A Victorian

March 1 2015

Alfred George Webster of Lincoln (1852-1916) aged 30, mentioned in the last post. My great-grandmother’s brother, by his brother-in-law aged 30.

Alfred Webster


Trafalgar Square 1879 continued

February 28 2015

Yesterday’s post was supposed to be a few lines about a minor but interesting Victorian painting, and turned into a classroom exercise: “What is going on in this picture, and what has changed between then and now?”

The answer kept growing and is in the comments. Now I’ve checked what Kenneth McConkey says in his book on Clausen.

McConkey tells us that the flower girl theme was “frequently addressed in sentimental potboilers by Augustus E Mulready”. He doesn’t show us any sentimental Mulreadys, but here is one, Little Flower Sellers, from 1887:

Augustus Edwin Mulready, Little Flower Sellers

It was, I suspect, a fashion all over Europe. Not much gritty social realism in Clausen’s picture either, you might say, but it was on the way. (Though it was not to be his permanent manner.) And there is an objective and deadpan quality in the Clausen which was consciously modern. McConkey doesn’t comment on the newspaper shown in The Flower Seller, but I think he’d agree that it is a telling detail.

Trafalgar Square was the very “hub of creation”: McConkey cites AR Hope Moncrieff, London, A&C Black, 1910. Here’s the full passage in Moncrieff:

“Parthians and Medes and Elamites may at every hour of the day be found in Trafalgar Square, along with the pig-tailed Chinaman, the negro, unheeded even by street-boys, the Red Indian stolidly dissembling his amazement, the mild Hindoo jostling sahibs with a new-found strut, the almond-eyed Japanese Jack on shore knocking up against a burly Russian tar, the Egyptian wondering at monuments where no one pesters him for bakshish, the Italian sighing for the sun of dolce far niente, the Alpine mountaineer lost in admiration of so many tall chimney-pots, the Parisian twirling a critical moustache, the German professor studiously conferring with his Baedeker, and, conspicuous among the throng, the frequent figure of Uncle Sam, one eye cocked in complacent comparison with his own sky-scraping Babels, the other moistened by sentiment for the old home of his race.

“Apart from its magnetic character, in Trafalgar Square more foreigners are likely to turn up than in other parts of London, since close at hand, about Soho and Leicester Square, is the headquarters of our Continental colony.”

One wishes artists had painted more of this and fewer flower girls. I commented on two possible tourists in The Flower Seller.

A reporter in The Graphic, McConkey tells us, thought that the proliferation of flower girls was (in McConkey’s words: the date of the piece isn’t clear in his notes, but perhaps June 22 1872) “a direct result of the development of the railways and the fact that fresh flowers could now be brought to the city centre cheaply – creating a new underclass of street sellers, and at the same time, a fashion for buttonholes and posies among city-clerks and shop-workers”.

Whence, I suppose, carnations worn at weddings and, until fairly recently, by shopworkers at Fortnum and Mason and pretentious Harley Street doctors.

He shows an illustration from The Graphic by Frank Holl. Surely this is also about the ambiguity of the flower girl’s profession in that part of London. She might be a prostitute.

I referred to Mayhew in the last post. One can mention also Toilers in London; or, Inquiries concerning Female Labour in the Metropolis, “By the ‘British Weekly’ Commissioners”, Hodder and Stoughton, 1889.

McConkey doesn’t identify Clausen’s (lower?) middle-class model, used in a series of “street” paintings, saying only that she had “strayed from the leafy precincts of Hampstead and Regent’s Park”. Is that just a guess? Clausen was living at 4, The Mall, Haverstock Hill. McConkey compares her to Tissot’s Mrs Kathleen Newton.

He calls The Flower Seller experimental. It is anyway the first of the street paintings, which were a bridge between Clausen’s Dutch phase and his earliest English rural pictures:

The Flower Seller (1879), private collection (last post)

A Winter Afternoon (1880), private collection

In the Street (1880), private collection

Schoolgirls (1880), Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

A Morning Walk (1881), private collection

A Spring Morning, Haverstock Hill (1881), Bury Art Museum, Manchester.

All oil, the last the largest and most ambitious. All but one, In the Street (which is practically a miniature), show stark class contrasts. In the last two, rural workers seem to have wandered into the city. At the end of 1881, Clausen moved to the country (Childwick Green, Hertfordshire).

McConkey mentions William Logsdail only in passing, as a Clausen contemporary. He was a few years younger than Clausen and died in 1944, a few weeks before him. But a few days ago I saw his St Martin-in-the-Fields (1888) at Tate Britain: another flower girl in Trafalgar Square, with the artist looking towards St Martin’s Place and St Martin’s Lane.

The Tate reminds us that Trafalgar Square had been the scene of Bloody Sunday the year before. Logsdail’s tour-de-force is popular, but he is a limited painter. The girl is Bastien-Lepagish if not Clausenish.

On June 1 1881 Clausen married, at King’s Lynn, Agnes Mary, the sister of a friend, Alfred George Webster, who, from his mid-twenties in 1877 until his death (not in the war) in 1916, was Principal of the School of Art in Lincoln. That is where Logsdail had studied – presumably under the slightly older Webster.

William Logsdail, St Martin in the Fields

Logsdail, St Martin-in-the-Fields

Clausen, In the Street

Clausen, In the Street; she is carrying flowers

___

National Gallery, starting March 4: Inventing Impressionism: The man who sold a thousand Monets, an exhibition about Paul Durand-Ruel. I hope it is pleasanter to visit than their recent crowded, exploitative Rembrandt.

National Portrait Gallery, St Martin’s Place, on already: Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends.

Durand-Ruel had, from 1870, a gallery in London at 168 New Bond Street under the management of Charles Deschamps, of which Clausen wrote: “Our favourite was Deschamps’ in Bond Street. He was, I believe, the first to show the works of Millet, Degas, Manet and others of that time. There was always something good to be seen there, and we were cordially welcomed for he was really interested in art, and most encouraging to us students.” Autobiographical Notes, Artwork, no 25, Spring 1931.

Old Clausen post: A universal face.


Trafalgar Square 1879

February 27 2015

The Flower Seller

Enjoyable (especially the plinth) early Clausen, painted when he was 26 or 27: The Flower Seller, private collection; the plinth supports an equestrian statue of Charles I by Hubert Le Sueur; they have been there since 1678; George Clausen’s memorial service would take place in 1944 in the church in the background, St Martin-in-the-Fields, James Gibbs, 1722-24


The unchanging West

February 27 2015

… or, A boy from Baghdad

Let us […] construct the intellectual history of a fictitious Baghdadi boy, who has been born since the arrival of the British at Baghdad in 1917 and whose father has determined to give him a thoroughly Western scientific education in order to fit him for making his way in the Westernized East of to-morrow. The father begins by giving the boy some direct insight into Western scientific methods by showing him Western scientists at work in his own country. He takes him to see the archaeological excavations at Ur. Let us assume that the boy is as intelligent as his father, and that this visit arouses in him a general interest in modern Western Archaeology, ranging over the whole field as far as it has been explored by Western scholars. Among other things, the life of the lake-dwellers in the Alps in the “Eneolithic Age” [which we would now call Early Bronze Age] is sure to appeal to the Baghdadi boy for the same reasons which invest the conditions of life on the North Arabian Steppe with a special interest for Western readers of the Book of Genesis. The boy’s interest in the lake-dwellers will broaden out into a study of all aspects of their life, including the manner in which they adapted themselves to the imperious conditions of the local terrain and climate in keeping their cattle. He will follow the ancient lacustrine herdsmen as they drive their cattle up from the lake-side to ever higher upland pastures with the advance of spring and then gradually down again from alp to alp to the water’s edge with the retreat of summer. This study will become his hobby; and when the time comes for him to visit Europe, he will make a bee-line first for Switzerland. There, herded by some tourist agency into Alpine hotels, he will observe, with astonishment and delight, that the pastoral life with which he is familiar from the books about the ancient lake-dwellers which his father gave him to read at home is being lived, apparently unchanged, by the Swiss herdsmen of to-day. With what extraordinary persistence social phenomena perpetuate themselves in this strange and romantic Western World! How different from ʿIraq, where the disinterred vestiges of Ur and Babylon and Nineveh proclaim to any Baghdadi who sets eyes on them that, in his country, Life is a flux and history a synonym for change. And now this Baghdadi has discovered “the Unchanging West”. What a tale to tell to his countrymen when he goes home again!

Of course our intelligent young man from Baghdad would not have rushed into this ludicrously erroneous generalization if the romance of the Alpine pastures had not absorbed his attention to the extent of preventing him from studying with equal thoroughness the histories of those sites on Western soil that are now occupied by the cities of Zurich and Lausanne – not to speak of Paris and London and Berlin and New York and Chicago. If he had studied these likewise, he could not conceivably have imagined that the West was “unchanging” by comparison with Iraq (immense though the changes in ʿIraq have been, on every plane of social life, over the span of five or six thousand years within which we happen to know something about the country’s history). He has been misled by a failure to realize that he has been making a generalization about half the World on the strength of local conditions in a small area with a peculiar character of its own. While the Alps impose upon all human beings in all ages who have the hardihood to be their inhabitants as rigid and as unvarying a way of life as is imposed by the North Arabian Steppe, it is likewise true that the Alps are as small a fraction of the Western World as the North Arabian Steppe is of the East. An extravaganza? Yet quid rides? For mutato nomine de te fabula narratur, [footnote: Horace: Satires, i (i), ll. 69-70.] you Western traveller, whoever you may have been, who first brought home to us the catchword of “the Unchanging East”.

