Friday, December 30, 2011

Vezdye, vezdye, on predo mnoyu!

When I was a rather shy and extremely inexperienced undergraduate in the early 1980s, I indulged an immoderate enthusiasm for grand opera. That interest has never entirely gone away, but thirty years later I am struck by how inadequately I ever grasped the convergence of poetry and music and emotion in the great love scenes especially—which I was then singularly ill-equipped to appreciate. True, Giuseppe Verdi managed to fire up a certain amount of adolescent passion, never more so than in the love scene in Act I of Otello, but it has taken me half a life-time to learn to listen with the heart, and discover in music drama the expression of real emotions, and not some exciting approximation of something big that might be waiting around the corner, or not. Who has not looked back with a wry half-smile, and said to himself, “I was just too young”?

So it is that I have been listening lately to a crackly old recording of the remarkable Bulgarian soprano Ljuba Welitsch, a star who shone as brightly in the decade between 1942 and 1952 as indeed she shone briefly, and whose glorious voice, alas, faded much too soon. Here is her publicity photograph; talk about star power in living black-and-white! In May 1948, at the height of her powers, Miss Welitsch recorded in London the famous letter scene from Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Eugen Onegin, with the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted with exemplary finesse (and an admirably retrained tempo) by Walter Süsskind. Everyone knows, or ought to know the story: Tatiana Larina exchanges only a few words with the coolly detached Onegin when his friend Lensky, a neighbour, brings him to visit her sister Olga and their parents, but that encounter, in her own home, unleashes a torrent of emotion in Tatiana’s mind, and, in the privacy of her bedroom later that night, overwhelmed by a fever of passion, and of doubt, she sits down to write Onegin a letter—pouring out her very soul, with predictable consequences upon which the rest of the story hinge.

What is so remarkable about this particular recording (alas not yet propelled onto Youtube; though Renee Fleming is superb here), with all its technical limitations, and the further disadvantage that the piece was sung in a rather leaden German translation from which the richness of those marvelous Russian consonants was eliminated, is the apparent recklessness with which from the very opening Ljuba Welitsch hurls herself into the performance, as if from an exposed cliff-top: “Everywhere, everywhere I look, I see my fatal tempter! Wherever I look, I see him!” The quality of her voice, moreover—which is also what made her such a sensational Salome, and maybe also conspired at length to ruin it—combines bell-like clarity, urgency, unguarded girlishness, and a visceral unrestraint, which are all, of course, exactly right for Tatiana. You feel she gives it 250%, with all the breathtaking risk that that must have involved. Again, this is somehow right for Tatiana, though no voice teacher would ever these days responsibly recommend it. The internal shifts between torrential passion to doubt and fear and back again are written into the score, with its restive drive and accelerating heartbeat, but the job of making it all hang together is really the soprano’s. Hers is the startling vocal line, and Welitsch is never more believable or moving than in the moment of climax, when, about to sign and seal her letter to Onegin, Tatiana impores him: “I wait for you, I wait for you! Speak the word to revive my heart’s fondest hopes or shatter this oppressive dream with, alas, the scorn, alas, the scorn I have deserved!” I challenge anyone who has ever fallen deeply in love not to recognize at least something of the feeling—though for most of us it is couched in prosaic language: Will he or won’t he? Does he or doesn’t he? What are these feelings, whose sheer intensity I can barely understand? As usual, great artists hold up the mirror, and it is up to us—whether we are in the theatre with Tchaikovsky, in an art museum maybe with Tilman Riemenschneider (I wish), or just listening to the late, great Ljuba Welitsch on the radioto peer into that mirror, and discover there an emotional experience, real and true. Then, with luck, we may shed tears of understanding. Vezdye, vezdye, on predo mnoyu! Everywhere, everywhere I look, I see him!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

What did Thomas Woolner see?

