Archive for the 'Family' Category

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

Underwater dreams

April 14 2015


“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.”


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.


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).


March 18 2015


George Clausen

Trafalgar Square 1879 continued further

March 2 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Bramley, Primrose Day, 1885

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

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

A Victorian

March 1 2015

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

Alfred Webster

Trafalgar Square 1879 continued

February 28 2015

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

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

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

Augustus Edwin Mulready, Little Flower Sellers

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

Trafalgar Square was the very “hub of creation”: McConkey cites AR Hope Moncrieff, London, A&C Black, 1910. Here’s the full passage in Moncrieff (1916 edition):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Winter Afternoon (1880), private collection

In the Street (1880), private collection

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

A Morning Walk (1881), private collection

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

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

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

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

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

William Logsdail, St Martin in the Fields

Logsdail, St Martin-in-the-Fields

Clausen, In the Street

Clausen, In the Street; she is carrying flowers


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

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

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

Old Clausen post: A universal face.

Trafalgar Square 1879

February 27 2015

The Flower Seller

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

Cameron and Churchill

January 30 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cameron asked the nation to tweet its favourite Churchill saying. I didn’t comply, but had I done, would have tweeted the end of his last major speech in the Commons, on March 1 1955, a few weeks before his resignation as prime minister:

“Never flinch, never weary, never despair”.

Moroni’s tailor

November 3 2014

Giovanni Battista Moroni, Il Tagliapanni

Giovanni Battista Moroni painted his noble tailor c 1565-70 in his native Albino. He worked only there and in Trent and Bergamo. An Ingres three centuries earlier.

Some have suggested that the tailor really was a nobleman. The greenish tinge to the face is in the original. He is wearing the very full, loose breeches known in English as galligaskins, which must have been ribbed or stuffed, and an undyed jacket.

National Gallery, London. Moroni at the RA, to January 25.

Vasari doesn’t mention Moroni in his Lives. Nor does Reynolds in his RA lectures. My great-grandfather, George Clausen, a Victorian who, like Reynolds, never mentioned Caravaggio, does mention him in his RA lectures. Moroni (like Velasquez, Lorenzo Lotto, Veronese, Frans Hals) followed the fine middle course which he himself tried to follow, between “the realism of externals” (bad painting in Clausen’s time) and “the realism of expression or character” (brought to a high level in their late works by Titian, Tintoretto, Rembrandt).

Below, Clausen’s portrait of Thomas Okey, Master of the Art Workers Guild in 1914, where one can perhaps see what he is aiming at. As in most of Moroni’s portraits, the background is grey. It has a fine sobriety. Clausen painted good portraits of craftsmen and family members (and, earlier, of rural workers) and a few dull ones of officials. Okey was from the East End and was helped by Toynbee Hall. He worked for thirty years not as a tailor, but as a basket-maker in Spitalfields, and rose to become, in 1919, when there was more social mobility than now, the first Professor of Italian at Cambridge.

Excuse cropping: best image I have.

George Clausen, Thomas Okey colour 2

Broken lights 2

November 2 2014

The spiritual weapons, plucked from an Hellenic charnel house, with which Modern Western Man had brought to the ground the Hildebrandine Respublica Christiana had been as destructive as the material weapons with which Cromwell’s soldiers had once shattered the west window of Winchester Cathedral.

“When ye shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the Prophet, standing where it ought not (let him that readeth understand), then let them that be in Judaea flee to the mountains.” [Footnote: Mark xiii. 14; cp. Matt. xxiv. 15-16.]

Nevertheless, there is a bow in the cloud. [Footnote: Gen. ix. 12-17.] At Winchester, on the morrow of the Puritan iconoclast’s deed, it must have looked as if a mighty work of Medieval Christian art had been utterly destroyed; and in truth it had been damaged beyond all possibility of reinstatement in its inimitable medieval pattern. Yet the broken and scattered fragments were pieced together again, by the piety of a later generation, in a labour of love that – sheer disorder though it might have suggested to the eye of the original artificer – was in truth a new pattern, [footnote: See Bergson’s exposition of the relativity of the concept of disorder in […] L’Evolution Créatrice, 24th ed. (Paris 1921, Alcan), pp. 239-55 […].] fraught with unpremeditated beauty and letting in unforeseen light in the sight of eyes open to the self-revelation of a God who makes all things new. [Footnote: Rev. xxi. 5.] A boy once watched, spell-bound, while this miracle of creation conjured out of destruction was being lit up by the level radiance of a setting summer sun; and a man could catch a glimpse of the spiritual meaning of this visual allegory as he recalled it in his mind’s eye in after-life, in the light of his generation’s experience of a forty years’ wandering in the wilderness. If the same sunlight could thus shine again through the same glass in a new pattern offering a fresh vision, might not the eternal and unchanging incorporeal light of the Beatific Vision again illuminate men’s souls in a society that had been broken and remade by the sufferings of a Time of Troubles?

Winchester west window

Flickr credit: Steven Vacher

Flickr: “A composition of 64 images, combined in Photoshop. The cathedral’s huge west window is made up of fragments of medieval glass put together randomly, in a manner something like pique assiette mosaic work. The original panes were deliberately destroyed by Cromwell’s forces following the outbreak of the Civil War in 1642. Soon after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, the broken glass was gathered up and used again.”

Was this done with any windows destroyed by bombs in the Second World War?

St Mary the Virgin, Isleworth

Religio lignarii (not the piece’s name): St Joseph the carpenter, St Mary the Virgin, Isleworth, north chapel east window, single light, by Thomas Derrick (my grandfather), 1954, glass and lead by Lowndes & Drury; chapel designed by HS Goodhart Rendel, built 1952-54; he had used TD in other churches

Flickr credit: Peter Moore (do not reuse)

A lost art.

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

Still lifes

October 1 2014

Would anyone go to a blockbuster still life exhibition? I would, even if by the end I longed to escape and hungered for a landscape or figure. It’s hard to find a book on still life, but it might be soothing to indulge oneself in something so limited. Still life, or it could equally be Roman Britain, the history of Australia, French tapestries or the Palliser novels.

Small differences would become important. And there’s a lost language of allegory and symbols to learn.

And seventeenth-century lemons, pomegranates, loaves and fish have more DNA, more layers of reality, than their etiolated supermarket descendants.

We rarely see a butcher (or butchery, as they call them in Africa), never mind abattoir. In the middle east, even urban families are about to start slaughtering animals in their own bathrooms for Eid al-Adha.

Joachim Beuckelaer, Kitchen scene with Jesus in the house of Martha and Mary

Joachim Beuckelaer (1533-75), Kitchen Scene with Jesus in the House of Martha and Mary (1566)

Jacopo da Empoli, Still Life

Jacopo da Empoli (1551-1640), Still Life (c 1625)

Luis Meléndez, Still Life with Apples, Grapes, Melons, Bread, Jug and Bottle

Luis Meléndez (1716-80), Still Life with Apples, Grapes, Melons, Bread, Jug and Bottle

Odilon Redon, Flowers

Odilon Redon (1840-1916), Flowers (1903)

George Clausen, Michaelmas Daisies and Cornflowers in a Jug

George Clausen (1852-1944), Michaelmas Daisies and Cornflowers in a Jug (1940), exuberant piece painted at the age of 88

The Chinese Pot (still life by Clausen, old post).

The Wanderer between the Two Worlds

August 18 2014

“A literary event of the first importance” used to be the publisher’s phrase. The first publication in English translation of Walter Flex’s First World War novella (the best-selling German novel of the whole war) Der Wanderer zwischen beiden Welten is of some importance.

It was published in Germany in 1916. Flex had been born in Thuringia. He died on the Eastern front. This wasn’t his only work (Wikipedia has a bibliography on its English and German pages). Its subtitle is Ein Kriegserlebnis, or An Experience of War. It is partly autobiographical and is narrated in the first person.

It was published in English on August 4 by Rott Publishing (with which I have an involvement). You can buy it here. The fine translation is by Brian Murdoch, who published the modern English translation of All Quiet on the Western Front with Random House. We are proud to have him with Rott.

“By 1917,” says Wikipedia, “over 700,000 copies had been printed in Germany – a testament to his extreme popularity with the wartime public. His reputation grew in the post-war years and his romantic idealism was exploited by the Nazi party, which found his evocative and romantic lyricism especially appealing and considered it an expression of Aryan ideals.” It was popular with the Nazis because of its glorification of the soldier’s struggle in war.

Murdoch’s source is a soft-cover edition with the imprint Oskar Beck (C. H. Beck), Munich, 1922 (210-215th thousand)”, a reprint of “the most familiar edition, that published in Munich by Beck in 1918 and in very many later editions, and which sold in their thousands in hard covers and paperback”. Statements which, I suppose, are not necessarily incompatible with Wikipedia’s.

Without the hint of a spoiler, or links to one, I can say that it is about a friendship between two German soldiers who meet in Lorraine in 1915. In the same year, having expected to go to an Italian front, they are transferred to the Eastern front. Places in the Baltic States, Poland, Belarus are mentioned. The action ends in 1916 in Lithuania.

It isn’t repulsive, but is full of the sentiments of its time and of what one might call that terrible German purity of heart. The Japanese had something similar. Strip away the culture and all you have is young people in a war and ordinary purity of heart.

Murdoch translates Der Wanderer zwischen beiden Welten as The Wanderer between the Two Worlds, not as The Wanderer between Two Worlds, because beiden implies that the two worlds have been identified. (We are speaking of both worlds, not any two worlds.) But it might, by that very reasoning, have been more natural to drop the article.

So what are the two worlds? That would be a spoiler. Nor is it entirely clear. Anyone who has heard a rumour that this is a gay novella will assume that the wanderer between them is a Uranian. He isn’t. We aren’t in the world of Magnus Hirschfeld.

The book has many references to the Wandervogel (singular). Wanderer is a potent word. Young Romantic Germans wandered in the forests with a book held open in front of them. There’s a Hölderlin elegy called Der Wanderer. A German car made from 1911 to ’45 was called the Wanderer. An Anglo-Saxon poem, The Wanderer, sounds ripe for Schubert as you read it.

Flex quotes Goethe (who wrote two poems called Wandrers Nachtlied) and his own verses. The main Flex poem is Wildgänse rauschen durch die Nacht, Wild geese rush through the night. The geese are a leitmotif in the novella.

In 1916 Robert Götz set this poem to music as a march. Here it is on YouTube. I suppose this is repulsive. (The words were later changed to remove a reference to the Kaiser.) After writing this, I tested the song on someone who had grown up in the Nazizeit. She recognised it, but didn’t want to hear more than the first few seconds.

Remarque alluded to Flex’s novel in a sequel to All Quiet on the Western Front. Murdoch:

“Of the Weimar anti-war novelists, Remarque alluded, I think quite deliberately, in his far less familiar sequel to All Quiet on the Western Front, a novel called Der Weg zurück (The Road Back, 1931), to Flex’s motif of the wild geese and to the Wandervogel youth movement. In fact Remarque concludes his second war-novel – written not too long before Hitler came to power – with some almost elegiac regrets on the part of some ex-soldiers that the more or less harmless pre-war movement of which Flex was such a great proponent, with its quasi-ecological brand of (fairly local) patriotism, had been replaced already in the immediate post-war years by the new and belligerent right-wing militaristic movements from the Freikorps down, eventually, to the Hitler Youth, and of course to another war.”

Murdoch: “Flex’s scenes of the actual fighting can be vivid, but there is always a feeling that they have been sanitised, and his heroes die too cleanly.”

The only reference to Jews is in relation to a wish for death for the nation rather than ignoble life: “Do you wish to drag with you a prolonged existence, like the Wandering Jew, unable to die, the whipping-boy of all the newly arisen nations, even though he had buried the Egyptians, the Greeks and the Romans?” But one wouldn’t necessarily expect Jewish references here.

We have the translation of the novella, then an Afterword about Walter and Walter’s death in action in Estonia in October 1917 written by his brother Martin, who signs his piece “On the battlefield, November 1917”. What battlefield, what was Martin Flex doing there, and what happened to him?

Walter’s younger (youngest?) brother Otto had been killed on the Marne at the start of the war.

After Martin’s statement comes a lucid essay by Brian Murdoch and his notes on the translation and on further reading. His essay places the novella in the context of other novels written during and after the war and of diaries and letters written during it.

Part of the rich literature produced by the citizen armies of the First World War was their letters and diaries. My own German grandfather wrote pious and patriotic letters, some of which I hope to publish here. Walter Flex’s novella partly reflects that informal literature.

The soldiers were conscious, as soldiers must always have been, of the nature around them as they fought, distracting them, perhaps subverting their will. The chaos of war nothing to the riot of Pan. There is something of this in War and Peace. Nature is omnipresent in this novella. There are many passages of lyrical beauty. The pastoral theme is present in English poetry of the war. Vaughan Williams’s quiet, tense A Pastoral Symphony is a musical memory of wartime France, not of peacetime England.

Our cover image varies a motif which appeared on the cover of the early Beck editions.

Rott cover

Marcham Priory 2

July 27 2014

Marcham Priory

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

Marcham Priory 2

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

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

Marcham Priory

July 26 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roland Hill and Lord Acton

July 24 2014

Hill, Acton cover

Portrait by Franz Seraph von Lenbach, c 1879

Roland Hill

Portrait by Peter Rauter

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Marcham Priory, Oxon’”


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

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

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

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

Acton family tree.

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

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

New truths about nature

April 4 2014

“Yours has been a noble life dedicated to art and teaching us new truths about nature every year you have lived.”

Muirhead Bone, whom Kenneth Clark, in his autobiography, called “the greatest virtuoso of architectural drawing since Piranesi except, perhaps, for Meryon”, to George Clausen (last post), June 16 1943.

Allotments, Evening


September Morning, The Fields

The Houses at the Back, Frosty Morning

(c) Mrs Jane Smith; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Clark himself wrote to Clausen on D-Day proposing a retrospective of his work at the National Gallery. It never happened. The first proper retrospective took place in 1980 (last post).

Top to bottom:

Allotments: Evening, RA 1928. Lost December 16 1929 when SS Manuka sank off New Zealand en route from Melbourne to Wellington. RA Collections, silver gelatin print given by Hugh Clausen, the artist’s son, 1970.

Hoeing, lithograph, c 1895.

September Morning: the Fields, c 1928, Crawford Municipal Art Gallery, Cork, Ireland.

The Houses at the Back: Frosty Morning, RA 1913, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Photograph I think from The Studio.

The Valley, RA 1915, Leeds City Art Gallery.

Oils except for Hoeing.

