Acton and freedom

July 28 2014

“His ideas on the nature and development of freedom are certainly relevant today; he indicated, for example, how important it is to protect freedom not only from its enemies but also, and even more so, from its well-meaning friends. He was devoted to the Catholic Church, whose communion, he said, was literally dearer to him than life. Yet Acton was not much preoccupied with ‘liberal Catholicism’ [...]. Rather, his essential concern was with truth and how easily it could be manipulated by its apparent servants – in the name of religion or politics – so that the end would appear to have justified the means.”

Roland HillLord Acton, Yale University Press, 2000.

Marcham Priory 2

July 27 2014

Marcham Priory

C 1910: the back of what became the library; the Priory’s garden is on the other long side

Marcham Priory 2

A ruined fireplace on the ground floor, repaired by the time I worked there

Photos: Henry W Taunt Collection, Oxfordshire History Centre, via English Heritage

Marcham Priory

July 26 2014


Mentioned in the post before last. Where Douglas and Mia Woodruff lived from 1964, when they left London, until their deaths, his in 1978, hers in 1994.

Patrick O’Donovan in Personal Memoir in Mary Craig, editor, Woodruff at Random, The Universe, 1978: “It was a joyous and exciting house.”

It had been a cell or dependent priory of Abingdon abbey. The sixteenth-century, two-storey building on the right, alongside the garden, became Douglas’s library and their chapel.

Mary Craig in Craig, op cit: “What he was [...] looking for was not a house but a library, and, leafing one day through Country Life, he found [...] what he wanted. It was a picture of the library at Marcham Priory, near Abingdon, in the Vale of the White Horse (shades of Chesterton). ‘He wanted that library whatever happened,’ says Mia. ‘He didn’t care at all what the house looked like.’ On the day that the auction for Marcham Priory took place, Mia was away in the north-east, attending the installation of their friend Gordon Wheeler as Bishop of Middlesbrough. She returned home tired, opened the door, ‘and saw on the hall-table two bottles of champagne, three pictures of Marcham Priory and a huge map of Berkshire.’” I remember him, some days before, calculating on the back of an envelope how much he would need to spend.

The library was not quite on the scale of Acton’s and I am not sure how many of the books he had had in Evelyn Mansions made their way there. He admitted that libraries needed to grow organically, but he bought indiscriminately. The contents of entire (so it looked) antiquarian and second-hand bookshops, from tomes almost as old as printing to ones a few years old, would arrive at Marcham.

Douglas passed on the advice he had been given as a young man: “Read for four hours every day, it doesn’t matter what, and you will become a wise man.” I didn’t take it. I remember him as he often was before a meal, with a book pressed to his nose, so that he could just see the print, in his reclining leather chair, a glass of sherry nearby on one of the precarious piles. When his eyesight started to fail him badly, he would listen to tapes or be read to.

I organised the library’s contents prior to its sale, c 1975, to Notre Dame in Indiana.

The Priory housed a large part of the Acton correspondence until 1973, when these papers joined Acton’s library and the other materials already at Cambridge University Library.


July 25 2014

Tegernsee gravure

Tegernsee (mentioned in the last post), photochromc 1900

Foto:AKG  images Teutonenstr. 22 / D-14129 Berlin Tel. 030-803  40 54 / Fax 030-803 35 99  Bankverbindung Dresdner Bank Berlin BLZ 100 800 00      Konto 462732500 USt.Id   DE 136 62841

August Macke, Ansicht von Tegernsee, 1910, privately owned; Macke was killed at the front in Champagne on September 26 1914

Tegernsee 1900

Tegernsee, photochrom, c 1900

Roland Hill and Lord Acton

July 24 2014

Hill, Acton cover

Portrait by Franz Seraph von Lenbach, c 1879

Roland Hill

Portrait by Peter Rauter

Roland Hill, the modern biographer of Lord Acton, died on June 21. He was a family friend: I have improved his Wikipedia entry. The only obituary I can find is in The Tablet, but it is rather meanly (for an article published today) hidden behind a subscriber paywall.

His main two books were Lord Acton, Yale University Press, 2000 and A Time Out of Joint: A Journey from Nazi Germany to Post-War Britain, IB Tauris & Co, 2007. On June 12 2000, I attended a lunch at Carlton House Terrace, presided over by Owen Chadwick, for the launch of the first. In 2003, I read a draft of the second in typescript.

Hill, a German Jew, had arrived in England as a refugee, after some continental peregrinations, in July 1939. He came to know the editor of The Tablet, Douglas Woodruff. Later, in 1952, he joined The Tablet’s staff as an assistant. I forget how long he stayed. My father was Woodruff’s deputy. Woodruff was married to Acton’s granddaughter Marie Immaculée Antoinette, Mia Woodruff.

Hill wrote his only piece for History Today in the year he joined The Tablet (History Today’s second year): it was on Acton (HT, August 1952). Paul Lay, the editor, has kindly given me permission to republish it.

The text is from HT’s not always reliable online archive. I have corrected it, made some interpolations in square brackets and added links.

The piece opens with a slip. Acton’s grandfather, Sir John Acton, was the admiral, not the general. The general was his brother Joseph. They were both in the service of Ferdinand I. In 1799 John secured a dispensation from Pius VI to marry his brother’s thirteen-year old daughter, Mary Anne. The older of his two sons was Lord Acton’s father.


“A Liberal, a Catholic and a great Historian who yet never composed a great work of history – these are some of the aspects in which Roland Hill considers Lord Acton’s career.”

“No great liberal historian has had a family background less liberal or more unacademic than Acton. It was love of power and money that brought advancement to his grandfather, General Acton [no, see note above!], in the service of Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies. His father, Sir Richard [or Ferdinand], was a Tory squire, and his mother a member of an old Rhineland family, the Dalbergs, who had safely passed from Napoleonic orbits into the conservative and dynastic society that ruled most of Europe after the Congress of Vienna. John Acton himself was born at Naples in 1834, in Bourbon days. [He was an only child.] At the age of three, when his father died, he first came to live in England, at Aldenham [Aldenham Park or Hall, Shropshire, the family seat]. His young mother [Marie Louise Pelline de Dalberg] married again, and the friendly though remote influence of his stepfather, Lord Leveson, afterwards Earl of Granville and Foreign Secretary, gave the historian his earliest acquaintance with Whig traditions. Perhaps he owed more at this stage, however, to the benevolent concern of his uncle, Monsignor, and later Cardinal, Acton, that he should receive an English education.

“He was sent to school at Oscott, then under the presidency of Bishop Wiseman. [His father’s Catholicism had not prevented him from going to Westminster School.] ‘I am very happy here,’ he wrote to his mother, ‘and perfectly reconciled to the thought of stopping here seven more years.’ He was popular and intelligent, but not very industrious. At the age of sixteen, after a short stay at a private school in Edinburgh, he went to Munich in 1850 to complete his education in the household of Stiftspropst (Canon) Ignaz Doellinger [should be von Doellinger]; since he was a Catholic he could not be accepted either at Cambridge or Oxford. Another reason for the choice of Munich was that the Dalbergs had property nearby, at Tegernsee [which is a town as well as a lake]; there also was the house of Acton’s cousins, the Arco-Valleys, one of whom [Countess Marie Anna Ludomilla Euphrosina von Arco auf Valley, daughter of Count Maximilian von Arco auf Valley] he later married. [So Acton’s grandfather married an Acton. His father married a Dalberg. Acton married an Arco. Acton’s son married a Lyon. His grandson married a Strutt, whom I remember.]

“Doellinger’s influence was the most important in Acton’s life. When his pupil arrived, the Professor was fifty-one; he was a Privat-gelehrter, not formally connected with the University, though he occasionally lectured at it. As Stiftspropst, he was in close contact with the court of Maximilian II of Bavaria and as member of the Landtag he had attended the Frankfurt Parliament of 1848. His reputation as a Church historian was high; in episcopal circles he was very much respected and generally regarded as one of the leaders of the German Ultramontanists. The classical tradition of German literature and the Romantic revival had combined to form his mind, and the young Acton was impressed by his long quotations from Goethe, Schiller, Byron and Scott. In politics he was no Liberal; his sympathies were with the Wittelsbach dynasty and with Austria, and he held that ministers should be responsible to the Crown and not to Parliament. Though he possessed great conversational gifts, which the historian von Sybel compared to Bismarck’s, he never made the least effort to display his learning. Some of his pupils felt that he was only half-human, because he lacked Gemüt (feeling), but in spite of his ugly appearance, Acton liked him immensely. ‘His forehead is not particularly large,’ the boy wrote home, ‘and a somewhat malevolent grin seems constantly to reside about his wide, low mouth … I am inclined to think that he owes more to his character and industry than to his innate genius … He appears to have in some degree the imperfection of neglecting what he has begun.’ The pupil was to share that failing.

“Acton’s years in Munich saw the end of the Romantic age and the beginnings of Realism. The humanist traditions of the German Universities, then leading Europe in historical and philological studies, were being imperceptibly displaced by relativism and scepticism; technological developments and nationalist feelings were moving towards the triumphs they were to enjoy in the latter half of the century. Humanitarian ideals gave unexpected birth [thirty years later] to the Nietzschean superman; confidence in human reason was superseded by belief in the primacy of the will; hero-worship by the cult of the masses. Kant, Rousseau, French revolutionary ideas and the drama of the rebellious Dr. Faustus worked spiritual and intellectual disintegration. The Universities of Berlin, Goettingen and Heidelberg were the centres of the new age; and at first the tranquil and traditional world of Munich was undisturbed. But the arrival at the University – on the King’s invitation – of great scholars like Bluntschli, Siebold and von Sybel foreshadowed changes even here. The Bavarians resented the influx of the ‘northern lights,’ as they called them, for they were Protestants or non-practising Catholics. Von Sybel’s and Ranke’s influence, nevertheless, was providing the historical [historiographical] basis for the future victory of the Gotha or Prussian party. [Northern lights refers to Sybel and Ranke. Did Ranke actually work in Munich?]

“It was not contemporary trends, however, but the study of the past that Acton followed in Dr. Doellinger’s house. Bacon, Burke, Newman, Leo, Bourdaloue and Möhler [the text says Möller] were his early masters. Doellinger introduced him to the study of the Middle Ages, and the prevailing idea was to expose the Protestant falsifications of history – Macaulay was not among the Professor’s favourites. The ferment of German ideas left Acton unconcerned: ‘It is not German ways of thinking that I go there to seek,’ he wrote to his stepfather in 1854, ‘but in pursuit of my chosen branches of learning I must go to German sources, and the longer I stay in Germany the better I shall know them and know how to discriminate them.’ And he added: ‘If they [German books] have an almost universal characteristic, it is the absence of artistic management, a defect no one can acquire by studying them. The only effect they have produced on a class of persons in other countries is to make them infidels, like Carlyle.’ He was attracted neither by infidelity nor by Carlyle.

“With the Professor he visited Italy and France, meeting Minghetti, Tocqueville, Dupanloup and Montalembert. After eight years he returned in 1858 to the secluded world of Aldenham. He was twenty-four and in search of a platform; in the following year, he seemed to find one when he became editor of The Rambler, and was elected to Parliament, with Cardinal Wiseman’s blessing, for the Irish borough of Carlow [MP 1859-65]. It was Acton’s purpose in The Rambler, later replaced by the Home and Foreign Review, and in his contributions to the Chronicle and the North British Review, to teach English Catholics what he had learned in Munich – the practice of scientific enquiry in the disinterested love of truth. In England the Catholic body had only recently emerged from long isolation. More than ten years had passed since Newman’s conversion; there had been an influx of educated Anglican converts, and the Restoration of the Hierarchy had given new life to the Church. But in the world of learning, in which Acton was chiefly interested, changes were slow to come. As a cosmopolitan, he noted the provincialism, the atmosphere of authority and respectability, and the prevalence of dusty volumes, among which Lingard’s History of England held a lonely place of eminence; and he missed the sensibility to the arts, the respect for science and the open mind which were his inheritance from Munich. His fellow-Catholics, he complained, were under the delusion that their truths had only to be communicated, not to be discovered, and that their knowledge needed no increase except in the number of those who participated in it. His object was to emancipate the English Catholic mind, and to teach it the lessons, political and otherwise, which Catholics in Europe were beginning to learn: that ‘democracy is no friend of religion,’ and he would point to the example of France, Switzerland and the United States; ‘that despotism either oppresses or corrupts it,’ and there was the instance of Naples; ‘that representative institutions might be the protection of the Church in Protestant States, like Prussia, but in Catholic States, like Austria, only too frequently her scourge.’

