Finally caught up with Matthew Parris in Saturday’s Times. No; not neglect. Simply because the Lady in my Life purloins Murdoch’s neoCon rag, and leaves me with my preferred Guardian.
Today, then, we browse on Parris’s New-look Ukip threatens Cameron’s legacy.
Before we proceed: muse on whatever “Cameron’s legacy” might be. Apart from the constant lay-offs of steel-workers, retail-workers, and the ever-constant national divisiveness (e.g.#IndyRef; #EURef), we might nod at the lousy productivity, a decade of “austerity” (which, like taxes, is only for the “little people”), and the constant war on public services.
Then to the conceit of the Kippers changing their wardrobes. Apart from their penchant for serial silly neckwear, this is another distraction. It gets even more lunatic when the proposal is:
Ukip’s blue-sky thinkers covet the huge penumbra of soft support that the Corbynite wing of the Labour party finds among its £3 non-member “supporters” club.
Ukip and “thinkers” in the same phrase! Now, that‘s original.
Paris properly coughs, ahems, but resists the opportunity to mock, merely continuing:
My guess is that fishing in cyber waters, you net an (on average) younger, cooler and more generally switched-on crowd. Corbynite Labour has done so, but is there the same untapped support for the populist right out there on the internet, for @nukip to tap?
Where the whole thing, even the normally-sane Parris, completely leaves the tracks is here:
The most vigorous and successful Britain-wide party today is the Conservative party, but it is haunted by a philosophical divide between progressives and reactionaries.
Note the quibble: “Britain-wide”. The notion that the Tory Party is vigorous and successful ignores the ever-decreasing geriatric membership, the hollowed-out non-functioning Associations. Any success, local or nationally, is based on statistical freaky. Consider:
That, folks, is “success”: a downward general decline, a lower hike than Labour in the annus mirabilis of 2015 — and even that achieved by two bits of nasty:
- First there was dirty-work at the Roadtrip crossroads against LibDems.
- second, the tartan dead-cat on the table.
No: the most vigorous and successful party, even Britain-wide party, is the SNP.
After all, it was the SNP steam-roller that denied Labour dozens of seats in Scotland, and Lynton Crosby’s Jockophobics that impacted on Labour in the rest of the UK. Remember this:
Put together what little there is in all that, and I end up with Macbeth:
… in these cases
We still have judgment here; that we but teach
Bloody instructions, which, being taught, return
To plague the inventor: this even-handed justice
Commends the ingredients of our poison’d chalice
To our own lips.
Chesterton, that old demi-semi-fascist (don’t the fascists love to claim him) and overt anti-semite, warned:
we are the people of England; and we have not spoken yet.
Well, he was wrong. The people of England speak at elections, and every few decades they turn vicious: then it’s heave-ho for the established order: 1906, 1945, 1964-66, 1979, 1997. We are coming due for another such upset.
We are about to witness the electors of London spitting on the mayoral grave of Boris Johnson. Already the wannabe Lynton Crosbys of Tory Central are briefing their clients in the national press that what matters — really, really matters — is how Labour does or doesn’t do in Eatanswill:
[The extra irony being that Tories recruit their canvassers with promises of eating and swilling.]
In fact, by 6th May, Sadiq Khan will be the most significant person in Labour Party and local government politics.
Paris concluded his piece:
So I’ll end by repeating what Mr [Arron] Banks said: “I’ve got a weird feeling that British politics will be realigned after the referendum.” So have I.
Agreed. But, two things more:
- the #Brexit thing has proved that UKIP existed more as a threat to Tory peace-of-mind than in any wider dimension;
- we won’t need to wait till the end of June for a cloud no smaller than a bus-driver’s son’s hand.
Yesterday I heroically strutted abroad with a badge on my jerkin:
Cry God for Harry, England and St George!
Red text on white. You can buy them for a few bob at the RSC.
After all, the coincidence of a quadricentenary and the annual non-saint’s day will come around just the once in my lifetime.
