Archive for the 'Britain' Category

Brown Uncle Toms

October 5 2015

The Quilliam Foundation, founded by Maajid Nawaz, Rashad Zaman Ali and Ed Husain, critiqued by Robin Yassin-Kassab. This is an old piece (2009), but Quilliam has been in the background of the news again in the past week with the ANZAC plot.

It’s a UK foundation dedicated to “countering extremism”. Many British Muslims will find the piece profoundly irritating, but surely there is gritty truth in it. “A past as a simple-minded extremist is apparently a CV asset.”

Wikipedia on Abdullah, or William Henry, Quilliam.

They make a desert and call it Islam

October 5 2015

Tacitus attributes “They make a desert and call it peace” – Ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant – to the Scottish chief Calgacus, whom Agricola, Tacitus’s father-in-law, defeated at Mons Graupius.

Dwellers in the roaring waste

October 5 2015

“To a Fish

You strange, astonished-looking, angle-faced,
Dreary-mouthed, gaping wretches of the sea,
Gulping salt-water everlastingly,
Cold-blooded, though with red your blood be graced,
And mute, though dwellers in the roaring waste;
And you, all shapes beside, that fishy be –
Some round, some flat, some long, all devilry,
Legless, unloving, infamously chaste –
O scaly, slippery, wet, swift, staring wights,
What is’t ye do? what life lead? eh, dull goggles?
How do ye vary your vile days and nights?
How pass your Sundays? Are ye still but joggles
In ceaseless wash? Still nought but gapes, and bites,
And drinks, and stares, diversified with boggles?

A Fish Answers

Amazing monster! that, for aught I know,
With the first sight of thee didst make our race
Forever stare! Oh flat and shocking face,
Grimly divided from the breast below!
Thou that on dry land horribly dost go
With a split body and most ridiculous pace,
Prong after prong, disgracer of all grace,
Long-useless-finned, haired, upright, unwet, slow!
O breather of unbreathable, sword-sharp air,
How canst exist? How bear thyself, thou dry
And dreary sloth? What particle canst share
Of the only blessed life, the watery?
I sometimes see of ye an actual pair
Go by! linked fin by fin! most odiously.

The Fish Turns into a Man, and then into a Spirit, and again Speaks

Indulge thy smiling scorn, if smiling still,
O man! and loathe, but with a sort of love;
For difference must its use by difference prove,
And, in sweet clang, the spheres with music fill.
One of the spirits am I, that at his will
Live in whate’er has life – fish, eagle, dove –
No hate, no pride, beneath nought, nor above,
A visitor of the rounds of God’s sweet skill.
Man’s life is warm, glad, sad, ’twixt loves and graves,
Boundless in hope, honoured with pangs austere,
Heaven-gazing; and his angel-wings he craves: –
The fish is swift, small-needing, vague yet clear,
A cold, sweet, silver life, wrapped in round waves,
Quickened with touches of transporting fear.”


Leigh Hunt’s remarkable The Fish, the Man, and the Spirit (1836), quoted (or most of it) in one of John Julius Norwich’s Crackers (last post but one).

The useless fins, ie arms, are presumably genetically descended from real ones, and the creatures which came out of the sea did have to adapt to breathing sword-sharp air (quite an ordeal), so these lines have an almost, if prematurely, Darwinian feel.

He appends a note:

“As the transition from the ludicrous to the grave, in these verses, might otherwise appear too violent, the reader will permit me to explain how they arose. The first sonnet was suggested by a friend’s laughing at a description I was giving him of the general aspect of fish (in which, by the way, if anybody is curious, let him get acquainted with them in Mr. Yarrell’s excellent work on ‘British Fishes,’ now in course of publication [Yarrell knew Darwin]); the second sonnet, being a lover of fair play, I thought but a just retort to be allowed to those fellow-creatures of ours, who so differ with us in eyeballs and opinions; and the third, not liking to leave a quarrel unsettled, and having a tendency to push a speculation as far as it will go, especially into those calm and heavenward regions from which we always return the better, if we calmly enter them, naturally became as serious as the peace of mind is, with which all speculations conclude that have harmony and lovingness for their real object. The fish, in his retort, speaks too knowingly of his human banterer, for a fish; but it will be seen, that a Spirit animates him for the purpose.”


Image:, artist not stated, but Jessie Willcox Smith, illustration for The Water Babies

Owen Chadwick 2

July 25 2015

First post (obits). I have linked to Alan Macfarlane of King’s College, Cambridge before. Here’s a ninety-minute interview of Chadwick by him, recorded in 2008.

I can only describe Chadwick’s smile as papery. From many years in a college. In my late teens I asked for the two volumes of his monumental The Victorian Church for Christmas, to the puzzlement of my family. At school I had had to read, and enjoyed, even if it lacked a certain drama, his The Reformation in the Pelican History of the Church, which he edited and to which he also contributed a volume on the Cold War. His younger brother Henry wrote the one on the early church, RW Southern a fine one on the medieval church.

He mentions DC Somervell in the first part, the man whose abridgements of Toynbee appeared in 1946 and 1957, as his history teacher at Tonbridge. He tells us that Toynbee’s early volumes were coming out then and that Somervell was rather contemptuous of him. But the first three then-uncontroversial volumes were only published in the summer of 1934. And would Somervell have said this? Especially when he wrote to Toynbee on September 11 to say that he had found them “enthrallingly interesting”? I wonder if this is not an academic reflex. Chadwick returns to Toynbee in the second part to show his own disapproval.

