tenor, piano and string quartet.
Fp: Gervase Elwes, tenor; Frederick Kiddle, piano; Schwiller Quartet; Aeolian Hall, London, November 15 1909. He made the orchestral version in the early ’20s. Fp: London (by whom and where?), January 24 1924.
Housman published the sixty-three poems of A Shropshire Lad in 1896 at his own expense. They are bleakly stoical, set in a universe devoid of divine grace or mercy, nostalgic for a vulnerable rural “land of lost content” and filled with references to war and to the deaths of young men. They were prophetic, since written at a time of peace, in 1894-95.
Housman’s earliest memory of Shropshire was views seen on walks near his family’s home at Fockbury in Worcestershire (Bredon Hill is in Worcestershire) in his childhood. He wrote (where?) that Shropshire was “our Western horizon, which made me feel romantic about it”.
At first A Shropshire Lad sold slowly, but during the Second Boer War (1899-1902) it became a bestseller. Its appeal was intensified in the trenches.
The first composer to set the poems had been Somervell, who composed a cycle for voice and piano in 1904. Many others followed. Whitman had a similar attraction, though he reached composers in continental Europe as well as England and America and his vogue lasted longer.
A Shropshire Lad is recorded complete, in verse and song, on Hyperion CDD22044 with Alan Bates, reader; Anthony Rolfe Johnson, tenor; Graham Johnson, piano. Musical settings are by Barber, Butterworth, Horder, Ireland, Moeran, Orr. There are also two Berkeley settings of poems not in A Shropshire Lad. Sleeve notes.
It is worth pointing out that Parry, Elgar, Delius and Holst did not set Housman. The poems might have had a certain appeal for Mahler (Jünglingetotenlieder?). Or perhaps not. They are too English. Housman acknowledged a German influence in Heine.
The great settings are the Vaughan Williams cycle and two for voice and piano by his younger friend George Butterworth: Six Songs from A Shropshire Lad (1911) and Bredon Hill and Other Songs (1912). The first song of the first Butterworth cycle, Loveliest of trees, and the last of the second, With rue my heart is laden, were the basis of an inspired orchestral rhapsody called A Shropshire Lad (1912), music by and about a very young man in which fear half-overshadows rapture.
Butterworth was an Etonian, like Parry and Arne. He read Greats at Trinity, Oxford, but turned increasingly to music.
He met Vaughan Williams and became a collector of folk song in his own right.
He was already nearly a great composer when he went to the front. Would he have developed, or was the material that we have all that was in him? The phrase, the question, that opens the rhapsody, though it was written in peacetime, seems so much like a dawn on the Somme that it is difficult to imagine what he would have gone on to say in the ’20s or ’30s. Housman outlived him by twenty years.
I once played the rhapsody with Barbirolli and the Hallé to an Austrian musician who knew nothing about English music. He was ready to take it seriously because he had heard that Giulini admired and had even performed it. It seemed most unlikely, and I have still found no evidence of this by googling. Could he have meant Sinopoli? He agreed, anyway, that it was a masterpiece.
The Housman pieces aren’t quite all Butterworth wrote (the orchestral idyll of 1913, Banks of Green Willow, is famous, in Britain anyway), but his standards were exacting: he destroyed the scores which he considered unworthy before setting out for France in case he would not be able to revise them.
He kept quiet in the army about his music and in his letters home about his Military Cross. He died on the Somme in 1916, aged thirty-one. Brigadier-General Ovens of the North Command praised him as a soldier in a letter to his father and added: “I did not know he was so very distinguished in music.”
Here is part of Loveliest of trees, sung by John Shirley-Quirk, with Martin Isepp, piano, recording issued 1966, directly followed by the rhapsody, with Adrian Boult and the London Philharmonic in a recording made in 1954.
And here is Vaughan Williams’s Is My Team Ploughing? from On Wenlock Edge sung in 1917 by Gervase Elwes with the London String Quartet and Frederick Kiddle, followed in the same clip by Butterworth’s setting of the same poem at the end of his first cycle, sung by Peter Pears with Benjamin Britten, piano, in a recording made in September 1955.
You can hear the whole of the 1917 On Wenlock Edge recording here and here, but I recommend it only as a historical document. There is a much better modern recording, performers not stated, here and here.
Ivor Gurney, a survivor of the Somme, wrote a note on his programme following a performance on On Wenlock Edge by Gervase Elwes in May 1920:
“Purely English words retranslated and reinforced by almost purely English music – the product of a great mind not always working at the full of its power, but there continually and clearly apparent. The French mannerisms must be forgotten in the strong Englishness of the prevailing mood – in the unmistakable spirit of the time of creation. England is the spring of emotion, the centre of power, and the pictures of her, the breath of her earth and growing things are continually felt through the lovely sound.”
The music may be English, but it is fully aware of what is happening on the continent. Vaughan Williams had studied with Ravel, who was his junior by two and a half years, in Paris for three months in early 1908. The fifth song, Bredon Hill, shows Ravel’s influence clearly, especially at the end. The last verse of Is My Team Ploughing? takes us into the world of Gurrelieder. There will be passages in the London Symphony (1912-13) which remind one of Petrushka. These influences never make Vaughan Williams sound derivative. He has metabolised them. His music is original. Gurney is right if that is what he meant.
The setting of the words No change though you lie under in Is My Team Ploughing? seems an echo of Gerontius, an influence on Vaughan Williams, as it would be, whether acknowledged or not, on Britten. On Wenlock Edge is the most brilliant modern English song-cycle before Britten’s Les Illuminations, for which get Bostridge on EMI again, with Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic.
Gervase Elwes was a cousin of the father of Toynbee’s correspondent Columba Cary-Elwes. From 1904 onwards he was a famous Gerontius.
In late 1939 or early 1940, Columba visited his cousin, Gervase’s son, at Elsham Hall in Lincolnshire and found Gervase’s copy of Newman’s poem, which had been given to him by Mary Gladstone. Laid in it was a letter of some theological interest from Newman to an obscure person. Columba sent it to my godfather, who was the editor of The Tablet, and it was printed in the edition of April 6 1940. My godfather’s portrait was later painted by another of Gervase’s sons, Simon Elwes.
Toynbee quotes Housman, including On Wenlock Edge and From far, from eve and morning, in at least four volumes of A Study of History, usually as examples of a pessimistic stoicism, not for his pastoral themes. He thinks of him as a plaintive echo of Lucretius. No doubt he also respected him as a classical scholar.
We know that he was acutely and guiltily conscious of what the Butterworth site calls the “arbitrariness of who would return [from the war] and who would not”.
For Housman’s life and its meanings, see Tom Stoppard’s The Invention of Love.
Is My Team Ploughing? is a poem about somebody else taking over your life.
“‘Is my team ploughing,
That I was used to drive
And hear the harness jingle
When I was man alive?’