“From political, not religious, systems came the real danger for the Church. Perfect liberty, it was his constant theme, required a scrupulous distinction between dogma and opinion; a true principle must be held more sacred than the most precious interest. He advocated the doctrine, unpopular with many ecclesiastics, that in science as in politics there was an authority distinct from that of the Church. ‘In each sphere,’ he wrote, ‘we are bound to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, but only Caesar’s. There can be no conflict of duties or of allegiance between them, except inasmuch as one of them abandons its true purpose: the realization of right in the civil order, and the discovery of truth in the intellectual.’ And there was all the optimism of his age in the demand ‘that science should be true to its own method, and the State to its own principle, and beyond this the interests of religion require no protection.’

“But the English Catholic body were not prepared for the sudden appearance in their midst of this extraordinarily gifted young man. Cardinal Wiseman and his successor, Manning, were deeply suspicious of Acton’s, and Newman’s, efforts on behalf of the spiritual rights, privileges and duties of the laity. The Rambler and the Home and Foreign Review were in continual conflict with the ecclesiastical authorities. Newman’s essay On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine was censured in Rome. Richard Simpson, a brilliant convert, and Acton’s friend and co-editor [on the Review], called down the wrath of authority by, as Newman put it, ‘his provoking habit of peashooting at any dignitary who looked out of the window as he passed along the road.’ The eminent lay professor of theology at Old Hall, W. G. Ward, whom Simpson had told ‘Come for a walk with me, and I will make your hair stand on end,’ could not but be confirmed in his aversion from ‘clever devils and Liberals,’ products, as it were, of intellectual pride.

“‘I agree with no one and no one agrees with me,’ wrote Acton later. This was certainly true of his position inside the Catholic community. In 1864 his six years of editorial activity came to an end. He had obtained the collaboration of the best European scholars for the two reviews, and probably no English periodicals have ever shown so wide a cosmopolitan interest and such a deep knowledge of European affairs. Of the Home and Foreign Review Mathew Arnold could say, at a time of many other distinguished reviews, that ‘in no organ of criticism in this country was there such knowledge, so much play of mind.’ Acton’s own written contributions were massive. In one issue of the quarterly ‘H&F’ alone ninety-four notices of books appeared, of which he had written thirty-four as well as contributing two long articles. But he felt that his objects were not being realized. In the last number of the ‘H&F’ he took leave of his readers with these words: ‘I will sacrifice the existence of the Review to the defence of its principles, in order that I may combine the obedience that is due to legitimate ecclesiastical authority with an equally conscientious maintenance of the rightful and necessary liberty of thought … To those whom, not being Catholics, this Review has induced to think less hardly of the Church, or, being Catholics, has bound more strongly to her, I would say that the principles it has upheld, of the harmony between religious and secular knowledge, will not die with it, but will find their destined advocates, and triumph in their appointed time.”

“It was as an editor that Acton came into close contact with John Henry Newman. But the young historian, fresh from Munich, and the older, delicate, sensitive man from Oriel never became real friends. Acton must have seemed very much a bull in a china shop, and though they were at one in their dislike of the narrow authoritarianism of some of the bishops and leading converts, in most other respects they differed widely. At first, Newman supported Acton’s and Simpson’s work in their reviews, but he was easily discouraged by the opposition they encountered. ‘Our part is obedience,’ he wrote to Acton, ‘if we are but patient, all will come right. The logic of facts will be the best and most thorough teacher.’ But patience was not one of Acton’s virtues. And there were deeper intellectual differences between them. ‘Everything is for him a personal matter,’ Acton wrote to his Professor in 1864, ‘and he is unable to understand the idea of objectivity in science.’ Newman had a particular devotion to St. Pius V and to St. Charles Borromeo. Acton saw in the one ‘the Pope who held that it was sound Catholic doctrine that anyone may stab a heretic condemned by Rome, and in the other an advocate of the murder of Protestants.’ For such men there was no place in his heaven. Newman remained for him ‘the finest intellect in England whose arguments are a school of infidelity.’ They drifted apart, Newman into the past, and Acton into his long and intimate friendship with Gladstone.

“Historians have treated their relationship as if the admiration was all on Acton’s side. He did, indeed, think of Gladstone as the embodiment of all the statesmanlike qualities in which he felt himself lacking, but though Gladstone seemed to him to combine ‘the virtues of Chatham, Fox, Pitt, Canning and Peel’ without their drawbacks, his admiration was by no means uncritical. His influence over the older man grew with the years. Gladstone himself, shortly before his death, remarked that in the last ten years he had trusted Acton more than any other man. One channel of his influence was through correspondence with [his daughter] Mary Gladstone: ‘It is a way of conveying some things which I cannot say right off,’ Acton wrote to his own daughter. The formation in 1892 of Gladstone’s fourth administration owed much to his efforts in persuading Lord Rosebery to follow the old Liberal leader once more. It was Acton who induced Gladstone to adopt the Home Rule policy, yet he declined all possibility of office, on the grounds that friendship alone gave him no claim for rewards. He had received his peerage in 1869, and remained the trusted counsellor behind the scenes. It was his task to try to bring the remote Gladstone into closer touch with the world of affairs. Familiar with continental politics as few other Englishmen were, Acton could point to the difference between English and continental Liberals ‘who regard the State and the popular will as the seat of all power.’ Together they travelled to Monte Cassino, stayed at the Acton villa in Cannes [La Madeleine], and went to see Doellinger at Tegernsee. Acton, too, had a large hand in rewriting and correcting the First Romanes Lecture delivered by Gladstone at Oxford. ‘Politics are more like religion for me,’ he once wrote. That was the basis of his sympathy with Gladstone. Both believed in a system of politics which combined Christianity with respect for the authority of political principle – ‘and by political principle I do not mean principles in politics.’ Toryism, in Acton’s definition, ‘is to be entangled in interests, traditions, necessities, difficulties, expedients, to manage as best one may, without creating artificial obstacles in the shape of dogma, or superfluous barriers of general principle.’ It was to the moral and religious content of Gladstonian Liberalism that he was drawn. To be a Liberal meant to him simply that one put liberty first, and it did not so much matter whether one was also a reformer or a free thinker, an intelligent Conservative or a radical democrat.

“Acton was confronted by the greatest trial in his life when in 1869 the summons to the Vatican Council was issued. He had never believed in Gallicanism, or shown the slightest sympathy for its Austrian equivalent, Josephism, but he was opposed to the false conception of history underlying the current Ultramontane attitude, according to which rights and principles were scarcely recognized, except as subordinate to the arbitrary will of the Papacy. This feeling also provided the ground for his mistrust of the dogma of Papal Infallibility. His reasons were ethical and historical, not theological. ‘Rome taught for four centuries and more,’ he wrote, ‘that no Catholic could be saved who denied that heretics ought to be put to death.’ And it was his fear, as it was Newman’s, that the extreme Ultramontanists might prevail at Rome and include in the proposed dogma the temporal power and all the pronouncements of the Popes to the Church as a whole, and in particular, confer a retrospective infallibility on a number of decrees and Bulls, chiefly about the deposing power, the Inquisition and other practices or ideas which had never been established under penalty of excommunication. Anxiously he watched the proceedings of the Council from Rome, sending daily reports to Doellinger, and was in close contact with the gradually shrinking numbers of the opposition and the Inopportunists [party opposed to the dogma of infallibility]. As in the end defined, however, the dogma did not fulfil the desire of the Infallibilists by increasing the powers of the Pope, but rather set limits on it. Acton accepted the decree, and Newman’s defence of it, admitting that he thought better of the ‘Post-July’ than of the ‘Pre-July’ Church; the very use of these words perhaps showed, however, that, unlike Newman, he was unable to look beyond the political implications of the new dogma. The threatened excommunication never came; he satisfied his own Bishop [Bishop James Brown of Shrewsbury], if not Manning, that he had not contradicted the decree, and he defended the dogma against Gladstone in his Letters to the Times. ‘Communion with the Catholic Church,’ he wrote, ‘is to me dearer than life itself,’ and to his old teacher who had not submitted to the dogma: ‘I have arrived at the conclusion that you have less hopes for the Church than I, or at least that the hopelessness is more certain for you than for me. I will not say that you are wrong. Dans le doute je m’abstiens de désespérer.’ [Embellishment of a proverb?] But he discouraged Doellinger from giving his name to the Munich Movement, which was the beginning of the Old Catholic Church – a name, he wrote, which the leaders of the Movement would merely exploit.

“In 1879 Newman’s patience was rewarded by the red hat. Equally late recognition came to Lord Acton in 1895, but from a different quarter: on Seeley’s death he was appointed Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge. It was a unique appointment for one who had never been to a University and who had not written a single book, though he had collected 40,000, and had the reputation of being one of the most learned men in Europe. His great conception of history, which he outlined in his Inaugural Lecture, was based on the gradual emancipation of the conscience; Mommsen had written history to glorify power; Macaulay to illustrate the politics of his time; Ranke to relate what happened; for others history was merely a matter of documentary evidence; but for Acton modern history was primarily the history of ideas, and the Universal History which he planned for inclusion in the Cambridge Modern History, but did not complete, was placed on that elevated field beyond the technicalities and meaningless surface of events, where the historian should be above prejudice, party, religion and nationality. In his work, as in the History of Liberty for which he amassed his library but which was never accomplished – and perhaps could not be by a single author – he aimed at perfection; that, indeed, was his greatest failing, if failing it is. He was for ever trying to read everything that could be read on a given subject, making notes and filling cardboard boxes with the thoughts of other men. Dr. Doellinger foretold that ‘if Acton does not write a book by the time he is forty, he will never write one.’ Yet he had written a great deal, and his essays and book reviews are masterworks of compression. His powers were perhaps wasted in a full social life, in his duties as Lord in Waiting, in an immense correspondence, and in political missions which he undertook for Gladstone. Among his hitherto unpublished letters to Dr. Doellinger and to his daughter, those to Mary Acton show a warm humanity of which there was otherwise little evidence in his marriage. He could rightly say on being asked to write his own life: ‘My autobiography is in my letters to my girls.’

“A gifted but not an easy writer, he possessed a combination of qualities rare in great historians: an intimate knowledge of sources, a sharpness of considered judgment, subtlety, irony and a wealth of allusion. In his careful choice of words, in his portrayals of every facet of a subject, he could be compared to the sculptor rather than to the painter. Many of his judgments have the impact of brilliance. He defined liberty as ‘the freedom to do not what we like but what we ought.’ He said that the Roman Empire perished for the lack of a Land Bill. Of Peter the Great: ‘He raised the condition of the country with great rapidity, he did not raise it above his own level.’ And prophetically of Prussia and Russia: ‘That is the tremendous power, supported by millions of bayonets which grew up at Petersburg and was developed, by much abler minds, chiefly at Berlin; and it is the greatest danger that remains to be encountered by the Anglo-Saxon race.’ His condemnation could be scathing; so of one historian: ‘His lectures are indeed not unhistorical, for he has borrowed quite discriminately from Tocqueville.’ And of another: ‘Ideas if they occur to him he rejects like temptations to sin.’ His answer to Creighton’s views on the Popes of the fifteenth century has become famous: ‘I cannot accept your judgment that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favourable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption it is the other way, against the holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.’

“In his moral judgments, he became increasingly severe, but at the end of his life he solemnly adjured his son to take care always to make allowance for human weakness. His severity was perhaps pardonable, living as he did in the midst of a moral relativism in which there was a glaring need to uphold the supremacy of conscience. His isolation seemed to be complete when he found that Doellinger, from whom he had learned the principles of toleration, regarded persecution as an evil rather than as a crime. The sanctity of human life seemed to him the only independent principle on which historical judgment could be based. Whoever violated that without just cause ‘I would hang higher than Haman.’ On those who knew him, his personality and striking appearance, with the high forehead and black beard, made an unforgettable impression. He had that most un-English of traits, a passion for ideas. Hearing him speak, Lord Bryce wrote: ‘It was as if the whole landscape of history had been suddenly lit up by a burst of sunlight.’ In the fifty years which have passed since Lord Acton’s death at Tegernsee in June 1902, freedom has suffered many deaths, and a revaluation of his thought is more than ever worth while. Alone in his day he recognized the destructive element in the triumphant principle of nationality and advocated a community of autonomous nations, a Federal system, as the most effective means of checking the tendency of autocracies, and of democracies, to centralized, concentrated and unlimited power.”