In my strutting I had (as one does) to visit the local Oxfam book-shop: an eclectic lot, these York literati, so a prime place for Autolycan snapping-up of others’ unconsidered trifles.
And, lo! it was so. Here’s Peter Stanford’s The Legend of Pope Joan. Only when home did I realise it was a duplicate, a re-title for the American market of The She-Pope, already on my shelf, a gap between the weightier Peter Heather and John Julius Norwich.
The co-incidence of these events prompted an extended (and inconsequential) musing. Hence this post.
Curiously, leave aside Much Ado About Nothing (where she is a character), the word “hero” is not much in evidence in Shakespeare. If challenged, about the only reference I could offer would be Hamlet:
Hamlet: A dream itself is but a shadow.
Rosencrantz: Truly, and I hold ambition of so airy and light a quality that it is but a shadow’s shadow.
Hamlet: Then are our beggars bodies, and our monarchs and outstretched heroes the beggars’ shadows. Shall we to the court? for, by my fay, I cannot reason.
Hold about! On second thoughts there’s Parolles in All’s Well:
Noble heroes, my sword and yours are kin.
The nature of a “hero”:
Well, they come cheaper now than they used to.
The “epic hero” had to fulfil a set of criteria. When I had to stand before a chalk-board and vamp them, it would go something like this (assuming one were still allowed to get away with such arrant sexism):
- a noble birth;
- overlooked in childhood, although even then he might be capable of a marvellous deed;
- he has to go wandering, on a mission;
- he is scorned by his lady-love, but eventually wins her over;
- he becomes recognised as a great warrior, usually by an act of conspicuous individual opposition to overwhelming (but overwhelmed) odds;
- he has a magical weapon, or a supernatural power;
- he also has some congenital defect or weakness;
- despite his achievements, he remains humble, “one of us”;
- he saves his people;
- he dies in the moment of his greatest triumph.
Not every tragic hero has to show every characteristic, but the template applies from Beowulf to Superman (and even to “real” people, such as Nelson or Churchill). Doubtless, as a homework, Year Ten would then be told to write a short homework essay explaining which of those (or other) points makes their chosen subject “heroic”. Alternatively, try to construct a similar check-list for the ideal female hero (with optional reflections on what that says about in-built cultural prejudices).
Filling the gaps
The problem comes when we cannot be satisfied with our hero, when we feel the need to generate fillers for the gaps in the story. Back to Bill:
Enter Rumour, painted full of tongues
Rumour: Open your ears; for which of you will stop
The vent of hearing when loud Rumour speaks?
I, from the orient to the drooping west,
Making the wind my post-horse, still unfold
The acts commenced on this ball of earth:
Upon my tongues continual slanders ride,
The which in every language I pronounce,
Stuffing the ears of men with false reports.
Henry IV, Part 2: Act I, scene i, Prologue
If you believe that process has gone away with the arrival of wholesale literacy and 24/7/365 rolling “news”, wake up and hear the gossip. So we have everything from “local tradition says” to the “infancy gospels” of Jesus’s childhood, which seem to have become current as early as the fifth century, and persisted well into early medieval times, and even to EU banana myths. Then, as now, when the “authorities” (i.e., the Church in the earlier case) control the information, Rumour, painted full of tongues, will fill the void. As John Julius (a good Roman Catholic lad, comprehensively dismissing the Pope Joan story — see pages 60-67) ambivalently observes:
Rome, sacked by the Saracens in 846, was still going through her Dark Ages. All was confusion, records were few and untrustworthy, and the notion of a woman Pope was, perhaps, just conceivable …
Nevertheless, that story had by then been firmly established in the popular mind; and there for centuries it remained.
Which brings me back to Stanford and Pope Joan. For Stanford makes play of an apparent gap in papal succession, mid-9th century, between Leo IV and Benedict III. And where there are gaps, Rumour, painted full of tongues, likes to insert some Polyfilla. Even if Joan didn’t exist, she might need to be invented on that ground alone.