Toynbee was saying this kind of thing before Edward Said, who presumably mocked the phrase. Was its inventor a Scottish Canadian writer named Robert Barr (founder of The Idler) in a book with that name published in 1900?

[Footnote: It may be objected that even an ingenuous and unobservant Oriental traveller who visited the Alps to-day with a picture in his mind of the local conditions of life in the “Eneolithic Age” could not really fail to notice, side by side with many points of correspondence, at least as many and as remarkable evidences of change. It can only be replied that Western travellers have contrived to ignore similar evidences on the North Arabian Steppe, where the conditions portrayed in the Book of Genesis have been changed profoundly, since that portrait was drawn, by at least two far-reaching innovations: the introduction of the horse and the introduction of fire-arms (not to speak of dry farming and motor-cars, which are both still too recent introductions to have had time to produce their full effects).]

The unchanging East (last post but one).

A Study of History, Vol I, OUP, 1934


Peter’s war

February 26 2015

Peter’s declaration of war upon the Byzantine social tradition was delivered in his celebrated gesture of shaving, with his own hand, the beards of the grandees who came to congratulate him on his return from the West in A.D. 1698. A ukase of the 4th January, 1700, made the wearing of Western dress compulsory by a certain date “for the glory and beauty of the State and the improvement of the Army”. This was confirmed in a second ukase of the 20th March, and detailed instructions were issued in 1701. Compare Mehmed ʿAli’s imposition of Western uniforms upon his troops, and Mustafā Kemāl’s imposition of Western dress upon the entire male civil population. [Entire?] (The compulsory change of dress which was carried through by Peter in Russia was confined to the upper class, and the obligation to shave might be bought off by the payment of a beard-tax.) Peter, however, was not content with imposing Western dress. He arranged for the compilation of elaborate manuals of Western fine manners; and in the houses of the nobility in the new capital, Petersburg, “receptions” à la française were organized by the Police.

Were bourgeois manners and behaviour in Tsarist Russia harder than in western Europe to distinguish from aristocratic?

A Study of History, Vol III, OUP, 1934 (footnote)


The unchanging East

February 26 2015

“Twenty-two members of the same family would sit around adjoined tables in a café and eat ice cream. ‘Europe’ […] appeared eternal, poor but well-dressed, fiercely macho, Catholic and so little subject to change that all four generations of a family could laugh heartily at the same jokes.”

Edmund White, midwesterner, on the Costa Brava in the mid-’60s in The Guardian, January 17 2004.


Volcanoes and Titans

February 25 2015

[The Nomads’] eruptions out of the Desert into the Sown, like the eruptions of a Vesuvius or an Etna, are the mechanical resolutions of vast but inanimate physical forces. They are not the agonies of an imprisoned Titan who is frantically struggling for liberty and light.

Like the movement of wind between areas of high and low pressure, perhaps.

A Study of History, Vol III, OUP, 1934


Vesuvius ’44

February 25 2015

I’m not big on disaster movies, but this Pathé newsreel, complete with Finlandia, is quite something; the movie shown after it must have seemed dull. Thanks to Adrian Murdoch for the link.

The ’44 eruption is described by Norman Lewis in Naples ’44.

Wikipedia, edited:

“Mount Vesuvius has erupted many times. The famous eruption in AD 79 was preceded by numerous others in prehistory, including at least three significantly larger ones, the best known being the Avellino eruption around 1800 BC which engulfed several Bronze Age settlements. Since AD 79, the volcano has also erupted repeatedly, in 172, 203, 222, possibly 303, 379, 472, 512, 536, 685, 787, around 860, around 900, 968, 991, 999, 1006, 1037, 1049, around 1073, 1139, 1150, and there may have been eruptions in 1270, 1347, and 1500. The volcano erupted again in 1631, six times in the 18th century, eight times in the 19th century (notably in 1872), and in 1906, 1929, and 1944. There has been no eruption since 1944, and none of the post-79 eruptions was as large or destructive as the Pompeian one.

“The eruptions vary greatly in severity but are characterized by explosive outbursts of the kind dubbed Plinian after Pliny the Younger, a Roman writer who published a detailed description of the AD 79 eruption, in which his uncle, Pliny the Elder, died. On occasion, eruptions from Vesuvius have been so large that the whole of southern Europe has been blanketed by ash; in 472 and 1631, Vesuvian ash fell on Constantinople, over 1,200 kilometres away. A few times since 1944, landslides in the crater have raised clouds of ash dust, raising false alarms of an eruption.”


Wells on Cnossos

February 24 2015

Wells’s A Short History of the World (1922) is not an abridgement of his much longer The Outline of History (1919-20), but (he claimed) a new work. They are no more than period pieces now, but enjoyable in small doses because Wells. This is from the shorter work.

The omissions are of words and phrases that make no sense, but I have left the rest as it is.

“The earliest boats […] must have come into use some twenty-five or thirty thousand years ago. Man was probably paddling about on the water with a log of wood or an inflated skin to assist him, at latest in the beginnings of the Neolithic period. A basketwork boat covered with skin and caulked was used in Egypt and Sumeria from the beginnings of our knowledge. Such boats are still used there. They are used to this day in Ireland and Wales and in Alaska; sealskin boats still make the crossing of Behring Straits. The hollow log followed as tools improved [might it not have preceded?]. The building of boats and then ships came in a natural succession.

“Perhaps the legend of Noah’s Ark preserves the memory of some early exploit in shipbuilding, just as the story of the Flood, so widely distributed […], may be the tradition of the flooding of the Mediterranean basin.

“There were ships upon the Red Sea long before the pyramids were built, and there were ships on the Mediterranean and Persian Gulf by 7000 B.C. Mostly these were the ships of fishermen, but some were already trading and pirate ships – for knowing what we do of mankind we may guess pretty safely that the first sailors plundered where they could and traded where they had to do so.

“The seas on which these first ships adventured were inland seas on which the wind blew fitfully and which were often at a dead calm for days together, so that sailing did not develop beyond an accessory use. It is only in the last four hundred years that the well-rigged, ocean-going, sailing ship has developed. The ships of the ancient world were essentially rowing ships which hugged the shore and went into harbour at the first sign of rough weather. As ships grew into big galleys they caused a demand for war captives as galley slaves.

“We have already noted the appearance of the Semitic people as wanderers and nomads in the region of Syria and Arabia, and how they conquered Sumeria and set up first the Akkadian and then the first Babylonian Empire. In the west these same Semitic peoples were taking to the sea. They set up a string of harbour towns along the Eastern coast of the Mediterranean, of which Tyre and Sidon were the chief; and by the time of Hammurabi in Babylon, they had spread as traders, wanderers and colonizers over the whole Mediterranean basin. These sea Semites were called the Phœnicians, They settled largely in Spain, pushing back the old Iberian Basque population and sending coasting expeditions through the straits of Gibraltar; and they set up colonies upon the north coast of Africa. Of Carthage, one of these Phœnician cities, we shall have much more to tell later.

“But the Phœnicians were not the first people to have galleys in the Mediterranean waters. There was already a series of towns and cities among the islands and coasts of that sea belonging to a race or races apparently connected by blood and language with the Basques to the west and the Berbers and Egyptians to the south, the Ægean peoples. These peoples must not be confused with the Greeks, who come much later into our story; they were pre-Greek, but they had cities in Greece and Asia Minor; Mycenæ and Troy for example [which would become Greek], and they had a great and prosperous establishment at Cnossos in Crete.

“It is only in the last half century that the industry of excavating archæologists has brought the extent and civilization of the Ægean peoples to our knowledge. Cnossos has been most thoroughly explored; it was happily not succeeded by any city big enough to destroy its ruins, and so it is our chief source of information about this once almost forgotten civilization.

“The history of Cnossos goes back as far as the history of Egypt; the two countries were trading actively across the sea by 4000 B.C. By 2500 B.C., that is between the time of Sargon I and Hammurabi [modern dating places Sargon of Akkad around 2300 BC, Hammurabi of Babylon around 1800 BC], Cretan civilization was at its zenith.

“Cnossos was not so much a town as a great palace for the Cretan monarch and his people. It was not even fortified. It was only fortified later as the Phœnicians grew strong, and as a new and more terrible breed of pirates, the Greeks, came upon the sea from the north.

“The monarch was called Minos, as the Egyptian monarch was called Pharaoh; and he kept his state in a palace fitted with running water, with bathrooms and the like conveniences such as we know of in no other ancient remains. There he held great festivals and shows. There was bull-fighting, singularly like the bull-fighting that still survives in Spain; there was resemblance even in the costumes of the bull-fighters; and there were gymnastic displays. The women’s clothes were remarkably modern in spirit; they wore corsets and flounced dresses. The pottery, the textile manufactures, the sculpture, painting, jewellery, ivory, metal and inlay work of these Cretans was often astonishingly beautiful. And they had a system of writing [Linear A], but that still remains to be deciphered.

