Yesterday, when it was not raining, Tory Historian attended a garden party in Oxford. Well, what else does one do in Oxford? This was an unusually mixed party with guests from many different parts of the world and even different parts of Oxford easily chatting with each other. Those who know the city well will not be surprised to hear that the party was not in that stronghold of academic residence, North Oxford.
Tory Historian spent a long time talking to a Serbian lady, who teaches English in Belgrade and comes to England once a year or so. She spent the war of the nineties in that city and was, together with her family, part of the ten per cent, as he estimates it, who were against Milosevic and his wars with the other states of former Yugoslavia. They did not even object to the final act, the bombing of Belgrade because, as her father had put it, Serbia had to learn a lesson.
Anybody who thinks this smacks of treason might like to contemplate what Germans, who had opposed the Nazi regime, its wars and the support it had from ordinary people, may have thought during allied bombing.
However, what Tory Historian found particularly interesting was the story of the Serbian lady becoming vegetarian – not a common phenomenon in the Balkans or Eastern Europe. It was precisely because of that she had decided to stop eating meat and fish, however hard that made her life. This made her different, roused suspicion in her interlocutors (you are not Orthodox, they would say) and allowed her to start discussions on politics and express her opinions. Rather a courageous move that puts the activity of our own vegetarians into perspective.
Interestingly enough, as Tory Historian mentioned in the ensuing conversation, vegetarianism in history has always been viewed as rather a subversive form of living, ever since the days of Pythagoras, who is alleged to have been murdered with his disciples by rebels in Croton. Of course, that may have been simply because they were seriously fed up with having to study that theorem.
Colin Spencer, in many ways a very eccentric writer and journalist, did produce a fascinating history of vegetarianism, in which he explored the relationship between it and social subversiveness at length.
It is always nice to find something unexpected like the Canadian Conservative Forum. Apart from anything else, it has lots of excellent conservative quotations, some from Canadians, some from others.
Here is a very good comment by the writer, critic and journalist Robert Fulford:
Civilization begins with the consciousness of memory; it begins when we decide we must maintain a spoken, drawn or written account of who we are, what we have done, and why we did it. Conversely, when we abandon this enterprise, or neglect it, or wilfully distort it for the political needs of the moment, we grow less civilized. A society loses its way when it loses secure connections with the past. That possibility is one of the dangers facing us during this historic period.A quick look at his biography on Wikipedia shows that he is a journalist of the old school - started at the bottom on leaving school and no degrees in media studies. He has been described as being on the conservative end of the liberal spectrum but judging by some of his political positions, he is considerably to the right of that.
We are not likely to forget this year of all years the "assistance" Soviet troops insisted on rendering to Czechoslovakia forty years ago today. Here is the BBC story. At least, there is no longer any pretence that anyone in Georgia asked for assistance though, of course, there was that story of "genocide" in South Ossetia, since disproved by all, even Russian sources.
This is a blog on history, so let's stick to history but forty years is not such a long span of time.
Yesterday was the anniversary of the birth of one of the most prolific writers of excellent popular fiction, of which Tory Historian approves, as readers would have realized. Georgette Heyer, whose fan club maintains a very elegant website, was born on August 16, 1902 in Wimbledon, which is somehow appropriate.
She died, an immensely successful author, on July 4, 1974 in London. Known largely for her Regency novels, she also wrote highly amusing, if somewhat ridiculous detective stories, mostly about Superintendent Hannasyde and Sergeant, later Inspector, Hemingway. There were also other historical novels but these are not so well known. (Wikipedia lists them all.)
The Regency novels are highly entertaining and rely on very accurate information that Georgette Heyer collected assiduously. She was clearly influenced by Jane Austen and, while not being as great a writer as the latter, she is considerably better than most authors of historical romances.
The Regency world of Ms Heyer, a slightly higher one socially than that of Miss Austen, is vivid and is never merely a modern world with a few tushes and gadzookses added to them. In fact, there are very few tushes and no gadzookses at all but the details of dress, habit, behaviour, food and so on are accurate as anyone who reads contemporary accounts and diaries can see. Even professional historians have been known to recommend Ms Heyer's romances.
Her detective stories, while mostly very silly and never as popular as the romances, also give a clear picture of the upper middle class and middle class world of England some years before and some years after the Second World War. In her descriptions of post-war England she shows herself to be considerably more accurate than the more highly regarded but hopelessly outdated and nostalgic Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh.