Through Mia Woodruff, Roland came under the spell of the Actons, as did I, in a younger generation. His biography begins with an Author’s Note:

“The Hon. Marie Immaculée Antoinette (Mia) Woodruff was the eldest of seven daughters and two sons of the second Lord Acton. Although she never met her grandfather, the first Lord Acton, she was devoted to his memory and ideals and familiar with the painful struggle of his life. With her husband, Douglas Woodruff, who died in 1978, she temporarily had the care of the extensive family papers, which they made readily available to scholars once the family seat, Aldenham Hall, was sold [1947]. Ultimately the papers found a permanent home at the Cambridge University Library.

“Like her husband, who for thirty-one years was the editor of the British Catholic weekly the Tablet, Mia Woodruff was a leading figure in the Catholic world of her generation. She was a veritable grande dame, a woman of great spirit, trenchant wit, and deep religious devotion who cared for others in numerous voluntary organizations, particularly for refugees of all races and creeds before, during, and after World War II. It was a fitting gesture, when she was buried next to her husband in the little Anglican churchyard of Lyford, Oxfordshire, that the tin hat she had worn as an air-raid warden in wartime London should have been placed in her grave. She died, aged eighty-nine, on 5 March [no, 5 April!] 1994, not long after she prepared these words.

‘I never knew my grandfather. He died in 1902, and I was born in 1905. What I do know about him is what my Aunt Mamy told me. She was his favourite child [Marie Elizabeth Anna Dalberg-Acton], and he wrote the most wonderful letters to her as well as telling her many fine tales about himself. I think of him as a lonely young man spending much of his time at St. Martin’s, the holiday home of the Arcos in Upper Austria, in the company of his future bride and his very beloved future mother-in-law [Anna Margareta Maria Juliana Pelina Maresclachi], who was a great influence on his life. I imagine him at Aldenham in the vast library he built himself – which has since, alas, been demolished – surrounded by his thousands of books, now at the Cambridge University Library. I think of him at Tegernsee in Bavaria, where the Arcos had a lovely villa, and where we used to stay as young children, my brother and I. It was a most beautiful chalet with balconies all round, covered with verbena and wisteria, and the garden leading right down to the lakeside, where we used to fish. My grandfather spent the last days of his life there and is buried at Tegernsee. My grandmother and her two daughters remained there until the outbreak of the Great War in 1914 and then moved to Switzerland, where my aunts both died, Annie [Annie Mary Catherine Dalberg-Acton] in 1917, Simmy [Jeanne Marie Dalberg-Acton] in 1919. [Mamy survived until 1951.] After that their mama [Acton’s widow] came to live with us at Aldenham for the rest of her life, and there she died on 2 April 1923. There is a plaque in the church at Bridgnorth to the memory of my grandfather and various members of the Acton family. He was MP for Bridgnorth at one time [1865-66], and he helped in the building of St. John’s parish church.

‘I feel my grandfather lived by his conscience, which enabled him to fight his battle against Papal Infallibility in 1870 as well as practise a very simple private religion. I hope that from him I have inherited a great love for history and keen interest in the affairs of the Church. I hope that Roland Hill’s sympathetic biography will interpret my grandfather’s enigmatic personality for his readers and enhance his memory. He must have been a very fine man. May he rest in peace.

Marcham Priory, Oxon’”


The second “I hope” in the last paragraph was characteristic. She was not going to commit herself to more than “sympathetic” before she had seen the book, which she did not live to do.

Hill’s book was important and the result of many years of work. It was generally well-reviewed, but not universally. There were some who felt that Acton had, once again, eluded us.

“A veritable grande dame”, indeed. Mia Woodruff seemed an embodiment or projection of the Catholic aristocratic history of Europe. She was very grand and had grand faults. She was also content, in her charitable work and in attending to her friends, to be a low-ranking Christian soldier. She had a deadpan and mordant wit.

Roland should have made tapes. It’s a matter of regret to me that I was too immature or too busy to interview her properly. Her world is gone: “a thing never known again”.

Acton family tree.

NPG x85090; Hon. Marie ImmaculÈe Antoinette Woodruff (nÈe Lyon-Dalberg-Acton) by Bassano

Portrait by Bassano Ltd, January 29 1944, National Portrait Gallery

A useful word

July 23 2014


積ん読 (hiragana つんどく, romaji tsundoku)


(informal) leaving a book unread after buying it, typically piled up together with other such unread books


積む (tsumu, to pile up) + 読 (doku, to read), punning on 積んでおく (tsundeoku, to leave piled up)

Via Wiktionary.

The Pelican History of England

July 22 2014

I mentioned this series in a recent post. It appeared between 1950 and 1965, not in this order:

Roman Britain, Ian Richmond

The Beginnings of English Society, Dorothy Whitelock

English Society in the Early Middle Ages, Doris Mary Stenton

England in the Late Middle Ages, AR Myers

Tudor England, ST Bindoff

England in the Seventeenth Century, Maurice Ashley (replaced in 1978 by Stuart England, JP Kenyon)

England in the Eighteenth Century, JH Plumb

England in the Nineteenth Century, David Thomson

England in the Twentieth Century, David Thomson

Since all history writing is about two things, the perspective of the historian and the purported subject, I am happy with out of date books. I suspect that these have, in any case, lasted rather well.

The successor-series, in print now, are the Penguin History of Britain and Penguin Social History of Britain.

Pelican, the non-fictional branch of Penguin, was a major force in UK publishing from 1937 to ’84. It was relaunched in May this year, but without the original energy and impetus.

Power tends to corrupt

July 21 2014

“I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favourable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption it is the other way, against holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority, still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.”

Lord Acton, letter to Mandell Creighton, April 5 1887, published in the Appendix to John Neville Figgis and Reginald Vere Laurence, editors, Historical Essays and Studies by John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, Macmillan, 1907.

The letter was about Acton’s review in his recently-established The English Historical Review (which Creighton edited) of Vols III and IV of Creighton’s The History of the Papacy during the Period of the Reformation, Longman, Green and Co, 1882-94:

Vol I, The Great Schism – The Council of Constance, 1378-1418 

Vol II, The Council of Basel – The Papal Restoration, 1418-1464

Vol III, The Italian Princes, 1464-1518

Vol IV, The Italian Princes, 1464-1518

Vol V, The German Revolt, 1517-1527.

Carry on lying

July 20 2014

History Today

July 20 2014

I remember finding, in 1987, a pile of dusty and fragrantly-damp History Todays in the sunny attic of a country house. They looked welcome there, as Country Life and Horse and Hound would have done: article after article on Melbourne and the Years of Reform, The Great Siege of Malta and Portuguese Missionaries in Ceylon, 1515-1658. The copies were from the ancien régime of Peter Quennell and Alan Hodge, which began with the first issue in January 1951. Hodge died in May 1979. Quennell retired in October. Michael Crowder took over in November.

History Today was a cosy presence in English life. It was the magazine of the general reader who was interested in history and wouldn’t read academic journals. It also (no contradiction here) had an air of the educated middle and upper classes writing for each others’ bedside tables.

Early contributors: Max Beloff, Asa Briggs, DW Brogan, Alan Bullock, Kenneth Clark, GDH Cole, Keith Feiling, Jacquetta Hawkes, Michael Howard, Michael JafféEric Linklater, Philip Magnus, LB Namier, JH Plumb, GM Trevelyan, Hugh Trevor-Roper, Arthur Waley, Veronica Wedgwood, Elizabeth WiskemannGM Young (Drogheda’s selection).

It sometimes did the work of the nine volumes of the old Pelican History of England (England, note), which appeared between 1950 and ’65 and were in part digests of academic research, not the mere narratives that would have been offered to earlier mass-readerships.

A comment from The Listener quoted in editions of those Pelicans well into the 1970s, and perhaps even later, is fascinatingly old-fashioned:

“As a portent in the broadening of popular culture the influence of this wonderful series has yet to receive full recognition and precise assessment. No venture could be more enterprising or show more confidence in the public’s willingness to purchase thoughtful books … ”

For the ethos of History Today, see the 11th Earl of Drogheda’s article about the founding (November 1979), AL Rowse’s tribute to the old editors (November 1979) and Michael Grant’s tribute to PQ after Quennell’s death (December 1993).

Quennell was a man of letters of the Brideshead generation. He wrote books about Byron, Baudelaire, many others, nearly all of them on literature, not history. Married five times. I have his A Superficial Journey through Tokyo and Peking. Before co-founding History Today, he had edited The Cornhill Magazine. (Who knew that that rival of Dickens’s All the Year Round survived until 1975? Who remembers that The Listener survived until 1991?) Here are Quennell’s Desert Island Discs.

Rowse – whose Teach Yourself History series, launched in 1946, had been another “portent” in the “broadening” – writes that Hodge had shown his talent “in co-operation with the poet Robert Graves in an original book as historical as it is literary, The Long Week-end, [...] a portrait of the period between wars; in his wartime experience of writing and writers at the Ministry of Information; [and] in a book of his own [actually, it was another collaboration with Graves] on readership and reading”. There was a later “collaboration with P.Q. in an historical book [on England and America], The Past We Share”.

Drogheda says that the idea for History Today came from Brendan Bracken, Churchill’s Minister of Information during the war and the refounder, in 1945, of the Financial Times. “He visualized as editor Alan Hodge, who had been his assistant private secretary when he was Minister of Information, and whom he had recruited to the staff of the Financial Times to help him particularly with the weekly ‘Men and Matters’ column [...]. I told Brendan that I thought it essential to have alongside Alan someone else who was a more publicly known figure, and I suggested the name of Peter Quennell, a personal friend, whose culture, wide-ranging knowledge and contacts would, I felt sure, be of immense value.”

It was conceived, perhaps, in the popularising spirit, missionary and patrician, of the BBC and of Pelican books. Had there been popular history magazines before it? There had been history “encyclopaedias” which came out in stages, and literary magazines, but general history?

According to Wikipedia, History Today “has been independently owned since 1981”. What does that mean and who owned it in the first thirty years? Was Drogheda an investor? Was Bracken?

Rowse and Grant make much of the use of pictures. They were in black and white in the body of the magazine until at least 1980, and on the cover (barring a Coronation Number) until August 1965. Grant’s praise reminds us that illustrations were felt to be precious even in 1993, the last pre-Internet year.

There were few design changes under Quennell-Hodge. In January 1980 came a new look. The page was enlarged and the cover redesigned. I can’t remember what has happened to the format since then (I think it has shrunk again), but there were further changes to the cover in October 1989, October 1998, October 2004, October 2009. There will doubtless be one this October.

US magazines and newspapers are more conscious than ours now are of design and typographic, never mind other editorial, traditions. Of institutional continuity and memory. The Economist is a UK exception.

In the UK, editors don’t know what happened before they arrived. Their assistants know even less. Magazines are run at a few desks in shared spaces. No more leisure areas, dining rooms, corridors with framed covers. No trappings of editorial power. I am sure none of this applies to the “independently owned” HT!

History Today’s editors since Quennell and Hodge have been Michael Crowder, the historian of Nigeria (1979-81), with whom I once spent an interesting evening, Michael Trend (1981-82), Juliet Gardiner (1982-85), Gordon Marsden (1985-97), Peter Furtado (1997-2008), Paul Lay (current). Lay’s interesting thoughts on history are here (for Kindle).

It hasn’t, on the whole, dumbed down. I was getting ready to write “it hasn’t even had Hitler on the cover”. That would indeed have been a distinction. But it did, twice, under Furtado’s editorship, in October 1998 and November 2001, and the same editor put a swastika there in January 2006. (I haven’t seen December 1957.) Admirable restraint nevertheless.