Macfarlane’s is a civilised voice, but he doesn’t get all that much out of his subject. But the picture in the Guardian shows Chadwick looking younger at 98 than he does here.

The discussion touches on Cambridge historians: Lord Acton (I met Chadwick at a lunch given for the launch of Roland Hill’s biography of Acton, which Chadwick in some degree mentored), GM Trevelyan, David Knowles, JH Plumb, Hugh Trevor-Roper (who was succeeded at Peterhouse by another ex-Christ Church figure, Henry Chadwick), Peter Laslett, Noel Annan, GR Elton. And others, such as the philosopher Michael Oakeshott.

“The Balkans might be better off at the moment if one or two people like David Owen or Lord Ashdown had known some history.”

Owen and Henry were both ordained Anglicans who were historians. Henry had a theological bent and wrote about the early church. Owen wrote mainly about religion, and the friction of church and state, in the nineteenth century.

Owen read history at St John’s, Cambridge and after the war was made a Fellow of Trinity Hall, Master of Selwyn College, Dixie Professor of Ecclesiastical History and Regius Professor of Modern History, and was for two years Vice Chancellor of the University.

Henry went to Eton and then Magdalene, Cambridge on a music scholarship, and after the war became a fellow of Queen’s College, Cambridge, Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford, Dean of Christ Church, Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge and then Master of Peterhouse in Cambridge, making him the first person in four centuries (since whom?) to have headed a college at both universities.

Owen Chadwick

July 21 2015



Both good.

“A clergyman-academic of a kind once common in universities but now very rare […].”

Finland in London

July 20 2015

What Elgarian, even, knew of this recording of the Finnish National Orchestra, under Georg Schnéevoigt, playing Cockaigne at the Queen’s Hall in 1934?

They play as if they mean it. Peroration at 2:37. They get the Edwardian grandeur. The work had been premiered at Queen’s Hall in 1901. Finnish National Orchestra seems to be an old name for the Helsinki Philharmonic. Robert Kajanus had founded the ensemble in Russian days, in 1882, and ran it until 1932. (That makes him more or less the longest-serving director of an orchestra ever, tying with Ansermet and Mravinsky.) Kajanus was Sibelius’s champion in Finland. Schnéevoigt was his successor with the orchestra, but has never had his reputation.

This was its first visit to London. There is something political in their playing. In 1917 Finland had freed itself, after 108 years, from Russia, and returned to the West. But it did not return to Sweden; it became a nation. In the same way, every recorded performance by Paderewski is political. Of course, Finland’s absorption into Russia had given it the cultural charge which was released in part in Sibelius’s music. You can even hear Tchaikovsky in early Sibelius.

The clip is May or June 1934. Elgar had died in February. (He had made his second recording of the work, with the BBC SO, at Abbey Road in April ’33. It was his last appearance there, a mere 29 years before the Beatles’ first.)

The last of Sibelius’s five visits to England, to conduct English orchestras, had been in 1921. During the ’30s England became the second home of his music. Hamilton Harty and Cecil Gray championed him. The Columbia Graphophone (sic) Company issued recordings of the first two symphonies with the LSO under Kajanus in 1930. The HMV Sibelius Society issued other recordings by subscription, starting with symphonies three and five and Tapiola, LSO and Kajanus again, in 1932.

During the 1934 visit, the Finns performed five of the symphonies and recorded (through the Society?) at least numbers four and six. In the same year, Constant Lambert published his Music Ho!, A Study of Music in Decline, which ends with a long defence of Sibelius. It was Sibelius who could show the way forward.

Henry Wood gave all seven symphonies in the 1937 Proms. Thomas Beecham mounted a festival of six Sibelius concerts in 1938. Barbirolli took him up.

It was different in Germany. As far as I know, Klemperer and Furtwängler never recorded a Sibelius symphony. His reputation was also set back by Theodor Adorno. It was rescued, a little later, by Karajan (cf Kajanus). But Abbado never did Sibelius in Berlin; Rattle has had to reintroduce him. (I’m not much of a Sibelian either, come to that.)

Russia invaded Finland in 1939. We and the French proposed to enter the Winter War in support of Finland during our own Phoney War, but did not, because of difficulties with Norway and Sweden. Two years later, when the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact had been broken, we found ourselves on opposite sides in the so-called Continuation War, though the Finns said that they tolerated German troops on their soil only as a defence against Russia.

The Queen’s Hall opened in 1893 and was destroyed by a German bomb on the night of May 10 1941, hours after a performance by the London Philharmonic under Sargent of the Enigma Variations and The Dream of Gerontius (Muriel Brunskill, Webster Booth, Ronald Stear, Royal Choral Society). Pathé:

We get the Finns again here in Cockaigne. Since at one stage we see London Bridge, I’ll add that 1934 was also the year of Eric Coates’s London Bridge march.

The Hall did not “rise again”. Its Langham Place site, next to the BBC, is now occupied by a cramped concrete hotel, the Saint George’s.

Are these the only two pieces of film showing the Queen’s Hall?

1934 as a musical hinge year.