Ay, the horses trample,
The harness jingles now;
No change though you lie under
The land you used to plough.
‘Is football playing
Along the river shore,
With lads to chase the leather,
Now I stand up no more?’
Ay, the ball is flying,
The lads play heart and soul;
The goal stands up, the keeper
Stands up to keep the goal.
‘Is my girl happy,
That I thought hard to leave,
And has she tired of weeping
As she lies down at eve?’
Ay, she lies down lightly,
She lies not down to weep:
Your girl is well contented.
Be still, my lad, and sleep.
‘Is my friend hearty,
Now I am thin and pine,
And has he found to sleep in
A better bed than mine?’
Yes, lad, I lie easy,
I lie as lads would choose;
I cheer a dead man’s sweetheart,
Never ask me whose.”
A living man meets a dead, as in Wilfred Owen’s Strange Meeting. The penultimate verse could mean that the two had themselves been lovers.
Housman, though not musical, always gave permission for composers to set his poems, but was unhappy when Vaughan Williams omitted the third and fourth verses of this (he set the others complete). Vaughan Williams is said to have commented that a composer had a right to set any part of a poem so long as he did not change its meaning, and in any case deserved to be thanked for having left out the lines
“The goal stands up, the keeper
Stands up to keep the goal.”
Vaughan Williams in a musical autobiography reprinted in National Music and Other Essays, OUP, 1963:
“Ravel paid me the compliment of telling me that I was the only pupil who n’écrit pas de ma musique.”
In April 1909, Ravel, soon to start work on Daphnis et Chloé, stayed with the Vaughan Williamses in Cheyne Walk. Ursula, his second wife, in R.V.W.: A Biography of Ralph Vaughan Williams, OUP, 1964:
“Ralph enjoyed taking him sight-seeing [...]. It appeared that steak and kidney pudding with stout at Waterloo Station was Ravel’s idea of pleasurably lunching out.”
Ravel to Adeline Vaughan Williams:
“C’est la première fois qu’il m’arrive de regretter vivement un autre pays. [...] Il a fallu cet accueil cordial et délicat [...] pour me faire goûter le charme et la magnificence de Londres [...].” Arbie Orenstein, editor, Maurice Ravel: lettres, écrits, entretiens, Paris, Flammarion, 1989. Last three quotations are from www.maurice-ravel.net.
In February 1912, Vaughan Williams attended the French premiere of On Wenlock Edge in Paris at which Ravel played the piano part. Ravel wrote to him afterwards (source?):
“Everyone is agreed that your lyric poems were a revelation.”
Scruton, op cit:
“The turning points in English literature can be seen as attempts to re-enchant the land, as it was re-enchanted in Shakespeare’s Arden, in Milton’s Eden, in Gray’s Elegy, in the poetry of John Clare, in the novels of Fielding, in Blake’s lyrics and mystical writings and – pre-eminently – in the Prelude of Wordsworth. Housman’s land of lost content is mourned because the poet’s impoverished imagination could fill it only with substitute people, postcard peasants who had no place on the living earth. The real tradition of English literature continued in its ancient way – not grieving over a Merrie England that had never existed, but re-enchanting the landscape, as Hardy and Hopkins did, as Lawrence did and as Eliot did in Four Quartets. Those writers turned to the landscape not in order to sentimentalise it, but in order to discover another order, a hidden order, which had been overlayed by history but which was, nevertheless, the true meaning of that history and the deep-down explanation of our being here.”
The music of Elgar, Delius and Vaughan Williams works at the same level. Out of Vaughan Williams’s experience in the Great War would come a Pastoral Symphony.
Orwell in the second part of his essay Inside the Whale (1940):
“At the beginning of the period I am speaking of, the years during and immediately after the war, the writer who had the deepest hold upon the thinking young was almost certainly Housman. Among people who were adolescent in the years 1910-25, Housman had an influence which was enormous and is now not at all easy to understand. In 1920, when I was about seventeen, I probably knew the whole of the Shropshire Lad by heart. [...]
“His poems are full of the charm of buried villages, the nostalgia of place-names, Clunton and Clunbury, Knighton, Ludlow, ‘on Wenlock Edge’, ‘in summer time on Bredon’, thatched roofs and the jingle of smithies, the wild jonquils in the pastures, the ‘blue, remembered hills’. War poems apart, English verse of the 1910-25 period is mostly ‘country’. [...]
“Moreover all his themes are adolescent – murder, suicide, unhappy love, early death. They deal with the simple, intelligible disasters that give you the feeling of being up against the ‘bedrock facts’ of life [...].
“And notice also the exquisite self-pity – the ‘nobody loves me’ feeling [...].
“Such poems might have been written expressly for adolescents. [...]
“But Housman would not have appealed so deeply to the people who were young in 1920 if it had not been for another strain in him, and that was his blasphemous, antinomian, ‘cynical’ strain. The fight that always occurs between the generations was exceptionally bitter at the end of the Great War; this was partly due to the war itself, and partly it was an indirect result of the Russian Revolution, but an intellectual struggle was in any case due at about that date. Owing probably to the ease and security of life in England, which even the war hardly disturbed, many people whose ideas were formed in the eighties or earlier had carried them quite unmodified into the nineteen-twenties. Meanwhile, so far as the younger generation was concerned, the official beliefs were dissolving like sand-castles. The slump in religious belief, for instance, was spectacular. For several years the old-young antagonism took on a quality of real hatred. What was left of the war generation had crept out of the massacre to find their elders still bellowing the slogans of 1914, and a slightly younger generation of boys were writhing under dirty-minded celibate schoolmasters. It was to these that Housman appealed, with his implied sexual revolt and his personal grievance against God. He was patriotic, it was true, but in a harmless old-fashioned way, to the tune of red coats and ‘God save the Queen’ rather than steel helmets and ‘Hang the Kaiser’. And he was satisfyingly anti-Christian – he stood for a kind of bitter, defiant paganism, the conviction that life is short and the gods are against you, which exactly fitted the prevailing mood of the young; and all in charming fragile verse that was composed almost entirely of words of one syllable.”
Quotation taken from here.
The Boy and the Man by George Clausen, shown at the Royal Academy in 1908, always makes me think of Is My Team Ploughing?, though the boy is only physically on a different plane.
The Times (May 4 1908) felt that the painting (197.5 x 164 cm, now Cartwright Hall, Bradford) was “too large for its subject, unless we read into The Boy and the Man a spiritual significance which is not there”. I find some Clausens too small for the effect for which they are striving, but The Boy and the Man works for me. Enlarge.
Housmanesque: The End of a Long Day, c 1898 (dimensions to follow, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth) and a similar work, same period (name, dimensions and whereabouts to follow)
Hyperion used a painting by Clausen – Sunrise in September (72 x 93 cm, Ferens Art Gallery, Hull), painted near Duton Hill in Essex and shown at the Royal Academy in 1924 – for the cover art of a 1990 CD of On Wenlock Edge and two Housman cycles by Gurney (reissue artwork).