Of course, there are fewer articles about the siege of Malta and a disproportionate number on Africans in Victorian Britain. It is still very weak on East Asia: only five articles so far this year, and only one of them (on Louis XIV and Siam) taking us outside the twentieth century. Not a single one on the classical civilisations of China or Japan.

“P.Q. and A.H.,” says Rowse, perhaps not over-generously for the time, “were exemplarily aware of [China and Russia], and gave us of their largesse articles about India, the Middle East, Europe, South America, Africa – all with their informative illustrations.”

On the non-Roman ancient world, we have only a short piece on Howard Carter, who hardly counts, an even shorter review of a book on Delphi and a short piece on Dura Europos.

The previous cover strapline – “What happened then matters now” (2006-13, preceded by a few short-lived experiments) – has been scrapped. (Much better without one.)

The website is still announced as “History Today | The World’s Best History Magazine”. This is the kind of statement we make about our institutions. It must be, mustn’t it? Do none of the far more numerous French history magazines compete? Can they, without sometimes commissioning in English and translating?

I haven’t looked at HT’s digital edition. What about the online archive? Here they have gone for bronze. The gold standard is a fully searchable archive of crisp, high-resolution page and article images. Then you have everything. The Times has managed this with some difficult typography for every page of every issue since 1785. It’s the only good thing that has happened to it under Murdoch. The project was carried out by Gale, which is now part of Cengage Learning. It can be done.

Jpegs protect intellectual property, since you can’t cut and paste. The alternative, scanned and OCRd text, will be full of mistakes. One can’t expect History Today to proofread 50,000 pages going back to 1951. (One can expect lazy publishers like Bloomsbury to proofread individual books for Kindle, but they don’t.) But the disadvantages of OCR go beyond this. You get no sense of the real magazine, of the relative importance of the articles, and no images. None of the cultural meanings which come with page images. You don’t even know who the editor is: there are no mastheads.

You don’t know whether you are getting everything either. HT say they are “currently” digitising “the 1951-79 portion of the archive, and hope to complete it by the end of 2013”. 2013 ended seven months ago. Before taking a subscription last week, I asked what that meant. They replied “95%”.

Where are book reviews in the early issues? Did the May 1956 issue really contain only two articles? June 1956 one? January 1968 three? Why no Hodge death announcement?

With an OCR archive, the user also relies more on metadata – which is the unpoliceable frontier of data and always inaccurate. Tiny examples here: the archive shows the June 1952 contents under August 1952. And Drogheda was the 11th Earl, not Derry Moore. (Could that conceivably be a mistake in the original?)

See The Chronicle of Higher Education’s, Google’s Book Search: A Disaster for Scholars, Geoffrey Nunberg, August 31 2009.

Oh well. In storage, I have a bound set of the ancien régime, 29 volumes. If they ever come out, it will be worth having ’flu in the knowledge that I’ll at last have the time to reach for one of the red leather spines and read about Lord Melbourne and Portuguese missionaries in Ceylon and the Great Siege of Malta.

Random cover (there is no high-resolution cover archive):

History Today 1955 06


July 16 2014

Back July 20.

Euphrates to Rhine

July 15 2014

“Hinc movet Euphrates, illinc Germania bellum”. – Virgil, Georgic I, l. 509.

“Here the Euphrates, there Germany wages war.” Americans might see their last century partly in those terms.

Virgil was writing about the time of the confrontation of Octavian and Mark Antony at Actium.

The North Sea is connected with the Black Sea via the Main-Danube canal in Bavaria (the Main being a tributary of the Rhine), which was opened in its present form in 1992. It replaced the Ludwig Canal.

The Kara Su or Western Euphrates, one of the Euphrates’ two sources (the other is the Murat Su or Eastern Euphrates), rises in northeastern Turkey only sixty miles from the southeastern corner of the Black Sea. Kara means black. (Murat is a proper name.) So only a sixty-mile portage separates the Gulf from the North Sea.

The Tigris also rises in Turkey, a little further south.

A Study of History, Vol IV, OUP, 1939 (footnote)

Nadine Gordimer

July 14 2014

There were so many ways in which one could admire Gordimer. But “a dressing table of literary devices” is the patronising phrase that came into my mind whenever I tried to read her fiction. I’ll try again.

I had the privilege of meeting her at Davos around 1995 or ’6, when she gave a small dinner in a room at one of the hotels. She was erect, frail, commanding, elegant. When I find the transcript of her remarks (about the state of the world), which I have somewhere, I’ll put them in a comment under this post.



The best of all possible worlds

July 13 2014

All nature is but art, unknown to thee;
All chance, direction which thou canst not see.

[Footnote: Pope: An Essay on Man, Ep. i, ll. 289-90.]

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954

The Little Train of the Caipira

July 12 2014

O trenzinho do caipira: a country train transporting coffee berry-pickers and farm labourers between villages in São Paulo state, 1930. The last movement, also called Toccata, of the second Bachianas brasileiras by Villa-Lobos.

I would have despised this in my more idealistic youth. Now I admire it, though there is nothing very Bachian in it. The tune sounds like a Brazilian folk melody, but I have never heard it called one. Caipira means bush-cutter or inhabitant of the rural backlands. Whence caipirinha.

I hope the Brazilians can do better tonight. People say there is no incentive in this game, but for them there is.

Royal Philharmonic, Enrique Arturo Diemecke. Picture is of the composer.

Version conducted by composer, Orchestre national de la Radiodiffusion française, 1956.

Portinari’s paintings of coffee workers.

Station, SP, 1885

Cruzeiro, São Paulo state, late nineteenth century

Islamic dynasties: 2, Umayyad Caliphs (Damascus)

July 12 2014

The Umayyad Caliphs, 661-750

Capital: Damascus

The dynasty starts with Muawiya (ruled 661-80), who had been governor of Syria. Uthman had also been an Umayyad, but is classed as one of the four Rightly-Guided caliphs. Shia Muslims believe that the succession should have gone through Ali.

Muawiya had fought against Byzantium and had a well-trained army to set against the anarchic Bedouin who had followed Ali.

The Shia vilify Muawiya. They believe that his conversion to Islam was superficial, that he was motivated by lust for power and that he secured it by force. They point out that he is the only Sahaba Caliph (companion of the Prophet) who was not regarded as righteously guided by the Sunni. (He was related to the Prophet, like the others.)

His son and heir Yazid I is hated for his actions towards the house of Ali, in particular for sending forces against Ali’s son Husayn ibn Ali at the Battle of Karbala in 680.

The great administrators of the dynasty, Muawiya I, Abd al-Malik (ruled 685-705) and Hisham (ruled 724-43) took over many of the systems of the Greeks and Persians.

In 661-71 the Arabs conquered Tokharistan (Bactria), which the Persian Empire had won from the Ephthalite Hun Empire. This put the Islamic state astride the overland route between India and China via the Oxus-Jaxartes basin.

They had completed the conquest of North Africa by 698.

In 706-15 they conquered Transoxiana and Khwarezm, which had been the Turkish steppe-dwellers’ share of the Ephthalite Empire. They consolidated their position there in subsequent decades.

In 710-12 they extinguished the Visigothic Kingdom in Spain.

In 711 they conquered Sind and the southern Punjab, up to and including Multan.

On four fronts, they were defeated.

In order to conquer Asia Minor and take Constantinople, they needed naval command of the Mediterranean. In 669 Muawiya built a fleet. In 674-8 and in 717-18 the Arabs besieged Constantinople by sea and land and were defeated.

In 677 they gained a temporary foothold in the Lebanon. In 741 they were brought to a halt along the line of the Amanus range in southern Turkey. They did eventually carry their frontier beyond the Amanus to the Taurus.

In 732 they failed to conquer Carolingian France. Before reaching the Loire, they were checked at Poitiers.

In 737-38 they failed to conquer the empire of the Khazar nomads, between the Volga (which flows into the Caspian) and the Don (which flows into the Sea of Azov).

The Umayyad caliphs faced the opposition of Shiite Arab tribesmen of Iraq and that of pious elements in Medina who favoured the claims of Ali’s descendants, the Imams of the Shia (Shiʿat Ali or party of Ali).

The masses of non-Arab peoples in the conquered territories, the Mawali, began to stir and to resent their position as second-class citizens.

In 750 the Umayyads were overthrown by a revolution which began in Khurasan in eastern Persia, led by Abu Muslim Khorasani. One of the few members of the Umayyad family to survive was Hisham’s grandson, Abd al-Rahman, who escaped to North Africa and continued the Umayyad line in Spain.

See Clifford Edmund BosworthThe Islamic Dynasties, A Chronological and Genealogical Handbook, Edinburgh University Press, 1967, revised 1980. There have been subsequent revisions. It contains complete lists of rulers. I am partly following it in this series, but leaving out most diacritics used in romanisations of Arabic.


Umayyad Moque, Damascus, picture:

Islamic dynasties: 1, Orthodox Caliphs

July 11 2014

The  Orthodox or Rightly Guided Caliphs, 632-61

The age of the pristine Islamic virtues

Abu Bakr (Abdullah ibn Abi Quhafa)

Umar (Umar ibn al-Khattab)

Uthman (Uthman ibn Affan)

Ali (Ali ibn Abi Talib)

Mnemonic: Arab uniters underestimate adversity

Capitals: Medina, Kufa

The leaders of the Muslim umma or community, all related to the Prophet by blood or through marriage. I won’t go into relationships. Muslim Arabs had not yet moved outside the Arabian peninsula when Muhammad died. He himself had fought in military campaigns within Arabia.

But by 641 they had conquered Syria, Iraq, Palestine and Egypt from the East Roman Empire. The southern part of Iraq was conquered from Persia.

By 651 they had conquered Persia, as far north-eastward as Merv inclusive, extinguishing the Sasanian Persian Empire. Merv is now in Turkmenistan (one of Iran’s three eastern neighbours, along with Afghanistan in the middle, and Pakistan in the south).

In 653 the Armenians and Georgians (both ex-Roman and ex-Persian Armenian and Georgian subjects) had surrendered.

Between 647 and 698 they conquered north west Africa from the East Romans – who under Justinian had reconquered it from the barbarians.

Khalifa means “he who follows behind”. The Orthodox Caliphs ruled from Medina, the city previously called Yathrib which Muhammad had renamed.

Abu Bakr imposed the authority of Medina over outlying parts of the peninsula after the Bedouin tribes had renounced their personal allegiance to Muhammad (the Ridda Wars, ridda meaning apostasy).

Umar attacked the Byzantine territories of Syria, Palestine and Egypt and the Sassanid territories of Persia and Iraq. He adopted the title Amir al-Muʿminin, Commander of the Faithful, implying a spiritual as well as political element in his leadership.

Uthman was assassinated.

Ali moved his capital to Kufa in Iraq in order to confront Muawiya, the recalcitrant governor of Syria, in battle at Siffin on the Upper Euphrates. He was later killed, and his son, al-Hasan, was persuaded by Muawiya to renounce all rights to the Caliphate. Ali had been the son-in-law and cousin of Muhammad. Shia Muslims believe that the succession should have continued through him. The martyrdom of one of Ali’s other sons, Husayn, in 680 is taken as the beginning of the Shiite split.

See Clifford Edmund Bosworth, The Islamic Dynasties, A Chronological and Genealogical Handbook, Edinburgh University Press, 1967, revised 1980. There have been subsequent revisions. It contains complete lists of rulers. I will follow it in this series, but will leave out most diacritics used in romanisations of Arabic.


Kufa Great Mosque, 1915


July 11 2014

Some posts on the Caliphates in order of posting:


Sunni and Shia

The Indian merchant

Ghosts of universal states

A tea-party in Delhi

Roads to Mecca

Hashish 2

The end of the Abbasid Caliphate

The Arab Kingdom of Syria

The Indian summer of the Caliphate

The resilience of the Caliphate

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) declared a new Caliphate in Mosul on June 29 2014 (the first day of Ramadan) with its Sunni leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the new Caliph.

Wikipedia article.

The exile of Thucydides

July 11 2014

A greater luminary in Toynbee’s “Pleiad” of captured or exiled historians (last post).