“This happy and sunny and civilized life lasted for some score of centuries. About 2000 B.C. Cnossos and Babylon abounded in comfortable and cultivated people who probably led very pleasant lives. They had shows and they had religious festivals, they had domestic slaves to look after them and industrial slaves to make a profit for them. Life must have seemed very secure in Cnossos for such people, sunlit and girdled by the blue sea. Egypt of course must have appeared rather a declining country in those days under the rule of her half-barbaric shepherd kings, and if one took an interest in politics one must have noticed how the Semitic people seemed to be getting everywhere, ruling Egypt, ruling distant Babylon, building Nineveh on the upper Tigris, sailing west to the Pillars of Hercules (the straits of Gibraltar) and setting up their colonies on those distant coasts.

“There were some active and curious minds in Cnossos, because later on the Greeks told legends of a certain skilful Cretan artificer, Dædalus, who attempted to make some sort of flying machine, perhaps a glider, which collapsed and fell into the sea.

“It is interesting to note some of the differences as well as the resemblances between the life of Cnossos and our own. To a Cretan gentleman of 2500 B.C. iron was a rare metal which fell out of the sky and was curious rather than useful – for as yet only meteoric iron was known, iron had not been obtained from its ores. Compare that with our modern state of affairs pervaded by iron everywhere. The horse again would be a quite legendary creature to our Cretan, a sort of super-ass which lived in the bleak northern lands far away beyond the Black Sea. Civilization for him dwelt chiefly in Ægean Greece and Asia Minor, where Lydians and Carians and Trojans lived a life and probably spoke languages like his own. There were Phœnicians and Ægeans settled in Spain and North Africa, but those were very remote regions to his imagination. Italy was still a desolate land covered with dense forests; the brown-skinned Etruscans had not yet gone there from Asia Minor. And one day perhaps this Cretan gentleman went down to the harbour and saw a captive who attracted his attention because he was very fair-complexioned and had blue eyes. Perhaps our Cretan tried to talk to him and was answered in an unintelligible gibberish. This creature came from somewhere beyond the Black Sea and seemed to be an altogether benighted savage. But indeed he was an Aryan tribesman, of a race and culture of which we shall soon have much to tell, and the strange gibberish he spoke was to differentiate some day into Sanskrit, Persian, Greek, Latin, German, English and most of the chief languages of the world.

“Such was Cnossos at its zenith, intelligent, enterprising, bright and happy. But about 1400 B.C. disaster came perhaps very suddenly upon its prosperity. The palace of Minos was destroyed, and its ruins have never been rebuilt or inhabited from that day to this. We do not know how this disaster occurred. The excavators note what appears to be scattered plunder and the marks of the fire. But the traces of a very destructive earthquake have also been found. Nature alone may have destroyed Cnossos, or the Greeks may have finished what the earthquake began.”

___

Was the scene at the waterfront ever played out? Perhaps it was. An “Aegean” gentleman (whether or not of the blood and race of “Basques”, “Berbers” and “Egyptians”), presumably dark, from Cnossos meeting an “Aryan” slave-captive from the steppe?

Arthur Evans, William Blake Richmond

Arthur Evans, the man who, from 1900 to 1905, unearthed the Minoan civilisation, by William Blake Richmond, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford


There is no Malta

February 23 2015

Geography was […] a science of which the statesmen and admirals of the Ottoman Empire remained abysmally ignorant. There is a legend of an Ottoman admiral who was sent out with orders to capture Malta and who returned to Constantinople, after cruising round the Mediterranean for many weeks, to report “Malta yoq” […].

In contrast, one supposes, with the Arab statesmen and admirals who had preceded them. Interpolation in a footnote: no source stated.

A Study of History, Vol III, OUP, 1934 (footnote)


The national idea

February 22 2015

It was a symbolic incident when, in 1798, the armada of the French Republic One and Indivisible, on its way to the conquest and conciliation of an enfeebled Egypt, extinguished the rule of the Hospitallers’ Order in its final refuge, the island of Malta.

Nationality and the War, Dent, 1915


Britain and Crete

February 21 2015

Eco-historian of both, especially of English forests: Oliver Rackham.

Guardian

Telegraph.


Hiroshima, Tokyo, Nagasaki, Hamburg

February 20 2015

The order of Second World War bombing raids by the number of immediate fatalities is Hiroshima, Tokyo, Nagasaki, Hamburg. More people were killed in the March 1945 Tokyo raid than by the atomic bomb in Nagasaki.

And why is Dresden discussed more often than Hamburg?

… A discovery and a question from the post before last.


Church of the Cross

February 19 2015

Not even firebombing obliterates a city. Tokyo is still Tokyo. A European city can’t be rebuilt so easily, but Dresden is impressive, with something momentous about it, seen from the Elbe. Bells of the Church of the Cross:

Old town:

There are no bells in Islam, but church bells are part of western music.

Cage and Stockhausen must have known that. Unsurprisingly, some of the most beautiful are in Germany. Is allowing the sound of church bells but not the call to prayer in a European city discrimination against Islam? If something affects (is heard by) a whole population, don’t the preferences of the majority rule, when in other cases minority rights would rule? Sounds are all-pervasive, sights are not.


Bombing Dresden

February 18 2015

Was the firebombing of Dresden by the British and Americans the worst thing done before Hiroshima? The British had the larger role.

RAF Bomber Command (1936-68) was led by Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris from February 22 1942 to September 15 1945. Churchill wrote, after the main raids on Dresden: 

“It seems to me that the moment has come when the question of the so called ‘area-bombing’ of German cities should be reviewed from the point of view of our own interests. If we come into control of an entirely ruined land, there will be a great shortage of accommodation for ourselves and our allies. … We must see to it that our attacks do no more harm to ourselves in the long run than they do to the enemy’s war effort.”

He seems to have had moral doubts as well, but did not press his intervention.

In 1963, the holocaust-denier David Irving published The Destruction of DresdenThe Queen Mother, on the other hand, who lived for the rest of her days on a reputation gained by a visit to the blitzed East End, admired “Bomber Harris”.

According to onlinemilitaryeducation.org, the ten most destructive campaigns were as follows. The periods in question are of different lengths. In one case, the raids were conducted by Germans. In the other cases by the Americans and/or British. In descending order of total deaths by city (not by raid):

1.  Tokyo, November 1944-August 1945, 100,000 plus killed

USAAF. (Minor raid in April 1942.) Raid of March 9-10 1945 is considered the single most destructive conventional bombing raid in history. 

2.  Hamburg, September 1939-April 1945, 42,600 killed

RAF and USAAF. Most severe raid ever on a European city came from a combined force during the last week of July 1943. The British conducted the night raids, the Americans the day raids.

3.  Dresden, October 1944-April 1945, 25,000 killed

RAF and USAAF. Most destructive raid came from a combined force (RAF majority) February 13-15 1945.

4.  Berlin, 1940-45, 20,000-50,000 killed

RAF and USAAF. 363 raids.

5.  London, September 1940-May 1941, 20,000 killed

The Blitz.

6.  Swinoujscie, March 12 1945, 5,000-23,000 killed

USAAF. Raid on Polish city and port.

7.  Pforzheim, April 1944-March 1945, 21,200 killed

RAF and USAAF. Main raid RAF February 23 1945.

8.  Darmstadt, September 1943-February 1945, 12,300 killed

RAF. Main raid September 11-12 1944.

9.  Kassel, February 1942-March 1945, 10,000 killed

RAF and USAAF. Main raid RAF October 22-23 1943.

10.  Osaka, March-August 1945, 10,000 killed

USAAF. Main raid March 13-14 1945.

So the order is Hiroshima, Tokyo, Nagasaki, Hamburg. More people were killed in the March 1945 Tokyo raid than by the atomic bomb in Nagasaki.

And why is Dresden discussed more often than Hamburg? Because Irving wrote a book?

The Germans area-bombed or firebombed parts of London and Coventry in 1940. Bomber Command was authorised before the Blitz, on May 15 1940, to attack German targets east of the Rhine. It began area-bombing Germany in early 1942. This was supposed to undermine the morale of the civilian population and in particular of industrial workers. Factories were no longer the main targets.

The Americans had a policy of precision bombing in Europe and yet firebombed Japan. But on a few occasions, particularly towards the end of the war, they firebombed cities in Germany such as Dresden and Berlin in support of the British. That caused disquiet in the American ranks and was never the general policy as it was in Japan. The double standard was surely racist.

Victor Gregg was born in London in 1919, joined the army in 1937 and served with the Rifle Brigade in India and Palestine and in the Western Desert. He was taken prisoner at the Arnhem and was awaiting execution in Dresden when the raids happened. He is alive and outspoken on the bombing:

Old posts:

Aerial bombing

Bombing Japan

Lie in the dark and listen.


Semitic outliers

February 17 2015

Which Semitic language is written now in Latin script?

Answer: Maltese.

Which Semitic language is written now in a script that is not Hebrew, not Arabic and not Latin?

Answer: Amharic (Ethiopian). Main example.


Bitter Lake

February 16 2015

Adam Curtis’s extraordinary documentary is here on the BBC website. It was produced for iPlayer because of the “rigid formats and schedules of network television”. In other words, it was deemed too long or demanding. Here on YouTube.