Huh? Well, if you’d done your Greek under Dr Reynolds at the High School, you’d know that means “a once-reading”, a word that crops up just the once, so therefore we have to reach for its precise interpretation. Such a word, in Shakespeare is Europe: which, to my momentary confusion appears … ahem! … twice. In Henry IV, Part 1, there is Falstaff’s laboured (running) joke about Bardolph’s nose:
Thou hast saved me a thousand marks in links and torches, walking with thee in the night betwixt tavern and tavern: but the sack that thou hast drunk me would have bought me lights as good cheap at the dearest chandler’s in Europe.
Why a European chandler might be more costly then a local one, let’s leave to the Kippers.
The one I wanted to exploit there is Bedford making his promises at the start of Henry VI, Part 1:
Farewell, my masters; to my task will I;
Bonfires in France forthwith I am to make,
To keep our great Saint George’s feast withal:
Ten thousand soldiers with me I will take,
Whose bloody deeds shall make all Europe quake.
[Act I, scene i]
My question is: what was the Elizabethan concept of “Europe”? What did the term mean to Shakespeare, with his notorious geographical illiteracy?
Ours is the 28 states of the European Union — though a glance at the stylised map on €-note suggest even that is wider than we at first grasp — there’s that strange little hieroglyphic at the bottom, beside 𝜠𝜰𝜬𝜴, reminding us of the DOM-TOM. For most of my life, “Europe” was Western Europe. and ended violently at the Iron Curtain. Geographical Europe, in the Atlas, extends to the Urals — yet I struggle to find Russia “European”. I’ve taken the ferry across the Bosphorus from Istanbul, stood on two continents within an hour — and not appreciated any great difference. If my — our — concept of “Europe” is so vague, what would it be 400 or 1200 years ago? What is it for those unfortunate refugees from Syria, and elsewhere, leaving all (including, for many, life itself) to find “Europe” — which is at best going to be a dingy suburb of Mannheim, Mons or Manchester.
So, for the last time, back to Pope Joan. She is, according to version, English or German, particularly from Mainz. Stanford goes to lengths to make a road for Joan from the convent at Wimborne in Dorset, via the shadowy St Lioba, to Fula, on to Athens, and back to Rome. Joan, then, ticks at least some of those boxes for the popular/epic hero.
She may be Hamlet’s dream… but a shadow, but we need her to fill in the gaps of our “knowledge”.
Let’s recognise another hard truth: the once-mighty Daily Telegraph is now no more than a click-bait channel. Here we have 40 things that every man should know by the age of 40. Number 16:
There’s little room for reading fiction
At some stage in your 30s, the disruptive voice in your head started clanging pans and yelling THEY’RE MAKING IT UP!
Which yell — D’oh! — is surely the whole point of “fiction”.
So here am I, just finished Philip Kerr, and well into Donna Leon. Bubbling on the back hob is Walter Scott (yes: I can double-task. And still drink wine at the same time). Looking forward to Alan Furst next month. And Ben Aaronovitch a month later. Any gaps will be glossed over by visits to Waterstone’s and similar joints. Failing that, there’s a dozen metres or so of shelving here to be revisited. And one day — I promise — I’ll live long enough to get through Moby Dick.
Obviously I never grew up. But that’s another story.
It’s called serendipity, making happy and unexpected discoveries by accident. In itself, a serendipitous word — a “sleeper”, like one of those books, pieces of music or any other cultural trivia that emerges into wider appreciation after long hibernation.
Horace Walpole coined it — and we can date that with unusual precision, because the first OED citation is one of his letters, 28th January 1754. Only in the 20th century did the term achieve general currency. Joyce’s Shem is a semisemitic serendipitist [page 191].
My serendipity is finding good writing at random. Oddly enough, those fillers in the travel and property-porn pages often rise above the chuck-away stuff regurgitated by wannabe journos. And the ultimate “filler” is the Sunday supplement, usually worthy articles to space out the prestige advertising.
Which is my case in point, here.
