William Dalrymple in the Guardian. Foretaste of his forthcoming The Anarchy: How a Corporation Replaced the Mughal Empire, 1756-1803.
Archive for the 'Britain' Category
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”.
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
The Variety Theatres of London
The Evils of Theatres
What the Churches are Doing
What the Churches are Doing (continued)
“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 Act. Employers 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:
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.
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 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.
Was the firebombing of Dresden by the British and Americans the worst thing done before Hiroshima? The British had the larger role.
“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 Dresden. The 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
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:
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
1969 edition of Holt, Magna Carta, CUP, 1965
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.
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”.
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?
The massacre of Glencoe, personally ordered by that model constitutional monarch William III, early in the fourth year of the “Glorious Revolution,” bears an uncanny resemblance in motive and circumstance [the securing of a homogeneous population] to the crimes of Young Turk rulers against Armenians in the era of the Ottoman “Hurriet.” But it needed the more systematic measures taken after 1745 to ensure that there should be no “Gaelic Question” in twentieth-century Great Britain.
The first of the three Jacobite uprisings lasted from 1689 to 1692.
The Western Question in Greece and Turkey, A Study in the Contact of Civilizations, Constable, 1922 (footnote)
Hugh Trevor-Roper broadcasting in French on France Culture radio on April 14 1967. It isn’t clear to me who the live audience is and whether invited or public, nor why he was asked, or chose, to speak about Churchill. He worked at MI6 during the war, but never met Churchill, though he came to know Randolph later. He admired Churchill’s life of Marlborough.
He was, at the time of this lecture, taking a strong stand against the proposed London staging of a play by Rolf Hochhuth which alleged that Churchill had been responsible for the death of the Polish prime minister, General Sikorski, in a plane crash in 1943. In April 1943 the Germans had announced the discovery of mass graves filled with the bodies of thousands of Polish prisoners of war murdered by the Soviets at Katyn Forest in 1940. Churchill, it was alleged, feared that Sikorski’s questions would damage Britain’s relations with Russia. The holocaust-denier David Irving was a friend of Hochhuth and in on the controversy.
Soon afterwards, Trevor-Roper would be on the editorial board, with Sir Mortimer Wheeler, AJP Taylor and others, of a magazine issued in 112 weekly parts by Purnell (1969-71) based on the text of Churchill’s History of the English-Speaking Peoples.
He isn’t really speaking French, but Trevor-Roper lecturese. Lectures were not his best medium. That was the essay.
All the major bus advertisers on one photograph (and some others). Left to right:
Ridge’s Food (Best for Infants).
Mellin’s (oval sign on the stairs). More infant formula.
Oakey’s Wellington Knife Polish. A staple below stairs.
Hotel in South Hackney, probably the Queen’s Hotel.
Infant formula, cocoa, cameras, polish, soap, whisky. Are the hangings on the building Jubilee decorations?
According to Wikipedia, Route 3 didn’t start operation until 1908 and then not on this route. In any case, this looks earlier. What are the words above Putney on the side of that bus?
London General Omnibus Company. The sign that appears to say C&SH must be where you dropped the fare, so when did bus conductors come in?
Augustus and his successors had made good civil servants out of predatory Roman business men of the “equestrian” class; Han Liu Pang [the first Han emperor] and his successors had made them out of predatory feudal gentry bred by the contending Sinic parochial states; Cornwallis and his successors had made them out of predatory commercial agents of the British East India Company.
A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954
Twentieth-century English composers were to an above-average degree interested in, or inspired or motivated in their work by, women.
Think Bax, Delius, Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Walton.
An Englishman of the generation that has lived through the General War of 1914-18 may remind himself […] of an incident which struck him, at the time, as painfully symbolic. As the War, in its ever-increasing intensity, made wider and wider demands upon the lives of the belligerent nations – like some great river that has burst its bounds in flood and is engulfing field after field and sweeping away village after village – a moment came in England when the offices of the Board of Education [1899-1944] in Whitehall were commandeered for the use of a new department of the War Office [1684-1964] which had been improvised in order to make an intensive study of trench warfare. The ejected Board of Education found asylum in the Victoria and Albert Museum, where it survived on sufferance as though it had been some curious relic of a vanished past. And thus, for several years before the Armistice of the 11th November, 1918, an education for slaughter was being promoted, in the heart of our Western World, within the walls of a public building which had been erected in order to assist in promoting an education for life. As the writer of this Study was walking down Whitehall one day in the spring of that year 1918, he found himself repeating a passage from the Gospel according to Saint Matthew:
“When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the Prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand) … then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the World to this time … And, except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved …” [Footnote: Matt. xxiv. 15 and 21-2.]
No reader can fail to understand that when the Ministry of Education of a great Western country is given over to the study of the art of war, the improvement in our Western military technique which is purchased at such a price is synonymous with the destruction of our Western Civilization.
The War Office building was completed in 1906. In 1964, the Admiralty, War Office, Air Ministry, Ministry of Aviation (not the same) and the earlier MOD were merged into the Ministry of Defence, which retained it, though not as its main headquarters. In 2013 it was decided to sell it on the open market. So first war expelled education (presumably from another building: which?), and now business is taking over from war.
A Study of History, Vol III, OUP, 1934
We may [ask ourselves] why our own traditional Western styles of music and dancing and painting and sculpture are being abandoned by our own rising generation. In our own case, is the explanation a loss of artistic technique? Have we forgotten the rules of rhythm and counterpoint and perspective and light and proportion which were discovered, or invented, by that Italian and Flemish creative minority which carried our Western Society out of the second chapter in its history into the third chapter some four or five centuries ago? In this case, in which we happen to be first-hand witnesses, the answer to our question is palpably in the negative. In these days of mass-education our Western World is more amply supplied than ever before with virtuosi who are masters of these techniques and who could put them into operation again any day if they felt the impulse in themselves and received the demand from their public. The prevailing tendency to abandon our Western artistic traditions is no involuntary capitulation to a paralytic stroke of technical incompetence; it is the deliberate abandonment of a style of art which is losing its appeal to the rising generation because this generation is ceasing to cultivate its aesthetic sensibilities on the traditional Western lines. We have wilfully cast out of our souls the great masters who have been the familiar spirits of our forefathers; and, while we have been wrapt in self-complacent admiration of the spiritual vacuum which we have discovered how to make, a Tropical African spirit of music and dancing and statuary has made an unholy alliance with a pseudo-Byzantine spirit of painting and bas-relief, and has entered in to dwell in a house that it has found empty and swept and garnished. [Footnote: Matt. xii. 43-5, Luke xi. 24-6.] The decline which betrays itself in this revolutionary change in aesthetic taste is not technical but is spiritual. In repudiating our own native Western tradition of art and thereby reducing our aesthetic faculties to a state of inanition and sterility in which they seize upon the exotic and primitive art of Dahomey and Benin as though this were manna in the wilderness, we are confessing before all men that we have forfeited our spiritual birthright. Our abandonment of our traditional artistic technique is manifestly the consequence of some kind of spiritual breakdown in our Western Civilization; and the cause of this breakdown evidently cannot be found in a phenomenon which is one of the subsequent symptoms.
From the fourth volume of the Study. From “We have wilfully cast out” onwards, he sounds like the headmistress Miss Strudwick, whom he would quote twenty years later: see August 26 post. He started work on Vol IV in the summer of 1933. She made her speech that June. I am sure he filed a cutting. We know from the same volume what he thought about the state of universal education, and from Vol IX his views (expressed just after the Strudwick quotation) on neo-barbarian city-dwellers and their entertainments.
See an old post on dated pessimism.
Benin bronzes became known in the West somewhat earlier than the historically-earlier stone, bronze and terracotta heads of Ife. But they have nothing to do with the country of Dahomey, now called Benin. This looks like a howler. The Empire of Benin was in what is now Edo state. Ife was in Yoruba country, further west.
Toynbee, like many of his English class and generation, had, when he wrote this, no grasp of what modern art was or of what made it happen. His taste in modern literature, such as it was, was also unreliable.
For all his awareness of the impact of the West on Japan, he does not mention in a single place, even a caption in the Caplan abridgement, and may not even have known about, the effect on art in the West in the nineteenth century of the West’s discovery of Japanese aesthetics.
In the passage I have quoted, he sees a “breakdown” of the culture that had come before, rather than a prescient response to what was approaching or a dynamic response to what was new. European culture had never been something static and therefore liable to break down. It was breaking down all the time. Why, nevertheless, did things change so dramatically when even comparatively conservative artists seemed unexhausted? I asked that question, in relation to music, here and here.
Was he so ignorant of modern art in his old age? Perhaps not. An artist such as Epstein (August 27), whom I took as a bogeyman for his class and generation, should have had great appeal for him. Epstein wasn’t even avant-garde at the end. He was quasi-religious and humane, like Toynbee.
Toynbee’s travel in his retirement (1955-75) included Latin America several times between 1956 and 1966, India in 1956-57 and 1960, the US repeatedly during the civil rights struggle, Japan in 1956 and 1967, Nigeria in 1964. His perspectives on art must have changed. From April 1970 to August 1972, he worked on an illustrated abridgement of A Study of History with Jane Caplan, which contained images by Raoul Hausmann, Rivera, Franz Wilhelm Seiwert, CRW Nevinson, Magnus Zeller, Bruno Caruso, Picasso, Dix. He was ready at the end of his life to take African and southeast Asian history seriously, about which he had known nothing earlier. He quotes TS Eliot on the title page of his Gifford lectures (published 1956).