The jury is out for me on this: I need to watch it more carefully. An introduction on Curtis’s blog is here. Extract (edited):

“Journalism – that used to tell a grand, unfurling narrative – now […] just relays disjointed and often wildly contradictory fragments of information. Events come and go like waves of a fever. We […] live in a state of continual delirium, constantly waiting for the next news event to loom out of the fog – and then disappear again, unexplained. And the formats – in news and documentaries – have become so rigid and repetitive that the audiences never really look at them. In the face of this people retreat from journalism and politics. They turn away into their own worlds, and the stories they and their friends tell each other. I think this is wrong, sad, and bad for democracy – because it means the politicians become more and more unaccountable.

“I have made a film that tries to respond to this in two ways. It tells a big story about why the stories we are told today have stopped making sense. But it is also an experiment in a new way of reporting the world. To do this I’ve used techniques that you wouldn’t normally associate with TV journalism. My aim is to make something more emotional and involving […].

“The film is called Bitter Lake. […] It tells a big historical narrative that interweaves America, Britain, Russia and Saudi Arabia. It shows how politicians in the west lost confidence – and began to simplify the stories they told. It explains why this happened – because they increasingly gave their power away to other forces, above all global finance.

“But there is one other country at the centre of the film. Afghanistan. This is because Afghanistan is the place that has repeatedly confronted politicians, as their power declines, with the terrible truth – that they cannot understand what is going on any longer. Let alone control it. The film shows in detail how all the foreigners who went to Afghanistan created an almost totally fictional version of the country in their minds. They couldn’t see the complex reality that was in front of them – because the stories they had been told about the world had become so simplified that they lacked the perceptual apparatus to see reality any longer. And this blindness led to a terrible disaster – support for a blatantly undemocratic government, wholesale financial corruption and thousands of needless deaths. A horrific scandal that we, […] here in Britain, seem hardly aware of. And even if we are – it is dismissed as being just too complex to understand.

“I have got hold of the unedited rushes of almost everything the BBC has ever shot in Afghanistan. It is thousands of hours – some of it is very dull, but large parts of it are extraordinary. Shots that record amazing moments, but also others that are touching, funny and sometimes very odd. These complicated, fragmentary and emotional images evoke the chaos of real experience. And out of them I have tried to build a different and more emotional way of depicting what really happened in Afghanistan.”

His statements about politicians may explain why they all (certainly in Britain, except for Farage) wear such puzzled expressions on their faces now. They are no longer sure what to say to us.

The Bitter Lake is a saltwater lake through which the Suez Canal flows. On Valentine’s Day 1945, after Yalta, President Roosevelt met King Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia on board a warship there. A remarkable photograph was taken, which I saw consciously for the first time last year in the King Abdulaziz Memorial Hall in Riyad. The kneeling figure is the ambassador to the Kingdom, William Eddy. It’s hardly less historically important than the Yalta photograph.

Charlie Beckett presented a programme on our bad news diet (Good News Is No News) on BBC Radio 4 recently (producer Simon Hollis), asking, intelligently, what sort of reality modern journalism is presenting. It plays into Curtis’s points. Listen here. (BBC iPlayer Radio must be the worst-designed site on the web.)

Great Bitter Lake

Picture: fdrlibrary.tumblr.com


Nought shall make us rue

February 16 2015

Shakespeare doesn’t mention Magna Carta in King John, which is about the king’s legitimacy, not his barons’ rights.

King John in music? I can only think of the King John overture (1941) by Castelnuovo-Tedesco, one of many that he wrote on Shakespearean themes. It takes as its motto the final words in the play, uttered by Philip the Bastard:

“This England never did, nor never shall,
Lie at the proud foot of a conqueror,
But when it first did help to wound itself.
Now these her princes are come home again,
Come the three corners of the world in arms,
And we shall shock them: Nought shall make us rue,
If England to itself do rest but true.”

Patriotic music for 1941, perhaps, but not at the level of Walton’s for Henry V of three years later. Shakespeare also wrote the greater play three years later.

Below, conducted by its dedicatee John Barbirolli, with the New York Philharmonic, presumably its premiere (unsearchable on YouTube because said to be by “traditional”). Vaughan Williams dedicated an orchestral Flourish for Glorious John to Barbirolli in 1957, but that term of endearment does not refer to anyone in Shakespeare, but to Walter Scott’s epithet for Dryden in The Pirate.

Screen Shot 2015-02-16 at 09.42.44


Magna Carta

February 16 2015

Melvyn Bragg’s radio specials are usually better than In Our Time, his regular slot. He recently did a series on Magna Carta (BBC Radio 4, producer Thomas Morris).

JC Holt, the modern historian of Magna Carta, the charter of rights obtained from King John by his barons on a meadow by the Thames in Surrey eight hundred years ago this June 15, died last year, and is not in the programme. Telegraph obituary. He also wrote about Robin Hood.

Magna Carta was, in its time, neither unique nor successful. But it had an afterlife.

“Among other things, [Holt] highlighted the fact that many of the broad concepts, such as judgment by peers and protection against arbitrary disseisin (seizure of property) were hot topics all over Europe in the 13th century. Similar charters were issued in Germany, Sicily and France in the 13th and early 14th centuries. Only one thing set England’s Magna Carta apart from the rest: its survival.”

I went to a talk by Holt early in my first term at Oxford. He was then teaching at Reading and would go on to the Professorship of Medieval History at Cambridge. It was a moment of disillusionment. I don’t know what, in my naïveté, I had expected. Did I think dons would be giants? Did I expect some kind of Jowett? He seemed like a civil servant. Which was no way to think of Holt.

Bragg’s episodes:

1. The Road to Magna Carta

With David Carpenter, Professor of Medieval History, King’s College London; Nicholas Vincent, Professor of Medieval History, University of East Anglia; Cressida Williams, Cathedral and City Archivist, Canterbury Cathedral; Louise Wilkinson, Professor of Medieval History, Canterbury Christ Church University.

2. Runnymede, 1215

With David Carpenter, Professor of Medieval History, King’s College London; Claire Breay, Curator, British Library Magna Carta exhibition; Nicholas Vincent, Professor of Medieval History, University of East Anglia.

“Melvyn Bragg visits Canterbury, seat of Archbishop Stephen Langton, one of the key figures in the peace negotiations.”

3. The Aftermath of Runnymede

With Louise Wilkinson, Professor of Medieval History, Canterbury Christ Church University; Cressida Williams, Cathedral and City Archivist, Canterbury Cathedral; David Carpenter, Professor of Medieval History, King’s College London; Nicholas Vincent, Professor of Medieval History, University of East Anglia; Claire Breay, Curator, British Library Magna Carta exhibition.

“Within a few weeks the agreement had failed, and both sides disavowed it. How did a failed peace treaty turn into the best known legal document in the English-speaking world? Melvyn Bragg looks at the complex politics of thirteenth-century England and discovers how John’s Great Charter was revived and reinvented over the course of the next hundred years.”

4. The Legacy of Magna Carta

With Nicholas Vincent, Professor of Medieval History, University of East Anglia; Daniel Hannan, writer and MEP, South East England; Justin Champion, Professor of the History of Early Modern Ideas, Royal Holloway, University of London; Kathleen Burk, Professor Emerita of Modern and Contemporary History, University College, London.

“How Magna Carta became a cause célèbre during the English Civil War and later exerted a crucial influence on American constitutional thought. 800 years after it was sealed, Magna Carta remains a document of global importance.”

Magna Carta

1969 edition of Holt, Magna Carta, CUP, 1965


BBC Russian adaptation, Radio 4

February 16 2015

Much muffled grunting and grumbling.

“Tatyana, my dear!

Tatyana! 

Upon my word, I do declare you’re the prettiest girl this side of the Volga!”

Considerably more grumbling.

“Fetch my horse! … Ivan Ivanovich! …”

Grunting. 

In increasingly English tones:

“Where’s that servant of mine? …

Upon my word, I do declare he’s the laziest servant this side of the Urals!”

Continued page 94.


Peter Partner

February 16 2015

Guardian obituary. “Historian of medieval Rome and the Middle East who attacked the simplistic contrasts drawn between the west and Islam.”

I haven’t read him, but enjoyed his opponent Walter Ullmann’s drily formidable The Growth of Papal Government in the Middle Ages, A Study in the Ideological Relation of Clerical to Lay Power in my sixth form.


Schliemann and his father

February 15 2015

In the village of Ankershagen, between Waren and Penzlin in the Duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, of which Heinrich’s father, Ernst Schliemann, was the Protestant pastor, and where Heinrich lived from his second to his fifteenth year (A.D. 1823-36), there were two elements in the social milieu – the local folk-lore and the pastor’s personal interest in Hellenic history – that made their impress on Heinrich’s receptive mind; and “the persistence with which, throughout his life, he recalled the scenes of his youth and wrote to the people there – a family-feeling which no love of country had helped to nourish in this cosmopolitan – indicates the depth of those first experiences and discoveries”. [Footnote: Ludwig, E.: Schliemann of Troy (London 1931, Putnam), p. 135.]

“Just behind our garden was a pond called ‘das Silberschälchen’, out of which a maiden was believed to rise each midnight, holding a silver bowl. There was also in the village a small hill surrounded by a ditch, probably a prehistoric burial-place (or so-called Hünengrab), in which, as the legend ran, a robber knight in times of old had buried his beloved child in a golden cradle. Vast treasures were also said to be buried close to the ruins of a round tower in the garden of the proprietor of the village. My faith in the existence of these treasures was so great that, whenever I heard my father complain of his poverty, I always expressed my astonishment that he did not dig up the silver bowl or the golden cradle, and so become rich.” [Footnote: Schliemann, ibid., pp. 1-2. [Refers to Schliemann, H.: Ilios (London 1880, John Murray).]]