Adrian Thompson, tenor, for On Wenlock Edge and Ludlow and Teme (composed 1919-20, published 1923); Stephen Varcoe, baritone, for The Western Playland (part going back to 1908, published 1926); and Iain Burnside, piano and Delmé Quartet for all three. CDH55187. Sleeve notes.
The eerie quiet of Tokyo (BBC). The last city, outside a war zone, to be faced by the possibility of a disaster on this scale was Hong Kong during the SARS epidemic in the first half of 2003.
The Phoney War was the phase of the Second World War in Britain and France from September 3 1939 to May 10 1940. Evelyn Waugh’s Put Out More Flags (1942) is set during those months and just afterwards.
“In the week which preceded the outbreak of the Second World War – days of surmise and apprehension which cannot, without irony, be called the last days of peace – and on the Sunday morning when all doubts were finally resolved and misconceptions corrected, three rich women thought first and mainly of Basil Seal. They were his sister, his mother and his mistress.”
“[Basil] had told them [that there would be no war] the night before, not as a speculation, but as a fact known only to himself and half a dozen leading Germans; the Prussian military clique, he had told them, were allowing the Nazis to gamble just as long as their bluff was not called; he had had this, he said, direct from von Fritsch. The army had broken the Nazi party in the July purge of 1936; they had let Hitler and Goering and Goebbels and Ribbentrop remain as puppets just as long as they proved valuable. The army, like all armies, was intensely pacifist; as soon as it became clear that Hitler was heading for war, he would be shot.”
“The air raid scare seemed to be over for the time and those who had voluntarily fled from London were beginning to return, pretending that they had only been to the country to see that everything was all right there. The women and children of the poor, too, were flocking home to their evacuated streets. The newspapers said that the Poles were holding out; that their cavalry was penetrating deep into Germany; that the enemy was already short of motor oil; that Saarbrucken would fall to the French within a day or two; air raid wardens roamed the hamlets of the kingdom, persecuting locals who walked home from the inn with glowing pipes. Londoners who were slow to acquire the habit of the domestic hearth groped their way in darkness from one place of amusement to another, learning their destination by feeling the buttons on the commissionaires’ uniforms; revolving, black glass doors gave access to a fairy land; it was as though [“as though” is not quite right here], when children, they had been led blindfold into the room with the lighted Christmas tree. The casualty list of street accidents became formidable and there were terrifying tales of footpads who leaped on the shoulders of old gentlemen on the very steps of their clubs, or beat them to jelly on Hay Hill.”
“Winter set in hard. Poland was defeated; east and west the prisoners rolled away to slavery. English infantry cut trees and dug trenches along the Belgian frontier. Parties of distinguished visitors went to the Maginot Line and returned, as though from a shrine, with souvenir-medals. Belisha was turned out; the radical papers began a clamour for his return and then suddenly shut up. Russia invaded Finland and the papers were full of tales of white-robed armies scouting through the forests. English soldiers on leave brought back reports of the skill and daring of Nazi patrols and of how much better the blackout was managed in Paris. A number of people were saying quietly and firmly that Chamberlain must go. The French said the English were not taking the war seriously, and the Ministry of Information said the French were taking it very seriously indeed. Sergeant instructors complained of the shortage of training stores. How could one teach the three rules of aiming without aiming discs?”
“This was February 1940, in that strangely cosy interlude between peace and war, when there was leave every week-end and plenty to eat and drink and plenty to smoke, when France stood firm on the Maginot line and the Finns stood firm in Finland, and everyone said what a cruel winter they must be having in Germany.”
“A quiet day at the Ministry of Information. The more energetic neutral correspondents had mostly left the country by now, finding Axis sources a happier hunting-ground for front page news. The Ministry could get on with its work undisturbed. That afternoon a film was showing in the Ministry theatre; it dealt with otter-hunting and was designed to impress neutral countries with the pastoral beauty of English life.”
“Summer came and with it the swift sequence of historic events which left all the world dismayed and hardly credulous; all, that is to say, except Sir Joseph Mainwaring, whose courtly and ponderous form concealed a peppercorn lightness of soul, a deep unimpressionable frivolity, which left him bobbing serenely on the great waves of history which splintered more solid natures to matchwood. Under the new administration he found himself translated to a sphere of public life where he could do no serious harm to anyone, and he accepted the change as a well-earned promotion. In the dark hours of German victory he always had some light anecdote; he believed and repeated everything he heard; he told how, he had it on the highest authority, the German infantry was composed of youths in their teens, who were intoxicated before the battle with dangerous drugs; ‘those who are not mown down by machine guns die within a week,’ he said. He told, as vividly as if he had been there and seen it himself, of Dutch skies black with descending nuns, of market women who picked off British officers, sniping over their stalls with sub-machine guns, of waiters who were caught on hotel roofs marking the rooms of generals with crosses as though on a holiday post card. He believed, long after hope had been abandoned in more responsible quarters, that the French line was intact. ‘There is a little bulge,’ he explained. ‘All we have to do is to pinch it out,’ and he illustrated the action with his finger and thumb. He daily maintained that the enemy had outrun his supplies and was being lured on to destruction. Finally [after Dunkirk], when it was plain, even to Sir Joseph, that in the space of a few days England had lost both the entire stores and equipment of her regular army and her only ally; that the enemy were less than twenty-five miles from her shores; that there were only a few battalions of fully armed, fully trained troops in the country; that she was committed to a war in the Mediterranean with a numerically superior enemy; that her cities lay open to air attack from fields closer to home than the extremities of her own islands; that her sea-routes were threatened from a dozen new bases, Sir Joseph said, ‘Seen in the proper perspective, I regard this as a great and tangible success. Germany set out to destroy our army and failed; we have demonstrated our invincibility to the world. Moreover, with the French off the stage, the last obstacle to our proper understanding with Italy is now removed. I never prophesy, but I am confident that before the year is out they will have made a separate and permanent peace with us. The Germans have wasted their strength. They cannot possibly repair their losses. They have squandered the flower of their army. They have enlarged their boundaries beyond all reason and given themselves an area larger than they can possibly hold down. The war has entered into a new and more glorious phase.’
And in this last statement, perhaps for the first time in his long and loquacious life, Sir Joseph approximated to reality; he had said a mouthful.”
“This is the country of Swift, Burke, Sheridan, Wellington, Wilde, TE Lawrence, [Ambrose] thought; this is the people who once lent fire to an imperial race, whose genius flashed through two stupendous centuries of culture and success, who are now quickly receding into their own mists, turning their backs on the world of effort and action. Fortunate islanders, thought Ambrose, happy, drab escapists, who have seen the gold lace and the candlelight and left the banquet before dawn revealed stained table linen and a tipsy buffoon!”