Thucydides (vivebat circa 454-399 B.C.) was a citizen of Athens who lived through the Twenty-Seven Years’ War of 431-404 B.C., and who was overtaken by the outbreak of the war in his early manhood. He thus belonged to a generation which was just old enough to have known the pre-war Hellenic World as an adult member of the pre-war society; and at the same time he lived long enough to see the denouement of the great catastrophe that brought the growth of the Hellenic Civilization to an end and set in motion the long and tragic movement of decline and fall. The definite breakdown of the Hellenic Civilization was, in fact, the challenge which the generation of Thucydides had to encounter and the experience through which they had to live; and Thucydides was fully alive to the significance of the catastrophe. “This war”, he says in the preface to the first part of his work, [footnote: Thucydides’ History of the Twenty-Seven Years’ War is in two parts, each introduced by a preface. [...] Part II is unfinished. (The work was apparently interrupted by the author’s death.) The narrative breaks on abruptly in the middle of the record of the twenty-first year of the war (411 B.C.) out of the total of twenty-seven years (431-404 B.C.) which the author intended to cover.] “was … the greatest upheaval ever experienced by Hellas and by a part of the non-Hellenic World (it would hardly be an exaggeration to say: by the Human Race)”; and he informs his readers in the same passage that, “in the belief that this war would eclipse all its predecessors in importance, he began to write as soon as war broke out”. In the Athens, however, of Thucydides’ day an able-bodied adult male citizen was constrained in peace-time, and a fortiori in war-time, to devote the best part of his time and energy to public service if the State made the demand; and we may suppose that, as soon as war broke out, this “practical” demand upon Thucydides became exacting. At any rate, in the eighth year of the war, we find Thucydides serving as one of the ten Athenian Generals: a board of public officers, elected annually for a twelve months’ term, who exercised the chief executive authority in the civil government in addition to their command over military operations.

It was in this position of “practical” responsibility, which Thucydides held in 424-423 B.C., that he suffered the break in his career which was the turning-point in his life-history. In the winter of 424-423 B.C., when Thucydides was in command of an Athenian naval squadron stationed at Thasos [north Aegean], he failed to prevent a Lacedaemonian expeditionary force commanded by Brasidas from capturing Amphipolis [Thracian mainland]. The lost fortress was a key-position, since it commanded the passage across the River Strymon on the land-route leading from Continental Greece towards the Dardanelles: the only route along which it was possible for the Peloponnesians to strike, with their superior land-power, at a vital point in the Athenian Empire, so long as Athens retained her command of the sea. The Athenian People sought relief for their feelings of chagrin and alarm at the news of this reverse by cashiering Thucydides and sentencing him to exile. And it was thanks to this personal mishap to Thucydides the soldier that Thucydides the historian at last obtained the opportunity to accomplish his life-work.

He never returned to Athens. Where did he live?

“I lived”, he writes in the preface to the second part of his work, “through the whole of [the Twenty-Seven Years’ War] [bracket in original], and I was not only of an age of discretion, but I took special pains to acquire accurate information. It was my fate to be exiled from my country for twenty years after my command at Amphipolis; and in this situation I was enabled to see something of both sides – the Peloponnesian as well as the Athenian – and to make a special study of the War at my leisure.”

Thanks to this fortunate misfortune, Thucydides was able to complete rather more than two-thirds of his projected work, though he seems to have died a premature death before he was out of his fifties. What is more, he has triumphantly achieved his ambition, declared in the preface to the first part of the work, to produce “an everlasting possession” – a permanent contribution to knowledge – “rather than an ephemeral tour de force”. In his own austere intellectual way, this cashiered Athenian officer has anticipated the injunction

“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon Earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal;

“But lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal;

“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” [Footnote: Matt. vi. 19-21.]

The passing agony of one unhappy generation of Hellenes who dealt their own Hellas a mortal blow and knew that her blood was on them and on their children has been transmuted by Thucydides, in a great work of art, into an ageless and deathless human experience.

A Study of History, Vol III, OUP, 1934


July 10 2014


Toynbee names a

Pleiad of historians – Thucydides and Xenophon and Polybius; Josephus and Ibn Khaldūn; Machiavelli and Clarendon and Ollivier – who [...] started life as soldiers or statesmen and [...] made the transit from one field of action to another in their own life-histories by returning as historians to a world from which they [had] previously been expelled as prisoners-of-war or deportees or exiles.

Émile Ollivier (1825-1913) is, he admits, its dimmest member – but why, even in a second edition, is he writing about a Pleiad? He even mentions “eight lives”. Somervell omits the section in his abridgement.

Ollivier started as a republican opposed to Napoléon III, but pushed the Emperor toward liberal reforms. He entered the cabinet and was prime minister when Napoléon fell.

His father had opposed the July Monarchy of Louis Philippe (1830-48) and was returned by Marseille to the Constituent Assembly which established the Second Republic (1848-51). He opposed the coup d’état of the head of state Louis-Napoléon, as he was then called, and was exiled for nearly a decade.

Émile Ollivier started to rise during the Republic. He re-entered politics, still a republican, but prepared to work with the Empire, in 1857 after a period in law.

He was one of the early Parisian champions of Wagner. His first wife, Blandine, was the daughter of Liszt and Marie d’Agoult (who wrote as Daniel Stern). She died in 1862. In 1869 he married Mlle Gravier.

Early in 1870 Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen revived his candidature for the Spanish throne. The French government instructed its ambassador to Prussia, Vincent, Count Benedetti, to demand from the king, Wilhelm I, that he withdraw it.

Ollivier was won over by the war party. On July 15 he declared in the Chamber that the Prussian government had issued a note, the Ems Telegram, announcing that his envoy had been rebuffed. He accepted the responsibility of the war, the Second War of the Spanish Succession, “with a light heart”, since it had been forced on France. But on August 9, with the news of its first disasters, his cabinet was driven from office. He sought refuge from the general rage in Italy.

He returned to France in 1873, but his political power was gone. During his retirement he employed himself in writing an apologia in the form of a history of L’Empire libéral in seventeen volumes (1895-1915). (Toynbee counts as far as the sixteenth, which appeared in 1912.)

Josephus, in his latter-day literary work, is in some sense pursuing his previous “practical” activities in a new medium. And this fault is still more conspicuously apparent in the literary work of the French member of our Pleiad: Émile Ollivier.

Ollivier is not without excuse for his frailty, for his personal identification with the disaster that overtook his country in his day was much more intimate, and much more serious, than Thucydides’ identification with the fall of Athens or Josephus’s with the fall of Jewry. Ollivier was a Frenchman who lived through the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1. For France, this war, which brought to an end a French political and military hegemony of two centuries’ standing on the European Continent, was not only a supreme national catastrophe; it was also a supreme national humiliation, since the war was lost by no honourable defeat but by a lamentable débâcle. And for Ollivier this tragic experience of France was a personal tragedy of equal magnitude; for, at the moment when the disaster occurred, Ollivier occupied in France the principal position of political responsibility next to the Emperor Napoleon III himself. While the Emperor was saved from the fury of the French people by falling into the enemy’s hands, his minister had to fly the country. Ollivier took refuge in Italy, and when he ventured to return to France in 1873 his life was in ruins. Born in 1825, engaged in politics from 1848 to 1870, and virtually Prime Minister in the Imperial Government during the fatal days between the end of 1869 and the 9th August, 1870, Ollivier now found himself, at the age of forty-eight, a scapegoat in the wilderness, with all the transgressions of the Second Empire heaped upon his devoted head. [Footnote: Ollivier applies the simile of the scapegoat to himself in L’Empire Libéral, vol. i, p. 30.]

Ollivier’s retort to the outrageous Fortune which had felled his country and himself by the same terrific blow was to write, on the grand scale, a history of the whole unhappy chapter in French history in which he had played his own unhappy part. The prologue to the drama, as he presents it in L’Empire Libéral, [footnote: L’Empire Libéral: Études, Récits, Souvenirs, par Émile Ollivier (Paris 1895-1912, Garnier Frères, 16 volumes] begins with the morrow of the peace-settlement of 1815; the curtain descends upon the débâcle of 1870 after Ollivier’s fall from office on the 9th August of that year and his subsequent abortive private mission to Italy. The first volume was published in 1895, a quarter of a century after the catastrophe, when the author himself was already seventy years old; [footnote] and thereafter volume followed volume year by year until the sixteenth and last volume was published in 1912, when the author was eighty-seven and when the greater war of 1914-18, which was to reverse the result of the war of 1870-1, was only two years ahead in the future. [Footnote: The writer of this Study, who was an undergraduate at Oxford at the time when the last volumes of L’Empire Libéral were appearing, can well remember the interest which their publication aroused.] In thus transferring to historiography the energies that had been expelled from the field of politics twenty-five years earlier, Ollivier was not achieving a spiritual catharsis and was not pursuing the path of “etherialization”. To parody a notorious maxim of his Prussian enemies, [footnote: “War is only a continuation of State policy by other means” (Clausewitz, General Karl von: On War. Translated by Colonel J. J. Graham from the third German edition (London 1893, Trübner), p. vii).] he was rather taking up the historian’s pen in order to pursue the politician’s aims by the best alternative means that still remained at his disposal. The driving force that impels him to write and write from his seventy-first to his eighty-eighth year is a burning desire to vindicate France and to vindicate Ollivier.

Second footnote in that paragraph:

The final and effective decision to write seems to have been taken by Ollivier as a consequence of Bismarck’s outright avowal that he [Bismarck] had deliberately precipitated the war by tampering with the text of the famous “Ems Telegram”. This outright avowal was not made until 1892, after Bismarck’s dismissal from the Chancellorship of the German Reich by the Emperor William II. Ollivier appears to have been stirred by this revelation in two ways. He was elated to see the responsibility for the outbreak of the war transferred from the shoulders of France to the shoulders of Germany by so conclusive an authority as Bismarck himself; and he was outraged to find that Bismarck’s confession was not being taken by public opinion as an exoneration of Ollivier for his own part in those transactions. L’Empire Libéral seems to have been committed to writing under this twofold stimulus. The context in which Ollivier gives his account of Bismarck’s avowal is illuminating. (See L’Empire Libéral, vol. i, pp. 24-31.)

The dispatch was an internal message from the Prussian King’s holiday site to Bismarck in Berlin, reporting demands made by Benedetti; it was Bismarck’s released statement to the press that became known as Ems Telegram.

Back to main text:

The first of these two motives is proclaimed at the beginning of the book:

“À la veille de disparaître de ce monde, je veux donner une dernière preuve de dévouement à la patrie bien aimée à laquelle j’ai consacré toutes mes pensées. Je veux la laver devant la posterité de la tache d’avoir déchaîné parmi les hommes la misère, la défiance, la haine, la barbaric Je veux démontrer qu’en 1870 elle n’a pas été plus agressive qu’elle ne l’avait été en 1792 et en 1806; qu’alors comme autrefois elle a défendu son indépendance, non attenté à celle d’autrui. Laissant aux contempteurs de son droit les gémissements dont depuis tant d’années ils affaiblissent son courage, je lui tends la coupe où l’on boit le cordial qui rend la foi, la force, l’espérance. Si elle l’accepte, tant mieux pour elle!” [Footnote: Ollivier, E. O.: L’Empire Libéral, vol. i, pp. 32-3.]

The patriotic motive, here confessed, is plain to read; but the personal motive, which Ollivier is at pains to deny, is equally unmistakable. It is revealed in the author’s chagrin that Bismarck’s avowal of his responsibility for precipitating the war has not served to vindicate his own – Ollivier’s – reputation. [Footnote: Ollivier, op. cit., vol. i, p. 30.] It is revealed in the ostentation with which he abstains from vindicating himself (for “on s’excuse même en renonçant aux excuses”). Above all, it is revealed in his grand finale, which is not the débâcle at Sedan and is not the fall of Metz and is not the fall of Paris and is not the signature of the Peace of Frankfurt, but is – at the end of sixteen volumes – the fall of the Ministère Ollivier!

Bad Ems

Benedetti and Wilhelm I at Ems; Ernst Engelberg, Bismarck, Akademie-Verlag Berlin, 1985 via Wikimedia Commons, no more information given

A second-rate practitioner of a dangerous trade (old post).

A Study of History, Vol III, OUP, 1934

Argentina and Holland

July 9 2014

Alberto Ginastera, Harp Concerto (1956-65), Remy van Kesteren, harp, National Youth Orchestra of the Netherlands (NJO), Clark Rundell, Nijmegen, August 14 2011.