We have evidence of a pre-retirement change of outlook in the ninth volume of the Study (1954). There is a section about renaissances of the visual arts of a dead civilisation in the history of an affiliated civilisation of the next generation. The Sumeric style of carving in bas-relief was revived under the Neo-Assyrian Empire (911-612 BC). The style of sculpture and painting of the Old Kingdom was revived in the Saite age (Twenty-Sixth Dynasty, the last before the Persian conquest). The Hellenic style of carving in bas-relief (see Attic masterpieces of the fifth and fourth centuries BC) was nostalgically revived on Byzantine diptychs carved not in stone but in ivory in the tenth, eleventh and twelfth centuries CE. The Babylonic civilisation was indeed, in Toynbee’s scheme, affiliated to the Sumeric, and the Orthodox Christian civilisation to the Hellenic. But why is he suggesting that Saite Egypt was part of a civilisation affiliated to the Egyptiac?
The example on which he dwells, however, is a further one, namely
the renaissance of Hellenic visual arts in Western Christendom which made its first epiphany in a Late Medieval Italy and spread thence to the rest of the Western World during a Modern Age of Western history. This evocation of ghosts of Hellenic visual arts was practised in the three fields of Architecture, Sculpture, and Painting; and, in every one of these three fields, the revenant style of art made so clean a sweep of the style that it found in possession of the corresponding sector of a Western artistic arena that, by the time when the aggressive ghost had spent his formidable force, Western Man had become so thoroughly used to living his aesthetic life under this alien ascendancy that he did not know what to do with a liberty that was not recovered for him by his own exertions, but was reimposed upon him by the senile decay of a pertinaciously tyrannical intruder. When the evaporation of an Hellenic spectre presented Western souls with an aesthetic vacuum, they found themselves at first unable, for the life of them, to say what was the proper visual expression for the West’s long-suppressed native artistic genius.
Hellenism had been an “intruder”. Now he seems to want modernism to hurry up, as if it might be the expression of “the West’s long-suppressed native artistic genius”. “Vacuum” now means something different.
The most extraordinary episode [had been] the triumph of an Hellenic revenant over the native genius of the West in the province of Sculpture in the Round; for, in this field of artistic endeavour, the thirteenth-century Northern French exponents of an original Western style had produced masterpieces that could look in the face those of the Hellenic, Egyptiac, and Mahayanian Buddhist schools at their zeniths, whereas in the field of Painting, by the time when a revenant Hellenic style invaded it, Western artists had not yet shaken off the tutelage of the more precocious art of a sister Orthodox Christian Society, while in the field of Architecture the Romanesque style – which, as its latter-day label indicates, was a nascent Western World’s variation on an architectural theme inherited from the latest age of an antecedent Hellenic Civilization – had already been overwhelmed by an intrusive “Gothic” style which, contrary to the implication of its misnomer, had originated, not among the barbarians in a no-man’s-land beyond the European limes of the Roman Empire, but in a Syriac World which, in articulo mortis, had made a cultural conquest of the savage Western Christian military conquerors who had seized upon fragments of a dissolving ʿAbbasid and a dissolving Andalusian Umayyad Caliphate.
So Gothic had been another alien intrusion. This nativism seems out of place in a man who had never been taken in by racial theory. Whatever the eastern influences in Gothic, to suggest that its small debt to something external made Hellenism’s subsequent triumph over it less surprising than its triumph over an “original” Medieval sculpture is extreme sophistry.
The sterility with which the Western genius had been afflicted by a renaissance of Hellenism in the domain of Architecture was proclaimed in the West’s surprising failure to reap any architectural harvest from the birth-pangs of the Industrial Revolution. In Great Britain at the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and in the Western World as a whole before the nineteenth century reached its close, a mutation in industrial technique that had begotten the iron girder had suddenly thrust into the Western architect’s hands an incomparably versatile new building-material; and this gift of the grimy gods might have been expected to inspire the favoured Western human recipient to break even the toughest cake of inherited architectural custom in an eager exploration of the potentialities of a hitherto untried instrument. As it happened, no great effort was required of a Western architect of that generation to break a Hellenizing architectural tradition that was then already crumbling between his fingers; yet the architect who had been presented by a blacksmith with the iron girder, and by Providence with a clean slate, could think of no better ways of filling an opportune vacuum than to cap an Hellenic Renaissance with “a Gothic Revival” and to recoil from the “Gothic” ironmongery of Ruskin’s Science Museum at Oxford [1855-61] and the Woolworth Building in New York [1910-13] into a “Colonial” brickwork [equivalent of our Georgian] reproducing the Hellenizing Western style of architecture as this had been practised during an eighteenth-century North American “Indian Summer”.
Ruskin had deemed the use of iron improper in neo-Gothic buildings, but it became increasingly common. In France, Viollet-le-Duc made a virtue of it.
The first Westerner to think of frankly turning the iron girder to account as a building material without bashfully drawing a “Gothic” veil over his Volcanic vulgarity was not a professional architect but an imaginative amateur; and, though he was a citizen of the United States, the site on which he erected his historic structure overlooked the shores of the Bosphorus, not the banks of the Hudson. The nucleus of Robert College – Hamlin Hall, dominating Mehmed the Conqueror’s Castle of Europe – was built by Cyrus Hamlin in A.D. 1869-71; [footnote: “The building is 113 feet by 103. … The stone is the same as that of the fortress built in A.D. 1452-3. … It is fire-proof, the floors being of iron beams with brick arches” (Hamlin, Cyrus: Among the Turks (London 1878, Sampson Low), p. 297). […]] yet it was only within the life-time of the writer of this Study, who was born in A.D. 1889 and was writing these lines in A.D. 1950, that the seed sown by Hamlin in Constantinople bore fruit in a Western World that was Brunel’s as well as Hamlin’s homeland.
Toynbee had known Robert College since 1921 and had written about it before that, but was it really the first non-Gothic architectural marriage of stone and iron?
Iron had been married to glass in the revolutionary Crystal Palace and had been used in bridges earlier still. By about 1890, steel frames would enable skyscrapers.
It is true that modernism had a delayed entrance. The steel-framed Woolworth Building, and much of early twentieth-century New York, was a halfway house. But while it was going up, so were the earliest examples of modernism in the US.
Toynbee’s generation had been taught to despise neo-Gothic. The generation which valued it – which included, among English taste-makers, Evelyn Waugh, Kenneth Clark and John Betjeman – was a little younger.
This sterilization of the West’s artistic genius, which was the nemesis of a Hellenizing renaissance in the realm of Architecture, was no less conspicuous in the realms of Painting and Sculpture. Over a span of more than half a millennium running from the generation of Dante’s contemporary Giotto (decessit A.D. 1337), a Modern Western school of Painting, which had unquestioningly accepted the naturalistic ideals of an Hellenic visual art in its post-archaic phase, had worked out, one after another, divers methods of conveying the visual impressions made by light and shade until this long-sustained effort to produce the effects of photography through prodigies of artistic technique had been stultified, on the eve of its consummation, by the invention of photography itself. After the ground had thus inconsiderately been cut away from under their feet by the shears of Modern Western Science, Modern Western painters made a “Pre-Raphaelite” Movement, in the direction of their long since repudiated Byzantine provenance, before they thought of exploring a new world of Psychology which Science had given them to conquer in compensation for the old world of Physical Nature which she had stolen from the painter in order to hand it over to the photographer. After the invention of photography the best part of a century had to pass before the rise of an apocalyptic school of Western painters who made a genuinely new departure by frankly using paint – veritably more Byzantino – to convey the spiritual experiences of Psyche instead of the visual impressions of Argus; but the increasing sureness of foot with which the Western painters were advancing along this new road by the close of the first half of the twentieth century seemed to augur that the Western sculptors, in their turn, would eventually set their faces in the same direction after discovering, by trial and error, that the broken road to Athens, which they had been following ever since a Niccolò Pisano had swerved into it in the thirteenth century, could not, after all, be regained by a detour through either Byzantium or Benin.
So they would abandon the road altogether? Was it a road to Athens?
More Byzantino. Byzantine art is about the expression, or rather holding or representation, of spiritual reality, not (pace the Medieval ivories) about the representation of surfaces. The bronzes of Benin influenced modern artists. I don’t know whether there were Benin bronzes at the Palais du Trocadéro in May or June 1907, when Picasso experienced his African revelation there.
Thus, at the time of writing, it looked as if, in all three visual arts, the sterilization of a native Western genius by an exotic Hellenizing renaissance might eventually be overcome; but the slowness and the difficulty of the cure showed how serious the damage had been.
Sterilization of a native Western genius! Cure! Damage! This is the kind of thing that made Trevor-Roper write off Toynbee.
A footnote after the reference to Argus shows that his thinking on modern art has advanced:
In IV. iv. 52, this positive aim [Byzantinist rather than Beninist?] of a revolutionary twentieth-century school of Western painting has not been given due recognition.
He has come, in other words, as far as Expressionism, which is a fair way.
In Mankind and Mother Earth, we have:
Artists have psychic antennae that are sensitive, in advance, to portentous coming events.
They did before 1914. But this isn’t a historical law either. Did Athenian artists have the jitters before the Peloponnesian War, which is Toynbee’s Hellenic First World War?
Perhaps northern European artists on the eve of the Reformation had presentiments of an end of an order.
And in the illustrated abridgement of A Study of History, we have an illustration of Picasso’s Woman with a Fan of 1907, with a caption probably written by Caplan:
The camera’s conquest of the visual world left twentieth-century artists free to explore the hidden worlds of the mind and its modes of perception; art finally exorcized its Hellenic ghost: Picasso, Woman with a Fan, 1908 [pablopicasso.org says 1907].
Archaism in art (old post).
A Study of History, Vol IV, OUP, 1939
A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954
Mankind and Mother Earth, A Narrative History of the World, OUP, 1976, posthumous
With Jane Caplan, A Study of History, new one-volume abridgement, with new material and revisions and, for the first time, illustrations, and with a Foreword by Toynbee, Thames & Hudson, 1972
Re the last post but one, Jacob Epstein’s sculptures were not really like the ill-defined “pre-Romanesque” sculpture to which Toynbee alludes, but Toynbee’s phrase “clumsy stiffness” is likely to refer to his work.
Through Epstein’s 1908 figures for the façade of the new British Medical Association building in the Strand, now Zimbabwe House, the British public had its first and formative encounter with a version of Modernism.
The encounter was unsettling because it took place in a street. It was known that strange things had been happening in painting, but paintings were in galleries. Sickert painted some of his Camden Town nudes in the same year.
The Epstein sculptures epitomised the modern. Their stripping away of an academic veil, not the subject-matter, made the reaction to them prudish. They might have been at the back of Toynbee’s and Strudwick’s minds a quarter of a century later. The BMA resisted the campaign for their removal.
The Evening Standard warned that Epstein had erected “a form of statuary which no careful father would wish his daughter, or no discriminating young man his fiancée, to see”. Half a century later Mervyn Griffith-Jones would ask during the Lady Chatterley trial: “When you have read it through, would you approve of your young sons, young daughters – because girls can read as well as boys – reading this book? Is it a book that you would have lying around in your own house? Is it a book that you would even wish your wife or your servants to read?”
The building became Rhodesia House (or the High Commission of Southern Rhodesia) in 1923.
Wikipedia: “London was not ready for Epstein’s first major commission – 18 large nude sculptures made in 1908 for the façade of Charles Holden’s building for the British Medical Association on The Strand (now Zimbabwe House) were initially considered shocking to Edwardian sensibilities, […] mainly due to the perception that they were over-explicit sexually. In art-historical terms, however, the Strand sculptures were controversial for quite a different reason: they represented Epstein’s first thoroughgoing attempt to break away from traditional European iconography in favour of elements derived from an alternative sculptural milieu – that of classical India. The female figures in particular may be seen deliberately to incorporate the posture and hand gestures of Buddhist, Jain and Hindu art from the subcontinent in no uncertain terms. The current, mutilated condition of many of the sculptures is also not entirely connected with prudish censorship; the damage was caused in the 1930s when possibly dangerous projecting features were hacked off after pieces fell from one of the statues.” Not entirely?
If Toynbee and Strudwick had forgotten about the Ages of Man, they were thinking of the likes of Epstein’s Tomb of Oscar Wilde (1912) in the Père Lachaise Cemetery, and the reliefs of Epstein, Henry Moore, Eric Gill and others (1928) for the London Electric Railway headquarters (Moore’s first public commission).
BMA figures post-mutilation (first two images), photographs of original plaster casts (last four); credit: Nick Maroudas, Spike Magazine
Partial photo collage, Flickr credit: Dr Chester Chu
More shots at Flickr. I can’t find good images of the female figures.
“Over against the ever more amazing inventions of Science we see a kind of childishness creeping over our thoughts, our modes of expression, our art, our music, our morals. We talk in words from a very limited vocabulary, we produce pictures and statues of a more than ungainly ‘neo-primitiveness’, we croon nigger songs while we push one another round a room in dances that need no brain, no zest, and no vitality for their successful performance. Many of our buildings have as their chief merits the fact that they can be rushed up quickly and finished within a few weeks. We tear over the Earth’s surface along roads of brick-box straightness, past rows of houses of brick-box exactitude and hideousness, in order to get somewhere, it does not much matter where, in record time. Finally, the novels we read, apparently with pleasure, for there are many of them, show men and women as ill-conducted children whose one concern is that which they share with the animal world.
“There is to me something grim and horrible in an essentially mature civilisation playing at savage immaturity when it knows better. We cannot go back to the beginning of things any more than a mature mind can change into that of a child.”
[Footnote: Miss E. Strudwick, the Headmistress of St. Paul’s Girls’ School, Hammersmith, London, England, in a presidential address delivered on the 17th June, 1933, at Liverpool, at a Conference of the British Association of Head Mistresses. The text quoted here has been taken from the report in The Manchester Guardian of the 19th June, 1933.]
He must have kept the cutting. Quoting this was not, perhaps, Toynbee’s finest moment. He was consistently and passionately anti-racist and did not constantly complain about the modern world, but in 1954 his views on culture were still uncompromising. The N word could be introduced, in a quotation, in that context. No doubt those views were modified. His granddaughter Polly must have told him about pop music. Those were the conversations that happened in the ’60s. The older generation wasn’t entirely unaffected by the Zeitgeist.
“Roads of brick-box straightness [and] rows of houses of brick-box exactitude and hideousness” reminds one of dystopian cartoons of the time and of passages in novels such as Orwell’s Coming Up for Air.
As for neo-primitiveness, I wrote in an earlier post: “Englishmen of Toynbee’s generation and education probably thought, c 1935, of the sculptures of Jacob Epstein, with their ‘lines […] cunningly reduced to the clumsy stiffness of the pre-Romanesque Dark Ages’, before they thought of buildings in the clean, anti-archaising International Style when Modernism was mentioned.”
See John Carey, The Intellectuals and the Masses, Pride and Prejudice among the Literary Intelligentsia, 1880-1939, Faber, 1992 and Richard Overy, The Morbid Age, Britain between the Wars, Allen Lane, 2009 (subsequently renamed).
Ethel Strudwick CBE (1880–1954) was the daughter of a Pre-Raphaelite painter, John Melhuish Strudwick. She read Classics at Bedford College, London and taught at City of London School for Girls from 1913. She was High Mistress of St Paul’s Girls’ School from 1927 to ’48. She has a DNB entry and apparently had a sense of humour.
Image at spgs.org, artist not stated
A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954
Since I mentioned it in the last post, here is VW’s A Pastoral Symphony conducted by Eugene Ormandy with the Philadelphia Orchestra, October 12 1972. Offstage soprano Benita Valente.
Lento moderato – Moderato maestoso
Roger Norrington on the symphony when playing it with the Deutsches Symphonie Orchester Berlin.
“The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time.”
“A friend came to see me on one of the evenings of the last week – he thinks it was on Monday, August 3rd. We were standing at a window of my room in the Foreign Office. It was getting dusk, and the lamps were being lit in the space below on which we were looking. My friend recalls that I remarked on this with the words: ‘The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time.’”
“I had two short talks with Grey during the ‘twelve days [July 24 to August 4].’ I ran into him on the stairs of the Foreign Office on Saturday, August 1st […]. I saw him again late in the evening at his room at the Foreign Office on Monday, August 3rd, and it was to me he used the words which he has repeated in his book, ‘The lamps are going out all over Europe, and we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.’ We were standing together at the window looking out into the sunset across St. James’s Park, and the appearance of the first lights along the Mall suggested the thought.”
On August 1 1914, Germany (which was allied with Austria-Hungary) had declared war against Russia (which was allied with Serbia). On the 3rd it declared war against France. Britain entered the war against Germany on the 4th, after it received an “unsatisfactory reply” regarding Belgian neutrality.
“On Sunday – just four weeks after the murder by Servian [sic] assassins [Princip was a Bosnian Serb] of the Austrian Heir-Apparent and his wife in Sarajevo – Europe was suddenly confronted with the fear of a great war on a scale of unprecedented magnitude, involving loss of life and a destruction of all that we associate with modern civilisation too vast to be counted or calculated, and portending horrors so appalling that the imagination shrinks from the task.”
“His ideas on the nature and development of freedom are certainly relevant today; he indicated, for example, how important it is to protect freedom not only from its enemies but also, and even more so, from its well-meaning friends. He was devoted to the Catholic Church, whose communion, he said, was literally dearer to him than life. Yet Acton was not much preoccupied with ‘liberal Catholicism’ […]. Rather, his essential concern was with truth and how easily it could be manipulated by its apparent servants – in the name of religion or politics – so that the end would appear to have justified the means.”
Patrick O’Donovan in Personal Memoir in Mary Craig, editor, Woodruff at Random, The Universe, 1978: “It was a joyous and exciting house.”
It had been a cell or dependent priory of Abingdon abbey. The sixteenth-century, two-storey building on the right, alongside the garden, became Douglas’s library and their chapel.
Mary Craig in Craig, op cit: “What he was […] looking for was not a house but a library, and, leafing one day through Country Life, he found […] what he wanted. It was a picture of the library at Marcham Priory, near Abingdon, in the Vale of the White Horse (shades of Chesterton). ‘He wanted that library whatever happened,’ says Mia. ‘He didn’t care at all what the house looked like.’ On the day that the auction for Marcham Priory took place, Mia was away in the north-east, attending the installation of their friend Gordon Wheeler as Bishop of Middlesbrough. She returned home tired, opened the door, ‘and saw on the hall-table two bottles of champagne, three pictures of Marcham Priory and a huge map of Berkshire.’” I remember him, some days before, calculating on the back of an envelope how much he would need to spend.
The library was not quite on the scale of Acton’s and I am not sure how many of the books he had had in Evelyn Mansions made their way there. He admitted that libraries needed to grow organically, but he bought indiscriminately. The contents of entire (so it looked) antiquarian and second-hand bookshops, from tomes almost as old as printing to ones a few years old, would arrive at Marcham.
Douglas passed on the advice he had been given as a young man: “Read for four hours every day, it doesn’t matter what, and you will become a wise man.” I didn’t take it. I remember him as he often was before a meal, with a book pressed to his nose, so that he could just see the print, in his reclining leather chair, a glass of sherry nearby on one of the precarious piles. When his eyesight started to fail him badly, he would listen to tapes or be read to.
I organised the library’s contents prior to its sale, c 1975, to Notre Dame in Indiana.
The Priory housed a large part of the Acton correspondence until 1973, when these papers joined Acton’s library and the other materials already at Cambridge University Library.
Portrait by Franz Seraph von Lenbach, c 1879
Portrait by Peter Rauter
Roland Hill, the modern biographer of Lord Acton, died on June 21. He was a family friend: I have improved his Wikipedia entry. The only obituary I can find is in The Tablet, but it is rather meanly (for an article published today) hidden behind a subscriber paywall.
His main two books were Lord Acton, Yale University Press, 2000 and A Time Out of Joint: A Journey from Nazi Germany to Post-War Britain, IB Tauris & Co, 2007. On June 12 2000, I attended a lunch at Carlton House Terrace, presided over by Owen Chadwick, for the launch of the first. In 2003, I read a draft of the second in typescript.
Hill, a German Jew, had arrived in England as a refugee, after some continental peregrinations, in July 1939. He came to know the editor of The Tablet, Douglas Woodruff. Later, in 1952, he joined The Tablet’s staff as an assistant. I forget how long he stayed. My father was Woodruff’s deputy. Woodruff was married to Acton’s granddaughter Marie Immaculée Antoinette, Mia Woodruff.
Hill wrote his only piece for History Today in the year he joined The Tablet (History Today’s second year): it was on Acton (HT, August 1952). Paul Lay, the editor, has kindly given me permission to republish it.
The text is from HT’s not always reliable online archive. I have corrected it, made some interpolations in square brackets and added links.
The piece opens with a slip. Acton’s grandfather, Sir John Acton, was the admiral, not the general. The general was his brother Joseph. They were both in the service of Ferdinand I. In 1799 John secured a dispensation from Pius VI to marry his brother’s thirteen-year old daughter, Mary Anne. The older of his two sons was Lord Acton’s father.
“A Liberal, a Catholic and a great Historian who yet never composed a great work of history – these are some of the aspects in which Roland Hill considers Lord Acton’s career.”
“No great liberal historian has had a family background less liberal or more unacademic than Acton. It was love of power and money that brought advancement to his grandfather, General Acton [no, see note above!], in the service of Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies. His father, Sir Richard [or Ferdinand], was a Tory squire, and his mother a member of an old Rhineland family, the Dalbergs, who had safely passed from Napoleonic orbits into the conservative and dynastic society that ruled most of Europe after the Congress of Vienna. John Acton himself was born at Naples in 1834, in Bourbon days. [He was an only child.] At the age of three, when his father died, he first came to live in England, at Aldenham [Aldenham Park or Hall, Shropshire, the family seat]. His young mother [Marie Louise Pelline de Dalberg] married again, and the friendly though remote influence of his stepfather, Lord Leveson, afterwards Earl of Granville and Foreign Secretary, gave the historian his earliest acquaintance with Whig traditions. Perhaps he owed more at this stage, however, to the benevolent concern of his uncle, Monsignor, and later Cardinal, Acton, that he should receive an English education.
“He was sent to school at Oscott, then under the presidency of Bishop Wiseman. [His father’s Catholicism had not prevented him from going to Westminster School.] ‘I am very happy here,’ he wrote to his mother, ‘and perfectly reconciled to the thought of stopping here seven more years.’ He was popular and intelligent, but not very industrious. At the age of sixteen, after a short stay at a private school in Edinburgh, he went to Munich in 1850 to complete his education in the household of Stiftspropst (Canon) Ignaz Doellinger [should be von Doellinger]; since he was a Catholic he could not be accepted either at Cambridge or Oxford. Another reason for the choice of Munich was that the Dalbergs had property nearby, at Tegernsee [which is a town as well as a lake]; there also was the house of Acton’s cousins, the Arco-Valleys, one of whom [Countess Marie Anna Ludomilla Euphrosina von Arco auf Valley, daughter of Count Maximilian von Arco auf Valley] he later married. [So Acton’s grandfather married an Acton. His father married a Dalberg. Acton married an Arco. Acton’s son married a Lyon. His grandson married a Strutt, whom I remember.]
“Doellinger’s influence was the most important in Acton’s life. When his pupil arrived, the Professor was fifty-one; he was a Privat-gelehrter, not formally connected with the University, though he occasionally lectured at it. As Stiftspropst, he was in close contact with the court of Maximilian II of Bavaria and as member of the Landtag he had attended the Frankfurt Parliament of 1848. His reputation as a Church historian was high; in episcopal circles he was very much respected and generally regarded as one of the leaders of the German Ultramontanists. The classical tradition of German literature and the Romantic revival had combined to form his mind, and the young Acton was impressed by his long quotations from Goethe, Schiller, Byron and Scott. In politics he was no Liberal; his sympathies were with the Wittelsbach dynasty and with Austria, and he held that ministers should be responsible to the Crown and not to Parliament. Though he possessed great conversational gifts, which the historian von Sybel compared to Bismarck’s, he never made the least effort to display his learning. Some of his pupils felt that he was only half-human, because he lacked Gemüt (feeling), but in spite of his ugly appearance, Acton liked him immensely. ‘His forehead is not particularly large,’ the boy wrote home, ‘and a somewhat malevolent grin seems constantly to reside about his wide, low mouth … I am inclined to think that he owes more to his character and industry than to his innate genius … He appears to have in some degree the imperfection of neglecting what he has begun.’ The pupil was to share that failing.
“Acton’s years in Munich saw the end of the Romantic age and the beginnings of Realism. The humanist traditions of the German Universities, then leading Europe in historical and philological studies, were being imperceptibly displaced by relativism and scepticism; technological developments and nationalist feelings were moving towards the triumphs they were to enjoy in the latter half of the century. Humanitarian ideals gave unexpected birth [thirty years later] to the Nietzschean superman; confidence in human reason was superseded by belief in the primacy of the will; hero-worship by the cult of the masses. Kant, Rousseau, French revolutionary ideas and the drama of the rebellious Dr. Faustus worked spiritual and intellectual disintegration. The Universities of Berlin, Goettingen and Heidelberg were the centres of the new age; and at first the tranquil and traditional world of Munich was undisturbed. But the arrival at the University – on the King’s invitation – of great scholars like Bluntschli, Siebold and von Sybel foreshadowed changes even here. The Bavarians resented the influx of the ‘northern lights,’ as they called them, for they were Protestants or non-practising Catholics. Von Sybel’s and Ranke’s influence, nevertheless, was providing the historical [historiographical] basis for the future victory of the Gotha or Prussian party. [Northern lights refers to Sybel and Ranke. Did Ranke actually work in Munich?]
“It was not contemporary trends, however, but the study of the past that Acton followed in Dr. Doellinger’s house. Bacon, Burke, Newman, Leo, Bourdaloue and Möhler [the text says Möller] were his early masters. Doellinger introduced him to the study of the Middle Ages, and the prevailing idea was to expose the Protestant falsifications of history – Macaulay was not among the Professor’s favourites. The ferment of German ideas left Acton unconcerned: ‘It is not German ways of thinking that I go there to seek,’ he wrote to his stepfather in 1854, ‘but in pursuit of my chosen branches of learning I must go to German sources, and the longer I stay in Germany the better I shall know them and know how to discriminate them.’ And he added: ‘If they [German books] have an almost universal characteristic, it is the absence of artistic management, a defect no one can acquire by studying them. The only effect they have produced on a class of persons in other countries is to make them infidels, like Carlyle.’ He was attracted neither by infidelity nor by Carlyle.
“With the Professor he visited Italy and France, meeting Minghetti, Tocqueville, Dupanloup and Montalembert. After eight years he returned in 1858 to the secluded world of Aldenham. He was twenty-four and in search of a platform; in the following year, he seemed to find one when he became editor of The Rambler, and was elected to Parliament, with Cardinal Wiseman’s blessing, for the Irish borough of Carlow [MP 1859-65]. It was Acton’s purpose in The Rambler, later replaced by the Home and Foreign Review, and in his contributions to the Chronicle and the North British Review, to teach English Catholics what he had learned in Munich – the practice of scientific enquiry in the disinterested love of truth. In England the Catholic body had only recently emerged from long isolation. More than ten years had passed since Newman’s conversion; there had been an influx of educated Anglican converts, and the Restoration of the Hierarchy had given new life to the Church. But in the world of learning, in which Acton was chiefly interested, changes were slow to come. As a cosmopolitan, he noted the provincialism, the atmosphere of authority and respectability, and the prevalence of dusty volumes, among which Lingard’s History of England held a lonely place of eminence; and he missed the sensibility to the arts, the respect for science and the open mind which were his inheritance from Munich. His fellow-Catholics, he complained, were under the delusion that their truths had only to be communicated, not to be discovered, and that their knowledge needed no increase except in the number of those who participated in it. His object was to emancipate the English Catholic mind, and to teach it the lessons, political and otherwise, which Catholics in Europe were beginning to learn: that ‘democracy is no friend of religion,’ and he would point to the example of France, Switzerland and the United States; ‘that despotism either oppresses or corrupts it,’ and there was the instance of Naples; ‘that representative institutions might be the protection of the Church in Protestant States, like Prussia, but in Catholic States, like Austria, only too frequently her scourge.’
“From political, not religious, systems came the real danger for the Church. Perfect liberty, it was his constant theme, required a scrupulous distinction between dogma and opinion; a true principle must be held more sacred than the most precious interest. He advocated the doctrine, unpopular with many ecclesiastics, that in science as in politics there was an authority distinct from that of the Church. ‘In each sphere,’ he wrote, ‘we are bound to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, but only Caesar’s. There can be no conflict of duties or of allegiance between them, except inasmuch as one of them abandons its true purpose: the realization of right in the civil order, and the discovery of truth in the intellectual.’ And there was all the optimism of his age in the demand ‘that science should be true to its own method, and the State to its own principle, and beyond this the interests of religion require no protection.’
“But the English Catholic body were not prepared for the sudden appearance in their midst of this extraordinarily gifted young man. Cardinal Wiseman and his successor, Manning, were deeply suspicious of Acton’s, and Newman’s, efforts on behalf of the spiritual rights, privileges and duties of the laity. The Rambler and the Home and Foreign Review were in continual conflict with the ecclesiastical authorities. Newman’s essay On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine was censured in Rome. Richard Simpson, a brilliant convert, and Acton’s friend and co-editor [on the Review], called down the wrath of authority by, as Newman put it, ‘his provoking habit of peashooting at any dignitary who looked out of the window as he passed along the road.’ The eminent lay professor of theology at Old Hall, W. G. Ward, whom Simpson had told ‘Come for a walk with me, and I will make your hair stand on end,’ could not but be confirmed in his aversion from ‘clever devils and Liberals,’ products, as it were, of intellectual pride.
“‘I agree with no one and no one agrees with me,’ wrote Acton later. This was certainly true of his position inside the Catholic community. In 1864 his six years of editorial activity came to an end. He had obtained the collaboration of the best European scholars for the two reviews, and probably no English periodicals have ever shown so wide a cosmopolitan interest and such a deep knowledge of European affairs. Of the Home and Foreign Review Mathew Arnold could say, at a time of many other distinguished reviews, that ‘in no organ of criticism in this country was there such knowledge, so much play of mind.’ Acton’s own written contributions were massive. In one issue of the quarterly ‘H&F’ alone ninety-four notices of books appeared, of which he had written thirty-four as well as contributing two long articles. But he felt that his objects were not being realized. In the last number of the ‘H&F’ he took leave of his readers with these words: ‘I will sacrifice the existence of the Review to the defence of its principles, in order that I may combine the obedience that is due to legitimate ecclesiastical authority with an equally conscientious maintenance of the rightful and necessary liberty of thought … To those whom, not being Catholics, this Review has induced to think less hardly of the Church, or, being Catholics, has bound more strongly to her, I would say that the principles it has upheld, of the harmony between religious and secular knowledge, will not die with it, but will find their destined advocates, and triumph in their appointed time.”
“It was as an editor that Acton came into close contact with John Henry Newman. But the young historian, fresh from Munich, and the older, delicate, sensitive man from Oriel never became real friends. Acton must have seemed very much a bull in a china shop, and though they were at one in their dislike of the narrow authoritarianism of some of the bishops and leading converts, in most other respects they differed widely. At first, Newman supported Acton’s and Simpson’s work in their reviews, but he was easily discouraged by the opposition they encountered. ‘Our part is obedience,’ he wrote to Acton, ‘if we are but patient, all will come right. The logic of facts will be the best and most thorough teacher.’ But patience was not one of Acton’s virtues. And there were deeper intellectual differences between them. ‘Everything is for him a personal matter,’ Acton wrote to his Professor in 1864, ‘and he is unable to understand the idea of objectivity in science.’ Newman had a particular devotion to St. Pius V and to St. Charles Borromeo. Acton saw in the one ‘the Pope who held that it was sound Catholic doctrine that anyone may stab a heretic condemned by Rome, and in the other an advocate of the murder of Protestants.’ For such men there was no place in his heaven. Newman remained for him ‘the finest intellect in England whose arguments are a school of infidelity.’ They drifted apart, Newman into the past, and Acton into his long and intimate friendship with Gladstone.
“Historians have treated their relationship as if the admiration was all on Acton’s side. He did, indeed, think of Gladstone as the embodiment of all the statesmanlike qualities in which he felt himself lacking, but though Gladstone seemed to him to combine ‘the virtues of Chatham, Fox, Pitt, Canning and Peel’ without their drawbacks, his admiration was by no means uncritical. His influence over the older man grew with the years. Gladstone himself, shortly before his death, remarked that in the last ten years he had trusted Acton more than any other man. One channel of his influence was through correspondence with [his daughter] Mary Gladstone: ‘It is a way of conveying some things which I cannot say right off,’ Acton wrote to his own daughter. The formation in 1892 of Gladstone’s fourth administration owed much to his efforts in persuading Lord Rosebery to follow the old Liberal leader once more. It was Acton who induced Gladstone to adopt the Home Rule policy, yet he declined all possibility of office, on the grounds that friendship alone gave him no claim for rewards. He had received his peerage in 1869, and remained the trusted counsellor behind the scenes. It was his task to try to bring the remote Gladstone into closer touch with the world of affairs. Familiar with continental politics as few other Englishmen were, Acton could point to the difference between English and continental Liberals ‘who regard the State and the popular will as the seat of all power.’ Together they travelled to Monte Cassino, stayed at the Acton villa in Cannes [La Madeleine], and went to see Doellinger at Tegernsee. Acton, too, had a large hand in rewriting and correcting the First Romanes Lecture delivered by Gladstone at Oxford. ‘Politics are more like religion for me,’ he once wrote. That was the basis of his sympathy with Gladstone. Both believed in a system of politics which combined Christianity with respect for the authority of political principle – ‘and by political principle I do not mean principles in politics.’ Toryism, in Acton’s definition, ‘is to be entangled in interests, traditions, necessities, difficulties, expedients, to manage as best one may, without creating artificial obstacles in the shape of dogma, or superfluous barriers of general principle.’ It was to the moral and religious content of Gladstonian Liberalism that he was drawn. To be a Liberal meant to him simply that one put liberty first, and it did not so much matter whether one was also a reformer or a free thinker, an intelligent Conservative or a radical democrat.
“Acton was confronted by the greatest trial in his life when in 1869 the summons to the Vatican Council was issued. He had never believed in Gallicanism, or shown the slightest sympathy for its Austrian equivalent, Josephism, but he was opposed to the false conception of history underlying the current Ultramontane attitude, according to which rights and principles were scarcely recognized, except as subordinate to the arbitrary will of the Papacy. This feeling also provided the ground for his mistrust of the dogma of Papal Infallibility. His reasons were ethical and historical, not theological. ‘Rome taught for four centuries and more,’ he wrote, ‘that no Catholic could be saved who denied that heretics ought to be put to death.’ And it was his fear, as it was Newman’s, that the extreme Ultramontanists might prevail at Rome and include in the proposed dogma the temporal power and all the pronouncements of the Popes to the Church as a whole, and in particular, confer a retrospective infallibility on a number of decrees and Bulls, chiefly about the deposing power, the Inquisition and other practices or ideas which had never been established under penalty of excommunication. Anxiously he watched the proceedings of the Council from Rome, sending daily reports to Doellinger, and was in close contact with the gradually shrinking numbers of the opposition and the Inopportunists [party opposed to the dogma of infallibility]. As in the end defined, however, the dogma did not fulfil the desire of the Infallibilists by increasing the powers of the Pope, but rather set limits on it. Acton accepted the decree, and Newman’s defence of it, admitting that he thought better of the ‘Post-July’ than of the ‘Pre-July’ Church; the very use of these words perhaps showed, however, that, unlike Newman, he was unable to look beyond the political implications of the new dogma. The threatened excommunication never came; he satisfied his own Bishop [Bishop James Brown of Shrewsbury], if not Manning, that he had not contradicted the decree, and he defended the dogma against Gladstone in his Letters to the Times. ‘Communion with the Catholic Church,’ he wrote, ‘is to me dearer than life itself,’ and to his old teacher who had not submitted to the dogma: ‘I have arrived at the conclusion that you have less hopes for the Church than I, or at least that the hopelessness is more certain for you than for me. I will not say that you are wrong. Dans le doute je m’abstiens de désespérer.’ [Embellishment of a proverb?] But he discouraged Doellinger from giving his name to the Munich Movement, which was the beginning of the Old Catholic Church – a name, he wrote, which the leaders of the Movement would merely exploit.
“In 1879 Newman’s patience was rewarded by the red hat. Equally late recognition came to Lord Acton in 1895, but from a different quarter: on Seeley’s death he was appointed Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge. It was a unique appointment for one who had never been to a University and who had not written a single book, though he had collected 40,000, and had the reputation of being one of the most learned men in Europe. His great conception of history, which he outlined in his Inaugural Lecture, was based on the gradual emancipation of the conscience; Mommsen had written history to glorify power; Macaulay to illustrate the politics of his time; Ranke to relate what happened; for others history was merely a matter of documentary evidence; but for Acton modern history was primarily the history of ideas, and the Universal History which he planned for inclusion in the Cambridge Modern History, but did not complete, was placed on that elevated field beyond the technicalities and meaningless surface of events, where the historian should be above prejudice, party, religion and nationality. In his work, as in the History of Liberty for which he amassed his library but which was never accomplished – and perhaps could not be by a single author – he aimed at perfection; that, indeed, was his greatest failing, if failing it is. He was for ever trying to read everything that could be read on a given subject, making notes and filling cardboard boxes with the thoughts of other men. Dr. Doellinger foretold that ‘if Acton does not write a book by the time he is forty, he will never write one.’ Yet he had written a great deal, and his essays and book reviews are masterworks of compression. His powers were perhaps wasted in a full social life, in his duties as Lord in Waiting, in an immense correspondence, and in political missions which he undertook for Gladstone. Among his hitherto unpublished letters to Dr. Doellinger and to his daughter, those to Mary Acton show a warm humanity of which there was otherwise little evidence in his marriage. He could rightly say on being asked to write his own life: ‘My autobiography is in my letters to my girls.’
“A gifted but not an easy writer, he possessed a combination of qualities rare in great historians: an intimate knowledge of sources, a sharpness of considered judgment, subtlety, irony and a wealth of allusion. In his careful choice of words, in his portrayals of every facet of a subject, he could be compared to the sculptor rather than to the painter. Many of his judgments have the impact of brilliance. He defined liberty as ‘the freedom to do not what we like but what we ought.’ He said that the Roman Empire perished for the lack of a Land Bill. Of Peter the Great: ‘He raised the condition of the country with great rapidity, he did not raise it above his own level.’ And prophetically of Prussia and Russia: ‘That is the tremendous power, supported by millions of bayonets which grew up at Petersburg and was developed, by much abler minds, chiefly at Berlin; and it is the greatest danger that remains to be encountered by the Anglo-Saxon race.’ His condemnation could be scathing; so of one historian: ‘His lectures are indeed not unhistorical, for he has borrowed quite discriminately from Tocqueville.’ And of another: ‘Ideas if they occur to him he rejects like temptations to sin.’ His answer to Creighton’s views on the Popes of the fifteenth century has become famous: ‘I cannot accept your judgment that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favourable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption it is the other way, against the holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.’
“In his moral judgments, he became increasingly severe, but at the end of his life he solemnly adjured his son to take care always to make allowance for human weakness. His severity was perhaps pardonable, living as he did in the midst of a moral relativism in which there was a glaring need to uphold the supremacy of conscience. His isolation seemed to be complete when he found that Doellinger, from whom he had learned the principles of toleration, regarded persecution as an evil rather than as a crime. The sanctity of human life seemed to him the only independent principle on which historical judgment could be based. Whoever violated that without just cause ‘I would hang higher than Haman.’ On those who knew him, his personality and striking appearance, with the high forehead and black beard, made an unforgettable impression. He had that most un-English of traits, a passion for ideas. Hearing him speak, Lord Bryce wrote: ‘It was as if the whole landscape of history had been suddenly lit up by a burst of sunlight.’ In the fifty years which have passed since Lord Acton’s death at Tegernsee in June 1902, freedom has suffered many deaths, and a revaluation of his thought is more than ever worth while. Alone in his day he recognized the destructive element in the triumphant principle of nationality and advocated a community of autonomous nations, a Federal system, as the most effective means of checking the tendency of autocracies, and of democracies, to centralized, concentrated and unlimited power.”
Through Mia Woodruff, Roland came under the spell of the Actons, as did I, in a younger generation. His biography begins with an Author’s Note:
“The Hon. Marie Immaculée Antoinette (Mia) Woodruff was the eldest of seven daughters and two sons of the second Lord Acton. Although she never met her grandfather, the first Lord Acton, she was devoted to his memory and ideals and familiar with the painful struggle of his life. With her husband, Douglas Woodruff, who died in 1978, she temporarily had the care of the extensive family papers, which they made readily available to scholars once the family seat, Aldenham Hall, was sold . Ultimately the papers found a permanent home at the Cambridge University Library.
“Like her husband, who for thirty-one years was the editor of the British Catholic weekly the Tablet, Mia Woodruff was a leading figure in the Catholic world of her generation. She was a veritable grande dame, a woman of great spirit, trenchant wit, and deep religious devotion who cared for others in numerous voluntary organizations, particularly for refugees of all races and creeds before, during, and after World War II. It was a fitting gesture, when she was buried next to her husband in the little Anglican churchyard of Lyford, Oxfordshire, that the tin hat she had worn as an air-raid warden in wartime London should have been placed in her grave. She died, aged eighty-nine, on 5 March [no, 5 April!] 1994, not long after she prepared these words.
‘I never knew my grandfather. He died in 1902, and I was born in 1905. What I do know about him is what my Aunt Mamy told me. She was his favourite child [Marie Elizabeth Anna Dalberg-Acton], and he wrote the most wonderful letters to her as well as telling her many fine tales about himself. I think of him as a lonely young man spending much of his time at St. Martin’s, the holiday home of the Arcos in Upper Austria, in the company of his future bride and his very beloved future mother-in-law [Anna Margareta Maria Juliana Pelina Maresclachi], who was a great influence on his life. I imagine him at Aldenham in the vast library he built himself – which has since, alas, been demolished – surrounded by his thousands of books, now at the Cambridge University Library. I think of him at Tegernsee in Bavaria, where the Arcos had a lovely villa, and where we used to stay as young children, my brother and I. It was a most beautiful chalet with balconies all round, covered with verbena and wisteria, and the garden leading right down to the lakeside, where we used to fish. My grandfather spent the last days of his life there and is buried at Tegernsee. My grandmother and her two daughters remained there until the outbreak of the Great War in 1914 and then moved to Switzerland, where my aunts both died, Annie [Annie Mary Catherine Dalberg-Acton] in 1917, Simmy [Jeanne Marie Dalberg-Acton] in 1919. [Mamy survived until 1951.] After that their mama [Acton’s widow] came to live with us at Aldenham for the rest of her life, and there she died on 2 April 1923. There is a plaque in the church at Bridgnorth to the memory of my grandfather and various members of the Acton family. He was MP for Bridgnorth at one time [1865-66], and he helped in the building of St. John’s parish church.
‘I feel my grandfather lived by his conscience, which enabled him to fight his battle against Papal Infallibility in 1870 as well as practise a very simple private religion. I hope that from him I have inherited a great love for history and keen interest in the affairs of the Church. I hope that Roland Hill’s sympathetic biography will interpret my grandfather’s enigmatic personality for his readers and enhance his memory. He must have been a very fine man. May he rest in peace.
Marcham Priory, Oxon’”
The second “I hope” in the last paragraph was characteristic. She was not going to commit herself to more than “sympathetic” before she had seen the book, which she did not live to do.
Hill’s book was important and the result of many years of work. It was generally well-reviewed, but not universally. There were some who felt that Acton had, once again, eluded us.
“A veritable grande dame”, indeed. Mia Woodruff seemed an embodiment or projection of the Catholic aristocratic history of Europe. She was very grand and had grand faults. She was also content, in her charitable work and in attending to her friends, to be a low-ranking Christian soldier. She had a deadpan and mordant wit.
Roland should have made tapes. It’s a matter of regret to me that I was too immature or too busy to interview her properly. Her world is gone: “a thing never known again”.
Portrait by Bassano Ltd, January 29 1944, National Portrait Gallery
Since all history writing is about two things, the perspective of the historian and the purported subject, I am happy with out of date books. I suspect that these have, in any case, lasted rather well.
The successor-series, in print now, are the Penguin History of Britain and Penguin Social History of Britain.
I remember finding, in 1987, a pile of dusty and fragrantly-damp History Todays in the sunny attic of a country house. They looked welcome there, as Country Life and Horse and Hound would have done: article after article on Melbourne and the Years of Reform, The Great Siege of Malta and Portuguese Missionaries in Ceylon, 1515-1658. The copies were from the ancien régime of Peter Quennell and Alan Hodge, which began with the first issue in January 1951. Hodge died in May 1979. Quennell retired in October. Michael Crowder took over in November.
History Today was a cosy presence in English life. It was the magazine of the general reader who was interested in history and wouldn’t read academic journals. It also (no contradiction here) had an air of the educated middle and upper classes writing for each others’ bedside tables.
Early contributors: Max Beloff, Asa Briggs, DW Brogan, Alan Bullock, Kenneth Clark, GDH Cole, Keith Feiling, Jacquetta Hawkes, Michael Howard, Michael Jaffé, Eric Linklater, Philip Magnus, LB Namier, JH Plumb, GM Trevelyan, Hugh Trevor-Roper, Arthur Waley, Veronica Wedgwood, Elizabeth Wiskemann, GM Young (Drogheda’s selection).
It sometimes did the work of the nine volumes of the old Pelican History of England (England, note), which appeared between 1950 and ’65 and were in part digests of academic research, not the mere narratives that would have been offered to earlier mass-readerships.
A comment from The Listener quoted in editions of those Pelicans well into the 1970s, and perhaps even later, is fascinatingly old-fashioned:
“As a portent in the broadening of popular culture the influence of this wonderful series has yet to receive full recognition and precise assessment. No venture could be more enterprising or show more confidence in the public’s willingness to purchase thoughtful books … ”
For the ethos of History Today, see the 11th Earl of Drogheda’s article about the founding (November 1979), AL Rowse’s tribute to the old editors (November 1979) and Michael Grant’s tribute to PQ after Quennell’s death (December 1993).
Quennell was a man of letters of the Brideshead generation. He wrote books about Byron, Baudelaire, many others, nearly all of them on literature, not history. Married five times. I have his A Superficial Journey through Tokyo and Peking. Before co-founding History Today, he had edited The Cornhill Magazine. (Who knew that that rival of Dickens’s All the Year Round survived until 1975? Who remembers that The Listener survived until 1991?) Here are Quennell’s Desert Island Discs.
Rowse – whose Teach Yourself History series, launched in 1946, had been another “portent” in the “broadening” – writes that Hodge had shown his talent “in co-operation with the poet Robert Graves in an original book as historical as it is literary, The Long Week-end, […] a portrait of the period between wars; in his wartime experience of writing and writers at the Ministry of Information; [and] in a book of his own [actually, it was another collaboration with Graves] on readership and reading”. There was a later “collaboration with P.Q. in an historical book [on England and America], The Past We Share”.
Drogheda says that the idea for History Today came from Brendan Bracken, Churchill’s Minister of Information during the war and the refounder, in 1945, of the Financial Times. “He visualized as editor Alan Hodge, who had been his assistant private secretary when he was Minister of Information, and whom he had recruited to the staff of the Financial Times to help him particularly with the weekly ‘Men and Matters’ column […]. I told Brendan that I thought it essential to have alongside Alan someone else who was a more publicly known figure, and I suggested the name of Peter Quennell, a personal friend, whose culture, wide-ranging knowledge and contacts would, I felt sure, be of immense value.”
It was conceived, perhaps, in the popularising spirit, missionary and patrician, of the BBC and of Pelican books. Had there been popular history magazines before it? There had been history “encyclopaedias” which came out in stages, and literary magazines, but general history?
According to Wikipedia, History Today “has been independently owned since 1981”. What does that mean and who owned it in the first thirty years? Was Drogheda an investor? Was Bracken?
Rowse and Grant make much of the use of pictures. They were in black and white in the body of the magazine until at least 1980, and on the cover (barring a Coronation Number) until August 1965. Grant’s praise reminds us that illustrations were felt to be precious even in 1993, the last pre-Internet year.
There were few design changes under Quennell-Hodge. In January 1980 came a new look. The page was enlarged and the cover redesigned. I can’t remember what has happened to the format since then (I think it has shrunk again), but there were further changes to the cover in October 1989, October 1998, October 2004, October 2009. There will doubtless be one this October.
US magazines and newspapers are more conscious than ours now are of design and typographic, never mind other editorial, traditions. Of institutional continuity and memory. The Economist is a UK exception.
In the UK, editors don’t know what happened before they arrived. Their assistants know even less. Magazines are run at a few desks in shared spaces. No more leisure areas, dining rooms, corridors with framed covers. No trappings of editorial power. I am sure none of this applies to the “independently owned” HT!
History Today’s editors since Quennell and Hodge have been Michael Crowder, the historian of Nigeria (1979-81), with whom I once spent an interesting evening, Michael Trend (1981-82), Juliet Gardiner (1982-85), Gordon Marsden (1985-97), Peter Furtado (1997-2008), Paul Lay (current). Lay’s interesting thoughts on history are here (for Kindle).
It hasn’t, on the whole, dumbed down. I was getting ready to write “it hasn’t even had Hitler on the cover”. That would indeed have been a distinction. But it did, twice, under Furtado’s editorship, in October 1998 and November 2001, and the same editor put a swastika there in January 2006. (I haven’t seen December 1957.) Admirable restraint nevertheless.
Of course, there are fewer articles about the siege of Malta and a disproportionate number on Africans in Victorian Britain. It is still very weak on East Asia: only five articles so far this year, and only one of them (on Louis XIV and Siam) taking us outside the twentieth century. Not a single one on the classical civilisations of China or Japan.
“P.Q. and A.H.,” says Rowse, perhaps not over-generously for the time, “were exemplarily aware of [China and Russia], and gave us of their largesse articles about India, the Middle East, Europe, South America, Africa – all with their informative illustrations.”
On the non-Roman ancient world, we have only a short piece on Howard Carter, who hardly counts, an even shorter review of a book on Delphi and a short piece on Dura Europos.
The previous cover strapline – “What happened then matters now” (2006-13, preceded by a few short-lived experiments) – has been scrapped. (Much better without one.)
The website is still announced as “History Today | The World’s Best History Magazine”. This is the kind of statement we make about our institutions. It must be, mustn’t it? Do none of the far more numerous French history magazines compete? Can they, without sometimes commissioning in English and translating?
I haven’t looked at HT’s digital edition. What about the online archive? Here they have gone for bronze. The gold standard is a fully searchable archive of crisp, high-resolution page and article images. Then you have everything. The Times has managed this with some difficult typography for every page of every issue since 1785. It’s the only good thing that has happened to it under Murdoch. The project was carried out by Gale, which is now part of Cengage Learning. It can be done.
Jpegs protect intellectual property, since you can’t cut and paste. The alternative, scanned and OCRd text, will be full of mistakes. One can’t expect History Today to proofread 50,000 pages going back to 1951. (One can expect lazy publishers like Bloomsbury to proofread individual books for Kindle, but they don’t.) But the disadvantages of OCR go beyond this. You get no sense of the real magazine, of the relative importance of the articles, and no images. None of the cultural meanings which come with page images. You don’t even know who the editor is: there are no mastheads.
You don’t know whether you are getting everything either. HT say they are “currently” digitising “the 1951-79 portion of the archive, and hope to complete it by the end of 2013”. 2013 ended seven months ago. Before taking a subscription last week, I asked what that meant. They replied “95%”.
Where are book reviews in the early issues? Did the May 1956 issue really contain only two articles? June 1956 one? January 1968 three? Why no Hodge death announcement?
With an OCR archive, the user also relies more on metadata – the unpoliceable frontier of data, and always inaccurate. Tiny examples here: the archive shows the June 1952 contents under August 1952. And Drogheda was the 11th Earl, not Derry Moore. (Could that conceivably be a mistake in the original?)
See The Chronicle of Higher Education’s, Google’s Book Search: A Disaster for Scholars, Geoffrey Nunberg, August 31 2009.
Oh well. In storage, I have a bound set of the ancien régime, 29 volumes. If they ever come out, it will be worth having ’flu in the knowledge that I’ll at last have the time to reach for one of the red leather spines and read about Lord Melbourne and Portuguese missionaries in Ceylon and the Great Siege of Malta.
Random cover (there is no high-resolution cover archive):
Ken Russell’s, Tony Palmer’s and John Bridcut’s films about English composers (two early ones by Russell anyway) have a special place in English affections. Russell’s Elgar (his first one: there was a bad remake) is the nations’s favourite documentary, at least in “middle England”. His Song of Summer is a work of art.
Paul Driver on Palmer’s film on Arnold: “An amazing film, the most rawly truthful of its kind that I’ve ever seen, though full of artistic subtlety. It’s a totally dramatic entity, because from start to finish you’re aware of two antithetical Malcolm Arnolds tugging in opposite directions and feel the tension between them constantly – yet the film manages somehow to be celebratory in the end. I think it must surely set the country alight when broadcast.”
AntPDC has got away with posting a monochromised low-resolution version of Bridcut’s The Passions of Vaughan Williams on YouTube and writes, in the continuing absence of a commercial download or DVD:
“One is impelled to share art when it can’t be appreciated by any other means. It’s been almost five years now since this marvellous film first aired on BBC Television, and it was until recently available to UK viewers via the BBC’s i-Player, in glorious HD. No longer alas, and given the many requests I have seen here and elsewhere for a viewing, I have uploaded it, at the risk of upsetting some parties. I seldom upload entire videos on my Channel which contain no original content of my own, but I felt this case should be another of those few exceptions.”
Bridcut makes us look afresh at composers we think we know (not that I ever think that). He did this in a remarkable way with Elgar and Parry. He made the Parry film in a kind of partnership with Prince Charles. He shows the English royal family as less philistine than we are usually told they are, especially when he writes about their relationship with Britten.
His film Britten’s Children is also a book. It is impossible nowadays for people to believe that paedophiles can have beneficent friendships with children. The Oliver Knussen interview in The Guardian last year echoes everything in that book, which does not mention Knussen. In a small way, Knussen was one of Britten’s children.
Here’s a checklist. As far as I know, all the films were made for television, but I haven’t given release details in most cases. Tippett is missing! Who is working on him? Palmer or Bridcut?
Elgar (1962, for Monitor, BBC television documentary series), KR
Benjamin Britten and His Festival (1967), TP
Song of Summer (1968, on Delius, Omnibus, BBC television arts series), KR
A Time There Was (1979, on Britten), TP
At the Haunted End of the Day (1980, on Walton), TP
Toward the Unknown Region (2003, on Arnold), TP
Britten’s Children (2004), JB
“O Thou Transcendent …” (2007, on Vaughan Williams), TP
The Passions of Vaughan Williams (2008), JB
The Man behind the Mask (2010, on Elgar), JB
In the Bleak Midwinter (2011, on Holst), TP
The Prince and the Composer (2011, on Parry and Prince Charles), JB
Delius: Composer, Lover, Enigma (2012), JB
In July 1914 (date according to this source), Parry was working on a suite for strings whose movements, except for the last?, are named after baroque dances or musical forms: Prelude, In minuet style, Saraband, Caprice, Pastoral, Air, Frolic. The performers here are not named.
Britain declared war on Germany on August 4.
Jeremy Dibble, C Hubert H Parry, OUP, 1992 (text via Questia, my links and subbing):
“Emily Daymond undertook the editing of those completed works which, because of the war, had not achieved print. […] The bulk of the English Suite dates from 1914 and 1915, though some movements were written much earlier. The Pastoral dates from about 1890 appearing in a different key (B flat) as a piano piece and also as a piece for violin. [What key is used in the suite?] The Saraband is also earlier and includes a quotation from the Lullaby of the Twelve Short Pieces, Set 1 No 4 for violin and piano written in 1894. This was probably the date of the movement’s composition and it may well have been a rejected movement for the Lady Radnor Suite which dates from the same year. The last of the movements to be written (sometime between 1916 and 1917) was the Air – originally entitled Intermezzo by the composer but altered by Daymond ‘to match the other names’. Similarly the Caprice and the last movement Frolic were chosen and given titles by the editor since the composer had not decided on any definite names, nor had he settled on any definitive last movement. The movements of the English Suite are generally larger in scope than those of the Lady Radnor, and the harmonic language is more capricious, particularly in the jocular Caprice and Frolic. The Air attempts to recapture the serenity of the earlier suite’s Slow Minuet but never quite achieves its sensuous intimacy. In Minuet Style is distinguished by particularly imaginative string writing and a colourful mixture of tonality and modality. Most distinctive of all is the stately Elgarian Saraband with its broad diatonicism and liberal dissonance. After two semi-private performances under [Hugh] Allen’s direction, one at a [Royal] College [of Music] orchestral concert [in 1920], and the other at the Bach Choir’s Parry Concert on 10 May 1921, the Suite was given its first fully public hearing on 22 October 1922 at a Promenade Concert under Henry Wood.”
That date looks wrong: there were no Sunday performances. The BBC Prom archive says October 17. I sense generally that Dibble’s book, although indispensable, needed a better editor.
There was a fashion for neo-baroque and neo-classical suites before the launch of modern neo-classicism (which is usually dated to the premiere, in 1920, of Stravinsky’s Pulcinella).
An English Suite is occasionally im alten Stil, but the music is all Parry. The best recording is with the LSO and Boult on Lyrita.
The exulting, complaining, torn Saraband is one of his finest tunes and should be ranked as a hit with Blest Pair of Sirens, Repton, I Was Glad and Jerusalem. The slight but moving Air may also belong in that group. It has a Celtic rather than English lilt.
Why did he do nothing with the saraband for twenty years and perhaps even reject it for the earlier suite?
In English terms, An English Suite looks forward to Peter Warlock’s Capriol Suite (1926), which is loosely based on tunes in a French Renaissance manual, but amounts to an original work.
“It is paramountly English, as English as a Shakespearean comedy or a Herrick poem, and the stately prelude and sarabande, the delicious quasi menuetto, the pastoral with its touching yet happy charm, the expressive intermezzo [air] and lively finale might well stand as incidental music to ‘Twelfth Night’ or ‘As You Like It.’
“The suite […] was designed for one of his most brilliant pupils, Dr. Daymond, who amongst other musical avocations, conducted a string orchestra. […]
“Another point that strikes one in the suite is the strong ease, almost Handelian, with which Parry could deal with a string orchestra. He evoked rich, pure-toned masses of sound, or a singing and sympathetic quality from the instruments in combination as naturally as he wrote vital contrapuntally moving parts for each. There is never any stuffing in a score of his.
“The suite was played con amore by the college orchestra (many of whom had been under Sir Hubert as students) and was conducted by Dr. – now Sir Hugh – Allen, director of the Royal College of Music.” According to the article, the performance was on June 4.
Female conductors were rare in Parry’s day. Emily Daymond was one. The Countess of Radnor (1846-1929), for whom he had written the earlier, and less interesting, suite known as Lady Radnor’s Suite, was another and had an orchestra charmingly called Lady Radnor’s Band. He was not, as far as I know, romantically involved with either of them, though his marriage was not especially happy.
This post contains a remarkable YouTube discovery.
George Butterworth is famous for having written music of extraordinarily high quality which seems to be about AE Housman’s land of lost content.
“Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?
That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.”
And for having died, at the Schubertian age of thirty-one on August 5 1916, in the Battle of the Somme. We may call Housman second-rate (I like second-rate poetry of this period), but I do not think we can use that word about Butterworth, limited though his range may have been.
I wrote about him in this post on Housman. Butterworth is the ghost of English music. A presence, an absence. Would he have been able to develop or was his whole style formed by a presentiment of war and of his death?
Housman wrote the poems in A Shropshire Lad twenty years before the end of the peace. Nearly all the music of Butterworth which survives is from 1910-13.
It is startling and moving to find him on film.
Who said or did not say “Try everything once except incest and Morris dancing”? Beecham probably. It is, on the whole, the world’s least sexy dance. But this delightful film would incline me to exclude only incest. Here, at least, performed by the leaders of the folk revival, it does not look ridiculous. First we see (the silent film tells us)
Maud Karpeles dancing part of Princess Royal (Bampton version), then
George Butterworth dancing extracts from Molly Oxford (Field Town jig), then
Maud and Helen Karpeles dancing extracts from Lumps of Plumb Pudding (Bampton version), then
Maud Karpeles dancing the first part of Jockie to the Fair (Headington version), then
Cecil Sharp, George Butterworth, Maud Karpeles and Helen Karpeles dancing Hey Boys Up Go We, and at the end
Butterworth dancing something which is not identified.
The YouTube poster, pabmusic1, tells us that
“the music (which of course has been added later) is Ribbon Dance (rec. 1933), The Triumph [my link] (rec. 1927), The Queen’s Jig (rec. 1934), Sellinger’s Round (rec. 1938) and Hunt the Squirrel (rec. 1938). The music bears no relation to what they are dancing, but there’s no record of what music was being used.”
Cecil Sharp was the founding father of the folklore revival in England. Many traditional dances and much folk music owe their continuing existence to his work in recording and publishing them. I’ll say more about this and about Morris dancing in another post.
I can’t say much on the esoteric subject of the dances and tunes, but Sellinger’s Round is famous from Glenn Gould’s recording of William Byrd’s variations on it and from the modern variations written collaboratively in 1952 by Lennox Berkeley, Benjamin Britten, Arthur Oldham, Humphrey Searle, Michael Tippett and William Walton to celebrate the coming coronation of Princess Elizabeth.
The music is, anyway, charming, and as a commenter says: “even though the film and the accompanying music as we are receiving it in this video have no direct relationship, whoever put these two elements together did a marvelous job of it so that the feeling we get is that of total compatibility.”
The moment in the film where Sharp comes in (to Sellinger’s Round) is especially delightful. Maud Karpeles was his collaborator and biographer (not wife, though he was married), Helen was her sister.
Butterworth went to Eton (like Thomas Arne and Hubert Parry) and met Sharp while at Trinity College in Oxford. He became a close friend of Vaughan Williams.
“Whether any of Butterworth’s friendships were more than platonic is uncertain; although he seems generally to have preferred the company of men, his sexual orientation remains unclear. His modesty, kindness, and natural gifts of leadership were commented on as early as his prep school days. He was a good-looking man, of medium height and build, dark-haired and with the full moustache fashionable in his day, and the most notable feature of his face in photographs [there are really only two] is the sensitive and humorous cast of the eyes.” Sensitive remarks by Alain Frogley in the Dictionary of National Biography.
Or rather, accents of the British Isles. A brilliant but not exhaustive tour:
No Brummie (Birmingham), Geordie (Newcastle), Manchester, Cumbria, Potteries (Stoke-on-Trent), Derbyshire, Black Country (between Birmingham and Wolverhampton). The first three are big omissions. There are more variations within regions. He does Scouse or Liverpudlian.
He deals with some regional, but not class or “ethnic” or English-diaspora nuances. His Devon-Cornwall needs some polishing.
Voice of Andrew Jack, a dialect coach. He should do another, five-minute, take.
… or, The binding force
Helen to her sister Margaret towards the end of Forster’s Howards End (1910).
“‘All the same, London’s creeping.’
“She pointed over the meadow – over eight or nine meadows, but at the end of them was a red rust.
“‘You see that in Surrey and even Hampshire now,’ she continued. ‘I can see it from the Purbeck Downs. And London is only part of something else, I’m afraid. Life’s going to be melted down, all over the world.’
“Margaret knew that her sister spoke truly. Howards End, Oniton, the Purbeck Downs, the Oderberge, were all survivals, and the melting-pot was being prepared for them. […]
“‘Because a thing is going strong now, it need not go strong for ever,’ she said. ‘This craze for motion has only set in during the last hundred years. It may be followed by a civilization that won’t be a movement, because it will rest on the earth. All the signs are against it now, but I can’t help hoping, and very early in the morning in the garden I feel that our house is the future as well as the past.’”
“Margaret was silent. Marriage had not saved her from the sense of flux. London was but a foretaste of this nomadic civilization which is altering human nature so profoundly, and throws upon personal relations a stress greater than they have ever borne before. Under cosmopolitanism, if it comes, we shall receive no help from the earth. Trees and meadows and mountains will only be a spectacle, and the binding force that they once exercised on character must be entrusted to Love alone. May Love be equal to the task!”