“The grey moment was passed; Sir Joseph, who had not ceased smiling, now smiled with sincere happiness.
‘There’s a new spirit abroad,’ he said. ‘I see it on every side.’
And, poor booby, he was bang right.”
My Back Garden, painted by my great grandfather, George Clausen, in his 88th year during the Phoney War.
It was a long last look at the garden of the house in Carlton Hill that he had bought in 1905. “As the bombs began to fall”, according to some family accounts, but probably a little earlier, he and Agnes Clausen left London to live with their daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren at Cold Ash in Berkshire.
James Bridle on Caravaggio’s second Supper at Emmaus and Basket of Fruit, both in Milan.
Why does he crop the images? Did Christ have “belief”, and isn’t his hand shown in a blessing, rather than a gesture of “explaining”? I mistrust the know-all tone of Peter Robb’s M, but that may be unfair.
The Basket of Fruit is not the only extant still-life. There is at least one other in the Borghese Gallery in Rome.
Bridle’s is a strong modern response to Caravaggio. For the Victorians Caravaggio did not exist. Joshua Reynolds does not mention him in his Seven Discourses on Art (delivered at the Royal Academy 1769-76). Nor does George Clausen in his Six Lectures on Painting and Aims and Ideals in Art (delivered at the Royal Academy 1904-6), an echo of Reynolds which expounded lessons from the Old Masters to modern students of painting.
Sloane Street, approach to Sloane Square. Click to enlarge.
Kodachrome by Chalmers Butterfield. I posted three others earlier. Wikimedia Commons. There aren’t many colour images of London streets before 1960 that are this vivid.
Furs, in the UK at this time, were not necessarily a sign of wealth, though this was a rich area (Cadogan Estate). The only definite sign in this picture is the chic young girl in the background.
Furs protected you from the cold. Even a barely genteel woman might conceivably have a fur coat in her wardrobe. Here they still have square shoulders. Much post-war fashion (Dior “New Look” aside) had, in fact, come in in 1938-39, but fashion didn’t develop during the war.
I remember, in my earliest childhood, women wearing actual foxes’ heads slung around their shoulders. This was commonest in the ’30s.
Placid queue. The men, too, are wearing rather good coats. There’s a schoolboy. The woman with the fur jacket is dressed for something. The wearer of the brown coat is lower class.
London Electricity Board. Tobacco advertising. “Iconic” bus (pre-Routemaster) and bus-stop. Wintery charm of Sloane Square in the background. The Venus fountain had not yet been built.
The railings of parks and squares, but not, I believe, of houses, had been melted down in the war to make armaments. The ones here are no longer there.
A few doors further down Sloane Street, away from the square on the same side as the railings, was Tablet House, the offices of the Catholic weekly, where my father was working in 1949 and which was demolished in the late ’50s.
The church is Sedding’s Holy Trinity. You can’t see it, but it had been badly damaged by bombs. The restoration was completed in the early ’60s. There was then a very 1960s attempt by the church authorities to close and demolish it, thwarted by a campaign led by John Betjeman and the Victorian Society.
Can one see a tube entrance in the square? If so, it’s no longer there.
There was a post office in the King’s Road, opposite Peter Jones, until (I think) the early ’90s which was presumably there in 1949. The woman carrying parcels might be returning from it. There was a butcher (I am now quoting someone else) in Symons Street.
Peter Jones, the department store, was already in its present building, which had been built between 1932 and ’36 and had the first glass curtain wall in Britain. It still looks modern.
Buses 19, 22 and 137 still go down Sloane Street.
On a [narrow] reckoning, we might confine the Time-span of the “Golden Age” of eighteenth-century moderation between the dates A.D. 1732 and A.D. 1755, if the eviction of a Protestant minority from the Catholic ecclesiastical principality of Salzburg in A.D. 1731-2 is to be taken as the last positive act of religious persecution in Western Europe, and the eviction of a French population from Acadia in A.D. 1755 as the first positive act of persecution for Nationality’s sake in North America.
Only incidentally in North America, of course. He is defining the gap between an age of religious persecution (as distinct from discrimination and prejudice) and one of persecution for reasons of nationality, between one series of horrors and another, in the narrowest possible way. Handel’s Messiah was composed about half way through this brief “Golden Age”.
Accepting that the distinction will often be hard to draw and that the motivations were similar, is the Acadian eviction really the first modern “secular” example based on nationality alone? In order for this to make sense, shouldn’t we exclude mere acts of war and post-war reprisals and acts to suppress or prevent insurrections, and if we do, is the Acadian example the right one to give? I suppose Toynbee would say that it went beyond an act in the course of a war and beyond a reprisal and was an act of persecution.
That distinction is always being made in arguments about the massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire in the First World War. The majority view (deriving in part from Toynbee) is that they were an act of persecution, amounting to nothing less than a genocide. The Turks say that they were atrocities committed in the course of a war.
A Study of History, Vol VI, OUP, 1939
This post was going to be about Alberto Manguel. I mentioned him the other day and decided to read his new collection of essays A Reader on Reading. I would love to meet Manguel. I envy him the space he has in France for his library. I liked parts of this book, but some passages read like a sixth-form essay. Perhaps I should try his other paeans to reading, A History of Reading (1996) or The Library at Night (2007). How much of a subject is “reading”?
In an essay called The Full Stop, he quotes Isaak Babel. “No iron can stab the heart with such force as a full stop put just at the right place.”
A 1963 novel by Georges Simenon, who has had several mentions here, illustrated the power of a comma.
Les anneaux de Bicêtre – The Bells of Bicêtre in the US, The Patient in the UK – is about a famous editor who is a stroke victim. He hardly utters a word in the book, because he can’t. It’s an odd pre-echo of the true story of the Elle editor, Jean-Dominique Bauby, told in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.
Maugras’ detachment, followed in this case by an emotional re-engagement, is a classic Simenon (classic French) theme. His faculties are sharper than ever, but they are locked in. He regards the faces and activities around him from a great distance.
He is far happier than people think, or is happy in ways they can’t seem exactly to follow, and he is distracted by their fuss and concern, their obtuseness. They are always getting the wrong end of the stick. Saying just the wrong thing. Jumping to wrong emotional conclusions. He hardly minds.
In the same way a Simenon prisoner in the dock listens, from an equally great distance, to a judge’s inaccurate (even flattering) summing up of him and thinks: “Who is he talking about?”
Maigret, just because it is spring and he is feeling relaxed, fails for a day or two, to the bewilderment and serious concern of his colleagues, whom he regards, in his reverie, with contentment, to concentrate on the most elementary aspects of the job at hand.
A psychopath in equally sunny and benevolent mood decides to commit murder.