Just before Christmas I sent the following message to the editor of the Paris Review, hoping it might be included in the advice column in the online daily, then promptly forgot all about it:

Dear Lorin, May I once more avail myself of the generous hospitality of your advice column to help solve another of my small mysteries? I am currently editing the 1852–54 journal kept on the Australian goldfields by the Pre-Raphaelite sculptor Thomas Woolner. It is a fascinating document, from which most of the best bits were ruthlessly excised prior to publication in 1917 by his industrious daughter, à la Cassandra Austen, though fortunately they survive in the manuscript. On November 8, 1852, Woolner and his two traveling companions strayed from the main road north from Melbourne toward the diggings, became separated, and got lost in the bush: “I went on and saw—what produced this observation, ‘That [he] who wants to avoid strange sights must shun byways.’ A brutal, worse than brutal sight.” So far I have not been able to identify the quotation, if indeed it actually was one. It seems possible that the inverted commas were merely added for emphasis; it’s a rather clunky aperçu, yet I wonder if any of your readers recognize it? Elsewhere in the journal Woolner recorded without hesitation, and in detail, even a measure of cold detachment, scenes of drunkenness and violence, shady characters, the accidental drowning of a friend, and several murders in and around the goldfields. On this occasion, though, whatever Woolner saw so shocked him that he was obviously not prepared to note any particulars. Bodily, I presume, but what on earth was it? On that gothic note, may I also add my sincere compliments of the season? Angus Trumble.

This minor editorial problem has been rattling around in a quiet corner of my head for many months, and I thought it would be rather satisfactory if someone might come up with a plausible answer, or indeed an implausible one provided it was correct. Yesterday my attention was drawn to Lorin Stein’s extremely generous, flattering and, above all, helpful response:

Dear Angus, When you say jump, The Paris Review does not ask how high. We put our best people on this one. The results—while inconclusive—were revealing. Within minutes, our Southern editor, John Jeremiah Sullivan, wrote in from North Carolina with a passage from Tommaso Grossi’s Marco Visconti in an 1849 translation. This looked promising at first, only it had nothing to do with Woolner’s text, and was rejected. (Sullivan: “Could it have been this? My gut says no [and so does mine].) Next our associate editor, Stephen Andrew Hiltner, proposed a line from the Tao Te Ching, but admitted that Woolner was unlikely to have known Chinese [correct]. Our deputy editor, Sadie Stein, claimed—impressively, and with some vehemence—to recognize the sententia from Horace [much warmer]. The poem has not been found. Our Latin consultant, Brian FitzGerald of Lincoln College, Oxford, doubted a classical provenance. He directed us to some chapters from Proverbs, in which, however, there is no mention of strange sights. Our managing and Web editors, Nicole Rudick and Deirdre Foley-Mendelssohn, came out strong for Dante. So far we are unable to supply the relevant verse. One of Sadie’s contacts, a professor of Greek, suggested Oedipus Rex, either the messenger reporting Laius’s death or else a speech by Oedipus himself. Our close readings have not produced a match. On the other hand, we have now figured out what Woolner saw. (Private letter to follow.)

This last communication I am most eager and anxious to read. Beyond this small army of enthusiastic in-house helpers, a generous reader, who self-identifies as “J. A. Zugot,” submitted the following comment…twice!:

