The holiday over, we returned to Canberra, where at the end of February I report [to Queen Mary] that we have seen “a very amusing coloured film—Blithe Spirit by Noël Coward . It was shown in aid for “Food for Britain.” The name “Captain Bracegirdle” comes into it, and caused merriment all round. Apparently Noël Coward was staying here [in 1940] while writing the play, and was so taken with the name that he asked if he might use it. We did not know of this beforehand so were completely taken by surprise” [p. 151].
Sunday, April 29, 2012
Friday, April 27, 2012
There are scholars who footnote compulsively, six to the page, writing what amounts to two books at once. There are scholars whose frigid texts need some of the warmth and jollity they reserve for their footnotes and other scholars who write stale, dull footnotes like the stories brought inevitably to the minds of after-dinner speakers. There are scholars who write weasel footnotes, footnotes that alter the assertions in their texts. There are scholars who write feckless, irrelevant footnotes that leave their readers dumbstruck with confusion…The footnote is an awkward tool, inelegant, all thumbs, but it has the breath of life to it.
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Sunday, April 22, 2012
Sunday, April 15, 2012
Is it not time that certain of the Victorians stood aside for a little while and stopped finding fault with the present generation? We can hardly pick up a paper nowadays without reading the lamentation of pessimists over England’s wretched state. A few days ago, someone writing to The Times quoted ‘a middle-aged masseur’ who considered there was no one left in the country to be trusted. Now another has been bewailing our vanished dignity and the golden days that will never return. Well, were they so very golden? For the comfortable classes in their great houses, yes; but what of the Crimean heroes who walked the streets and lanes destitute and hopeless, and the great gulf fixed between the rich and poor; derelicts for whom there was nothing save haphazard charity between starvation and the workhouse?
September 9, 1985Sir,Travelling in the Balkans before the war with one of my uncles, a botanist, we made use of various phrase books including a somewhat erratic English–Albanian one by George Nakos and Kamber Ali, the latter said to have been a near relation of King Zog. Some of the phrases included envisaged contingencies which might seldom occur to ordinary travelers, for example: “Tell the Italian consul to fetch me an omelette.”I am, Sir, your etc.,J. R. Burg
Friday, April 13, 2012
Last night I dreamed I was at Hanging Rock. Though I have driven past it many times, on my way from Melbourne to Castlemaine and back, I have only ever visited the rock once—when, as a child, my brother Nick took me there with his girlfriend, Judy, and their friend Annie Byrne, for a picnic. It is a most remarkable wooded formation of extruded volcanic plugs rising rather abruptly out of gently rolling arable land in the vicinity of Mount Macedon, Woodend, and Kyneton in cental Victoria. Not especially spectacular in scale or appearance, it nevertheless creates a lasting impression of strange, quiet imposition, and inconceivable antiquity. I gather it is also known as Mount Diogenes. Actually I do recall that the view out from between vast granite boulders near the top conveyed to me then a far greater sense of monumentality than seeing the formation from some distance away, as in this atmospheric photograph, but of course I was little. Anyhow, in my dream I am back at the rock, and quite alone, searching in vain for the neighboring race course, where I know I am expected for the Easter races, always (I gather) an amusing country meeting. While searching, I am also slightly irritated by other visitors, gigglesome strangers, a fraction shrill in their cheerfulness, who are rushing about and entertaining each other by shouting up rock faces “Mir-aaaaanda!” in acknowledgment of the character who goes missing in the film, and the novel by Joan Lindsay. This disturbs the otherwise peaceful atmosphere of the crackling, eucalyptussy slopes, and further distracts me. As a far-off place I suppose Hanging Rock somehow reminds me of my late mother and father: quiet, solid, dependable, self-contained, self-disciplined, old. They, too, are missing. I must be sure to go back on my next visit.
Last week we joined the Google Art Project, and yesterday I received the first of what I anticipate will be a steady stream of helpful communications from interested persons who may now gain access to reproductions of objects in our collection directly through Google, and obviously know far more about a particular object than we do. An exquisite example is this charming small painting by George Chinnery of a young man playing a guitar. A colleague in Britain has let me know that his sheet music may now be identified as Fantaisie, Opus 7, by Fernando Sor (1778–1839) whose name can be read at the top, a piece that was originally dedicated to the Austrian-born French composer and pianoforte builder Ignaz Joseph Pleyel. All this is due to the sharp eye of James Westbrook, of the Guitar Museum in Brighton, to whom we are most grateful.
As Roberta Smith remarked in yesterday’s New York Times, “The top contributor [to the Google Art Project] is the Yale Center for British Art, which has uploaded images of 5,414 paintings, sculptures, prints and drawings by 580 artists—about 10 to 12 percent of its entire collection and everything in the public domain that appears on its own Web site—including scores of works by John Constable and J. M. W. Turner.” In fact, we have put up all our paintings and sculptures that are in the public domain, and it is only a matter of time before all the many thousands of works on paper go up in tranches. This is merely an extension of our new policy of open access that, together with partner institutions including the British Museum, we have lately implemented—that is, to make available free of charge easily downloadable high-resolution images of anything in our collections that is out of copyright, so that they can be published anywhere, in any form, printed or digital, without a fee for permission to reproduce. We ask only that our users let us know where our things appear, so that we can maintain as accurate a record as possible, though of course in future this, too, will be an exercise made largely redundant by increasingly powerful online searching methods that, like Googe, will eventually span whole collections.
