Thursday, April 23, 2009

Torture II

It is getting worse and worse. According to this morning’s New York Times, the current director of national intelligence, referring to the use of waterboarding and other methods of torture employed by the C.I.A. at Guantánamo, “high value information [sic] came from interrogations in which these methods were used.” In other words, the end amply justified the means. Many Republicans, led by Mr. Cheney, seem to feel that this is a compelling case for the defense.

Torture would not exist if wicked people did not think it was a useful form of coercion and, incidentally, an expedient form of punishment—for the time being freed from the inconvenient constraints of law. Yet how valuable is information obtained by means of torture? Can it be accurately recorded and verified? Does one safely go ahead and act upon such information? Of course not, unless you are so reckless that the prospect of irreversible collateral damage means nothing to you. Certainly such information cannot possibly be submitted as evidence in a court of law.

Even more hideous is the declared involvement in these proceedings at Guantánamo of qualified medical practitioners. Theirs is a far greater betrayal of the high requirements of their profession even than that of the lawyers who tried and failed to fly under the radar of the relevant portion of the U.S. criminal code. No doubt the lawyers will successfully argue their way out of this sorry episode, but the doctors must without hesitation be struck off, because they have by their willing involvement drawn a veil of clinical plausibility and restraint over the commission of crimes. If they are not struck off, and if there are no other consequences, we are surely allowing ourselves to be lured into the perverted modus operandi of al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Surely nothing would give them greater satisfaction.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Trumbles in Fiction III

In her experimental novel The Waves (1931), Virginia Woolf helped herself to the name of Trumble, and used it to sketch an exceedingly unattractive portrait of somebody who is small in business, but big in local government. Though marginally mitigated by the fact that this brief sketch is embedded in one of the garrulous Bernard’s long soliloquies, and that overt hostility projects instead from the oleaginous Neville—a cipher for Lytton Strachey—nevertheless Woolf’s vignette demonstrates at its most unattractive the unabashed snobbisme of Bloomsbury.

Nor is it at all clear to us why “Walter J. Trumble is the sort of name” that Woolf thought apt for this “elderly and apparently prosperous” gold-toothed husband (indulgent but unfaithful) who evidently made the unfortunate mistake of visiting the United States of America. My brother Hamish raised this baffling issue with his English tutor at Jesus College, Cambridge, in the early 1970s but received no satisfactory answer—indeed he formed the impression that the tutor (long forgotten) regarded the matter as unimportant.

“Louis and Neville,” said Bernard, “both sit silent. Both are absorbed. Both feel the presence of other people as a separating wall. But if I find myself in company with other people, words at once make smoke rings—see how phrases at once begin to wreathe off my lips. It seems that a match is set to a fire; something burns. An elderly and apparently prosperous man, a traveller, now gets in. And I at once wish to approach him; I instinctively dislike the sense of his presence, cold, unassimilated, among us. I do not believe in separation. We are not single. Also I wish to add to my collection of valuable observations upon the true nature of human life. My book will certainly run to many volumes, embracing every known variety of man and woman. I fill my mind with whatever happens to be the contents of a room or a railway carriage as one fills a fountain-pen in an inkpot. I have a steady unquenchable thirst. Now I feel by imperceptible signs, which I cannot yet interpret but will later, that his defiance is about to thaw. His solitude shows signs of cracking. He has passed a remark about a country house. A smoke ring issues from my lips (about crops) and circles him, bringing him into contact. The human voice has a disarming quality—(we are not single, we are one). As we exchange these few but amiable remarks about country houses, I furbish him up and make him concrete. He is indulgent as a husband but not faithful; a small builder who employs a few men. In local society he is important; is already a councillor, and perhaps in time will be mayor. He wears a large ornament, like a double tooth torn up by the roots, made of coral, hanging at his watch-chain. Walter J. Trumble is the sort of name that would fit him. He has been in America, on a business trip with his wife, and a double room in a smallish hotel cost him a whole month’s wages. His front tooth is stopped with gold.

“The fact is that I have little aptitude for reflection. I require the concrete in everything. It is so only that I lay hands upon the world. A good phrase, however, seems to me to have an independent existence. Yet I think it is likely that the best are made in solitude. They require some final refrigeration which I cannot give them, dabbling always in warm soluble words. My method, nevertheless, has certain advantages over theirs. Neville is repelled by the grossness of Trumble.”

Monday, April 20, 2009

We're the Hekawi

Denver, the “mile-high” city, is a fascinating mixture of the hearty, out-door culture of the Rocky Mountains, and the gritty endurance of the plains. Somewhat counter-intuitively, one feels the attraction of one, and the wide eastward barrier rolled out by the other. Colorado is nothing if not friendly, and as usual in a span of three days I met a host of glorious locals, who are as proud as punch of what they have achieved in the west.

Naturally, the earliest settlers are much in evidence, and, rising near the junction of West Colfax and Broadway on the edge of Civic Center Park, in the lee of the Colorado State Capitol with its gilded dome, is the wacky Pioneer Monument, which went up in 1910.

The statuary was conceived by the Brooklyn-born expatriate celebrity of fin-de-siècle Paris, Frederick William MacMonnies, a pupil of Saint-Gaudens. The mounted figure at the top is the famous frontiersman Kit Carson. MacMonnies’s original idea was to place a Native American in this prominent position, but not surprisingly public opinion was forthrightly opposed. The site is held to be the symbolical, if not the literal end of the Smoky Hill Trail, which brought many waves of pioneers to Denver from St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri. The bronze plaque (below a snarling wild cat) gives the particulars:


One of the four Bernini-esque personifications, the muscular “pioneer woman,” cradles over her lap a loaded shotgun. She was placed there by the grateful Daughters of Colorado. Her bearded, hat-wearing male counterpart, meanwhile, reclines with the gold and silver prospector’s pick-axe, a curious fully-clothed riff on Neptune with his trident. All around this pungently classicizing, colonnaded plaza are dotted many other bronze statues on an even grander scale: colossal bison, bucking contortionist cowboys, and lithe gun-toting Navajo braves. These gestures are as insistently Neronian as the genocide was evidently accomplished in short order.

Ruminating on this melancholy legacy, I found myself transported to the playroom at 18 Denham Place, where we watched numerous episodes of F-Troop (discontinued in 1967, but in Australia repeated many times for years at the convenient time of 4.30 p.m.).

Clearly, in those days we had very little conception of the underlying historical realities, and I feel somewhat abashed to admit that I adored Chief Wild Eagle of the Hekawi Tribe, those shrewd partners in O’Rourke Enterprizes, and his delinquent son Bald Eagle. The Chief, I recall, was played by the Italian-American character actor Frank De Kova. There was also Roaring Chicken, the decrepit medicine man, a role created by Edward Everett Horton, the ne plus ultra of Ivy-League Yankee gentlemen and an alumnus of Columbia University (Phi Kappa Psi), as well as his chosen successor Crazy Cat. All produced wise old Indian sayings.

I have just now remembered how the Hekawi got their name. According to Chief Wild Eagle, “Many moons ago tribe move west because Pilgrims ruin neighborhood. Tribe travel west, over country and mountains and wild streams, then come big day... tribe fall over cliff, that when Hekawi get name. Medicine man say to my ancestor, ‘I think we lost. Where the heck are we?’” Actually the scripts by Arthur Julian, Howard Merrill, Tom Adair, James B. Allardyce and others were generally brilliant, especially when navigating the awkward matter of the innate character of the “fictional Hekawi,” who whilst undoubtedly timorous were nevertheless shown to be at least canny, but more often shrewd:

Captain Wilton Parmenter: We come in peace.

Chief Wild Eagle: What else?

And elsewhere:

Chief Wild Eagle: Have you ever seen a war dance?

Roaring Chicken: Oh yes, many moons ago. Many, many, many moons.

