Category Archives: WB Yeats

Batting order

GregoryOne of the great miscues must be wikipedia’s entry (see right).

The whole entry is 275 words of text. More than an arithmetical half is about Gregory as a sportsman, and particularly as a cricketer.

2291Meanwhile, I picked up Colm Tóibín’s monograph,  Lady Gregory’s Toothbrush.

It’s not a treatise on dental care: the title is from a letter Lady Augusta Gregory wrote to W.B.Yeats, after the Abbey Theatre performed Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World, which provoked riots:

“It is the old battle, between those who use a toothbrush and those who don’t.”

Being Tóibín, what we get is a beautifully-expressed and concise study of Lady Gregory and her background, of life at Coole Park, of the relationship with Yeats, and how the Robert Gregory poems were conceived.

Tóibín’s account of Robert Gregory differs considerably from the W.B.Yeats “authorised version”.

Yeats’s appreciation of Robert Gregory was not reciprocated (page 83):

Between her husband’s death in1892 and Robert’s coming of age ten years later, Lady Gregory worked to clear the debts on the estate. From 1902, Robert was the owner of the house and the estate, although she had a right, according to Sir William’s will, to live in the house for her lifetime. There was an intermittent conflict between Robert’s interest in being master in his own house, seated at the top of his own table, and his mother’s interest in having Yeats at the head of the table, offering him the master bedroom and devoting her household to the cause of the poet’s comfort.

Things got worse:

In her biography of Lady Gregory, Mary Lou Kohfeldt wrote that “Robert Gregory was startled one evening when he called for a bottle of an especially fine vintage Torquey laid down by his father to find it was all gone, served bottle by bottle by his mother to Willie over the years.” 

 Then there is the poem, Reprisals, written in November 1920, suppressed at Lady Gregory’s wish (if only on poetic merit, rightly so), and published only in 1994 — that itself a 1923 revision: read it here.

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Filed under Ireland, WB Yeats

My goodness, my Guinness

The Sunday Times [£] went big (well, bottom of page 4 in English edition) on this:


140Note we are talking of 1936. Nor should we be surprised that Guinness in Dublin were looking for new markets — bear in mind the “Economic War”. Nor that Guinness in Acton, NW10, could see a down-side. Nor that SH Benson should use military contexts (compare the stuff produced for the UK market, as right!).

An uncomfortable truth

When we trawl Liffey waters a bit deeper, though, the waters become murkier.

First of all, Pope Pius XI’s encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, promulgated 15 May 1931, on the “reconstruction of the social order”, both reflected and drove attitudes — and particularly so in faithful Ireland. It goes beyond a mere wish to address the ethical challenges facing workers, employers, the Church and the state as a result of end of the industrial revolution and the onset of the Great Depression. It has a few too many Corporate State assumptions for comfort, all summed in a killer sentence in paragraph 95:

The various classes work together peacefully, socialist organizations and their activities are repressed, and a special magistracy exercises a governing authority.

Here lay the theological underpinings of the Latin Fascist régimes, of Mussolini, Salazar and Franco.

And Ireland, too, had its adherents.

Beyond the Blueshirts

Let’s have a bit of history, then,

The original Army Comrades Association, founded in February 1932, explicitly had no party allegiance. That same August, though, Dr Tom O’Higgins (brother of  Kevin, and TD for Laois-Offaly) took charge, and things changed.

Brian Maye proposes “three main reasons why the ACA became a major political force”:

One was that Cumann na Gaedheal supporters were becoming convinced that, with the government ‘s cooperation, the IRA and Fianna Fail were determined to deprive Cumann na nGaedheal public representatives of the rights of free speech and assembly. The party and its supporters felt intimidated by the IRA with its ominous slogan ‘No free speech for ‘traitors’ . A second was the belief that communist forces were making progress and would soon pose a real threat. Finally, ex-army members were no longer given preference in the awarding of public posts, as had been the practice during the years when Cumann na nGaedheal was in power, and there were growing fears that they were being victimised. From August 1932 onwards, the ACA began to protect Cumann na nGaedheal public meetings, and this led to an increasing number of clashes with Fianna Fail and IRA elements.

Then came the January 1933 General Election, with Fianna Fáil achieving, for the first time for any single party, an absolute majority. For CnaG this was a disaster.


Was it a coincidence that the ACA promptly became a uniformed movement, complete with raised arm salute? From March 1933 they were, indeed, the Blueshirts. De Valera had dismissed General Eoin O’Duffy as Gárda Commissioner, and in July he succeeded O’Higgins , and the ACA formally became the National Guard.