First recording of Sibelius 6, the one nobody plays, Finnish National Orchestra, Schnéevoigt, London, presumably Queen’s Hall, 1934:

First picture is of Sibelius’s villa Ainola (named after his wife Aino), Järvenpää, winter 1917

Sibelius wrote in 1943 that “the sixth symphony always reminds me of the scent of the first snow”.

Jon Vickers

July 14 2015

Jon Vickers’s supreme rendition of Grimes’s final soliloquy.

Soliloquy is the only word to use here. This is Lear-like. Unlike Alex Ross, I was lucky enough to see Vickers in this role, also under Colin Davis in Covent Garden, but earlier than this.

Peter Grimes redefined, as the Enigma Variations had done in 1899, what British composers were capable of.

Its premiere at Sadler’s Wells on June 7 1945 belongs to the series of events which rebuilt an exhausted Britain’s morale after the war. July 26 Labour landslide – May 3 1951 opening of Festival of Britain – May 29 1953 conquest of Everest – June 2 Coronation.

Obituaries: Telegraph, Guardian, Independent.


June 27 2015

To be added to London anthologies:

“If you roll a boxful of shoes down some stairs, you will hear the word ‘London’.”

Andrew Cover, a friend, c 2000.

Elgar, Cockaigne, Elgar conducting BBC Symphony Orchestra, April 11 1933

GM Trevelyan on film 2

June 25 2015

1945 film directed by Richard Massingham and perhaps made for the British Council, which shows, at 6:50, the most popular serious English historian of the first half of the twentieth century, the Master of Trinity, lecturing at Cambridge.

University lectures and lecturers are often (usually?) disappointing. “Forged on the anvil of time.” He could write better than that. Apart from the important collective experience of sitting together and seeing your teacher, what could such wooden discourses offer that a book couldn’t? Trevelyan is old-fashioned, but he deserved his reputation in print.

We see Lawrence Bragg, Cavendish Professor of Physics, who had won the Nobel Prize at the age of twenty-five; John Sheppard, the Provost of King’s, talking theatrically to foreign visitors about Greek “freedom and friendship”; absurdly old-fashioned conducting by Patrick Hadley, and Bach performance, at 19:25.

The waves of Marxism, sexual liberation, deconstruction, gender politics and political correctness of later decades seem far off.

Where was bohemianism? In 1945, perhaps nowhere.

Toynbee was an Oxford man, though only briefly a don, but he declined the Regius Professorship of Modern History at Cambridge in 1947 in succession to GN Clark. The job would surely not have suited him. It was taken by JRM Butler instead.

Old posts:

GM Trevelyan on film

Trevelyan bibliography

Differences between Oxford and Cambridge

Forster at King’s in 1958

The Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race, 1829-


Old command

June 22 2015

“A land
Which was the mightiest in its old command”


Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Canto IV, 1818.

The next line has … “and is the loveliest”.

England’s landscape declined with its power. The trajectories were different, but (if you have anything like a classical view of landscape) they were in decline together from the moment English power started to decline.

The great twentieth-century popular historian of the English landscape was WG Hoskins, who published The Making of the English Landscape in 1955. That link is to a Wikipedia article which contains a summary of the book. The story was set in a wider historical context for the same generation, which had a stronger memory of old landscapes than we do, by GM Trevelyan (post here). For Trevelyan, the English landscape was still at its loveliest in 1818.

But would the Romans have recognised the Italian landscapes of 1818? I asked my friend Giovanni Caselli this question. I will post his reply tomorrow.

Dogs, Hoops and Running Boys

May 31 2015

… gave life to the foreground in engravings from, say, 1750 to 1830 – and suggest a title for a book of light social history. They come into nursery rhyme illustrations as well.

The Foundling Hospital, Bloomsbury in a print published in January 1753 or earlier:

Foundling Hospital, 1753

St James’s Square, 1752 (Chatham House, Duke of York Street and St James’s, Piccadilly in background; boy and hoop centre foreground; possibly clearer colour version here):

St James's Square, 1752

A painting of the 1825 Decembrist revolt in the Senate Square, St Petersburg by Vasily Timm has the running boy, but in these circumstances no dogs or hoops (he is similar to a running figure on a print of Bow Church and Cheapside in 1750, Getty images):

Timm, Decembist Revolt, 1825

This of the Tower of London, c 1810, has a hoop and ambling boy, but no dog.

One of the new lodges, Hyde Park, 1828, with hoop and dogs; dandies lounge at the rails:

New lodge, Hyde Park, 1828

St Giles-in-the-Fields, c 1820 (the figure may not be a boy, but we have seen him in the Foundling Hospital, Bow Church and Russian images):

St Giles-in-the-Fields, c 1820

There are several Thomas Bewick wood engravings of boys with hoops, and an oil painting by John Opie.

It seems that boys did no more than roll the hoop.