Tory Historian finds it particularly admirable that Ms Heyer's dating and time scale in the detective stories is always accurate. To prove this, two novels, which have many of the same characters some years apart, are particularly recommended: "They Found Him Dead", published in 1937 and "Duplicate Death", published in 1951.
And we used to be proud of them. Indeed, many an academic on both sides of the Atlantic has referred with a knowing smile to his or her career in the hush-hush part of the Second World War and the only annoying part of it all is that it is not always possible to find how true the individual claims are.
All of a sudden these people have become known as spies, a term that has a distasteful aspect and programmes about people who fought the enemy through gathering and analyzing vital intelligence are full of disdainful verbal grimaces.
Tory Historian once sat through a completely pointless talk, which asked whether Raoul Wallenberg, the one undoubted hero of the Second World War and victim of the other totalitarian state, could have used his position as a Swedish diplomat to supply information to the Allies as well as rescuing Jews in Hungary.
In the end, the speaker had to admit that he had no evidence for any of his speculation. But the question that was left in the mind of the audience, made up as it was from analysts, writers and former practitioners of the intelligence service is why that should be a problem. The war was fought to be won and intelligence was an important weapon.
Now the subject of wartime agents has cropped again in what sounds like a shock-horror story produced by CNN. Apparently, the famed chef Julia Child and Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg
served in an international spy ring managed by the Office of Strategic Services, an early version of the CIA created in World War II by President Franklin Roosevelt.Very interesting, of course, and Tory Historian would like to know a little more about it but there is an objection to the language used, which somehow indicates that there was something underhand and unworthy in all these people becoming “spies”. Why should that be?
The full secret comes out Thursday, all of the names and previously classified files identifying nearly 24,000 spies who formed the first centralized intelligence effort by the United States. The National Archives, which this week released a list of the names found in the records, will make available for the first time all 750,000 pages identifying the vast spy network of military and civilian operatives.
Two books arrived in the post today for review in the Conservative History Journal. Both are published by Politico's, no longer the domain of one Iain Dale, and both are about very recent British political history.
There is Norman Fowler's "A Political Suicide", subtitled "The Conservatives' voyage into the wilderness", a cautionary tale to both the Tories and Gordon Brown's Labour. I have only glanced through it and, thus, cannot tell whether Lord Fowler shoulders any of the blame. Some lucky reviewer can find out and tell the rest of us. Incidentally, I never cease to be amazed by the propensity modern politicians have for keeping diaries that seem to record very little of any interest. (Miaow!)
Secondly, we have "Challenge to Democracy" by Ronald McIntosh, who was the director general of the National Economic Development Council (Neddy) from mid-1973 till 1977. The sub-title of this tome is "Politics, Trade Union Power and Economic Failure in the 1970s" and who would know that better than Mr McIntosh, though I do not suppose he could have done anything.
Well, readers, who would like to review these books for the Conservative History Journal, either the print version or the blog? If you do please e-mail me on szamuely_AT_aol.com.
Being an historian by training and interest (though not, sadly, by employment) I have always found it odd that people should not be interested in history. But it’s about people and what they do and why they do it. How can it not be interesting? The usual reply consists of a list of unrelated and rather dull topics that passes for history these days in schools.
It has been obvious for some time that what excites people is narrative history, which is, presumably, the reason for the popularity enjoyed by popular history books and TV series in the last few years. Of course, as Andrew Roberts pointed out to me in an interview for the Conservative History Journal, this popularity may not last and can be replaced at any time by any other subject.
For all of that, it is clear that there are many people out there who want to know about history and feel cheated by its non-teaching at schools. This influenced Civitas a couple of years ago when it decided to reprint the old children’s classic, “Our Island Story” by H. E. Marshall.
I re-read it in its hardback version and thought it was a pity that the new edition was quite so heavy to pick up, what with thick glossy paper and rather thick cover. It was meant to be for children who would find it difficult to manoeuvre a hefty volume of that kind. This might well have been sorted out in the paperback edition.
There was something of a surprise as I did not remember how much of the history Henrietta Marshall wrote was actually based on literature, most notably, of course, Shakespeare’s plays. There are many quotations from the plays as well as other poetry.