The curiosity of the future excavator of the treasures buried in the Second City at Troy and in the royal tombs at Mycenae was diverted from Mecklenburg to the Mediterranean by his father’s talk of the excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum and his recital of the tale of the Trojan War; and here, twelve days before Heinrich’s eighth birthday, the decisive impact was made by an engraving, [footnote: reproduced by Emil Ludwig in his Schliemann of Troy (London 1931, Putnam), facing  p. 106.] representing the flight of Aeneas from the burning city of Ilium, in a Universal History [footnote: written by Dr. Georg Ludwig Jerrer, and published at Nuremberg in 1828. Some forty years after Schliemann’s death, this volume was found among his books and papers in his house at Athens by his biographer (see Ludwig, Emil: Schliemann of Troy (London 1931, Putnam, p. 24).] which was the father’s present to his son on Christmas Day 1829. [Here is a link to an 1833 edition of the second volume.] The boy had long been grieved to hear from his father that Troy had vanished without leaving a trace, and this picture – depicting massive city-walls – was naïvely taken by little Heinrich as evidence that his father had after all, happily been mistaken, since the author of the book must have seen Troy as it was here represented. When his father replied that the picture was merely a fanciful one, Heinrich drew from him the admission of his belief that Troy must, in fact, have had walls as massive as those which the imaginary picture displayed.

“‘Father’, retorted I, ‘If such walls once existed, they cannot possibly have been completely destroyed: vast ruins of them must still remain, but they are hidden away beneath the dust of ages.’ He maintained the contrary, whilst I remained firm in my opinion, and at last we both agreed that I should one day excavate Troy. … Thanks to God my firm belief in the existence of that Troy has never forsaken me amid all the vicissitudes of my eventful career; but it was not destined for me to realise, till in the autumn of my life …, our sweet dreams of fifty years ago”. [Footnote: Schliemann, ibid., pp. 3 and 5.]

The “our” at the end, a long footnote tells us, refers not to Schliemann’s father but to a never-forgotten childhood friend with whom he had hoped to spend his life, Minna Meineke, the daughter of a neighbouring farmer.

Another footnote confusingly connects an observation that Waren was probably inhabited by descendants of Warni or Varini with one that the Teutonic-speaking barbarians who descended on the Aegean after AD 375 anticipated Schliemann’s descent.

The flight of Aeneas

The flight of Aeneas, in Jerrer’s Weltgeschichte für Kinder

Walls of Troy

Walls of Troy VII, the level likely to be the Troy of the Iliad; Schliemann, at least initially, placed Homer’s Troy lower, at the level of Troy II; Wikimedia Commons

Nine Troys

Nine Troys, via ancient-wisdom.co.uk; opens in a new window; map by Lloyd K Townsend; image truncated: Troy I (2900-2500 BC) is at the bottom

A Study of History, Vol X, OUP, 1954


Romancing Schliemann

February 14 2015

In the tenth volume of A Study of History (though there were two more to come, almost as afterthoughts), Toynbee is demob-happy. He throws off the scientific scholar’s mask and comes out as an unadulterated romantic. We read about his emotional responses to passages by great and not so great historians and at the sites of historical events. We learn about his heroes. All this is mocked by Trevor-Roper. A long passage about Schliemann, introduced in the last post, who overcame all personal difficulties and disadvantages and transformed the study of ancient Greece, is therefore uncritical. I will quote more of it in a future post.

In the present writer’s mind, the heroic exemplar of an invincible curiosity’s response to the challenge of heart-breaking circumstances had always been Heinrich Schliemann (vivebat A.D. 1822-90), ever since a memorable day at Winchester when the writer as a boy had listened spell-bound to his master M. J. Rendall retailing, with zest, the salient episodes of this romantic life in a parenthesis during a session officially allocated to the construing of the Iliad.

[…]

[Schliemann], who had spent his fifteenth to his forty-second year (A.D. 1836-63) in accumulating the means, spent his forty-seventh to his sixty-ninth year (A.D. 1868-90) in disinterring from the ground, and retrieving from oblivion, not only Troy, but Ithaca, Mycenae, Orchomenos, and Tiryns as well.

In an Annex, Toynbee, after further examining Schliemann’s international business career, celebrates other businessmen who were also serious scholars: George GroteJames Ford RhodesWalter Leaf. Grote was a banker in Threadneedle Street and wrote a history of Greece which became famous. Rhodes was an American industrialist and historian of the US. Leaf was the chairman of Westminster Bank and the leading Homer exegete of his day. Leaf did much of his work before retiring.

Goethe is Toynbee’s main German hero. But Goethe never visited Greece: he discovered Greek architecture in Sicily and was startled by its simplicity. Toynbee hardly ever mentions Goethe’s

revered plebeian forerunner Johann Joachim Winckelmann, the shoemaker’s son

who first articulated the difference between Greek, Greco-Roman and Roman art, also never visited Greece, and has a claim to have been the founder of modern archaeology. The fashion of going to Greece started with Byron, when Goethe was old.

Toynbee, like less romantic people of his generation, hero-worshipped Schliemann, but Schliemann’s shortcomings were well known when he was writing. Schliemann timeline:

1868. Having made his money, visited Homeric sites in Greece and Asia Minor.

1869. Published first book, Ithaka, der Peloponnes und Troja, in which he argued that Hisarlık, a large man-made mound in Asia Minor, not Pınarbaşı, a short distance south of it, was the site of Troy (as it is still thought to be) and that the graves of the Greek commander Agamemnon and his wife Clytemnestra were not outside the citadel walls at Mycenae but inside them. He wanted to prove that the Iliad and Aeneid reflected historical events.

Married a Greek schoolgirl named Sophia Engastromenos, having divorced his Russian wife, Ekaterina.

1871. Joined the English archaeologist Frank Calvert (whom Britannica confuses with his brother Frederick) at Hisarlık. Schliemann took sole credit for identifying the site even though Charles Maclaren had suggested it as the location of Homeric Troy as early as 1822 and Calvert was the first to dig there.

He and Calvert worked on the eastern half of the site. The Turkish government owned the western half. Schliemann believed that the Homeric Troy must be at the lowest level. 

1873. Uncovered fortifications and the remains of a city (“Troy”) and a treasure of gold jewellery (“Priam’s treasure”). We now know that the level he named the Troy of the Iliad was a thousand years older than Troy.

The treasure even looks anachronistic at this level. Did Schliemann plant it there? His excavations were condemned by later archaeologists as having destroyed the main layers of the real Troy. Even Calvert seems to have had doubts.

“Schliemann may not have discovered the truth, but the publicity stunt worked, making Schliemann and the site famous and igniting the field of Homeric studies in the late 19th century.” (Lauren Stokes, Trojan wars and tourism: a lecture by C. Brian Rose, The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore College, November 23 2005.)

1874. Published Trojanische Alterthümer. His discoveries were received sceptically by many scholars. Others, including Gladstone, and a wide public, accepted his identification.

When he proposed to resume work in February, the Turkish government revoked his permission to dig and sued him for a share of the treasure. Collaborating with Calvert, Schliemann smuggled it out of Turkey. He defended this as an attempt to protect the items from corrupt officials. 

After much haggling the Turkish authorities agreed to drop their claim in return for a large cash sum. It was eventually presented to the German nation and housed in a museum in Berlin. It disappeared in 1945 and reappeared in 1993 in Moscow.

1874-76. Dug first at the site of the Treasury of Minyas at Orchomenus in Boeotia, and found little. Published Troja und seine Ruinen (1875) and began excavation at Mycenae in the Peloponnese. Here, in 1876, he discovered gold, silver, bronze and ivory objects. He believed he had found the tombs of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra. His greatest trophy, the Mask of Agamemnon, is now known, once again, to be several centuries older.

Some have said that Schliemann salted his digs with artefacts from elsewhere. He could even have had the mask manufactured on the general model of the other Mycenaean masks and found an opportunity to place it in the excavation.

On this and more, see John Chadwick, review of David Traill, Schliemann of Troy: Treasure and Deceit, Times Higher Education Supplement, June 12 1995, a hatchet-job on his methods and character.

“The Greek authorities have wisely refused to allow [the objects] to be tested; who would want to risk killing a golden goose that attracts the tourists in their thousands? [Has anyone “tested” the treasure in Moscow?] […] [His diaries] frequently disagree with the details given in his books, and show signs of having been tampered with at crucial points. There are too many instances of his improving stories in the telling, or even appropriating to himself events that happened to someone else, for us to be able to accept his word, at least where he could obtain an advantage by the deception. The morals of the market place were imported into the world of scientific scholarship.”

In 1876 he received permission to resume excavations at Hisarlık, but he did not reopen the site until 1878.

1878-79. Published Mykenae. After an unsuccessful excavation on the Ionian island of Ithaca (mentioned in the Odyssey) in 1878, resumed work at Hisarlık. In the following year was joined there by Emile Burnouf and Rudolf Virchow.

1882-83. Third excavation at Troy.