The New York Times Magazine is the gold-medallist among Sunday supplements. It provides a regular piece, Letter of recommendation, which is a direct descendant of the essays of Addison, Charles Lamb, or even of Montaigne, the form’s true inventor.
This week’s was Avi Steinberg on Squirrels, 900 words of well-hewn prose. I recognise Steinberg from two earlier, longer, works: Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian and The Lost Book of Mormon: A Journey Through the Mythic Lands of Nephi, Zarahemla, and Kansas City, Missouri. Steinberg might readily be approached through an online Harvard Magazine profile. he’s well worth the effort.
Steinberg on squirrels:
… regardless of how you answer the Squirrel Problem, the key just might be its perfectly ordinary premise: It assumes proximity between human and squirrel, and it also assumes that this close relationship means something. And why not? Because our daily paths are inevitably crossed by running squirrels, shouldn’t squirrels run through our philosophical questions too?
… we are a party to an unusual social contract with the squirrel. She is the only mammal who lives free and works in open, direct contact with humans. Rats and raccoons hide in the shadows. Coyotes lurk on the periphery. The deer and the bunny might as well occupy a kingdom of thin air. Dogs and cats, noble souls though they are, have been turned into a class of indentured clowns.
Squirrels, though, are right there with us. They live on our level and toil on the same schedule as humans, in every season. They share our approach to life’s problems: They save and plan ahead, obsessively. They make deposits and debits (of nuts and seeds, mostly); build highways (returning to well-known routes in and around trees); manage 30-year mortgages (they can inhabit a single nest for that many years); refrigerate their staples (in their case, pine cones); and dry their delicacies for storage (mushrooms, as we do). They work the day shift and live in walk-up apartments. And like stock traders, they gamble in the marketplace. While most animals breed as food becomes available, squirrels have developed the ability to predict a future seed glut and reproduce accordingly, like bullish investors.
I differ from Sternberg in two essentials. First:
Squirrels are scarce in literature, but the few appearances they have made are telling. Herman Melville identified the flying squirrel as the fiction writer’s model for a realistic character: The creature is exactly as weird and incongruous as an actual person. One of Kafka’s most unsung creatures was a squirrel whose “bushy tail was famous in all the forests,” and whom he describes, in a jot in his notebooks, as “always traveling, always searching.”
Shakespeare — only the once, but nevertheless in a well-known context — had a squirrel. It lurks in the Queen Mab speech:
O, then, I see Queen Mab hath been with you.
She is the fairies’ midwife, and she comes
In shape no bigger than an agate-stone
On the fore-finger of an alderman,
Drawn with a team of little atomies
Athwart men’s noses as they lie asleep;
Her wagon-spokes made of long spiders’ legs,
The cover of the wings of grasshoppers,
The traces of the smallest spider’s web,
The collars of the moonshine’s watery beams,
Her whip of cricket’s bone, the lash of film,
Her wagoner a small grey-coated gnat,
Not so big as a round little worm
Prick’d from the lazy finger of a maid;
Her chariot is an empty hazel-nut
Made by the joiner squirrel or old grub,
Time out o’ mind the fairies’ coachmakers.
That speech, by the way, (and I suspect because of the Prick’d) is where the school internet porn-filter cuts in. Then, I’ve long argued that, were the Powers-That-Be aware just how filthy — filthy I tell’ee! — Bill Shagsper can be in the classroom of a dissident teacher, the whole oeuvre would instantly be proscribed.
And who, with any sensitivity, could overlook the Greatest Squirrel escapologist of them all — Squirrel Nutkin:
The other issue is red versus gray.
The prime culprit is — but of course — a banker. In 1876 Thomas Unett Brocklehurst, a Victorian banker decided to ornament his estate at Henry Park, Cheshire, by releasing a pair of American gray squirrels (which is why I eschew “grey” in this context). Other landowners found this charming, and copied Brocklehurst. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.
The British — and Shakespearean — revenge was and is the common starling.