Gibbon and the defence of America

May 30 2015

Gibbon’s confidence [General Observations on the Fall of the Roman Empire in the West in Vol VI] in the inviolability of an American asylum for the Western Civilization would have been justified if – but only if – the aggressor’s part had been played in reality by those arrested Nomad riders [Nomadism is one of Toynbee’s “arrested civilizations”] who had been cast for it in Gibbon’s imagination. If the Continental Power that was under suspicion in A.D. 1952 of entertaining designs of world-wide conquest had been, once again, the Mongols, the peoples of the Western World would assuredly have had better reason this time for counting on the survival of their own distinctive culture than they had had in A.D. 1238, when they had been facing the prospect of a Mongol occupation of the West European peninsula of Asia without having any reassuring Transatlantic asylum at their backs. In A.D. 1952 they could have taken comfort in reminding themselves that in A.D. 1281 the forces of a Mongol Empire, which at that date had been mistress of the Continent from the shores of the Pacific Ocean to the shores of the Persian Gulf and the Baltic Sea, had been thrown back ignominiously from the beaches of Japan; for a cavalry Power which had proved impotent to conquer a cluster of small islands separated from the Continent by only a hundred miles of sea at the nearest point would have had no prospect, if she had occupied the European coastline of the Continent that the Germans held in June 1940, of being able to conquer the great island of North America on the farther side of a nearly two thousand-miles-broad Atlantic Ocean, or even the sister island of South America, which was divided by not less than sixteen hundred miles of sea from the Continent at the Straits of Dakar, where the westward bulge of Africa approached closest to the eastward bulge of Brazil. Indeed, the fiasco of Qubilay Khan’s attempt on Japan suggests that even the twenty-miles-wide Straits of Dover, which had foiled Napoleon and foiled Hitler when the local Continental war-lord of the day had had the whole of Europe under his command, might have proved impassable for Qubilay Khan in spite of his commanding the Asiatic mass as well as the European extremity of the Continent. But the historic immunity of the isles from conquest by Continental war-lords had been due to the comparative innocuousness of even a sedentary community’s most formidable weapons of offence until a hundred years and more after the date at which Gibbon had been writing; and no one who had lived through the war of A.D. 1939-45 could be blind to the truth that, since then, times had changed. The weapons with which Hitler had come within an ace of conquering Britain, and with which the combined forces of the United States and the British Commonwealth had succeeded thereafter in conquering Hitler’s vaunted Festung Europa, were indications that in a future world war the conquest of North America might not be beyond the reach of a Power controlling the aggregate resources of the Old World and capable of forging this incomparably vast store of war potential into unprecedentedly potent weapons through a mastery of an ever improving Western technology.

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954

VE Day

May 9 2015

London and Paris. YouTube credits:

Courtesy Steven Spielberg Film and Video Archive, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), 18SFP9490, 9491

Steven Spielberg Film and Video Archive, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), 18 SFP 9261

Steven Spielberg Film and Video Archive, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), 18 SFP 9155.

Beethoven added by whomever.

Churchill, Unconditional Surrender speech, May 8 1945 (in full here):

Election posts

May 3 2015

Old posts:

Lessons of 1867, and UK coalitions

A very rough guide to English parties

20 prime ministers in the 19th century

20 prime ministers in the 20th century

Most-“elected” prime ministers

The Foreign Office and Europe

Cameron and Churchill



More on hung parliaments

Minority governments.

Reading backwards

May 2 2015

FW Maitland makes a counterintuitive point: reading history backwards helps us to discard modern baggage. He is writing about English legal history, but I suppose this can apply elsewhere.

“The task of reconstructing ancient ideas is hazardous, and can only be accomplished little by little. If we are in a hurry to get to the beginning we shall miss the path. Against many kinds of anachronism we now guard ourselves. We are careful of costume, of armour and architecture, of words and forms of speech. But it is far easier to be careful of these things than to prevent the intrusion of untimely ideas. In particular there lies a besetting danger for us in the barbarian’s use of a language which is too good for his thought. Mistakes then are easy, and when committed they will be fatal and fundamental mistakes. If, for example, we introduce the persona ficta too soon, we shall be doing worse than if we armed Hengest and Horsa with machine guns or pictured the Venerable Bede correcting proofs for the press; we shall have built upon a crumbling foundation. The most efficient method of protecting ourselves against such errors is that of reading our history backwards as well as forwards, of making sure of our middle ages before we talk about the ‘archaic’, of accustoming our eyes to the twilight before we go out into the night.”


“The law implied in Domesday Book ought to be for us very difficult law, far more than the law of the thirteenth century, for the thirteenth century is nearer to us than is the eleventh. The grown man will find it easier to think the thoughts of the school-boy than to think the thoughts of the baby. And yet the doctrine that our remote forefathers being simple folk had simple law dies hard. Too often we allow ourselves to suppose that, could we but get back to the beginning, we should find that all was intelligible and should then be able to watch the process whereby simple ideas were smothered under subtleties and technicalities. But it is not so. Simplicity is the outcome of technical subtlety; it is the goal not the starting point. As we go backwards the familiar outlines become blurred; the ideas become fluid, and instead of the simple we find the indefinite. But difficult though our task may be, we must turn to it.”

Reading backwards is implied in the title of the book from which this is taken: Domesday Book and Beyond, Cambridge University Press, 1897.

Alan Macfarlane online

April 30 2015

Anthropologist and historian who writes about England, Nepal, China, Japan. Professor Emeritus at King’s College, Cambridge.



Digital Himalaya

His extraordinary YouTube account

His home page

On this blog (from YouTube): differences between Oxford and Cambridge; interviewing Christopher Bayly


World Oral Literature Project.


Interviewing a Cambridge street sweeper and authority on the town, Allan Brigham, in 2013.

Reading a May 2000 lecture given at Downing College, Cambridge on FW Maitland, the great legal and constitutional historian and thinker, author of Domesday Book and Beyond and The Constitutional History of England, in 2013.

Another Maitland lecture, Department of Social Anthropology, Cambridge, November 2001.