Pierre Assouline, Simenon: A Biography (Jon Rothschild, translator): “[Simenon] was capable of outbursts of rage if anyone tinkered with his commas without permission. While he considered the semicolon an affectation, he held the comma indispensable to the rhythm of the phrase. Its position could even change the meaning. He cited the last line of Les anneaux de Bicêtre as an example.” Lina is the troubled wife of Maugras.
“‘One day he would go to see his father in Fécamp, with Lina.’
“Without the comma, he explained, they are going off to Fécamp naturally, and the story has a happy ending. With it, they are still going, but there is a problem, and the happy ending disappears.”
My English translation does have the comma. Was it omitted in the French? Manguel has a chapter on editors who tinker with an author’s texts.
Twilight: Interior or Reading by Lamplight. My grandmother in St John’s Wood c 1909, by her father George Clausen. Leeds City Art Gallery, bequeathed by Stanley Wilson, 1940.
I pointed out that the title, Bara Brith [speckled bread] on the pampas, was wrong, since the Welsh had settled, from 1865, in Chubut, far south of the pampas. “You are right. But the word ‘pampas’ conjures up images of Argentina over here [UK] rather like tango or Evita.”
The Argentinians wanted the land to be colonised by Europeans. The Welsh were among those who came. The last major migration was in 1911. About 20,000 descendants of Welsh immigrants live in Patagonia now, of whom about 5,000 speak Welsh. The last survivor of the 1865 Mimosa crossing died circa 1950.
Trevelin, Chubut province
Somebody says: “Those Slovenian guys [...] call themselves ‘slavic Austrians’ and say: the Balkans start at their Croatian border.”
Toynbee, in the last post, referred to a saying in Vienna that the East began at the Leitha.
Metternich is supposed to have said: “The Balkans begin at the Rennweg.” He had a villa there. The Rennweg is now in the third Bezirk, known as the Landstrasse. Landstrasse is a district as well as a street, so nowadays you hear it stated as: “The Balkans begin in the Landstrasse.” People who say this sometimes forget that Hungary is not in the Balkans. To a modern sensibility, talk of “the Balkans” beginning here or there of course shows anti-Slavic racism.
Parts of the eastern Bezirke of Vienna in the mid-’70s felt as if they were behind the Iron Curtain. This was a heavily socialised Austria. Vienna was stranded at one end of it, with no access to its previous cultural zones of influence to the north, east and south and not belonging fully to western Europe either. If the Balkans began at the Landstrasse, they continued in the Leopoldstadt (Prater area) and beyond in Floridsdorf and Donaustadt.
To non-Viennese Austrians, the Balkans merely began in Vienna. German Protestants sometimes said “in Munich”. My German grandfather, a Protestant of Baden-Württemberg, went further and used to say “in Neu-Ulm”. Ulm is in Baden-Württemberg on the Danube, Neu-Ulm is across the religious faultline in Catholic Bavaria.
The implication was that Catholic-Austrian Schlamperei begins in Bavaria and prefigures something even messier in the Balkans. Schlamperei is an untranslatable word and means a certain slovenliness and disorderliness, which perhaps carries an Austrian charm with it, but a charm only up to a point. Toynbee reminds us that Austria was by origin
simply Bavaria’s “eastern march” or, rather, a cluster of Bavarian marches: Upper Austria, Lower Austria, and Steiermark or Styria – which was first evolved by the Bavarian body politic in order to protect its eastern flank against assaults from the Avars and Slovenes, and which afterwards became differentiated and consolidated, by a series of historical accidents, into a separate political entity. [...]
Yet its history changed its character.
[...] while the transfigured eastern march of Bavaria has been playing her great part in the life of our Western Society and in the life of the World, the Bavarian interior has remained one of those small countries which are “happy in having no history” – as is signified in the fact that it has retained the original Bavarian name which Austria has discarded. During the ten or twelve centuries that have elapsed since Bavaria and Austria first parted company and began to go their different ways, the Bavarian êthos has remained parochial and exuberant and sanguine, whereas the Austrian êthos has become oecumenical and fastidious and sceptical. The contrast between the temperaments respectively prevalent in these two South German Catholic countries to-day cannot fail to strike the traveller who passes from one into the other at almost any point on their long common frontier [...].
Earlier in the same volume:
The glory which Vienna had gained by keeping the Turks at bay in 1529 and 1682-3 was tarnished by the humiliation of French occupations in 1805 and 1809; and the Viennese, who had first made their name as the heroic defenders of Western Christendom, eventually became a by-word for an attractive but decidedly unheroic combination of fecklessness with amiability and softness with elegance.
Archduchess Regina von Habsburg dies. Otto, born 1912, the son of Blessed Kaiser Karl, survives her. They lived in Bavaria. He was one of the organisers of the Pan-European Picnic on the Austrian-Hungarian border near Sopron on August 19 1989 and was involved in Balkan matters in the ’90s.
A Study of History, Vol II, OUP, 1934
A picture from 1922 by George Clausen, whom we met in the last post. A road near Duton Hill in Essex, where Clausen had had a country home since 1917. Not a high resolution image, but better when enlarged. There is some residual Victorian sentimentality in this landscape, but the early sky turning into day, the still intense frost in the field, the fog hanging over the road are as skillful as elements in any winter scene by Monet.
The art market has not yet understood late Clausen, judging by the difference in price between a work such as this and some of his work of the 1880s, especially paintings showing peasant girls. I missed an opportunity to buy this. Everything would have suited my main room, down to the red signature.
I’ll end this rather long sequence on Germany with two letters published in The Times on January 12 1906, which belong to the ominous literature, or the literature of warnings, of 1900-14. The first is signed by Germans, the second by English.
The Liberals had formed a minority government in the previous month. The letters were published on the first day of the general election which gave them their greatest landslide. The election lasted until February 8.
The Conservatives had signed the Entente Cordiale with France in 1904.
HMS Dreadnought was launched on February 10. On March 19, as we’ve seen, The Daily Mail would send its newspaper sellers onto the streets dressed as Prussian soldiers with spiked helmets, as it began to serialise a book by William Le Queux called The Invasion of 1910.
The instigator of both letters was Count Harry Kessler (“the red Count”), who signed the German one as First Vice-President, Deutscher Künstlerbund. He was one of the cultured cosmopolitans of his time and had many English connections. He used his “influence”, right up to the end of the Great War, to mediate behind the scenes between Germany and England.
My great-grandfather, an English painter called George Clausen, co-signed the second letter. We have met his German-speaking father, Jürgen Johnsen Clausen, leaving Danish Northern Schleswig in 1843 to look for work in Germany as a decorative artist. In 1844 Jürgen migrated to England, via Rotterdam. His son was born in London in 1852.
Did Toynbee, who was still at Winchester, open the paper on that Friday morning? He tells us somewhere (I don’t have the reference to hand) that it was the Bosnian crisis of 1908 which made him into a lifelong reader of The Times. The sentiments of the letters were his.
