Friday, 21 October 2016

Cavaliers today and yesterday

Bagehot's Essays are sadly little read. I loved them in my mid-teens. Especially his Essay on Macaulay which contains the line 'Macaulay did not have an experiencing nature'. I knew at once that it described my father, whose ideas were set firm. 

Bagehot, a prose writer as good or almost as good as Macaulay, soars on the subject of cavaliers, a subject that never ceases to be topical.

Here is Bagehot's description of the Cavalier mind.

There seem to be some characters who are not made for history, as there are some who are not made for old age. A Cavalier is always young. The buoyant life arises before us, rich in hope, strong in vigour, irregular in action; men young and ardent, “framed in the prodigality of nature”; open to every enjoyment, alive to every passion, eager, impulsive; brave without discipline, noble without principle; prizing luxury, despising danger; capable of high sentiment, but in each of whom the
“Addiction was to courses vain,
His companies unlettered, rude, and shallow,
His hours filled up with riots, banquets, sports,
And never noted in him any study,
Any retirement, any sequestration
From open haunts and popularity.”
...The political sentiment is part of the character; the essence of Toryism is enjoyment. Talk of the ways of spreading a wholesome conservatism throughout this country! Give painful lectures, distribute weary tracts (and perhaps this is as well,—you may be able to give an argumentative answer to a few objections, you may diffuse a distinct notion of the dignified dullness of politics); but as far as communicating and establishing your creed are concerned, try a little pleasure. The way to keep up old customs is to enjoy old customs; the way to be satisfied with the present state of things is to enjoy that state of things. Over the “Cavalier” mind this world passes with a thrill of delight; there is an exaltation in a daily event, zest in the “regular thing,” joy at an old feast.
Theresa May is a roundhead, as was Mrs Thatcher. Cameron for all his political correctness was a cavalier. Churchill too. Macmillan a bookish bore who tried to act the part of a cavalier? Most Labour men were Roundheads, but Roy Jenkins was a cavalier, as oddly enough was, in many ways, Nye Bevan. But Nye reminds me of Fox and Wilkes - were they cavaliers?

I think the cavaliers in America were defeated if not in the revolution then in the civil war. But probably in the revolution. America is Roundhead. Virginia was on the right side in both civil wars but capitulated in 1652.

Mrs. Clinton might be a corrupt roundhead, for all her fondness for a drink, but other presidential candidates do not fit into the template. There is nothing cavalier or roundhead about the teetotal Trump. Groping doesn't really fit into the picture either. More groping probably took place at taverns in the reign of Charles II, by the cavaliers' sons, than in the reign of his father. Perhaps George W Bush was a cavalier in his alcoholic youth.

The Daily Mail is lower middle-class but has, thanks to its website, reached a worldwide audience of cavaliers' wives and wannabees, who like to read about rich living and pretty women. The Guardian, of course, is roundhead. Its aversion to traditional Christian thinking on things like homosexuality and abortion does not disguise its noncomformist roots. Political correctness is essentially Calvinist, which is why it first took hold in the USA.


  1. Stimulating piece. I suppose Trump doesn't fit either category because he isn't a gentleman. He's nouveau riche, a type that appeared later.

    Btw the best film portrayal of the cavalier, as you and Bagehot describe him, that I've ever seen is Vincent Perez as the Duc de Nevers in *Le Bossu*.

  2. As Teddy Roosevelt would say, "Bully!"

  3. A very enjoyable read. Ben Williams