(Trivia: it was the Maitlands with whom Tchaikovsky, between whose Julian and Gregorian 175th birthdays we now are, stayed at Downing in the early summer of 1893, a few months before his death, to receive an honorary doctorate from Cambridge. He found them “the most charmingly sympathetic of people – and moreover, Russophiles, which is a great rarity in England”.)

Reading a 2005 lecture given at University of California, Berkeley on the political thinkers Yukichi Fukuzawa and Masao Maruyama in 2013. One can see here his interest in Bayly’s work.

Reading a 1996 talk given at the Institute of Historical Research on Fernand Braudel (bibliography) in 2013; it’s a pity he is not a slightly more engaging speaker:

Gargano and Compostela

April 29 2015

… and the heart of Robert the Bruce

In taking up arms under the impulse of this homesickness for their pristine holy land, the Crusaders not only made for Christendom’s oldest and most sacred pilgrimage-resort as their ultimate objective; they also set themselves intermediate goals to draw their flagging feet forward along the intervening stages of their long war-path by throwing out, en route, new pilgrimage-resorts in advanced posts just beyond an expanding Western Christendom’s previous borders. Norman pilgrimages to the shrine of Saint Michael the Archangel on Monte Gargano, in the Apulian dominions of the East Roman Empire, were reconnaissances that became preludes to a Norman conquest of the bridgeheads of Orthodox Christendom and Dār-al-Islām in Southern Italy and Sicily, and French pilgrimages to the shrine of Saint James the Apostle at Compostela, in a Galician no-man’s-land between a Western Christian fastness in Asturia and the former domain of a dissolving Andalusian Umayyad Caliphate, provided successive new drafts of military manpower for the progressive conquest of the Iberian Peninsula by the joint efforts of Cispyrenean and Transpyrenean Frankish aggressors.

The perilous exposure of the shrine at Compostela on the fringe of a Medieval Western Christendom’s dār-al-harb [he uses a different style from the other Dār] had the same effect in spurring the Crusaders into making superhuman exertions as the desperate deed of a Scottish knight who, on an Andalusian battlefield where he had broken his pilgrimage in order to fight under a Castilian banner, turned the fortunes of a day which had been going against the Franks by flinging into the midst of the all-but-victorious Muslims a silver casket containing Robert the Bruce’s heart, and rushing forward after it to conquer or die for the sake of rescuing a treasure, entrusted to his safekeeping, which he had thus deliberately thrown into jeopardy as a last resort for calling out his own supreme reserves of vigour and valour. [Footnote: The tale is told by the writer’s mother, Edith Toynbee, in True Stories from Scottish History (London 1896, Griffith Farran Browne), pp. 90-91.] This incident was an omen; for the mission which the Bruce on his death-bed had charged his companion in arms, James Douglas, to fulfil had been to carry his heart to Jerusalem in order to bury it there in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre; the attainment of this Palestinian objective was sacrificed for the sake of a Frankish victory on Andalusian ground which was won by Douglas at the cost of the martial pilgrim’s own life; and this personal story repeated itself on an oecumenical scale. While the last of the Crusaders’ bridgeheads on the coast of Syria was lost within less than two hundred years of the Frankish invaders’ first descent upon Palestine [Jerusalem 1099 to Acre 1291], their conquests in the Iberian Peninsula, Southern Italy, and Sicily under the auspices of the far-flung shrines at Compostela and Gargano were the two abiding gains of territory that were made by Western Christendom in the Crusades at Dār-al-Islām’s and Orthodox Christendom’s expense.

Douglas died at the siege of Teba. His body and the casket containing the embalmed heart were found on the field. They were both conveyed back to Scotland by Sir William Keith of Galston. Bruce had been buried in Dunfermline Abbey. Douglas’s remains were interred at St Bride’s church in Douglas, Lanarkshire; Bruce’s heart in Melrose Abbey.

Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 19.32.15

Sir James Douglas Taking Bruce’s Heart to the Holy Land Is Diverted to Fight the Moors near Granada, what Victorian source?

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954


April 25 2015

The first victory of the Ottoman Empire was a defeat of the Byzantine army near Nicomedia, at Bapheus, in 1302. The defeat of British imperial and French forces on the Gallipoli peninsula, April 25 1915 to January 9 1916, was almost the last.

Gallipoli was also a landmark in the career of a Turkish general, Kustafa Kemal Atatürk. It was a dress rehearsal for the struggle to come.

It disgraced Churchill, who had ordered the naval attack.

During the Irish War of Independence balladeers sang “Twas better to die ’neath an Irish sky than in Suvla or Sedd el Bahr”.

Gallipoli helped to forge national consciousness in Australia and New Zealand, both newly independent and fighting their first war. Today is Anzac Day and the centenary of the start of the campaign.

The first Jewish fighting force – with a Jewish emblem and flag – since the defeat of the Bar Kokhba Revolt in AD 136 fought in Gallipoli. So, in a small way, this was a dress rehearsal for the wars of Zion.


The peninsula forms the northern or western bank of the Dardanelles, the strait that provided a sea route to the Russian Empire. Russia’s allies Britain and France launched a naval attack followed by a landing, intending to secure it and then capture Constantinople. The naval attack was repelled and after eight months’ fighting the land campaign was abandoned and the invasion force withdrawn to Egypt.