Reading Woolner’s quotation, “That [he] who wants to avoid strange sights must shun byways,” I too was reminded of bad translations from the Chinese or Japanese, or of some clunky re-doings of Sophocles and Horace. Dante, Milton—who not? Your staff isn’t—literarily—alone for the holidays…But that mention of Proverbs, by your guy from Oxford (surely he was thinking of those strange warnings against “strange women”), set me down another, um, “byway.” The Talmud, specifically its section called Avot, is often read separately under the title Pirke Avot, “Ethics of the Fathers.” These fathers are called the tannaim, or “repeaters,” and they, repeating mostly in Jerusalem, essentially committed the Oral Law—the Jewish oral tradition—to parchment, roundabout the first two centuries of the previous millennium. This could go on and on. Better you should search the internet. Anyway, from Avot: “He [their teacher, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai] said to them, Go and see which is the good way that a man should cleave to. Rabbi Eliezer said, A good eye: R. Yehoshua said, A good friend: and R. Yose said, A good neighbor: and R. Shimon said, He that foresees what is to be: R. Eleazar said, A good heart. He said to them, I approve the words of Eleazar ben Arak rather than your words, for his words include your words. He said to them, Go and see which is the evil way that a man should shun. R. Eliezer said, An evil eye: and R. Yehoshua said, An evil companion: and R. Yose said, An evil neighbor: and R. Shimon said, He that borroweth and repayeth not—he that borrows from man is the same as if he borrowed from God (blessed is He)—for it is said, The wicked borroweth, and payeth not again, but the righteous is merciful and giveth: R. Eleazar said, An evil heart. He said to them, I approve the words of Eleazar ben Arak rather than your words, for your words are included in his words.” Now here’s where I’m going to lose you:
Freemasonry. “The Constitutions of Free Masons,” ca. 17something and so among the oldest surviving documents of the Brotherhood, states that God Himself, the Great Architect, is the primeval Grand Master. Fellow lodge members include Adam, the three Patriarchs, Moses, the various Israelite kings and high priests, Jesus and his dozen apostles. And obviously the entire Masonic temple model, symbology to rituals, was based solidly on the two Temples of Jerusalem.
Now, after the Roman destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E., Judaism lost its geographic center and became wholly bookish. The rabbis of the Talmud kept the secret, at least selective, traditions alive. It was natural that they, and their two local lodges—those of Grand Master Rabbis Hillel and Shammai—would be Masonically adapted/adopted. Freemasonry from the Talmud, a very stupid, stupidly fascinating book from 1905, written by A. (no further clarification) Posman, makes this explicit. Here, R. Eliezer ben Hyrcanus’ responses have been altered to: “A good eye is the right path for man to adhere to.” “An evil eye is to shun the path.” Again, here’s Woolner’s: “[He] who wants to avoid strange sights must shun byways.” Of course, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was itself a type of lodge, and indeed its original members, including Rossetti, Millais, Holman Hunt, and Thomas Woolner, were all Masons. As Albert Boime, in the final volume of his magisterial A Social History of Modern Art, notes: “‘Brotherhood’ carried unmistakable allusions to a Freemason-like fraternity. Significantly, when the group agreed to use the monogram P.R.B., each member had to swear an oath to keep its meaning secret.” So, another year over, another hour wasted. From the Oral Tradition to the Written Tradition (the Talmud), to an English Masonic traducing, to oral Masonic lore—that’s my guess. Strange.

I never knew that Rossetti & Co. were Freemasons, and will—with all due respect, and many thanks to J. A. Zugot for his efforts on my behalf—check in with Barringer and Prettejohn for confirmation. If so, it seems a rather plausible explanation, which nevertheless leaves unanswered the larger and definitely more baffling question as to what on earth was the brutal, worse than brutal sight Thomas Woolner glimpsed in the Australian bush that shook him so.

Sunday, December 18, 2011


We go the whole way back, my bear and I.
His name is “Brownie,” though I’m not sure why:
The threads are dappled grey, not brown, with which
Aunt Anne contrived and made him, stitch by stitch,
Before my birth, love’s labour unremitting:
She never shone more brightly than when knitting.
I miss her still, my thrilling, clever aunt,
Her many skills she never wished to vaunt:
The semaphore she learned and trained to guide
Our ships past Rottnest Island, served with pride
In wartime—Russia was our ally then;
Her letters, and the sharpness of her pen,
But funny too; she taught me how to swim.
Her work was therapy, not mind but limb,
A physio, and “farmer’s wife” as well,
Admittedly far better in that shell
Than Uncle Henry handled sheep or cattle,
Through flood and drought with courage she did battle;
Like Mum, she built in winter massive fires,
Dispatched whole trees, killed snakes with fencing wires.
In town from time to time Aunt Anne would see
A play or concert, kindly taking me:
That’s how aged six or seven at the Palais
I saw Nureyev leap in my first ballet!
To Paris and l’Étoile she took me straight,
And climbed the arc, then let me stay up late.
Though shy, dear Brownie knows these things by heart,
Reminds me, too, how well she learned the art
Of complex origami from Japan.
How lucky that our smashing lives began,
My bear and me, not part of any plan,
But soon enough to know and love Aunt Anne!

Merry Christmas

At Christmas many people draft a letter,

A twelve-month circular of news and stuff.

I think on balance verses can be better,

Two modest sonnets probably enough.

Last winter stank, with record falls of snow;

The summer brought a hurricane, “Irene”!