1884. Excavated fortified site of Tiryns, near Mycenae, with Wilhelm Dörpfeld.

1888-90 (his death). Fourth excavation at Troy, with Dörpfeld.

Schliemann thought that there must have existed a civilisation earlier than Mycenaean Hisarlık, and he guessed that it might be in Crete. He had hoped to work there. In the event, the discovery of Minoan Crete was left to Sir Arthur Evans ten years after Schliemann’s death.

(The Mycenaean Greeks controlled the Aegean after the fall, c 1400 BC, of the pre-Greek Minoan civilization – script: Linear A, undeciphered – and built fortified citadels and large palaces. They spoke a form of Greek; script: Linear B, deciphered. Their culture in its last phase is portrayed in the Homeric poems. Their power declined during widespread upheavals at the end of the Mediterranean Bronze Age, around 1100 BC.

When I first learned about Troy, I was bothered by the fact that the Trojans seemed as Greek as the Greeks. In fact, they probably spoke another Indo-European language, widely used in Anatolia, called Luwian, though there are no Trojan inscriptions. It is clear from the Iliad that they had a close relationship with the Greeks on their west. They had a similar relationship with the Hittites on the east.)

Schliemann died in Naples. His corpse was transported to the First Cemetery of Athens and interred in an elaborate mausoleum designed by Ernst Ziller. His palace in Athens, the Iliou Melathron (Ιλίου Μέλαθρον, Palace of Ilium), is now the Numismatic Museum.

Through his books and dispatches to The Times, the Daily Telegraph and other papers, he became the first populariser of archaeology (an equivalent, perhaps, of William Howard Russell as the first war correspondent). He inspired scholars as well as the public. When he died, John Myres said that it seemed that “the spring had gone out of the year”.

When he began excavating, no corpus of accepted practice existed for archaeological fieldwork. He was a pioneer, like Flinders Petrie and Augustus Pitt-Rivers. Stratigraphy had been observed and understood in Danish peat bogs, the Jutland barrows, and prehistoric Swiss lake dwellings, but Hisarlık was the first large dry-land man-made mound ever dug. It is not surprising that Schliemann was puzzled by what he found, but, eventually, with the help of Dörpfeld, he was able to untangle the stratigraphy and admitted his initial mistakes. He did well for someone starting to dig in the 1870s, yet is criticised by those who are excavating similar mounds more than a century later.

Did he, a victim of what Eliza Marian Butler called “the tyranny of Greece over Germany”, get carried away? Was he a con-man? He was certainly learned and spoke and read many languages. His record-keeping was suspect. He seems to have twisted a few things. For Toynbee, his net contributions to knowledge, the fields which he opened up, were so large, and his career was so romantic, that his defects could be overlooked. But GP Gooch had been able to give this account of him in History and Historians in the Nineteenth Century, Longmans, Green and Co, 1913:

“After Thirlwall and Grote [above], Duncker and Curtius, it might seem as if there was only room for monographs; but during the last quarter of the century the discoveries of Schliemann [footnote: See Schuchhardt, Schliemann’s Excavations, 1891.] revolutionised the treatment of early Greek history. At seven he read of the burning of Troy and longed to visit the site, declaring that the fortifications could not have wholly vanished. At ten he wrote a Latin essay on the Trojan war. His father’s poverty compelled him to begin earning his living at fourteen, and it was not till the age of thirty-four that he began to learn Greek. At forty-one he had become a rich man and retired from business. In 1870 he began the excavation of Hissarlik, and in 1874 published his ‘Trojan Antiquities.’ The learned world laughed at his naïve identifications of the objects and buildings described in the Iliad, and he confused the different strata superimposed upon one another. None the less his discoveries aroused world-wide interest, while his shortcomings were only known to scholars. Hindered in his work at Troy by the Turkish Government he transferred his attention to Mycenae, where he discovered the graves of the kings filled with gold and other ornaments. In a telegram to the King of the Hellenes he announced that he had found Agamemnon and his household; but more careful study revealed the fact that the treasure did not belong to a single period and that the number and sex of the persons did not agree with the legend. It was, however, of minor importance whether the body of Agamemnon or of other kings had been found; for he had revealed a vanished civilisation. He next discovered at Orchomenos the so-called Treasury of Minyas, and, after a further visit to Troy in company with Dörpfeld, laid bare the fortress-city of Tiryns, the neighbour of Mycenae.

“When Schliemann died in 1890 he had filled the world with his fame. In twenty years he had unearthed three cities, had revealed Mycenaean civilisation, and had given an incalculable impetus to archaeological research. Yet he was almost pathetically incompetent to interpret the marvellous treasures he had brought to light. He was filled with a romantic attachment to Greece. He married a Greek lady, and called his son Agamemnon and his daughter Andromache. But he possessed neither the training nor the qualities required for the task of scientific excavation. He treated Homer as the historian no less than the poet of the Trojan wars. He held the Mycenaeans to be Homer’s Achaeans, and it was left to others to point out that the civilisation of Mycenae was pre-Homeric, and to Dörpfeld to prove that the city of Hector and Achilles was the sixth, not the second. Schliemann was a pioneer, a conquistador, [footnote: Salomon Reichnach.] and much of his work has had to be done again by Dörpfeld. Like Cesnola, who spent years burrowing in the sites of Cyprus, his sumptuous volumes are of little value for the purposes of exact scholarship. If he revealed the romantic possibilities of excavation, his errors emphasised the need of professional training.”

Heinrich Schliemann

Artist?

A Study of History, Vol X, OUP, 1954

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954


~~~

February 8 2015

Back February 14.


The drunken miller

February 7 2015

Heinrich Schliemann, the excavator of Troy, was the son of a Protestant clergyman in the Grand Duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. He learned Latin as a boy, but not Greek, and could not afford to go to university. Greece had obsessed him since early childhood, but he gave himself to archaeology only after a highly successful business career.

In 1837, at the age of fifteen, he was working in Theodore Hückstädt’s grocer’s shop at Fürstenberg.

“As long as I live, I shall never forget the evening when a drunken miller came into the shop. … He was the son of a Protestant clergyman in Roebel, Mecklenburg, and had almost completed his studies at the gymnasium of Neu Ruppin when he was expelled on account of his bad conduct. … Dissatisfied with his lot, the young man gave himself up to drink, which, however, had not made him forget his Homer; for, on the evening that he entered the shop, he recited to us about a hundred lines of the poet, observing the rhythmic cadence of the verses. Although I did not understand a syllable, the melodious sound of the words made a deep impression upon me, and I wept bitter tears over my unhappy fate. Three times over did I get him to repeat to me those divine verses, rewarding his trouble with three glasses of whisky, which I bought with the few pence that made up my whole fortune. From that moment I never ceased to pray God that by His grace I might yet have the happiness of learning Greek.”

He would teach himself as an adult. From the autobiographical note in Schliemann’s Ilios, English edition, John Murray, 1880.

Old posts:

Hellenic holy ground

Goethe’s Italian Journey.

A Study of History, Vol X, OUP, 1954


Fauré in 1913

February 7 2015

And playing his 1887 Pavane in its original piano version, Welte Mignon piano roll, Paris, also 1913:


The Internet’s Own Boy

February 6 2015

Brian Knappenberger’s moving documentary about Aaron Swartz is viewable here on the BBC for free for the next three weeks (UK only). It’s on YouTube and in many other places, but this has good definition.

Old posts:

Wikileaks, Woodrow Wilson, WW1

Trotsky and Assange.


Martin Gilbert

February 6 2015

Chronicler, factory.

Obits a week after Churchill and Holocaust anniversaries:

Telegraph

Independent

Guardian.

Main Churchill volumes (comment in old post).

Career ended February 2013 with cerebral haemorrhage.

2002 interview by Allan Gregg about the Jews in the 20th century:


~~~

February 1 2015

Back February 6.


Le bon général ordinaire and le grand chef

January 31 2015

Montgomery of Alamein interviewed by Bernard Levin, January 24 1966, I suppose BBC. Levin has a piece about him in the first volume, Taking Sides, Jonathan Cape, 1979, of his collected journalism.

Monty must already have been working on A History of Warfare, Collins, 1968, where we’ll find examples, missing here – except that Caesar was ordinaire. And who is the inaudible grand chef? Marlborough, who never lost a battle? Even Monty lost at Arnhem. Eisenhower was presumably a grand chef with whom Montgomery disagreed, or was he a mere général ordinaire?

The head of the research team for that book, Alan Howarth, was my favourite history teacher at school. Which is the excuse for this post. He was directly responsible for the abridgement, A Concise History of Warfare, Collins, 1972.


Cameron and Churchill

January 30 2015

Polly Toynbee on David Cameron. Guardian. I like her comment at the end about Downton Abbey. That stodgy series goes most wrong where it thinks it is most commendable, namely in its approach to “period detail”. People do not live in two-dimensional periods. And an English country house, more than anywhere else, was a place whose fabric was layered. Some parts of a building, even of a room, were from one period, some from another. English country houses, in consequence, had charm. Downton Abbey has as much charm as a ballroom in a Ritz Carlton.

I think we are a more divided society than we were five years ago. She paints a depressing picture. At least we aren’t Russia, where nothing is true and everything is possible.

A friend of mine calls Cameron Flatman. Cameron’s tributes to Churchill today, the fiftieth anniversary of his funeral (a few days after the seventieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz), were, I thought, flat.