The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) was formed in Egypt in 1915 and commanded by General William Birdwood. It was disbanded in 1916. Later formations.

What has been happening in Palestine during the War? Dr. Trietsch informs us that the Ottoman Government has been proceeding with the “naturalisation” of the Palestinian Jews, and that the “local execution of this measure has not been effected without disturbances […].” [My bracket, not AJT’s.] One significant consequence was the appearance in Egypt of Palestinian refugees, who raised a Zion mule corps there and fought through the Gallipoli campaign.

The Zion Mule Corps was formed in March 1915. It was the precursor of the Jewish Legion (1917-21), the unofficial name for the 38th to 42nd Battalions of the Royal Fusiliers, which fought against the Ottoman Empire. Jacob Epstein served in the 38th.

Casualties at Gallipoli:

Ottoman Empire (Turks, Arabs, others): 109,042 wounded and missing, 57,084 killed

Britain: 52,230 wounded, 21,255 killed

Australia: 19,441 wounded, 8,709 killed

France: 17,000 wounded, 10,000 killed (estimates), including an unknown number of Senegalese

New Zealand: 4,752 wounded, 2,721 killed

India: 3,421 wounded, 1,358 killed

Newfoundland: 93 wounded, 49 killed

Germans: a few fought with the Turks

The numbers vary greatly from one source to another. Allied numbers here are via, which gives its source as the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Australia. It doesn’t say whether wounded includes missing. Ottoman numbers via Most sources give only the Allies. Have the Ottoman totals ever been broken down?

Anzac parade, London, date not shown:

Turkey, A Past and a Future, Hodder & Stoughton, 1917

More crews

April 12 2015

Last post.

Oxford 1933 (from 1:30):

Oxford 1934:

Cambridge 1934:

Cambridge 1935:

Oxford 1936:

Cambridge 1936:

Oxford 1937:

Cambridge 1937:

Oxford 1938:

Cambridge 1938:

The Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race, 1829-

April 11 2015

The 161st race was today. It has been annual since 1856, except for 1915-19 and 1940-45. All except the first have been rowed in London. Oxford have won 79, Cambridge 81, 1877 was a dead heat. HistoryList of results.

The first report in The Times was on April 4 1839 after the third race; the Cambridge win, by 35 lengths, was the strongest in the entire series; Melbourne (Trinity, Cambridge) was prime minister:

Times, 1839 04 04

“Off the penitentiary” refers to Millbank Prison.

“Searle laid down the winning boat; King, of Oxford, that in which the vanquished pulled.” Laid down means designed or built. Searle was a London boathouse. It is mentioned earlier in the piece.

April 16 1840: “It is not a little refreshing to the real lovers of old English sports and manly exercise to find these sorts of amusements beginning to supersede the swindling, dangerous and absurd practice of steeple chasing – things merely got up by publicans and horsedealers to pillage the unwary and enrich themselves.”

Many races are on Pathé, including some of the unofficial wartime ones in the ’40s, which were held outside London and aren’t in the record. Here are the 1939 crews:

London palaces

March 29 2015

Official or main royal residences

Palace of Westminster – 1049-1530

Whitehall Palace – 1530-1698, when all except Inigo Jones’s 1622 Banqueting House was destroyed by fire

Kensington Palace – 1698-1760

St James’s Palace – 1698-1837

Buckingham Palace – 1837-

Boulez’s Water Music

March 28 2015

The three suites, Hague Philharmonic, recorded in 1963, Nonesuch LP. He made another recording with the New York Philharmonic, I suppose while music director there from ’71 to ’77.

Handel composed the Water Music for George I, for performances on the Thames in 1715 (first suite or part of it) and 1717 (complete work).

George and companions boarded a royal barge at Whitehall Palace at 8 pm on Saturday 17 7 1717 for an excursion up the Thames towards Chelsea. The rising tide propelled it without rowing. Another barge, provided by the City of London, contained fifty musicians. Other Londoners took to the river to hear the concert. The king left his barge at Chelsea and returned to it at 11 pm for the return trip, when the music was repeated.

Handel had been employed by George in Germany while the future king was only Elector of Hanover. He wrote the Music for the Royal Fireworks for George II more than thirty years later.

A civilised society

March 24 2015

Remembering Lee Kuan Yew: Straits Times.

Lee Kuan Yew soundbites and historical film arranged by Daniel Tay: here, here, here. Interesting throughout.
“The first time I came out of the Tube station at Trafalgar Square [probably 1946], I was very impressed. There was a bundle of newspapers for sale and a box. Nobody there. And you can take the newspaper and put your coins in or [take your] change. I said: ‘This is really a civilised society’.”

This was the way evening papers were sold in London until the early ’70s or later. I can remember it. I remember an Austrian remarking on it.

The BBC and Lee Kuan Yew

March 23 2015

On the first main bulletin after Lee’s death, the 10 pm Radio 4 news yesterday: item number 3.

Twelve hours later, 10 am R4 headlines: Lee not mentioned AT ALL.

Here’s the punchline. On the “flagship” R4 lunchtime news programme on Monday, and a 45-minute affair supposedly of some prestige, The “World” at One: Lee not mentioned AT ALL again, even in the headlines. We once ruled the world. We should at least understand it.

This was the day, in Asia time, of Lee’s death, a man of historical importance, the first half of whose life was closely bound up with Britain. There was a lot on extremism, UKIP and sexual abuse and, when the editors had run out of that and didn’t have a welfare story, a long closing section about, not hawking this time, but what makes a gardener.

