As Malcolm has previously opined, if it’s got to be a Tory, Matthew Parris is as house-trained and gentlemanly a specimen as can be found.
“God,” said an excited Tory after a fellow MP was pulled from the sawdust of Thursday’s Private Member’s Bills tombola clutching a euro-referendum Bill, “must be a eurosceptic.”
No. God must favour the sane for He directed my steps that same night to a book launch at the National Gallery where the totally sane Conservative MP for Hereford, Jesse Norman, was unveiling his new study of Edmund Burke. And as I walked across Trafalgar Square contemplating the great 18th-century liberal conservative philosopher, God reminded me of the last time the Tory Right were deafening us, and I quoted Burke on this page: “Because half a dozen grasshoppers under a fern make the field ring with their importunate clink, whilst thousands of great cattle reposed beneath the shadow of the British oak chew the cud and are silent, pray do not imagine that those who make the noise are the only inhabitants of the field.”
What madness has seized my party? Is it only the noisy ones? Have the rest been brainwashed? Or just scared into silence? If so, that silence is flattering the hysterical minority. The silence must be broken. The Tory MPs keeping their heads are more numerous than we may suppose; we need to hear them.
Let’s be honest here, when Parris quoted that from Burke, it was mid-December 2012, and Parris was even more extreme in his denunciation. The header was:
Stamp on the grasshoppers of the Rabid Right
These spittle-flecked, obsessive reactionaries belong in UKIP. Don’t let them shelter under the Conservative fern
Furthermore, in that earlier piece, Parris continued the quotation (which should end above with a wholly-grammatical and super-Goveian semi-colon):
… that of course they are many in number; or that, after all, they are other than the little shrivelled, meagre, hopping, though loud and troublesome insects of the hour.
The original is in the 143rd paragraph of Burke’s Reflections on the French Revolution.
The spirit of a gentleman
Malcolm recalls, a bit earlier in that Burkean out-pouring (he checks: it’s the 133rd paragraph), the great man (as are all Trinity men) was pronouncing on the natural relationship of learning to the established social order:
Nothing is more certain, than that our manners, our civilization, and all the good things which are connected with manners and with civilization, have, in this European world of ours, depended for ages upon two principles; and were indeed the result of both combined; I mean the spirit of a gentleman, and the spirit of religion. The nobility and the clergy, the one by profession, the other by patronage, kept learning in existence, even in the midst of arms and confusions, and whilst governments were rather in their causes than formed. Learning paid back what it received to nobility and to priesthood, and paid it with usury, by enlarging their ideas, and by furnishing their minds. Happy if they had all continued to know their indissoluble union, and their proper place! Happy if learning, not debauched by ambition, had been satisfied to continue the instructor, and not aspired to be the master! Along with its natural protectors and guardians, learning will be cast into the mire, and trodden down under the hoofs of a swinish multitude.
Which, in small part, is simply arguing that learning is its own reward: not a thesis accepted by the utilitarian Gradgrind-Gove types who dominate the curriculum.
Our undergraduate scarves are still like those once sported by the Lady in his Life and by Malcolm himself: they should be in a closet somewhere. If the moths haven’t reached them.
The colours were dark blue and light blue, which suggests the desired comparison, with a stripe of red. There has always been a radical streak about TCD. Once upon a not-too-distant time (thanks to the provision of the College’s foundress, and the bigotry of John Charles McQuaid) Trinity had a particular spirit of religion. But the spirit of a gentleman was ever on the syllabus (and it wasn’t restricted to Jameson Redbreast).