Thursday, 11 April 2013

“Men of power have not time to read”

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“Men of power have not time to read; yet the men who do not read are unfit for power.” Michael Foot


Harold Macmillan read Jane Austen and Trollope in No. 10, Downing St on weekday afternoons, or at least so he told a duchess. He was a poseur, but I think this was true and that it gave him emotional balance. Sir Anthony Eden carried Ronsard in his pocket, as he had in the trenches. John Major's favourite writers were Trollope and RF Delderfield and Mr Blair bafflingly said Ivanhoe was his favourite novel. This is proof positive that he is not a reading man. George W Bush, oddly, liked Camus, so he said, and my old friend, Andrew Roberts. George Herbert Walker Bush was christened George Herbert after the poet, but I don't know if he ever read him.


I wonder if Mr. Cameron reads. Mr. Clegg finishes every day with a novel but what novels? Mr. Miliband  I imagine just reads political books. Churchill, who, like John Major, did not go to university nor shine at school, read the whole Decline and Fall and lots of dictionaries of quotations, which are the best books of all. Gladstone's favourite was Homer. When  told that Mr. Gladstone read Homer in the original for pleasure, Churchill said, 'Serves him right.'  Macaulay's biographer, Sir George Otto Trevelyan, was disgusted to see Gladstone on a coach journey reading 'a goody book', meaning a religious tract. Asquith read hugely in English literature, but not the classics. Baldwin liked in his retirement to dip into Horace. Roy Jenkins disparagingly said Baldwin in old age liked to 'snuffle' books, but I am sure Jenkins did not read Horace. You are said to study Horace at school so you can enjoy him in middle age, so I should go back to him, I suppose. 

Balfour read philosophy and William Le Queux, the trashiest of cheap thriller writers. Mrs Thatcher liked Kipling but I doubt she read much, nor Wilson, Heath, Callaghan or Home. Mr Brown read a lot, would take twenty heavy books on holiday in the days before the kindle and probably reads more now but I wonder if he reads literary books. Disraeli did not go to public school or university and, like Shakespeare, had small Latin and less Greek, at a time when knowledge of the classics was the parole of educated men. I wonder if he read much at all, though I can imagine him reading Byron, Moore and Campbell. Rosebery read a lot, but I forget what. I know nothing of Salisbury's or Attlee's reading tastes but suspect they were not what would now be called highbrow.

I wish Mr Cameron had time for Jane Austen, if not Horace.

Mr Basescu does not read and I imagine Crin prefers sleeping.

16 comments:

  1. Not wishing to speak ill of the recently dead, but didn't Mrs Thatcher once say she was RE-reading Frederick Forsyth?

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  2. Speaking of Michael Foot's literariness, there's this lovely story about him turning up to watch his beloved Plymouth Argyle: 'Arriving for a recent away game at Selhurst Park, a steward asked the ninetysomething Foot whether he was carrying an offensive weapon, whereupon he produced a battered copy of Milton's selected poems, explaining that Milton's poetry represented one of the most potent weapons in English history.'

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  3. I have to say I am impressed that you knew what all these people were reading, Paul! My father was obsessed with the "Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire" and Homer. Hope that puts him int he same league as Churchill. hahaha. Think I might skip a lot of Horace, even though I do like Baldwin.

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  4. Thatcher read Kipling? Really? No wonder I liked her, I was raised on Kipling. And Homer. And the Arthurian legends. And James Fenimore Cooper.

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  5. As for Mr. Ponta, he does not read either, as he discovered that it's easier to simply copy and paste.

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  6. I still believe Foot took money from the Russians for Tribune.
    Foot would have seen no harm in it?

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  7. He was a fine prose writer but his biography of Bevan is useless as history. He was a great speaker but wrong about almost everything except Europe. I think he was wrong about reform of the House of lords where he teamed up with Enoch Powell but thst was before my time and it is a complicated question.

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  8. Don't know why when I think of Churchill I always think of this. I read that Churchill said that he watched " That Hamilton Woman " eighty-seven times.

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  9. I love that film which I saw at 14 at the NFT and all Korda films. Korda took friends out to lunch the day he was naturalised and proposed a toast 'To hell with all damn foreigners.'Exactly the right type of immigrant. Hitler's favourite film which he watched over and over was lives of a bengal Lancer, which I can imagine Churchill loving. Stalin loved Tarzan which I always thought an utter bore. Did he like Deanna Durbin too? My memory is fuzzy. Saddam loved The Godfather which I do ot wish to see. I hate the Mafia and glorifications of psychopaths.

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  10. It's late around here but for now my bleary eyes can say, I too love 'That Hamilton Woman'. And I'll raise a glass to Mr. Korda, Hear Hear! And to Bloody Below with the Mafia(s) all. It's very disheartening that these vile people are so "enchanting" to so many. And besides, I never liked I forgot his Name. And for fun I was going to say, I only saw 'That Hamilton Woman' thirty-nine times.

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  11. I love Leslie Howard - the ideal Englishman.

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  12. Leslie Howard I agree very.

    to vali_nash, I never watch weather on t.v. except when Prince Charles is the weatherman. I thought he was very good. I almost think if he would take it up regularly I would watch. But really I know I wouldn't. I'd enjoy vignettes about gardening but I just couldn't bear the global warming bit.

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  13. I bet Home read Fly Fishing, by his predecessor as Foreign Secretary, Edward Grey.

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