Chief Wild Eagle: Stop with the moons. When?

Roaring Chicken: Forty-two years ago, last spring.

Cold comfort indeed, and no doubt almost as insulting as it is possible to be to the memory of the many First Nations people who perished whilst trying to resist the real, unstoppable westward expansion of the United States. In the midst of the huge spring snow storm last Friday morning it was as if their ghosts were sighing in the mountains, and weeping over the plains. I realize I have never to my knowledge met a genuine First Nations American.

The Flight of Europa

Occasionally you see a work of art that is so stupendously odd that it takes your breath away. I had this experience last Thursday morning, when at the Denver Art Museum I came face to face with The Flight of Europa, a Deco-leaning confection devised in 1925 by the American sculptor Paul Howard Manship (1885–1966). This crazy group, consisting of leaping bull supported by leaping dolphins, the seated nude, and a confidential putto, somehow manages to convey the conflicting impressions of high speed and pertness. The bull skims over the waves like an 800-pound crested tern with horns. His massive forequarters, hind legs, miniature hooves, and primly uplifted tail might easily have been devised by Fritz Freleng for Warner Brothers. Europa, meanwhile, marcel-waved and flat-chested, faces the rear: legs crossed, back straight, in other words sitting in the attitude of stylish nonchalance one might associate with cinematic comedies of the 1930s. It is as if she were pausing to catch her breath on a powder-room settee at Bergdorfs. I suppose one can only go along with this roaring-twenties fusion of mythical rape and No, No, Nanette, but you do wonder what the artist thought he was doing.


I don’t usually get driven into a state of real anger by what I read in the newspaper. In middle age I suppose there is no outrage, no abomination, nor human tragedy, nor folly, nor deceit about which I have not by now read in much detail and at depressingly regular intervals. However last Thursday was a galvanizing exception.

While hiding behind my copy of that morning’s
New York Times over breakfast at the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver, Colo., I found myself reading lengthy extracts from long and badly written memoranda in which attorneys of the Justice department (and others) attempted to argue that certain disgusting “methods of interrogation,” conducted in secret, may not be defined as torture under the U.S. criminal code.

These memoranda, the publication of which no fewer than four former directors of the Central Intelligence Agency did their utmost to prevent, are deeply shocking and ought to justify the aggressive prosecution of any and all offenders—as a matter of urgent moral necessity, and for the common good.

The plain meaning of torture was as clear to the persons who conceived, framed, and drafted the relevant law as it must be to anyone else with a brain and a conscience, and it is perhaps a moot point whether the decision of officials in the Bush administration to seek legal advice on this point in 2002 is any more outrageous than the willingness of at least a handful of lawyers to provide it.

Here we have the chilling spectacle of high officials—reasonably intelligent (I suppose), comfortably housed, with graduate degrees from good schools, people moreover with parents, spouses, children—trying in vain to demonstrate that the physical pain, mental suffering, and fear that is administered to prisoners of the state are not bad enough to qualify as
bona fide torture—coldy assessing these (without having experienced any of them at first hand) according to a sliding scale of severity, short of which, they claim, the United States has consistently stopped.

“Although the waterboard constitutes
a threat of imminent death,” wrote sometime assistant attorney-general Jay S. Bybee, “prolonged mental harm must nonetheless result to violate the statutory prohibition on infliction of severe mental pain or suffering.”

Yes, he appears to have been serious. Some threats of imminent death are less terrifying than others, Mr. Bybee is saying, especially if “the relief is almost immediate
when the cloth is removed from the nose and mouth.” What cloth? And if it’s covering the nose and mouth, how is the prisoner expected to breathe?! “In the absence of prolonged mental harm, no severe mental pain or suffering would have been inflicted, and the use of these procedures would not constitute torture within the meaning of the statute.” Let us presume that Mr. Bybee, now elevated to the bench, is an amusing dinner companion.

Degrees of pain, suffering, and fear are hardly measurable because one person’s capacity to endure excessive doses of each may at times outstrip the rest of us who have far lower thresholds, while I know from my own bitter experience (administered long ago by a perverted master at Melbourne Grammar School) that the humiliating effect of something as benign-sounding as “enforced nudity” can cause indelibly lasting damage to another. The point is to coerce by inflicting pain, and by threats of still more pain, so vague estimates as to the amount or intensity of the pain required to achieve that coercion are entirely irrelevant.

Leaving aside this immaterial question of degree, one simply cannot believe that any rational person could possibly state that putting a prisoner in a box containing insects they loathe, and leaving them there, is not torture. Nor is it of any comfort to know that some prisoners have been kept awake only for
eleven days straight; that the prospect of “simulated drowning” is not real, nor that slapping and punching hands are free of potentially flesh-piercing jewelry. How quaint. Even more sinister is the use of towels to prevent whiplash injury when repeatedly throwing someone against a wall—“walling” appears to be the technical term.

If the lawyers who provided this outrageous advice—as cynical as it was stupid and criminal—are spared any consequence on, I suppose, the depressing principle that they were merely “following instructions”—the failed Nazi defense at Nuremburg—there can be no such protection afforded to the clients themselves, in this case overreaching servants of a federal government ostensibly elected by the people.

I can only imagine what my dear late father would have thought of all this. He was an ex-serviceman—Royal Australian Navy: H.M.A.S.
Warramunga, H.M.A.S. Nizam, etc.—an able and well-respected attorney: sometime senior partner of the ancient firm of Mallesons Stephen Jaques; president of the Law Institute of Victoria, president of the Medico-Legal Society of Victoria, and a churchwarden at St. George’s Church of England, Malvern.

He would have been deeply shocked, not only by the measure of cynicism that is revealed by the claim that such fear and pain as is caused to a prisoner by the abdominal slap, or the waterboard (used in excess of
180 times on one prisoner alone), or “stress positions,” are insufficient to meet the high standard required by the true definition of torture, but that a qualified legal practitioner, bound by obligation to a court, could be induced to say so under any circumstances.

Here, he would have said, is a willing betrayal (with malice aforethought) of the high requirements, responsibilities, and noble calling of the profession of law. Let us presume that these days a lot of people would simply laugh at him, above all those officials of the Justice Department, the Central Intelligence Agency, and whoever then ran Guantánamo.

Just now, and for the next few weeks, Christians are celebrating Easter, having lived through the hideous events of Holy Week. Nothing more readily brings to mind the Passion of Christ than these miserable sophistries relating to torture/non-torture:

“And when He had said these things, one of the servants standing by gave Jesus a blow, saying: Answerest thou the high priest so?”

Moreover, according to the Catholic tradition yesterday was Divine Mercy Sunday. Let us hope that the enablers and perpetrators of these acts of torture availed themselves of it. They cannot possibly have acted in good faith if they required legal memoranda to salve their consciences.

I believe that all of us await higher judgment, but how much more satisfactory it would be if justice were not only done here and now, but also seen to be done by as many people as possible in our own and every other earthly jurisdiction, well ahead of time. How else can we hope to persuade the world that this is a republic of laws, and not of men?

The Trumbles at Leisure

This informal group portrait, which was taken in about 1963 or 1964 by Dad at Metung on the old Zeiss camera, using kodachrome slide film, captures certain innate qualities that have descended through generations of Trumbles.

Above all it is the seriousness, the consistent refusal to engage in light banter or jollity, the unflinching Puritanism (as of Elders of the Kirk), indeed the crippling shyness that strike one most forcefully nearly fifty years on.

Left to right: Mum, with Ritmeester cigarillo; Nick, somewhat subdued; an unidentified young female person wearing the oversized spectacles (Amanda insists that this widget is
not her); Simon “Soprano”; Joey, and Uncle Colin, wearing the traditional headgear of an Australian legal practitioner.

The facing wall was newly papered with posters, handbills, trunk and wine-bottle labels, cancelled tickets, maps, and other ephemera patiently accumulated by Mum and Dad in the northern spring and summer of 1961 on their extended tour of Europe.