And staged a local earthquake (impact: low);

Another storm cut power on Hallowe’en

(Because the trees had not yet lost their leaves

Much snow built up, and snapped off mighty branches;

The power lines were cut, then hateful thieves

Nicked farmers’ generators from their ranches.)

Throughout my house stood solid as a rock,

Ein feste Berg, the finest on the block.

But in between I traveled far and wide,

To Cape Town, Perth, Chicago, Stockholm, Leeds,

And London several times, although I tried

To match each trip to really pressing needs.

In Melbourne, to St. George’s we transferred

Our parents’ ashes, laying them athwart

Two pretty cherries, such that Mum preferred,

And long ago convinced them to import

Before that very garden was implanted.

With every end there comes a new beginning:

To Sophie, Simon’s second child, is granted

A brand new baby boy whose name, so winning,

Is Jack—late-breaking news of recent days,

A Christmas gift: To him your glass please raise!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Sir Zelman Cowen

Sir Zelman Cowen, A.K., G.C.M.G., G.C.V.O., Q.C., died in Melbourne last Thursday, thirty-four years to the day since he was sworn in as the nineteenth Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia. In a formal statement, the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, has rightly said: “Sir Zelman was a proud member of the Australian community, a proud member of the Jewish community, and a leader of both. He was a humanitarian whose dedication to justice and public welfare will remain one of his great legacies. We will remember him for his warmth, his humility, his integrity, his compassion, and the great dignity he brought to public life.” His appointment was one of the most inspired acts (and not the only one) of Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, who, as time passes, just keeps on looking better and better. Certainly his approach to the problem of who to nominate to the Queen (and who not to) has been praised, perhaps above all, by Gough Whitlam! Not too long ago I was talking with a former official of the attorney-general’s department in Canberra who told me that, of all the prime ministers for whom it was his duty to supply formal legal advice, he thought Malcolm Fraser was the one who most conscientiously exercised the power of the executive specifically to right wrongs, despite the immediate or short-term political disadvantages such actions might well, and usually did generate. Sir Zelman’s death has reminded me of that conversation. I met Sir Zelman on a number of occasions between 1987 and 1991, when I worked at Government House, Melbourne, during the McCaughey era, and well remember the fondness, respect, esteem, and enjoyment of each other’s company exhibited by both statesmen, and indeed by Jean McCaughey and Lady Cowen. Sir Zelman had left office some years earlier, just as Davis had relinquished the Mastership of Ormond College, but their prodigious intellects and interests intersected in many ways, never more so than in the affairs of the University of Melbourne, and of universities in general during the period of the Dawkins reforms, of which it would be fair to say that neither Sir Zelman nor Davis approved. If heaven is a university, then surely both men hold personal chairs.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Passport photographs

Just back from a busy week in London, with many more thoughts about portraiture. I suppose the vast majority of people today experience portraiture at first hand—the production of an image meant in some way to stand in for themselves—only in various banal forms of photography, increasingly biometric for the convenience of computers. And as everybody knows, in the cafe, canteen, public bar, or by the water cooler, when comparing sometimes scarifying, often comical images embedded in our not particular recent drivers’ licenses and other documents with photo ID, we are not often pleased with the likeness, or even convinced by it—even though it evidently performs more or less the function now required by a society in which an ever greater premium is placed upon security and surveillance. By contrast, I suppose it is also true that the merest glance at Facebook demonstrates what very unusual ideas many people entertain about how they would like to be identified, and by what sort of image. It is, after all, not so long since formal black-and-white passport photographs were routinely taken by professional photographers, and many of the lingering conventions of pose, of artful lighting, and of pleasing composition were then still pluckily harnessed in a studio setting to produce a better and more putatively flattering likeness. Such is my memory of going with Mum to have my first passport photograph taken in the old shop-front studio belonging to a Mr. Humphries (no relation) in Glenferrie Road, Malvern, near the corner of High Street. I cannot remember what I wore, but I do remember that Mum prudently brought along my hairbrush, a scratchy one, and that the sitting, which was surprisingly long, involved adopting a most counter-intuitive, cantilevered pose, with an upward turn of the head, and a subtle fall of light across the backdrop. Certainly the finished result was deemed acceptable by the authorities, and perhaps more importantly by Mum, and that passport served me well in the following years. This must have been towards the end of 1971, because I needed it to go to Fiji during the next May school holidays. I was seven years old. The last time I went through a similar process was a few years ago, when the consulate-general in New York sent me out to get a more satisfactory biometric passport photograph taken in a cut-price establishment with which they seemed to have wrought some commercial arrangement, which, because of the assembly-line technique and extraordinarily high cost, seemed dubious then and even more dubious now.