Tony Benn and The Building of Britain

April 3 2014

Tristram Hunt in his Benn lecture (last post) quotes from a chapter called How I Became a Philistine! in Benn’s Dare to be a Daniel:

“During my childhood and growing up no attempt was made to develop the artistic, musical and literary side of life.”

I had an encounter with Benn which suggested that. The magazine Artists and Illustrators interviewed him for its March 2006 issue to ask him about a favourite painting. He chose one by my great-grandfather. The Wikipedia article on George Clausen isn’t very good, so that is a link to one of my own posts.

The English People Reading Wycliffe’s English Bible, by Sir George Clausen. It’s part of a series of murals entitled The Building of Britain that were commissioned for St Stephen’s Hall in the Palace of Westminster and painted in 1926-27. I think it was my father who pointed out the original to me, when I first visited St Stephen’s Hall in 1937. I passed it regularly after I was first elected as an MP in 1950. I have two copies of it, one of which hangs in my bedroom.” I once had it in mine.

“On the surface it looks like a peaceful rural scene, but when you look closely you realise it tells the story of a group of people – a lawyer, some women and farm workers, one of whom is looking out in case they are spotted – meeting in secret to listen to a reading of the Bible. In the 14th century it was a criminal offence to read the Bible, which was then a revolutionary document, if you were not a priest.

“The painting reminds me of things that are important today. Moses, Jesus, Mohammed and Buddha all taught us how to lead our lives in peace, but the painting symbolises how a religious group that gets control can use their power to kill and persecute others – Guy Fawkes, for example, whose 400th anniversary was in 2005, was protesting against the persecution of Catholics.

“[…] Any one of the people in the painting, if they were caught, could have been burnt at the stake. In my view it’s rather like the Terrorism Act today – anyone thought of being [sic] a Muslim extremist will he held in prison without a trial. […]

“I am not a great collector of art, but I do have various things that people have sent me. The Yorkshire miners gave me one of their banners, which hangs in my back corridor. On it are the words ‘Out of the darkness cometh light and heat’. [Source?] It’s a reminder that the coal that keeps us warm and lights us comes from the depths of the earth. I find it very moving and that’s the sort of thing I like.

“I rarely dip into art galleries and don’t claim to be an art critic but I have put up quite a few things in the House of Commons. I put up a plaque in a broom cupboard to mark the place where a suffragette called Emily Wilding Davison [post here] hid on the night of the census in 1911. She wanted to be able to say that she lived in the House of Commons to make her point about women’s right to the vote.

“Something else I like is a statue of Lord Falkland, again in St Stephen’s Hall. One of his spurs got broken off after a suffragette [Marjory Hume in 1909] chained herself to it […] it is the social, historical and political interest in art that I find useful. […]”

He might have been interested to know that a suffragette named Maude Smith, alias Mary Spencer, attacked a Clausen painting, a nude called Primavera, as it hung in the Royal Academy in the early summer of 1914. Clausen supervised its repair and then it disappeared from public view and knowledge until last November, when it was auctioned in Connecticut. It will probably turn up soon, close to the centenary of its first hanging, in a more important auction in London.


St Stephen’s Hall is the neo-Gothic public approach to the public Central Lobby which separates the two Houses. It stands on the site of the royal Chapel of St Stephen’s, where the House of Commons sat until the Chapel was destroyed by the fire of 1834.

The only structures of the old Palace of Westminster to survive the fire were Westminster Hall (old post), the cloisters of St Stephen’s, the chapel of St Mary Undercroft and the Jewel Tower. The Queen gave permission for Benn’s body to lie (not “in state”) in St Mary Undercroft on the eve of his funeral.

In 1843 Sir Charles Barry suggested that panels be commissioned for St Stephen’s Hall on events in British history. Daniel Maclise was approached in 1857, but nothing resulted. Both sides of the Hall were lined then with marble statues of statesmen. Are any still there? Where did they go?

In 1909 work started on a scheme directed by the Royal Academy. One painting was completed by Andrew Carrick Gow (Speaker Finch Held in His Chair by Holles and Valentine, 1629) and was hung in 1912. By 1924 only two more had been added, by Seymour Lucas and Frank Salisbury. Of what, and where are they now? Presumably none were real murals.

In 1925 the Speaker, John Henry Whitley, proposed a new series and spoke to Salisbury and to Frank Dicksee, President of the Royal Academy. Sir David Young Cameron was appointed to find eight artists.

It was to be called The Building of BritainSir Henry NewboltGM Trevelyan (whose first book had been about Wycliffe), AF Pollard and others advised on the history. A working committee included the Speaker, Lord Peel, the First Commissioner of Works, Lord Crawford, the Chairman of the Fine Arts Commission and Newbolt.

The eventual series:

Colin GillKing Alfred’s long-ships, newly built for defence of the realm, attack vessels of the Danish invaders storm-beaten in Swanage Bay. 877.

Glyn PhilpotKing Richard the First, afterwards called Cœur de Lion, leaves England with an expeditionary force, to join the Crusade in Palestine for the recovery of Jerusalem from the Saracens. Dec. 11. 1189.

Charles SimsKing John confronted by his Barons assembled in force at Runnymede gives unwilling consent to Magna Carta, the foundation of justice and individual freedom in England. 1215.

George ClausenEnglish people, in spite of prosecution for heresy, persist in gathering secretly to read aloud Wycliffe’s English Bible.

Vivian ForbesSir Thomas More, as speaker of the Commons, in spite of Cardinal Wolsey’s imperious demand, refuses to grant King Henry the Eighth a subsidy without due debate by the House. 1523.

Alfred Kingsley LawrenceQueen Elizabeth, the Fairie Queen of her Knights and Merchant Venturers, commissions Sir Walter Raleigh to sail for America and discover new countries.

William RothensteinSir Thomas Roe, envoy from King James the First of England to the Moghul Emperor, succeeds, by his mingled courtesy and firmness at the Court of the Ajmir, in laying the foundation of British Influence in India. 1614.

Walter Thomas MonningtonThe English and Scottish Commissioners present to Queen Anne at St James’s Palace the Articles of Agreement for the Parliamentary Union of the two countries. 1707.

The original choice for the last had been William Orpen.

Two of the painters, Philpot and Rothenstein, also did portraits of the Speaker.

Donors were found for each of the works. The donor for the Clausen was the Duke of Portland.

The pictures were large canvases in wooden mounts set into stone bays, not strictly murals, but in part the product of a revived interest between the wars, not only in Britain, in mural painting. It had pre-1914 roots, and in England pre-Raphaelite roots. The fresco colours of medieval wall painting, applied with the pre-oil medium of tempera, were imitated in oil. My grandfather owned magnificent volumes by EW Tristram on English Medieval Wall Painting which were like buildings themselves.

McConkey calls the series an “imperialist fanfare”, but it was that grafted onto a domestic constitutional fanfare. The sense of “the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire” was powerful between 1918 and 1945, and was sharpest when Churchill used those words in 1940.

“Mingled courtesy and firmness.” Thus might the British have described their conduct abroad. Alla marcia quasi andante. Through courtesy and firmness they chanced upon their Empire.

King George V and Queen Mary were given a private view of The Building of Britain on June 26 1927.

Stanley Baldwin unveiled the eight paintings with one pull of a cord on June 28. He declared that Clausen’s canvas represented “… the incident fullest of imagination and possibilities for the future of any of the pictures which we have here today”. The Times, June 29. McConkey speaks of platitudes, but surely Baldwin was thinking of the fragility of freedom and parliamentary democracy in Europe. (Toynbee quotes from a speech by him in the Albert Hall on December 4 1924 on that. See 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, 1925.)

“At the end of the ceremony Mr. Baldwin announced that the King, in honour of the occasion, had been pleased to confer a knighthood on Mr. George Clausen, R.A., as representing the artists concerned in the work.” In the illustrations on the back page are the Philpot and the Clausen and a recent Clausen self-portrait.

Clausen was knighted at Buckingham Palace on July 7.


Herbert Furst reviewed the series in ApolloThe Building of Britain, With the Speaker in St Stephen’s Hall, Vol 6, No 33, September 1927.

Benn would have agreed with Furst’s “Pictures should have a concrete relation to life”.

Furst was buffeted by a crowd which had come to see the paintings. It was a Saturday and the House was not in session. As he was making notes, the policeman in the Hall asked him: “Which is the best picture here?” Furst equivocated, but the constable pointed a finger at the fourth, The English people, in spite of prosecution for heresy, persist in gathering secretly to read aloud Wycliffe’s English Bible, then walked away and came back with the Speaker.

“This was an unexpected honour and good fortune, for the Speaker was, in Sir Henry Newbolt’s words [where?], ‘the initiator and sympathetic director of the whole scheme.’”

“I ventured to comment on the fact that all the subjects seemed remote and hardly in contact with the present at any point. In reply to this criticism Mr. Whitley told me that the committee […] had […] decided that the eight subjects should illustrate eight main incidents symbolic of the building of Britain. First comes the beginning of the British Navy [under Alfred, defending us against Vikings]; next expansion of power [Third Crusade]; then the foundation of the British constitution based on individual liberty [Magna Carta]; after this the freedom of religious faith [Wycliffe]; then the control by the people of the purse of the nation [More as Speaker]; then the beginning of colonial enterprise [Raleigh in the Americas], and thereafter the spirit in which England deals with an ancient civilization ‘destined to mingle with ours under a constitution unexampled elsewhere’ [Thomas Roe with the Mughals]; and, finally, the union of ‘our two nations at home’.” (Speaker’s words?)

“[…] The Speaker assured me that Mr. George Trevelyan, the historian, had described the pictures as historically unexceptionable and, if I remember rightly, had pronounced the hall as now the most beautiful in Europe. We then discussed the medium in which the pictures are painted and its durability. And here I record with satisfaction Mr. Whitely’s statement: ‘No, the paintings will not be glazed. We think it is better that they should last a hundred years and be enjoyed during that time by all who come to see them, than that they should be for ever under glass and be enjoyed by no one. A future generation may have some other pictures when these have perished.’” They were worried about their exposure to crowds. There was nothing wrong with the medium, oil.

“‘Many people,’ he continued, ‘are rather startled by the bright positive colours, but they are in keeping with the decoration of medieval churches; and although this particular building is not ancient, it is in the Gothic style, and stands upon the old crypt and exactly follows the outline of the old chapel.’ […]

“Coming now to the critical part of my duty, I must confess that the first impression of the pictures is: plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” Conservatism, perhaps, but sameness? The Sims is out of place and does not have the “static quality” necessary in a mural. The Gill combines “a certain restlessness in design with a timidity in draughtsmanship” which comes from a lack of confidence in the project, not of skill. In the Philpot, on the other hand, “there is […] an unexpected stiffness and staginess, and a lack of linear rhythm. But this picture keeps its place, like Mr. Gill’s, and is, moreover, relieved by some quite enchanting detail […].” “The Forbes is – of the paintings we have so far considered – the best. Mr. Forbes has cleverly utilized the Holbein portraits, and there is dramatic action without staginess.” “Professor W. Rothenstein has also had recourse to contemporary documents, Moghul illuminations to wit […].” “Mr. A. K. Lawrence had obviously the frescoes of the Italian Quattrocento in his mind […] and has admirably succeeded in his task.” Monnington, the youngest in the group, is only twenty-four. His painting is still unfinished, but promises to be one of the most successful.

“Sir George Clausen is the doyen of the team, and all things considered one must agree with the aforementioned policeman that his picture is the best of the series. It has its faults: it is not unexceptionable qua illustration, for there is really no secrecy at all about this meeting in the open, which could easily be espied from the tower of the little church in the delightful distance. Nor can one honestly say that the grouping is free from staginess. Against this, however, must be set its overwhelming merits. It is simple in arrangement; each of the four times three figures can be easily seen, and each, particularly the charming maid in the centre, is worth looking at. The landscape setting is of singular beauty; the treatment of the foreground, the care bestowed upon each little flower and plant, deeply moving. The colour-scheme, but for its one brilliant red note in the cloak of the man, is cool and reticent. The linear rhythm is most satisfying. The picture, as a whole, sits comfortably on the wall, though it is by no means a flat pattern. For this picture alone, not counting his long and honourable career as a virile protagonist of English painting, Sir George deserved his knighthood.”

The Times, anon, St Stephen’s Hall – The New Mural Paintings – An Artistic Unity, June 28, praised the picture’s “architectural stability of design, depth of sentiment, and […] full interpretation of the national character in the lovely landscape.” The reviewer again finds the Sims below the level of the others. (I find it quite interesting, especially in the context of his other late paintings.)

Frank Rutter (a champion of the suffragettes) agreed with Furst and with the policeman and wrote in Art in My Time, Rich and Cowan, 1933:

“Justice would demand homage to Sir George Clausen, that Grand Old Man of English painting, who when nearing eighty had so clear an eye and so steady a hand that he could conceive and execute his Wycliffe panel in firmer line and in fresher and younger colour than any of his juniors could attain. For sheer beauty the Clausen must be awarded the palm.”


Clausen had had some experience in mural painting in 1918-19, when he painted four lunettes for a house near Huddersfield. He had experimented with a mural-like scale in his canvases before the war.

His Wycliffe studies are mainly at the RA: you can see the design evolving. Artists were required to submit studies for approval. A monk appears in some of them.

The final caption does not include a date. It had been commissioned as The Wycliffe Bible read in secret meetings, 1390. By the time the full scheme was presented to the Commons in January 1926, 1390 had been revised to 1400-1430, in order to relate the picture to the Heresy Act of 1401.

On the Lollards, see letters patent of 1382 of Richard II, the Heresy Act 1401 (De heretico comburendo) of Henry IV and the Heresy Act 1414 of Henry V. The 1401 Act was repealed under Henry VIII (1533, or 1534 Act of Supremacy?), the others under Edward VI; all three were revived under Mary and repealed again under Elizabeth in the Act of Supremacy 1559.

While completing the painting (with help from his daughter Kitty), Clausen was called in as a caretaker Keeper of the Royal Academy Schools following the sudden departure of Charles Sims. Sims killed himself in the following year.

McConkey: “The scene opens out to an idealized English summer derived from Clausen’s deep immersion in the fields around Tilty and Clavering [in Essex].”

In several early paintings, the “one brilliant red note” had been the neckerchief of a peasant.

Furst is right about the absence of any feeling of secrecy. Clausen could paint the drama of nature, and the drama of field workers struggling with heat, wind or rain. Political and psychological drama were outside his range.

There are older pictures by William Frederick Yeames, painter of “And when did you last see your father?”, perhaps at the Suter Art Gallery in New Zealand, of Wycliffe giving copies of his Bible to his followers; and by Ford Madox Brown of The Trial of Wycliffe, A.D. 1377, a mural in Manchester Town Hall in which Wycliffe is defended by John of Gaunt, while Chaucer, another protégé of Gaunt, acts as recorder.