The large bottle in the foreground is a reference not so much to obstemiousness or moderate consumption, but rather to the fact that Rémy Martin (now Rémy Cointreau) were a loyal and longstanding client of Mallesons, and their proprietors, M. and Mme. André Hériard Dubreuil, old and generous family friends. I gather Mme. Hériard is still alive.

According to Uncle Colin’s engaging memoir (privately published), in the 1960s M. Hériard, our grandfather, Tom Compson Trumble, and Edwin Peatt, managing director of Nathan and Wyeth, who were agents in Australia for Rémy Martin, found and purchased land suitable for planting a vineyard at Avoca in Victoria. At first it was called Château Rémy, but for reasons that are not entirely clear to me the name was later changed to “Blue Pyrenees Estate.”

Although the original plan was to produce brandy, in due course the grapes yielded too little sugar for that so champagne and other wines resulted. The Hériards evidently loved the place, but eventually sold it after Uncle Colin retired. It is still there. So is Metung, but the bottle must have gone out with the other empties.

How lucky we were to grow up on those happy, hilarious, television-free summer holidays at Metung. True, the bottle of T.C.P. antiseptic (slightly to the right) is a reminder of splinters, stubbed toes, barnacle cuts from the jetty, and minor sailing accidents but fortunately nobody seems ever to have been seriously injured; never to my knowledge bitten by a snake or poisonous spider, and the only local indigenous wildlife I recall are possums, kookaburras, and a lone echidna which put in an appearance in about 1976.

The blue plastic sugar container with white lid continues to provide excellent service. I seem to recall the mixmaster leaning against the wall on the far left went back and forth with us from Melbourne, but I cannot imagine what Mum used it for (apart from mining the annual Christmas pudding). It sits on a superior kind of green Coolgardie safe in which butter and other perishables lived.

By the time I came along the shapely, antediluvian fridge was around the corner off to the right, right next to the loo, but at this date it may have lived in the detached laundry, along with the old washing machine and mangle.

Dad got most of the doors and windows from junk sales, and built the rest of the house with his own hands. The old boatshed predated it, and was then still used for storing boats.

Psychedelic Denver

This week I was hugely intrigued and entertained by The Psychedelic Experience: Rock Posters from the San Francisco Bay Area, 1965–71, a brilliantly selected exhibition in Daniel Liebeskind’s new Hamilton building at the Denver Art Museum. The show is drawn from the part-gift, part-purchase of the entire collection of David and Sheryl Tippit.

Visitors may be amused to find themselves rubbing shoulders with gap-toothed, walking-frame, and wheelchair-bound hippie-replacements with sparse ponytails and lots of suety overhang. The original audience for these works of art is flocking back, struggling to remember the old days, and in at least one case to enthuse a sullen teenage grandchild. She was not much impressed, but I was.

Inasmuch as rock music of the period was powerful, revolutionary, urgently appealing to the conscience-stricken generation of 1968, and of lasting significance therefore in the cultural life of the nation, and indeed the globe, I was struck by how far the creators of these mostly cheap, vertically-oriented small-scale ad hoc posters and handbills were content to borrow every conceivable form of artistic idea from other people. 

So rich and sustained was this form of mostly indiscriminate harvesting, much fueled by hallucinogenic drugs, that I scribbled down as many visual references as I could identify—and there are surely lots of others that I overlooked.

The nineteenth century seems to have held a particular grip on the Haight-Ashbury imagination. Here is much aestheticism and art nouveau, especially designs lifted directly from Alphonse Mucha and freely adapted from Aubrey Beardsley. Crepuscular steel engravings by Gustave Doré crop up quite a lot, and the work of numerous other French printmakers. There was a taste for naughty French photographs (an ample nude, for example, in black stockings with bicycle). Old four-color process topographical postcards were also a convenient source: among them a view of St. Louis, Missouri. There are photographs of funereal stock-in-trade monumental grave sculptures—mostly limp angels with oversized wings. The old nickel (reverse with bison) makes a walk-on appearance, along with U.S. Treasury bills, and various riffs upon its distinctive styles of lettering and engraving, including the heraldic elements “E. Pluribus Unum,” and that weird Masonic motif, the pinnacle with disembodied eye hovering in mid-air over the rest of the pyramid. Admittedly, this is trippy enough even without the assistance of LSD.

Liberty Enlightening the World by Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi (the eponymous statue in New York Harbor) and the symbolist paintings of Gustave Moreau and Odilon Redon appear regularly. And there are wacky takes on the Arrangement in Grey and Black: The Artist’s Mother by James McNeill Whistler (Paris: Musée d’Orsay), and William Morris’s “vine,” the rich marginal design for the frontispiece of the first (Kelmscott) edition of The Tale of King Florus and the Fair Jehane (1893).

Yet these young artists also dwelt happily in the Classical world, or what they knew of it from photographic reproductions. Here we discover the fifth-century B.C. bronze Poseidon (Athens: National Archaeological Museum); the architecture of the Parthenon, and of the dome of the palimpsest Capitol building in Washington, D.C. (which was designed by William Ustick Walter); the Venus de Milo (Louvre); Michelangelo’s David (Florence: Galleria dell’Accademia) and the Adam half of his Sistine Creation of Man.

Add to this pot-pourri cinema stills from the 1953 Twentieth-Century Fox version of Titanic (directed by Jean Negulesco), and many westerns; an old Cool Ade advertisement; promotional photographs of the original Cunard liner R.M.S. Queen Mary on her Clydebank slipway; 1969 N.A.S.A. photographs by Buzz Aldrin of Neil Armstrong trotting about on the moon; many generalized references to Salvator Dalí and René Magritte; the 1957 ultra-high-speed photograph now known as Milk Drop Coronet by Howard Edgerton; Leonardo’s Mona Lisa (Louvre); Parmigianino’s Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror (Vienna: Kunsthistorisches Museum); O Cristo Redentor by Paul Landowski, the enormous statue at the summit of Corcovado mountain in Rio de Janeiro; Old Glory; the graphic work of Saul Steinberg; The Scream by Edvard Munch (Oslo: National Gallery); Rorschach blots; items of photojournalism from Vietnam (actually surprisingly few of these); the Taj Mahal; the tribal art of Ashanti and French equatorial Africa; and any and all available First Nations or native American imagery—more often images of Indians than their artifacts and works of art, but both deployed with the same degree of cheerful arbitrariness and stubborn frequency.

It simply goes on and on: E. H. Sheppard’s illustration of Pooh and Piglet from page 35 of Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A Milne (1926) (above) provides a wholly bizarre selling point for an evening with Joan Baez. 

Elsewhere we collide with the eponymous Planters’ “Mr. Peanut” with monocle, cane, and spats (a character originally devised in the 1950s for television advertising); a huge Second-Empire marble nude with up-blown draperies by someone like Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse (but not him: maddening, I cannot place it); “Alfred E. Neuman,” the awful fictional character also known as “the jolly boy,” who was and still is the mascot of Mad Magazine; a detail of the figure on the left from The Courtyard of a House in Delft, 1658, by Pieter de Hooch (London, National Gallery); paintings that portray respectively a pre-Meiji emperor of Japan, and the Marquis de Lafayette; an exquisite Angkor period four-headed Cambodian temple gatehouse carving, tidied up and squashed out of shape for the otherwise high-minded Bay Area consumer; Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse and Daffy Duck; a photograph of Charles Atlas (in his prime); some sort of pastiche or fusion of separate paintings by Titian, Giorgione, and Giovanni Bellini, including The Woman in Front of a Mirror (1515, Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum); the gold mask of the Pharaoh Tutankhamen, and much other freely adapted Egyptological material; the work of R. Crumb (Victor Moscoso and Rick Griffin were disciples, then collaborators); the registered trademark of Zig-Zag rolling cigarette papers; French Gothic ceramic tiles, or possibly their early Victorian reincarnation—presumably designs by Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin; the Twentieth-Century Fox motion picture title graphics; art pauvre in general, Op Art in particular, and, finally, Yin and Yang—again and again and again. 

There is even one especially trippy poster that has John Bull, of the Quaker oats, as its presiding genius.

As if that lot were not an ample compost heap from which to assemble the work, steel-engraved curlycue borders, crests, and flourishes lifted from the illuminated borders of stock and bond certificates also abound and, though reveling in their dropout status, several of these artists obviously either owned stock in General Electric, or had a very accurate impression of what it looked like.


Some artists were obviously aware of the issue of copyright infringement: At the bottom of one poster there is the casual typewritten remark (in grainy capitals): “What you don’t know about copying and duplicating won’t hurt you.” Those were the days. Actually, the Haight-Ashbury poster designers were not negligent or lazy so much as defiant, at times distributing material that was so flagrantly in breach of the relevant copyright regulations that they fully expected to be closed down by the police, or to have to leave town in a hurry. The authorities wisely decided not to give them that satisfaction, although it seems more likely that they simply didn’t notice, weren’t looking, or couldn’t be bothered. That was a bit of luck.

To some degree one senses from the constant, indeed tedious references to L.S.D. (Lysergic acid diethylamide, LSD-25, now more commonly known as “acid”), as well as not particularly well-concealed mushrooms, marijuana leaves, bongs, tokes, peyote buttons—what are they?—and everything else, that the entire body of work was created not just under the superabundant influence of mind-altering drugs, but actually stands as a full-throated hymn to the sustained, whole-of-life, anxiety-obliterating, communal trip.

Even if the tone of the wall texts and labels in Denver implies that in those innocent days such determinedly committed experimentation with drugs was either relatively harmless, or part of a form of general résistance, or a whole lot of fun, again and again you find yourself feeling that these artists and their San Francisco rock-music impresario patrons were behaving like so many naughty children literally begging to get caught.

With notable exceptions, such as the remarkable works of Lee D. Conklin, evidently a brilliant draughtsman, lots of the posters add up to frankly bad art, but because so many of them do not aspire to be anything more than promotional and publicity-seeking ephemera—adverts for one, two, or three-night engagements with The Rolling Stones, Boz Scaggs, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Velvet Underground, Jefferson Airplane, et al.—there is ample charm in that. Moreover, they were ebulliently hand-made, and also carry the sincerity and conviction of the bona fide counter-culture. Perhaps in these parlous times we need to retrieve more than a little of that.

There is, too, a nearly universal horror vacui in the work. An obviously reliable symptom of the “trip” was that it kept you up all night. Less was merely less; more, indeed as much as possible, was far, far better. 

Engagingly harnessed to the period also are the screen-printed portrait photographs of hairy, moustachioed, and frothily side-burned artists posing manfully à la Klondike, the “women” often draped obediently on the floor beside them. Shampoo seems to have been universally shunned in the Bay Area.

The electric color schemes are mostly acrid but dazzling and visionary, the off-set printing and primitive lithography are variously crude, rough-and-ready, treacly, hot, sour, or ingenious—one feels better able to make an accurate assessment, incidentally, because of the gloriously fresh and pristine state of each and every one of these exempla, patiently gathered and preserved by the Tippits, who are obviously discriminating connoisseurs in the finest tradition. 

There are telling shifts in the brief chronology here set out in the Hamilton galleries. Above all what commences as a flirtation with nudity (so shocking) rapidly develops into a rather less funny nod toward forthrightly misogenistic sex—a jumble of lazy breasts and big bottoms hurled at the feet of fully-clothed, fist-clenching men: chests puffed out; tummies in—and these accelerate as we turn the corner into the ill-fated second Nixon administration. J.-A-D. Ingres’s absurd Zeus and Thetis (Aix-en-Provence: Musée Granet) seems to have offered those boys an especially exciting and narcissistic model for heterosexual intercourse.

The block lettering, meanwhile, at times spidery, spiky, flamboyant (literally), attenuated, but more often fat, cuddly, or cumulus, was supposed to draw an exciting veil over the closed language of shared psychedelic experience, the better to shut out the squares, fogies, and terrified parents. None of it now seems especially secret or illegible, but in the forty years that have elapsed I suppose the rest of us have become much less gormless, and better at processing oceans of sensory bombardment.

The word psychedelic was derived from the Greek Ψυχη (psyche, soul), and δελος (delos, manifest). Psychedelic experiences were said to liberate parts of the mind ordinarily hidden, fettered, or unhealthily suppressed. Such liberation was achieved either by means of sensory deprivation (such as darkness, dope, and tranquilizers), or, creepily, by using hallucinogens. At times these resulted in altered states of awareness, the mirage of mystical extremes, and occasionally—more often than is usually acknowledged—states of genuine tooth-gnashing, wall-punching psychosis. 

It is no accident therefore that this body of work is liberally festooned with skulls; populated by zombies, snarling wolves, vipers, black cats, and gestures towards a sort of apostrophized occultism. And as often as Bill Graham brought Cream, The Doors, The Who, and The Grateful Dead to the Fillmore for their limited engagements, Dr. Death himself was apparently riding shotgun.

On the whole I am glad I wasn’t there, but the Denver Art Museum has this week taught me what it was like to take the trip. 

Peace, man.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


This is our first cousin twice removed, Thornton Borthwick Macklin, who lies buried with his grandparents, our common ancestors, at Melrose in the Scottish borders, roughly half way between Edinburgh and Alnwick in Northumberland. Thor’s mother and our great-grandfather Borthwick were sister and brother. As much of his story as I know is set out in the long inscription on their splendid headstone, and for understandable reasons Aunt Jean, who throughout her life kept in touch with the Macklin family in England, held onto this charming carte de visite photograph. The inscription does not mention the Indian dhaye or bearer, so we shall almost certainly never know his name. Chaziabad, now known as Ghaziabad, is in the modern state of Uttar Pradesh, approximately twelve miles north-east of New Delhi.

In Memory


26TH DEC.R 1886
27TH FEB.Y 1909, AGED 22 YEARS

Easter Sunday II

Is there any more confusing aspect of the New Testament insomma as sifting and separating the women called Mary—especially as they converge upon Holy Week? As I see it, there are at least eight, presided over by (1) Mary the Virgin, Mother of Jesus, whose identity is mercifully unequivocal throughout. This is a blessing, and not only in the dogmatic sense.

Then there are three Maries, two of whom are almost certainly one and the same person, but not necessarily, maybe even all three are synonymous: (2) Mary, known as the mother of James and Joses (Matt. 27:56); (3) “the other Mary,” who, because she follows only a few lines later at 27:61, seems almost certain to be the same mother of James and Joses, and (4) Mary, the wife of Clophas (Jn. 19:25).

The next two Maries are often conflated because of the sticky issue of anointing, but at different (and very famous) moments retain fundamentally separate, indeed vigorously three-dimensional personae, exceeding even many of the twelve disciples in symbolic and poetic intensity: (5) Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha and Lazarus (Lk. 16:38–42, Jn. 11:1 ff.), and (6) Mary Magdalene (Mk. 16:9, Lk. 8:2). In some respects both of these Maries are of greater importance than all the others except for the Virgin Mary, and it is odd that there should have existed in the earliest centuries of Christianity any uncertainty or confusion as to their respective roles and identities.

Finally, bringing up the rear are (7) Mary, the mother of Mark, who appears only once (Acts 12:12); and (8) the Mary who is saluted by Paul in his letter to the Romans (16:12), which ipso facto guarantees that she Rome.

The name Mary derives from the Hebrew Miriam, as in the sister of Moses and Aaron in Exodus, but it seems to have been in widespread use in Palestine in the late first century B.C. not so much because of this distinguished provenance, but because of the far more current influence of Miriam, the queen consort of Herod the Great.

What is especially puzzling about all this is that the Gospel witnesses rarely feel the need to make a more convincing effort to avoid what by any measure is an apparently unnecessary source of great confusion. It seems somehow counter-intuitive for no fewer than three Maries to be present with Jesus at Golgotha, and two (with Salome) at the empty tomb, unless, of course, that is precisely what the Gospel-writers urged us to know, understand, and accept.

Good Friday

In a country with such pronounced and longstanding religious credentials—despite the rock-solid separation of church and state—Good Friday is scarcely a blip on the radar screen of America.

Gone are the days, if ever they existed here, when everything was shut, and Good Friday was the
ne plus ultra of public holidays, as it used to be at home in Australia.

After the austere, stupendously dignified and moving liturgy at Christ Church, New Haven, commencing at noon last Friday—at the climax of which the choir sang the haunting
Improperia (Reproaches) in the beautiful setting by Tomás Luis de Victoria—I stopped off at Gourmet Heaven, the convenience store, to pick up a bottle of milk.

Looking at my watch I realized that the ninth hour was fast approaching, and therefore felt somewhat shamefaced to be caught entering a shop. No doubt I am the last person left in New England who still feels such strong qualms, no doubt “inculturated,” as we say here in the United States.

Quaint sentiments, certainly, but when I approached the cash register—ruminating upon the strange supernatural phenomena that are listed in the synoptics (the curtain of the Temple torn in two from top to bottom [all three agree on this, but for Mark it is the only one such observation {15:38}]; the sudden descent into darkness [Lk 23:44–45, a total eclipse of the sun?]; the shaking of the earth, the splitting of rocks, and the evacuation of numerous resuscitated corpses from their tombs, all of which electrify Matthew’s account [27:51–53])—thankfully I achieved re-entry without losing too many heat-proof tiles.

Because, spelled out on the customer side of the cash register screen, scrolling horizontally in sour green lights, was the following playfully animated message: “
WELCOME TO G. HEAVEN—Have a good day!!!”

It is the mark of the truly paranoid that they perceive messages flowing inwards from the surrounding world and conclude that these are specifically meant for them personally, but in this case the total irony was almost too much for me.

I hurried home, made a cup of tea, and finished reading all about Edna Walling’s landscape gardens.

Easter Sunday

It is an anomalous aspect of the Easter miracle that in our troubled era it has generated works of art of scarcely conceivable hideousness (above)—mostly concocted as “faith aids,” and generally missing all but the crudest aspects of the pertinent Gospel narratives.

Yesterday a good friend and colleague of mine reminded me of one of the most striking and memorable features of the “morning of the third day” discoveries in John’s account, which relies for its startling vividness upon the fact that “the beloved disciple” himself evidently beat Peter to the empty tomb in a sprint, though it is Peter who actually enters it first. What they see there is described with such meticulousness and specificity that within the broad parameters of John’s highly sophisticated structural edifice it deserves much scrutiny.

According to the New International Version of the Bible, an exceedingly popular Protestant translation produced by biblical scholars in America in the 1960s:
Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen (20:6–7).
Folded—a particular action of somewhat calm and methodical character. Something about this did not ring true, so I went to King James. There, the same passage is translated:
Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself.
Wrapped, carrying the hint of a more cursory gesture—discarding something unwanted. The Revised Standard Version (English) of 1928 gives it still differently again:
Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; he saw the linen cloths lying, and the napkin, which had been on his head, not lying with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself.
Rolled, wrapped, folded. Time to check the Greek:
ερχεται ουν σιμων πετρος ακολουθων αυτω και εισηλθεν εις το μνημειον / και θεωρει τα οθονια κειμενακαι το σουδαριον ο ην επι της κεφαλης αυτου ου μετα των οθονιων κειμενον αλλα χωρις εντετυλιγμενον εις ενα τοπον.
Jerome’s fifth-century Vulgate rendered these two verses as
venit ergo Simon Petrus sequens eum et introivit in monumentum et videt linteamina posita et sudarium quod fuerat super caput eius non cum linteaminibus positum sed separatim involutum in unum locum.
Now it is in the Greek text of these verses in John that we find the most breathtaking measure of poetical intentionality, because the relevant participle of the ancient verb κειμαι means (variously) stretched out, lain down to rest, in repose, lying sick or wounded, lying dead—often unburied (as of human corpses specifically) and, as in English (somewhat eerily) laying down, in the sense of mounting an argument, or laying down the law. In other words the Greek seems to encompass a profound complexity of meaning as regards the placement ( if that is the right word) of the head cloth, napkin, or, in fact, the σουδαριον/sudarium (in essence the same word, evidently a technical term in the repertoire of near eastern undertakers in Roman-occupied Palestine). More than this, however, as my wise friend and colleague now points out, laying aside the cloth which now, in a sense, lies “dead,” recalls the earlier moment in John (10:17-18) where Jesus talks about having the power to lay down his own life, and the power to take it up again.

Now, it seems to me that the Vulgate does a very ingenious thing by translating κειμενον as positum (us) (from pono) simply “put” or “laid,” but linking this basic term to εντετυλιγμενον by choosing involutum (involutus, –a, –um), which means literally hidden, obscured, or veiled. Thus Jerome emphasises the crepuscular setting, and a certain psychic distance opens up between shroud and sudarium. Yet coming from the verb involvo, –uere, –ui, –utum, the curiously fugitive sense of involutum also carries the sense of moving in a circle, being wrapped or rolled, coiled, curled, or wound up. In other words, if plain old positum suggests that this was not one of Jerome’s Mozart days, certainly his choice of involutum brings us back to the full and urgent subtlety of the Greek—a small stroke of genius echoing from the ancient Mediterranean world with the clarity of a little bell of perfect pitch.

Therefore I feel King James and the R.S.V. got it as right as it is possible for our deeply clumsy language to get it at all, and whoever lately proffered “folded” as an adequate substitute in the New International Version was either applying to the Greek and Latin verbs maybe a greater unconscious awareness of the methods of the industrial laundry than was justified, or else had no idea what he was doing—just as whoever dreamed up that insulting, yellow-brick road vision of the risen Christ hovering some distance away from the empty tomb, utterly failed to grasp the whole point of the Resurrection. 

The main thing, of course, is not how the head-cloth was left behind, but that it was deliberately deposited somewhere else: Here is the risen lord, moving from A. to B., doing something with his hands, then emerging bodily into the light of dawn to commence His fifty days in the world. It is the far, far more beautiful, satisfying, indeed mystical image.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Dan's arm

τελειότητα, n. f. = perfection.

Being a dark horse, Dan has cleverly led me astray this week. Not knowing any better, I went straight to Liddell and Scott in search of an accurate and, hopefully, enlightening definition of τελειότητα, the Greek noun neatly tattooed on his forearm (above).

As an up-to-date young man with contemporary tastes, naturally I should have known that Dan would opt for the modern Greek, and not ancient. My mistake.

However, in this instance the long and winding road that leads from the Classical world to Dan’s forearm is worth setting out in some detail, in case he should from time to time need to answer urgent queries from persons wishing to becoming more intimately acquainted with it.

Our saga begins in Attica, the region around ancient Athens, where by the fifth century B.C. the adjective τέλειος or, more commonly, τέλεος meant complete, perfect or entire, and, more specifically in relation to animal victims of religious sacrifice or burnt offering: fully-grown, and/or without spot or blemish. We see how already this is strangely relevant.

The primitive and very ancient root τέλειος already appears in Homer (possibly around the eighth century B.C.), but τέλεος took firmer shape in primitive Greek, that is the “Doric” language, segued into the Attic dialect (around the early sixth century B.C.), and subsequently makes numerous walk-on appearances in the very hieratic, formal language of the fifth-century B.C. tragedians Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides.