Friday, December 2, 2011


Anniversaries are peculiar, because aside from a mere accident of the calendar there is no particular reason why Mum should seem any more absent today than she was this day last week, the week before that, or through recent months. Yet one feels it keenly: It is two whole years almost to the day since she died, and not quite two years since we buried her. Memories cluster in, all of them happy—above all of Mum’s elaborately rationed sense of the ridiculous, and her infectious laughter—especially the galloping timbre of an unrestrained chuckle, followed by the swooping, follow-up sigh that said: “How silly,” whatever it was. I think, I hope that my brothers and I have inherited this quality, though I also like to think that we ration it rather less than she did—perhaps that is due to the part of us that devolves from Dad. Self-discipline was probably her most admirable quality, that and thrift. She would never think of replacing something if it could be repaired, or of indulging in any luxurious extravagance for herself, more’s the pity because she could easily have afforded it. She took pleasure in The Times crossword puzzle, a cup of tea, her pretty garden, a game of patience, and a good book. She had had a serious respiratory illness in the late 1950s, which left her lungs severely scarred, and therefore vulnerable to respiratory trouble in old age. This combined with serious anti-inflammatory medications for rheumatoid arthritis seem to have destroyed her health in the last few years of her life. After she died, her doctor remarked to me that she had simply exhausted all her reserves of strength. Quite so, but I often wonder whether those reserves might have been better preserved by us, by him, and by her, because she was a stubborn and stoical old lady, and clearly lived with a greater measure of discomfort than anyone really understood. But she soldiered on to the very end, and mercifully the end was as swift as can be. She was spared the distress of leaving her house, losing her garden, the indignities and ugliness of aged care, and the misery of dependence, decrepitude, and senility. Perhaps this is enviable, however I cannot but wish that she was still en poste in Melbourne, for a newsy phone call every Sunday night (Monday morning her time), and regular doses of stern but shrewd advice. In melancholy moments I am reminded of what my old friend Kelly Read remarked just after Mum died: Your parents don’t really vanish so much as move in with you. It is as if they are quietly pottering about in the next room, or in your head. On the whole, I think this is true.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Dad and documentation

Lately I have commenced the awesome task of sorting through and identifying the Trumble family papers that are ultimately destined for the National Library of Australia in Canberra. Dad’s run of scrapbooks is fascinating because he kept everything—pretty much in chronological order—a confetti of mementoes of professional and domestic life from 1949 to the 1980s. Nothing he regarded as too trivial to escape notice and preservation. Beyond the scrapbooks, however, there are hundreds of other documents and photographs that came from previous generations—a group of long letters, for example, from the novelist Mary Grant Bruce to her lifelong friend our great-grandmother Borthwick and to her daughters, Aunt Jean and Aunt Kath, which seem to imply that various aspects of the Billabong stories, and of the Linton family of Gippsland, were based at least in part on the Borthwick family of Bald Hills near Sale. As well there is a sheaf of more official papers. This one is typical. Evidently inspired by the glorious Trumble heritage of test cricket, Dad put each of his sons up for junior membership of the Melbourne Cricket Club—at birth. Here is Hamish’s docket, lodged when he was a fraction more than two months old, on March 14, 1956. The annotation down below “Hamish David Campbell Trumble / plse Edgar” is a courteous instruction to Edgar Parker, who for years served as a law clerk (I think, I hope I am right about that) at Mallesons, and as the designated custodian of valuable and/or important documents that Dad preferred to keep under lock and key in the office: documents such as deeds, titles, share certificates, passports, and the completed nomination forms for his four sons’ junior membership of the Melbourne Cricket Club. As I recall, Mr. Parker began his lifelong career of devoted service to the partners of Mallesons as a junior deputy to the ancient Mr. Ted Russell, ultimately rising in the mid-1970s to be in charge of the files, which in those days were still folded in half down the middle and tied with red tape. Files pertaining to dormant matters were customarily retained for a period of about fifteen years, after which time they were put in large canvas bags and consigned to an industrial incinerator, to make way for the next year’s accumulation of files. The task of doing this was allotted to the teenaged sons of partners during the first few weeks of the Christmas holidays, and so it was that in the summer of 1979 Mr. Parker became my very first boss, and an exceedingly kind and benevolent one he was too. I was fifteen, but looked closer to nine.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