Benn grew up on Millbank, next to the Tate Gallery, but the family never went inside.

As I read the magazine piece, I thought: “I bet he doesn’t know that the artist who painted this favourite painting of his also painted his grandfather.”

If he had heard of a portrait somewhere in the collections of the defunct LCC and GLC, I was sure he had not connected it with the painter of the panel in St Stephen’s Hall. There was nothing about it on the internet then, certainly no image.

It is, I now know, in the Guildhall Art Gallery. It’s not bad, but official portraits did not bring out the best in Clausen. He painted fine ones of peasants early in his career and of family members and higher craftsmen of one sort or another later.

Bored at work, I rang the House of Commons. The switchboard answered instantly, with no menu. A man, without apparent searching and without asking questions, gave me a number which was Benn’s home.

Benn had, after all, retired in 2001 (“to devote more time to politics”). The Data Protection Act had been passed in 1998. Was this ease of access because the House of Commons still had proper rules for a democracy or because Benn had given special instructions?

He answered immediately. “Astonishing! I had no idea! I must look it up.”

As to the Wycliffe painting, “I thought it was eighteenth century!”

Was I disabusing him of that idea then and there or had the magazine already done so? They had probably edited the dates into his remarks after interviewing him.

I asked whether he remembered my uncle Paul Derrick. He said he remembered him well. Paul, a Christian Socialist and an unremitting lobbyist for the Cooperative movement, shared with Benn a strong consciousness of his own archive, but Benn’s, I think, was more organised. I thought Paul had sent his papers – tomato-trays full of typescripts, cuttings and pamphlets – to New Lanark itself, but some of them, I see, are at the Bishopsgate Institute in London.


This isn’t the only Clausen in a legislature. In 1918, Lord Beaverbook’s Canadian War Memorials Fund (established November 1916) commissioned eight artists to paint scenes in France and Flanders. The paintings are now in the Senate chamber in Ottawa. Were they originally intended for it or for a war museum?

Edgar Bundy. Landing of the First Canadian Division at Saint-Nazaire, 1915.

Algernon Talmage. A mobile veterinary unit in France.

Leonard RichmondRailway construction in France.

James Kerr-LawsonArras, the dead city.

Clare Atwood. On leave.

James Kerr-Lawson. The Cloth Hall, Ypres.

William Rothenstein. The watch on the Rhine.

George Clausen. Returning to the reconquered land.

Clausen was expected to paint agriculture behind the lines. Having recovered from influenza, he set out on January 28 1919 to visit the snow-covered battlefields of Arras, Bapaume, Cambrai and Lens, and returned on February 7. The visit affected him. The large picture which he eventually painted showed a line of refugees returning through the snow to their homes after the Armistice.

McConkey: “A young mother, wrapped in a shawl and carrying an infant calls to a girl in a red scarf [another “brilliant red note”] at the front of the cart, gesturing towards an elderly woman who has slumped down in the snow. Melodrama was not his forte. In other hands, this incident might be played to effect, but here it merely passes with the flow of humanity. When shown in Canada [at an exhibition of war paintings] in 1920, the picture was associated with Frederick Varley’s Some day the people will return, a complementary picture of a [French] war-torn graveyard [which] carried the caption: ‘Some day the people will return to their village which is not; they will look for their little church which is not; and they will go to the cemetery and look for their own dead, and even they are not – in a land pounded and churned and poisoned, that once was fertile and rich with golden grain and good things for the welfare of the race.’”

Clausen’s canvas was despatched to Canada on March 26.


Britain had no propaganda department at the war’s outbreak. A War Propaganda Bureau was established at Wellington House under Charles Masterman in 1914, but for most of the war responsibility for propaganda was divided between various agencies. The Bureau turned into the Department of Information in 1917 and a Ministry of Information in 1918, the last under Beaverbrook.

In 1917 the Department of Information commissioned nine artists to produce six lithographs each on aspects of the war “Effort”, and a further twelve to produce a single image (or “up to twelve”, McConkey) representing the “Ideals” for which the war was fought. Clausen’s son-in-law, Thomas Derrick, an instructor at the Royal College of Art, was in charge of the series, having been assigned to assist Masterman at Wellington House. It belonged to the initiatives which, it was hoped, would bring the US into the war.

Clausen’s Efforts were six monochrome lithographs called Making Guns. His Ideal lithograph was The Reconstruction of Belgium, which contained no more drama than the Canadian painting.

A War Memorial Committee was formed by the Ministry of Information on the Canadian model to give out more substantial commissions. Derrick set strict briefs which discouraged artistic fantasy. Derrick’s own mural-like American troops at Southampton embarking for the Western front, 1918 (Imperial War Museum, oil) certainly had the “static quality” which Furst misses in Sims, and perhaps the “lack of linear rhythm” which he finds in Philpot.

The Committee commissioned the large and sonorous In the Gun Factory at Woolwich Arsenal from Clausen in 1918 (Imperial War Museum, oil). It was intended for a large Hall of Remembrance which was never built. Clausen based it on one of his Efforts lithographs.

A later Derrick from this time was Canadian troops crossing the Rhine. Its history is obscure, at least to me. Could it have been rejected for the Senate? It was shown in Canada in an unfinished state (why?) at the same exhibition of war paintings that showed Returning to the Reconquered Land. What happened to it after that? I have only ever seen one photograph of it and don’t have it to hand. The 1st Battalion, 1st Canadian Division, crossed by the Suspension Bridge at Cologne on December 3 1918. The twin spires of the cathedral made a pattern with the Canadian bayonets.


Westminster behind Closed Doors, 50-minute BBC documentary by Benn on the 700th anniversary of Parliament, defined not as the Parliament of Simon de Montfort, unrecognised by Henry III, but as the Model Parliament of Edward I:

1995 seems a long time ago here. Can one imagine anything as eccentric, as expert, as light-hearted and as deep done about the German Bundestag? This is in a fine tradition of English documentary-making and institution-exploring.

Benn mentions (without naming the artists) the Clausen and the Philpot.

He calls the Third Crusade the First Gulf War because it was a war between Christianity and Islam. Leaving aside the things wrong with that statement, he makes a comment which was wise in 1995, if not quite accurate in what it foresaw: “Unless we are very careful the religious war between Christianity and Islam will curse the next generation as the Cold War did the last.”

It was provoked by the assertion in that year by Willy Claes, Secretary-General of NATO, that the new threat to the West, with the passing of Communism, was Islam.

A dreary BBC radio series some years ago explored the art of Parliament as something dusty and oppressive. But I can see no reason why the walls of St Stephen’s Hall should not be covered in 2025 with a new series. Would Speaker Whitley not have given that idea his blessing? The old paintings could be rolled up whether they have perished or not and kept in an archive or preserved digitally. Digitisation and holograms can be our liberation from monuments. If a series were commissioned now, it would be about immigration.

McConkey does not mention the Benn accounts I refer to, but another, in this footnote:

“For its insistence on ‘the right to read what you wanted to read’ the [Wycliffe] picture has been a seminal influence on the thinking of the Labour politician Tony Benn. He stated in 2006, ‘I … have a copy of it at home and draw comfort from the courage of those who have risked their lives by defying the law as the only way to enjoy the freedom in which they believed passionately’ (The Guardian Magazine, 2 September 2006, p.78.).”

I can’t find a good colour image of the Wycliffe painting. I once gave up doing a Clausen blog because I wasn’t happy with the way scans were coming out or how I could adjust them.

In the Hall, front right; Flickr, source lost:

St Stephen's Hall

Royal Academy Collections, silver gelatin print with pencil doodling, given by Hugh Clausen, the artist’s son, 1970:

Clausen, Wycliffe

“McConkey” here refers to Kenneth McConkey, George Clausen and the Picture of English Rural Life, Atelier Books, 2012; or his catalogue for the Clausen exhibition organised in 1980 by Bradford Art Galleries and Museums and Tyne and Wear County Council Museums and held at Cartwright Hall, Bradford; Royal Academy, London; Bristol City Art Gallery; Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

On Thomas Derrick’s war work, see also Meirion and Susie Harries, The War Artists, Michael Joseph, 1983.

Old post:

London in 1927.

Cotton pickers

February 17 2014


Similar to image yesterday and to others by George Clausen here.

Cotton, not swedes. Mississippi, perhaps, not Hertfordshire. I know nothing about this picture, but am guessing early or mid-1880s. Clausen used photography in preparing his outdoor paintings circa 1882 to ’84.

Winter Work 2

February 16 2014

Brahms, String Quintet 2 in G. Quartet with extra viola. Performers not stated. Clausen painting. Better image. Music 1890, painting 1883-84.

Winter Work (old post).

Winter Work

February 3 2014

Brahms, String Quintet 1 in F. Quartet with extra viola. Performers not stated. Clausen painting, so this gets in. Would anyway. Better image. Music 1882, painting 1883-84.

April 27 1945

September 22 2013

Hartmann’s piano sonata called 27. April 1945. See this recent post about the Munich composer. In German on first page of score (quotation via Schott):

“On 27 and 28 April 1945 an endless stream of Dachau ‘prisoners of war’ trudged past us – unending was the stream – unending was the misery – unending was the sorrow”

Am 27. und 28. April 1945 schleppte sich ein Menschenstrom von Dachauer ‘Schutzhäftlingen’ an uns vorrüber – unendlich war der Strom – unendlich war das Elend – unendlich war das Leid

Siegfried Mauser, pianist. Afro Basaldella, artwork. TheWelleszCompany, uploader.

Dachau in this post refers to the camp, not the town, unless otherwise stated.

Himmler had opened Dachau in March 1933 to hold Communists, Socialists and similar enemies of the state. Later, the Nazis began to send ordinary German Jews there. In the early years, Jewish prisoners were offered permission to emigrate if they “voluntarily” gave their property to the state. Austrian and Czech prisoners started arriving in 1938, Poles in 1940. Poles were the majority when Dachau was liberated.

At least 160,000 prisoners passed through the main camp, 90,000 through the sub-camps. Incomplete records indicate that at least 32,000 of the inmates died at Dachau and its sub-camps, but countless more were shipped to extermination camps elsewhere.

Bergen-Belsen (Lower Saxony), Buchenwald (Thuringia), Dachau (Bavaria) and Theresienstadt (Sudetenland, now Czech Republic) were concentration camps. Auschwitz (Upper Silesia, now Poland) and Treblinka (northeast of Warsaw) were extermination camps.

Late 1944: as Allied forces advanced toward Germany, the Germans began to move prisoners from concentration camps near the fronts, hoping to prevent their liberation. Transports from the evacuated camps arrived at Dachau. After days of travel with little or no food or water, the prisoners were weak and exhausted and often near death. Typhus epidemics became a serious problem.

April 27 1945: 7,000 prisoners, mostly Jews, were forced in turn to begin a death march from Dachau to Tegernsee, far to the south, where the SS had built defences against American forces advancing from Bad Tölz.

Similar death marches had happened elsewhere: Himmler had ordered the evacuation of Auschwitz in January 1945, requiring camp commanders to make sure that “not a single prisoner from the concentration camps falls alive into the hands of the enemy”. On January 17, 58,000 Auschwitz prisoners left under guard, mostly on foot. Thousands of them died in the subsequent death march west. About 20,000 Auschwitz prisoners made it to Bergen-Belsen, where they were liberated by the British in April 1945.

April 28 1945: many SS guards abandoned Dachau.

April 29: the US Seventh Army’s 45th Infantry Division entered Dachau after a brief battle with the remaining guards. Nearby, the Americans found more than thirty railway carriages filled with bodies in various states of decomposition. Inside were more bodies and 30,000 survivors, most severely emaciated. Some of the American troops were so appalled by the conditions that they machine-gunned at least two groups of captured German guards. The German citizens of the town of Dachau were later forced to bury 9,000 dead inmates.

Hitler committed suicide on April 30. The German Instrument of Surrender was signed on May 7.

After the surrender, Dachau held SS soldiers awaiting trial.

After 1948, it held ethnic Germans who had been expelled from eastern Europe and were awaiting resettlement.

For a time, Dachau was an American military base. It was closed in 1960. It is hard to believe that it was used at all after April 29 1945.

In the early summer of 1970, I stayed with a family called Pscheidt at 99 (or was it 199?) Dachauer Straße in Munich in a school exchange (with the Rupprecht-Gymnasium). The father was a policeman. I think one or both parents were Sudeten Germans (or was the father Sudeten and the mother Czech?), and perhaps they had been resettled via Dachau. Googling tells me that the son, Edgar (with whom I have had absolutely no subsequent contact, and if it is he), has actually worked for the Sudetendeutsches Archiv and has written papers on refugees in post-war Bavaria. For example, Als Flüchtling in Bayern: Zwischen Integration, Auswanderung und Rückkehr in Zeitschrift für bayerische Landesgeschichte, Band 53, 1990.

Regensburg, to the northeast, on April 27; no explanation or sound:

Another piano sonata: 1.X.1905 (old post).


July 24 2013

The miracle by which Life enters into its Kingdom […] is described by the Hellenic mythology in the parable of Pygmalion’s statue, and portrayed by our Western art in Watts’s picture of Chaos. In the Hellenic myth, a piece of marble turns to human flesh and blood in response to the prayer of a sculptor who has fallen in love with the creature of his own creative hands.

The Pygmalion story is in Ovid, Metamorphoses, Book X. The Cypriot sculptor had offered his prayer to Venus.

In Watts’s Chaos, huge figures of titans are pictured in the act of shaking themselves free from the frame of their Mother Earth. They are still clay of her clay – glowing-red forms of one earthy substance and one fiery heat with the glowing-red landscape. Some of them are drowsily stirring in a flux of volcanic flames; others, wholly liberated and fully come alive, are leaning, stupefied, upon the Earth-Mother’s breast. But we know that in a moment – the moment after this which the artist has caught in his vision – these giants will surely rise to their feet and then stride forward over land and sea. We know it because already, on the peaks of the mountains, the grim chthonic glow is turning miraculously into the ethereal flush of dawn; and because, down here in the shadow, unhurried but unhindered, there floats or dances through Space and Time a living chain of Goddesses, hand linked in hand: the endless procession of the Hours.

The Hours represent the establishment of measurable time and space.

We forget that in 1880 Watts was the most revered figure in British art, a British Michelangelo. He died in 1904. See, to return to a thread in this blog, George Clausen’s The Art of G.F. Watts RA, OM, A Lecture Delivered in the Town Hall, Manchester on 31 May 1905, Sheratt and Hughes, 1905, delivered the year after Chesterton published his book.