Old post.

Brazil vs Germany

July 8 2014

England vs Germany in 1966 was, at some level, a reenactment of the war. France vs Germany was, perhaps, for some, even in 2014. Brazil vs Germany will, one assumes, have no historical charge to it, but Brazil did declare war on Germany and Italy on August 22 1942.

Increasing cooperation with the Allies had led the government to announce at the Pan American States Conference in Rio on January 28 1942 a decision to sever diplomatic relations with Germany, Japan and Italy, though Brazil remained technically neutral.

As a result, 21 German and two Italian submarines sank 36 Brazilian merchant ships. 1,691 Brazilians drowned, and there were 1,079 other casualties. Berlin Radio pronouncements made the population increasingly nervous. Ultimately, the government declared war.

The Brazilian Navy and Air Force acted in the Atlantic from the middle of 1942 until May 1945.

Brazil was the only independent South American country to commit ground troops in any theatre. It sent an Expeditionary Force to Italy, which lost a thousand people across all three services between September 1944 and May 1945.

Brazil had also declared war on Germany in 1917, and sent troops to Europe, and nearly sent them to fight the Turks in Mesopotamia. Was it the only South American combatant then as well?




In 1943 Villa-Lobos wrote an Invocação em defesa da pátria for soprano, choir and orchestra on a text by Manuel Bandeira.

Orchestre national de la Radiodiffusion française, Heitor Villa-Lobos, Chorale des Jeunesses musicales de France, Maria Kareska, recorded 1956:

Marcha solene brasileira

July 8 2014

More Gottschalk, and a more interesting piece than the last, though it uses the anthem in the stormy coda. Performers not stated. As far as I know, he orchestrated this himself. He composed it during a visit to Brazil in 1869, where he died in November.

It is sometimes called Humaitá, after the site of Brazil’s victory over Paraguay in 1868 in the War of the Triple Alliance (Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay against Paraguay), the bloodiest war of the nineteenth century.

Grande fantaisie sur l’hymne national brésilien

July 8 2014

Actually, Grande fantaisie triomphale sur l’hymne national brésilien.

Louis Moreau Gottschalk was a francophone pianist and composer from New Orleans who performed in Europe in front of Liszt, in the US (on the Union side) in the Civil War, and in the Caribbean and South America as a gallant and idolised musical ambassador of North to South. His Notes of a Pianist are worth reading. I must return to him.

The anthem still has the original tune composed by Francisco Manuel da Silva in 1831. The lyrics have changed. Gottschalk’s Fantasy (1869) was written for piano. This orchestration is by Samuel Adler. Eugene List and the Berlin Symphony Orchestra under Adler:

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Glorious Hector

July 7 2014

I have celebrated Villa-Lobos occasionally in this blog. One day I will write a long article about him, the last great twentieth-century composer to receive his due if that is what is happening now. Here, in homage to Brazil, are a few works of his which speak for themselves. They do not show his full range.

Charm (I do wish Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi could pick up a guitar): the Gavota-choro in Suíte popular brasileira, more often called Suite populaire brésilienne, because he published it in France in the ’50s as a collection of pieces written in his youth. This is from 1912. I love Fabio Zanon’s playing; Bream is too artful here:

Modernism: Chôros 7, 1924. Chorões were street musicians in Rio at the turn of the century. Instrumentalists without voices. Choro means weeping. I think I am getting the Portuguese accents right. Villa-Lobos wrote a series of compositions in the ’20s called Chôros (in the plural even when one is referring to just one of them). They are for anything from one instrument to orchestra with voices and can last for anything from a couple of minutes to over an hour. No 7, called Setemino (Seventh), is for seven players – violin, cello, saxophone, flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon (Daniel Guilet, Bernard Greenhouse, Vincent Abato, Paul Renzi Jr, Paolo Renzi, Bernard Portnoy, Elias Carmen) – and offstage tam-tam (William Blankfort; it doesn’t sound offstage here) under Izel Solomon (US ensemble, I think):

The grand pianistic manner, although this is restrained, and fine, playing by Isabel Mourão, Brazilian, in 1953. Impressões seresteiras (Impressions of a Serenader) from the Ciclo brasileiro of 1936:

And a bassoon concertino of which Richard Strauss would not have been ashamed, the Ciranda das sete notas of 1933. That means round dance on seven notes. There are three identifiable sections. Lobosian string harmonies. As with all good bassoon writing, the soloist seems to be a human voice, the instrument is saying things that we can almost understand as words. I like the delicacy of this performance. Others drive it too hard. Orquesta de Cámara del Conservatorio Superior de Música de Aragón, Zaragoza, under Rolando Prusak, Stefano Canuti bassoon; this is worth your calm and alert eleven minutes:

Why should we not end with the remarkable and haunting, however tired we may be of hearing it, fifth Bachianas brasileiras? Plurale tantum. It was composed for soprano and eight cellos. The first movement, called Ária (Cantilena), is the well-known one, from 1938. It starts as a vocalise. Then there are some words about the moon, by Ruth Corrêa. Then the soprano returns to the tune and hums. It must all have irritated Stravinsky.

The second, less Bachian, part, from 1945, is called Dança (Martelo), with lyrics by Manuel Bandeira. But let’s have the Ária. I am not sure that it has ever had its ideal interpreter. There are the two sopranos with whom Villa-Lobos recorded the piece: Bidu Sayão and Victoria de los Angeles. You can hear it with Joan Baez, who is led by Maurice Abravanel. Or with Natania Davrath, who is led by Leonard Bernstein. Some versions use more than eight cellos. Here is Bidu Sayão:

Afterthought: opening credits of O Índio de Casaca (The Indian in a Tailcoat), director Roberto Feith, a documentary shown on Rede Manchete, 1987, give a sense of the man and of his presence in Brazilian society. Start at 1:55 and watch the first minute. At 2:50 he is coming out of hospital near the end of his life. The music is a sultry passage from the second Bachianas:

Sebastião! Protetor do Brasil

July 6 2014

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Dean Frey in The Villa-Lobos Magazine:

“‘[The Brazilian composer Heitor] Villa-Lobos found that his concerts were often poorly attended because of the public’s preference for soccer. This led him to denounce the sport violently. [...] “Soccer causes human intelligence to detour from the head to the feet!” The Brazilian soccer fans responded vigorously [...]. In one town they bombarded the touring musicians with rotten eggs, and the threat of similar treatment caused the group to leave another town in the early morning hours.’

David E. Vassberg, Villa-Lobos as Pedagogue: Music in the Service of the State, Journal of Research in Music Education, Vol. 23, No. 3 (Autumn, 1975), p. 165.

No matter what Villa-Lobos thought about the game, I’m cheering big for A Seleção!

There was actually a movement in the third, lost, A prole do bebê suite called Futebol.

St Sebastian may be watching Brazil vs Germany in Belo Horizonte. The pierced saint is the patron saint of Rio de Janeiro and, according to Villa-Lobos, of Brazil.

The names of the sections of Villa-Lobos’s a cappella Missa São Sebastião juxtapose the ecumenical and the local in the same way as the names of the sections of his Bachianas brasileiras:

Kyrie (Sebastião! O virtuoso)

Glória (Sebastião! Soldado romano)

Credo (Sebastião! Defensor da igreja)

Sanctus (Sebastião! O mártir)

Benedictus (Sebastião! O santo)

Agnus Dei (Sebastião! Protetor do Brasil)

He wrote the Mass in 1937, at roughly the same time as his huge score for Umberto Mauro’s rather inept film O descobrimento do Brasil, which derives all its dignity from Villa-Lobos’s music.

That film ends with a tableau which in the fourth Descobrimento suite is called Primeira missa no Brasil. On a shoreline five hundred miles northeast of Rio, in 1500, the Portuguese sailors and crew sing a polyphonic Mass against the juxtaposed incantations of the newly found Amerindians.

In 1933, with the help of the orfeonic choirs Villa-Lobos was assembling in the service of the national ideology of Getúlio Vargas, he had given the Brazilian premieres of Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli and of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis. Now he decided to write his own Mass, his second (if you discount the unrelated film music). Simon Wright, notes to a Hyperion recording of the Missa São Sebastião:

“In the Mass, raw nationalism gives way to an idealized and serene view of the powerful Catholic heritage of his country. Subtle glances at the chants of macumba (as at ‘et sepultus est’ in the Credo) are, however, reminders that in Brazil even the rites of Roman Catholicism have been (and still are) tinged with elements from the magical beliefs transported to Brazil by the millions of black slaves brought over the Atlantic by the colonists [...]. The Missa São Sebastião stands unique and radiantly beautiful in Villa-Lobos’s huge output.”

It is a touching work if you know the whole story. It will not overwhelm a listener who doesn’t bring any culture to it. There is an over-reliance on sequences at times. Here is an incomplete YouTube performance posted by Wellesz, sung by the Associação de Canto Coral, directed by Cleofe Person de Mattos.

We have the Kyrie and the Gloria, then the last two lines of the Creed, then the Sanctus and Benedictus. And no Agnus Dei. (So the blurb under the video is wrong, as well as self-contradictory. The captions in the video are wrong at one point as well and they also contradict the blurb: they show the Sanctus starting when what we are hearing is the end of the Creed.)

The Hyperion performance with the Corydon singers under Matthew Best is more polished, but less earthy and Catholic.

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Of course, the real protector of Rio is Christ the Redeemer.

Photos via the Flickr channel of the Arquidiocese de São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro.

Sebastião! (old post).

Russell, Palmer and Bridcut

July 5 2014

Ken Russell’s, Tony Palmer’s and John Bridcut’s films about English composers (two early ones by Russell anyway) have a special place in English affections. Russell’s Elgar (his first one: there was a bad remake) is the nations’s favourite documentary, at least in “middle England”. His Song of Summer is a work of art.

Paul Driver on Palmer’s film on Arnold: “An amazing film, the most rawly truthful of its kind that I’ve ever seen, though full of artistic subtlety. It’s a totally dramatic entity, because from start to finish you’re aware of two antithetical Malcolm Arnolds tugging in opposite directions and feel the tension between them constantly – yet the film manages somehow to be celebratory in the end. I think it must surely set the country alight when broadcast.”

AntPDC has got away with posting a monochromised low-resolution version of Bridcut’s The Passions of Vaughan Williams on YouTube and writes, in the continuing absence of a commercial download or DVD:

“One is impelled to share art when it can’t be appreciated by any other means. It’s been almost five years now since this marvellous film first aired on BBC Television, and it was until recently available to UK viewers via the BBC’s i-Player, in glorious HD. No longer alas, and given the many requests I have seen here and elsewhere for a viewing, I have uploaded it, at the risk of upsetting some parties. I seldom upload entire videos on my Channel which contain no original content of my own, but I felt this case should be another of those few exceptions.”

Bridcut makes us look afresh at composers we think we know (not that I ever think that). He did this in a remarkable way with Elgar and Parry. He made the Parry film in a kind of partnership with Prince Charles. He shows the English royal family as less philistine than we are usually told they are, especially when he writes about their relationship with Britten.

His film Britten’s Children is also a book. It is impossible nowadays for people to believe that paedophiles can have beneficent friendships with children. The Oliver Knussen interview in The Guardian last year echoes everything in that book, which does not mention Knussen.

Here’s a checklist. As far as I know, all the films were made for television, but I haven’t given release details in most cases. Tippett is missing! Who is working on him? Palmer or Bridcut?

Elgar (1962, for Monitor, BBC television documentary series), KR

Benjamin Britten and His Festival (1967), TP

Song of Summer (1968, on Delius, Omnibus, BBC television arts series), KR

A Time There Was (1979, on Britten), TP

At the Haunted End of the Day (1980, on Walton), TP

Toward the Unknown Region (2003, on Arnold), TP

Britten’s Children (2004), JB

“O Thou Transcendent …” (2007, on Vaughan Williams), TP

The Passions of Vaughan Williams (2008), JB

The Man behind the Mask (2010, on Elgar), JB

In the Bleak Midwinter (2011, on Holst), TP

The Prince and the Composer (2011, on Parry and Prince Charles), JB

Delius: Composer, Lover, Enigma (2012), JB


May 11 2014

Back July 5.