Fanfares for Richard III

March 22 2015

The best version of Walton’s Richard III prelude on YouTube – part of his music for Laurence Olivier’s film – is Brazilian.

Richard’s remains are being moved from the University of Leicester to Leicester Cathedral today via local villages, taking in the site of the Battle of Bosworth. The cortège was on its way at the time of posting. He will be buried in the cathedral on Thursday.

The Orquestra Filarmonia of the Theatro São Pedro in São Paulo under Paulo Maron, April 2002, isn’t the best orchestra (like Schoenberg’s music, it is perhaps better than it sounds), but it doesn’t matter, because it does the piece with such verve. The collapse into the big tune at 1:12 is just right. The way to keep Waltonian bombast at bay is to keep the music moving.

Bernard Herrmann with the National Philharmonic Orchestra is lugubrious in the extreme. Walton himself, conducting the Philharmonia, is better, but I prefer the Brazilians.

The prelude was arranged from the film score by the conductor of the soundtrack Muir Mathieson.

Mathieson also arranged a Richard III suite, but the prelude is not part of it. On YouTube with Walton conducting the Philharmonia. There is no funeral music here. There is in Walton’s Hamlet.

Christopher Palmer’s arrangement, Richard III, A Shakespeare Scenario, has music with words and lasts 45 minutes. On YouTube with Neville Marriner, Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields and John Gielgud.

Renato Rocha on why Richard III speaks to Brazilians, Guardian, April 23 2012.

Walton’s Shakespeare films:

As You Like It (1936)

Henry V (1944)

Hamlet (1948)

Richard III (1955)

Paul Czinner directed and Laurence Olivier starred in As You Like It. Olivier directed and starred in the other three.

Tony Palmer’s film about Walton At the Haunted End of the Day used the fanfare which opens the Richard prelude to accompany shots of the Ischia-dwelling Walton arriving at Heathrow for his eightieth birthday celebrations in 1982 and being driven into town in a Rolls Royce. That’s how a grand old composer should arrive.

There are two nineteenth-century orchestral pieces about Richard III, a symphonic poem (1857-58) by Smetana and an overture (1870s?) by Robert Volkmann. Both solid pieces of orchestral furniture. Smetana also wrote some fanfares for Richard (1867) for brass and timpani, presumably for a production of the play. Volkmann quotes, half way through, The Campbells are Coming, in allusion to Richard’s war with Scotland.

Smetana, Czech Philharmonic, Rafael Kubelik:

And the Smetana fanfares, Fanfary k Richardovi III, BBC Philharmonic, Gianandrea Noseda:

Volkmann, Radio Symphony Orchestra Stuttgart, Carl Schuricht, Stuttgart, September 12 1952:

Until recently there was no opera. But now we have one, by Giorgio Battistelli.

Here is the whole 1955 film:

“Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths;
Our bruised arms hung up for monuments;
Our stern alarums changed to merry meetings,
Our dreadful marches to delightful measures.
Grim-visaged war hath smooth’d his wrinkled front;
And now, instead of mounting barded steeds
To fright the souls of fearful adversaries,
He capers nimbly in a lady’s chamber
To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.
But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks,
Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass;
I, that am rudely stamp’d, and want love’s majesty
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph;
I, that am curtail’d of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deformed, unfinish’d, sent before my time
Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them;
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun
And descant on mine own deformity:
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.
Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous,
By drunken prophecies, libels and dreams,
To set my brother Clarence and the king
In deadly hate the one against the other:
And if King Edward be as true and just
As I am subtle, false and treacherous,
This day should Clarence closely be mew’d up,
About a prophecy, which says that ‘G’
Of Edward’s heirs the murderer shall be.
Dive, thoughts, down to my soul: here
Clarence comes.”

Nought shall make us rue (recent post).

Pallid parliament

March 17 2015

Julia Langdon on how the blood has been sucked out of the House of Commons since 1970, when – it is hardly credible now – thirty-five MPs were former miners. With Betty Boothroyd and others. BBC Radio 4.

Ivan Roots

March 11 2015

Historian of the Great Rebellion.

Telegraph obituary.

[I have corrected the recent post called Turkey and Poland.]

How a corporation replaced the Mughal Empire

March 4 2015

William Dalrymple in the Guardian. Foretaste of his forthcoming The Anarchy: How a Corporation Replaced the Mughal Empire, 1756-1803.

Old post on Dalrymple.

The wise and kindly way of life

March 3 2015

A phrase that needs wider currency. There are only six appearances online.

Winston Churchill at his retirement, April 1955: “And I drink to the wise and kindly way of life of which Your Majesty is the young and gleaming champion”.

Trafalgar Square 1879 continued further

March 2 2015

First post on this. Second. Will open in separate windows. In the second, I linked to Toilers in London; or, Inquiries concerning Female Labour in the Metropolis, By the “British Weekly” Commissioners, Hodder and Stoughton, 1889.