Watts, Chaos

GF Watts, Chaos, Tate Britain, c 1875-82

A Study of History, Vol III, OUP, 1934

Scandinavian unions

June 29 2013

1.  Kalmar Union (Norway, Sweden, Denmark), 1397-1523

The three Scandinavian kingdoms – Denmark, Norway, Sweden – were united in 1397 in the Kalmar Union. This is really the name of an intermittent series of personal unions that lasted until 1523. Denmark was the dominant partner and supplied the monarchs, but met resistance from Norway and Sweden.

2.  Dano-Norwegian Union, 1536-1814

Sweden left the Kalmar Union under Gustav Vasa in 1523 and went its own way. Civil war broke out in Denmark and Norway. The Reformation followed. The kingdoms of Denmark and Norway then entered into a personal union in 1536 which lasted until 1814. Denmark was again the dominant partner. Norway kept separate laws, coinage and army and some other institutions.

3.  Swedish-Norwegian Union, 1814-1905

The Dano-Norwegian Union was dissolved at the Treaty of Kiel (1814). Norway’s overseas possessions since pre-Kalmar days – Iceland, Greenland, the Faroes – were kept by Denmark (Shetland and Orkney had been ceded to Scotland in 1471). The territory of Norway proper was ceded to the King of Sweden. Norwegian resistance to the prospect of union with Sweden induced the governor of Norway, Crown Prince Christian Frederick (later Christian VIII of Denmark), to call a constituent assembly at Eidsvoll, which drew up a liberal constitution and elected him to the throne. Sweden invaded. The peace conditions specified that king Christian Frederick had to abdicate, but Norway was to keep its independence and constitution within a personal union with Sweden. Christian Frederick returned to Denmark. The assembly elected Charles XIII of Sweden king of Norway (November 4). The Union was dissolved in 1905. Denmark supplied Norway with the missing monarch. Prince Charles of Denmark was elected king of Norway under the name of Haakon VII and reigned until 1957.

4.  Scandinavism, c 1840-


5.  Dano-Icelandic Union, 1918-44

Iceland was already part of Denmark, but the Danish-Icelandic Act of Union, signed on December 1 1918 and valid for twenty-five years, recognised Iceland as a sovereign Kingdom in personal union with Denmark. After the German occupation of Denmark on April 9 1940, the Icelandic Althing replaced the King with a regent and declared that the Icelandic government would assume the control of foreign affairs and other matters previously handled by Denmark. A month later, the British invaded, violating Icelandic neutrality. In 1941, the occupation was taken over by the US so that Britain could use its troops elsewhere, an arrangement reluctantly agreed to by the Icelandic authorities. On December 31 1943, the Union expired. Icelanders voted on their constitution in a plebiscite. A republic was inaugurated on June 17 1944.

Europe, 1973-

Denmark joined the EEC in 1973, Sweden the EU in 1995. Neither is in the eurozone. Norway and Iceland are not members of the EU.

Devolution: Home rule for Greenland, 1979

Denmark granted home rule to Greenland in 1979. Greenland left the EEC in 1985. In 2008, Greenlanders voted to transfer more power from the Danish royal government to the local Greenlandic government.

Blown away by a tramontana

June 26 2013

The inhabitants of the Papal States had become conscious of their nationality. In an overwhelming majority they willed to be united politically with the other Italians beyond the Papal frontiers; spiritually they were already absorbed in the Italian nation, and not merely their will, but the will of this larger society was in question. Political unity was the supreme desire of the nation as a whole, and the Pope was thwarting the aspirations of the whole nation, and not only those of his own subjects, when he forcibly hindered the latter from entering the national state.

The Papal answer to this was “si argumentum requiris, circumspice.” “Look at the monuments of the Eternal City, the temples of Imperial Rome, the churches of Papal Rome, and think of the tradition embodied in these imperishable works of men’s hands. Twice Rome has stretched her sceptre over the world, and endowed it with an international state and an international religion. She has possessed herself of mankind’s allegiance, and thereby become herself their common possession. She is eternal and infinite; she belongs to no single tribe or generation. How then can these transitory dwellers on her hills, this insignificant section of mankind that inhabits the narrow peninsula on which she is planted, how can they claim to dispose of her as their own? If the claims of Italian nationality and the claims of Rome are mutually exclusive, who can doubt which ought to prevail?”

The Italian Risorgimento did indeed conclude a very long and wonderful chapter in Rome’s history. When the Italian troops [without Garibaldi] marched through the Porta Pia in 1870, Gregorovius, the chronicler of the medieval Papacy, broke off his diary. A scholar of alien birth, he entered more than any living man into the past of Rome as opposed to her present, and for him the Rome in which he had sojourned for a life-time was dead. Yet no one would seriously claim that to save Gregorovius’ historical sentiment millions of Italians ought to have been baulked of their political aspirations, although he obviously voiced the past with far greater single-mindedness than the Papal Government.

The past, after all, is dead. It cannot speak for itself, and if it is to assert itself against the present, it needs a spokesman in the present to be its advocate. But how are we to be sure that this champion is not really grinding his own axe? Gregorovius was as nearly disinterested as a partisan can be, but what of the protagonist, the Papacy? The Papal apologists who mobilized Rome’s past glory on their behalf stood primarily for a tenaciously living vested interest, the Temporal Power, a current political system which gave office, influence, and honour to a ring of clerical monopolists. In a secondary degree they stood for a nobler, but no less finite and contemporary corporation, the Roman Catholic Church.

Between the Italian nation and the Papal bureaucracy there could be no co-ordination. They were two mutually incompatible political forces, and if the case of each were pleaded on its own merits, there could be no question which ought to go to the wall. The Papacy deliberately appealed to history in order to disguise a sinister political interest under a mask of idealism, and so enable it to encounter the genuinely idealistic movement of the Risorgimento on its own ground. As for Napoleon III. and the Hapsburg Government, which both supported, when it suited them, the Ultramontane plea, they were simply playing the common, sordid game of international politics, and scheming to hinder the birth of a consolidated national power on their flanks, which would inevitably circumscribe the sphere of either’s influence.

Gregorovius was an East Prussian Protestant and, as far as I can tell, a liberal-minded humanist, a worshipper neither of the Papacy nor of German empire, and friendly to the Risorgimento. Nevertheless (November 13 1870): “Rome will forfeit the cosmopolitan, republican [sic] atmosphere, which I have breathed here for eighteen years. She will sink into becoming the capital of the Italians, who are too weak for the great position in which our victories have placed them. It is fortunate for me that I have almost finished my work; it would no longer be possible for me to steep myself in it. Only three months more of toil and I shall have reached my goal. The Middle Ages have, as it were, been blown away by a tramontana, with all the historic spirit of the past; yes, Rome has completely lost its charm.”

Gregorovius’s rather touristic end of history, end of charm sentiments are, I suppose, a symptom of modern times.

My godfather often read Gregorovius. He liked grand, leisurely books and Gregorovius had known his wife’s grandfather, Lord Acton.

Gregorovius’s Tagebücher were published posthumously in Germany in 1892 in one volume. In England, they appeared as The Roman Journals of Ferdinand Gregorovius, George Bell and Sons, 1907; Friedrich Althaus, editor; Mrs Gustavus Hamilton, translator from the second German edition. They run from 1852 to ’74, the period of his residence in Italy. Toynbee is wrong: they do not stop in 1870. They make perfect bedtime reading.

The Geschichte der Stadt Rom im Mittelalter was published in Germany between 1859 and ’72. In England, it appeared as The History of Rome in the Middle Ages, George Bell and Sons, eight volumes, 1894-1902; Annie Hamilton, translator from the fourth German edition. (Volumes 4-8 are in two parts each, so there are thirteen volumes on the shelf.) It starts in the fifth century and finishes in the sixteenth.

The English and German Wikipedia articles list more of his works.

Porta Pia

Contemporary photograph of the Porta Pia and the breach in the Aurelian Walls made by the Piedmontese artillery on September 20 1870: the insignificant-looking gap which ended an era which had begun fourteen centuries earlier; St Peter’s, perhaps by art, is in the distance. There are signs of shelling on the gate. Did the Italians enter only through the gap or through the gate, as Toynbee says?

Gregorovius, Ferdinand

Ferdinand Gregorovius, photograph by Fratelli D’Alessandri, Rome; Bibliothèque nationale de France

The New Europe, Some Essays in Reconstruction, Dent, 1915

Emily Davison at the Derby

June 5 2013

100 years ago yesterday. As presented by Andrew Marr in his television History of the World shown last year: not recommended on the whole. The song in the middle of the clip is Ethel Smyth’s The March of the Women (1911).

In the following year, a less-known suffragette, Maude Smith (alias Mary Spencer), slashed a nude, Primavera, painted by my great-grandfather, George Clausen, while it was hanging in the Royal Academy. I’ll do a post on that one day, and on the more famous slashing of the Rokeby Venus in the same year by Mary Richardson.

I like Ethel Smyth’s description of Brahms, whom she revered, in her memoirs Impressions That Remained (1919):

“His ways with other women-folk [than Lili Wach, and Clara Schumann and her daughters] – or, to use the detestable word for ever on his lips, Weibsbilder – were less admirable. If they did not appeal to him he was incredibly awkward and ungracious; if they were pretty he had an unpleasant way of leaning back in his chair, pouting out his lips, stroking his moustache, and staring at them as a greedy boy stares at jam-tartlets. People used to think this rather delightful, specially hailing it, too, as a sign that the great man was in high good humour, but it angered me, as did also his jokes about women, and his everlasting gibes at any, excepting Lisl [von Herzogenberg] of course, who possessed brains or indeed ideas of any kind.”

The Chinese Pot

May 29 2013

By George Clausen, who occasionally appears here. University of Hull Art Collection. Click for better resolution. Manet-like? Composition right? What is the figurine? Is the object in the background too obscure and do we spend too much time trying to work out what it is? Date unknown to me. 1906?

Longest Clausen post: A universal face.

Bacon and the Jabberwock

May 9 2013

Unless I am googling lazily, this hasn’t been said, but surely it’s obvious. Francis Bacon was influenced by Tenniel’s illustration of the Jabberwock in Through the Looking-Glass.

Even Wikipedia’s detailed dedicated page on influences on Bacon doesn’t mention Tenniel. It mentions Eisenstein, and to see what they mean, go to their main Bacon page.

See Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944) and others.

My grandfather was fond of saying that Tenniel’s illustrations for Alice were the best ever made for a book, or books.

The nineteenth century (old post).

Rackham in 1939

December 27 2012

Have only just noticed this letter, dated August 18 1939, by Arthur Rackham to George Clausen, my great-grandfather. It might have been the last Rackham ever wrote.

Rackham was at his house, Stilegate, at Limpsfield, Surrey, Clausen at 61 Carlton Hill in St John’s Wood.

“The times are tragic. […] I feel overwhelmingly for our young people, who can see nothing in front of them. We thought, we late Victorians, that we had got past all such criminal folly & expected that those after us would have finer & wiser lives than we had had. And now! … If by any good fortune we did tide over without a hideous conflagration there is one thing that seems more and more ‘in the air’ – the realisation that the supremacy of the machine, which is rapidly making robots of humanity, must be faced. And the machine must be put in its place as a servant to do the servile work only, freeing humanity to exercise its birthright of imaginative creative work. One hardly takes up a thoughtful journal without seeing that the danger is at last recognised. That, I think, is the main charge to be laid against the wonderful Victorian days – when the world was so elated at ‘conquest of nature &c’ that it was not seen [sic] [my bracket] what the penalty must inevitably be of this eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

“Art may indeed be under a cloud. But if it is not the spirit of the Creator working in us I do not know what it is. And it cannot be eternally killed.”

Quoted in James Hamilton, Arthur Rackham, A Life with Illustration, Pavilion Books, 1990. The book is beautifully produced, but calls Clausen President of the Royal Academy: he was never that and can hardly have been at the age of eighty-seven.

Rackham died less than three weeks later, three days after the declaration of war.

See comments after these posts:


Before 1914

Rackham, Götterdämmerung

Brünnhilde throws herself on the flames in Rackham, Siegfried and The Twilight of the Gods by Richard Wagner (1911)

This volume followed The Rhinegold and The Valkyrie by Richard Wagner (1910).


July 13 2012

Schlagobers. Whipped Cream. Performers not stated. There haven’t been many.

Strauss wrote this two-act ballet in 1921-22, at the beginning of the so-called fallow years which followed Die Frau ohne Schatten and ended with Daphne.

The only complete recording I have ever heard of is from the ’80s. Hiroshi Wakasugi, Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra.

A Straussian, in charitable mood, can defend even Schlagobers if he doesn’t know the story. One can enjoy a failure. Even Strauss’s longueurs are for connoisseurs. But a failure it is.

Premiere: Vienna State Opera, May 9 1924. Later that year would come his first postwar opera, Intermezzo, premiered in Dresden. Strauss was co-director of the Vienna Staatsoper with Franz Schalk from 1919 until 1924.

Choreography: Heinrich Kröller.

Characters: Die Prinzessin Pralinée – Fürst Nicolo, ihr Hofmarschall – Prinzessin Teeblüte – Prinz Kaffee – Prinz Kakao – Don Zuckero – Mademoiselle Marianne Chartreuse – Ladislaw Slivowitz – Boris Wutki – Firmlinge mit ihren Paten – Arzt – Knallbonbons – kleine Pralinées – Quittenwürstchen – 4 Herolde mit Trompeten – Chor der Marzipane, Lebkuchen und Zwetschgenmänner – Orientalische Magier – Gugelhupfe – Weihnachtsstollen – Schillerlocken – Schmalznudeln – Kaffeestriezel – Schlagobers.

The extravagance of the production – it cost four billion Kronen, a contemporaneous new staging of Rienzi allegedly only two hundred million, but during hyperinflation, do such comparisons mean anything? – led to it being dubbed, at a time of food-shortages, the Milliardenballett. Strauss, lamely: “I cannot bear the tragedy of the present time. I want to create joy.”

Story: I believe Strauss’s wife Pauline had something to do with it. A group of children celebrate their confirmation by visiting a Konditorei. The confections come to life, with marzipan marches and cocoa dances. Having overindulged, one of the boys becomes ill and goes to hospital, where he has hallucinations concerning a rebellion against Princess Pralinée and her court led by lowlier creations such as Gugelhupfe.

A contemporary illustration shows the riot pacified by an oversized barrel of Hofbräu beer. At one stage Strauss planned a Revolution Polka led by Jewish matzos, who were going to wave red banners above the proletarian cakes.

Marianne Chartreuse, Ladislaw Slivovitz and Boris Wutki form an amorous trio. I am not sure whether it is Ladislaw or Boris who gets Marianne, but the original intention was to have a German, Michel Schnapps, winning her hand as a symbol of reconciliation, or even of a resurgent Germany. This was taken out after the Occupation of the Ruhr (1923-25).