Click the image; more below
Others are from theology, philosophy, law, biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, psychology, medicine, classics, archaeology, history, art history, economics. Furtwängler, the archaeologist, was the father of the conductor. Nietzsche’s sister is there. She lived to become a Nazi. Sombart, the economist, was accused later of Nazi affiliations. There are no clerics. Count Harry Kessler is unclassifiable.
One or two of the signatories had English connections which are evident in their professional titles. Siegfried Wagner had not yet married his English wife Winifred, nor had his sister married Houston Stewart Chamberlain: neither exactly alliances in the spirit of this letter.
Here are links to the rest: Arthur Auwers, Ernst or Gustav von Bergmann (but I believe this is Ernst), Wilhelm von Bode, Lujo Brentano, Hermann Diels. Robert Eucken is, I am sure, a misprint, rare in The Times; this is Rudolf Eucken. Hermann Emil Fischer, Ernst Haeckel, Adolf von Harnack, Ferdinand von Harrach, Adolf von Hildebrand, Ludwig von Hofmann, Leopold Graf von Kalckreuth, Robert Koch, Karl Lamprecht, Richard Muther, Walter Nernst, Robert von Olshausen, Wilhelm Trübner, Adolf Wach, Heinrich Wilhelm Gottfried von Waldeyer-Hartz, Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, Wilhelm Wundt.
I can find almost nothing, on a cursory search, about Adolf Lichtwark, but the article on Kessler, to which I have linked, does mention him. “After moving to Berlin in 1893, he worked on the Art Nouveau journal PAN, which was publishing literary work by, among others, Richard Dehmel, Theodor Fontane, Friedrich Nietzsche, Detlev von Liliencron, Julius Hart, Novalis, Paul Verlaine and Alfred Lichtwark. The short-lived journal also had published graphical works by numerous artists like Henry van de Velde, Max Liebermann, Otto Eckmann and Ludwig von Hofmann.”
I have linked mainly to English Wikipedia pages. The German equivalents sometimes give more information.
Is the German letter a degree more heartfelt than the English?
We offer one composer, Elgar, whose reputation was already established in Germany, thanks to Strauss, Hans Richter and others, and was about to grow. Later it faded.
Bradley was a Shakespearean scholar. Furnivall, who is shown with a German academic affiliation, and Napier were scholars of English language and literature; Furnivall was for a time editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, Napier had lived in Germany. Pollock was a writer about law. Murray was Toynbee’s future father-in-law. Waldstein was another classical scholar, and an archaeologist. He had been born in New York, the son of German Jewish immigrants, but he moved to England; he was a friend of Marx. Firth was a historian.
There is a clutch of Arts and Crafts figures. Emery Walker was a friend of William Morris, and was painted by Clausen. He designed typefaces for Count Kessler’s Cranach-Presse in Weimar. Webb was an architect and another associate of Morris. Jane was Morris’s widow. Mackail was his biographer. Lethaby was George Clausen’s son-in-law’s, my grandfather’s, teacher of design at The Royal College of Art. He would refer to him as “my master”.
There are various other pupils, relatives and survivors. Georgina was Burne-Jones’s widow. William Rossetti was the brother of the pre-Raphaelite Dante Gabriel and the poet Christina, and the family biographer. George and Francis were sons of Charles Darwin, respectively an astronomer and a botanist. Lord Avebury was a pupil of Darwin, and a biologist and antiquarian. Foster and Wallace were friends and followers of Darwin, respectively an anatomist and a naturalist.
Cunninghame Graham was a socialist, activist and polymath. Religion is again, rather refreshingly, unrepresented. That would not be the case today.
The reference in the English letter to Helmholtz is to Hermann von Helmholtz. The honorary degree was awarded to Gerhard Hauptmann in 1905. The “famous composer” is presumably Strauss or Humperdinck.
War was already, in 1906, being written about as a world-calamity, a threat to civilisation itself. Nobody would have thought such a thing even ten years earlier.
What did George Clausen’s father Jürgen think as he read the letters at his breakfast in Wandsworth? He was a German-speaking Dane by birth: but the Germans were now in occupation of his birthplace.
His son writes in a similar spirit at the age of eighty-six, on March 2 1939.
A rough image of a Clausen painting, The Visit, shown at the Leceister Galleries in 1909: interior of his house at 61 Carlton Hill, St John’s Wood, which he had bought in 1905, showing his daughter Meg, my grandmother, and an unknown visitor
Thomas Derrick (1885-1954), a forgotten artist, drew for Punch between 1932 and 1948, though most of his hundred-plus drawings there are from the ’30s.
This pair, published on November 6 1933 in the Punch Almanack for 1934, is a very early satirical comment on television. There are captions on both. The coruscating punchline is in the second.
Derrick had nothing to do with broadcasting professionally, but the year after the British Broadcasting Company became the British Broadcasting Corporation (by Royal Charter), he published black and white illustrations for Eleanor Farjeon’s book of 26 poems, The ABC of the BBC, William Collins, 1928.
Television timeline in a Comment below, and see copyright notice below this.
Conor Cruise O’Brien (1917-2008):
Conor Cruise O’Brien was described as Ireland’s leading public intellectual. There is no equivalent in the UK. Among many things, he was a historian (Burke, Jefferson, Parnell). He was sometimes called the Cruiser, but one of his godfathers, named Conor O Brien (1880-1952, no Cruise and, according to his preference, no apostrophe), was a real yachtsman and, in 1914, a gunrunner. I can claim a family connection with the older Conor: he married my grandmother’s sister.
Here is what Conor Cruise O’Brien’s biographer Donald Harman Akenson has to say about Conor O Brien (he keeps the apostrophe):
“It was intended that Conor [Cruise O’Brien] should be christened Donal Conor Cruise O’Brien. Donal is a traditional O’Brien name. The ‘Conor’ was in honor [Canadian edition] of one of his two godfathers, Conor O’Brien, who was himself a grandson of William Smith O’Brien, one of the leaders of the 1848 uprising. As mentioned earlier, Conor O’Brien was a good friend of Francis [Conor Cruise O’Brien’s father] and they had worked out that they were some kind of blood relations (the exact details of which have been lost). Conor O’Brien was one of the Foynes O’Briens, who were also the Inchiquin O’Briens and the Monteagle O’Briens, very wealthy Protestant families. Conor O’Brien, like so many of Francis’s friends, was a man of character and also a Dublin character. He was a wonderful sailor and later wrote a brilliant book about his long-distance cruise from Dublin to Melbourne and back. [Endnote: Conor O’Brien, Across Three Oceans: A Colonial Voyage in the Yacht Saoirse (London, Edward Arnold, 1926).] In Dublin folklore, he was known for his patriotism (he had landed arms at Kilcoole in 1914) [I think Conor actually landed at Howth rather than Kilcoole] and for his vile and violent temper. He looked rather like a large member of the monkey family, which makes his most famous outburst appropriate: incensed by a visiting English journalist who referred to the simian appearance of the Irish people, he ambushed the man and horsewhipped him on the steps of one of Dublin’s most exclusive addresses, the Kildare Street Club.”