Noses had sniffed the wind. Something had to change. So talks began to bring together CnaG, the parallel Centre Party, and the National Guard. O’Duffy was huffy; but FF cut the turf from under him by banning the National Guard, and he needed respectable support. And so O’Duffy would be party leader of the United Ireland – Fine Gael Party, while W.T. Cosgrave would lead the Dáil party. Each constituent nominated six to a clumsy executive of 25 — which had the advantage of diluting any power base.

After the 1934 local elections, when the new party took another pasting, O’Duffy was out; and he hoved off to form his explicitly fascist operation.

Two factions in Fine Gael

There was a cleavage between the parliamentarian approach of Cosgrave and the more-physical O’Duffy. Cosgrave may have “mis-spoken” on occasions — for example, most infamously:

.. the Blackshirts were victorious in Italy and that the Hitler Shirts were victorious in Germany, as, assuredly, in spite of this Bill and in spite of the Public Safety Act, the Blueshirts will be victorious in the Irish Free State.

— but O’Duffy had a notoriously loose mouth. This was much in evidence on the Border issue. Cosgrave and Co. honoured the Treaty, and willed an Ireland inside what was to become the Commonwealth: O’Duffy was a Monaghan man and never forgot it.

O’Duffy lacked subtlety. Patrick Hogan and Michael Tierny, both academics, represented what went for Fine Gael’s ideologues; and they had evolved a corporatist compromise between Quadragesimo Anno and how continental fascists were applying their version thereof. O’Duffy was no thinker — and more attracted to the continental school.

The Irish Times, 16th February 1934

Had we any doubts of Irish links to fascism, indeed to the newly-arrived Nazism, this one issue should raise them.

  • On page four we have Helmut Clissmann (an Abwehr agent, if not with direct links to Yeats, at least with very strong ones to Maude Gonne and her family and entourage, and then on to Sean Russell who was on his way to being head of the IRA Army Council) orating to Trinity students.
  • On page six, Tomás O Cleirigh of the National Museum waxes lyrical on Adolf Hitler (with some minor detractions) and on German contribution to Celtic Studies.
  • On page seven we (and the man himself, it seems) are informed:

Dr W.B.Yeats has been awarded the Goethe Plaque of the City of Frankfurt. The Municipal Prize office point out that, contrary to the practice of the ‘old regime’, the plaque is now given only in exceptional cases to persons distinguished in cultural life, and that it was therefore a rare distinction for Dr Yeats and for the German poet, Herr Hermann Stehr, who received the award at the same time. [Stehr is known, if at all, as an old-fashioned God-bothering novelist of the Heimat-Roman]

Is there a link in there, somewhere? The only apparent one is Clissmann. He received a passing mention in Cathal O’Shannon’s 2007 RTÉ documentary, for Hidden History, and even more cursory treatment in the Daily Telegraph‘s report thereon:

Helmut Clissmann was a World War II German spy involved in failed missions with the IRA. He later became a successful Dublin businessman.

Another issue of the Irish Times, for 8th November 1997, had one those extended Saturday obituaries for Clissmann:

Mr Helmut Clissmann, who has died in Dublin, was the best-informed German about Ireland and the IRA during the second World War. The Nazis twice failed to smuggle him into Ireland to act as an intelligence agent and link with the outlawed IRA.

Mr Clissmann first came to Ireland as a young student in the 1930s. He studied in Trinity College, worked on a doctoral thesis on “The Wild Geese in Germany”, and just before the war was sent again to Dublin as representative of the German Academic Exchange.

During these stays, he made contact with the then illegal IRA and married Budge Mulcahy, who was from a strongly republican family in Co Sligo. He also became friendly with the writer Francis Stuart.

When war broke out in 1939, Mr Clissmann was ordered, along with other Germans living in Ireland, to return to Germany. This was later seen by the German intelligence services as a bad mistake, but they tried to use his expert knowledge to find out the strength of the IRA and whether Germany could use it to launch guerrilla attacks and sabotage in Northern Ireland.

Mr Clissmann also played a role in the release of Frank Ryan from a Spanish jail where he was under sentence of death for fighting on the republican side in the Civil War. Mr Clissmann knew Ryan as an IRA activist when in Ireland.

The first attempt to send Mr Clissmann back to Ireland was Operation Lobster in August 1940, when a Breton trawler was to land him and a radio operator in Sligo Bay. With the help of IRA contacts, they were to travel to England and prepare for the planned German invasion. The German skipper, Christian Nissen, decided to abort the mission, however, after a storm disabled the engine off the west coast.

A year later, Mr Clissmann was involved in Operation Sea Eagle in which a German seaplane would land on Lough Key, Co Roscommon, to let him, Frank Ryan and a radio operator get ashore in a rubber dinghy. Mr Clissmann would bring £40,000 to the IRA and encourage it to become active in Northern Ireland while Ryan was to try to persuade the Taoiseach, Eamon de Valera, to co-operate with the IRA instead of interning and executing its members.