A generous colleague from the Ohio State University has lately written to ask me whether, when writing The Finger: A Handbook, I had ever come across any references to marginalia having been inscribed with the reader’s thumb-nail. In The Rivals (1:2) Richard Brinsley Sheridan has Lydia Languish refer to Lady Slattern, who “has a most observing thumb; and…cherishes her nails for the convenience of making marginal notes.” He goes on to say, quite correctly, that there is a similar observation made in Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin, and asks me whether I know if the practice in fact ever existed. Alas, I had never come across either of these intriguing references. Presumably the idea was that Lady Slattern’s thumbnail was maintained in such a way—even pared down to a sharp point—so as not merely to mark the passage more effectively with an indentation, à la manicule (above) but to annotate busily also, which might conceivably require doing to it what one does with a sharp knife to the tip of a quill. Tatiana learns much about Onegin in his library, specifically from the marks of his pencil and thumbnail in the margins of various books, which implies a distinction there between pencilled notes and indented marks and/or underlinings done with his thumb-nail. I very much doubt if the quill-sharpening step was ever undertaken, so the joke in Sheridan must be about officiousness, or maybe inquisitiveness, or even interference, in other words making of Lady Slattern some sort of equivalent of P. G. Wodehouse’s glorious creation “the efficient Baxter.” I am guessing. I daresay the phenomenon may relate, however approximately, to the concept of “thumb-nail sketch,” although the O.E.D. (“thumb-nail…2. transf. A drawing or sketch of the size of the thumb-nail; hence fig. a brief word-picture. Chiefly attrib., as thumb-nail sketch”) admits no possibility that such a sketch might actually have been produced with the aid of the thumbnail. This would not be the first time that the O.E.D. ever overlooked some forgotten shred of social usage. We know, for example, that eighteenth-century French gentlemen grew the nail of their little finger for the specific purpose of scratching discreetly at doors, to distinguish that refined gesture from the crude knocking of factors, salespeople, or servants. We also know that J. M. W. Turner cultivated a long fingernail as a convenient tool for scraping, chiefly on paper through watercolour, but that is quite a different matter and I am not aware that he ever wrote with it.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Agony Column Codes and Ciphers