From this the feminine noun τελειότης, τελειότητος, and τελειότητη sprang into being as an abstract philosophical term (these different forms of the word depend on whether it is being used as the subject, object, etc., of the ancient Greek phrase or sentence).

That term crops up cheerfully in the works of Aristotle (the
Physics, 207a:21, and the Nicomachean Ethics, 1153b:16) and in Plato, specifically in the late dialogue Philebus (67a) in which Socrates speculates on the nature of the relationship between pleasure and knowledge, in my view the perfect combination.

Τελειότης, –ητος, –η also crops up in the so-called
Definitions (412b), which possibly may not have been written by Plato at all—better to say ostensibly Plato, or even Pseudo-Plato. Regardless of that, in the mental universe of Aristotle and Plato, τελειότης, –ητος, –η certainly meant completeness, wholeness, or, for want of a better term, perfection, especially, it seems, in relation to persons.

With surprising resilience this handy word survived the ensuing centuries and made a soft landing in the Septuagint, that is, the oldest known Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible (3rd–1st century B.C., most probably written out by Greek-speaking Egyptian scholars at Alexandria). There it is, sitting nicely in their version of what we know as the Book of Judges, 9:16.

Τελειότης, –ητος, –η also makes it into plenty of other later sources, including Democritus Epigrammaticus (187), the Greek-speaking Roman physician Galen (1:315), and, apparently only ever once in the plural, in a book by a person called Chrysippus Stoicus (3:61), for whom, in the third century B.C., it was all right to imagine that there could be various “perfections,” and not one only. Who knew?

Crucially, perhaps, τελειότης, –ητος, –η insinuates itself into St Paul’s Letter to the Colossians—the Apostle was nobody’s fool. On the other hand Paul may not be the author of Colossians either, but let us not get too bogged down with trivia.

In Colossians the term is deployed with great subtlety in relation to the various Christian virtues, viz.: έπί πάσιν δέ τούτοις τήν άγάπην, ό έστιν σύνδεσμος τής
τελειότητος (“And above all these put on love [i.e. like a garment], which binds everything together in perfect harmony”; Col. 3:14, apparently alluding to Christ’s seemless garment in John’s account of the Passion). The Greek word order here, incidentally, lays particular emphasis—like Dan’s forearm—on the nature of that harmony, which, Paul insists, is perfect.

Now by the time Paul was writing in it, the ancient Greek language was in a sad state of decline, thanks to those greedy war-mongering busybodies of the ancient world the Latin-speaking Romans. According to Fascicle VI in Volume VII of the elegant multi-volume
Thesaurus Graecae Linguae (edited between 1848 and 1854, long before computers were even thought of, by those miracle-working German scholars Heinrich Stephan, Karl Hase, and the Dindorfs, Wilhelm and Ludwig,—I don’t feel at all comfortable leaving home without it—the Romans habitually translated τέλειος/τέλεος into Latin as Perfectus, Integer, Concinnatus, and Solidus, and τελειότης, –ητος, –η as Perfectio or Integras. Predictably they also flipped τέλειος/τέλεος gender-wise into the heartier masculine form perfectus, –ūs, and applied it to building materials (Vitruvius, 1, 2, 6). Again, this seems curiously germane as regards Dan’s arm.

However, where we see flashes of brilliant interpretative light is in the abstract Latin noun which by sleight of hand the Romans turned τελειότης, –ητος, –η into the refreshingly, delightfully feminine
perfectio, –ōnis, whence by a circuitous route it burrowed its laborious way into modern English, via the Dark Ages, the Romance Languages, and, incidentally, hardworking homosexuals like myself.

The vast
Thesaurus Linguae Latinae, which commenced publication in Germany in 1894 and will satisfactorily later this year (with luck) reach the end of the letter “P,” is, as dictionaries go, the Rome to Stephan, Hase, and the Dindorfs’ Greece. The comparatively recent TLL article on the Latin word perfectio, –ōnis covers four columns of dense 5-point type spreading over three enormous pages, carefully documenting two principal species of meaning (absolvendo and consummendo, but let’s not go there); four groups of sub-definition; eight narrower senses, which may be further divided into nine even more specific shades of meaning. I do not propose to go into any of these here, but my point is that it is no wonder the word came into English essentially in its unaltered Latin form, having, as it were, used the linguistic equivalent of strong-arm tactics, not to say a battering ram.

Now, although the knowledge of ancient and New Testament Greek (very different birds)
both somehow managed to survive the Dark Ages in Europe, matters never fully recovered. New Testament Greek survived in the Byzantine east, but as a liturgical and literary language only, and not a commonly spoken one. In other words, the language took a massively sustained nose dive, lasting for approximately eighteen hundred years, so that by the time a modern Greek identity emerged from under the yolk of the Ottoman Empire at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the noble τέλειος/τέλεος and τελειότης, –ητος, –η had somewhat crashed and burned into the—how can I put it?—frankly crude form of τελειότητα.

“Perfection” as an abstract concept (pagan or Christian) was by then more likely to be applied to your average subsistence goatherd (buxom, certainly, but with unwanted facial and body hair issues—Greek women occasionally ran into the same problem—; your better class of donkey, or, indeed, a high-end lamb souvlaki.

Fortunately, however, we have seen since those dark days, especially through the twentieth century, a flowering of modern Greek culture, in the poetry of Constantine P. Cavafy for example, so that I am glad to say that one may now wear τελειότητα with pride, expressing as it does an ideal, an aspiration, a standard against which to measure oneself, one’s conduct and achievements that is no less admirable than when Socrates and Plato tossed it around at symposia in fourth-century Athens.

Good to know that Dan carries all of this around on his forearm.

Friday, April 10, 2009


I suspect I am becoming a fully paid-up, card-carrying bore, but sometimes I feel I could write an entire book about a single image—actually some people regularly do just that. In this case, there are for me personal as well as professional resonances.

The subject of this exquisite photograph is the break for tea during a summer tennis party at Government House in Melbourne. The photographer was the Honourable Victor Albert Nelson Hood (1862−1929), the sixth and youngest son of Lord and Lady Bridport.

Hood lived in Australia for twenty years, serving as private secretary to successive governors of South Australia, Victoria, Western Australia, and New South Wales. He was in 1911 briefly Chamberlain to the Earl of Dudley, although it was not during that brief period that he took this photograph. Hood pursued the expensive and time-consuming hobby of photography, and his splendid albums, which are today in the collection of the State Library of Victoria, provide a unique porthole into the comfortable world of the ruling élite of an especially far-flung outpost of the British Empire during the Edwardian period.

Wherever he went, Victor Nelson Hood took his camera and tripod: to weekend house-parties at Mount Macedon, Mount Barker, and the Western District; on hunting or shooting parties and yachting days; on fishing and camping expeditions; his travels to New Guinea, and New Zealand; the voyages to and from Britain, and side-trips to his family estate, the Castello di Maniace at Bronte in Sicily.

More often, however, Hood simply recorded with the panoramic wide-angled apparatus (to which he was evidently addicted) aspects of daily life at the various Government Houses in which he served.

The dramatis personae here are (from left to right) Captain Haskett-Smith, aide-de-camp to the Governor-General, Sir Ronald Munro-Ferguson (1914 to 1920); Major Beauchamp Kerr-Pearse, Munro-Ferguson's Private Secretary (October 1915 to February 1916, and thereafter Military Secretary); Mr. Bickersteth; Doris, the wife of Lieutenant-Colonel Rupert Downes of the Australian Army Medical Corps; Lieutenant-Colonel H. W. Dangar, Acting Chief of Ordnance; Lady Doris Gwendoline Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, the eldest of the three daughters of the second Marquess of Dufferin and Ava, and Miss Eve Robertson. The cast of characters narrows down the date, somewhat soberingly, to no earlier than October 1915, and no later than the end of the Great War.