The British Weekly was founded in 1886 to encourage Christian virtue in the lower classes. I don’t know when it closed. Toilers in London was the second volume of two called Tempted London. The first (called what?) addressed young men. No Archive edition, but something less reliable here. Chapters:

Coming up from the Country to London
Life in Business Houses
The Life of City Clerks
A Bird’s-Eye View of London Gambling
Gambling and the Law: An Indictment of the Police
Music Halls
The Variety Theatres of London
The Evils of Theatres
What the Churches are Doing
What the Churches are Doing (continued)
Christian Associations
The Polytechnic

“The Life of City Clerks”. As examined by George Gissing and others up to EM Forster in Howards End.

The first chapter of the volume on female labour is called Flower-Girls.

“The flower-girl is such a familiar sight to Londoners, that few of us realise what the streets of the metropolis would miss if she were banished.

“‘The world would be a sorry place if it had no flowers in it,’ an old man said to one of our Commissioners, while he was buying some primroses from a girl at the corner of Oxford Street. It was Primrose Day [below], and the old man was fastening a small bunch of primroses in his coat when our Commissioner stopped beside the flower-girl’s basket.

“Fifteen years ago no flower-girls enlivened London thoroughfares. If people wanted flowers they were obliged to find a nursery garden, or to visit a market. At these places flowers were then very expensive; for the people had not at that time learnt to appreciate simple flowers like primroses and daffodils; they only cared for costly exotics.

“Now any one can during the spring season buy enough flowers in the streets to deck a room for sixpence, and a small bunch of violets or a button-hole for one penny. Nothing comes amiss to the flower-girl’s basket […].”

“Fifteen years ago.” That’s 1874. There were flower-girls then. As McConkey told us, Gustave Doré depicted them, huddled like beggars, in his London: A Pilgrimage of 1872.

But we can assume that the phenomenon grew in the 1870s. The article doesn’t account for it, but we have looked at the role of the railways.

The swirl in Trafalgar Square must have provided a hunting ground for sexual exploiters, who were protected by English sexual hypocrisy and by the deference engendered by a class system.

Perhaps obvious street poverty had started to decline by 1913, when Pygmalion had its first performance.

One-Nation conservatism. Urban renewal. A radical Liberal, Joseph Chamberlain, boasted that his three years, 1873-76, as Mayor of Birmingham, had left the city “parked, paved, assized, marketed, gas-and- watered and improved”. Hygiene. Trade unions. Peabody Trust. Forster’s Education ActEmployers and Workmen Act. End of Long Depression of 1873-79. Old-Age Pensions Act. Labour Exchanges Act. National Insurance Act.


Clausen’s girl’s flowers have the unmistakeable yellow of primroses, but there was no “Primrose Day” in 1879.

That day was the anniversary of the death of Disraeli on April 19 1881. The primrose had been his favourite flower. Queen Victoria gave him bunches of them, picked at Windsor and Osborne House, and sent a wreath of primroses to his funeral. Had they started to be a symbol of conservatism while he was alive?

Disraeli invented modern Conservatism and revived the previously-moribund monarchy. Primrose Day was associated with the Primrose League, formed in 1883 to take Conservative principles to the masses. Its membership peak was in the 1890s, but it survived until 2004. When did yellow become a Liberal colour? (A Liberal prime minister in the 1890s, the 5th Earl of Rosebery, happened to have the family name of Primrose.)

Frank Bramley, Primrose Day, 1885, Tate Britain; awkward portrait, but with nods to Japan-influenced aestheticism in the arrangement and in the stalks, and with the straw hat looking like something between a mushroom and an umbrella or fan; Disraeli is on the wall:

Bramley, Primrose Day, 1885

Pathé News, Primrose Day, Parliament Square, 1916; a crowd in front of Mario Raggi’s bronze statue of Disraeli:

Further clip of the statue at about the same time. Half the country once had a Jewish hero, if a rather distant and disembodied one. Pathé has clips of Primrose Day pilgrimages to Disraeli’s grave at Hughenden for 1921, 1923, 1926, 1928.

A Victorian

March 1 2015

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

Alfred Webster

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

Britain and Crete

February 21 2015

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




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.

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, 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.

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


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). Links below.

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.” (Telegraph)

I went to a talk by Holt early in my first term at Oxford. He was then teaching at the University of 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

Martin Gilbert

February 6 2015

Chronicler, factory.

Obits a week after Churchill and Holocaust anniversaries:




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:

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, was a place whose fabric was layered. Some parts of a building were from one period, some from another. English houses, in consequence, had charm. Downton Abbey has about as much charm as a ballroom in a hotel in Dubai.

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

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 not on a pedestal. We know his weaknesses and terrible mistakes. 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 have 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, on balance, that 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?”

Cameron asked the nation to tweet its favourite Churchill saying. I didn’t comply, 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”.

The Harmonious Blacksmith

January 17 2015

This sane if unpolitical Air and Variations, a favourite of the Victorians – like The Cuckoo and the Nightingale and Rage over a Lost Penny, not that these works are similar – is the final movement, in E major, of the fifth of the eight harpsichord suites Handel published in 1720. Wilhelm Kempff, piano.

The origin of the nickname is not clear. It is not recorded until the nineteenth century and does not come from Handel.

Herbert Pocket in Great Expectations gives his friend Pip the nickname Handel, because “We are so harmonious, and you have been a blacksmith”.

Percy Grainger based his Handel in the Strand on the tune (piano and various arrangements, the name an allusion to Molly on the Shore).

Kempff takes it rather slowly. The faster it is played, the more Grainger-like it becomes.

Picture: Poussin, or attributed?, Hercule au jardin des Hespérides, Louvre?