We have here Tanz der Kakao; Tanz des Zuckers; Reigen (round dances) von Zucker, Kaffee und Kakao; and Schlagoberswalzer. The orchestra isn’t bad, but we need just a bit more character in the playing. The second half of the first minute of the Tanz der Kakao seems to look forward to the late concerti.

The Viennese can’t dance. Or rather, their abilities go as far as the waltz. The anyway undancerly Schlagobers has rarely or never been revived. Strauss’s Diaghilev ballet, Josephslegende (Paris Opera, May 14 1914), had been somewhat more successful, even though “the chaste Joseph isn’t at all up my street, and if a thing bores me I find it difficult to set it to music”.

If the Schlagobers plot reminds you of The Nutcracker, it is worth remembering the almost incredible fact that Tchaikovsky’s ballet had still not been performed in the West. (The first performance outside Russia was in Budapest in 1927, of an abridged version. The first complete performance was in London in 1934.) There is nothing Tchaikovskyan in Richard Strauss, but you can find the influence of The Nutcracker in more than one work by Ravel.

Alex Ross surely makes too much of the relationship between Mahler and Strauss in The Rest Is Noise. It seems to me, at least, a matter of almost no significance. I love AR’s quiet journalism, and have a few quibbles with the book.

While on this Schlag theme, one of my mother’s schoolteachers during the War described Strauss’s songs, a little contemptuously, as Edelschlager.

Two Swedish heroes

July 9 2012

Charles XII […] defiantly courted death in the trenches before Frederiksten in A.D. 1719 […].

He was invading Norway – and died in 1718, not ’19. Denmark-Norway was one of Russia’s allies in the Great Northern War of 1700-21 (Sweden and others vs Russia and others).

Charles had already led Sweden to its major defeat by Russia in the Battle of Poltava (Russian Empire territory in the Ukraine) in 1709. This was the occasion on which the Dniepr Cossack Mazeppa, who been helping the Russians to suppress a rebellion of the Don Cossacks, unwisely switched sides and supported Sweden.

Peter the Great’s callow peasant army had won its spurs in A.D. 1709 at Poltava, in the Ukraine, against Charles XII’s far-ranging Swedes […].

The Battle of Poltava, orchestral passage in Tchaikovsky’s Mazeppa; the opera is after Pushkin’s narrative poem Poltava, which was an answer to Byron’s Mazeppa; performers not stated

With peace in 1721, Protestant Sweden and Catholic Poland-Lithuania (1385-1795) ceased to be major powers. Russia gained its Baltic territories and became the greatest power in Eastern Europe.

Voltaire published his Histoire de Charles XII in 1731. Charles ought to have been a hero in Cold-War America.

Between A.D. 1494 and A.D. 1952 the only other actor of a leading part in the Western power game who had lost his life in battle had been one of Charles XII’s predecessors on the throne of Sweden, Gustavus Adolphus. Napoleon, like Francis I, had died in his bed; Hitler had died in his bunker.

The great-power century for Sweden had begun with Gustavus Adolphus. He died in 1632 at the Battle of Lützen in Saxony, near Leipzig, during the Thirty Years’ War (Sweden and others vs Holy Roman Empire and Spain).

For Toynbee, 1494, the date of Francis I’s invasion of Italy, was the beginning of modern international power relations in Europe: the age which ended in 1945.

A Swedish militarism that had been rampant since Gustavus Adolphus (regnabat A.D. 1611-32) had disembarked his expeditionary force on German soil on the 27-28th June, 1630, had been extinguished by a subsequent and consequent Swedish experience of being bled white by Charles XII (regnabat A.D. 1697-1718).

Gustavus Adolphus was a hero in Protestant Germany. My grandfather had an engraving of him hanging in the hall of his house in Baden-Württemberg.

Gustavus Adolphus in a Polish coat, Matthäus Merian the Elder, 1632, Skokloster Castle, Stockholm

Charles XII, David von Krafft workshop or circle, 1724 (posthumous), location?

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954 (passages not contiguous)

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954 (footnote) (third extract)

Bertrand Russell on Christianity

May 14 2012

1959. CBC source. Russell’s essay Why I Am Not a Christian had been published in 1927 and had originally been a talk given on March 6 that year at Battersea Town Hall under the auspices of the South London Branch of the National Secular Society.

One Sunday morning (I’m told), when I was a young boy, and at about the time of this interview, my parents pointed out to me, as he walked on the edge of Richmond Green, a “very famous person”.

A few feet away was a godson of John Stuart Mill and a man whose grandfather, the prime minister, had visited Napoleon on Elba and whose maternal grandmother had been a friend of the widow of the Young Pretender.

Great elementary things

April 20 2012

“The mind refers naturally to the beauty of the great elementary things – the sky, the sunshine, and the hills, rivers, fields, and trees; and in people to those things which suggest beauty, activity, and health. We all have a longing for the perfect things.”


George Clausen, from Taste, in Aims and Ideals in Art, second series of Royal Academy lectures, Methuen, 1906.


March 21 2012

Thomas Derrick’s career changed abruptly in 1931. He became a cartoonist. There are no Derrick cartoons before 1931. He didn’t cease to be an illustrator, but he began to do something new. I am not sure what brought about the change. School fees and family commitments, no doubt, though the former I believe were paid by George Clausen. Perhaps it was his reaction to the newly-urgent Zeitgeist of 1931. His figures, which had been so static in his early work, suddenly sprang to life.

There is a tendency now towards joyfulness, levity. Punch is shown off the ground: leaping with the spring lambs, on horseback slaying the devil, up a ladder picking apples, hovering over the Christmas tree, lighting the street lamp, sleigh-riding down the beam of a searchlight, soaring through the air on skis, jumping over barbed wire, skipping up the steps of an air raid shelter, always with Toby in gleeful train.

In the colour Punch drawing called Interlude the riotous god of the woods, fields and mountains abducts two servile victims of the bureaucratic state, working listlessly at their desks – and returns them refreshed to their duties.

Underneath everything there is a riot. Pan’s sportive spirit has been exiled in the Industrial Age, but lives beneath its surface, and may return to haunt and subvert it.

A universal face

March 20 2012

Years ago, I asked some friends in different parts of the world what they thought of the painting at the top, which is called A Woman of the Fields. I didn’t load the question by asking: “What nationality is the woman?”, but they knew the painting was English.

An Englishman said: “She’s not English. She’s certainly French! Look at the face, headdress and shawl.”

A Brazilian emailed: “That doesn’t look English. It is very interesting. I could swear that that woman was a Latin American.” I suppose he meant Amerindian.

A Scot called it a “moving portrait”. He didn’t say: “She’s obviously Scottish”, despite the hint of tartan.

An Egyptian emailed: “That woman looks really like an Egyptian country woman … so strange!”

I haven’t posed the question to a French Algerian friend, but he would surely have said: “She looks like a Berber woman.”

His own grandmother (last picture above) even resembles her.

My mother, who comes from south Germany, emailed: “A Woman of the Fields could most certainly have lived on the Swabian Alb – right up to the time after the war. I have always felt that I know this woman.”

(I know what she means. There’s that Swabian display of folded hands. Veined obduracy. I can even remember peasants in this part of Germany.)

The last painting above (the oil version, not this engraving) was being sold several years ago as a poster by an Australian company which described it, plausibly, but completely inaccurately, as a piece of old Australiana.

Actually, she was an English farm hand.

The paintings are by an English artist called George Clausen, my great-grandfather. Why isn’t he better known? His career was long (seventy years, from the 1870s to the 1940s) and his style evolved continuously. This is discouraging to critics. The quality of his work was uneven, though there are good pieces from every phase. His paintings were quiet and he was personally modest. And there has never been a proper book about him, though Kenneth McConkey, the main living expert on late Victorian and Edwardian painting, is writing one which will be published later this year or in 2013, I hope by Yale. (Kenneth wrote an important catalogue for a Clausen exhibition at the Royal Academy and elsewhere in 1980.)

It has been fun to do some dilettante research of one’s own while in the unusual position (despite Kenneth’s work) of having a subject even somewhat to oneself.

Clausen’s early work has always been admired, especially paintings of the 1880s, but some of the later pieces, until recently, were undervalued. Good work could be bought cheaply.

Van Gogh knew about and admired Clausen, at a time when Clausen could not have heard of Van Gogh. He sends Theo a Clausen print. “Here at last you have something of English art.”

The paintings, from top to bottom, (they all expand) are:

A Woman of the Fields, also known as A Field Hand (1884)

A Moment’s Rest (1882)

December (1882); the workers are topping and tailing turnips for sheep fodder

Day Dreams (1883)

Flora, The Gypsy Flower Seller (1883); she reminds me a little of Picasso’s La Célestine (1904)

Winter Work (1883-4); the girl was painted in after the canvas was finished

Labourers – After Dinner (RA 1884); after the oil painting; The Magazine of Art (check issue and date); scan used with permission of Heritage Images

and at the end of the post

A Field Gang (1883)

and a plate in the possession of the Royal Photographic Society and exposed before April 1884, which shows the same woman cutting a turnip.

She probably appears in some other pictures from the same period.

Clausen painted these pictures at Childwick Green, near Childwickbury, in Hertfordshire. He had studied in London, and then briefly in Belgium, Holland and France. At the end of 1881, he moved to Childwick Green. Between 1882 and 1884 some of his work had a brutal realism which shocked the academicians. He had discovered the work of the French naturalist Jules Bastien-Lepage at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1880 and became his main English champion. But A Woman of the Fields goes beyond Bastien in realism.

He had been exhibiting at the Royal Academy since 1876. Of the pictures here, only Labourers – After Dinner was shown there.

A Woman of the Fields was shown at Coutts Lindsay’s Grosvenor Gallery. She was originally called A Field Hand, and the sexlessness of that title must have made the image seem even more disconcerting. Not all Clausen’s paintings of those years were as stark as these. Clausen’s most Bastien-like images were actually done towards the end of the 1880s.

Labourers – After Dinner had the naturalism of A Woman of the Fields, but on a much larger scale. It seemed uncouth. For George Moore and others, it was an entirely inartistic realism, without fantasy or imagination. Leighton must have hated it, though he later became an admirer of Clausen.

Clausen’s 1885 Royal Academy picture was a portrait called An Old Woodman. He then became a founding member, in 1885-6, with Sargent, Steer and others, of the New English Art Club and was absent from the Academy until 1891.

This was the English Secession, though it isn’t called that. Secessions were withdrawals from official academies: independent exhibiting societies, anti-academic, and international in outlook. The Vienna Secession was a seed of extremely radical, but also particularly coherent, thinking about art. It’s hard to call the earlier New English Art Club seminal, though it absorbed and then rejected more radical elements, led by Sickert. But it was a secession.

It is also a mistake to think of the three great secessions in the German-speaking world in the 1890s – Munich 1892, Vienna 1897, Berlin 1898 – as being entirely about avant-garde work. But what a resonance that word Secession has! Clausen himself exhibited at least in Munich.

(Some of the tenets of the Viennese, such as a refusal to make distinctions between art and craft, or high art and low art, or art and life, or art for the rich and art for the poor, had long been explicit or implicit in the thinking of the leaders of the Arts and Crafts movement in England and elsewhere. And in the particular area of reform of the applied arts, we were first. The refusal to distinguish between art and life could lead one, depending on one’s inclination, into the purest aestheticism and the most engaged socialism.)

Since Moore – garrulous Irish literary figure on the London art scene, as Shaw was on the musical one – is remembered now as a follower of Zola and the writer of the first naturalist novels in English (the first, A Modern Lover, appeared in 1883), he might have been expected to approve of Clausen at his most photo-realistic: but he didn’t. He was too strongly connected with the French impressionists. But after Clausen’s style changed in the ’90s, he became an admirer, and spoke about him with real warmth. Perhaps he had approved of a few earlier pieces as well, I’m not sure.

On August 7 1886, after the first New English Art Club exhibition, Clausen, Walter Crane and Holman Hunt wrote a letter to The Times advocating reform of the Royal Academy. The painter Luke Fildes read it and wrote to his brother-in-law Henry Woods, who was working in Venice:

“I suppose you have read the correspondence and articles this last two weeks in the ‘Times’ about the R.A. I am confidentially informed we are all to be done away with. Messrs. Crane, Clausen and Holman Hunt have appealed to give us another chance, but I believe they are very firm, and though they admit they have no personal objection to some of the Academicians, being personal friends of theirs, still they will not raise their hands to stem the torrent of indignation that is sweeping us away […].”

To which Woods replied:

“My God! When I think whilst I have been sweating and trying to work out here, my Academy has been, and is, in danger still, bombarded with rotten eggs. An imitator of the newest French fakements, and painter of corns and dirty nails, a purveyor of affected muck for infant snobs, and worst of all, the painter of the Flight into Egypt. I wonder who has stirred up all this?”

From LV Fildes, Luke Fildes, RA, A Victorian Painter, Michael Joseph, 1968. No dates given. One would like more of this! They sound like a particular pair of stuffed dermots, though Fildes at least had a social conscience. His most famous painting, The Doctor (1891), reminds one of Picasso’s Science and Charity (1897).

The “purveyor of affected muck for infant snobs” was obviously Crane. Clausen was the “imitator of the newest French fakements, and painter of corns and dirty nails”. Holman Hunt’s offence, I assume, had been to apply excessive naturalism to religious subjects.

In 1945, F Gordon Roe wrote in an obituary of Clausen in The Old Water-Colour Society’s Club 23rd Annual Volume: “I look back to days when George Clausen was still regarded by some as a dangerous innovator. It seemed that he broke all the rules. He had ‘no idea of a subject’. He just looked out of window [sic: old locution] and painted whatever he saw there. He has painted young peasant-women with grimy finger nails – this seemed very important […].”

Caravaggio, who had so shocked his contemporaries with the dirty finger-nails of his Bacchus and the dirty soles of the pilgrim in the Madonna of Loreto, might as well not have lived. And, of course, Caravaggio had almost no reputation among the Victorians. He was a long way from pre-Raphaelite. Clausen’s Royal Academy lectures (delivered 1904-6 and 1913) contained lessons for students from the old masters (they were much admired by EH Gombrich), but in nearly 400 pages Caravaggio gets not a single mention. Joshua Reynolds does not mention him either in his Seven Discourses on Art, delivered at the Royal Academy on its foundation. Yet you would have thought that the Caravaggio of the Cardsharps, especially, would have appealed to artists who were so smitten by Bastien-Lepage.

