Traitor King

King Edward VIII and Mrs Simpson on holiday in Yugoslavia, 1936, credit Wikipedia

Traitor King,
Andrew Lownie,
Blink Publishing Bonnier books, 2021,
isbn 978-1-78870-487-8, reviewed by Monty Skew

Before his death in 1972, Edward, Duke of Windsor, mindful of history and his inglorious role therein, gave an interview in which he boasted of his ‘love for Britain’ and how he wished it well. This interview was welcomed by diehard fans of the Duke and of his wife, Wallis Simpson. Any remaining fans should reconsider their views after reading this book.

Prior to the Norman conquest there was in some parts of England an Anglo-Saxon system for choosing or replacing a king known as Witemagot. The Accession Council is the nearest equivalent. Under Witemagot, Edward would not have been chosen as king and indeed might have been removed. Much has been written about the prevalence and dangers of royal inbreeding. All dynasties have methods of ridding themselves of an obvious encumbrance. Sultan Ibrahim, the mad Ottoman sultan, was a Canute-like figure. He ordered hot coal to be shovelled into the sea to keep it warm. He was removed by a plot involving his generals and bureaucrats. His own mother consented to his execution by strangulation. They could not countenance a monarch who was deranged while the country was at war.

Edward ascended the throne in 1936 on the death of his father George V, a strict disciplinarian, evidently exasperated by his weak son. He wanted his younger son George to succeed him (which he did eventually). Edward did not last long. He formed a liaison with twice divorced Wallis Simpson while head of the church. This was not acceptable to public opinion which turned against him. King Edward abdicated because he was forced to. He may even have been blackmailed into it because of youthful indiscretions. He was kept under constant surveillance as he could not be trusted. Wallis herself had a colourful and chequered past. It was not only that she was divorced. In her laughable hagiography of Simpson, Diana Mosley (wife of Oswald) suggests that Simpson added to her income by her ‘winnings at poker’ in Shanghai. There are many unsavoury activities associated with casinos. Let’s just say she swallowed more than her pride during her Shanghai days. Although the British press kept quiet, Windsor and Wallis were featured in the continental tabloid press. It was in fact concerned Britons abroad sending cuttings to No 10 which activated the proceedings.

The scheming adventuress Wallis desperately wanted to be Queen Consort but the abdication shattered her dreams. She never forgave Edward and the rest of their lives were spent pretending to have had a great love affair. Lownie takes up the story post-abdication. The control that she exerted over Windsor continued. There is absolutely no doubt about Windsor’s sympathies. He did not feel British. He even boasted about his lack of British blood. He spoke fluent German and once proclaimed “I am German”. Like many unconfident and sexually repressed men, he had fascist/Nazi sympathies. The sham of his ‘love of the century’ was slow to be exposed as so many journalists and publicists etc invested in the myth. Their livelihood depended on continually re-cycling this fictional love story. The Windsors, tied together and dependent on each other, were tabloid fodder.

Churchill was a strong supporter of Windsor during the abdication crisis. Like Windsor, he had extravagant tastes and many of his bills were settled by supporters. But at least Churchill did not mix with undesirable elements in casinos and nightclubs. Edward was a well-trained sponger who lived off those who wanted to rub shoulders with royalty. Both Windsor and Simpson, though rich, were grasping and exploitative. He has been accused of shady dealings and of defrauding insurance companies after the theft of her jewellery which later turned up in their possession. There are parallels here with former king of Spain, Juan Carlos, who stood down under a cloud of allegations of money-grabbing. Wallis Simpson sometimes sent for her own chef to cook at a meal to which she had been invited. Her love of luxury, at a time when Britain was at war and suffering privations, was unseemly. So was her constant craving for attention. She wanted to be addressed as HRH with continual curtsying. Royalty deserves respect but not obsequiousness.

Certain archives remain locked. Some have been embargoed for the next 80 years. Robert Vickers in his hagiography discusses this but avoids the contentious issue of whether Windsor was a traitor. His appointment as ‘Governor of Bahamas’ in 1940 ensured that he could be kept under observation by the secret service. Churchill, now PM, gave Windsor a coded warning of a possible court-martial for refusing to obey military orders. The evidence of his treason is over-whelming and any jury would have found him guilty. There is more than circumstantial evidence that he either deliberately informed the Germans of certain secret plans or was indiscreet about them. His version was ‘seeking peace’. Simpson was also close to German connected sources and some of her staff may have been placed by the Germans.

In the event of a German occupation, Edward would have regained his throne and served as figurehead Quisling. Much of this is detailed by Sybil Oldfield in The Black Book, the Gestapo’s well-developed plan for utilising members of the elite in occupied Britain. There is no doubt that Edward was a traitor. This book proves it. Baldwin was a divisive figure but in getting rid of Windsor he was perhaps the last PM, outside of wartime, to put country before party.

Future historians will doubtless refer to Traitor King, which includes interviews and private correspondence. Readers will find the bibliography useful, including the list of the trashy novels written about Windsor. Meticulously annotated throughout, this book may well become the definitive account of Edward, Duke of Windsor, after his abdication.

Der Herzog von Windsor auf der Ordensburg Crössinsee in Pommern am 13.10.37. Der Herzog schreitet die Front der SS im Burghof ab.

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Hayek, A Life, 1899-1950

 

Gustav Klimt, Philosophy, Ceiling Panel for the Great Hall of Vienna University, credit Wikipedia

Hayek A Life, 1899-1950, Bruce Caldwell & Hansjoerg Klausinger, University of Chicago Press, Chicago & London, 2022, 840pp, HB, reviewed by Leslie Jones

Introduction.

Friedrich August Hayek’s family was conservative, “culturally German” but only nominally Christian. Both parents belonged to the Viennese lower nobility or “second society”. His father August (1871-1928) was a district physician. August’s grandfather Heinrich had squandered the family fortune. The upshot was that August’s academic ambitions (his “passion was botany”) were thwarted, although he was awarded an extraordinary professorship in 1916, albeit unpaid. Friedrich (henceforth Hayek) evidently owed his love of German literature and of the theatre to his father – ditto his interest in natural science. He became a convinced Darwinian in his middle teens. His mother Felicitas von Juraschek was the daughter of a wealthy university professor and civil servant. Her inherited wealth helped pay for the servants, private schooling etc considered obligatory in these circles.

Hayek was intellectually precocious. Easily bored, his performance at school was dismal. Like other members of the Viennese bourgeoisie, he attended a gymnasium. At the Franz-Joseph Real Gymnasium, where he was enrolled from 1909-1911, scientific subjects were emphasised. Ancient Greek and Latin had been replaced by modern foreign languages.

In November 1918, Hayek enrolled in the faculty of law at the University of Vienna. He eschewed both racist nationalism (the race war) but also Marxism (the class war). With his close friend Herbert Fürth, he helped organise the German Democratic Student’s Union (DDHV). Jewish students were active therein. Hayek, then, was aligned with the progressive/liberal elements in the Viennese bourgeoise. In this context, his involvement in an informal discussion group in the early 1920’s, nicknamed the Geistkreis (‘circle of the spirits’) was pivotal. Its members “belonged mostly to the best type of Jewish intelligentsia…” (Hayek, quoted C & K, p152).

The growth of fin de siècle anti-Semitism in Austria-Hungary, facilitated by the extension of the franchise leading to the rise of mass parties, is a prominent theme in Hayek a Life. Georg von Schönerer’s pan-German party excluded those of Jewish descent, as did Karl Lueger’s Christian Social Party. Anti-Semitism, supposedly now scientific, was rife in Austrian universities. Indeed, August Hayek was a founder member of a section of the Verein deutscher Ärzte in Österreich (Association of Doctors). The Verein’s Aryan paragraph restricted membership to those of “German lineage”. Caldwell and Klausinger (henceforth C & K) acknowledge the anti-Semitism at the heart of Hayek’s family but they magnanimously conclude that August was not irredeemably tainted. Note, however, that both Hayek’s mother and his brother Heinz subsequently supported Hitler. Even Hayek himself was not entirely immune to anti-Semitism. Interviewed in 1983 by W. W. Bartley 111, in preparation for a prospective biography of Hayek, the latter described his onetime psychology lecturer Siegmund Kornfeld as “…a rather comic Jewish figure…” (C and K, p. 130). In similar vein, in 1939, Hayek wrote to Beveridge, the former Director of the LSE, on behalf of economist Karl Forchheimer, dismissed from his position in the Austrian Ministry of Social Affairs, stating that although Forchheimer was “I understand, fully Jewish, he is not pronouncedly so and I should have hardly known he was a Jew” (C & K, p. 396).

Hayek turns to economics.

Appropriately enough, Hayek A Life was showcased at the Adam Smith Institute on 26 April 2023. On August 1, 1932, Hayek became Tooke Professor of Economic Science and Statistics in the University of London. In his inaugural lecture delivered at the LSE on March 1, 1933, Hayek lauded Adam Smith for identifying “a mechanism that coordinates economic activity” but which arose spontaneously. This was the so-called “invisible hand”, referred to just once in Wealth of Nations (vol II, restraints upon importation). Carl Menger, appointed Professor of Political Economy at Vienna in 1879, was the founder of Austrian School of Economics and a critic of the Historical School of Economics. In his Grundsätze or Principles of Economics (1871) Menger elaborated an idea analogous to the “invisible hand”, to wit, the “spontaneous generation of institutions”. Hayek read the Grundsätze in 1921 and said that the conception of the “spontaneous generation of institutions is worked out more beautifully there than in any other book I know” (quoted C & K, p138).

In his Observer review of Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom (1944), George Orwell pithily opined, “Capitalism leads to dole queues, the scramble for markets, and war. Collectivism leads to concentration camps, leader worship, and war”. C & K’s contention, however, is that Hayek sought a middle way between these extremes. For them, The Road was ultimately a defence of the beleaguered liberal values which he shared with his mentor, Ludwig von Mises – notably reason and tolerance – rather than a celebration of laissez-faire per se. Given that “scarcity will always be with us” (the economic problem) whose needs are to be satisfied and what is a just wage for any given occupation? Thus, the economic problem is also a social and political problem. For Hayek, socialism, whether of the left or right, cannot be combined with freedom because it has dispensed with “decentralisation plus automatic coordination”. Socialism must eventually impose as arbitrary set of values in order to address the economic problem.

“Toutes les familles heureuses se ressemblent”. C & K understandably hesitated to deal with Hayek’s acrimonious divorce of his wife Hella, the mother of his two children, and his subsequent marriage to Linerl, his first love. Volume 1 of Hayek, a Life concludes with this episode, painful for all concerned, but nonetheless a compelling read.

Alumni of the London School of Economics will enjoy the depiction of the Senior Common Room in the 1930’s. Professor Lionel Robbins, for one, recalls in his autobiography the “friendly badinage between Tawney and Gregory on the merits and demerits of the free-enterprise system…” . Anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski and historian Elie Halévy, likewise,  occupied what Hayek called the “Sardonic Corner”, expatiating on “the folkways of English academics”. When the planned second volume is complete, this will become, as the authors intended, “the definitive full biography of F A Hayek”.

Klimt, Medicine, Hygieia, credit Wikipedia

Dr Leslie Jones, PhD LSE, is the Editor of Quarterly Review.

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Commissar Order

Russian Political Commissar, at Soviet-German military parade in Brest-Litovsk, 1939, credit Wikipedia

Commissar Order,
by Bill Hartley

Commissars can be traced back to the Commissaire politique of the Revolutionary Army during the French Revolution. Armies are something of a blunt instrument, a necessary arm of the state but in some countries notoriously unreliable. Having people in the ranks to keep them onside has been considered necessary by various political groups. For example, they were introduced into the Red Army by Leon Trotsky, who was tasked with ensuring that the party could rely on the loyalty of the military.

Commissars served alongside commanding officers exerting ideological control over and being closely involved in command decisions, with the power of veto. Even the Nazi’s were not above taking a leaf from the Soviet book. In the latter stages of the Second World War, when doubts arose about the loyalty of elements of the Wehrmacht, they appointed National Socialist leadership officers.

An article in American Thinker in March of this  year wondered what the difference is between a Soviet political commissar and a diversity officer. The article described the diversity officer as being tasked with enforcing ‘leftist policies in corporations, universities and government agencies’. Although definitions vary somewhat, diversity claims to eradicate prejudice and discrimination.

The Americans had the advantage of an early start in this field. The UK isn’t that far behind though, and for this we have the unintended consequences of the Equalities Act (2010). A piece of legislation which ought to be within the remit of a corporate Human Resources department to manage has become the building block for an exciting new field of employment. Some organisations and businesses seem to have convinced themselves that the only way to avoid criticism or worse is to get with the programme and employ diversity equality and inclusion officers to ensure ideological conformity. Of course, when it’s public money the decision is easier and the NHS isn’t short of diversity officers.

Just what does a diversity officer do? There’s no shortage of information for anyone contemplating a career in this field. He or she starts the day by checking social media to find the latest views and trends. Meetings feature prominently in the working day; diversity officers tend to be in close proximity to people who actually do the work, presumably just like any commissar, to ensure ideological conformity.

Prior to getting into this field of ‘work’, preliminary training is considered important. Some diversity practitioners recommend ‘unconscious bias’ training in order to ‘unpick core beliefs’. The job itself is all about ‘promoting positive attitudes’ and ‘reviewing policies’. Diversity people like finding things to do. One example is the diversity and inclusion survey, to discover how employees ‘feel’ by delving into their comments to gain a deeper perspective. There are organisations which can do this for a company. One advertises this as a way to ‘spark change with actionable diversity and inclusion surveys.’ Another is able advise how to ‘overcome barriers and create a safe space’. Rather dubiously it has been claimed by one source that adopting a diverse and inclusive culture resulted in a ‘19% higher innovation revenue than companies with below average diversity’. This rather obscure term is defined as a way of increasing competitiveness or organisational effectiveness, by listening to employees. Quite how it was measured isn’t stated.

Interestingly one critic from an ethnic minority commented that when it comes to diversity you can never say anything bad about it. He noted that the vocabulary is constantly changing and suggested that this leads to a culture where people are too afraid to say anything. Inclusively has its limits though. Although religion is a protected characteristic under the Act, it is often avoided, since practising Christians may have socially conservative views. This is something surveys steer clear of.

In the relentless drive for diversity, training videos are available. Some of these are both inept and unintentionally funny. One example involves a white middle-aged male (naturally) ‘helping’ a female select a team leader for a project for which she has oversight. The woman proposes a name and the man immediately dismisses him as being too introverted. The individual referred to works in IT and has an Asian name. Inference: racial stereotyping, even though he does elaborate on his view. In contrast, the woman says nothing. She makes no attempt to explain why this individual might be a good choice. As the conversation continues the man insists on talking over the woman, who adopts an expression of saintly fortitude. Another name arises and the man emphasises his familiarity with this individual by using his nickname. He suggests this man is a good candidate, the sort who can quickly get the project underway and enthuse people. Bad manners apart, he at least makes a good case for the candidate, unlike the woman who simply endures his clumsy attempts to help.

Pursuing a career as a diversity practitioner entails coming up with appropriate answers to interview questions. However, help is at hand. One question someone might be asked at an interview is, ‘what would you do if you overhead someone making an inappropriate remark?’ The correct answer is, publicly confront the person immediately and tell them you do not wish to hear that remark again. An alternative answer might be, ‘I need more diversity training so that I can accept people with opinions that diverge from my own’. It calls to mind an imaginary painting in the Socialist Realism style entitled, ‘Challenging the Inappropriate Comment’, featuring a group of people sitting around a conference table, one pointing accusingly at another.

Curiously all of this training seems designed for the office workplace or for what used to be called white collar employment. Manual work doesn’t seem to feature much in the world of diversity training. Challenging an inappropriate remark among, say, a group of scaffolders, would likely be beyond the capacity of even the most dedicated diversity officer.

If blue collar workers aren’t the best choice for expansion then catching them young seems to be the alternative. One organisation tells parents, ‘your child belongs in our circle’ and ‘we commit them for the next step at school and beyond’. Older children should be ‘involved in conversations about fairness and equality’. There are even ‘anti-bias’ lessons available for pre-schoolers.

Diversity is a big business. The afore-mentioned article in American Thinker reported that the average American university now has more than 45 people devoted to promoting diversity on campus, which is a more generous allocation of commissars than a regiment in the Red Army used to receive. A whole career structure has sprung up supported by training and qualifications. Yet it has its critics who will point out that such training isn’t effective. In ‘Diversity Inc.’ subtitled ‘the failed promise of a billion-dollar business’, Pamela Newkirk points out that in the US, whilst diversity targeting is flourishing, diversity is not. She considers it a feel- good exercise and maintains that such initiatives can ironically make matters worse by triggering resentment. Furthermore, organisations who wish to put in place the symbolic structures of diversity don’t bother to test their efficacy. In other words, the diversity apparatus doesn’t have to work it just has to exist. Newkirk concludes that such training can be counterproductive by making stereotypes more prominent and reinforcing them. For companies it may be little more than a box-ticking exercise, helping people answer survey questions in the way that they ‘should’. Even those tasked with managing these training programmes recognise them as ineffective, although in the public sector it would be unwise to voice criticism. Just as soldiers in the Red Army disdained but feared political commissars, today’s employees view them as useless pen pushers but wisely elect to say nothing.

 William Hartley is a Social Historian

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Six Poems, Concerning An Affair

Woman’s Head, Picasso, credit Wikipedia

Six Poems Concerning An Affair

Near Waterloo Bridge

I’m not sure why I did it.
She’d said something self-deprecating
This young girl; semi-star-struck, smitten;
Who’d taken me to some hippy pub in Lower Marsh.
Theatrical props, psychedelic paintings,
All wrapped-up in Victorian brick.
I put my arm around her
And kissed her on the top of the head
And in that moment I felt every muscle
In her body relax,
Every anxiety evaporate
Like Jasmine steam from an evening bath.
Fallow-blonde hairs against my chaffed March lips
Seemed to sink down, like a blanket
Onto the safety of a warm bed.
In that dim-lit cellar
Life itself seemed as psychedelic as the paintings,
But as certain as the Empire brick.

 A Nose for History

As they gathered at St Mary the Virgin
That crisp Harvest Festival evening
Just for an hour or so
It was 1662.
The language, the rituals, even the must
Were the same
And like those Civil War re-enactors
With real ale fetishes
And far too many folk music CDs
They were one with their ancestors;
A hundred hands reaching back to the Restoration.

Which brings me to your nose.
In the Old Alresford of 1662
I can hear some burring yeoman
Leaving his acres at dusk
Even he’d see it: “I suppose
“Your knows ‘er nose is your nose!
“That’s why you likes it so!
“It says in Song o’ Songs:
‘Your nose is like the Tower of Lebanon
‘Lookin’ towards Damascus.’
“Even they know’d the allure
Of a nice, sharp nose!”

It’s also his nose. And his wife’s.
And with that nose
Like the re-enactors now imbibing at The Bell Inn
Or the Hampshire worshippers receiving bread and wine
We connect with our ancestors
An unbroken proboscis-al line
Whispering: “Keep it going!
“It’s your duty to us!
“Keep it going, little organism!
“Keep it going!
Continue reading

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Endnotes, October 2023

Paul Nash; Landscape of the Moon’s Last Phase; Walker Art Gallery; credit Wikipedia

Endnotes, October 2023; in this edition, premiere recordings of British piano concertos from the Lyrita label, reviewed by Stuart Millson

Aside from the thoughtfully-chosen, sometimes recondite musical material, Lyrita enhances the latter with evocative artwork, lengthy and detailed sleeve notes, containing insightful biographies of the conductors and soloists who have created the Lyrita sound. For this new CD of recordings of British piano concertos, the booklet cover is Cumulus Head, a 1944 painting by Paul Nash, evoking an English downland landscape.

Herewith three piano concertos, by composers John Addison, Gordon Jacob, and Edmund Rubra respectively. Addison’s Variations for Piano and Orchestra of 1948 is an at times quirky, at times impassioned score, designed to test any soloist and draw in an inquisitive audience. In short, a superior ‘divertissement’. Addison was best known for his film music, such as his scores for Reach for the Sky (1956) and Alfred Hitchcock’s Torn Curtain. But he was also an accomplished composer of classical music, as his Concertante for Oboe, Clarinet, and Orchestra (1948) attests.

Gordon Jacob’s Piano Concerto (1957) has a similar style to that of Vaughan Williams. The work begins with an emphatic allegro passage. But in contrast to ‘RVW’s Piano Concerto in C, premiered in February 1933 and conducted by Sir Adrian Boult, Jacob’s concerto does not conclude in peace and seclusion. Now a largely forgotten figure, Jacob was a great teacher and a prolific composer. The concerto is informed by distinct elements of nostalgia. Under the baton of Stephen Bell, the National Orchestra of Wales do justice to Jacob’s bold argument and big sound.

Of the three composers featured in this CD, Edmund Rubra, a devout Roman Catholic, is unquestionably the more mystical and introspective. He composed a large cycle of symphonies. Those familiar with Vernon Handley’s recording for Lyrita of Rubra’s Festival Overture will understand why connoisseurs of British music maintain that Rubra’s oeuvre should be given a more prominent place in our concert and Radio 3 schedules. George Vass, a champion of contemporary British repertoire, exercises admirable control over Rubbra’s concerto, notably in the intensely spiritual opening on woodwind, followed by a violin solo. And credit to pianist Simon Callaghan, whose performances at the English Music Festival have made such a profound impression.

CD details; British Piano Concertos, Addison/Jacob/Rubbra. BBC National Orchestra of Wales, conductors Stephen Bell and George Vass. Lyrita SRCD.416

 Stuart Millson is Classical Music Editor of QR

***********************************************************************************

Advertisement;

Coming this October, a new performing edition of J.S. Bach, the Well Tempered Clavier by Vladimir Feltsman. The release will consist of two books each containing 24 Preludes and Fugues, alongside the release of all 48 separate scores. The scores are unaltered and are the edition published in 1886 by the Bach-Gesellschaft. However performing suggestions have been “added in light grey and are based around Baroque performing traditions, modern practices, and the editor’s experience of studying, performing, recording and teaching” (Vladimir Feltsman).

To accompany the release of the scores there will be a number of videos of each Prelude and Fugue available to help aid in the learning of the music. 41 of these are performance videos, 6 are a mix of videos and scrolling scores and one has just a scrolling score to follow.

Book 1 and 2 will be available to purchase from £19.99 and the individual scores from £2.99

For those interested in a film of Vladimir Feltsman performing J.S. Bach The Well-Clavier, you can find this available on the Nimbus records website for £19.99.

 

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Monteverdi 1610 Vespers

Fra Angelico, The Annunciation, credit Wikipedia

Monteverdi 1610 Vespers, I Fagiolini, plus English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble, directed/conducted by Robert Hollingworth, Kings Place, Sound Unwrapped, Friday 29th September 2023, reviewed by Leslie Jones

In 1610, Claudio Monteverdi, maestro cappella at the court of Duke Gonzaga in Mantua, felt underpaid and was looking for new employment. At an audience in Rome with Pope Paul V, he presented a manuscript dedicated to the latter, containing a disparate collection of texts, both sacred and profane, including the main elements of what we now call the Vespers of 1610. This MS must constitute the most extensive self-advertisement in music history (see ‘Vespers (1610) – Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643)’, by Barry Creasy, Chairman, Collegium Musicum London).

In his informative programme notes, Robert Hollingworth, the founder and director of I Fagiolini, contends that ‘a big resonant space’ such as St Mark’s Venice, ‘inevitably smudges most of the detail for most of the congregation/audience’. The ‘clear’ acoustics of King’s Place, in contrast, provide, in his judgement, an opportunity to ‘untangle and clarify a little more of Monteverdi’s sumptuous detail…’ But some commentators, including this one, prefer what Hollingworth calls ‘the great wash of sound that is sonically glorious’. It was noticeable that when the performers moved up to the balcony, the sound became immediately richer. As Fatima Dabbah observes, when the Vespers are performed in a stone church as opposed to an ordinary concert hall, the ‘reverberation’ in the latter is ‘indescribable’ (‘All important acoustics, 9 things to know about Monteverdi’s Vespers, wfmt, October 14th, 2022). 

Observing I Fagiolini from close up reveals just how much their singing depends on unspoken communication within the ensemble. On this occasion, they were clearly enjoying themselves (at times, seemingly sharing a private joke) notwithstanding the immense mental and physical demands being made upon them. Indefatigable tenor Nicholas Mulroy evidently played a key role in tying things together.

Music, according to the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, ‘stands alone’ as its effect is ‘more powerful and penetrating…than the other arts’. Metaphysics aside, we concur.

Dr Leslie Jones is Editor of Quarterly Review

 

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Tales of Ancient Kings

 

Caracalla & Geta, Bearfight in the Colosseum, L Alma-Tadema, credit Wikipedia

Tales of Ancient Kings

Historia Augusta trans. by David Magie; revised by David Rohrbacher. 3 vols. Harvard University Press, 2022. $30.00. Vol. I: pp. i-liii, 1-471; Vol. II: pp.1-463; Vol. III: 1-562, reviewed by Darrell Sutton

Wading through the mound of scholarly matter on ancient Latin texts is a daunting task. Numerous opinions need to be considered. Historia Augusta (HA), so-called presently because communis opinio presumes it to be a work authored by only one writer, was handed down to modern readers in manuscripts dating from the Caroline revival to the Renaissance era. For a long time none of the texts were accurately reported. Within the MSS, notations and emendations by various hands are noticeable; but identifying the emendators is harder still. The HA remains crucial to studies of the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD.

From the inception of research on HA, it was thought that the MSS contained the lettering of six writers who composed biographies of various rulers;
I: Aelius Spartianus (Hadrian, Aelius, Didius Iulianus, Septimius Severus, Pescennius Niger, Caracalla, Geta); II: Iulius Capitolinus (Antoninus Pius, Marcus Aurelius, Verus, Pertinax, Clodius Albinus, Opilius Macrinus, Maximini duo, the Gordiani, Maximus et Balbinus; III: Vulcacius Gallicanus (Avidius Cassius); IV: Aelius Lampridius (Commodus, Diadumenus, Heliogabalus, Alexander Severus), V: Trebellius Pollio (Valerianus, Gallienus, Thirty Tyrants, Claudius Gothicus); and VI: Flavius Vopiscus Syracusanus (Aurelianus, Tacitus, Probus, Four Tyrants, Carus, Carinus and Numerian).

The period covered ranges from AD117-284. Each memoir purportedly was written during the reigns of Diocletian and Constantine I. Numerous documents and items of public record and recollection are used to support the profiles. Disagreement abounds. All the sketches do not exhibit the same literary qualities. Therefore debates on HA’s authorship teem with all sorts of claims. Scientific discussion of the texts originate in 1889 with Hermann Dessau’s paper, Über Zeit und Persönlichkeït der Scriptores historiae Augustae (Hermes Vol. 24, No.3). Dessau (1856-1931) was a pupil of Mommsen and an able text critic. His prosopographic research informed his theories regarding the HA. He rejected nearly all of what was commonly believed about it, eschewing popular beliefs of the day.  Continue reading

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Das Rheingold

Gustave Doré, Death on the Pale Horse, credit Wikipedia

Das Rheingold

Music drama in four scenes, music and libretto by Richard Wagner, conducted by Sir Antonio Pappano, directed by Barrie Kosky, Royal Opera, 20th September 2023, reviewed by Leslie Jones

Indicatively, Wagner called Das Rheingold a music drama, as he despised the audience interruptions, primacy of arias and puerile plots of conventional opera. His ambition was to emulate the Ancient Greeks no less, by uniting all art forms into a Gesamtkuntswerk (‘total art work’). Indeed, according to the programme of the forthcoming ‘Congress of the International Verband Richard Wagner’, he single-handedly ended ‘the predominance of the singers and the voice’.

As Cosima Wagner recorded in her Diary, ‘I have composed a Greek chorus’, R exclaims to me in the morning, ‘but a chorus which will be sung, so to speak, by the orchestra’ (quoted by Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough, in ‘The Intermingling of the Human and the Divine’, Official Programme). Acting, however, has invariably been the weakest link in this chain. The cast of Barrie Kosky’s new production of Rheingold struggled to convey emotions and ideas via body language. And as critic Philip Hensher observed, the gods’ polo attire detracted from the work’s mythic elements (Front Row, Radio 4, 14th September).

