Monday 25 June 2012

Living in Hope

I am going to be away for a few days, in Derbyshire and Kent, so might not be able to blog before the weekend (though you never know...).
Perhaps I shall improve on my meagre butterfly tally (Worst Year Ever!), which was increased over the past couple of days by a single Small Heath, my first Meadow Brown of the summer, and two fresh specimens of that dark beauty,
the Ringlet (left).

'A man who can scarcely talk of a principle he has not violated...'

'Milton has perhaps a more elevated gloomy sublimity that belongs to hell and chaos - but no man equals Homer and Shakespeare in that inspired spirit, that raciness of nature, which animates and distinguishes every thing they mention. Every thing in Homer is enlivening and vigorous - you fancy all glittering in the heat of the day, gilded by the setting or silvered by the rising Sun; but all Milton's mighty cherubin or seraphin seemed to draw their flaming swords, or clash their sounding shields, as if they shone through a darkened glass - dingy, red, solemn, terrible.'
 Reads like Keats, doesn't it? But it's Haydon again (Benjamin Robert Haydon, see below), writing in his diaries a few years before he met Keats. No wonder the two men took each other for kindred spirits when they did meet, and Keats was so exalted by the encounter that he was moved to verse. It could have been a fine and enduring friendship, had it not been for Haydon's behaviour in pestering his generous young friend for money at every opportunity, despite knowing that Keats was himself hard pressed and embroiled in endless difficulties over his inheritance.
 Haydon was, despite the pious ejaculations that punctuate his writings, quite blind to his own faults (those ejaculations generally boil down to thanking God for allowing him to make progress on whatever Great Work he was creating - compare and contrast the prayers of Samuel Johnson). Like many who are blind to their own faults, Haydon was all too alive to those of others - and woe betide those who fell foul of him (as almost everyone did at some time or another). Here he is in full flow on Leigh Hunt (who recently made an appearance on The Dabbler):
 'This is a man who can scarcely talk of a principle he has not violated. Did he not induce his Brother under a sacred promise to put his name to two bills of 250 each, and while I and his Brother were fagging about all day in the dirt, in order to raise the money that John might not go to prison, he never came in till three hours after his promise, because it was likely to rain! In domestic matters to his wife he is a tyrant. His poor wife has led the life of a slave, by his smuggering fondness for her Sister. He likes & is satisfied to corrupt the girl's mind without seducing her person, to dawdle over her bosom, to lean against her thigh & play with her petticoats, rather than go to the effort of furious gratification. His wife's Sister, the Aunt of his four little children - is it not cruel to keep his wife on the perpetual rack of waning affection, to praise the Sister for qualities which his wife has not, and which he knew she had not when he married her? This private conduct must be mentioned because in private conduct a man shews his real character, being the situation in which he is uncontrouled. He will do the most dishonourable things. I put my name once to a bill of 45 which I owed him - he scratched out 45 & made it 55, because he wanted more, and then appealed to my friendship after the bill was gone! He affects contempt for ribbons & Stars, yet I have seen his face shake at the mention of Lord Erskine bearing a title. If there is to be a revolution and such men are to get at the head of affairs, God help us...'
 And there's more - and Leigh Hunt is not the only target. How sad that a man with such gifts and such a sensibility as Haydon - a man capable of inspiring the friendship and admiration of Keats - should have spent so much of his energy in indignant vituperation and relentless cadging from all who crossed his path.