Admiral Canaris, head of the German Abwehr intelligence service, called off Operation Sea Eagle before it got under way.

Clissmann got his Irish visa in 1948, courtesy of Sean MacBride — son of Maud Gonne MacBride, and brother-in-law of Francis Stuart. Stuart was in Berlin between 1939 and 1945, reading news-bulletins and doing other work for Redaktion-Irland, the Nazi propaganda broadcasts to Ireland, for much of that time.

All in all, it wasn’t Guinness that was good for fascists.

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Filed under advertising., Dublin., Fascists, History, Ireland, Irish politics, Irish Times, Sunday Times, Trinity College Dublin, WB Yeats

The Lynnette whinges

Linnet: A small, slim finch, widely distributed, and once very popular as a cage bird because of its melodious song. [RSPB]

One of the benefits-on-the-side of removal to York is MP-swapping the benighted Lynne Featherstone for decent Hugh Bayley.

It doesn’t prevent the Featherstone self-exculpation emails getting through.

Is it for thee the lark ascends and sings?
Joy tunes his voice, joy elevates his wings.
Is it for thee the linnet pours his throat?
Loves of his own and raptures swell the note.
[Pope: Essay on Man]

This morning’s is a gem of the genre. It deserves repetition (and annotation):

The Government motion was defeated last night and so was the opposition amendment [Gosh! What a revelation! Was that also in every morning paper and news broadcast?].

I supported the Government motion because it proposed waiting for the UN weapons inspectors to finish their work and for the United Nations Security Council to consider their findings. [So did the Labour amendment, and she voted against that.]
The motion also proposed ‘that every effort should be made to secure a Security Council Resolution backing military action before any such action is taken’. [Whereas the Labour amendment modestly required “the Security Council must live up to its responsibilities to protect civilians”. And that wasn’t enough for Ms Featherstone?]
Most crucially the motion gave an absolute commitment that ‘Before any direct British involvement in such action a further vote of the House of Commons will take place.’  That vote would have happened next week, after the weapons inspectors had reported back. [Again, the Labour amendment merely provided: “the Prime Minister reports further to the House on the achievement of these conditions so that the House can vote on UK participation in such action.”]

Because people have asked my position, let me make it clear that, in that second vote, I would have voted against military action unless it was supported by the UN – and indeed resigned from the front bench if necessary. After the government defeat last night, I don’t believe there will be a second vote – but my position remains the same. [Phew! That let’s the lady off a hook.]
I am an internationalist and the use of chemical weapons is a war crime. We must use the international bodies that uphold international law – or else we have nothing. [Except Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.]
Furthermore, I am not persuaded that the sort of military intervention proposed – that of surgical strikes – would have made things better rather than worse. [Note carefully: she believes in “surgical strikes”, despite repeated proven failings, and concomitant civilian casualties, on previous adventures.]

I very much hope now that the international community will strive to find a diplomatic route with urgent and redoubled efforts. Assad and other such people should not take the vote last night as a green light on atrocities. [Trite, woolly and unconvincing. It would be refreshing to find a LibDem unquestionably in favour of undiplomatic and lethargic effort, and wholly shilling for indiscriminate atrocities.]

Is this a Lynnette composition, or, as so often, is it a boilerplate effort from LibDem and/or ConDem Command?

Now to the broader issue of the LibDem performance.

LibDemVoice calculates:

Last night, thirty-three Lib Dems voted for the government’s motion; 9 voted against; one abstained and 14 did not vote.

Which raises questions about a declared abstention (Paul Burstow, since you didn’t ask) and “Oh, I can’t be arsed” absentees.

The thirty-three hung-ho, let’s go with the neo-Cons, were:

  • Alexander, Danny, Ch Sec Treasury
  • Baker, Norman, PUS, DOT
  • Beith, Sir Alan
  • Brake, Tom, Understrapper, Leader of the Commons
  • Browne, Mr Jeremy, MoS, Home
  • Bruce, Sir Malcolm
  • Cable, Vince: SoS, Business
  • Campbell, Sir Menzies
  • Carmichael, Mr Alistair, Dep Ch Whip
  • Clegg, Mr Nick, Dep PM
  • Davey, Mr Edward, SoS, Energy
  • Featherstone, Lynne, PUS, IntDev
  • Foster, Mr Don, PUS, Comms & Lcl Gvt
  • Gilbert, Stephen
  • Hames, Duncan
  • Heath, Mr David, MoS, Environment
  • Hemming, John
  • Horwood, Martin
  • Hughes, Simon
  • Lamb, Norman, MoS, Health
  • Laws, Mr David, MoS, Educ & Cab Off
  • Leech, Mr John
  • Lloyd, Stephen
  • Moore, Michael, SoS, Scotland
  • Reid, Mr Alan,
  • Russell, Sir Bob,
  • Smith, Sir Robert,
  • Swinson, Jo, PUS, Business
  • Thornton, Mike
  • Thurso, John
  • Webb, Steven, MoS, Work & Pensions
  • Williams, Stephen
  • Wright, Simon.