Continue reading

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Bigamy

Bigamy, film of 1927, credit Wikipedia

Bigamy
by Bill Hartley

This year marks the one hundredth anniversary of the Matrimonial Causes Act, the first Act to establish equal rights in divorce for men and women. In contrast, the first Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857 allowed a man to obtain a divorce by proving adultery. A woman had to prove aggravating circumstances such as cruelty or, significantly, bigamy. For some people the best way to escape a bad marriage was to disappear and start again.

The annual ‘Calendars’ (records of trials) in Liverpool, Chester and North Wales for 1923 show that the authorities prosecuted offences of a varied nature. For example, in January of that year Thomas Moore appeared in court in Liverpool charged with stealing some hen’s eggs and was sentenced to six strokes of the birch. Other cases involved theft of a nose bag (presumably belonging to a horse) and the theft of a dog collar. The Calendars also provide a rich source for trades long extinct, such as loomer and rope splicer. One accused hailing from an inner city address in Liverpool, was described as a ‘cow keeper’. Presumably he was involved in that long vanished enterprise, the urban dairy. Sounding like someone out of a novel by Sax Rohmer, Kok Lunn a ship’s cook with a previous conviction for ‘possession of a prepared opium pipe’, was fined £10 for keeping a house for the purposes of betting. Dang Con an assistant shopkeeper was prosecuted for being the occupier of premises ‘allowing same to be used for opium smoking’. He was fined £5 at the Liverpool Quarter Sessions.

Amongst this catalogue of crimes ranging from the mundane to the peculiar, bigamy occurred quite regularly. Although the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act was and remains the means for prosecuting acts of violence, bigamy was also included and designated as a ‘class one’ offence punishable by up to seven years in prison. Prosecutions for bigamy peaked during the First World War and after that went into a gradual decline. Cases attracted press attention and sometimes moral outrage. An article covering a case of bigamy in a 1910 edition of the Nottingham Evening Post was alarmingly headlined, ‘The Crime That Must Be Stopped’, though no advice was offered as to how this might be achieved.  Despite changes in the law, divorce was still difficult and expensive to obtain with both parties needing to be in agreement. For the poorer classes, it was often easier to simply disappear and make a fresh start elsewhere. Illegal remarriage was a way of regaining respectability. For vicars and registrars it was impossible to check that the information people gave on official documents was correct, because each district kept its own separate register of births, marriages and deaths.

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Endnotes, September 2023

Endnotes, September 2023

Jean Sibelius by Favén (1925), credit Wikimedia Commons

In this edition: Walton in Mediterranean mood; Sibelius in Nordic splendour. Plus, Bach sonatas and a Russian romantic masterpiece. Reviewed by Stuart Millson

On August 3rd, The Quarterly Review was at the Royal Albert Hall for a Proms concert of Walton and Sibelius, given by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra under its Finnish conductor, John Storgards. The works of the maestro’s great countryman, Jean Sibelius, have greatly enriched the Chandos CD catalogue in recent years, with the Storgards/BBC PO cycle of symphonies garnering much critical approval. And a special sound from this partnership has also emerged, transferring to an equally memorable Carl Nielsen cycle: a velvety sound, with prominent, sometimes rugged brass, and superb attention to tiny detail ~ particularly woodwind writing.

The audience could hear ‘in the flesh’ that brilliant recording-studio/broadcast-orchestra sound ~ the Albert Hall stage and acoustic, doubling that intensity. Storgards carefully shaped a ‘spotlight sound’, meaning that each wind instrument, each pluck of a harp-string, gained prominence and attention. About five minutes into the Sibelius Symphony No. 1, after the immense initial symphonic argument and establishment of a theme, a contrasting delicate ‘dance’ appears, involving flutes, woodwind and harp; a fleeting, sparkling moment, before an angry section on timpani breaks the idyll.

A pizzicato passage then takes root, building up with glimpses of strange forest light ~ cellos and basses thrumming, as flute and clarinet phrases tumble and whirl. Critics often remark on the Tchaikovsky-like quality of Sibelius’s two early symphonies ~ big tunes, Russian-sounding romanticism ~ and yet, appearing out of the mists, comes the pure, Nordic Sibelius who would go on to give the world masterpieces such as the Fifth and Sixth symphonies and En Saga.

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