What Akenson describes as a “long-distance cruise from Dublin to Melbourne and back” was, in fact, a voyage round the globe. In 1923-5 Conor became the first man to circumnavigate the world south of Cape Horn skippering his own yacht. The Saoirse (pronounced Sirshay) flew the new flag of the Irish Free State, though Conor, like Casement and Childers, not to mention Parnell, had belonged to the Protestant Ascendancy. He returned an Irish hero.
A couple of people are trying to write the life of Conor O Brien. I have done some research, but have now missed the chance to consult Conor Cruise O’Brien. I suppose the biographers spoke to him. A Shannon estuary sailor whom I was hoping to interview a couple of years ago, who remembered the older Conor, has probably now died.
Conor’s next yacht was the Ilen, which he built and delivered to the Falkland Islands in 1926-7, where it became the service vessel for the Falkland Islands Company. The Ilen was brought home to Ireland on a Russian cargo ship in 1997.
In 1928, he married my grandmother’s sister, Kitty Clausen, the English daughter of the painter Sir George Clausen. She softened him. They spent some years in the Mediterranean on the Saoirse, based in Ibiza, Iviza as they called it. He was a talented writer (sometimes overly technical) and wrote a book about this period, Voyage and Discovery (William Blackwood, 1933), one of his many books. Kitty did the illustrations. In 1936 she was taken ill and they had to sail home. She died (perhaps of leukaemia) soon after they landed in Cornwall. The Saoirse eventually passed into other hands and was destroyed in a hurricane in Jamaica in 1979.
Kitty was over forty when she married Conor. She had been engaged before, to Second Lieutenant Charles Geraint Christopher Payne of the Highland Light Infantry, previously of the Artists’ Rifles, killed in action at Neuve Chapelle on March 12 1915. Geraint was the maternal uncle of the writer Jan Morris, who recently sent me a fine photograph of a drawing Kitty had made of him in 1914.
Two drawings by Kitty for Voyage and Discovery; the captions are You can see the Sierra Nevada (showing Conor) and Nightmares of houses (Algiers); click to enlarge
If one wants an example of where the principles of Dynastic Legitimacy and Nationalism clashed in the nineteenth century (the last post referred to them), Schleswig-Holstein is the obvious one.
Lord Palmerston allegedly said that the Schleswig-Holstein Question was so complicated that only three men had known the answer to it: Prince Albert, who was dead; a German professor, who had become insane; and Palmerston, who had forgotten it.
Did he say this in the House of Lords? Hansard isn’t comprehensively online, so it is difficult to check. Jasper Ridley’s Lord Palmerston, Constable, 1970 does not offer the quotation. I’ll try to make the Question simple, at the risk of over-simplifying.
From 1773, the Duchies of Schleswig and of Holstein were both in personal union with, but not a part of, Denmark. This position was not changed by the Congress of Vienna. Schleswig was a personal appanage of the Danish kings, but Holstein was held by the Danish kings as notional princes of the Holy Roman Empire and of its successor, the German Confederation.
Northern Schleswig was predominantly Danish-speaking, but Southern Schleswig and Holstein were German-speaking.
The ruler of the personal appanage Schleswig succeeded by the Salic Law, which forbade inheritance in high office by females, or in the female line; but the ruler of Holstein, who was traditionally the same person, succeeded by a less restrictive law.
In 1846 Christian VIII (ruled 1839-48) announced that succession by females was to apply not only to the Danish throne but to Schleswig also. German nationalists feared the complete incorporation of Schleswig into Denmark.
His successor, Frederick VII (ruled 1848-63), was childless and without any male heir, raising the possibility that the Crown would lose Schleswig. Under pressure from Danish nationalists, Frederick, in 1848, declared the complete union of Schleswig with Denmark.
Revolution broke out in both duchies. The German Confederation came to the aid of the rebels. Peace was made in 1850 between Prussia (which had been commissioned by the Confederation to conduct the war) and Denmark; both sides reserved their rights. In 1852 a treaty was signed in London agreeing succession in the female (Glücksburg) line, but preserving the duchies’ original status in other respects.
In 1855, Danish nationalists forced Frederick VII to proclaim the Danish constitution as valid for both duchies. The German Confederation protested, and the measure was withdrawn in 1858. In November 1863, just before Frederick’s death, a common constitution for Denmark and Schleswig was drawn up. Frederick’s successor in the female line, Christian IX (ruled 1863-1906), signed the constitution, which the German Diet declared to be in violation of the treaty. In January 1864, Prussia and Austria declared war on Denmark, which was defeated.
The Treaty of Gastein in the following year placed the problematic Schleswig under Prussian administration and Holstein under Austrian administration. This dual administration led, as Bismarck had hoped, to such tension that Austria could easily be manoeuvred into a decisive war with Prussia. The Austro-Prussian War of 1866, decisive in the history of central Europe, ended with a swift Prussian victory; and both Schleswig and Holstein, incidentally, were annexed to Prussia, and became the province of Schleswig-Holstein.
My family’s history is connected with the Question. My great-great grandfather, Jürgen Johnsen Clausen, was born in Nordborg on July 5 1821 on the island of Als, east of Jutland, at the entrance to the Baltic. Als (capital Sønderborg) belonged to Danish Northern Schleswig. So Jürgen and his family would have been in a linguistic minority. Jürgen spoke German. The English equivalent of Jürgen is George. Jürgen’s mother was Anna Börnsen Johnsen. She had been born on January 6 1799, I am not sure where, and died on November 14 1864 in Flensburg, in Southern Holstein. I know nothing about her, and I do not even know the name of her husband, but perhaps she was Danish-speaking and her husband, a Clausen, German-speaking.
Jürgen left Denmark in 1843 to work in Germany as a decorative artist. In 1844 he migrated to England, via Rotterdam. If Jürgen had returned home after 1866 (he returned c 1851 and for the last time in September 1856), he would have gone to Prussia, no longer to territories of the kings of Denmark. Here are some of his notes. Not all the references are clear. I’m looking at a transcript of a translation, and may need to return to the original translation or original German. The square brackets are mine.