One of my favourite anthologies contains mostly brief items of correspondence, many of them in code or cipher, that were printed in various London newspapers through the second half of the nineteenth century and beyond: The Agony Column Codes and Ciphers, Wndr, wpng, nd wrshp fllw., by Jean Palmer (Gamlingay, Bedfordshire: Authors Online Limited, 2005). The practice seems to have come into being with the pillar box, and became so widespread that it is mentioned several times in passing by Sherlock Holmes, who boasted of being able to decipher even the most complicated ones quite easily, and “that such crude devices amuse the intelligence without fatiguing it.” Many of the messages are barely encoded at all. Some merely spell words backwards or deploy obvious letter substitutions, or even demotic French, so the question arises as to whether their composers were genuinely concerned about keeping the contents secret. Others, however, are deeply impenetrable, and were certainly meant to protect the identity of the correspondent and recipient. Naturally, most of the messages relate to clandestine assignations, some commercial, possibly even political, but far more often romantic, at a time when evidently no other avenues of written communication were regarded as secure—from suspicious husbands, tyrannical mothers, watchful servants, even unscrupulous telegraph boys eager to do almost anything in return for a modest pourbois. Consider, for example, this slightly tactless appeal that was printed in The Times on Thursday, June 12, 1856: “I have the most beautiful horse in the country, but not the most beautiful lady. Your silence pains me deeply. I cannot forget you.—M.” Or this, from a person who self-identified as “Coach and Horses”: “Will you fulfill your promise this week to your distressed but ever loving Pussy?” (Tuesday, April 5, 1881.) Many others, however, are far less straightforward. In February 1886, readers of the Evening Standard might well have puzzled over the true meaning of this: “The steamer will leave as advertised on Wednesday. The two experiments answered very well. Your request shall be complied with. The box, I hope, is safe. Your own always, most lovingly. Fair and Mild.” Or this: “Yes. Reward would depend on value of information and amount recovered—Q. V. (Daily Telegraph, Saturday, August 8, 1903). And especially this, from the mysteriously restive “Velsa”: “Do you believe in the word platonic?” (Morning Post, Friday, November 6, 1896). Like all such conspicuous genres, this one inevitably attracted eccentric correspondents determined not merely to avail themselves of the platform, but to use it either to air non-problems—“Gentleman in good social position finds that wherever he goes friends ply him with whiskies and soda, which he does not like, and which disagree with him; they resent it if he refuses them. He would like introduction to society in which whisky and soda does not form so important an element. Address R., 01826, “Morning Post” office, Strand, W.C.” (Ibid., Thursday, April 9, 1908)—or to confront real and pressing crises but in so obscure a manner as to be almost entirely ineffectual: “A lady, whose parentage and connections entitle her to respect, if not veneration, has reason to believe that anonymous aspersions and improper letters (purporting to be written by her) are circulating to her discredit. She earnestly hopes that the recipients of any such document will be cautious of the credence they attach to it. (The Times, Friday, April 2, 1852.) Which last example begs the question whether a lady believing herself entitled to veneration therefore might well be capable of drafting improper letters, and concocting a cover story with which to distance herself from the mischief. Or perhaps this simply proves that I have been reading far too many. In any case, I love the Victorians.

Friday, November 18, 2011


I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of aesthetic experiences that one would willingly call life-changing—and I have a full set of fingers. One of these occurred a few years ago, on a visit to the great thirteenth-century temple in Kyoto called the Rengeōin or, more popularly, the Sanjūsangendō, which means the temple of the thirty-three bays. This enormous, plain, shoebox-shaped wooden building houses a colossal statue of Kannon, the feminine manifestation of Avalokiteśvara, the seated bodhisattva of infinite compassion. She sprouts forty-two arms, and a forest of hands. An eleven-foot high masterpiece of Japanese sculpture of the Kamakura period (1185–1333 C.E.), Kannon is gloriously flanked by her heavenly cosmic guardians or attendants, the twenty-eight so-called bushū, and 1,000 life-sized, eleven-headed, “thousand-armed” standing statues, representing different versions of herself, carved in cypress-wood, then gilded. Each statue is carefully differentiated from the next, and like its larger prototype, has dozens of pairs of hands, the fingers painstakingly crafted into a bewildering range of delicate gestures. These statues fill the temple, and are carefully accommodated on a gigantic altar consisting of ten ascending steps which accommodate these seemingly numberless ranks of statues. It is said that all Japanese pilgrims should be able to discover their own face peering back from this host of silent bodhisattvas, who, like them, await a higher incarnation. Their fingers are exquisite.

"A masterly portrait, and very like"