The grey chest hair of the main stonepicker (the same colour as the stones) in Clausen’s Stonepickers – Midday (watercolour, 1882, V&A) must have been as disconcerting as the corns and nails of the Woman of the Fields would be. Come to think of it, had grey chest hair ever been painted in art before? These pictures were literally not, to use a German word, salonfähig.

Joining the New English did not confirm Clausen in the brutal style of Labourers. After 1884, he sweetened his style overall, while coming even more strongly under Bastien’s influence. He took some of the criticism to heart. That may or may not have been to the long-term advantage of his art. With a young family to support, he no doubt wanted to sell more.

In 1885, he moved from Childwick (where all the pictures shown here were done) to Cookham Dean in Berkshire.

By 1890 he had started to feel that Bastien-influenced realism was a dead end. He returned to the Academy. The Mowers (RA 1892) introduced a new style. His figures came to life. Movement and light were brought into the pictures. Naturalism gave way to a modified impressionism, containing elements of Millet. Paintings were done or finished in the studio. Painting entirely out of doors had had to be done on grey days, when the light was constant. Posing figures had had to stand still.

New as The Mowers seemed, there is a watercolour sketch for it from as early as 1885. Clausen could experiment in watercolour with ideas that he did not yet dare to transfer to canvas.

George Moore was conscious by 1892 that Clausen was developing and Stanhope Forbes was not. He sighed with relief and looked back:

“Realism, that is to say the desire to compete with nature, to be nature, is the disease from which art has suffered most in the last twenty years. The disease is now at wane, and when we happen upon a canvas of the period like ‘Labourers after Dinner’, we cry out, ‘What madness! were we ever as mad as that?’” (Modern Painting, 1893).

In 1891 Clausen left Cookham (it was the year Stanley Spencer was born there) for Widdington in Essex. (Graves’s list of RA exhibitors does not show him in Widdington until 1893.)

He didn’t stop developing. After 1900, his figures are mainly elements in a landscape, rather than subjects in their own right. The last painting I can think of that shows any figures doing field work is Allotments: Evening (RA 1928). At no point had he painted a flourishing countryside. I am not even sure that he tried to give the impression of one.

He was Professor of Painting at the Royal Academy from 1903 to ’06. For this he had to return to London. He bought a house at 61 Carlton Hill in St John’s Wood in the summer of 1905. That was his home until 1940, when he moved again, to live with my grandfather at Cold Ash in Berkshire. Between the wars he had a country house in Essex. “One day in 1917, when he was pushing his bicycle up Duton Hill, Clausen noticed that a house, then called Hillside, was for sale. Having recently sold some pictures to a Japanese client, he was sufficiently well off to purchase the house as a country retreat” (McConkey). Carlton Hill and Duton Hill passed to his children and were sold during or at the end of the war.

A kind of monumentality came into some of his work between about 1908 and 1918, though he had sought monumental effects in some pictures of the 1890s – and in general Clausen’s pictures are smaller in reality than we expect them to be from reproductions, sometimes disconcertingly so. In the 1920s, he became interested in early mornings. Often misty ones. He created what has been called an “Essex arcadia”. There were no cars in it and few people.

Then: “The new canvases of the ’thirties often show stormy skies, or clumps of trees in a midday sun” (McConkey).

The career of his son-in-law, Thomas Derrick, whom I have also introduced here in a small way, also changed abruptly. He became a cartoonist. There are no Derrick cartoons before 1931. He didn’t cease to be an illustrator, but he began to do something new. I am not sure what brought about the change. School fees and family commitments again, no doubt, though the former I believe were paid by Clausen. Perhaps it was his reaction to the newly-urgent Zeitgeist of 1931. His figures, which had been so static in his early work, suddenly sprang to life. Perhaps Clausen’s stormy skies were a similar reaction.

Clausen continued to send paintings to the Royal Academy until 1942. He died on November 22 1944.

I have shown some of his works in earlier posts; the images are not as high-resolution as here:


Morning in November

The power of a comma

Phoney War


The maquisard

March 10 2012

The Vendée, perhaps 1944.

Occupation, maquisards. A countryside of shortages, a rite of passage.

“He had been lying there for two hours without sleeping, his eyes fixed on a corner of the room where the moon illuminated the whitewashed wall, a black frame that contained a print, the posts of his sister’s bed. He could discern his father’s snoring in the neighbouring room. He had intentionally chosen a market night, because on those days his father would drink a few glasses of white wine and be sleepy.

He got out of bed, dressed silently, his bare feet sticking to the coolness of the tiles. He knew well, by the quality of the silence, that his sister wasn’t asleep – he sensed her tense nerves. He could nearly have foretold at what moment, as he took a step, she would reveal her wakefulness.

‘Are you going there?’

It was hardly a whisper. The vibration of the syllables just reached him, and, shoes in his hands, he approached her bed, touched with his lips a forehead moist with her scent.

‘I think this is it,’ he breathed. ‘Tomorrow, you will tell them …’

How had she guessed? And he, on his side, for several days, had he not been sure that she knew? She’d never said anything. Besides, she worked all day long as a maid for the butcher and she didn’t even take meals with them. It had always been like that – they hardly spoke and she knew. Only with him. You had to believe that there was a link between them that didn’t exist between other humans.

She didn’t cry, didn’t give him any advice. He moved away, opened the door and continued to feel her open eyes turned toward him in the blackness of the room. He left by the courtyard, jumped the hedge at the bottom of the garden and crossed the wet fields behind the church. Far enough from the village, he put on his shoes and tied them.

He was very quiet. He had thought through these movements so often that he accomplished them mechanically. A thick moon swam in the sky. A layer of moisture spread across the meadows and fields.

In that way he covered two kilometres, close to the river, the point that he had decided, and there, in the hollow of a dead chestnut, he located the shotgun.

Would he be lucky? Would he have to do this again another two or three nights? His father’s gun [fusil], that he had taken fifteen days before without his knowledge [the text says déterré: would his father have buried it or is this metaphorical?], was perfectly clean, without a trace of rust. In each barrel was a cartridge of buckshot, and three more were in his pocket, within reach of his hand. But would he have time to reload? Better not to count on it.

He got to his lookout, the site he had prepared, behind the hedge. He saw the road that came up toward him from the bridge. And, on the tarmac he had taken the precaution, this very day, to make a mark in chalk. When the motorcycle arrived at this mark, not before, he had to fire.

Afterward, everything would be changed. Now, he was alone, he was nothing. He was, in the night, a boy of twenty with cold-numbed fingers. The air was so still that he could hear, at more than hundred metres, the whisper of the river where there was sometimes a slight plop. A water rat? A fish?

More than a week before, nine days, he had gone to find them, over there in the forest, a dozen kilometres away, where he knew that they hid. In the middle of the day. He had advanced, hands in pockets, throat tight. He had always expected to see the gleam of the barrel of a submachine-gun [mitraillette], but they let him get to the farm. A big guy wearing dungarees and clogs sat on the doorstep, playing with a child.

‘What do you want?’

‘To see the chief.’

‘Where are you from?’

He had named his village and told them that he worked as a cartwright, and from the back of the room some boys emerged, spread them themselves around and watched him.

‘Do you think we should wake him?’

He slept in the straw of the barn, the chief. He was a very young boy too, curly hair, blue eyes, with a blue sweater with narrow red stripes and sandals. A Parisian. A mechanic. Bristling with golden straw.

‘You are well kind, my boy. But what the hell do you want us to do with you? We have one rifle for four and a couple of clodhoppers for two …’

That phrase he repeated to himself all along his path back …

‘… one rifle for four and a couple of clodhoppers for two …’

And he had presented himself with empty hands! He was ashamed of it now, as if he had committed some faux pas with very high-class people. Was it perhaps the desire to erase that shame, even more than the need to no longer be alone, that enflamed him while he waited behind the hedge?

There had been nights when, from his bed, he had heard motorcycles passing at all hours. Autos also, but he couldn’t think of autos. He heard one of then, very far off, that turned before reaching the river. Then silence. He wanted to smoke. The gun was truly frozen. Bells, those of his village, seemed to chase after him.

Then, suddenly, finally, a buzzing which could not be mistaken. He didn’t move, didn’t shudder … had maybe a little too much saliva in his throat. It was at first very slow. It seemed that the motorcycle would never reach the river. After that, it was very fast, very simple, nearly too simple. The machine, with its weak pink gleam, touched the chalk mark and he fired. The motor whined louder, as if to explode … the motorcycle rolled on about another twenty metres, with its rider dancing wildly, landing very close to the ditch, while the motor continued to whine.

He hadn’t moved. He waited. The man moved in the wet grass. He fired his second shot.

At that precise instant, hadn’t his sister shuddered in her bed? In any case, he thought about her, without knowing why. He put the shotgun back in the hole of the dead tree, slipped onto the road. First he had to stop the motor, to extinguish the light.

Then, calmly, without panicking, without forgetting a detail, doing what he had to do. He didn’t need to think. He knew. And he was without astonishment.

First, the Jerry. He had a carbine [carabine, a kind of long firearm] on his back and a revolver [revolver] in his belt. With the meticulous care of an ant he stashed the carbine in the tree, along with the ammunition. The boots? He wanted to take them, but he had not thought of that and he preferred not to depart in any way from his programme.

Some two hundred metres away there was an abandoned well into which he slipped the cadaver. It was no longer cold out, but very warm. He just had to drag the motorcycle into the meadow and take the tires. He had thought so well about all this that he had the tools in his pockets.

The machine, in its turn, toppled into the well.

In that way he would avoid reprisals to his village. Nothing was left on the road, not a shred of glass.

But there were still kilometres to cover, with tires on his shoulders. Dawn was about to break when he reached the door of the shoemaker in a neighbouring village whom he had seen three days earlier. A window opened up. A man in a nightshirt.

‘It’s you? At this hour?’

‘I’ve brought what I promised …’

Because the other had said: ‘Boots? I can’t give you boots. But then, if you could find me two motorcycle tires, I might manage to …’

He wore his slippers in the shop.

‘Aren’t you thirsty?’

‘No … I need you to lend me an old sack to carry them in … Four pair then …’

‘Small or large?’

‘Preferably large …’

The shoemaker was thinking, of course, but he preferred, he also, not to seem to think.

‘If you go home, tell your father …’

‘I’m not going right back …’

‘Good luck, then …’

He remembered: ‘Oh, the bag, you’ll have to bring back the bag …’

One could begin to see light in the cowsheds, women in the yards with buckets of milk.

It was a little after six o’clock when he reached the farm in the woods. Or rather, at fifty metres away a voice, ‘Stop! Come this way … On the left …’

He walked without seeing anyone and a man emerged, who felt the bag.

‘What do you have in there?’

‘Boots … new … four pair …’

Sweat poured off his forehead, his legs weakened. He was in a such a hurry now, to enter this house, to drop himself onto a bench, close to the others, that he blurted out quickly, in unintelligible words, all his treasure.

‘The two tires of the Jerry … don’t worry … he’s in the well … there’s a carbine in the tree … and this …’

A beautiful black automatic [automatique, ie the revolver], gleaming, that he produced in offering to the lookout, with tears in his eyes.

This time, he had come with his hands full.”


Georges Simenon, Les mains pleines, written in the Vendée in March 1945, published in the daily La Patrie, Brussels, No 39, June 7 1945, and in book form in the story collection La rue aux trois poussins, Paris, Presses de la Cité, 1963. In July 2000 I bought a reprint of part of that collection at a bookstall on the Avenue Habib Bourguiba in Tunis.

This translation by Steve Trussel (the only one, and never printed) appears here, under the title Hands Full, at his Maigret website, although the story has nothing to do with Maigret. I have reproduced it with Steve’s permission and made some small changes, but the copyright remains with him.

Steve’s Maigret site is one of the richest on the web devoted to any novelist, though you have to dig a bit to get its full measure. It hides its secrets.

You couldn’t use this story to argue that Simenon was one of the great writers of the twentieth century, but that argument has been won in any case. I was saying this when his reputation in the English-speaking world was in a recession after his death in 1989. It started to return at his centenary in 2003. Now everybody is saying it.

But it is interesting as one of the few pieces of his fiction which deal with the Second World War. Two novels – out of a core list of 192 – do: Le clan des Ostendais (1947) and Le train (1961). I haven’t read the first, but The Train is not a full war novel even if it is about trainful of refugees moving south through France. One of his very finest books, La neige était sale (1948), is set in an unidentified town under occupation. He insisted that the setting was not France, but rather Austria or Czechoslovakia. The snow is a metaphor of the occupation. For other, minor references to the war in his work, go to this Trussel page.

Simenon lived in the Vendée, in the occupied zone, during the war, first at Fontenay-le-Comte, then at Saint-Mesmin-le-Vieux, and at the end at Les Sables-d’Olonne, where he wrote this story. Most of the Vendée, originally Bas-Poitou in the old province of Poitou (the provinces were abolished in 1790), on the coast of the Pays-de-la-Loire, had been the seat of a royalist uprising between 1793 and ’96, and sporadically up to 1815. Balzac published Les Chouans, which is partly about guerrilla fighting during this revolt (though the Chouans operated in Normandy, Maine and Brittany) in 1829, Trollope La Vendée in 1850, Hugo Quatrevingt-treize (Ninety-Three) in 1874. Marx used the word Vendée to refer to counter-revolutionary activities in various countries. Thus to “organise a Vendée”.

Les Sables-d’Olonne, however, supported the Republic. The departing German army destroyed the port during the night of August 27 1944.

The very young man, or adolescent on the edge of manhood, who transgresses, but whose heart is in the right place, is a recurring character in Simenon’s work. He exists in Balzac too. One of the people charged with investigating Simenon for collaboration in early 1945 was Jean Huguet, who is described by Simenon’s biographer Pierre Assouline as “a nineteen-year-old from Sables-d’Olonne, [and what] you might call a romantic of the Resistance”, though he was “more keen on literature than on political policing”.

Simenon’s record had not been spotless. He had not been an active collaborator, but perhaps an opportunist. He escaped further questioning by living in the US and Canada from ’45 to ’55. One wonders whether he wrote this story almost in self-defence, sensing what might be coming. Could its hero have been modelled on Huguet?

Rural resistance fighters during the war were called maquisards. Maquis is a type of high ground in Corsica covered in vegetation, like North American chapparal, where privateers used to hide. The picture at the top, from here, has the caption Un maquisard et sa sten. A sten gun is a submachine gun, not the simple shotgun which the hero in the story seems to have been carrying.

In July 1940 Churchill and Hugh Dalton formed the Special Operations Executive – “Churchill’s Secret Army” – a clandestine organisation whose purpose was to conduct guerrilla warfare against the Axis powers. It worked through espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance behind enemy lines. It helped local resistance movements in all the occupied territories, not only France.