Poetry, of course, is a great incentive for learning history, especially if it is of the more heroic kind and those plays have been inspiring debates for centuries. However, none of that is history in the acceptable sense of the word. It is more a reflection of the way teachers wanted children and young people to see their own national development.
Browsing through some second hand books at a summer fair recently I came across a slim tome I had not heard of before. It is by Peter Mandler, the Cambridge historian and is entitled “History and National Life”, complete with that famous picture of the young Walter Raleigh listening to the stories of an old salt on the cover.
This is an interesting topic and I shall enjoy reading the book and reporting on it, despite the rather poor review by Roger Spalding published in the Institute of Historical Research.
Yet more apologies for a prolonged silence. Other matters have intruded.
Today we should turn our attention to those astonishing people, the scientists and engineers of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century; the people who made this country truly great.
The reason for that is because August 9 is the anniversary of the birth of Scottish engineer, architect and stonemason, Thomas Telford. The son of a shepherd, who died soon after his birth, he was apprenticed to a stonemason at the age of 14 and was largely self-taught.
The list of his achievements make one feel rather dizzy. He built important roads, canals and bridges in England, Wales and Scotland. He was called the “Colossus of Roads” by his great friend, the poet Southey, one the Lake Poets in his early life and a Poet Laureate later on. Presumably, the idea of two cultures simply did not occur to these people.
When you have read Thomas Telford’s biography have a look at the list of the Men of Science Alive in 1807 - 08, pictured in the group portrait above.
This is a posting that celebrates great people so there will be no moaning and tearing out of hair because these days our universities and firms find it hard to recruit British students who could get anywhere near studying or practising science and engineering.
Tory Historian spent an hour or so last Thursday in the National Portrait Gallery, which is open late on Thursdays and Fridays. On the top floor the small room that is given over to temporary exhibitions on one theme is filled with images of Charles I before his execution, during it and as the glorious martyr afterwards. The exhibition is on till mid-December and is well worth seeing.
The Parliamentarians probably over-reached themselves when they tried, condemned and executed the King, thus turning a problematic and not very popular former ruler into a martyr for all times. (Tory Historian seems to recall talk of the same thing happening with Saddam Hussein after his execution but it has not. That man was beyond simply unpopular – he was hated in a way Charles I was not except by very few.)
There is deliberately very little about Charles and his Scottish wars or disagreements with Parliament or, for that matter, the religious, constitutional and political problems he allowed to grow in the years before the Civil War. Many of the portraits that relate to the period can be seen in the large room devoted to the subject.
The theme in the special exhibition is the fascinating one of propaganda and the way opinion can be swayed. Charles was not a popular king but the notion of raising Parliamentary rebellion may not have appealed to many people either. Still, there had been rebellions before – some successful, some not so much.
The issue here was the trial and execution. Charles was actually put on trial and accused of being “a tyrant, traitor, murderer, and a public and implacable enemy of the commonwealth of England”. This was the shattering new idea that the squires of England, who sat in that Parliament thought of: that the king could be tried because there was a law and a constitutional order that was superior to him.
New ideas are not necessarily popular and this one was not, followed as it was by King Charles’s apparently noble martyrdom during trial and at the execution. The subsequent oppressive rule by Parliament did not endear the cause to people and the Royalists profited by it.
Etchings and woodcuts of Charles’s execution, real and imaginary, were widely available, though their production and distribution was actually banned in the country. They were brought in from the Continent, many, interestingly enough, from Holland, a country that had only recently emerged from its own war against the King of Spain.
As the notes to the exhibition say:
Royalist propaganda avoided difficult political and constitutional issues and focused attention on a sympathetic image of a devoted king suffering for his people.After the Restoration King Charles was made into a martyr, the only Anglican one, but his name was removed from the Common Prayer Book in 1859. As the more personal fascination with the King-Martyr receded there was a greater historical interest in the whole period of the Civil War and even what was then known as the Commonwealth.
There is a fascinating aspect to this, which the exhibition curators touch on briefly. Somehow, out of that situation the concept of England, the monarchy that is controlled by the constitution and a Parliament that may be bound in some ways theoretically by royal privilege but is, in fact, the ultimate law-giver. Well, that was true until 1972 when said Parliament introduced legislation that made a different body’s laws superior. Time for another John Hampden, perhaps.