To put it in context: half (well, it looks like sixteen) of the bombers-and-shooters were pay-roll vote. Some of the others seem to be ambitious greasy-pole-climbers. Add in a couple of garrison-town MPs. All highly-principled, no doubt.

But Liberal? Hardly! Democratic? Not on this occasion.

Now, where else can we look for a linnet?

Well, Yeats, of course, praying for his daughter. Seems peripherally appropriate on the day of Famous Seamus’s death. Also vaguely appropriate to the Featherstone theme (Geddit? Feather!) And can certainly be read out-of-context but relevant to the Great LibDem Betrayal. Above all, though, because Malcolm can never resist a bit of WBY:

In courtesy I’d have her chiefly learned;
Hearts are not had as a gift but hearts are earned
By those that are not entirely beautiful;
Yet many, that have played the fool
For beauty’s very self, has charm made wisc.
And many a poor man that has roved,
Loved and thought himself beloved,
From a glad kindness cannot take his eyes.

May she become a flourishing hidden tree
That all her thoughts may like the linnet be,
And have no business but dispensing round
Their magnanimities of sound,
Nor but in merriment begin a chase,
Nor but in merriment a quarrel.
O may she live like some green laurel
Rooted in one dear perpetual place.

My mind, because the minds that I have loved,
The sort of beauty that I have approved,
Prosper but little, has dried up of late,
Yet knows that to be choked with hate
May well be of all evil chances chief.
If there’s no hatred in a mind
Can never tear the linnet from the leaf.


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Filed under British Left, broken society, Lib Dems, Lynne Featherstone, politics, Quotations, WB Yeats, Wordsworth

Face off

Galla PlacidiaWhile Malcolm was in the former American colony of Noo Joisey and in absentia, WordPress would seem to have re-arranged how photographs are inserted into posts. That Malcolm was somewhat jet-lagged after an eventful ride with Mustang Sally was a further confusion.

That means the two protagonists of that anecdote in the previous post went un-illustrated. While Malcolm works out what he is doing wrong, let’s hear it for Aelia Galla Placidia (above).

There’s a decent Wikipedia mini-biog of the lady, well worth a quite viewing — for she was a figure of considerable consequence. She is also mother  to millions — try the account on rootsweb for a taster. One way or another, she figures in the ancestry of many Europeans — and probably all of their hereditary rulers. She was, for example, Elizabeth II’s something-like forty-six-times-back great-grandmother.


The source of that image is the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia at Ravenna, which deserves to qualify as one of the wonder of early European art, recognised by UNESCO as:

the earliest and best preserved of all mosaic monuments, and at the same time one of the most artistically perfect.


Slide out of the Mausoleum, take a swift left past the Information Bureau into the Via Cavour, then right into Via di Roma, and there is the Basilica of San Apollinare Nuovo. [Aha! See! Malcolm is getting the knack of this insertion business!]

San Apollinare Nuovo was where W.B.Yeats was confronted by his:

sages standing in God’s holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,

— another poem Malcolm was made to learn at Dublin’s High School for his Leaving Cert., and which has fertilised brain-cells ever since.

A note of dubiety

gallafamDespite that image of Galla Placidia having a prominent position in her eponymous Mausoleum (as part of the family group with her two children, Valentinian and Honoria), there are certain snippy critics who question whether it does in fact represent the lady.

Malcolm will have none of that. That is she, majestically, imperially, imperiously so, and no-one else.

Oh, and a further footnote …

One modern legend has it that Cole Porter visited the Mausoleum, came outside, looked up at the Italian sky, and had the notion for Night and Day. And if that’s not a good enough excuse …

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Filed under air travel., blogging, culture, Dublin., films, High School, History, Music, travel, WB Yeats

The not-so-great and the not-so-good, no. 28: Naomi Royde-Smith

Good grief, Malcolm! It looks as if we haven’t seen one of these in an age! Are you sure of the count?

Thought not! So it’s E&OE.

It’s also something of an apology. And those are certainly in vogue this week.

In Malcolm’s case it happened because he indulged in a bit of fact-checking. He had fixed in his mind the attribution of:

I know two things about a horse
And one of them is rather coarse.

He knew, for sure, that was a Hilaire Belloc gem. No question. Except, of course, it’s not. It’s, as he noted previously, Naomi Gwladys Royde-Smith, circa 1928,

Who she?

Well, she was more than a small literary celeb in her day — and her day stretched from being born in Halifax, Yorkshire, in 1875, until her kidneys gave up, and she was planted in Hampstead cemetery as late as mid-1964.

She was the eldest of six daughters of Michael Holroyd Smith (so the later double-barrelled surname is an affectation) and Anne Williams of Penybont. He was the electrical engineer who in 1889-90 fettled up the City and South London Railway, the first deep bored “tube” in the world, which we now know — if not love — as the Bank branch of London Underground’s Northern Line. She was the God-fearing, Bible-reading daughter of a Welsh divine.

After schooling at Clapham high school and a Swiss finishing school, Miss Royde-Smith was living in Chelsea, and writing for the Saturday Westminster Gazette. A small-circulation “clubland” publication, the Gazette  was, to some, “the most powerful paper in Britain“. It had the patronage of Lord Roseberry at a time when Liberalism was riding high.

Almost a national treasure

From being a contributor, Royde-Smith was soon editing (with her sister, Leslie) the ‘Problems and prizes page’ and from there, and writing reviews, in 1912 she became literary editor — the first woman in Britain to attain such a position. And it was no small distinction: she promoted the work of a galaxy of rising literary stars — Rupert Brooke, DH Lawrence, Graham Greene.

At this time she was the inamorata (or bit-on-the-side) of Walter de la Mare who wrote her hundreds of love-letters. Reviewing Theresa Whistler’s biography of de la Mare, Jeremy Treglown was somewhat caustic about the reality of this involvement:

Another supporter was the beautiful Naomi Royde-Smith, literary editor of the Saturday Westminster Gazette – the only woman who held such a position at the time. They fell in love. De la Mare wouldn’t leave his family and wasn’t much interested in sex, although he was exasperatingly jealous of Royde-Smith’s other friendships. She continued to read, heavily edit and publish his stuff, and in other ways helped along the possessive and increasingly hypochondriacal author. It is clear, although Whistler is tactful about this, that there was a good deal of tough, instinctive calculation behind de la Mare’s Skimpole-like infantilism. Devoted to his own children (he was a pioneer of male nappy-changing), he was sulky and obstructive when his daughters came to marry. A generous man when he could afford to be, the balance sheet always remained in his favour.

‘Beautiful’ Royde-Smithmay have been but, as implied there, she seems to have swung both ways. She had a ‘close relationship’ with Rose Macaulay; and together they ran a coterie of literary lions ( Arnold Bennett, Yeats, the Sitwells, the Huxleys) at Royde-Smith’s Kensington flat. Virginia Woolf came visiting and recorded Royde-Smith:

… dressed à la 1860; swinging earrings, skirt in balloons … sat in complete command. Here she had her world round her. It was a queer mixture of the intelligent & the respectable.

Read into that what you wish.

When Rose Macaulay put Royde-Smith into her 1926 novel, Crewe Train, it was as ‘Aunt Evelyn’. The central character, Denham Dobie, is brought to London by her maternal Aunt Evelyn and seeks to come to terms with this alien literary sophistication. Macaulay, though, makes Evelyn Gresham both incisive and smart (in every sense) but also interfering, waspish and a gross gossip.

A man and a quieter life

The Liberal hour passed and gone, the Westminster Gazette expired on its 35th birthday, 31st January 1928. Royde-Smith needed new worlds to conquer.

One was the accession of a man into her life. At Lynton, in Devon, ten days before Christmas 1926, she married Ernest Gianello Milton, a mixed (in all kinds of ways) Italian-American actor, a regular with Tyrone Guthrie’s Old Vic company. Milton’s finest few minutes were to be as Robespierre in Alexander Korda’s 1934 The Scarlet Pimpernel.

Quite what the marriage involved is open to prurient speculation. The bride was aged 51, and a full fifteen years older than her new husband (though she continued to massage the age difference). When Theresa Whistler, writing that study of de la Mare, described the liaison, it was:

a triumph over unlikeliness by the strong-minded, romantic woman she was, and the histrionic, highly-strung, generous-minded actor. He placed her, for life, on a pedestal of admiration, though not by temperament drawn to her sex.

Ahem! Again, read between the lines.

Later years

Naomi Milton (as she now was) forwent the social life, and effectively “retired” — at one time the Mitons were living in a house which had once been Nell Gwyn’s: 34 Colebrook Street, Winchester (as above). She did a bit of art-criticism for Queen magazine, but her main occupation became the authoring of a string of some forty largely-forgotten novels, a couple of biographies, and four plays. Only one of the novels, The Tortoiseshell Cat, “a Good First Novel“, seems to have stayed in print (and that intermittently).

