The “down-sizing” from Redfellow Hovel in Norf Lunnun to Kozy Kot in North Yorks meant many kinds of disruption. Not least of all, it involved packing, shifting and re-shelving eighty-odd crates of books.
Only now, near six months on, are the books, at least, coming into some kind of order. The hole in the floor that may one day be a new kitchen is another matter.
The act of sorting and shelving led to numerous discoveries:
- Why, for example, are we missing four of what ought to be the complete John Le Carré oeuvre? Did The Honourable Schoolboy disintegrate and so was discarded? Was it lent, borrowed, purloined? Or has it simply been mislaid? It will need replacing (and a re-reading), obviously.
- Why must three boxed of the Left Book Club be consigned to the attic for lack of space?
- Hey! We’ve not only got the complete sequence of Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin stories, and mostly in hard back, but there’s a couple of his earlier stuff — The Catalans and The Road to Samarcand. If nothing else that shows why he improved with age.
- We at last have Michael Connelly, Crais, Michael Dibden, Alan Furst, Philip Kerr (Mmm … Berlin Noir‘s looking a bit manky), Donna Leon, Ian Rankin, Old Uncle Tom Cobbley’n’all, alphabetised, but also in series order.
And here’s something else …
We seem to have built, by accident and interest, but definitely not design, a small resource on the North African slavers and pirates —
A small study-project hoves into sight.
One thing stands out, even in a casual skim re-read: how British writers differ from Americans in emphases.
One version goes big on Exmouth’s Bombardment of Algiers in 1816:
Notice the Dutch flags — Theodorus Frederik van Capellen‘s squadron offered to join in the fun, though Exmouth (better known as Sir Edward Pellew) didn’t take the Dutchmen inside the mole, unlike Martinus Schouman inventive version above.
The other interoperation has its central focus William Eaton and Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon leading just eight Marines and a clutch of mercenaries picked up along the way in the 1805 attempt to capture Tripoli.
In truth neither episode ended the depredations of the Barbary States.
The last Royal Navy actions against North African pirates in the Western Mediterranean (they had now become the “Reefians”) occurred during the 1850s and 1860s. Even that was little more than containment — matters were not “solved” until the French stabilised Algeria by occupation. More recently, of course, the problem has moved to the Horn of Africa (and occupation won’t sort that out, to the great distress of a small group of neoCons).
An instructive observation:
The Western perspective biases the reader into an assumption of “difference”, even “superiority”. Hence “our” slave-trading was horrendous, but “theirs” was unspeakably more so — except to provide the shock-porn of European maidens carted off into infidel harems, etc., etc.
Then we turn to NAM Rodger, in The Command of the Oceans. He goes beyond any religious, Jahadist motives the Barbary States ostensibly may have had for waging constant war on the Christian Mediterranean and beyond. He draws a particular parallel with Oliver Cromwell.
By 1654, Lord Protector Cromwell had 160 ships in his Navy, eighteen regiments of foot and twelve of cavalry to finance. England was over-committed — those Irish and Scottish wars were expensive (though, in Ireland especially, payment in land-holdings made for a new class, the future Ascendancy). Parliament was demanding the military be reduced (as in August 1654), while the forces were demanding back pay (as in a petition from the Channel Squadron in October 1654). Cromwell was in no position to do either — particularly since unemployed military men have uncomfortable habits of involving themselves in politics). Answer: a foreign war.
Meanwhile, says Rodger, there was a parallel situation in the Barbary States, again with the necessity of keeping the military from engaging in political mischief.
So Cromwell sent a squadron under Colonel Robert Blake to the Mediterranean, under the pretext of the continuing “unofficial war” with France. Blake’s ships prevented a French attack onNaples, but ended up in a full-blown campaign against Tunis.
How that came about is equally telling, and morally ambivalent.
An English ship had sold Tunisian passengers into slavery in Malta. Yes: read that again. Tunis was severely displeased. When Tunis retaliated, Blake had his pretext.
We may re-sail these waters again.