We seem to have a balanced relationship with Churchill. He is human, not on a pedestal. We know his weaknesses and terrible mistakes and are still grateful to him. A man without hypocrisy, as his daughter said. One day, when I was a small boy, my mother (I am told) said to me: “Come to the radio. You will never hear this again.” It must have been one of his last speeches, but I’ve never been able to work out what it was.

I can remember a photo on the back page of The Times of him coming out of hospital in 1962, giving the Victory signal at the back of his car, or was he leaving the Commons in 1964?, and the days, in January 1965, of waiting for his death. Like everybody else, I watched his funeral on television. “The end of a nation,” Richard Crossman wrote in his diary. In a way, it was. Thank God immigration is renewing it.

During the broadcast, my younger brother stuck a Union Jack into my mother’s hair. An evangelising Jehova’s Witness rang the doorbell. My mother, unaware of the flag, said to the woman: “Do you really have to come in the middle of Churchill’s funeral?”

Flatman asked the nation to tweet its favourite Churchill saying. I didn’t comply, having no desire to join a surge of Cameronian patriotism, but had I done, would have tweeted the end of his last major speech in the Commons, on March 1 1955, a few weeks before his resignation as prime minister:

“Never flinch, never weary, never despair”.


Chinese and Western poetry

January 29 2015

Children of the demonic West might find Chinese art too quiet. Arthur Waley, born in the same year as Toynbee, was the scholar and translator and member of the Bloomsbury set who brought classical Chinese and Japanese poetry to the English public.

Jonathan Spence, quoted in Wikipedia: “[He] selected the jewels of Chinese and Japanese literature and pinned them quietly to his chest. No one ever did anything like it before, and no one will ever do it again. There are many westerners whose knowledge of Chinese or Japanese is greater than his, and there are perhaps a few who can handle both languages as well. But they are not poets, and those who are better poets than Waley do not know Chinese or Japanese. Also the shock will never be repeated, for most of the works that Waley chose to translate were largely unknown in the West, and their impact was thus all the more extraordinary.”

The Chinese poems are in A Hundred and Seventy Chinese Poems, Constable, 1918 and More Translations from the Chinese, George Allen & Unwin, 1919. The Introduction in the first has a section called The Limitations of Chinese Literature.

“Those who wish to assure themselves that they will lose nothing by ignoring Chinese literature, often ask the question: ‘Have the Chinese a Homer, an Aeschylus, a Shakespeare or Tolstoy?’ The answer must be that China has no epic and no dramatic literature of importance. The novel exists and has merits, but never became the instrument of great writers.

“Her philosophic literature knows no mean between the traditionalism of Confucius and the nihilism of Chuang-tzŭ. In mind, as in body, the Chinese were for the most part torpid mainlanders. Their thoughts set out on no strange quest and adventures, just as their ships discovered no new continents. To most Europeans the momentary flash of Athenian questioning will seem worth more than all the centuries of Chinese assent.

“Yet we must recognize that for thousands of years the Chinese maintained a level of rationality and tolerance that the West might well envy. They had no Index, no Inquisition, no Holy Wars. Superstition has indeed played its part among them; but it has never, as in Europe, been perpetually dominant. It follows from the limitations of Chinese thought that the literature of the country should excel in reflection rather than in speculation. That this is particularly true of its poetry will be gauged from the present volume. In the poems of Po Chü-i [Bai Juyi] no close reasoning or philosophic subtlety will be discovered; but a power of candid reflection and self-analysis which has not been rivalled in the West.

“Turning from thought to emotion, the most conspicuous feature of European poetry is its pre-occupation with love. This is apparent not only in actual ‘love-poems,’ but in all poetry where the personality of the writer is in any way obtruded. The poet tends to exhibit himself in a romantic light; in fact, to recommend himself as a lover.

“The Chinese poet has a tendency different but analogous. He recommends himself not as a lover, but as a friend. He poses as a person of infinite leisure (which is what we should most like our friends to possess) and free from worldly ambitions (which constitute the greatest bars to friendship). He would have us think of him as a boon companion, a great drinker of wine, who will not disgrace a social gathering by quitting it sober.

“To the European poet the relation between man and woman is a thing of supreme importance and mystery. To the Chinese, it is something commonplace, obvious – a need of the body, not a satisfaction of the emotions. These he reserves entirely for friendship.

“Accordingly we find that while our poets tend to lay stress on physical courage and other qualities which normal women admire, Po Chü-i is not ashamed to write such a poem as ‘Alarm at entering the Gorges.’ Our poets imagine themselves very much as Art has portrayed them – bare-headed and wild-eyed, with shirts unbuttoned at the neck as though they feared that a seizure of emotion might at any minute suffocate them. The Chinese poet introduces himself as a timid recluse, ‘Reading the Book of Changes at the Northern Window,’ playing chess with a Taoist priest, or practising calligraphy with an occasional visitor. If ‘With a Portrait of the Author’ had been the rule in the Chinese book-market, it is in such occupations as these that he would be shown; a neat and tranquil figure compared with our lurid frontispieces.

“It has been the habit of Europe to idealize love at the expense of friendship and so to place too heavy a burden on the relation of man and woman. The Chinese erred in the opposite direction, regarding their wives and concubines simply as instruments of procreation. For sympathy and intellectual companionship they looked only to their friends. But these friends were bound by no such tie as held women to their masters; sooner or later they drifted away to frontier campaigns, remote governorships, or country retirement. It would not be an exaggeration to say that half the poems in the Chinese language are poems of parting or separation.

“Readers of these translations may imagine that the culture represented by Po Chü-i extended over the whole vast confines of China. This would, I think, be an error. Culture is essentially a metropolitan product. Chü-i was as much dépaysé at a provincial town as Charles Lamb would have been at Botany Bay. But the system of Chinese bureaucracy tended constantly to break up the literary coteries which formed at the capitals, and to drive the members out of the little corner of Shensi [or] Honan which to them was ‘home.’

“It was chiefly economic necessity which forced the poets of China into the meshes of bureaucracy – backed by the Confucian insistence on public service. To such as were landowners there remained the alternative of agricultural life, arduous and isolated.

“The poet, then, usually passed through three stages of existence. In the first we find him with his friends at the capital, drinking, writing, and discussing: burdened by his office probably about as much as Pepys was burdened by his duties at the Admiralty. Next, having failed to curry favour with the Court, he is exiled to some provincial post, perhaps a thousand miles from anyone he cares to talk to. Finally, having scraped together enough money to buy husbands for his daughters, he retires to a small estate, collecting round him the remnants of those with whom he had shared the ‘feasts and frolics of old days.’

“I have spoken hitherto only of poets. But the poetess occupies a place of considerable importance in the first four centuries of our era, though the classical period (T’ang and Sung) produced no great woman writer. Her theme varies little; she is almost always a ‘rejected wife,’ cast adrift by her lord or sent back to her home. Probably her father would be unable to buy her another husband and there was no place for unmarried women in the Chinese social system. The moment, then, which produced such poems was one of supreme tragedy in a woman’s life.

“Love-poetry addressed by a man to a woman ceases after the Han dynasty; but a conventional type of love-poem, in which the poet (of either sex) speaks in the person of a deserted wife or concubine, continues to be popular. The theme appears to be almost an obsession with the T’ang and Sung poets. In a vague way, such poems were felt to be allegorical. Just as in the Confucian interpretation of the love-poems in the Odes (see below) the woman typifies the Minister, and the lover the Prince, so in those classical poems the poet in a veiled way laments the thwarting of his own public ambitions. Such tortuous expression of emotion did not lead to good poetry.

“The ‘figures of speech,’ devices such as metaphor, simile, and play on words, are used by the Chinese with much more restraint than by us. ‘Metaphorical epithets’ are occasionally to be met with; waves, for example, might perhaps be called ‘angry.’ But in general the adjective does not bear the heavy burden which our poets have laid upon it. The Chinese would call the sky ‘blue,’ ‘gray,’ or ‘cloudy,’ according to circumstances; but never ‘triumphant’ or ‘terror-scourged.’

“The long Homeric simile, introduced for its own sake or to vary the monotony of narrative, is unknown to Chinese poetry. Shorter similes are sometimes found, as when the half-Chinese poet Altun [a sixth-century Tartar employed by the Chinese to train their troops] compares the sky over the Mongolian steppe with the ‘walls of a tent’; but nothing could be found analogous to Mr. T. S. Eliot’s comparison of the sky to a ‘patient etherized on [sic] a table.’ Except in popular poetry, puns are rare; but there are several characters which, owing to the wideness of their import, are used in a way almost equivalent to play on words.

“Classical allusion, always the vice of Chinese poetry, finally destroyed it altogether. In the later periods (from the fourteenth century onwards) the use of elegant synonyms also prevailed. I have before me a ‘gradus’ of the kind which the later poet used as an aid to composition. The moon should be called the ‘Silver Dish,’ ‘Frozen Wheel,’ or ‘Golden Ring.’ Allusions may in this connection be made to Yü Liang [link?], who rode to heaven on the crescent moon; to the hermit T’ang [link?], who controlled the genius of the New Moon, and kept him in his house as a candle – or to any other of some thirty stories which are given. The sun may be called ‘The Lantern-Dragon,’ the ‘Crow in Flight,’ the ‘White Colt,’ etc.