The maquis bands relied on airdrops of weapons from the SOE. They were helped by agents who were parachuted in with wireless sets. They also used captured German weapons, especially the MP40 (a French resistance fighter, according to Wikipedia, said “they are as common as hookers on the streets of Paris, and they get about as much action”). They helped downed Allied airmen, Jews, and others to escape from the Vichy and German authorities. They relied on a degree of sympathy or cooperation from the local populace. The maquisards identified themselves to each other by wearing a Basque beret. It was common enough not to arouse suspicion, distinctive enough to be effective.

A famous British (or Antipodean) agent who helped them, Nancy Wake, died last year at the Star and Garter forces retirement home just outside Richmond. Obituary: Telegraph.

In March 1944, the German Army began a terror campaign throughout France. It included reprisals against civilians living in areas where the Resistance was active. Maquisards took their revenge against collaborators in the épuration sauvage when the war was over.

I met (as a family friend) Francis Basin (nom-de-guerre Olive, 1903-75), who worked in Section F of the SOE. He was based in London and conducted operations in France. He lost both his legs in a traffic accident after the war. He died in Paris. More on him.

MRD Foot, the historian of the Secret Army, died on February 18. Obituaries: Telegraph, Independent, Guardian.

Anna Marly’s Chant des partisans sung by Yves Montand, one of the great songs of the twentieth century. French images, Spanish site. There are snatches of German songs for contrast.


February 13 2012

By Thomas Derrick. I can’t remember where this appeared, but it wasn’t Punch. Circa 1933. I will try to do a higher-resolution image later, but it is copyright. It should be as iconic as Savile Lumley’s guilt-inducing recruitment poster of 1915 “Daddy, what did YOU do in the Great War?”, but is unknown.

Hoping for the best

December 31 2011

People ask, more anxiously than in ’08, “Will there be a depression?” in the same way that they asked in the ’30s “Will there be a war?”

This links to twenty-plus minutes of predictions by a Swiss hedge fund manager, Felix Zulauf.

“The periphery goes into depression. When you look at a country like Greece, it’s now been in recession for three years. GDP is probably down 15% from the top. The stock market is down 90%, which is the equivalent of 1929 to 1932 in the US. This is depression-like. Then I expect next year one country, probably three, will exit the euro. That will make 2012 very interesting because there are no rules on how to exit the euro. A country exiting the euro means the next day, when they exit, their banking system is bust. That means the banking system has to be immediately nationalized in a new currency. They introduce a new currency, they nationalize the banking system, and then, of course, the government is also bust. Then the government will default. That’s what you have to expect next year. I think Greece will do so and Portugal and Ireland are candidates also.”

The interview takes a while to load and you have to listen at the beginning to the appalling voice of Eric King.

Drawing by Thomas Derrick probably in Time and Tide, and in that case probably December 30 1933.

The Field Cathedral of the Polish Army

August 5 2011

[I have] a mental picture of the principal square [Krasiński Square] in the Polish city of Warsaw some time in the late nineteen-twenties. In the course of the first Russian occupation of Warsaw (1814-1915) the Russians had built an Eastern Orthodox Christian cathedral on this central spot in the city that had been the capital of the once independent Roman Catholic Christian country Poland. The Russians had done this to give the Poles a continuous ocular demonstration that the Russians were now their masters. After the reestablishment of Poland’s independence in 1918, the Poles had pulled this cathedral down. The demolition had been completed just before the date [1928] of my visit. I do not greatly blame the Polish Government for having pulled down that Russian church. The purpose for which the Russians had built it had been not religious but political, and the purpose had also been intentionally offensive.

The church had been built in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries for Piarist friars. In 1834, following the failed November Uprising of 1830-31, the Russian authorities turned it into an Orthodox church of the Holy Trinity. Between 1835 and 1837 it was reconstructed by Antonio Corazzi and Andrzej Gołuński in a style reminiscent of Rastrelli. They destroyed much of the interior, inserted Orthodox frescoes and a large iconostasis and added large onion domes to both towers.

When the Russians left Warsaw in 1915, the church was used as a depot by the German army stationed there. When Poland regained her independence in 1918, the decision was taken to restore it to its former look.

Between 1923 and 1927 it was reconstructed by Oskar Sosnowski, who based his design on seventeenth-century drawings, and reconsecrated as a Catholic church, but not returned to the Piarists. Instead, it rose to the dignity of a cathedral (Toynbee, no doubt correctly, calls it a cathedral during the Russian period), as the seat of the field bishop of the Polish Army. Toynbee must have been able to see the new building.

The Luftwaffe detroyed it on August 20 1944, during the Warsaw Uprising.

Between 1946 and 1960 a team of architects led by Leon Marek Suzin rebuilt it. It remained a cathedral and the seat of the field bishop of the army, though the post was purely titular, as religion had no place in the army in Communist-led Poland.

1830, painting by Marcin Zaleski

Russian rebuilding


One World and India, New Delhi, Indian Council for Cultural Relations, Orient Longmans Private Ltd, February 1960


April 29 2011

Ian Bostridge introducing his recording of On Wenlock Edge with Bernard Haitink and the London Philharmonic. Short version of the same video here.

I agree with Roger Scruton when he says, in England, An Elegy (2001), that On Wenlock Edge is “one of the masterpieces of modern music” and am glad he doesn’t say only English music.

Vaughan Williams composed these six songs after AE HousmanOn Wenlock Edge, From far, from eve and morning, Is my team ploughing?, Oh, when I was in love with you, Bredon Hill and Clun – in 1909 for an unusual combination of forces, though it had precedents in France: tenor, piano and string quartet.

Fp: Gervase Elwes, tenor; Frederick Kiddle, piano; Schwiller Quartet; Aeolian Hall, London, November 15 1909. He made the orchestral version in the early ’20s. Fp: London (by whom and where?), January 24 1924.

Housman published the sixty-three poems of A Shropshire Lad in 1896 at his own expense. They are bleakly stoical, set in a universe devoid of divine grace or mercy, nostalgic for a vulnerable rural “land of lost content” and filled with references to war and to the deaths of young men. They were prophetic, since written at a time of peace, in 1894-95.

Housman’s earliest memory of Shropshire was views seen on walks near his family’s home at Fockbury in Worcestershire (Bredon Hill is in Worcestershire) in his childhood. He wrote (where?) that Shropshire was “our Western horizon, which made me feel romantic about it”.

At first A Shropshire Lad sold slowly, but during the Second Boer War (1899-1902) it became a bestseller. Its appeal was intensified in the trenches.


The first composer to set the poems had been Somervell, who composed a cycle for voice and piano in 1904. Many others followed. Whitman had a similar attraction, though he reached composers in continental Europe as well as England and America and his vogue lasted longer.

A Shropshire Lad is recorded complete, in verse and song, on Hyperion CDD22044 with Alan Bates, reader; Anthony Rolfe Johnson, tenor; Graham Johnson, piano. Musical settings are by Barber, Butterworth, Horder, Ireland, Moeran, Orr. There are also two Berkeley settings of poems not in A Shropshire Lad. Sleeve notes.

It is worth pointing out that Parry, Elgar, Delius and Holst did not set Housman. The poems might have had a certain appeal for Mahler (Jünglingetotenlieder?). Or perhaps not. They are too English. Housman acknowledged a German influence in Heine.

The great settings are the Vaughan Williams cycle and two for voice and piano by his younger friend George Butterworth: Six Songs from A Shropshire Lad (1911) and Bredon Hill and Other Songs (1912). The first song of the first Butterworth cycle, Loveliest of trees, and the last of the second, With rue my heart is laden, were the basis of an inspired orchestral rhapsody called A Shropshire Lad (1912), music by and about a very young man in which fear half-overshadows rapture.

Butterworth was an Etonian, like Parry and Arne. He read Greats at Trinity, Oxford, but turned increasingly to music.

He met Vaughan Williams and became a collector of folk song in his own right.

He was already nearly a great composer when he went to the front. Would he have developed, or was the material that we have all that was in him? The phrase, the question, that opens the rhapsody, though it was written in peacetime, seems so much like a dawn on the Somme that it is difficult to imagine what he would have gone on to say in the ’20s or ’30s. Housman outlived him by twenty years.

I once played the rhapsody with Barbirolli and the Hallé to an Austrian musician who knew nothing about English music. He was ready to take it seriously because he had heard that Giulini admired and had even performed it. It seemed most unlikely, and I have still found no evidence of this by googling. Could he have meant Sinopoli? He agreed, anyway, that it was a masterpiece.

The Housman pieces aren’t quite all Butterworth wrote (the orchestral idyll of 1913, Banks of Green Willow, is famous, in Britain anyway), but his standards were exacting: he destroyed the scores which he considered unworthy before setting out for France in case he would not be able to revise them.

He kept quiet in the army about his music and in his letters home about his Military Cross. He died on the Somme in 1916, aged thirty-one. Brigadier-General Ovens of the North Command praised him as a soldier in a letter to his father and added: “I did not know he was so very distinguished in music.”

Here is part of Loveliest of trees, sung by John Shirley-Quirk, with Martin Isepp, piano, recording issued 1966, directly followed by the rhapsody, with Adrian Boult and the London Philharmonic in a recording made in 1954.

And here is Vaughan Williams’s Is My Team Ploughing? from On Wenlock Edge sung in 1917 by Gervase Elwes with the London String Quartet and Frederick Kiddle, followed in the same clip by Butterworth’s setting of the same poem at the end of his first cycle, sung by Peter Pears with Benjamin Britten, piano, in a recording made in September 1955.

You can hear the whole of the 1917 On Wenlock Edge recording here and here, but I recommend it only as a historical document. There is a much better modern recording, performers not stated, here and here.


Ivor Gurney, a survivor of the Somme, wrote a note on his programme following a performance on On Wenlock Edge by Gervase Elwes in May 1920:

“Purely English words retranslated and reinforced by almost purely English music – the product of a great mind not always working at the full of its power, but there continually and clearly apparent. The French mannerisms must be forgotten in the strong Englishness of the prevailing mood – in the unmistakable spirit of the time of creation. England is the spring of emotion, the centre of power, and the pictures of her, the breath of her earth and growing things are continually felt through the lovely sound.”

The music may be English, but it is fully aware of what is happening on the continent. Vaughan Williams had studied with Ravel, who was his junior by two and a half years, in Paris for three months in early 1908. The fifth song, Bredon Hill, shows Ravel’s influence clearly, especially at the end. The last verse of Is My Team Ploughing? takes us into the world of Gurrelieder. There will be passages in the London Symphony (1912-13) which remind one of Petrushka. These influences never make Vaughan Williams sound derivative. He has metabolised them. His music is original. Gurney is right if that is what he meant.

The setting of the words No change though you lie under in Is My Team Ploughing? seems an echo of Gerontius, an influence on Vaughan Williams, as it would be, whether acknowledged or not, on Britten. On Wenlock Edge is the most brilliant modern English song-cycle before Britten’s Les Illuminations, for which get Bostridge on EMI again, with Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic.


Gervase Elwes was a cousin of the father of Toynbee’s correspondent Columba Cary-Elwes. From 1904 onwards he was a famous Gerontius.

In late 1939 or early 1940, Columba visited his cousin, Gervase’s son, at Elsham Hall in Lincolnshire and found Gervase’s copy of Newman’s poem, which had been given to him by Mary Gladstone. Laid in it was a letter of some theological interest from Newman to an obscure person. Columba sent it to my godfather, who was the editor of The Tablet, and it was printed in the edition of April 6 1940. My godfather’s portrait was later painted by another of Gervase’s sons, Simon Elwes.

Toynbee quotes Housman, including On Wenlock Edge and From far, from eve and morning, in at least four volumes of A Study of History, usually as examples of a pessimistic stoicism, not for his pastoral themes. He thinks of him as a plaintive echo of Lucretius. No doubt he also respected him as a classical scholar.

We know that he was acutely and guiltily conscious of what the Butterworth site calls the “arbitrariness of who would return [from the war] and who would not”.

For Housman’s life and its meanings, see Tom Stoppard’s The Invention of Love.


Is My Team Ploughing? is a poem about somebody else taking over your life.

“‘Is my team ploughing,
That I was used to drive
And hear the harness jingle
When I was man alive?’

Ay, the horses trample,
The harness jingles now;
No change though you lie under
The land you used to plough.

‘Is football playing
Along the river shore,
With lads to chase the leather,
Now I stand up no more?’

Ay, the ball is flying,
The lads play heart and soul;
The goal stands up, the keeper
Stands up to keep the goal.

‘Is my girl happy,
That I thought hard to leave,
And has she tired of weeping
As she lies down at eve?’

Ay, she lies down lightly,
She lies not down to weep:
Your girl is well contented.
Be still, my lad, and sleep.

‘Is my friend hearty,
Now I am thin and pine,
And has he found to sleep in
A better bed than mine?’

Yes, lad, I lie easy,
I lie as lads would choose;
I cheer a dead man’s sweetheart,
Never ask me whose.”

A living man meets a dead, as in Wilfred Owen’s Strange Meeting. The penultimate verse could mean that the two had themselves been lovers.

Housman, though not musical, always gave permission for composers to set his poems, but was unhappy when Vaughan Williams omitted the third and fourth verses of this (he set the others complete). Vaughan Williams is said to have commented that a composer had a right to set any part of a poem so long as he did not change its meaning, and in any case deserved to be thanked for having left out the lines

“The goal stands up, the keeper
Stands up to keep the goal.”


Vaughan Williams in a musical autobiography reprinted in National Music and Other Essays, OUP, 1963:

“Ravel paid me the compliment of telling me that I was the only pupil who n’écrit pas de ma musique.”

In April 1909, Ravel, soon to start work on Daphnis et Chloé, stayed with the Vaughan Williamses in Cheyne Walk. Ursula, his second wife, in R.V.W.: A Biography of Ralph Vaughan Williams, OUP, 1964:

“Ralph enjoyed taking him sight-seeing […]. It appeared that steak and kidney pudding with stout at Waterloo Station was Ravel’s idea of pleasurably lunching out.”

Ravel to Adeline Vaughan Williams:

C’est la première fois qu’il m’arrive de regretter vivement un autre pays. […] Il a fallu cet accueil cordial et délicat […] pour me faire goûter le charme et la magnificence de Londres […].” Arbie Orenstein, editor, Maurice Ravel: lettres, écrits, entretiens, Paris, Flammarion, 1989. Last three quotations are from

In February 1912, Vaughan Williams attended the French premiere of On Wenlock Edge in Paris at which Ravel played the piano part. Ravel wrote to him afterwards (source?):

“Everyone is agreed that your lyric poems were a revelation.”