The door at the far end of the verandah leads to a small ante-room which adjoined the Governor’s study, as it still does. Captain Haskett-Smith seems to be holding his own camera, and leans against the window-sill of a charming small sitting-room which, eighty years later, Naomi Miller and I used as an office when together we worked as aides to Davis McCaughey, certainly the most beautiful, tranquil, and comfortable I shall ever occupy. It was my first job after I left college.

As for the war-time unrealities of the gorgeous tea table; details of costume—tennis attire, white shoes, and flannel trousers; the refreshing jugs of lemonade on the wicker stand at the top of the steps to the right, and the general atmosphere of good-humored languor—look at plump Lady Doris by the folding screen!—there is indeed much to be said, as there is about the folding screen itself, that indispensable item of Victorian and Edwardian furniture which vanished almost as suddenly as servants did. While the folding screen enjoyed a brief respite due to the contrivances of early cinema, evidently it was doomed: A good proportion of the land-fill of large mid-twentieth-century cities must consist mostly of folding screens.

Thursday, April 9, 2009


For several years—incredible as it may seem—a tiny, somewhat Pooterish, but nevertheless intriguing question has been rattling around in my head for which I could find no answer, until now.

It never seemed important enough to justify expending any serious amount of time and energy on fiddly research, but since I have regularly asked colleagues (as casually as possible, because, let’s face it, you don’t want to seem too bonkers) and have consistently drawn a blank, I have become more and more determined to get to the bottom of the matter.

In a brief article for that superlative organ the La Trobe Journal (editor: John Arnold of Monash, a brick), I have edited and put in its context a remarkable letter of introduction that has since 1854 slumbered peacefully in the Public Record Office of Victoria. It was written in favor of Andrew and Georgiana McCrae by the Dowager Duchess of Gordon to Lord Hotham (the cousin of the Governor Sir Charles Hotham).

At the head of the Duchess’s monogrammed notepaper Her Grace scribbled the address and date: “Huntly Lodge [in Aberdeenshire, above] / N.B. / April 14. 1854”.


No, not “Northampton and Bath,” nor (of course) “New Brunswick,” nor “nota bene,” nor indeed “Naphthyl Butyrate,” nor (God help us) “narrowband” (a hilarious suggestion from one of our young Yale graduate students who, but for this extraordinary lapse—after all, he or she knew that I was talking about an item of handwritten correspondence dated 1854—seems fairly bright in every other respect).

Finally, yesterday, with the effortlessness of the deeply learned, my distinguished senior colleague Emeritus Professor David Bindman of University College London and Harvard instantly came up with the answer: “North Britain.”

The old terms “North Briton” and “North Britain,” meaning “Scot” and “Scotland” respectively, came into vogue after the Act of Union (1707) but were thoroughly revived in the Regency period thanks to Sir Walter Scott, notwithstanding all that tartan, caber-tossing, and gloomy Scottish scenery in the Waverley novels—the bloodthirsty clashes of warring clans.

The use of “N.B.” in personal correspondence up to the mid-nineteenth century was largely confined to Scots of the Duchess of Gordon’s class and generation who were inclined to see Scottish national identity as bound harmoniously to the concept of a greater Britain, and not fiercely autonomous, nor indeed proudly anti-English.

It was especially useful when addressing northern English gentlemen such as Lord Hotham whose traditional tendency was to be deeply suspicious of anything and anybody north of the border. The closer to Scotland they lived, the more suspicious they often were, and, though not a borderer, Lord Hotham certainly was a Yorkshireman.

This quaint usage seems to have died out soon after Sir Rowland Hill’s Post Office tactfully pointed out that “N.B.” was too easily confused with “[London] N8.”

However, the story does not end there.

In an astonishing convergence of separate articles of correspondence, as different as it is possible for any two letters to be, I now find that as recently as 1926, our great-grandfather, J. W. Trumble, that well-respected Australian country solicitor and senior statesman of test cricket, wrote a somewhat leaden (and, it must be admitted, tedious) critique of the then parlous state of test wickets on both sides of the globe. He was just then on a golfing holiday in Scotland, and his letter to the editor of The Times newspaper, which was published on July 30 (p. 15), gives the following address: “Ugadale Arms Hotel, Machrihanish, Campbeltown, N.B.”

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

A Pleasing Form; a firm, yet cautious Mind

My antiquarian brother Hamish has this day alerted me to a stunning fact of which I was previously unaware, namely that our kinsman Sir William Trumbull, D.C.L., was the subject of a charming epitaph by an ambitious young literary friend and neighbor, none other than Alexander Pope. In fact, Pope dedicated “Spring, the First Pastoral, or Damon” to Sir William, and by way of explanation the accompanying footnote in the Poetical Works sheds some valuable rays of light:
Our author’s friendship with this gentleman [Trumbull] commenced at very unequal years; he [Pope] was under sixteen, but Sir William above sixty [hmmm] and had lately resigned his employment of Secretary of State to King William [III]. Sir William Trumball [sic] whom Macaulay (chap. xxi) characterizes as “a learned civilian and an experienced diplomatist, of moderate opinions and of temper cautious to timidity” was appointed Secretary of State in 1691 and resigned in 1697 to make way for a more zealous partisan. He died at his native place of East Hamstead near Binfield, and Pope honoured his memory by an epitaph. Trumball was the first to recognize the merits of the Essay on Criticism, and to induce its author to publish it; he also eulogized the Rape of the Lock and encouraged the translation of the Iliad. Of Trumball it is related that being in 1687 appointed ambassador to the Ottoman Porte, he performed the journey on foot, thus outdoing by anticipation the German poet’s Promenade to Syracuse [Spaziergang nach Syrakus by Johann Gottfried Seume].

Somewhat expediently Pope borrowed the first six lines of Sir William’s epitaph from another epitaph he wrote for John, first Baron Caryll of Durford (1625-1711), “afterwards Secretary of State to the exiled James II; the remainder of the same epitaph on Caryll being inserted in the Epistle to JervasAthenaeum, July 15, 1854.” One’s confidence in the poet’s wholehearted sincerity in respect of his old Trumble friend and patron is therefore slightly shaken, but, as brother Hamish rightly puts it: “Waste not want not.”

On Sir William Trumbal
One of the Principal Secretaries of State to King William III, who having resigned his Place, died in his Retirement at Easthamsted in Berkshire, 1716.

A PLEASING Form; a firm, yet cautious Mind;
Sincere, tho’ prudent; constant, yet resign’d:
Honour unchang’d, a Principle profest,
Fix’d to one side, but mod’rate to the rest:
An honest Courtier, yet a Patriot too;
Just to his Prince, and to his Country true:
Fill’d with the Sense of Age, the First of Youth,
A Scorn of wrangling, yet a zeal for Truth;
A gen’rous Faith, from superstition free;
A love to Peace, and hate of Tyranny;
Such this Man was; who now, from earth remov’d,
At length enjoys that liberty he lov’d.