True, there are some slightly surprising aspects of the arrangement of the images on the Google Art Project site, and a curious determination to list artists in alphabetical order of first or Christian name instead of surname. With Leonardo and Michelangelo this is not such a problem, but informed searchers may be puzzled to find Arthur Devis listed under A, and Jonathan Richardson under J. No doubt this was the work of a computer programmer, and not a librarian. I am sure they will get around to fixing this.
The awesomeness of the whole exercise may be illustrated by the following scenario. You see a winsome detail of a painting or sculpture in an advertisement on the side of a bus, and are curious to know what it is. You take a photograph of it with your smart phone. The relevant Google art app will then correctly identify the original work, and not only bring you the pertinent information and a full reproduction but also provide a link to the parent institution’s web site, and, in the case of MoMA, for example, show you exactly where it hangs on which wall, and in what gallery—together with a map. Instantaneously. One prays that this will not provide too convenient a blueprint for future generations of thieves, and that our security measures are sufficiently robust, but I also notice that such qualms when expressed in meetings by cautious art museum curators in the firm grip of middle age can at times be greeted with soothing noises of good-natured indulgence by much younger colleagues who are completely embedded in the world of information technology.
There was a time, not so long ago, when hunting for a work of art involved shuffling through black-and-white photographs in any number of cardboard boxes, or an exercise in memory. One thinks of needles and haystacks. The Google Art Project promises to revolutionize the process, and it seems just incredible.
Friday, April 6, 2012
For me one of the profoundest moments of the liturgical calendar, and certainly of Holy Week, is the chanting on Good Friday, today, of the Improperia, or Reproaches, in the setting composed by Tomás Luis de Victoria. The Reproaches, a series of antiphons and responses, come from the Roman liturgy for Good Friday and form a somber background for the Veneration of the Cross, full of pathos, dignity, and grandeur. The verses, twelve in number, were conceived as having been uttered by the crucified Saviour, and, as Jon Dixon once observed, “contrast Divine compassion…with the sufferings inflicted on Christ during his Passion.” I suppose it is hardly surprising that this ancient rite has at different times been twisted into an especially damaging anti-Semitic framework, but, in essence, the Improperia are addressed to everyone, each and all—just as the reproaches themselves fully extend across oceans of human weakness, from the purely personal to the corporate, collective, and global. These are important words to hear, and upon which humbly to reflect.
As far as we can tell, the Improperia first appeared in a document known as the Pontificale of Prudentius (Bishop of Troyes, 846–861) and gradually came into use throughout Europe in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. After this suitably long and typically cautious period of “research and development,” finally in the fourteenth century the Improperia were incorporated into the Roman Ordo. True, the Catholic Encyclopedia rather sniffily noted that they are nowhere to be found in the old Roman Ordines, while Louis Duchesne thought he could detect a Gallican ring to them, in other words a faint echo of pre-Gregorian Roman rites as practiced from the fifth to the ninth centuries in Frankish lands (the loose-knit remnant of Roman Gaul). I love this old form of purely stylistic detective-work, which is based on a vast accumulation of knowledge that, in turn, equips the scholar with the ability to form certain deeply informed hypotheses about where certain phrases truly originated. Yet the survival in the text of the Greek Trisagion (literally “Thrice Holy,” the Agios O Theos) certainly proves that the Improperia had found a place in the Roman Good Friday liturgy before the Photian schism of the ninth century.
Forming part of his sumptuous volume of music for Holy Week, the Officium Hebdomadae Sanctae, which was published in Rome in 1585 by Alessandro Gardane, the Counter-Reformation Spaniard Victoria assembled the text into a deceptively simple, four-part setting of two refrains of really astonishing beauty, a brilliant fusion of homophony with the comparatively daring melodic lines for which he became famous, and ultimately led twentieth-century scholars of sacred music to resuscitate his work, and perform it widely again.
Tuesday, April 3, 2012
I wonder, too, about Mr. Sage, that shadowy figure who lurks somewhere in the background. He may have been one of the two sons of John Sage, haberdasher, of Cheapside, who were listed as scholars of St. Paul’s School in 1748: John junior, aged 8, or his younger brother Isaac, aged 7. This would place either one within plausible range of Letitia Anne Hoare in the late 1770s or early 1780s. Presumably one or either of them, or indeed another member of the same family of haberdashers in due course successfully lifted the business into partnership: Sage, Rawdon & Atkinson, listed in the Directory of London for 1794, where they are described slightly more aspirationally as “Wholesale Linen-drapers,” though still at Cheapside, number 19 to be exact. However, as we have seen, by that time Mrs. Sage had moved on, and is said to have been living with the purser of an East Indiaman. She is therefore safe from any association, however distant, with the scenario described here in Following the Fashion, James Gillray’s vicious satire of the mid-1790s. Predictably, the unfortunate figure on the right represents Cheapside, “a body without a soul,” in fact “aping the Mode” of St. James’s, on the left, who is naturally “a soul without a body.” As we have seen, Mrs. Sage demonstrated beyond question that she was in comfortable possession of both.