“On March 7, 1843, I left Flensburg. On [the 16th] I went to work in Ludwigslust. There I worked until February 18, 1844. On February 20 I walked from Ludwigslust by way of Loityenburg [?], Lauenburg, Hamburg, Altona, and across the frozen river Elbe, to Harburg; from there by way of Rothenburg to Bremen; from there by way of Berden, Neunburg, Neustadt, to Hannover. From Hannover I went by train to Braunschweig. Then I went from Braunschweig to Gosler. From there onwards I followed the Harz mountains. On March 15 I went from Gosler across the Harz, where we had to walk through tremendous snowstorms. We had to climb uphill continuously for three hours; and when we reached the summit, and the two mountain-towns of Sellefeld and Klausthal, we saw the Blocksberg in the far distance, although it was almost lost in the clouds. Then the route was by way of Osterode, Nordheim, Göttingen, Minden, Kassel, Marburg, Giessen, Burtzbach, Friedberg, to Frankfurt-am-Main. After I had seen this beautiful city I went to Wiesbaden, where the Herzog von Nassau was just taking up his residence, amid scenes of tremendous splendour. Then I went through Bieberich (sic) to Mainz, Darmstadt, Worms, Mannheim, Heidelberg. Heidelberg lies surrounded by tremendous mountains and beautiful vineyards, and immediately above the town lies the tremendous old castle, where there is the famous Heidelberg Barrel, which I saw for myself. From there I went to Karlsruhe. There I took up work on April 4, and I worked there until April 24. Then I went back to Frankfurt-am-Main, where I worked until May 16. On May 20 I left Frankfurt for London on a steamer, through Mainz, Bingen, Coblenz, Bonn, Neuwied, Köln, Düsseldorf, to Rotterdam, where we arrived on May 21 in the afternoon. We stayed there until the following afternoon, and looked round the town as much as we could. It is a very big sea-port, of 90,000 inhabitants. While we were still in the streets we were called names: ‘Deutsche Muff’.”
Jürgen’s winter journey over the Harz reminds one of Goethe’s Harzreise im Winter (1777), of which, a quarter of a century after the journey described here, Brahms made a shuddering setting in his Alto Rhapsody (1869).
When Jürgen arrived in London, he began to work on the ceiling of the Royal Exchange, which Queen Victoria opened on October 28 1844.
In England, he married a Scotswoman, and one of their children was my great-grandfather, George Clausen, who became an impressionist painter. In 1920 the Danish-speaking majority of Northern Schleswig determined by plebiscite the return of Northern Schleswig, including Als, to Denmark. The other territories, including Flensburg, voted to remained German. So if George Clausen had visited his father’s birthplace after 1920 (which he did not), he would have been in Danish territory again.
Here is a description from the web of the loss of Als in 1864. I can no longer find the source.
“On the 26th of May the Prussian guns began to shell the Danish positions on Als. On the night of the 29th of June, 2,500 Prussian soldiers began crossing the sound in small boats. The armoured ship Rolf Krake attempted to stop the crossing and for a while the enemy were in dire straits and the crossing was stopped, but due to a misunderstanding the ship suddenly turned around and steamed away and the Prussians continued the crossing. The Danish regiments were unable to stop the attack and after some days the last Danish soldiers were evacuated by ship from Als. Once again the Danish losses had been heavy. The battle for the island had cost the Danish Army nearly 3,000 men in dead, wounded and captured.”
If The Proceedings of the Old Bailey is “the largest body of texts detailing the lives of non-élite people ever published” (the Old Bailey archive makes one glad to be alive now), then the most impressive newspaper archive ever put online is that of The Times (of London) between 1785 and 1985 – every word of every issue, fully searchable.
The Old Bailey archive uses new screen text. The Times archive has images of the original printed material – png images of the article in which your search term appears and pdfs of the entire page on which the article appears. It’s a subscription service, but a public or academic library might give you access free of charge. It helps to have a thread or purpose as you navigate it. If any of your family ever wrote letters to The Times, there they are. In the desert of featureless pre-Stanley Morison print, I found, among much else, a tiny ad placed on May 21 1877 by my great grandfather’s brother (he was in his late twenties and died soon afterwards), appealing for work as a decorative artist in London.
Once you engage with it, the archive becomes an overwhelming experience: a portrait of the rise and decline of a power. It does not exclude “non-élite people”. Vide the ad I mentioned. Until May 3 1966 (not 1967, as Wikipedia currently says: I should correct this), the front page contained only classified advertising: births, deaths, other announcements. After that it contained news. This was a profound, not superficial, change. I can even remember the day. The old, Victorian, idea that private life came before everything else was superseded.
The founding Walter family owned The Times from 1785 to 1908, Lord Northcliffe from 1908 to 1922, the Astor family from 1922 to 1966, and the Canadian Roy Thomson from 1966 to 1981. Since 1981 it has been with Rupert Murdoch and News International. I am not sure whether the front-page change came under the Astors or Thomson: probably Thomson.
Martin Wolf in the FT, quoted by Lance Knobel: “Down-market is the direction Mr Murdoch knows. That has been the direction in all of his publications with which I am familiar. Mr Murdoch can take substantial credit for the tide of vulgarity that now floods the UK. For good or ill, he has helped transform my country.” The Times of India has moved in the same direction recently, but isn’t owned by Murdoch.
The closest thing to Rupert Murdoch in The Times’s previous owners was Northcliffe – yet the Northcliffe and Astor years were some of The Times’s greatest. Its faults were the faults of the society it represented. See the 6-volume History of The Times. When I was a child I was told that The Times “supported the government of the day”. Which struck me even then as not much of a position to have.
In 1932 Stanley Morison replaced the old type (Caslon, I think) with the new Times Roman. The relationship between the terms Times Roman and Times New Roman is complicated and not for here. That lasted until 1972, when it was replaced by Times Europa. I can remember that day, too. In 1982 there were further changes, and more have followed. There are bastard elements of the Morison layout in The Times even today (though there are almost daily tinkerings), but it is difficult to keep the classical Morison dignity in a Murdoch paper, let alone in a paper in tabloid format, which it has had since 2004, and which demands a different look.
I have quoted Toynbee’s description of a visit to Ephesus in which he loses himself in a reverie, as if he had known it centuries before.
Evelyn Waugh on Douglas Woodruff (1897-1978), who became a Catholic journalist (and corresponded occasionally with Toynbee), in A Little Learning (1964):
“Douglas Woodruff seemed an ancient. [...] I can conceive of him as equally at home in Ambrose’s Milan, in the libraries of the medieval scholiasts, in the renaissance universities, in the courts of the Counter-reformation, in the coffee shops of Dryden, or in the Oriel common-room of the 1840s. With heavy head and hooded eyes, he drew in Johnsonian diction on a treasury of curious historical lore which gave the impression of personal reminiscence rather than research; I have since observed him abroad gazing at some famous historical site, a space overbuilt, or a monument reconstructed and totally unrecognisable to the modern eye, with a peculiar air of familiarity as though he had known it well centuries before.”
He was my godfather and his wife was Lord Acton’s granddaughter, the Hon Marie Immaculée Antoinette Dalberg-Acton (1905-94), Mia to all.