Extended absence merely pressure of work.

Venetian memories

May 10 2014

The Times, December 9 1929 (the “Correspondent’s reminiscences” are in the last post):


December 9

Four gracious ladies

May 10 2014

I mentioned Lady Radnor in the last post.

The Times, October 11 1929:

October 11


September 12:

September 12


September 13:

September 13

English Suite

May 9 2014

In July 1914 (date according to this source), Parry was working on a suite for strings whose movements, except for the last?, are named after baroque dances or musical forms: Prelude, In minuet style, Saraband, Caprice, Pastoral, Air, Frolic. The performers here are not named.

Britain declared war on Germany on August 4.

Jeremy Dibble, C Hubert H Parry, OUP, 1992 (text via Questia, my links and subbing):

Emily Daymond undertook the editing of those completed works which, because of the war, had not achieved print. [...] The bulk of the English Suite dates from 1914 and 1915, though some movements were written much earlier. The Pastoral dates from about 1890 appearing in a different key (B flat) as a piano piece and also as a piece for violin. [What key is used in the suite?] The Saraband is also earlier and includes a quotation from the Lullaby of the Twelve Short Pieces, Set 1 No 4 for violin and piano written in 1894. This was probably the date of the movement’s composition and it may well have been a rejected movement for the Lady Radnor Suite which dates from the same year. The last of the movements to be written (sometime between 1916 and 1917) was the Air – originally entitled Intermezzo by the composer but altered by Daymond ‘to match the other names’. Similarly the Caprice and the last movement Frolic were chosen and given titles by the editor since the composer had not decided on any definite names, nor had he settled on any definitive last movement. The movements of the English Suite are generally larger in scope than those of the Lady Radnor, and the harmonic language is more capricious, particularly in the jocular Caprice and Frolic. The Air attempts to recapture the serenity of the earlier suite’s Slow Minuet but never quite achieves its sensuous intimacy. In Minuet Style is distinguished by particularly imaginative string writing and a colourful mixture of tonality and modality. Most distinctive of all is the stately Elgarian Saraband with its broad diatonicism and liberal dissonance. After two semi-private performances under [Hugh] Allen’s direction, one at a [Royal] College [of Music] orchestral concert [in 1920], and the other at the Bach Choir’s Parry Concert on 10 May 1921, the Suite was given its first fully public hearing on 22 October 1922 at a Promenade Concert under Henry Wood.”

That date looks wrong: there were no Sunday performances. The BBC Prom archive says October 17. I sense generally that Dibble’s book, although indispensable, needed a better editor.

There was a fashion for neo-baroque and neo-classical suites before the launch of modern neo-classicism (which is usually dated to the premiere, in 1920, of Stravinsky’s Pulcinella).

An English Suite is occasionally im alten Stil, but the music is all Parry. The best recording is with the LSO and Boult on Lyrita.

The exulting, complaining, torn Saraband is one of his finest tunes and should be ranked as a hit with Blest Pair of Sirens, Repton, I Was Glad and Jerusalem. The slight but moving Air may also belong in that group. It has a Celtic rather than English lilt.

Why did he do nothing with the saraband for twenty years and perhaps even reject it for the earlier suite?

In English terms, An English Suite looks forward to Peter Warlock’s Capriol Suite (1926), which is loosely based on tunes in a French Renaissance manual, but amounts to an original work.

Marion M Scott, review of An English SuiteThe Christian Science Monitor, July 17 1920 (as cited here):

“It is paramountly English, as English as a Shakespearean comedy or a Herrick poem, and the stately prelude and sarabande, the delicious quasi menuetto, the pastoral with its touching yet happy charm, the expressive intermezzo [air] and lively finale might well stand as incidental music to ‘Twelfth Night’ or ‘As You Like It.’

“The suite [...] was designed for one of his most brilliant pupils, Dr. Daymond, who amongst other musical avocations, conducted a string orchestra. [...]

“Another point that strikes one in the suite is the strong ease, almost Handelian, with which Parry could deal with a string orchestra. He evoked rich, pure-toned masses of sound, or a singing and sympathetic quality from the instruments in combination as naturally as he wrote vital contrapuntally moving parts for each. There is never any stuffing in a score of his.

“The suite was played con amore by the college orchestra (many of whom had been under Sir Hubert as students) and was conducted by Dr. – now Sir Hugh – Allen, director of the Royal College of Music.” According to the article, the performance was on June 4.

Female conductors were rare in Parry’s day. Emily Daymond was one. The Countess of Radnor (1846-1929), for whom he had written the earlier, and less interesting, suite known as Lady Radnor’s Suite, was another and had an orchestra charmingly called Lady Radnor’s Band. He was not, as far as I know, romantically involved with either of them, though his marriage was not especially happy.


May 3 2014

I’ll continue this little 1914 music sequence on May 9.

Ravel’s piano trio

May 2 2014

Ravel began composing it in March 1914. During the summer of 1914, he worked in the French Basque commune of Saint-Jean-de-Luz. He had been born across the bay in the Basque town of Ciboure. His mother was Basque.

At the same time he was working on a piano concerto based on Basque themes entitled Zazpiak Bat (The Seven are One, referring to the seven traditional Basque provinces). Although abandoned, it left its mark on the trio.

The outbreak of war in August 1914 spurred him on to finish the trio so that he could enlist. He finished it in September. He was accepted as a nurse’s aide by the Army in October. In March 1916 he became an ambulance driver at the Verdun front (Vaughan Williams did the same job with the Royal Army Medical Corps in France and in Salonika). He fell ill at the end of that year and was demobilised in March 1917.

Movements are marked Modéré, Pantoum (Assez vif), Passacaille (Très large) and Final (Animé).

Yehudi Menuhin, violin, Gaspar Cassadó, cello, Louis Kentner, piano, 1960:

Not an ideal recording technically, but nor is the equally musical Jeanne Gautier, André Lévy, Vlado Perlemuter, 1954, also on YouTube.

A good student performance is by Iason Keramidis, Felix Drake and Lidija Pavlovic, Hochschule für Musik Karlsruhe, July 13 2012:

At the beginning of this work, aren’t we close to the world of On Wenlock Edge? Vaughan Williams had studied with Ravel, who was his junior by two and a half years, in Paris for three months in early 1908. In February 1912, he attended the French premiere of On Wenlock Edge in Paris at which Ravel played the piano part. Isn’t it possible that the influence went both ways?

In music in the German-speaking world there was jitteriness in these years, but not the stillness and vulnerability which one hears in some French and English music on the eve of 1914.

Ravel, Ciboure

Ravel, Ciboure, 1914

George Butterworth dances

May 1 2014

This post contains a remarkable YouTube discovery.

George Butterworth is famous for having written music of extraordinarily high quality which seems to be about AE Housman’s land of lost content.

“Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.”

And for having died, at the Schubertian age of thirty-one on August 5 1916, in the Battle of the Somme. We may call Housman second-rate (I like second-rate poetry of this period), but I do not think we can use that word about Butterworth, limited though his range may have been.

I wrote about him in this post on Housman. Butterworth is the ghost of English music. A presence, an absence. Would he have been able to develop or was his whole style formed by a presentiment of war and of his death?

Housman wrote the poems in A Shropshire Lad twenty years before the end of the peace. Nearly all the music of Butterworth which survives is from 1910-13.

It is startling and moving to find him on film.

The film is taken from Kinora spools made in 1912 which are now in the possession of The English Folk Dance and Song Society.

Who said or did not say “Try everything once except incest and Morris dancing”? Beecham probably. It is, on the whole, the world’s least sexy dance. But this delightful film would incline me to exclude only incest. Here, at least, performed by the leaders of the folk revival, it does not look ridiculous. First we see (the silent film tells us)

Maud Karpeles dancing part of Princess Royal (Bampton version), then

George Butterworth dancing extracts from Molly Oxford (Field Town jig), then

Maud and Helen Karpeles dancing extracts from Lumps of Plumb Pudding (Bampton version), then

Maud Karpeles dancing the first part of Jockie to the Fair (Headington version), then

Cecil Sharp, George Butterworth, Maud Karpeles and Helen Karpeles dancing Hey Boys Up Go We, and at the end

Butterworth dancing something which is not identified.

The YouTube poster, pabmusic1, tells us that

“the music (which of course has been added later) is Ribbon Dance (rec. 1933), The Triumph [my link] (rec. 1927), The Queen’s Jig (rec. 1934), Sellinger’s Round (rec. 1938) and Hunt the Squirrel (rec. 1938). The music bears no relation to what they are dancing, but there’s no record of what music was being used.”

Cecil Sharp was the founding father of the folklore revival in England. Many traditional dances and much folk music owe their continuing existence to his work in recording and publishing them. I’ll say more about this and about Morris dancing in another post.

I can’t say much on the esoteric subject of the dances and tunes, but Sellinger’s Round is famous from Glenn Gould’s recording of William Byrd’s variations on it and from the modern variations written collaboratively in 1952 by Lennox Berkeley, Benjamin Britten, Arthur Oldham, Humphrey Searle, Michael Tippett and William Walton to celebrate the coming coronation of Princess Elizabeth.

The music is, anyway, charming, and as a commenter says: “even though the film and the accompanying music as we are receiving it in this video have no direct relationship, whoever put these two elements together did a marvelous job of it so that the feeling we get is that of total compatibility.”

The moment in the film where Sharp comes in (to Sellinger’s Round) is especially delightful. Maud Karpeles was his collaborator and biographer (not wife, though he was married), Helen was her sister.

Butterworth went to Eton (like Thomas Arne and Hubert Parry) and met Sharp while at Trinity College in Oxford. He became a close friend of Vaughan Williams.

“Whether any of Butterworth’s friendships were more than platonic is uncertain; although he seems generally to have preferred the company of men, his sexual orientation remains unclear. His modesty, kindness, and natural gifts of leadership were commented on as early as his prep school days. He was a good-looking man, of medium height and build, dark-haired and with the full moustache fashionable in his day, and the most notable feature of his face in photographs [there are really only two] is the sensitive and humorous cast of the eyes.” Sensitive remarks by Alain Frogley in the Dictionary of National Biography.

The cobbler and the nightingale

April 30 2014

… or, The last season

It is impossible to imagine two composers more different than Stravinsky and Henri Rabaud (1873-1949), who was known for his tirades against modernism.

The phrase “Stravinsky and Rabaud”, and the other way round, does not appear on the internet.

Yet the two notable operatic premieres in Paris in the last season before the outbreak of the Great War were oriental fairy-tales by them. Rabaud’s five-act Mârouf, savetier du Caire was performed at the Opéra-Comique on May 15. Stravinsky’s Debussyan three-scene Le rossignol at the Palais Garnier on May 26.

The Rabaud, which was revived at the Opéra-Comique last year, was based on The Arabian Nights, with a libretto by Lucien Nepoty. The Stravinsky, which is set in ancient China, on Hans Christian Andersen, with a libretto by the composer and Stepan Mitussov. Stravinsky had begun working on it in 1908, but put it aside to work on the three Diaghilev ballets. 

The premiere of The Rite of Spring (surely the most overrated work of the twentieth century) had taken place at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées on May 29 1913.

The two operas do not inhabit entirely different worlds. Music has become marooned in a kind of static orientalism. Charles Friant, tenor, Dans le jardin fleuri, from Mârouf, a beautiful example of a style of French singing, now lost, which gives meaning to an opera like this:

Le rossignol, scene 1, performers not stated:

Géori Boué (still living), soprano, 1948, Pourquoi ces mots inattendus, from Mârouf (will open in a new window):

Screen Shot 2014-04-30 at 18.30.14

André Gaudin, tenor, 1930, A travers le désert, from Mârouf (will open in a new window):

Screen Shot 2014-04-30 at 18.15.18

Spring 1914

April 29 2014

Darius Milhaud’s third string quartet, opus 32 (1916) is subtitled En souvenir du printemps 1914 and has two movements, both marked Très lent.

The second movement contains a setting of words from the journal of his Catholic friend Léo Latil, also from Aix-en-Provence, who was killed at Souain in the Marne on September 27 1915. I’ll quote them in a comment when I find them. The first quotes from his own earlier setting of Latil’s poem Le rossignol.