“Such were the artificialities of later Chinese poetry.”

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Old post:

The translation of China.


Outposts

January 28 2015

Europeans up to circa 1950 would have said that the only parts of the Old World south of the equator touched by civilisation before their arrival were Java and Bali. A few Arab settlements on the Swahili coast didn’t count.


Confucius and the Nationalists

January 27 2015

The posthumous ascendancy of Confucius survived the interregnum (circa A.D. 175-475) which followed the break-up of the Empire of the Han; it survived the influx of the barbarians, and the far more revolutionary influx of the Mahayana, into the new Far Eastern World; and it survived the latter-day barbarian invasions of Khitan [medieval Liao dynasty] and Kin [medieval Jin] and Mongol and Manchu [descendants of Jin]. The one power that has ever seriously disputed the hold of Confucius over Chinese minds since the sage’s ethereal reign began is the Civilization of the West, which is making its forcible impact upon the traditional life of China in the present generation. For the moment, maybe, the Western impact has driven Confucius from his millennial throne; yet, even if he has been officially deposed, the unconquerable sage is still contriving to govern where he no longer reigns by ruling incognito. For the essence of the Confucian social system, as it was instituted two thousand years ago, is government by students under the auspices of a sage whose personality and precepts are regarded with all the more veneration since the man of flesh and blood has departed this life and has received his apotheosis; and the lineaments of this system can still be detected in the life of a revolutionary China beneath all the scum and froth that have gathered on its agitated surface. In this twenty-eighth year after the abolition of the Confucian examinations [in 1905], China is still being governed by students in a dead philosopher’s name. The veneration long paid to Confucius has been transferred provisionally to Sun Yat-sen; and the borrowed prestige of the founder of the Kuomintang has secured the long-suffering acquiescence of the Chinese People in the conduct of public affairs by Dr. Sun’s political legatees, who (to China’s undoing) have received their education abroad in the social and physical sciences of the West, instead of being educated in the Confucian Classics like their predecessors for sixty generations. The moral and political bankruptcy of these Western-educated student-politicians of the Kuomintang may conceivably bring King Confucius back into his own again; and thus, even now, we cannot foresee the end of the mighty kingdom which this Sinic sage unwittingly acquired when he lost his official post in the petty principality of Lu.

The official ideology of the Kuomintang, whatever the educational background of its leaders, favoured Confucianism. Was it ambiguous in 1933? Did this aspect of it only become clear with the establishment of the New Life Movement in February 1934?

There had been waves of anti-Confucianism: the Taiping Rebellion (1850-64), New Culture Movement (c 1915-21) and May the Fourth Movement (from 1919). During the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), the Communists opposed Confucius.

A Study of History, Vol III, OUP, 1934


Rain

January 26 2015

“Since I lived a stranger in the City of Hsün-yang
Hour by hour bitter rain has poured.
On few days has the dark sky cleared;
In listless sleep I have spent much time.
The lake has widened till it almost joins the sky;
The clouds sink till they touch the water’s face.
Beyond my hedge I hear the boatmen’s talk;
At the street-end I hear the fisher’s song.
Misty birds are lost in yellow air;
Windy sails kick the white waves.
In front of my gate the horse and carriage-way
In a single night has turned into a river-bed.”

___

Bai JuyiRain, AD 815, in Arthur Waley, translator, More Translations from the Chinese, George Allen & Unwin, 1919, a sequel to A Hundred and Seventy Chinese Poems, Constable, 1918.

This post has information on the Tang poet.


After Collecting the Autumn Taxes

January 26 2015

“From my high castle I look at the town below
Where the natives of Pa cluster like a swarm of flies.
How can I govern these people and lead them aright ?
I cannot even understand what they say.
But at least I am glad, now that the taxes are in,
To learn that in my province there is no discontent.
I fear its prosperity is not due to me
And was only caused by the year’s abundant crops.
The papers that lie on my desk are simple and few;
My house by the moat is leisurely and still.
In the autumn rain the berries fall from the eaves;
At the evening bell the birds return to the wood.
A broken sunlight quavers over the southern porch
Where I lie on my couch abandoned to idleness.”

___

Bai JuyiAfter Collecting the Autumn Taxes, in Arthur Waley, translator, More Translations from the Chinese, George Allen & Unwin, 1919, a sequel to A Hundred and Seventy Chinese Poems, Constable, 1918.

This post has information on the Tang poet.


Chinese themes

January 26 2015

Looking at Arthur Waley’s two collections of translations of classical Chinese poems (links in last post), several themes recur. Separation. Officials and soldiers in a large empire spend time, perhaps most of their lives, away from home. Did they not take their families with them when they were posted to remote places or to a capital? Nature. Solitude. Friendship.

In Bai Juyi (Po Chü-i) especially, laziness, lassitude, drinking, depression, world-weariness, ageing, illness. Nothing overstated.

Perhaps Waley’s translations are regarded as dated and have been superseded or his selections are not representative. But they are enjoyable as poems in English.


Another poem about laziness

January 26 2015

“White hair covers my temples,
I am wrinkled and seared beyond repair,
And though I have got five sons,
They all hate paper and brush.
A-shu is eighteen:
For laziness there is none like him.
A-hsüan does his best,
But really loathes the Fine Arts.
Yung-tuan is thirteen,
But does not know ‘six’ from ‘seven.’
T’ung-tzŭ in his ninth year
Is only concerned with things to eat.
If Heaven treats me like this
What can I do but fill my cup?”

___

T’ao Ch’ien, Blaming Sons (An Apology for His Own Drunkenness), in Arthur Waley, translator, A Hundred and Seventy Chinese Poems, Constable, 1918.

Waley tells us that “six” and “seven” (which Yung-tuan certainly would not have known add up to his age) are written with characters very easy to distinguish.

Tao Yuanming or Tao Qian or (as Waley calls him) T’ao Ch’ien (365-427) lived in the middle of the Six Dynasties period (c 220-589), between the Han and the Sui.

Lazy Man’s Song (old post).


Chinese Gordon and the Chinese

January 26 2015

BBC.

Chinese Gordon (old post).


Manchus, Chinese and Mongols

January 26 2015

Chinese and Mongol battalions were brigaded with Manchu battalions in varying numbers and ratios in the Manchu Power’s army corps known as “banners”. Even when the Manchu Government’s domain was still confined to territories lying outside the Great Wall, the Chinese members of the community outnumbered the Manchus and Mongols; [footnote: See Michael, F.: The Origin of Manchu Rule in China (Baltimore 1942, Johns Hopkins University Press), p. 71.] and, after their passage of the Wall in A.D. 1644, it was the South Manchurian Chinese contingent in the banners that gave the invaders the man-power requisite for completing the conquest of Intramural China. While the Manchus thus succeeded in enlisting Chinese to help them win and hold [Ming] China for a Manchu régime, they were no less successful in dealing with the equally delicate problem presented by the Mongols, martial barbarians with memories of a great imperial past of their own and with a tincture of alien culture that made them no less difficult to assimilate than the intensely cultivated Chinese.

The Manchus attacked their Mongol problem from two directions. On the one hand, in the organization of the Mongol battalions of the banners they anticipated the policy of the British military authorities towards the Gurkhas and Pathans by recruiting their Mongol soldiers individually, and not in tribal blocs, and by placing them under the command of Manchu officers. On the other hand, they handled the Mongol tribes on the Steppe as the ʿOsmanlis had handled the Kurdish tribes in the Zagros Mountains. Without attempting to destroy their tribal organization, they contented themselves with dividing the tribes up into tribal atoms of a minimum size, and with imposing a strict delimitation of the boundaries between their respective pastoral ranges. The Mongol tribes, thus reduced in size and penned within fixed limits, were allowed to remain autonomous under the rule of their own tribal chiefs, while, to save appearances, these Mongol tribal chieftainships were nominally given the status of “banners”, as the Kurdish tribal chieftainships had been officially classified as Ottoman fiefs in the books of the Pādishāh. [Footnote: See Michael, op. cit., pp. 96-97. It will be seen that, in post-Diocletianic Roman terminology, these Mongol and Kurdish tribes were foederati of the Manchu and the Ottoman Empire respectively.] The political success of this Manchu military organization is attested by the fact that, when the Manchu régime in China was liquidated in A.D. 1911, the revolution was not the work of the Manchus’ comrades-in-arms in the Chinese and Mongol battalions of the banners.

The Manchus are descended from the Jurchen people who had earlier established the Jin dynasty (1115-1234) in northern China. Related Tungusic ethnicities: Sushen, Mogher.

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954


Islamic idolatry

January 25 2015

Many Muslims are now idolators, because they worship not God but their religion.


To Wang Lun

January 25 2015

Adam Tendler playing and reciting To Wang Lun, in Autumn Lines, his five settings of poems by the Tang poet Li Bai, aka Li Po, translated by David Young.

“I was just
shoving off
in my boat

when I heard someone stomping
and singing on the shore!

Peach Blossom Lake
is a thousand feet deep

but it can’t compare
with Wang Lun’s love
or the way he said
goodbye”

HOT! Festival, Dixon Place, New York, July 7 2010.

Rest also on YouTube. Whole set, in different performances, at iTunes.

___

Translation of Li Bai by Vikram Seth: White gibbons (post here).

Other poems by him were the source of four of Mahler’s settings in Das Lied von der Erde. Post.