Friday, 30 March 2012

Now or never: books to read

The Gospels, the New Testament with a commentary,  the Psalms, Ecclesiastes and Ecclesiasticus, in King James rather than Douai edition
The Bible designed to be read as literature 
Marcel Proust
Anna Karenina
War and Peace
The Idiot
The Trial
Henry Green
Under the Volcano
Edmund Burke
Sons and Lovers
The Sentimental Education
Try Gibbon’s Decline and Fall
Reread the whole of Shakespeare
Pickwick Papers
Tristram Shandy
Mill on the Floss

Dante and Ariosto in Italian is a sweet dream but life is too short. I haven't read Shakespeare since my teens except for A Midsummer Night's Dream and I know I would love to reread Chaucer's English Works

Friday, 16 March 2012

President John Tyler’s Grandson on Still Being Alive

John Tyler was President of the USA 1841–1845. Why does this story, about his two grandsons, who are still with us, make me so happy? Schopenhauer would say it appeals to the will to life.
"The past is never dead. It's not even past." 

Sixteen years after leaving the White House, when Civil War seemed inevitable, Tyler, who was a Virginian, chaired a peace conference between representatives from the North and South with the goal of keeping the Union intact. When his peace efforts failed, Tyler embraced the Confederacy . He was eventually elected to the Confederate Congress, but died without taking his seat. In Yankee eyes he died a traitor. In my eyes he chose the right side, since I can see no possible justification for the North invading the South to prevent the South seceding. 

I wonder if Washington and Jefferson would have done the same. Presumably they would, since both rebelled against the UK, both were proud Virginians and both were slave-owners.

Note: there is nothing on the net to suggest that the two grandsons are not still alive in June 2013. Long life to them both.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Norman St. John Stevas has died

The then Norman St John-Stevas talks to Margaret Thatcher at the state opening of parliament in 1979
    Another intimation of mortality. Norman St. John Stevas's name came up on google news and of course it was because he had died. Michael White my favourite political writer has it here. He has received one of the Daily Telegraph's funniest obituaries almost comparable the best one of all, that of Denisa, Lady Newborough.

    I canvassed for him in Chelmsford while I was up at university in 1983 at the fag end of my Third Year - he was almost the only Tory I could bear to canvass for in those days though now I think he was Wrong but Wromantic and Mrs. Thatcher Right but Repulsive. He called her the Immaculate Misconception. He told me they would have to disenfranchise the unemployed because they would be the majority next time. he took me to my first nightclub - I was astonished at how the mundane Essex girls were transfigured when done up for a club. But he was christened St John and was a Greek restaurant owner's son I think so his very grand title was very silly indeed. 

    In fact his affectations were very silly. He did not have style, unlike the impossibly beautiful Sir Ian Gilmour who was fired at the same time in 1981, the first two of Mrs. Thatcher's opponents, the Wets, to be dismissed. But he was witty and the kind of person who might have been an Independent MP sitting for one of the universities - I cannot forgive Labour for abolishing the university seats. (Though the wonderful biographer anmd former clerk of the House Robert Rhodes James would have done that better.)
    The inimitable and deeply lamented Frank Johnson called Lord St. John of Fawsley Lord Cringe-On-All-Foursley. Johnson did a very funny sketch of canvassing with Stevas (this much loved Victorian monument 'now in danger of demolition') in the Chelmsford election in 1983  a week or so before I went canvassing with him (he was expected to lose but scraped in ahead of the Liberal, Stuart Mole).  One of the canvassers apologised to Stevas for wearing a brown suit to which Stevas replied: 'Very appropriate. Crushed mole.' I have the sketch in a book somewhere and wish it were on the net but it is not. 

People like Stevas, Nicholas Fairbairn, Clement Freud and Leo Abse made politics interesting. Much bigger men like Michael Foot and Enoch Powell did the same. Fitzroy MacLean somewhat earlier. Now we have only Boris.

    I admired in my youth the panache of people like him and Noel Coward never suspecting they were homosexuals. I have always been innocent. Simon Hoggart called him the thinking man's Larry Grayson. This is in a day when homosexuality spelt the end of a political career. After we had finished canvassing he was met by his merchant banker friend and Stevas playfully ran his fingers on said friend's thigh. I always assumed as a practising Catholic that he must be a non-practising homosexual and realise that that was innocent of me but I see the obituary says this is what he claimed to be and probably was.

I also remember meeting him as a teenager with my father in the House when he was shadow Education Secretary, my father extolling grammar schools and Stevas's look of disdain and dislike which my father missed.

The last time I saw him was at an exhibition of drawings by Max Beerbohm in a private gallery in Mayfair in around 1986,“consule Planco”. 1986 then seemed disappointing modern and bloodless, as the present age always does to people who look backwards, but now it suddenly seems as far away, ancien regime and elegant as 1897. Where did 25 years go? 

Some Walter Bagehot quotations

  • A friend told me yesterday that my friend Ruth Dudley Edwards wrote books about Bagehot and felt I had been entertaining angels unawares. How wonderful to be paid to read and write about Bagehot (and how I feel I have wasted my life by not being a historian or writer). This led me to find some quotations. Do read his essays. He is as good a prose writer as Macaulay or Newman:

    The reason that there are so few good books written is that so few people who write know anything.

    Can an undying creature debit petty expenses and charge for carriage paid? The soul ties its shoes; the mind washes its hands in a basin. All is incongruous.

    The trouble with mysticism is that it is true.

    A constitutional statesman is in general a man of common opinions and uncommon abilities.

    A family on the throne is an interesting idea. It brings down the pride of sovereignty to the level of petty life.

    A great pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do.

    A man's mother is his misfortune, but his wife is his fault.

    A severe though not unfriendly critic of our institutions said that the cure for admiring the House of Lords was to go and look at it.

    All the best stories in the world are but one story in reality - the story of escape. It is the only thing which interests us all and at all times, how to escape.

    An influential member of parliament has not only to pay much money to become such, and to give time and labour, he has also to sacrifice his mind too - at least all the characteristics part of it that which is original and most his own.

    Conquest is the missionary of valor, and the hard impact of military virtues beats meanness out of the world.

    Dullness in matters of government is a good sign, and not a bad one - in particular, dullness in parliamentary government is a test of its excellence, an indication of its success.

    Honor sinks where commerce long prevails.

    In every particular state of the world, those nations which are strongest tend to prevail over the others; and in certain marked peculiarities the strongest tend to be the best.

    It is good to be without vices, but it is not good to be without temptations.

    Men who do not make advances to women are apt to become victims to women who make advances to them.

    No great work has ever been produced except after a long interval of still and musing meditation.

    No real English gentleman, in his secret soul, was ever sorry for the death of a political economist.

    Nothing is more unpleasant than a virtuous person with a mean mind.

    One of the greatest pains to human nature is the pain of a new idea.

    Poverty is an anomaly to rich people; it is very difficult to make out why people who want dinner do not ring the bell.

    The best history is but like the art of Rembrandt; it casts a vivid light on certain selected causes, on those which were best and greatest; it leaves all the rest in shadow and unseen.

    The best reason why Monarchy is a strong government is, that it is an intelligible government. The mass of mankind understand it, and they hardly anywhere in the world understand any other.

    The cure for admiring the House of Lords is to go and look at it.

    The greatest mistake is trying to be more agreeable than you can be.

    The greatest pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do.

    The habit of common and continuous speech is a symptom of mental deficiency. It proceeds from not knowing what is going on in other people's minds.

    The real essence of work is concentrated energy.

Christianity is not about ethics

Christianity is not about ethics - it is in a sense not even about religion, is in many ways anti-religious.

Jesus did not really preach ethics and disapproved of the ethicists, devout Sadducees and Pharisees of His day - He came to save us from religion in a sense. He did not preach against the Law but he preached something much greater than the Law.

Ethics is what non-believers imagine Christianity is about whereas Christianity teaches us to ask for divine grace not to follow an ethical code by our own efforts. 
Certainly in  Romania you feel that ethics is not at all central to Christianity. Ethics in the Romanian Orthodox Church seems peripheral while the liturgy is central. And Romanians combine an instinctual religiosity and interest in the otherworldly with a realistic appreciation and understanding of the worldly. This is I suppose why people in the Orthodox countries are more religious and in many ways less moral than in Western countries. Things here tend to be about people and emotions not rules.

Eugene Ionesco's remark is very true: religion in Romania means something completely different from what it means in Catholic or Protestant countries.