“My adolescence was lit by the glow of two wonderful friendships.” One was with Latil. The other was with Armand Lunel, a Juif du Pape and the last known speaker of the Judeo-Provençal Shuadit language, a now-extinct Occitan.

Latil was the first of a trio of Catholic poets who influenced Milhaud, a Jew. Latil presented him to Francis Jammes, who in turn introduced him to Paul Claudel.

From Notes without Music, quoted at The Eastside View (my links):

“Leo … attended the Catholic school [...]. We became firm friends. He worshipped music and admired my early efforts with passionate conviction; he made me share his admiration for Maurice de Guérin, and we loved to discover contemporary poets together. I think Leo would probably have become a country priest. The infinite tenderness in his gaze betrayed a tendency to melancholy and a tormented sense of anxiety. He kept a diary that was one long lamentation in which spiritual weariness and painfully intense religious feeling, dominated ever by a deep spirit of sacrifice and absolute resignation, were interwoven with a passionate love of nature, of flowers, and of the exquisite blue lines of the horizon at Aix. He was a dreamer, in love with solitary brooding, but he accepted my presence. We often went for walks together; he would always take the same direction, toward the Étang de Berre, west of the town, where the softly curving hills merge into the immensity of the plain, on the edge of which stood Cézanne’s property, Jas de Bouffan, with its famous row of poplars gently suffused with the colours of the setting sun. [Milhaud himself is often called a musical Cézanne.] We never wearied of walking along between the fields of wheat, blue-green in spring, bordered with almond trees in bloom, dwarf oaks, and pines, through exquisite landscapes, some of which, like the Château de l’Horloge, evoked historical memories: according to Chateaubriand, it was in this solid, roomy farmhouse that Napoleon spent the night on his return from Elba. Sometimes we went as far as Malvalat, the Latils’ estate near Granettes, a village that took its name from the painter Granet, who lived there […].”

Same source (I have the book, but not to hand):

“Léo was stationed at Briançon in the Chasseurs Alpins. He looked on the war as a mission, a solution to his personal problems, and got himself sent to the front as soon as he could.”

“On September 27, 1915, as I was going across the Place de Villiers [in Paris, where he was studying], I felt an exceedingly acute physical pang, which lasted several seconds. I immediately thought of Leo and feared that some disaster had befallen him. Later I was to learn that I had felt this pain at the very moment of his death. It was at the height of an offensive in Champagne; he had been wounded, but though no longer able to handle a rifle, he refused to be evacuated, so that he might take part in the attack with his comrades. He was mown down by the German machine guns at the head of his company while encouraging his men. His family sent me a copy of his will; he had left me his diary. He had deposited it, together with my letters, in an old wooden chest, an eighteenth-century sailor’s trunk; I added the letters I had received from him. Subsequently Dr. Latil [Léo’s father, a doctor; George Butterworth’s was a solicitor] had a selection of his letters and extracts from his diary published by Plon. This supreme testimony of his pure Christian faith and spirit of self-sacrifice was singled out for mention by Barres on account of the nobility of its thought. While I was in Brazil I had a hundred copies of Leo’s poems privately printed. A few months after his death, I wrote my Third String Quartet, dedicated to his memory. This consists of two very slow movements, in the second of which I introduced a soprano voice singing a page from Leo’s diary, ending: ‘What is this longing for death, and which death does it mean?’ This sentence had haunted my imagination ever since I had read it.”

Milhaud also composed:

Trois poèmes de Léo Latil, opus 2 (1910-16, Prière à mon poète [Jammes] et à la petite Bernadette, sa filleClair de luneIl pleut doucement)

Quatre poèmes de Léo Latil, opus 20 (1914, L’abandon; Ma douleur et sa compagneLe rossignolLa tourterelle) and

Poème du journal intime de Léo Latil, pour baryton et piano, opus 73 (1921).

He wrote other works with printemps in the title, including one for violin and piano probably in the spring of 1914. He set texts by Lunel, Jammes and Claudel in many more works, in each case up to the ’60s.

The death of Latil was the end of Milhaud’s youth. A rheumatic illness exempted him from fighting. It would confine him to a wheelchair for the second half of his life. But he did a different war work. Brazil entered the war in April 1917. A few weeks before that, he arrived in Rio to take the post of secretary to Claudel, who had been appointed France’s ambassador (ministre plénipotentiaire) to Brazil in the previous year.

He dedicated his second string quartet, opus 16 (not 12 as stated on YouTube, 1914-15) to Latil, perhaps on hearing the news of his death. The movements are marked Modérément animé, très animéTrès lentTrès vifSouple et sans hâte – assez animé et gracieuxTrès animé. Here it is, played, like the third, by the Quatuor Parisii:

Both paintings by Henri Le Sidaner.


April 28 2014

A remarkable, little-known, bittersweet early piece by Heitor Villa-Lobos, Sonata-fantaisie for violin and piano no 1, Désespérance (Rio de Janeiro, 1912). Much disturbance under an at times Brahmsian (at the beginning even Bach-through-Brahmsian) surface.

A good performance of this not very despairing work, but the magical violin harmonics after 3:47 should be more delicate and the piano should have introduced that moment better.

Emmanuele Baldini (Italian living in São Paulo), violin, Pablo Rossi (Brazilian), piano, Sala Palestrina, Brazilian Embassy in Rome

Brazil declared war on Germany and Italy in 1942 and sent 25,000 troops to Italy.

There is a CD with Jue Yao, violin, and Alfred Heller.

Absit omen

April 27 2014

Pan-Islamism is dormant – yet we have to reckon with the possibility that the sleeper may awake if ever the cosmopolitan proletariat of a “Westernized” world revolts against Western domination and cries out for anti-Western leadership. That call might have incalculable psychological effects in evoking the militant spirit of Islam – even if it had slumbered as long as the Seven Sleepers – because it might awaken echoes of a heroic age. On two historic occasions in the past, Islam has been the sign [under] which an Oriental society has risen up victoriously against an Occidental intruder. Under the first successors of the Prophet, Islam liberated Syria and Egypt from a Hellenic domination which had weighed on them for nearly a thousand years. Under Zangi and Nur-ad-Din and Saladin and the Mamluks, Islam held the fort against the assaults of Crusaders and Mongols. [In] the present situation of mankind [...] Islam might be moved to play her historic role once again. Absit omen.

Civilization on Trial, OUP, 1948

Former peers of the Minoans and Vikings

April 26 2014

The Polynesians [...] ventured upon the tour de force of Oceanic voyaging. Their skill was to perform these stupendous voyages in frail open canoes. Their penalty has been to remain in an exact equilibrium with the Pacific – just able to cross its vast empty spaces, but never able to cross them with any margin of security or ease – until the intolerable tension has found its own relief by going slack, with the consequence that these former peers of the Minoans and the Vikings have degenerated into incarnations of the Lotus-Eaters and the Doasyoulikes: loosing their grip upon the Ocean and resigning themselves to be marooned, each in his own insular paradise, until the Western mariner comes at last from the ends of the Earth to exterminate them as he exterminates the Arctic hunters’ seals or the prairie hunters’ bison. [Footnote: The decimation of the Polynesians by the Western “beach-combers” has not, of course, been deliberate; yet the bullet and the harpoon which have done such execution among the non-human [he might have added human] fauna of North America are not so deadly to Primitive Man as the germs of contagious diseases which the Westerner involuntarily brings – not to speak of the profound devitalizing influence which the Westerner’s very spiritual presence exerts upon the Primitive who suddenly comes into social contact with him.]

A strenuous Victorian is uncomfortable with tropical ease and prefers the Minoans and Vikings.

He might as well use Charles Kingsley further and call the Polynesians water babies. He is using the word Polynesians in its old-fashioned sense of Pacific islanders generally. Which devitalised them more: the idyllic islands or the intruding Westerners? Of course, the latter.

Old posts:


The temptations of Odysseus.

A Study of History, Vol III, OUP, 1934

Îles Marquises

April 25 2014

Of all major Pacific island groups, the Marquesas, 850 miles northeast of Tahiti, suffered the greatest population decline from diseases brought by Western explorers: from over 78,000 in the eighteenth century to about 20,000 by the middle of the nineteenth and 4,000 by the beginning of the twentieth.

The population had increased to 8,548 by the time of the 2002 census, not including Marquesans residing on Tahiti, and 9,264 at the 2012 census.

The island furthest from any other inhabited place is Tristan da Cunha in the bleaker south Atlantic. But the Marquesas, like other Pacific islands, are further from a continent than Tristan: 3,000 miles from the nearest continental landmass (Mexico).

The Polynesians arrived before AD 300. Ethnological and linguistic evidence suggests from the region of Tonga and Samoa. The islands were given their European name by Álvaro de Mendaña, who reached them in 1595. He named them after his patron, García Hurtado de Mendoza, 5th Marquis of Cañete, Viceroy of Peru.

Cook visited them on his second voyage. An American maritime fur trader, Joseph Ingraham, visited the northern Marquesas while commanding the brig Hope in 1791 and called them the Washington Islands.

In 1813 Commodore David Porter claimed Nuku Hiva for the US, but Congress never ratified the claim. France took possession and established a settlement there in 1842, abandoned it in 1859, re-established control 1870 and later incorporated the islands into French Polynesia, which is now a pays d’outre-mer of France.

“The race is perhaps the handsomest extant [...] yet death reaps them with both hands” (Robert Louis Stevenson, In the South Seas, posthumously-published memoir of a visit to the Marquesas and other islands in 1888).

Marquesas 1.

Some Marquesans feel neglected by politicians in Tahiti. Some favour a direct link with Paris instead of depending on Papeete. Some Marquesan political leaders, fearful that Tahiti might proclaim independence, have declared themselves in favour of separating from French Polynesia. Pro-independence Tahitian leaders have accused the French central government of encouraging the separation of the Marquesas.

Melville’s Typee is about the Marquesas. Gauguin died on Hiva Oa, Jacques Brel is buried there. In Huxley’s Brave New World, the Marquesas are a place of exile for those considered dangerous to the World State. Thor Heyerdahl spent a year on Fatu Hiva and wrote about his disillusionment.

British accents

April 24 2014

Or rather, accents of the British Isles. A brilliant but not exhaustive tour:

No Brummie (Birmingham), Geordie (Newcastle), Manchester, Cumbria, Potteries (Stoke-on-Trent), Derbyshire, Black Country (between Birmingham and Wolverhampton). The first three are big omissions. There are more variations within regions. He does Scouse or Liverpudlian.

He deals with some regional, but not class or “ethnic” or English-diaspora nuances. His Devon-Cornwall needs some polishing.

Voice of Andrew Jack, a dialect coach. He should do another, five-minute, take.

Recent post.

Austronesia: Madagascar to Hawaii

April 24 2014

The widest term for the languages and cultures (rather than racial identities) of Malaya and the islands from Madagascar to Sumatra, Java, Taiwan (before China), the Philippines, Borneo, Micronesia, Melanesia, New Zealand, Polynesia, Hawaii is Austronesian.

Austronesian languages are not to be confused with the much older Papuan and Australian languages. (New Guinea is outside the Austronesian space.)

It used to be thought that they had originated in Taiwan, from where large-scale migrations began after 5000 BC. The first Austronesian-speaking settlers were said to have landed in northern Luzon, where they intermingled with an older population.

Recently (2009) their origin has been placed further south, in Sundaland, the peninsula, before the end of the last Ice Age, that had extended the Asian landmass as far as Borneo and Java. Under this scenario, refugees from the rising seas migrated north to Taiwan.

Austronesian-speakers spread eastward to the islands of Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia and westward to Madagascar. Sailing from Melanesia and Micronesia, they had discovered Polynesia by 1000 BC, Easter Island by AD 300, Hawaii by AD 400 and New Zealand by AD 1280. They reached South America and traded with Native Americans.

By the beginning of the first millennium CE, the Austronesian inhabitants of maritime Southeast Asia had begun trading with India and China. Hinduism and Buddhism were introduced and Indianised kingdoms established. By the tenth century Muslim traders had brought Islam, which gradually displaced the older religions. The Austronesian inhabitants of Polynesia were unaffected by these cultural migrations and diffusions and retained their indigenous culture.

Map of the Austronesian migrations, Wikimedia Commons, opens in a new window; a couple of the dates differ slightly from ones I have given: