Archive for the 'Europe' Category

Gargano and Compostela

April 29 2015

… and the heart of Robert the Bruce

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 19.32.15

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

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954

Christopher Bayly

April 26 2015

Highly original – so he appears: I have only read part of Forgotten Wars – historian of India, and then of the world, from about 1770 into the twentieth century. He seems to have been as revered in India as Raymond Carr was in Spain.

Telegraph

Guardian.

Books:

The Local Roots of Indian Politics: Allahabad, 1880-1920 (1975)

Rulers, Townsmen and Bazaars: North Indian Society in the Age of British Expansion, 1770-1870 (1983)

Imperial Meridian: The British Empire and the World 1780-1830 (1989)

An Indian trilogy:

Empire and Information: Intelligence Gathering and Social Communication in India, 1780-1870 (1996)

Origins of Nationality in South Asia: Patriotism and Ethical Government in the Making of Modern India (1998)

Recovering Liberties: Indian Thought in the Age of Liberalism and Empire (2011)

The Birth of the Modern World, 1780-1914: Global Connections and Comparisons (2004)

Forgotten Armies: The Fall of British Asia, 1941-1945 (2005)

Forgotten Wars: Freedom and Revolution in Southeast Asia (2007), the last two with Timothy Harper

Cover below shows a portrait of Jean-Baptiste Belley by Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson (male), with a bust of Guillaume Thomas François Raynal in the background.

Note the suggestion of the tapering penis favoured by many classical and classically-influenced artists, which is at the same time, here, I suppose, a piece of racial stereotyping. Girodet was a pupil of David.

Bayly, The Birth of the Modern World

Bayly, Forgotten Wars

Interview by Alan Macfarlane, July 24 2014:

Gallipoli

April 25 2015

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

Gallipoli was also a landmark in the career of Atatürk, a dress rehearsal for the struggle to come.

It disgraced Churchill, who had ordered the naval attack.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Casualties at Gallipoli:

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

Britain: 52,230 wounded, 21,255 killed

Australia: 19,441 wounded, 8,709 killed

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

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

India: 3,421 wounded, 1,358 killed

Newfoundland: 93 wounded, 49 killed

Germans: a few fought with the Turks

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

Anzac parade, London, date not shown:

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

Berlin ’45

April 24 2015

German ack-ack (anti-aircraft fire) audible during a performance of Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto: Walter Gieseking, Grosses Berliner Rundfunk Orchester, Artur Rother. Saal No 1, Haus des Rundfunks (Reichsender Berlin), Berlin, January 23 1945.

This was the very day on which Russian troops crossed the Oder, and the day of the execution of Helmuth James Graf von Moltke.

You hear it at around 13:30 and 16:50 in the first movement and perhaps earlier. I am not sure that there is anything in the later movements. Can you also hear bombs? More below.

The date is given here and here. I believe it is correct. Other sources, including this, and the YouTube poster, give it as September or October 1944.

The performance was, we are told, a rehearsal and never broadcast. It is said to be the only complete wartime recording of any classical work in stereo.

Who was doing the bombing? Both dates were after the main raids of 1943-44. The USAAF had often bombed by day, the RAF by night. Was that the case here and do we know the time of day of the recording?

Is there a chance that this was directed at the Red Air Force as the Russians approached?

Related post: Bernstein, Barenboim, Ceauşescu.

“El Carr”

April 23 2015

Raymond Carr obituaries:

Guardian

Telegraph.

“Just as ‘le Cobb’ (Professor Richard) and ‘il Mack Smith’ (Mr Denis) enjoyed an extraordinary fame in the countries (France and Italy respectively) which they made their subjects, so ‘el Carr’ became little short of a national hero in Spain.” (Telegraph, my links)

Carr, Spain

The leper’s squint

April 20 2015

In 1920 the work of Peter the Great and his successors was almost undone. Reval [Tallinn] and Riga had ceased to be Russian ports, and the Russian coastline on the Baltic was as narrow as it had been in 1703, when the Russian apostle of Westernization had founded St. Petersburg. Through such a “leper’s squint” a great society could hardly communicate with its peers, and in 1920 Russia had abandoned the endeavour. Her Marxist Government had evacuated the depopulated capital of the Westernized Czardom and had retreated to the Kremlin of Byzantine Moscow.

The World after the Peace Conference, Being an Epilogue to the “History of the Peace Conference of Paris” and a Prologue to the “Survey of International Affairs, 1920-1923”, OUP, Issued under the auspices of the British Institute of International Affairs, 1925

Le printemps

April 16 2015

Millet, Le printemps

Millet, Le printemps, 1868-73, Musée d’Orsay

Clausen, The Apple Tree

Clausen, The Apple Tree, 1940, private collection

Spring

April 15 2015

If frisking lambs have ever been described in music, it’s from 3:24 to 3:39 here:

This is Milhaud’s Concertino de printemps for violin and chamber orchestra, opus 135, 1934. A year of poor health. It isn’t Groupe des Six superficiality, but a little masterpiece of French pastoralism. The violin “is […] like a butterfly among flowers that finally disappears in a ray of sunlight” (Paul Collaer).

Milhaud recorded it three times as conductor. The first time with Yvonne Astruc, the dedicatee, and an unnamed orchestra in 1935, the second time with Louis Kaufman and the Orchestre national de la Radiodiffusion française in 1949, the third time with Szymon Goldberg and the Ensemble des Solistes des Concerts Lamoureux in 1958. This is the Kaufman. You can hear the Astruc here and the Goldberg here.

Milhaud wrote many pieces with spring in the title. Aside from the concertino:

Le printemps, violin and piano, opus 18, 1914. I linked to an old recording of this here. It found its way, in orchestral garb, into his incidental music for chorus and orchestra for Claudel’s Protée, opus 17, 1913-19, or at least into the symphonic suite made from it (opus 57, 1919, which in a way is his Sacre du printemps).

Printemps, piano, Book I, opus 25, 1915-19. The first of two cahiers of short pieces. They are rarely performed or recorded. The best recording is with Christian Ivaldi on the fine old EMI record of music by Milhaud for one, two and four pianos.

The third string quartet, opus 32, 1916 is subtitled En souvenir du printemps 1914 (post here). It was written in memory of his friend from his youth in Provence Léo Latil, who died on the front in 1915. “We never wearied of walking along between the fields of wheat, blue-green in spring, bordered with almond trees in bloom, dwarf oaks, and pines, through exquisite landscapes, some of which, like the Château de l’Horloge, evoked historical memories: according to Chateaubriand, it was in this solid, roomy farmhouse that Napoleon spent the night on his return from Elba. Sometimes we went as far as Malvalat, the Latils’ estate near Granettes, a village that took its name from the painter Granet, who lived there […].” (Notes sans musique)

Symphonie de chambre no 1, Le printemps, opus 43, 1917. This is the first of six very short, radically un-teutonic, chamber symphonies which Milhaud composed between 1917 and 1923.

Printemps, piano, Book II, opus 66, 1919-20

Jeux de printemps, orchestra, opus 243, 1944; also a ballet. This has never, as far as I know, been recorded.

Printemps lointain, voice and piano, words by Francis Jammes (post here), opus 253, 1945. I don’t know this either.

There’s a Chanson du printemps in Chansons de Madame Bovary, opus 128d, 1933. There may be more individual songs. There are many spring-like movements in his symphonic and chamber works.

In the early ’50s, he gave way to the temptation to compose three more concertini to create a Quatre saisons:

Concertino d’automne for two pianos and eight instruments, opus 309, 1951

Concertino dété for viola and chamber orchestra, opus 311, 1951

Concertino dhiver for trombone and string orchestra, opus 327, 1953.

If they had been as good as the first, this Four Seasons would be as popular as Vivaldi’s. The Concertino de printemps shows what a marvellous composer Milhaud could be. The others have their moments, but show him on more workaday form. Trombonists like the last one.

Milhaud, Kaufman

I remember buying this LP in FNAC in Paris circa 1983.

Underwater dreams

April 14 2015

“1906

“Call me Captain Sirius. [Melville.] My creator’s name is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, better known as the author of the world-famous Sherlock Holmes novels, which offer a strictly scientific account of criminology. But almost as a sideline he attempted to warn his insular England of a danger in the offing when, eight years after our first seaworthy submarine was launched, he published a brief book which he called Danger! and Other Stories [text here], which came out in German translation during the war, in 1916, under the title The Submarine War, or How Captain Sirius Did England In, and was reprinted here seventeen times before the war was over, but now unfortunately seems to have fallen into oblivion.

“Thanks to this prophetic little book I, in the person of Captain Sirius, succeeded in convincing the King of Norland, the Reich’s ally, of the daring yet perfectly rational possibility of using a mere eight submarines – which was all we had – to cut England off from her supplies and literally starve her to death. Our [the Norlanders’] submarines were called the Alpha, the Beta, the Gamma, the Theta, the Delta, the Epsilon, the Iota, and the Kappa. Unfortunately, the last was lost in the Irish Sea during our otherwise successful mission. I was the captain of the Iota and commanded the entire flotilla. We scored our first successes at the mouth of the Thames near Sheerness: aiming my torpedoes amidships, I sank in quick succession the Adela, laden with mutton from New Zealand, the Oriental Company’s Moldavia, and the Cusco, the latter two laden with grain. After further successes along the Channel coast and all the way to the Irish Sea, involving the whole flotilla either in squadrons or one by one, prices – first in London, then throughout the island – began to rise: a fivepenny loaf of bread soon cost a shilling and a half. By systematically blocking all major ports of entry we drove already exorbitant prices higher and unleashed a countrywide famine. The starving populace protested against the government with acts of violence. It stormed the Empire’s sanctuary, the Stock Exchange. Anyone belonging to the upper classes and able to afford it fled to Ireland, where there were still at least potatoes to be had. In the end proud Albion was forced to conclude a humiliating peace with Norland.

“The second part of the book consists of statements by naval officers and other experts, all of whom confirmed Sir Arthur’s warning of the submarine menace. One of them, a retired vice admiral, advised England to build storehouses for grain, like Joseph in Egypt, and to protect homegrown agricultural products by means of tariffs. There were urgent pleas to abandon England’s dogmatic insular mentality and finally get down to building the tunnel to France. Another vice admiral suggested that trading vessels be allowed to ply the seas only in convoys and that swiftly moving dirigibles be specially equipped to hunt out submarines. Intelligent proposals all, their worth alas, having been corroborated during the course of the war. I could wax particularly eloquent on the subject of the depth- or water-bombs.

“My creator, Sir Arthur, unfortunately forgot to report that while a young lieutenant in Kiel I was present as the crane lowered the first seaworthy submarine into the water – all hush-hush, top secret – at the Germania Shipworks on 4 August 1906. Before that I had been second officer on a torpedo ship, but I volunteered to test our new underwater weapon in its early stages. As a member of the crew I was in the U-1 when it was lowered thirty meters under water and made it to the open sea on its own steam. I should point out, however, that Krupp, using the design of a Spanish engineer, had even earlier built a thirteen-meter craft that went five-and-a-half knots under water. This Forelle aroused even the Kaiser’s interest. Prince Heinrich himself went down in it once. Regrettably, the Reich’s Naval Office obstructed the Forelle’s expeditious development. There were, moreover, difficulties with the gasoline engine. But when the U-1 was put into commission in Eckernförde a year behind schedule, nothing could stop it, even though the Forelle and our thirty-nine-meter ship, the Kambala, which came equipped with three torpedoes, were later sold to Russia. [Is a submarine a ship?] I was unfortunately detailed to attend the ceremony at which they were handed over. Orthodox priests, dispatched specially from Petersburg, anointed the vessels with holy water fore and aft. Following a lengthy overland journey they were launched in Vladivostok – too late to use them against Japan.

“Still, my dream came true. Much as he shows an instinct for sleuthing in his books, Sir Arthur could never have suspected how many German youths – like me – had dreamed of the speedy descent, the wandering eye of the periscope, the bobbing tanker just waiting to be torpedoed, the command of ‘Fire!,’ the many and much acclaimed hits, the intimate camaraderie, and the pennants waving on the triumphant return home. And not even I, who have been involved from the start and have entered literature along the way, not even I could have suspected that tens of thousands of our lads would never emerge from their underwater dream.

“Thanks to Sir Arthur’s warning, our repeated attempts to bring England to her knees unfortunately came to naught. All those deaths. But only Captain Sirius was condemned to survive every descent.”

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The 1906 chapter (which doesn’t have that name) of Günter Grass’s My Century (Mein Jahrhundert) (1999). A German identifies himself with an enemy of England imagined by Arthur Conan Doyle.

Extract deemed fair use as shorter than an Amazon preview and from near the front of the book: please inform me if it infringes copyright and I will remove it.

The translation by Michael Henry Heim is idiomatically uncertain and not up to the many voices Grass adopts in the hundred vignettes which make up this quasi-novel. I think this is part of the reason many felt this late Grassian tour-de-force did not work. Perhaps it doesn’t work in German. I enjoyed it. I posted the 1900 chapter here.

I’m not sure how Danger! and Other Stories could have been published in Germany in 1916 if it only appeared in England, published by John Murray, in 1918. The title story was written, according to Doyle, about eighteen months before the outbreak of the war and, according to Wikipedia, was published in the Strand Magazine in July 1914. It might have appeared in Germany in 1916 on its own or in another collection.

The Royal Navy had launched its first submarine in 1901. The experience of the crews must have been terrible, but “tens of thousands” of German casualties seems wrong. Here is a list of all the German U-boats. Allegedly 329 served. If the average crew was as high as fifty and two-thirds were killed, that does not get us close.

Before Germany had launched its U-boat, Britain, in the same year, had launched HMS Dreadnought. German and English artists, scholars and scientists, instigated by Count Harry Kessler, and including my great-grandfather, wrote to The Times to express their concern about the deteriorating relationship between the two countries. Their letter was published on January 12.

U-1

After suffering damage from a collision while on a training exercise in 1919, U-1 was sold to the Germaniawerft foundation at the Deutsches Museum in Munich, where it was restored and can be still seen. 

Invasion literature (Wikipedia).

Aspects of Grass

April 13 2015

Grass and Danzig (in German):

Film by Andrzej Klamt commissioned by the Deutsches Polen-Institut for poleninderschule.de with the support of the Sanddorf Stiftung Regensburg.

Grass and Israel:

Deutsche Welle.

Grass on Europe’s policy towards refugees (in German):

Interview by Pointer-Redaktionsleiterin Heike Kevenhörster am 26.11.2014.

Facebook is shit (with subtitles):

Interview by Marc-Christoph Wagner for Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2013.

The full Louisiana Channel interview (with subtitles):

Drawings:

No gallery mentioned.

When did I learn the music of Traviata?

April 8 2015

I’ve seen it perhaps twice in my life and never consciously listened to it except to discover that I know every note. Others, I believe, have had the same experience.

Callas, Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City, 1952, with Giuseppe Di Stefano, Mugnai conducting:

Callas, La Scala, Milan, 1955 or ’56, with Giuseppe Di Stefano, Giulini conducting:

Callas, Teatro Nacional de São Carlos, Lisbon, 1958, with Alfredo Kraus, Ghione conducting (the best according to some):

There are others.

Callas’s voice declined very early. Her best days were over long before she was forty.

In 1853 the symphony was dead, chamber music in a post-Schumann, pre-Brahms twilight, and religious music at a low ebb. Opera carried the torch. Excuse the mixed metaphors.

Boulez at 90 continued

March 28 2015

The clips (here, here, here, here) that were shown before the works performed by the Cleveland Orchestra (now, for better or worse, under Franz Welser-Möst) at their concert for Boulez on January 15 show somebody very different from an arrogant iconoclast. The programme was his own Twelve Notations (for piano); Berg, Three Excerpts from Wozzeck; Debussy, Jeux; Boulez, Notations I, VII, IV, III, II (orchestral version).

An equivalent at the Barbican on April 23 with the LSO under Peter Eötvös will have Boulez’s Livre pour cordes and Rituel in memoriam Bruno Maderna and, between them, the seminal (but otherwise overrated?) The Rite of Spring.

Bob Shingleton on Rituel, and Boulez’s relationship with the BBC SO, whose chief conductor he was from 1971 to ’75. Their celebration at the Barbican, on March 21 under Thierry Fischer, had Pli selon pli and Notations.

Boulez’s lack of interest in Brahms, a composer, presumably, with plenty of “structure” and “necessity” (even if he came from the conservative side of the nineteenth century), is puzzling.

One would like to know Boulez’s views on some non-musical matters, or does he exist solely in music?

George Benjamin has a fine tribute in the Guardian.

Rituel, performers not stated:

Dérive I

March 27 2015

Sylvain Blassel and Atelier XXème du Chapelle du conservatoire de Rennes, concert donné aux Champs Libres à Rennes le 7 décembre 2011. You can also hear Boulez doing this with the Ensemble Intercontemporain. This is for six players. It is a short work from 1984, about six minutes: the rest here is a concert lecture. It is Boulez at his most accessible. Dérive II, for eleven instruments, 1988, 2002, 2006, really is this length: it began short, but is now longer.

Boulez at 90

March 26 2015

BBC Radio 3’s Music Matters, which aired last Saturday, on Pierre Boulez, who is ninety today, is here and here for another twenty-odd days at least. It’s hosted by Petroc Trelawney, despised as a broadcaster by a giant of musical blogging, Bob Shingleton, but not, perhaps, quite as bad as all that all the time. With him are Paul Driver, music critic of the Sunday Times, and Morag Grant, a Fellow of the Käte Hamburger Kolleg in Bonn, who are another matter.

This is discussion, and a mining of the warm and inscrutable Boulez’s words on the BBC over five decades. Why is the z pronounced in Boulez? Doesn’t it suggest something Spanish?

I wish Paul Driver wrote more outside Murdoch-land. He has only published one book, an unclassifiable assemblage of his own meditations on Manchester called Manchester Pieces. He’s a Mancunian, like the late Michael Kennedy.

Boulez’s list, aired in early 2000 on a New York radio station, of the ten most important pieces of music in the twentieth century is engaging.

I used to assume that his works were all short, like Webern’s. They aren’t. Then I thought that they were merely intellectual. They are, of course, not.

Boulez does walk into concert halls. He does dress formally. He does bow. He does conduct. He does accept applause.

Le marteau sans maître, words by René Char, directed by Bruno Maderna in 1961:

Pierre Boulez

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I was taken in by the hoax in 2006 about Boulez’s recording of Vaughan Williams 4 and 6 on DG. For days, before I realised, the word “wow” was floating around in my head. There was even a review, which made it sound rather like Karajan’s recordings of English music. I can’t remember where the joke started. Driver, at least, can be as engaged with the Britten whom Boulez so much despises as with Boulez.

Boulez, VW

Christian brigands

March 20 2015

The Treaty of Bucharest of 1913, at the end of the Balkan Wars, divided the Macedonian region between Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria, with Greece getting the lion’s share; a small section went to Albania. The Serbian part ended (from 1946) as a separate constituent republic of Yugoslavia and is now an independent country.

In Macedonia, where the social peripeteia accompanying a transfer of sovereignty from the Ottoman Empire to the Kingdom of Greece had taken place ninety-one years later than in Laconia [with which he has just been concerned], the writer once had the good fortune to obtain a vivid sidelight on it from a living beneficiary. Waiting for an omnibus at Sorovich on the 4th September, 1921, he fell into conversation with a bystander who turned out to be a Slovene, born in Klagenfurt, Carinthia, who had emigrated as a boy to the United States, had come to Macedonia as a chauffeur for the American Red Cross, and was now driving a tractor in the service of three Greek brothers who were joint owners of a large estate in the neighbourhood of Sorovich, besides owning a whole block of houses just across the road from the railway station. Like the property itself, the present owners’ up-to-date Western method of farming was a legacy from their father, who had died only four months since. In answer to a question about his enterprising deceased employer’s antecedents, the Slovene mechanic volunteered: “Well, he hadn’t owned this property for very long. Before ‘the war’ [meaning the Balkan Wars of A.D. 1912-13] [Toynbee’s bracket], when the Turks owned the land, he was just one of those ‘Christians’ – what is the English word for them? … O, now I remember it: ‘brigands’ – up in the mountains. But, when the Greek Army marched in, the Turks cleared out and the brigands came down from the mountains and seized the land. So that is how my employer got his property, and how I got my job.”

There was a tradition in ancient anti-Christian polemic of referring to Christ himself as a brigand.

A Study of History, Vol X, OUP, 1954 (footnote)

Lee Kuan Yew and the nation-builders

March 19 2015

Lee Kuan Yew is the last great living twentieth-century nation builder, if he is alive.

Who were the others? What defines them? They have to have created a nation where none before existed – and yet one can’t leave out Mandela.

They must have done it through a personal struggle. They must have a certain stature. Their achievement must be solid. One can’t leave out Herzl, although he died forty-four years before the birth of Israel.

At one level, Lee was a reluctant builder. He did not, at least as it appears, wish to leave the Malaysian Federation in 1965.

Norway, Finland, Iceland, the Baltic states, Poland, Belarus, Moldova, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Albania, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, the central Asian “stans”, Mongolia were, before the twentieth century, merged or submerged nations, but when they became independent did not have famous fathers, unless you count Piłsudski. They already, in a sense, existed, especially Poland. But, then, so did the Czech nation. (One can’t exactly call Haakon VII a nation-builder, even if he was a father-figure.)

Ukraine is a half-formed nation. Why am I implying less formed than the other Ruthenia, Belarus? At any rate, no builders.

Hungary achieved nationhood in the nineteenth century. Masaryk was a nation-builder even though the nation he founded was later divided into two.

The Philippines’ founders did their work before, not after, American colonisation. Aung San died before Burmese independence, and his legacy is unclear. So are Ho Chi Minh’s and Sihanouk’s. Burma, Vietnam and Cambodia had once contained powerful states. Burma is the most ethnically fragmented. Thailand was never colonised, so the question of nation-building does not arise.

The Republic of China was declared in 1912, but Taiwan became its last stronghold long after Sun’s death. Sun was the father of a nation that, as a geographical entity, doesn’t even recognise itself, and as a wider entity is China – not a new nation.

So I include him uneasily – or do we believe in the permanence of Taiwan? I can’t leave out Sukarno even if I want to.

Not everyone who led a colony into independence qualifies. In fact, not a single leader from the main years of decolonisation is in my list. I can’t bring myself to include Bourguiba, for example. Or, in a short list, Nkrumah or Kenyatta or Nyerere or Kaunda. Is that because black African countries are, or were, not nations, but tribal or ethnic hegemonies and coalitions? But so are others. So is Burma. So was nineteenth-century Hungary.

Mahathir is a smaller figure than Lee. He did not become prime minister until 1981.

In theory Singapore is a coalition of three ethnic groups, like its one-time role-model Switzerland.

Here is my list, in chronological order of the nation’s birth or the builder’s accession to power if later:

Sun Yat-sen 1912

Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk 1918

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk 1923

Ibn Saud 1932

Sukarno 1945

Mahatma Gandhi 1947

Muhammad Ali Jinnah 1947

Theodor Herzl 1948

Lee Kuan Yew 1965

Nelson Mandela 1994

Lee’s funeral or public memorial will be as big as Mandela’s and deservedly. [Postscript: I was wrong on that.] You don’t need to have loved someone to feel grief.

The Blairs will be there, collecting cards.

IMG_9663

1946, Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge

Picture source: Lee Kuan Yew, Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going via mustsharenews.com

Mirabeau’s warning

March 18 2015

In A.D. 1790 the French National Assembly was warned by the prophetic voice of Mirabeau that a representative parliamentary body was likely to prove more bellicose than a monarch.

[Footnote: “Je vous demande à vous-mêmes: sera-t-on mieux assuré de n’avoir que des guerres justes, équitables, si l’on délègue exclusivement à une assemblée de 700 personnes l’exercice du droit de faire la guerre? Avez-vous prévu jusqu’où les mouvemens [sic] passionnés, jusqu’où l’exaltation du courage et d’une fausse dignité pourroient porter et justifier l’imprudence …? Pendant qu’un des membres proposera de délibérer, on demandera la guerre à grands cris; vous verrez autour de vous une armée de citoyens. Vous ne serez pas trompés par des ministres; ne le serez-vous jamais par vous-mêmes? … Voyez les peuples libres, c’est par des guerres plus ambitieuses, plus barbares qu’ils se sont toujours distingués. Voyez les assemblées politiques; c’est toujours sous le charme de la passion qu’elles ont décrété la guerre” (Mirabeau in the French National Assembly on the 20th May, 1790).

In this matter the statesman Mirabeau showed a clearer vision than the philosopher Volney, whose eighteenth-century complacency on the subject of War was apparently still unshaken in 1791 [he woke up later], to judge by the following passage of Les Ruines, which was published in that year:

“Si les guerres sont devenues plus vastes dans leurs masses, elles ont été moins meurtrières dans leurs details; si les peuples y ont porté moins de personnalité, moins d’énergie, leur lutte a été moins sanguinaire, moins acharnée. Ils ont été moins libres, mais moins turbulents, plus amollis, mais plus pacifiques.” […]]

A Study of History, Vol IV, OUP, 1939

Azov and Baltic

March 13 2015

Having realized Russia’s need to acquire a seaboard, Peter began, in A.D. 1695-6, with the relatively easy conquest of Azov from the Turks. It is significant that, after his return from the Western tour of A.D. 1697-8, he addressed himself to the far more formidable task of conquering the Baltic Provinces from the Swedes, and persevered in this arduous enterprise for twenty years (A.D. 1700-21) until he finally achieved his aim. He had come to the conclusion that a seaboard on the Baltic was worth acquiring at any price because it would open the door for direct intercourse between Russia and the West. […] On the other hand, the conquest of Azov was not worth following up, because the further passage from this port to the open sea was blocked by the Ottoman Government’s control of the Straits of Kertch and of the Bosphorus and of the Dardanelles. And even if the Russian ships had been able to run the gauntlet of these three successive “Symplegades”, they would have merely found themselves at large in the Eastern Mediterranean – a sea which, in Peter’s day, before the opening of the short-cut from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean, was a sluggish backwater, remote from the principal ocean-highways of the World.

Towards the end of the fifteenth century, Moscow (Ivan III) overcame the Golden Horde, and the Crimean khans (1449-1783), minor successors of the Horde, came under Ottoman protection. Russia did not conquer the Crimean Khanate (“Little Tartary”) until the Russo-Turkish War of 1768-74.

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

Toynbee and Indiana Jones at Versailles

March 12 2015

The image links to the full Indiana Jones episode of which I showed a clip here.

Screen Shot 2015-03-13 at 02.08.05

Background and context are in the old post. Toynbee’s big scene starts at 5:00. His other main appearances are at 26:00 and 33:00. Later the scene shifts to Princeton.

Mistakes and unconvincing portrayals aside (Lawrence is the worst, Gertrude Bell a close second), it doesn’t do such a bad job of bringing history to life. Vignettes of Arabs, Vietnamese, Germans. Woodrow Wilson is shown as comically out of his depth. Indiana is touching, trying to be nice to the Germans.

Toynbee is rather convincing. He never said that those who forget the lessons of history are condemned to repeat it, but he had a sharper political mind when he was young than when he was old.

The unchanging West

February 27 2015

… or, A boy from Baghdad

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

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

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

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

The unchanging East (last post but one).

A Study of History, Vol I, OUP, 1934

Peter’s war

February 26 2015

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

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

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

Vesuvius ’44

February 25 2015

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

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

Wikipedia, edited:

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

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

There is no Malta

February 23 2015

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

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

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

The national idea

February 22 2015

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

Nationality and the War, Dent, 1915

Hiroshima, Tokyo, Nagasaki, Hamburg

February 20 2015

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

And why is Dresden discussed more often than Hamburg?

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

Church of the Cross

February 19 2015

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

Old town:

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

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

Bombing Dresden

February 18 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RAF and USAAF. 363 raids.

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

The Blitz.

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

USAAF. Raid on Polish city and port.

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

RAF and USAAF. Main raid RAF February 23 1945.

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

RAF. Main raid September 11-12 1944.

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

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

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

USAAF. Main raid March 13-14 1945.

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

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

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

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

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

Old posts:

Aerial bombing

Bombing Japan

Lie in the dark and listen.

Semitic outliers

February 17 2015

Which Semitic language is written now in Latin script?

Answer: Maltese.

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

Answer: Amharic (Ethiopian). Main example.

Bitter Lake

February 16 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Great Bitter Lake

Picture: fdrlibrary.tumblr.com

Magna Carta

February 16 2015

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

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

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

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

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

Bragg’s episodes:

1. The Road to Magna Carta

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

2. Runnymede, 1215

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

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

3. The Aftermath of Runnymede

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

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

4. The Legacy of Magna Carta

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

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

Magna Carta

1969 edition of Holt, Magna Carta, CUP, 1965

Peter Partner

February 16 2015

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

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

Le bon général ordinaire and le grand chef

January 31 2015

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

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

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

Mongols of the sea

January 19 2015

Rambling piece by Paul Krugman on the “gunpowder empires” and the Atlantic seaboard. And what European sailors had in common with Asian nomads. The New York Times, January 18.

The Harmonious Blacksmith

January 17 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

Etherialization

January 16 2015

An etherialization of our modern Western Art which took place in the course of the eighteenth century, when the sceptre passed from the art of Architecture to the art of Music and when the élan of the Western artistic impulse was thus, as it were, translated from the grosser medium of stone into the subtler medium of sound, has been traced out by Oswald Spengler in one of the most interesting passages of his magnum opus.

“About the year 1740, when Euler was beginning to establish the definitive formulation of Functional Analysis, there arose the Sonata, which is the maturest and the highest form of the instrumental style … . Therewith begins the reign of Music over all the other arts. In the field of the plastic arts Music banishes statuary and tolerates nothing but the completely musical and finikinly un-Hellenic and counter-Renaissance Kleinkunst of porcelain, which was invented at a time when chamber music was winning its way to a position of decisive importance. Whereas the plastic art of the Gothic age is architectonic ornament – rows of human figures – through and through, the plastic art of the Rococo period is a significant example of an art which is only plastic superficially, while in reality it is under the domination of Music – which is its opposite in the circle of the arts – and is speaking in the language of musical form. This reveals the degree to which it is possible for the technique that governs the foreground of artistic life to be in contradiction with the spirit of the world of forms which this technique creates (pace the usual aesthetic theory which assumes that spirit and technique stand to each other in the relation of a cause and an effect). Compare the crouching Venus of Coyzevox (A.D. 1686) in the Louvre with her Hellenic forerunner in the Vatican, and you will see the difference between plastic art treated as music and plastic art working in its own right. In Coyzevox’s work, the sense of movement, the flow of the lines, and the fluidity that has been imparted to the very essence of the stone – which, like porcelain, has somehow lost its solidity and mass – can be described most aptly in musical terms: staccato, accelerando, andante, allegro. Hence the feeling that somehow the close-grained marble is here out of place. Hence, too, the altogether un-Hellenic reliance on effects of light and shade: a device which corresponds to what has been the leading principle of oil-painting since Titian. The quality which the Eighteenth Century called colour – whether in an engraving or in a drawing or in a group of statuary – really means music. This quality governs the painting of Watteau and Fragonard and the art of the Gobelins and pastels. Do we not talk, from that day to this, of ‘colour-tones’ and ‘tone-colours’? And is this not a recognition of an equivalence finally attained between two arts that are superficially so different? And are not all such designations meaningless in reference to all Hellenic Art? Music even succeeded in recasting, in its own spirit, the Baroque architecture of Bernini. It re-cast it into Rococo; and the transcendental Rococo ornamentation is ‘played’ over by lights which are virtually musical tones, and which perform the function of resolving roofs, walls, arches and everything that is constructive and concrete into polyphony and harmony: an architectural music whose trills, cadences and passaggios carry to the point of identity the assimilation of the architectural semantic of these halls and galleries to the music which was conceived for them. Dresden and Vienna are the homes of this late and shortlived wonderland of chamber music and billowy furniture and mirror-rooms and pastoral poetry and porcelain-groups. This is the last expression of the Western soul: an expression of autumnal ripeness with a touch of autumn sunshine. The Vienna of the Vienna Congress saw it die and disappear.” [Footnote: Spengler, Oswald: Der Untergang des Abendlandes, vol. i (Munich 1930, Beck), pp. 318-20. […] The same theme is developed by Heard, G., in The Ascent of Humanity (London 1938, Cape), pp. 226-8.]

Translation presumably by Toynbee. Charles Francis Atkinson’s translation of this passage is here. His closing sentences seem preferable. “It is the final brilliant autumn with which the Western soul completes the expression of its high style. And in the Vienna of the Congress-time it faded and died.” Spengler has: “Sie ist der letzte, herbsthaft sonnige, vollkommene Ausdruck großen Stils der abendländischen Seele. Im Wien der Kongreßzeit starb er dahin.”

A Study of History, Vol III, OUP, 1934

Paris

January 10 2015

Sarcelles

Sarcelles 2

Sarcelles. Via agingmodernism.wordpress.com.

Summer capitals, summer palaces

December 10 2014

The Sarawat mountains run down the Red Sea coast of Saudi Arabia. Sarat al-Hejaz, Sarat Asir, Sarat al-Yemen.

Taʿif is in the Hejaz section, 100 km southeast of Mecca. The ruling family and much of the government are said to go there during the summer to escape the heat of Riyad. Taʿif is cool. Coastal Jeddah, on nearly the same latitude, hot and humid. Inland Riyad is hot and dry.

Taʿif is known for grapes, pomegranates, figs, roses, honey. The family of Hani Hanjour, the 9/11 hijacker-pilot who crashed into the Pentagon, ran a lemon and date farm there.

There are more grapes at Hofuf in the Eastern Province.

Taʿif, like Mecca and like Al-Qullays, was a religious centre which attracted pilgrims before the Prophet: it housed the idol of Allat, the lady of Taʿif, who was also one of the trinity of goddesses worshipped in Mecca.

It was near the site of Muhammad’s victory at the battle of Hunayn in 630. The Sharif of Mecca capitulated to Selim I at Taʿif in 1517, a surrender undone by the British four hundred years later.

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Ecbatana. The Achaemenids had the old Median capital as their summer capital. Their real capital was Susa, their ceremonial capital Persepolis. (Seleucia-on-Tigris was the first capital of the Seleucid Empire, though it was officially superseded by Antioch. Ctesiphon-on-Tigris, opposite Seleucia, and Susa were the joint capitals of Parthia. Susa was briefly taken by Trajan and was the easternmost point reached by the Romans. Ctesiphon was also the Sasanian capital, and fell to the Arabs.)

Xanadu. The summer capital (1271-94) of Kublai Khan, the Mongol founder of the Yuan dynasty in China, after he moved his permanent capital from Xanadu (Shangdu) to Khanbaliq (Dadu), present Beijing. Destroyed by the Hongwu Emperor, the founder of the Ming, in 1369. Old posts: Xanadu and Jehol and Foreigners in Cathay.

Simla. The summer capital (1864-1939), in the Himalayan foothills, of the British in India. Over a thousand miles away from Calcutta. (Much nearer to Delhi.) Old post. Wikipedia says that before 1864 the summer capital was even further away, at Murree, a pleasant, often snowy, spot in the Margalla Hills, near Rawalpindi, and now in Pakistan. But wasn’t it the regional government of the Punjab province that moved there in the summer? A cool retreat much closer to Calcutta would have been Darjeeling. Was that too inaccessible?

In the middle of the 19th century, San Sebastián, near Biarritz, became a summer capital for the Spanish monarchy. Franco spent his summers there.

The hill station of Baguio in the northern mountains of Luzon was the summer capital of the Philippines during the American occupation (1898-1946).

Srinagar in the Kashmir Valley is still the summer capital of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The winter capital is Jammu.

Sochi, on the Black Sea, is described as the summer capital of Russia. Before 1991, resorts in the Crimea could play that role. Now they can presumably play it again.

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Murree beer was made in Murree when the Murree Brewery was founded in 1860. In (I believe) 1910, the plant was moved to Rawalpindi. There is also one in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (NWFP), which I thought was too strict nowadays to allow this kind of thing. It was Bhutto, in 1977, not Zia, who made Pakistan dry. The Christian, Hindu, and Parsi communities were not large enough to support the Murree enterprise, and production had to be cut back.

But the laws are not very strictly enforced. The last few times I was in Pakistan (2004-06), I had to sign a declaration in hotels that I required the beer (or the local whisky, also made by Murree Brewery) for medicinal purposes. It was then handed over in a black bag. I don’t recall the form requiring me to state that I was a non-Muslim. The medical ruse, I suppose, allowed it to be sold to anyone, irrespective of religion.

Of course, part of the moneyed middle class, especially in Karachi, and of the military class and the “feudal” class, drinks quite a lot and gets its hands on foreign liquor. Musharraf’s two loves, it has been said, are dogs and whisky.

I am convinced that Murree is how beer used to taste. At least the Murree that I remember (there has been some product diversification). It’s the subaltern’s beer, still being made. But one bottle could (it must be said) taste and look disconcertingly different from another.

It isn’t exported, which doesn’t stop them from producing an Export Pils, but in 2013, Murree Brewery opened a franchise, run by a Bangalore-based entrepreneur, which allows its brewing, bottling and marketing in India.

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A family and a few courtiers might go to a summer palace. A large part of a civil service might migrate to a summer capital. This is what I understand happened with Simla and Baguio and happens with Srinagar. What about Sochi? Does it really still happen with Taʿif? Why migrate when there is air conditioning?

Roman and Byzantine emperors had summer palaces. The pope has Castel Gandolfo.

Peter the Great built one in St Petersburg, and Elizabeth of Russia another – and the Winter Palace.

There were two summer palaces at Tsarskoye Selo. Catherine I built the Catherine Palace, Catherine the Great the Alexander Palace.

Frederick the Great built Sanssouci in Potsdam. Maria Theresa was given Schönbrunn.

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Construction of the complex of gardens and palaces in Beijing known as the Old Summer Palace began in 1707 under the Kangxi Emperor (Qing). He intended it as a gift for his fourth son, the future Yongzheng Emperor, who would expand it in 1725. The Qianlong Emperor (same generation as Elizabeth and Frederick) did further work.

The Old Summer Palace, with its many ancient books and works of art, was destroyed by the British and French in the Second Opium War, causing the Imperial Court to relocate to the Forbidden City.

The vast nearby Summer Palace, also in Beijing, had its origin in a palace built by the Jurchen (Jin dynasty) emperor Wanyan Liang in the 12th century. It remained in use under the Yuan. (What did the Ming do with it?) The Qianlong Emperor built much of what we see now. The Old Summer Palace had been built by his grandfather the Kangxi Emperor (hence, I suppose, “Old”). The Summer Palace was badly damaged by the British and French, but not completely destroyed.

Both of these were outside the walls of the Inner City. Did Summer Palace connote “without the walls”? The Forbidden City was within the walls.

On the history of Peking, its walls, the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, see posts here and here.

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Essences from damask roses grown in Taʿif can cost thousands of pounds a bottle. I was with a friend in a perfumery in Jeddah in summer 2009. I couldn’t understand the Arabic courtesies and chatter exchanged between him and the owner, his friend, and not since childhood have I felt so trapped in a conversation that I could neither follow, nor contribute to, nor end. The light turned rosy as the evening approached, and a few miles away my friend’s plane waited for us on the tarmac at the airport like a patient camel.

A perfect Taʿif rose (image).

Margaret Aston

December 9 2014

Telegraph obit.

Author of The Fifteenth Century: The Prospect of Europe in the distinguished Thames & Hudson series of the ’60s and ’70s (among several: I miss series), the Library of European Civilization.

And of much else.

Hunter’s Rulers of India.

Éllinas and Romyós

November 30 2014

… or, Promiscuous properties of our puppet-show

The differentiation of Near Eastern from Ancient Hellenic culture came about by a deliberate breach with the past, and not by a tearful parting. The Academy of Athens, founded by Plato, was not broken up by the Turks. It was closed, in the ninth century of its existence and just forty years before the first Turks visited Constantinople, [footnote: The Academy was closed in A.D. 529; the first ambassadors from the Khan of the earliest Turkish Empire in Central Asia arrived at Constantinople in A.D. 569.] by Justinian, the Near Eastern sovereign who built Aya Sofía and who figures as a worthy in the legend of Modern Greek nationalism. Seven philosophers who refused to embrace the Christian religion took refuge in the dominions of Justinian’s Middle Eastern rival Khosru, [footnote: It must be admitted that the Hellenic philosophers did not find themselves at home at the Middle Eastern court.] and the Persian Government stipulated for the repatriation and toleration of these last representatives of Hellenic culture in a treaty of peace with the East Roman Power. [Footnote: In A.D. 533.]

This is over a century after Theodosius’s edict.

Mani is the middle promontory of the three at the tip of the Peloponnese. Messenia is to the west, Epidaurus to the east. They mirror the three promontories of Thrace.

The cult of the Olympian gods survived three centuries longer in the Mani, the most inaccessible promontory of the Morea, which was cut off from the East Roman Empire by the Slavonic migrations at the close of the sixth century. But in the latter part of the ninth century, when the Moreot Slavs had been reduced to subjection, this scandalous survival of Ancient Hellenic usages attracted the attention of the Constantinople Government. The Olympian cults of the Maniots were suppressed and the last taint of Hellenism was purged out of the Near Eastern world. [Footnote: See Konstandínos Porphyroyénnitos (= “Constantine Porphyrogenitus”): On the Administration of the [East Roman] [bracket in original] Empire, ch. 1. (ed. by Bekker, I., Bonn, 1840, Weber).] The repudiation of the Hellenic tradition had already been symbolised by a change in the use of names. “Hellene” had come to mean a heathen outsider [a Maniot pagan], in contrast to the Christian subject of the East Roman Empire. The latter was the orthodox pattern of the primitive Modern Greek, and Romyós, or “East Roman,” […] became the national name in the vernacular. The Modern Greek merchants and peasantry of the Ottoman Empire only learnt to call themselves Hellenes from the children of the French Revolution in the West, who delighted to speak of Switzerland as the Helvetian Republic and to have their portraits painted in the costume of Roman Senators. This classical affectation was a Western fashion which the Modern Greeks borrowed with other promiscuous properties of our puppet-show, just as the classical scholarship of Koraís was a part of his enlightened advocacy of Western culture among his fellow-countrymen.

The bibliography of the book from which this is taken gives these references in a section called The names Éllinas and Romyós […]; all brackets hereafter are in the original:

BURY, J. B. : “History of the Later Roman Empire.” (2 vols., London, 1889, Macmillan.) [See vol. ii., bk. iv., pt. 2, ch. vii. : “The Language of the Romaioi in the Sixth Century.”]

POLÍTIS, N. G. : “Éllines i Romyí? <Hellenes or Rum?>.” (Athens, 1901, Sakellarios.) [This pamphlet originally appeared as a letter to the Press, in answer to one from the poet Kostìs Palamás, in which the latter had maintained that “Romyós,” and not “Éllinas” <or, in purist form, “Éllin”>, was the true national name of the Modern Greeks. Mr. Polítis sets out to prove not only that the name “Éllinas” was occasionally employed during the Middle Ages as a literary affectation by the learned, but that it had never dropped out of the popular consciousness – in fact, that its use during the War of Independence and thereafter was a survival rather than a revival. Without wishing to show disrespect to the memory of this distinguished scholar, I venture to state my opinion that in this controversy he has not proved his case.]

The Western Question in Greece and Turkey, A Study in the Contact of Civilizations, Constable, 1922

Winston Churchill par Hugh Trevor-Roper

November 29 2014

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.

Another lecture:

Hugh Trevor-Roper on Walter Scott.

The martyrdom of the Moriscos

November 13 2014

Educated Osmanlis are aware that the Spanish-speaking Jews who are so prominent in the principal cities of the Levant, are descended from the Jews of Spain, who were expelled by the Spanish and given asylum by the Ottoman Government at the close of the fifteenth century. Following up this clue, they have studied the martyrdom of the “Moriscos,” the Moslem population of the Moorish states in the Peninsula reconquered by the Christians. They have read in Western histories how this civilised and industrious Middle Eastern people was forcibly converted, driven by oppression into desperate revolts, and then massacred, despoiled, and evicted by its Western conquerors, at the very time when in the Near East the Osmanlis were allowing conquered non-Moslems to retain their cultural autonomy and were organising Orthodox, Armenian, and Jewish millets as official departments of a Moslem state. I have heard Turks express ironical regret that they did not Westernise in the fifteenth century after Christ. If they had followed our example then, they would have had no minorities to bother them to-day!

The Western Question in Greece and Turkey, A Study in the Contact of Civilizations, Constable, 1922

Limewood and sandstone

November 11 2014

Wooden means stiff, unyielding. But “lime”, the wood in which Riemenschneider and other German Renaissance sculptors carved, comes from the Old English lind or linde and Proto-Germanic lendā, which are related to the Latin lentus, flexible, and the Sanskrit latā. “Lithe” and the German lind, lenient, yielding, are from the same root.

Neither the name nor the tree is related to the citrus fruit.

Lime trees, tilia, are long-lived. In the courtyard of the Imperial Castle at Nuremberg, until 1934, stood a lime which, according to tradition, had been planted by the Empress Cunigunde, the wife of the last Ottonian Emperor, Henry II.

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A better musical pendant to MacGregor’s Germany: Memories of a Nation than Strauss’s oboe concerto might be Hindemith’s 1962-63 organ concerto, a great piece of modern music from the country of Riemenschneider, the Holbeins, Grünewald, Dürer and Luther.

Martin Haselböck, organ of the Grossen Konzerthaussaal (what is the organ in the still?), Wiener Symphoniker, Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos:

I. Crescendo, moderato maestoso
II. Allegro assai

III. Canzonetta in triads and two ritornelli, moderato

IV. Fantasy on Veni Creator Spiritus, ie I suppose on the Gregorian chant normally associated with it

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Adam Brust

Sandstone, the equivalent of limewood: from Riemenschneider’s carvings of Adam and Eve, Würzburger Marienkapelle, 1491-93, Mainfränkisches Museum Würzburg, photo credit: Ulrich Kneise, Eisenach