Scruton, op cit:

“The turning points in English literature can be seen as attempts to re-enchant the land, as it was re-enchanted in Shakespeare’s Arden, in Milton’s Eden, in Gray’s Elegy, in the poetry of John Clare, in the novels of Fielding, in Blake’s lyrics and mystical writings and – pre-eminently – in the Prelude of Wordsworth. Housman’s land of lost content is mourned because the poet’s impoverished imagination could fill it only with substitute people, postcard peasants who had no place on the living earth. The real tradition of English literature continued in its ancient way – not grieving over a Merrie England that had never existed, but re-enchanting the landscape, as Hardy and Hopkins did, as Lawrence did and as Eliot did in Four Quartets. Those writers turned to the landscape not in order to sentimentalise it, but in order to discover another order, a hidden order, which had been overlayed by history but which was, nevertheless, the true meaning of that history and the deep-down explanation of our being here.”

The music of Elgar, Delius and Vaughan Williams works at the same level. Out of Vaughan Williams’s experience in the Great War would come a Pastoral Symphony.

Orwell in the second part of his essay Inside the Whale (1940):

“At the beginning of the period I am speaking of, the years during and immediately after the war, the writer who had the deepest hold upon the thinking young was almost certainly Housman. Among people who were adolescent in the years 1910-25, Housman had an influence which was enormous and is now not at all easy to understand. In 1920, when I was about seventeen, I probably knew the whole of the Shropshire Lad by heart. […]

“His poems are full of the charm of buried villages, the nostalgia of place-names, Clunton and Clunbury, Knighton, Ludlow, ‘on Wenlock Edge’, ‘in summer time on Bredon’, thatched roofs and the jingle of smithies, the wild jonquils in the pastures, the ‘blue, remembered hills’. War poems apart, English verse of the 1910-25 period is mostly ‘country’. […]

“Moreover all his themes are adolescent – murder, suicide, unhappy love, early death. They deal with the simple, intelligible disasters that give you the feeling of being up against the ‘bedrock facts’ of life […].

“And notice also the exquisite self-pity – the ‘nobody loves me’ feeling […].

“Such poems might have been written expressly for adolescents. […]

“But Housman would not have appealed so deeply to the people who were young in 1920 if it had not been for another strain in him, and that was his blasphemous, antinomian, ‘cynical’ strain. The fight that always occurs between the generations was exceptionally bitter at the end of the Great War; this was partly due to the war itself, and partly it was an indirect result of the Russian Revolution, but an intellectual struggle was in any case due at about that date. Owing probably to the ease and security of life in England, which even the war hardly disturbed, many people whose ideas were formed in the eighties or earlier had carried them quite unmodified into the nineteen-twenties. Meanwhile, so far as the younger generation was concerned, the official beliefs were dissolving like sand-castles. The slump in religious belief, for instance, was spectacular. For several years the old-young antagonism took on a quality of real hatred. What was left of the war generation had crept out of the massacre to find their elders still bellowing the slogans of 1914, and a slightly younger generation of boys were writhing under dirty-minded celibate schoolmasters. It was to these that Housman appealed, with his implied sexual revolt and his personal grievance against God. He was patriotic, it was true, but in a harmless old-fashioned way, to the tune of red coats and ‘God save the Queen’ rather than steel helmets and ‘Hang the Kaiser’. And he was satisfyingly anti-Christian – he stood for a kind of bitter, defiant paganism, the conviction that life is short and the gods are against you, which exactly fitted the prevailing mood of the young; and all in charming fragile verse that was composed almost entirely of words of one syllable.”

Quotation taken from here.


The Boy and the Man by George Clausen, shown at the Royal Academy in 1908, always makes me think of Is My Team Ploughing?, though the boy is only physically on a different plane.

The Times (May 4 1908) felt that the painting (197.5 x 164 cm, now Cartwright Hall, Bradford) was “too large for its subject, unless we read into The Boy and the Man a spiritual significance which is not there”. I find some Clausens too small for the effect for which they are striving, but The Boy and the Man works for me. Enlarge.

Housmanesque: The End of a Long Day, c 1898 (dimensions to follow, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth) and a similar work, same period (name, dimensions and whereabouts to follow)

Hyperion used a painting by Clausen – Sunrise in September (72 x 93 cm, Ferens Art Gallery, Hull), painted near Duton Hill in Essex and shown at the Royal Academy in 1924 – for the cover art of a 1990 CD of On Wenlock Edge and two Housman cycles by Gurney (reissue artwork).

Adrian Thompson, tenor, for On Wenlock Edge and Ludlow and Teme (composed 1919-20, published 1923); Stephen Varcoe, baritone, for The Western Playland (part going back to 1908, published 1926); and Iain Burnside, piano and Delmé Quartet for all three. CDH55187. Sleeve notes.

Phoney War

March 21 2011

The eerie quiet of Tokyo (BBC).

The last city, outside a war zone, to be faced by the possibility of a disaster on this scale was Hong Kong during the SARS epidemic in the first half of 2003.

Evelyn Waugh’s Put Out More Flags (1942) is set during the Phoney War, the phase of the Second World War in Britain and France from September 3 1939 to May 10 1940, and just afterwards.


“In the week which preceded the outbreak of the Second World War – days of surmise and apprehension which cannot, without irony, be called the last days of peace – and on the Sunday morning when all doubts were finally resolved and misconceptions corrected, three rich women thought first and mainly of Basil Seal. They were his sister, his mother and his mistress.”


“[Basil] had told them [that there would be no war] the night before, not as a speculation, but as a fact known only to himself and half a dozen leading Germans; the Prussian military clique, he had told them, were allowing the Nazis to gamble just as long as their bluff was not called; he had had this, he said, direct from von Fritsch. The army had broken the Nazi party in the July purge of 1936; they had let Hitler and Goering and Goebbels and Ribbentrop remain as puppets just as long as they proved valuable. The army, like all armies, was intensely pacifist; as soon as it became clear that Hitler was heading for war, he would be shot.”


“The air raid scare seemed to be over for the time and those who had voluntarily fled from London were beginning to return, pretending that they had only been to the country to see that everything was all right there. The women and children of the poor, too, were flocking home to their evacuated streets. The newspapers said that the Poles were holding out; that their cavalry was penetrating deep into Germany; that the enemy was already short of motor oil; that Saarbrucken would fall to the French within a day or two; air raid wardens roamed the hamlets of the kingdom, persecuting locals who walked home from the inn with glowing pipes. Londoners who were slow to acquire the habit of the domestic hearth groped their way in darkness from one place of amusement to another, learning their destination by feeling the buttons on the commissionaires’ uniforms; revolving, black glass doors gave access to a fairy land; it was as though [“as though” is not quite right here], when children, they had been led blindfold into the room with the lighted Christmas tree. The casualty list of street accidents became formidable and there were terrifying tales of footpads who leaped on the shoulders of old gentlemen on the very steps of their clubs, or beat them to jelly on Hay Hill [Mayfair].”


“Winter set in hard. Poland was defeated; east and west the prisoners rolled away to slavery. English infantry cut trees and dug trenches along the Belgian frontier. Parties of distinguished visitors went to the Maginot Line and returned, as though from a shrine, with souvenir-medals. Belisha was turned out; the radical papers began a clamour for his return and then suddenly shut up. Russia invaded Finland and the papers were full of tales of white-robed armies scouting through the forests. [The Finns used more white camouflage than the Russians.] English soldiers on leave brought back reports of the skill and daring of Nazi patrols and of how much better the blackout was managed in Paris. A number of people were saying quietly and firmly that Chamberlain must go. The French said the English were not taking the war seriously, and the Ministry of Information said the French were taking it very seriously indeed. Sergeant instructors complained of the shortage of training stores. How could one teach the three rules of aiming without aiming discs?”


“This was February 1940, in that strangely cosy interlude between peace and war, when there was leave every week-end and plenty to eat and drink and plenty to smoke, when France stood firm on the Maginot line and the Finns stood firm in Finland, and everyone said what a cruel winter they must be having in Germany.”


“A quiet day at the Ministry of Information. The more energetic neutral correspondents had mostly left the country by now, finding Axis sources a happier hunting-ground for front page news. The Ministry could get on with its work undisturbed. That afternoon a film was showing in the Ministry theatre; it dealt with otter-hunting and was designed to impress neutral countries with the pastoral beauty of English life.”


“Summer came and with it the swift sequence of historic events which left all the world dismayed and hardly credulous; all, that is to say, except Sir Joseph Mainwaring, whose courtly and ponderous form concealed a peppercorn lightness of soul, a deep unimpressionable frivolity, which left him bobbing serenely on the great waves of history which splintered more solid natures to matchwood. Under the new administration he found himself translated to a sphere of public life where he could do no serious harm to anyone, and he accepted the change as a well-earned promotion. In the dark hours of German victory he always had some light anecdote; he believed and repeated everything he heard; he told how, he had it on the highest authority, the German infantry was composed of youths in their teens, who were intoxicated before the battle with dangerous drugs; ‘those who are not mown down by machine guns die within a week,’ he said. He told, as vividly as if he had been there and seen it himself, of Dutch skies black with descending nuns, of market women who picked off British officers, sniping over their stalls with sub-machine guns, of waiters who were caught on hotel roofs marking the rooms of generals with crosses as though on a holiday post card. He believed, long after hope had been abandoned in more responsible quarters, that the French line was intact. ‘There is a little bulge,’ he explained. ‘All we have to do is to pinch it out,’ and he illustrated the action with his finger and thumb. He daily maintained that the enemy had outrun his supplies and was being lured on to destruction. Finally [after Dunkirk], when it was plain, even to Sir Joseph, that in the space of a few days England had lost both the entire stores and equipment of her regular army and her only ally; that the enemy were less than twenty-five miles from her shores; that there were only a few battalions of fully armed, fully trained troops in the country; that she was committed to a war in the Mediterranean with a numerically superior enemy; that her cities lay open to air attack from fields closer to home than the extremities of her own islands; that her sea-routes were threatened from a dozen new bases, Sir Joseph said, ‘Seen in the proper perspective, I regard this as a great and tangible success. Germany set out to destroy our army and failed; we have demonstrated our invincibility to the world. Moreover, with the French off the stage, the last obstacle to our proper understanding with Italy is now removed. I never prophesy, but I am confident that before the year is out they will have made a separate and permanent peace with us. The Germans have wasted their strength. They cannot possibly repair their losses. They have squandered the flower of their army. They have enlarged their boundaries beyond all reason and given themselves an area larger than they can possibly hold down. The war has entered into a new and more glorious phase.’

“And in this last statement, perhaps for the first time in his long and loquacious life, Sir Joseph approximated to reality; he had said a mouthful.”


“This is the country of Swift, Burke, Sheridan, Wellington, Wilde, TE Lawrence, [Ambrose] thought; this is the people who once lent fire to an imperial race, whose genius flashed through two stupendous centuries of culture and success, who are now quickly receding into their own mists, turning their backs on the world of effort and action. Fortunate islanders, thought Ambrose, happy, drab escapists, who have seen the gold lace and the candlelight and left the banquet before dawn revealed stained table linen and a tipsy buffoon!”


“The grey moment was passed; Sir Joseph, who had not ceased smiling, now smiled with sincere happiness.

‘There’s a new spirit abroad,’ he said. ‘I see it on every side.’

And, poor booby, he was bang right.”


My Back Garden exhibited 1940 by Sir George Clausen 1852-1944

My Back Garden, painted by my great grandfather, George Clausen, in his 88th year during the Phoney War.

It was a long last look at the garden of the house in Carlton Hill that he had bought in 1905. “As the bombs began to fall”, according to some family accounts, but probably a little earlier, he and Agnes Clausen left London to live with their daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren at Cold Ash in Berkshire.

Supper at Emmaus

February 8 2011

James Bridle on Caravaggio’s second Supper at Emmaus and Basket of Fruit, both in Milan.

Why does he crop the images? Did Christ have “belief”, and isn’t his hand shown in a blessing, rather than a gesture of “explaining”? I mistrust the know-all tone of Peter Robb’s M, but that may be unfair.

The Basket of Fruit is not the only extant still-life. There is at least one other in the Borghese Gallery in Rome.

Bridle’s is a strong modern response to Caravaggio. For the Victorians Caravaggio did not exist. Joshua Reynolds does not mention him in his Seven Discourses on Art (delivered at the Royal Academy 1769-76). Nor does George Clausen in his Six Lectures on Painting and Aims and Ideals in Art (delivered at the Royal Academy 1904-6), an echo of Reynolds which expounded lessons from the Old Masters to modern students of painting.

London c 1949 again

December 1 2010

Sloane Street, approach to Sloane Square. Click to enlarge.

Kodachrome by Chalmers Butterfield. I posted three others earlier. Wikimedia Commons. There aren’t many colour images of London streets before 1960 that are this vivid.

Furs, in the UK at this time, were not necessarily a sign of wealth, though this was a rich area (Cadogan Estate). The only definite sign in this picture is the chic young girl in the background.

Furs protected you from the cold. Even a barely genteel woman might conceivably have a fur coat in her wardrobe. Here they still have square shoulders. Much post-war fashion (Dior “New Look” aside) had, in fact, come in in 1938-39, but fashion didn’t develop during the war.

I remember, in my earliest childhood, women wearing actual foxes’ heads slung around their shoulders. This was commonest in the ’30s.

Placid queue. The men, too, are wearing rather good coats. There’s a schoolboy. The woman with the fur jacket is dressed for something. The wearer of the brown coat is lower class.

London Electricity Board. Tobacco advertising. “Iconic” bus (pre-Routemaster) and bus-stop. Wintery charm of Sloane Square in the background. The Venus fountain had not yet been built.

The railings of parks and squares, but not, I believe, of houses, had been melted down in the war to make armaments. The ones here are no longer there.

A few doors further down Sloane Street, away from the square on the same side as the railings, was Tablet House, the offices of the Catholic weekly, where my father was working in 1949 and which was demolished in the late ’50s.

The church is Sedding’s Holy Trinity. You can’t see it, but it had been badly damaged by bombs. The restoration was completed in the early ’60s. There was then a very 1960s attempt by the church authorities to close and demolish it, thwarted by a campaign led by John Betjeman and the Victorian Society.

Can one see a tube entrance in the square? If so, it’s no longer there.

There was a post office in the King’s Road, opposite Peter Jones, until (I think) the early ’90s which was presumably there in 1949. The woman carrying parcels might be returning from it. There was a butcher (I am now quoting someone else) in Symons Street.

Peter Jones, the department store, was already in its present building, which had been built between 1932 and ’36 and had the first glass curtain wall in Britain. It still looks modern.

Buses 19, 22 and 137 still go down Sloane Street.