Sunday 24 June 2012

Bees and Bellflowers

The tall and very beautiful bellflowers that we call Canterbury Bells seem to be having a very good year, the excessive rain causing them to grow even taller than usual (and fall over even more often than usual - this is a plant that is only too glad to lie down flat whenever the opportunity arises). Yesterday I was admiring the Canterbury Bells in our garden - more abundant this year than ever before, I think - when I noticed one with a dark spot at the centre of the flower, in the depths of the bell. A nice variant, I thought, and took a closer look - and discovered that the 'dark spot' was a cluster of three very small dark stripey bees, to all appearances dead, but in fact still just capable of stirring, at least to the point of aimlessly waving a leg or two. They were heavily dusted with pollen, and their pollen sacs clearly full to bursting. Another two bees were similarly trapped in another bellflower nearby, so I imagine this might be a fairly common occurrence, though I'd never seen it before.
  What had happened? Well, the larger bellflowers ask rather a lot of the foraging bee, which, to get its fill of pollen, must make its way from top to bottom of the flower's long style. I suspect that these bees, already sluggish from the unseasonal cold and damp, made it to the bottom and found themselves too weary and heavy laden to manage the return journey. There's an explanation of bellflower pollination with this strangely restful video, apparently filmed beside a babbling brook.
  By the way, after much deliberation, I decided to leave the trapped bees in situ. They didn't look in any fit state to survive a rescue. This morning, two of the group of three were still in place, apparently dead, while the other pair had gone - probably just shaken out by the wind.

Saturday 23 June 2012

Clive Alive

Well, it seems the recent talk of Clive James's impending demise was premature - at least according to Clive.
Let's hope he is indeed around and enjoying life as best he can for a few more years yet. But let's hope also that, before he does reach 'his terminus', he gives an interview in which he is free to talk about his life, work and thoughts in a much more unstructured way than tonight's Meeting Myself Coming Back allowed. Being chronologically structured and built around clips from the archives, tonight's interview was closer to This Is Your Life than Face To Face, and didn't allow much of a conversation - or indeed monologue - to develop. Clive was, as ever, great value, once he'd got the feel of the show, but all the time there was a frustrating sense of something much bigger and better fighting to get out. I hope some smart producer at Radio 4 - or, better, Radio 3 - was listening and sensing the potential for a great and memorable interview...

Thursday 21 June 2012

Thought for the Day

'About midway in my ministry, which extends roughly from the peace of Versailles to the peace of Munich, measured in terms of Western history, I underwent a fairly complete conversion of thought which involved rejection of almost all the liberal theological ideals and ideas with which I ventured forth in 1915. I wrote a book [Does Civilization need Religion?], my first, in 1927 which contains almost all the theological windmills against which today I tilt my sword. These windmills must have tumbled shortly thereafter, for every succeeding volume expresses a more and more explicit revolt against what is usually known as liberal culture.'

Thus the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr - who, as it happens, was also born on this day (in 1892) - cheerfully confessing to the evolution in his ideas that set him completely at odds with his younger self. It's always refreshing, isn't it, when thinkers - or anyone else - are ready to jettison earlier ideas and follow where their thought leads them, even if it is to the opposite shore from that on which they once firmly stood.

Machado - Outra Vez

Noting that today is the anniversary of the birth of the Brazilian writer Machado de Assis, I was just about to launch into a blog post on the subject when I thought - hang on a minute, this feels familiar... Sure enough, I wrote about Machado de Assis on this day three years ago - and here's the proof.
  I guess the longer a blog goes on, the more posts accumulate - and the older the blogger gets - the higher is the risk of repetition. On the other hand, would anyone notice? Three years is a long time in Blog Years. But don't worry - I don't intend to make a habit of repeating myself. Or make a habit of repeating myself.

Wednesday 20 June 2012

A Transformation

A house a few doors down my road has been standing empty for a while, between owners. As a result, the front lawn - to all appearances an unremarkable patch of suburban sod - was left unmown for a few weeks. The transformation was extraordinary. Suddenly this ordinary lawn became a sea of tall Ox-Eye Daisies, soaring above ground cover of clover and medick. Fringed by red and white Valerian, which had taken over the flower beds, along with blue and white Canterbury Bells, this was a delightful sight, aesthetically and ecologically a vast improvement on the shorn norm.
Sadly that norm has been restored now, with one brutal mow that took down all the Ox-Eyes and restored the lawn's respectable appearances. But where had that effusion of Ox-Eyes come from? Usually a neglected lawn down my way becomes a mass of dandelions, lamb's-tails and lush long grass - not tall Ox-Eyes. I suppose there are two likely possibilities - that this lawn was a surviving patch of the original downland turf in situ, perhaps 'improved' with some lawn grass, or, more likely, the original owner of the house decided to lay turf from the downs (this would have been around 100 years ago, when such things were easily done). This turf had carried on for decades maintaining its convincing impression of a suburban lawn - until suddenly, left alone for a few weeks of early summer, it seized the opportunity to reassert itself with that dramatic flush of Ox-Eyes. I hope it gets another chance some time in the future...
The sight of those Ox-Eyes reminded me of walking among the suburban villas above Trouville a couple of years ago and finding patches of Pyramidal and Bee Orchids on every manicured lawn. Nature - it always comes back.

Tuesday 19 June 2012

Keats as Bassoon

'Keats, Bewick & I dined together, Keats brought some friend of his, a noodle. After dinner, to his horror, when he expected we should all be discussing Milton & Raphael &c, we burst into the most boisterous merriment. We had all been working most dreadfully hard the whole week. I proposed to strike up a concert. Keats was the bassoon, Bewick the flageolet, & I was the organ & so on. We went on imitating the sounds of these instruments till we were ready to burst with laughing, while the Wise acre sat by without saying a word, blushing & sipping his wine as if we meant to insult him.'
   This delightful cameo is from the entry for May 11, 1818, in the dairies of the painter Benjamin Robert Haydon, which I'm reading just now in an edition (by John Joliffe) under the semi-ironic title Neglected Genius. Bewick, by the way, is not the famous wood engraver but a pupil of Haydon's. The identity of the high-minded 'noodle' is not known, and he seems unlikely company for Keats, who was never high-minded in that censorious sense. High-spirited, yes, but wherever his art and thought led him, he and his work always remained firmly rooted in the realm of the senses.  Keats did not, like some self-conscious mediocrities, place Art on an exalted level above and beyond the vulgar charms of This World. One of the chief joys of reading his letters is the infectious delight he takes in all the pleasures of life, from the highest to the lowest. Indeed you might say that his genius consisted in an infinite capacity for taking pleasure - even in imitating a bassoon.
   Lovers of Keats will know Haydon as the host of the 'Immortal Evening', when Keats, Wordsworth and Lamb dined with him ('Great spirits now on Earth are sojourning...'), and the addressee of several of Keats's poems and a good many letters, which, alas, show an increasing exasperation with Haydon's endless extortionate demands for 'loans'. Haydon fancied himself as a history painter of heroic genius, the artist who would restore and elevate the pride of his nation and its art, and who was therefore owed a living by a grateful nation. Unfortunately, not only was he working in a deeply unfashionable (and very unEnglish) genre, he had all but ruined his eyes in his obsessive application to his Art, and, more importantly, he was really not very good at all, his draughtsmanship, colouring and composition all being notably clumsy.
  The irony is that Haydon was a far better writer than he ever was a painter, as is evident throughout his Diaires and, I believe, his highly praised Autobiography. As Dickens put it after Haydon's death (by suicide, after having chewed off every hand that fed him, failed in his high ambitions and accrued massive debts):  'All his life he had utterly mistaken his vocation. No amount of sympathy with him and sorrow for him in his manly pursuit of a wrong idea for so many years — until, by dint of his perseverance and courage, it almost began to seem a right one — ought to prevent one from saying that he most unquestionably was a very bad painter, and that his pictures could not be expected to sell or to succeed.'
  But as a writer, at least about his own life, he is really rather wonderful. I am enjoying these Diaries hugely (though I know how badly they will end), and will probably be returning to this subject... 

Friday 15 June 2012


With most of England still in the grip of relentless unseasonal cold, rain and wind, this is surely shaping up to the Worst Butterfly Year Ever - or perhaps since 1816, the Year without a Summer? Even if there's a turn for the better soon, serious damage will have been done to many or most of our butterflies, whatever stage of their life cycle they are at; I fancy the end-of-year reports on British butterfly populations will make sad reading...
It has certainly been, so far, my Worst Butterfly Season since I renewed my interest in the Lepidoptera. After a promising start - Brimstone, Red Admiral, Peacock, Small White, Speckled Wood, Holly Blue and Orange Tip, all by April 1st - I have added nothing to my list but the Large and Green-Veined White. Even in the rare brief interludes of more seasonal weather, little had been flying, and I am reaching the point where a single Small White seems almost an event. Indeed I am so butterfly-starved that when yesterday - having made it to Holland Park in a non-wet, non-cold,near-sunny lunch hour - I came across a Red Admiral, the happy surprise hit me with something like the force of that Purple Emperor encounter memorialised in the Dabbler the other day. The more so as I thought I wasn't going to get a close-up view. The Red Admiral was careering around above head height as if bouncing off invisible walls - more like a moth in a lighted room than a butterfly on a wooded path. I had only sporadic glimpses as it hurtled in and out of view. Then, as I went on my way, it flew back once more over my head at speed, and suddenly disappeared into a mass of ivy some way off, beside the path - could it have landed? I wasn't hopeful as I headed back to have a look - but yes, it had landed, and there it was, wings tight folded in dead-leaf mode, perfectly still now after all that racketing around (again like a disturbed moth - this sudden switch from crazy motion to stasis). And after a while,as I stood watching close up, it half-opened its wings and showed its colours in a teasing wing wink. How beautiful it is, this most ubiquitous and constant of our brighter butterflies - and how easily we take it for granted.
But not this year.

Thursday 14 June 2012

Nicolas Bentley

Born on this day in 1907 was the illustrator and cartoonist Nicolas Bentley, son of the writer E.C. Bentley, who invented that pithy biographical verse form, the Clerihew (E.C's middle name, also Nicolas's). For example (one of the better ones): 'John Stuart Mill, By a mighty effort of will, Overcame his natural bonhomie And wrote Principles of Political Economy.' Nicolas left school at 17 and, as an artist, was entirely self-taught. He sold his first drawing to his godfather, the great G.K. Chesterton, and was soon employed as a 'commercial artist' (what happened to them?) by Shell. It was his first big commission - to illustrate Hilaire Belloc's New Cautionary Verses - that enabled him to go freelance as an illustrator, and he never looked back. An extremely busy illustrator with many dozens of titles to his name, he is probably best known now for his pictures for T.S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. His style is instantly recognisable, his line is wonderfully assured and his sense of humour always apparent. I've been picking up Bentley-illustrated books for years - they're everywhere, and ridiculously cheap (as are Osbert Lancaster's) - and among my own favourites are two books from the Thirties by Theodora Benson and Betty Askwith: Foreigners, or The World in a Nutshell, and Muddling Through, or Britain in a Nutshell, both full of wonderfully eloquent and economical line drawings of foreigners in all their foreignness and Britons in all their Britishness. In the Fifties, Bentley took on the Pocket Cartoon in the Daily Mail (in direct competition with Osbert Lancaster in the Express), but gave it up as he found it too strenuous - understandably, as coming up with a genuinely funny cartoon day after day is a task beyond just about everyone except the Telegraph's 'Matt' (who is V.S. Pritchett's grandson). Later, Bentley joined forces with another comic genius when he became the illustrator for Auberon Waugh's Diary in Private Eye. On Bentley's death in 1978, Waugh wrote of him: 'Nick was a gentle, modest, humorous man, with none of the usual characteristics of the highly individual genius which inspired his quiet professionalism and supreme technical ability.' For more of Bentley's work, have a look here.

Nicolas Bentley
Passed quite gently
Through this life
With minimal strife.


Over on the Dabbler, there's a post about my first encounter with a Purple Emperor, on 26 June last year (heretofore Emperor Day). Incidentally, a version of this piece was rejected by my regional Butterfly Conservation magazine - not that I'm bitter...

Wednesday 13 June 2012

More Jollity

Down on Jollity Farm, you might be saying to yourself. That rings a bell... You'll be thinking of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band's larky version of Leslie Sarony's song Jollity Farm. Sarony was a great one for writing cheery novelty songs, with names like He Played His Ukulele as the Ship Went Down, Don't Be Cruel to a Vegetabuel, Ain't It Grand to Be Bloomin' Well Dead and I Lift Up My Finger (and I Say Tweet Tweet). The last named featured in the Fry and Laurie TV dramatisations of Jeeves and Wooster, but not so memorably as this Leslie Sarony masterpiece, beautifully performed here by Bertie Wooster. Enjoy!

Down on Jollity Farm

So now we know what the Olympics opening ceremony will look like... Dear God! You lob £27 million at a 'gritty' Oscar-winning film director, and he comes back with this achingly twee vision of a 'green and pleasant land' that never was, an exercise in chocolate-box 'heritage' kitsch (with a couple of 'moshpits' thrown in). And I hope he knows what he's doing with all those live animals - I suspect there might be a stampede or two as the tumult and the shouting get under way (the sheep might even drop dead, which wouldn't look good). According to said gritty director - Jim Bowen lookalike Danny Boyle - 'Our nation 200 years ago was a meadow'. There's a statement that neatly embodies the deep ignorance of the past (among other things) that characterises today's Britain. But who would have thought that Boyle was capable of the dewy-eyed sentimentality on display here? It just goes to show: scratch a gritty realist and you'll likely find a soggy sentimentalist. How very different it all was when London last staged the Games...

Tuesday 12 June 2012


The Britain Is Great campaign - needless to say, part of the build-up to the impending London Olympics Terror - is all rather embarrassing, and proof positive that we are no longer Great. When we were, we didn't feel the need to big ourselves up - we left that kind of thing to the deluded frog-eaters over the Channel. According to the Today programme, the latest Great thing about Britain to get the treatment is our Great Design. A couple of designers were in the studio, quite rightly singing the praises of British design. It was noticeable, however, that no mention was made of the design of the London Olympics logo and associated memorabilia, all of which would seem to be the products of a primary-school project (possibly, in the case of Wenlock and Mandeville, involving mind-altering substances). Retroprogressive Susan's classic Dabbler post comparing Festival of Britain souvenirs with London 2012 tat says it all. Spot the Great British Design...

A Little Cheer

And still it rains.
In my continual efforts to lift my spirits amid the encircling gloom, I just now came across this film of the accordionist Djordje Gajic playing a jolly Scarlatti sonata. Scarlatti's music, with its folk-dance coloration, seems to lend itself remarkably well to the accordion.
There's a good deal of accordion Scarlatti on YouTube, and still more Bach, with the Toccata and Fugue apparently a great favourite. There's even an accordion version of the great D minor Chaconne... For now, though, I pass on this bit of Scarlatti in the hope that it might cheer you too.

Monday 11 June 2012

Flaming June

'Flaming June eh?' we sigh, and roll our eyes, as the rain siles down relentlessly, the cold wind blows, and temperatures struggle to stay in double figures (in the new money). And so, unwittingly, we keep alive the name of the one painting by Frederic, Lord Leighton (about whom I have written elsewhere) that has remained popular - hugely popular - long after his death, appearing in countless reproductions and on countless greeting cards. It wasn't always so. When Flaming June was put up for auction in the early 1960s, it failed to reach its more than modest reserve ($140), like many a high Victorian magnum opus at that time - such is fashion. However, in 1963, a Puerto Rican industrialist, on the look-out for artworks for a new museum, spotted Flaming June propped up in a neglected corner of an Amsterdam gallery, liked it, and bought it for $10,000. And that is why, to this day, one of Britain's best known and best loved Victorian paintings resides not in Tate Britain or one of our great provincial galleries but in the Ponce Museum of Art in Puerto Rico. As a painting, Flaming June is one of those that makes a big impact but is best not examined too closely. The close-cropped composition and all-suffusing golden-orange-saffron light are instantly arresting, and the picture delivers a good strong hit of heat, sensuous languor and Mediterranean sunshine - what's not to like? Well, since you ask, the awkward, if not anatomically impossible pose (which gave Leighton a lot of trouble) and some rather feeble draughtsmanship; that apparently exquisite rendering of the diaphanous drapery (note nipple) turns out to be surprisingly approximate, giving no clear idea of what kind of material it is, or quite how it lies on that unnaturally posed body. But never mind: Flaming June is a brilliantly effective and attractive picture - and looking at it certainly beats staring out of the window at this endless rain.

Sunday 10 June 2012

Immortal Bach

This morning I heard a piece of music on Radio 3 that stopped me in my tracks. It was called Immortal Bach, by the Norwegian composer (of whom I must admit I had never heard) Knut Nystedt. A 'deconstruction' of the chorale Komm, Susser Tod (Come, Sweet Death), it begins with a choir singing the three-phrase chorale as written, a cappella. Then what happens, as far as I can make it out, is that the choir divides into three parts, each singing a slowed-down rendition of the chorale, each at a different tempo, the parts only coming together on the final chord of each of the three phrases. This creates the most extraordinary sonorities and dissonances. 'It tears the air apart' said the woman who introduced it on Radio 3 - which is a good way of putting it. It also sets the air shimmering and seething with glorious strange sounds. It think the effect is very beautiful. Judge for yourself, with this filmed performance (marred by poor sound and coughing) or this fine recording.

Friday 8 June 2012

'His rattle will make amends': Rereading Murphy

'His troubles had begun early. To go back no farther than the vagitus. It had not been the proper A of international concert pitch, with 435 double vibrations per second, but the double flat of this. How he winced, the honest obstetrician, a devout member of the old Dublin Orchestral Society and an amateur flautist of some merit. With what sorrow he recorded that of all the millions of little larynges cursing in unison at that particular moment, the infant Murphy's alone was off the note. To go back no farther than the vagitus.
His rattle will make amends.'
 After Wanderlust, the next book to wink seductively at me from the Oxfam shelf was Samuel Beckett's Murphy, his first novel, in an elegant Calder & Boyars reprint from the 1970s. I had read it before, but it must have been nearly 30 years ago, so I thought I would refresh my memory by reading it again... Oddly (for a reader as forgetful as me), I had remembered most of what is good in it, and forgotten most of what is not. The good in it - and it's very good - is mostly that which foreshadows Beckett's future work and shows glimmers of his genius: essentially Murphy himself, as distinct from the strenuous comic novel in which his travails are embedded.
I had remembered the opening sentences: 'The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new. Murphy sat out of it, as though he were free, in a mew in West Brompton...' I had remembered the rocking chair in which he sat, naked and bound, striving to achieve his peculiar form of oblivion, as described in the great Chapter Six, which begins: 'It is most unfortunate, but the point of this story has been reached where a justification of the expression "Murphy's mind" has to be attempted. Happily we need not concern ourselves with this apparatus as it really was - that would be an extravagance and an impertinence - but solely with what it felt and pictured itself to be...' Which is 'as a large hollow sphere, hermetically closed to the universe without'. His efforts to disconnect himself from his body having set him 'more and more free in his mind, he took to spending less and less time in the light, spitting at the breakers of the world; and less in the half light, where the choice of bliss introduced an element of effort; and more and more and more in the dark, in the will-lessness, a mote in its absolute freedom.
This painful duty having been discharged [the chapter ends] no further bulletins will be issued.'
The future Beckett is also prefigured in the unappealing shape of Collins, the near-mute factotum and go-between who is unable to remove his hat or to sit - he can only stand or lie, until a mysterious transformation towards the end. By then, even their creator seems fed up with Murphy's supporting cast and their doings. 'So all things limp together for the only possible,' he writes wearily.
The novel is most fully alive when Murphy finds his ideal job (having hitherto resisted work of any kind) - caring for the inmates of the Magdalen Mental Mercyseat. Here Murphy is in his element; here he meets the superb lunatic Mr Endon and plays the great game of chess which is fully notated, with commentary (this I had remembered too, and it is very funny) - and here Murphy meets his inevitable end. Except that he was to return to life in some form or another throughout Beckett's subsequent works, while the comic novel apparatus that surrounds him - very Irish, very clever, sometimes to the point of impenetrability - fell away like the rocket that launches the spacecraft into orbit.

Thursday 7 June 2012

Birthday Beau

Born on this day in 1778 was the great George Bryan Brummell - 'Beau' Brummell - the man who applied himself as none before to the reform and perfection of masculine dress. As Max Beerbohm puts it in his essay on Dandyism, 'So to clothe the body that its fineness be revealed and its meanness veiled has been the aesthetic aim of all costume' - and it was Beau Brummell who most perfectly achieved that aim, at least for the male body. Turning his back on the extravagances and foppery of early 19th-century attire, Brummell got to work on the essentials. 'In certain congruities of dark cloth, in the rigid perfection of his linen, in the symmetry of his glove with his hand,' writes Beerbohm, 'lay the secret of Mr. Brummell’s miracles. He was ever most economical, most scrupulous of means. Treatment was everything with him.' And what he came up with was essentially the prototype and ideal form of what later generations were to standardise as the never-failing gentleman's suit (worn with a tie, alas, rather than the cravat favoured by Brummell). It might be argued that Brummell took things a little too far, with his five-hour toilet - one of the spectacles of fashionable London - and boots brightened with champagne, but he was, as Beerbohm proclaims, an artist obsessively dedicated to his art. Even so, he wasn't above risking a degree of sartorial disarray by playing a game of cricket. He even had one first-class match to his name - for Hampshire against an England side in 1807, when he scored 23 and 3, giving him a career average of 13. Sadly, it all went wrong for Brummell when he ran out of money and friends in high places, and he ended his days in poverty and syphilitic insanity in Caen. He was buried in the protestant cemetery there, which now lies under the university campus. For more on Brummell and Dandyism, here is a link to Beerbohm's sparkling essay.

Tuesday 5 June 2012

Jubilee Thoughts 2

Like (I suspect) many men of my generation, I tend to associate the Queen with my mother. To further confuse things, both these ladies mingle somewhere in my 'mind' with Peggy Archer, the matriarch of Ambridge. All three have been present through the whole of my sentient life (and the same actress - if you accept the castist paradigm of The Archers - has played Peggy from the beginning), so there is of course a special emotional tinge to my monarchism, at least as it relates to the present incumbent. This might make it extra suspect in the eyes of stern rationalist republicans, but there has to be an element of emotional attachment for any institution to become deeply embedded in national life and to last long.
There are good rational arguments in favour of monarchy of course, the clincher being those two dread words 'President Blair', but it would be idle to defend it purely on rational grounds. 'O reason not the need!' Lear implores Goneril and Regan when they question his need for such a large retinue of knights. He knows that, once you start applying reason too rigorously to institutions based rather on tradition, mystique and emotion than on need, the whole social order is in danger of collapse and terrible things can be unleashed - look at the historical triumphs of rationalism: the Terror, the Gulag, the Killing Fields, the Great Leap Forward... And indeed look at what happens in King Lear.
As a reactionary, I am of course firmly in favour of the monarchy on the grounds of its deep continuity with the past and its embodiment of a historically grounded national identity - and, come to that, of the increasingly threatened hereditary principle. But as a retroprogressive, I also admire the monarchy (in its present form) as a great exemplar of the principle of changing in order to stay the same. Long live the Queen, I say! Preferably long enough to outlive her immediate heir... But the monarchy is surely strong enough to survive a Carlist Interregnum and return to business as usual in due course.

Monday 4 June 2012

Jubilee Thoughts

Well, that Jubilee river pageant yesterday really was rather amazing, wasn't it? A bold and imaginative conception, it was realised with flair and precise efficiency. This spectacle - and the ongoing celebrations - demonstrate what can be done by the remnants of the traditional 'ruling class', the armed services and the unencumbered British public, if they're allowed to get on with it. Leave this kind of thing to Government and you end up (at vast expense) with something along the lines of the Millennium Fiasco. Leave it to the IOC and its acolytes, and you end up (at even vaster expense) with a gridlocked city living under temporary totalitarian rule. Yesterday's event, by contrast, was a very English triumph, achieved in the teeth of very English weather. The BBC television coverage, on the other hand, was a shambles, with frequent technical breakdowns, loss of sound, loss of picture, no one seeming quite sure whether or not they were on camera - and far, far too many wittering celebs. As for the commentary - whoever was doing that seemed to be channeling Alan Partridge, filling in with desperate banalities and largely erroneous 'facts', repeatedly telling us what we already knew, and seeming to be quite unaware half the time of what was on screen. I suspect that if the people who organised the pageant had also handled the TV coverage, it would have gone like clockwork.