Her niece, Jane Tilley, described Naomi Milton in her later years  — first at Winchester, then a permanent resident of the Abbey Court Hotel in Hampstead’s Netherhall Gardens, as:

hugely amusing, chain-smoked, was large and uncorseted, and wore large patterns

The final novel, Love and a Birdcage, was published in September 1960, when she was in her eighty-fifth year, possessed of very poor eye-sight. Ernest Milton survived her by a decade.


Filed under Britain, fiction, films, Hampstead, History, Literature, London, WB Yeats

All for want of a nail

Lynne Truss, in Eats, Shoots & Leaves, revisited the trial of Roger Casement, in search of a comma.

Roger Casement was tried, found guilty, sentenced and executed under the Treason Act of 1351. That was, and is (for it remains in force in English law to this day) quite an enlightened piece of legislation, in that it attempts to define and circumscribe what is involved in an act of treason. Essential to the conviction  was whether or not Casement had been

adherent to the King’s enemies in his Realm, giving to them aid and comfort, in the Realm[,] or elsewhere.

Notice that critical second comma: if it’s there, Casement was indeed guilty, and Mr Justice Darling was entitled to read that “giving aid and comfort” were words of apposition: that is to say, if one took the side of the king’s foes, one was a traitor irrespective of whether one was in or out of the kingdom. On the other hand …

Casement had done his stuff in Germany, not in the lands of George V. Once back in Ireland, still part of the United Kingdom, he had behaved impeccably, surrendering to the police, and obeying the law. Serjeant Sullivan, imported for the occasion and a stranger to English courts, argued the 1351 Act:

neither created nor declared an offence of treason by adherence to the King’s enemies beyond the realm.

The precise wording meant:

the giving of aid and comfort outside the realm did not constitute a treason which could be tried in this country unless the person who gave the aid and comfort outside the realm, in the present case in the Empire of Germany, was himself within the realm at the time when he gave the aid and comfort .

It took the keen eyes of two learned judges, and a trip to the Public Record Office, to spot there might, just might, be a second comma. Anyway, the mood of the time probably made Sullivan’s nit-picking pointless, and so Casement was condemned. Presumptions of innocence and guilt tend to get a bit clouded when matters are so politically polarised, as they were in 1916.

A Malcolmian aside

That picture has a history in itself.

The presiding judge, Sir Charles John Darling, invited Sir John Lavery into the Court. Lavery had to keep his materials out of sight while he sketched. The finished version (above) was not completed until 1931, and remained in Lavery’s studio until the artist’s death in 1941. Casement is put at the centre, straight in front of the viewer, who is thus rendered judge and jury.

The painting became part of the Irish National Collection, and is generally to be found at the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery in Dublin, though it came to London for restoration work in 2003 — which was its first display in the United Kingdom.

Yeats, however, put the painting (or was he thinking of some sketches for it?) in The Municipal Gallery Revisited as early as 1938:

Around me the images of thirty years:
An ambush; pilgrims at the water-side;
Casement upon trial, half hidden by the bars,
Guarded; Griffith staring in hysterical pride …

How might this apply to the arrest, for perjury, of Andy Coulson?

Well, it might come down to a similar piece of pettifogging.

Another Malcolmian aside:

from the OED:

pettifogger, n.1

1. Originally: an inferior legal practitioner who dealt with petty cases; formerly occas. also as a professional name … (now hist.). Hence: a lawyer who engages in petty quibbling and cavilling, or who employs dubious or underhanded legal practices; a lawyer who abuses the law. Usu. derogatory.


  • Tommy Sheridan represented himself at his perjury trial.
  • He called Coulson as a witness.His crucial question to Coulson was: Did the News of the World pay corrupt police officers?”
  • Coulson replied, “Not to my knowledge”.

Coulson could answer no other way: he would have been incriminating himself, for corruption law makes both briber and bribe-taker guilty.

But, even now, Coulson has a get-out: it may be the NotW didn’t pay off “corrupt” coppers, but honest ones. The NotW had no knowledge whether the individuals receiving dosh were “corrupt” or not. The paper was serving the wider good,covered by the public-interest defence: a small technical offence to expose a greater one, etc., etc. And with one bound our hero is free!

Coulson the escapologist

Sheridan also questioned Coulson on why he had left the NotW. As always, he gave the noble answer.

There had been a crime committed by a member of the NotW staff: Clive Goodman had been done for intercepting Clarence House telephone messages, and for that went inside on a four-month stretch. At that stage the NotW management were maintaining that Goodman was the single “bad apple”.

Coulson had accepted “taken the ultimate responsibility and stepped down” for this “illegal phone hacking”, even though —perish the thought! — he had “no knowledge of it”.

That has been Coulson’s consistent stated position. Sheridan had pressed him further, particularly over Goodman’s connection with Glenn Mulcaire, he of the numerous records. Coulson denied he had any awareness at all of Mulcaire, did not even know the name until Mulcaire’s arrest: “I never met him, spoke to him or emailed him.” The £105,000 the NotW paid Mulcaire was inexplicable to Coulson: this, and other outgoings, had been “made without my knowledge”. Coulson believed that just “five other people” had had their voice-mails hacked. We now know (and many of us studying the US press had wind at the time — read down to Malcolm’s comment) Coulson was out by an underestimate by about 2,668.6%.

We also now know that, included in multitude of victims, was a wide swathe of Sheridan’s family and associates, all targeted by Mulcaire. The extended as far as Sheridan’s mother and Joan McAlpine (who co-authored  with Sheridan a book on the Poll Tax Revolt).

All of this, and far more, will be revisited if, and when Coulson is tried for any perjury. It is worth noting that, in the Scottish system, an arrest is not made until a pretty-convincing case has been prepared. Coulson has, most definitely, been arrested and charged.

What adds to the drama is that the Sheridan trial, and any wrong-doing by Coulson in that court, happened while Coulson was on the 10 Downing Street pay-roll. In other words, while Cameron was giving Coulson his “second chance”.

Meanwhile — and it must, surely, be coincidence — Cameron is also given a convenient let-out: he cannot answer any pointed questions at Leveson, for fear of muddying the waters of Strathclyde.

Malcolm’s headline

So, has Coulson been nailed this time?

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

The earliest versions of that date from around the time Edward III’s legal team was formulating his Treason Act.

It was already proverbial when John Gower used it in Confessio Amantis, around 1390.


Filed under Britain, Conservative family values, David Cameron, democracy, Dublin., History, Ireland, Law, leftist politics., Scotland, sleaze., Tories., WB Yeats

Yeats reprised and ignorance recognised

As he has mentioned previously, Malcolm’s “other” bedside book is John Stubbs’s Reprobates: The Cavaliers of the English Civil War. Boy! Is this a good ‘un!

A Malcolmian aside

One of the best (in all senses) reviews of Stubbs was that by Adrian Tinniswood’s in Literary Review. Malcolm insists on quoting the first two paragraphs:

When I was an Eng Lit student back in the early 1970s, a time when deconstruction wasn’t a proper word and everyone thought critical theory had something to do with physics, any attempt to mix history and literature was regarded with deep suspicion. Mightn’t it help our reading of ‘Easter 1916’ if we knew a bit about the rising itself, we asked tentatively? No, said our teachers: that would ‘lead us away from the poem’. Then didn’t Yeats help to explain Irish history? No: literary sources were unreliable. In any case, we weren’t there to study history. We were there to study ‘the Text’.

No matter what the work was or who produced it, that text existed in its own sealed world. Literature fed on itself, and external narratives, whether they involved Tudor politics or Wilfred Owen’s war or Thomas Hardy’s Dorset, were off the menu.

From which perspective, Malcolm recognises in himself, from  way back, a proto-deconstructionist. Or is that just an Irish, even a TCD kind of thing?

Taking that most glaring exemplar given by Tinniswood, Malcolm finds it impossible, even incredible, to dissociate Yeats from his historical and political context. Easter 1916 exists in a precise moment, even instant of time. Consider the dates:

  • Back in February 1915 Henry James, who was editing a fund-raising anthology along with Edith Wharton,  had asked Yeats for a war poem. What James got was something between a bit of flannel and a flea in his ear:

I think it better that at times like these
A poet’s keep his mouth shut, for in truth
We have no gift to set a statesman right;
He’s had enough of meddling who can please
A young girl in the indolence of youth,
Or an old man upon a winter’s night.

  • Over the Easter weekend of 1916, Yeats was staying with Sir William Rothenstein at Far Oakridge, near Stroud. On Easter Monday (24th April) Yeats heard of the Rising. It seems that Yeats was a trifle miffed. He was a sworn IRB-man, and — in his own eyes, if none others — the Greatest Living Irish poet , so he felt aggrieved that he had not been consulted (as if Yeats could ever keep a secret). This was, though, a Great Irish Happening; and it required the Yeatsian touch, one way or another.
  • Any remaining initial and subjective distaste was swept away when the signatories of the Declaration of Independence were dispatched by firing squads. He had affinities with Tomás Mac Donnchadha, who had paid his dues by dedicating a book of verse to Yeats. James Connolly, a fellow antagonist of William Martin Murphy, had stood along with Yeats on a number of issues. Yeats had known the Gore-Booths since 1894 on his first awkward visit to Lissadell — and now Constance Markiewicz, who had been Connie Gore-Booth, was under sentence of death. The most direct link was the execution of John MacBride, the estranged husband of Yeats’s enduring love, Maud Gonne.
  • If that wasn’t the motivator, then came revulsion at the summary murder of Francis Sheehy-Skeffington, and a consensus of national outrage shared by Lady Gregory and Yeats’s own family. On 11th May 1916 he wrote to Lady Gregory that he was trying to write a poem on the men executed — “terrible beauty has been born”.
  • In all Yeats’s collections the poem has the subscription of a key date: 25th September 1916. Stephen Gwynn edited Scattering Branches, Tributes to the Memory of W.B.Yeats (1940), where Maud Gonne MacBride supplied its significance:

Standing by the seashore in Normandy in September 1916, he read me that poem: he had worked on it the night before, and he implored me to forget the stone and its inner fire for the flashing, changing joy of life, but when he found my mind dull with the stone of the fixed idea of getting back to Ireland, kind and helpful as ever, he helped me overcome political and passport difficulties and we travelled as far as London together.

Quite frankly, how one comprehends Easter 1916, outside of those contexts, escapes Malcolm completely.

Back to Tinniswood, en route to Stubbs

Sure, royalist stalwarts like Henry Jermyn, Endymion Porter and the archetypal cavalier Prince Rupert do put in an appearance. But the real focus of Stubbs’s book is the cavalier poets, that motley collection of royalist writers who gathered around the aging and irascible Ben Jonson in the late 1620s and 1630s and went on to seek their fortunes at court, simultaneously memorialising and mythologising its decline. The self-styled ‘Tribe of Ben’ – William Davenant, Thomas Carew, Sir John Suckling and the rest – remain resolutely minor figures, both in literature and in history. Most are remembered for a single poem, like Sir John Denham and ‘Cooper’s Hill’, or even a single line, like Richard Lovelace’s ‘Stone walls do not a prison make’ or Robert Herrick’s ‘Gather ye rosebuds while ye may’. Some aren’t even remembered for that. Can you recall anything Suckling wrote?

Err, yes, murmurs Malcolm:

Out upon it, I have lov’d
Three whole days together;
And am like to love three more,
If it prove fair weather.

Time shall moult away his wings
Ere he shall discover
In such whole wide world again
Such a constant lover.

Which, sadly, goes to make Tinniswood’s point.

Dancing to the Drum

In the fastnesses of last night, Malcolm was embroiled in Stubbs’s Chapter 4, in which Suckling is off with Sir Henry Vane’s embassy (1631-2) to the wars in Germany. Marvelling at the rolling names of the protagonists — Gustavus Adolphus, Wallenstein, Oxenstierna — suddenly  a tsunami of guilt flooded over Malcolm.

He had “done” the Thirty Years War as a paper for the Irish Leaving Certificate, 1960. This required hours in a dusty classroom, having outlines and details drummed in by an excellent teacher. That was when the High School was at number 40, the top end of Dublin’s Harcourt Street: a totally unsuitable but magnificent building — rather than the present very suitable, but unprepossessing complex at Danum. Malcolm learned enough to take “honours” in the examination. And now? He cannot recall any of it. There are fifty-eight (fifty-eight!) battles and sieges of the War listed on wikipedia: at a pinch, Malcolm could name just the one — Lützen, and that because it involved the death of Gustavus Adolphus.


To return whence we departed, nine hundred finely-chiselled words ago, Malcolm wonders about two aspects (other than his fallible memory):

  • How did a protestant school in the Irish system manage to teach such religiously-loaded topic as the Thirty Years War? For Malcolm dimly recalls that, if there were a hero of that whole mess, it was the King of Sweden.
  • How and why was the war in Germany taught in isolation, as a clinical experiment almost? Why were the wider, European dimensions — and the even more limited local perspectives — not better explored? Was it not made clear that perhaps 30,000 Scots were fighting the protestant cause in Germany, and when the rump of them returned they formed the hardest men of the Covenanters’ resistance in the Bishops’ Wars? Was a conscious link (if so, Malcolm cannot remember it, or he was too dim too perceive it at the time) made to the wars in Ireland that were about to explode?

Stubbs manages a sidelight on all that:

The death of Gustavus at Lützen — even more, all the more unbearably, at another moment of victory — was shattering to the militant Protestant cause; but also, less tangibly, hugely dispiriting to the admirers and followers of the direct, chivalrous approach the king had embodied. Sweden had been out-manoeuvred in the council chamber rather than outfought in the field. It is an irony that so many in the pro-Spanish element at the English court would belong to the side branded ‘cavaliers’ in the British and Irish civil wars, since their cold political realism in the early thirties had very little of the cavalier about it. It was a strong sense of irony, in fact, which saved Suckling from the excesses of grief for the fallen hero seen in other quarters. he had seen a little too much of statecraft to take the cause, or the blow it suffered in losing Gustavus, to heart. 

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Filed under Britain, Dublin, Dublin., education, High School, History, Literature, Quotations, reading, Trinity College Dublin, WB Yeats