Sir William evidently bore the principal characteristics of a Trumble, indeed most minor Trumblisms are here present also, and reading this epitaph we are struck by how closely, how completely it might encapsulate our late and beloved father. It really could be him.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


Our great-grandfather, the Hon. William Pearson, M.L.C. (above), was one of three members of our mother’s family who, between them, served in both houses of the legislature in colonial Victoria and, in the case of the Hon. Alexander Hay Borthwick, M.L.C., immediately before and during World War II. I had hoped that a discreet survey of their various speeches, faithfully recorded in the relevant early volumes of Hansard, might yield gleaming nuggets of oratory; reveal brave stances on imperial and colonial matters, or further evidence of probity, brilliance, and statecraft. However, the pickings kindly proffered by the Parliamentary Librarian in Melbourne turn out to be decidedly slim. I fear the political activities of the Hon. William Pearsons (father and son), and of Uncle Lex Borthwick, were of but marginal interest in the life of the nation, and the Empire. This is hardly surprising; indeed it conforms to a forlorn pattern of under-achievement. In the younger William Pearson’s case, as is suggested by the immense, handwritten, creamy foolscap document in which in 1896 several hundreds of his neighbours formally urged him to stand for election to the Legislative Council seat for the Province of Gippsland—the signature of great-grandfather Lieutenant-Colonel William Borthwick, V.D., of Bald Hills, is fourth on the list, followed several spots down by Mr. Pearson’s father-in-law, George Cornelius Gooch of The Fulton, Sale—the property qualification of the electors to the upper house (which, incredibly, persisted until 1950) insured that our great-grandfather’s sole function was to represent the landed interest. This he appears to have done, through thick and increasingly thin, as the Depression of the 1890s carved, blew, and flooded its way across stations on the coastal plains that stretch between Traralgon and Orbost, and between the Great Dividing Range, the Gippsland Lakes, and the Ninety Mile Beach. It may also have been useful for Mr. Pearson to have access to the luncheon room, and indeed those fellow members of parliament, particularly ministers of the crown, whose influence might be of benefit to him and his fellow directors in the discharge of their responsibilities on the board of the gradually ailing and soon-to-be liquidated Long Tunnel Gold Mine at Walhalla. When travelling up to Melbourne for sittings, great-grandfather Pearson caught the Sale train by waving it down with a red flag at his own private railway station at Kilmany Park. That pretty little weatherboard building is today preserved at Old Gippstown, the Gippsland Heritage Park at Moe (rhymes with blowy) near Morwell in Victoria.

Legal Education—For What?

In 1963, my father, P. C. Trumble, who was then serving as President of the Law Institute of Victoria, delivered the following address to final year law students at the University of Melbourne. It was intended to provide them with a sense of what full-time legal practice would be like, and to proffer a little gentle advice on the eve of their graduation. Today, Peter’s voice seems to drift out of another era, when lawyers were “compleat,” and the extreme degree of specialization that has come to define almost every branch of the legal profession in Australia, indeed almost everywhere, was as yet quite unknown. It is a period piece certainly, but the values it espouses still seem pretty admirable; perhaps in these parlous times we may hope that they may be partially recovered, or, failing that, at least appreciated:

To all ladies and gentleman to whom these presents shall come: Greetings.

This is the voice speaking for the great white fathers who await you in the jungle of life downtown. I bring you good wishes and solace in the bleak mists which will dull the next few months. And I bring you some pearls of wisdom and hope for the future.

My message will be gratifyingly brief, so I hope you will show the patience and forbearance which it will be your lot to acquire when you join us.

In the first place these remarks are addressed to you by a solicitor and for the purpose of telling you what you may expect in our side of the profession. I think that none of you will really have a clear idea of what is involved in being a solicitor except of course those of you who are already working part time in an office. It never turns out to be quite what you expected. This is perhaps our fault for not coming up more often and telling you about it and I hope that we may have the opportunity of doing this soon and at regular intervals. It is also perhaps the fault of your old schoolmasters who, I don’t think by and large, really understand what they let you in for when they encouraged you to choose law as a profession. It is a curious thing that a profession which requires the highest degree of meticulous preoccupation with fact and circumstance should be associated with so many prerequisite subjects which are preoccupied with opinion and broad conjecture. The title of your publication [
De Minimis] is one which tends to obscure the real nub of our profession. The practising solicitor is constantly concerned with what some people would consider to be trifles. No fact is too small to be overlooked, if overlooked it exposes the client to liability—or endangers his rights. This is what hits the articled clerk first when he deals with his first few matters. His letters are ripped to pieces, his documents shown to be full of loopholes, his calculations to be on thoughtless assumptions. The practice of creating, changing, explaining, defending, and enforcing rights is of the most exacting kind and this I charge you to remember: Do not despair because if you don’t remember it, many swift humiliating and enlightening experiences at the hands of your masters will soon serve to make you aware of it. This is really the first thing I would say to you. Please believe me that the administration of the law is as precise as any mathematical science and much harder because instead of relatively simple semantic tools, you have the horror of applying an uncertain language to many obscure circumstances in a forest of even more obscure rules.

The second thing I would like to say—and a little more encouraging—is that you have the whole, and I mean the whole, drama of life to play around with. There is not a single facet of social, commercial, or industrial life which does not involve the action and reaction of rights and liabilities. This you will find of intense and lasting interest. No two matters are ever the same. Your practice will range from advising a charitable organisation on the holding of a garden fête to the defence of a purveyor of obscene literature; from the prosecution of a traffic offender to the issue of a prospectus; from the estate of a lunatic to the defence of a jerry-builder; from the purchase of a department store to the hire of a bloodstock stallion; from the accidental death of a brewery worker to the breach of a covenant against erecting garden fences. The one thing in common for all lawyers who have to face these things is that they must be aware of the facts of life; they must understand human frailties and the basis of human passions; they must be able to refrain from being one-eyed about their clients’ point of view; they must be able to handle people. True it is that we specialize, and it would be absurd to expect the beefy extrovert common law solicitor to be happy dealing with the preparation of wills for old ladies or the quiet, unassuming equity man to bulldoze his way through a defended paternity suit. But you will find that both of those lawyers have a highly developed sense of balance and justice which enables them to be quite capable of understanding the human problems which are inherent in the other’s matter. You see, the common lawyer may have to deal with a challenge of the old lady’s will by the old lady’s maiden sister—and will need to understand the domestic circumstances which surround the making of the will or the jealousies and bitternesses which resulted in it being brought before the Courts.

And the quiet equity lawyer may have to face the sordid truth of his client’s private life and be responsible for the welfare of some unhappy social outcasts. Therefore, please learn to understand life. I may say that this can be done without the need to acquire first hand experience in every facet. Otherwise, you may think of us as a bag-eyed bunch of reformed libertines trading on the wit and wisdom of bitter experience.

On the contrary I assure you, it will be your duty to help maintain the social standards—both legal and moral—which restrain and control all the many primitive emotions which lie so close to the surface of what we are pleased to call civilization.

These are two broad precepts for your thoughts. If you learn to appreciate this you will have the stuff of which lawyers are made and you will succeed. What you learn at the Faculty of Law are your tools of trade so that with awareness of life you will know what they are and how to use them.

Finally a word about articles. It has always been the tradition that the
sine qua non for admission is a period of articles. Here you learn the business of the lawyer from those who have experience. It has worked satisfactorily for many years and has helped to produce judges, barristers and solicitors indiscriminately. But we are in the middle of an adult population explosion. Suddenly there are more people wanting to do articles. At the same time more people are entering the wage earning class, buying cars and houses, causing new enterprises to start and old ones to expand. Legal offices are struggling with the weight of expansion but the development of professional recruiting is lagging behind. Practising lawyers find it harder to get trained staff and find less time to train inexperienced staff. The result has been the development of a barrier against taking articled clerks. The barrier is under fire and more solicitors are realising their responsibility to the profession but the problem of doing adequate justice by the clerks remains. I have over-simplified that but it is my belief that there is room and indeed a need for many more lawyers and the problem of absorption is the problem of early training.

I can say that the legal profession as a whole is conscious of this and we are at this very moment planning new ideas to equip the student who wants to come into the profession with a measure of practical training so that he will be readily absorbed into an expanding profession without the barrier of reluctance which pressure of work has raised against him. The Council of Legal Education, the Faculty and the Law Institute are all working on the immediate problems which face many of you today. I cannot say just now exactly how we will cope with it either on the short or the long term view. I hope, however, we will soon be able to provide a working improvement on the present unsatisfactory position.

We of the Law Institute wish you well in the exams, and hope to see you all as our colleagues very soon.
P. C. Trumble