Again, we can name and shame the villain: Eugene Schieffelin, who was a drug millionaire and a Bard-nut. In 1890 he released into New York’s Central Park five dozen starlings. The fool was inspired to reproduce in America every bird-species mentioned by Shakespeare.
I was looking for a copy of Walter Scott’s Redgauntlet, which I first read as a pre-teen in a Dent’s Classics edition. On second thoughts, it could have been a Black’s edition. Or, upon third thoughts, any other publisher pushing stuff out in the same format: hard-back, near pulp paper, colourful wrapper and five or six colour illustrations (just made to be razored out, framed and hung on pub walls): with Woolworths charging at most a whole two bob-a-nob. I’d bet those did more for juvenile literacy (they did for mine) than any government initiative.
Today Amazon will do you a copy, as I now discover, through a Kindle app, and all for free! Somehow, though, it isn’t as emotionally satisfying as having, seeing and reaching for a hard copy on the shelf.
What Scott did in Redgauntlet was to stretch his usual historical fiction into what we might today call “alternative” or “speculative history”. It hypothesises a third Jacobite Rising in the mid 1760s. As many commentators have pointed out, a central character, Alan Fairford, seems very autobiographical.
My interest in Redgauntlet, apart from its inherent literary merit, is twofold:
- this is the anniversary of Culloden, in 1746, which ended any chance of a Jacobite restoration;
- to evaluate the various stories around what “Charles Stuart did next” (one of which was to be touted for the monarchy of the revolting American colonies).
One particular aspect of the latter depends from William King’s Political and Literary Anecdotes of His Own Times (the .pdf reproduction of that is very corrupt), which was also a Scott source for the Redgaunlet romance. King, in his own way, is as gossipy and delightful as Aubrey or Evelyn, but nowhere as well known. What King relates is that Charles Stuart, in disguise, returned to London in September 1750:
September 1750, I received a note from my Lady [Anne] Primrose [as right], who desired to see me immediately. As soon as I waited upon her, she led me into her dressing-room and presented me to ______. If I was surprised to find him there, I was still more astonished when he acquainted me with the motives which had induced him to hazard a journey to England at this juncture. The impatience of his friends who were in exile had formed a scheme which was impracticable, but although it had been as feasible as they had represented it to him, yet no preparation had been made, nor was anything ready to carry it into execution. He was soon convinced that he had been deceived, and therefore, after a stay in London of five days only, he returned to the place whence he came.
A page or so later we have a footnote:
He came one evening to my lodgings and drank tea with me: my servant, after he was gone, said to me “that he thought my visitor very like Prince Charles.” “Why,” said I, “have you ever seen Prince Charles?” “No.sir,” replied the fellow, “but this gentleman, whoever he may be, exactly resembles the busts which are sold in Red-lion-street, and are said to be the busts of Prince Charles.” The truth is these busts were more taken in plaster of Paris from his face.
The history behind that becomes clearer from the DNB:
In 1750 Charles got together thousands of weapons at Anvers in preparation for an English rising, and obtained from James a renewal of his regency. Letters with fake dates were sent to Elisabeth Ferrand which, if intercepted, would mislead espionage. On 2 September he left Luneville, proceeding via Antwerp and Ghent to Ostend, whence he sailed in disguise with John Holker on the 13th, landing in Dover and arriving in London three days later. Charles went to Lady Primrose’s house in Essex Street off the Strand, and subsequently held a meeting with fifty leading English Jacobites, including the duke of Beaufort, Lord Westmorland, and William King in a house in Pall Mall. They were discouraging. After touring London with a view to a coup, Charles attempted to promote his flagging cause by being received into the Church of England, probably at a service at which the nonjuring bishop Robert Gordon officiated. After a further meeting with King—at which his ‘servant remarked on the extreme likeness between the visitor and the busts of the “Young Pretender” on sale in Red Lion Street’ (McLynn, Charles Edward Stuart, 399)—Charles left London on 22 September, sailing from Dover the next day.
About the most remarkable thing there — apart from the Hanoverian informers being ignorant of the Pretender’s presence — is that busts of the Young Pretender were on sale, and on public display, in London. And in Essex Street we still find this memorial:
Anyone in doubt just how hare-brained the Jacobites were at this stage should refer to the Elibank Plot.
That’s an ampersand and the “Tironian” sign for “et” (and so, in the Irish uncial we were taught at school, “agus”).
I’m seriously worried how this will show outside my Mac. Indeed, as I see on the review, it’s already been truncated down to a pathetic right-angle. Thank you, wordpress, for such ignorance: can you do a Hebrew final Kaf? Irish Posts and Telegraphs could:
But it involves something I discovered only today, and feel an urge to share. Woo-woo.
Yeah, I know. Long time, no post. Something to do with “time out’, real life, a couple of weeks away (Madeira, since you didn’t ask), and too much time on politics.ie. That’s where this one first appeared, and drew the instant reply:
For April 1st, the New Yorker‘s “Comma Queen” posted this:
The Illustrious Ampersand
What do law firms, lithographs, and sex clinics have in common? (No lawyer jokes, please.) It’s the ampersand: Masters & Johnson, Currier & Ives, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. Developed from the Latin et (“and”), the ampersand, formerly the twenty-seventh letter of the alphabet, is a character with a cult following among students of typography. In prose, the word “and” is preferred, but designers love the ampersand, and publishers use it in “display copy.”
The ampersand — & — has an allure that cannot be denied.
There’s stuff in there which was new to me (and — I hope — to others).
formerly the twenty-seventh letter of the alphabet
Well, yeah, according to Wikipedia:
The ampersand often appeared as a letter at the end of the Latin alphabet, as for example in Byrhtferð’s list of letters from 1011. Similarly, & was regarded as the 27th letter of the English alphabet, as used by children (in the US). An example may be seen in M. B. Moore’s 1863 book The Dixie Primer, for the Little Folks. In her 1859 novel Adam Bede, George Eliot refers to this when she makes Jacob Storey say: “He thought it [Z] had only been put to finish off th’ alphabet like; though ampusand would ha’ done as well, for what he could see.” The popular Apple Pie ABC finishes with the lines “X, Y, Z, and ampersand, All wished for a piece in hand”.The ampersand should not be confused with the Tironian “et” (“⁊”), which is a symbol similar to the numeral 7. Both symbols have their roots in the classical antiquity, and both signs were used up through the Middle Ages as a representation for the Latin word “et” (“and”). However, while the ampersand was in origin a common ligature in the everyday script, the Tironian “et” was part of a highly specialised stenographic shorthand.
So far, so good.
- Byrhtferð; who he?
- “Tironian” what that?
Byrhtferth (c. 970 – c. 1020) gets his own Wikipedia entry, which made that easy. So he’s whom I blame for Old English grammar? —
Byrhtferth’s signature appears on only two unpublished works, his Latin and Old English Manual, and Latin Preface.
An old friend?
I also discover Marcus Tullius Tiro. Why does that name seem familiar? Aha! —
Marcus Tullius Tiro (died c. 4 BC) was first a slave, then a freedman of Cicero. He is frequently mentioned in Cicero’s letters. After Cicero’s death he published his former master’s collected works. He also wrote a considerable number of books himself, and possibly invented an early form of shorthand.
Tiro appears as a recurring character in Steven Saylor’s Roma Sub Rosa crime fiction series, where he occupies the role of sometime sidekick to Saylor’s investigator hero, Gordianus the Finder. He is also Robert Harris‘s first-person narrator in the trilogy of Cicero: Imperium (2006), Lustrum (2009, published in the US as Conspirata), and Dictator (2015).
Sadly I realise I was recognising the fictional characters there, rather than recollecting my undergraduate studies. After all, Cicero’s letters Ad Familiares got a fair old doing-over, often as … err … unseen translations.
I hope I won’t alone in welcoming this … also, errr … useful addition to personal knowledge.