I have been thinking quite a lot about portraiture lately, specifically an oddly widespread trope that crops up regularly in many British sources roughly stretching from the 1760s until the late Regency. I have a strong feeling, though it is only a hunch, that the watercolourist, printmaker, and author William Henry Pyne (1770–1843) (who published under the bizarre pseudonym of Ephraim Hardcastle) was well aware of it too when, sketching a semi-historical vignette in a very long and rambling article for Fraser’s Magazine for Town and Country (“The Greater and Lesser Stars of Old Pall Mall,” Vol. 23, No. 138, June 1841, p. 686) Pyne imagined the Prince of Wales dining with a group of gentlemen at Carlton House, including the Duke of Norfolk, and commenting on a caricature of the Duke by James Gillray. “It really is,” says the Prince, “a masterly portrait, and very like.” Portrait and likeness are two separate things, and the quality of the portrait appears to relate only partly to the accuracy of its likeness to the sitter. This sounds a good deal more familiar to us than it might otherwise where we sit at the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century, yet writing from Poundisford Park in Somerset to his son and namesake, a young grand tourist temporarily residing in Rome, Ralph William Grey could remark of his son’s portrait by Pompeo Batoni that it is “a very good portrait, and very like you” (Edgar Peters Bowron and Peter Björn Kerber, Pompeo Batoni: Prince of Painters in Eighteenth-Century Rome, London and New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007, pp. 37–38). I seem to recall a similar formulation crossing the lips of an especially garrulous character somewhere in Jane Austen, so it is safe to say that this figure of speech was widespread, but was it taken seriously, and should we also? There are grounds for caution. Pyne has the Prince of Wales utter it, at a time when the Prince’s posthumous reputation could not have sunk lower, and in relation to an object that was demonstrably not a portrait, or not at least a portrait as the term was ranked among the genres in the Academy of the forties, or indeed at any time immediately prior to, during, or after the Regency. In other words, you could argue that Pyne is actually mocking the formulation of “a masterly portrait, and very like,” regarding it in something of the same light as those silly eyes that follow you around the room. Likewise Jane Austen, and, in the many other places in which it recurs, and in Mr. Grey’s letter to son, there would appear to be grounds for consigning the phrase to the dense thicket of mere conventions. Yet even if that is true, the phrase tells us a lot about the accepted conventions of portraiture in eighteenth and early nineteenth-century Britain, and the assumption that the parent concept of portrait was not by any means the same thing as likeness. Useful, I think.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


The Yup’ik are aboriginal people of the Russian Far East and of western Alaska. The village of Quinhagak, Alaska—population 680—is primarily Yup’ik. The local fifth grade schoolchildren decided they wanted to send a message to the other Yup’ik communities in the area. So they made this little video, and then posted it on Youtube. Naturally, inevitably, it went viral. Evidently nearly a million people have watched it, all over the world. I especially like the postmistress:

The firescreens

Lately I received a courteous message from a gentleman who recalled having been shown over the state rooms of Government House, Melbourne, by me when I worked as an aide to Governor McCaughey nearly twenty-five years ago. Clearly that tour must have been memorable, and I can only hope that it was memorable for the right reasons. He went on to explain that I had shown him on that occasion an object near one of the fireplaces which he thought I said was for the lady of the house to busy herself behind with tapestry or needlework, while not revealing too much of her face in wider company. Did I recall the object and its name? He explained that the reason he sought clarification was that he is writing an historical novel that is set in 1910.

I well remember the pair of objects to which he refers. They stand at either side of the fireplace in the State Drawing Room, and my correspondent was right in thinking that adjustable firescreens of this kind had to do with the fire in the grate. However, the function of the object was not provide something discreetly to hide behind, but rather to shield a lady’s face from the radiant heat of the fire, so as to avoid unsightly flushing, blushing, or worse. The practice of creating adjustable, embroidered panels with which to decorate such firescreens—here is a rather ugly mid-Victorian one, ornate in a rather cheap way— was a semi-logical convergence of function and pastime. In other words, the embroidery that ladies so positioned (and protected) industriously practiced while sitting by the fire, “flush-free,” was eventually coralled into decorating the screen itself, a depressing example, I suppose, of the pointlessness and circularity of much that went on in the day-to-day life of a Victorian lady, or, as it were, didn’t. Unless, of course, you were George Eliot, Lady Burdett-Coutts, or Mrs. Russell Barrington.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Eyes that follow you around the room

One of the strangest art clichés that still circulates endlessly—and I heard it again yesterday uttered by somebody who really ought to know better— is the one about the eyes in a portrait “following you around the room.” This non-illusion arises from somewhat muddled expectations about how a two-dimensional image might behave when seen from different angles in three-dimensional space. Provided the image is not a hologram, we can hardly expect it to take account of our position in the room. If the eyes engage us when we stand directly in front of the picture, they will also engage us from any other viewpoint, despite the distorting effects of foreshortening. I doubt if eyes “following you around the room” have anything at all to do with gothic fiction or those old movies in which real eyes spy through peep-holes cut into the face of a portrait. Of course, they actually do follow you around. I suspect by its slightly supernatural, spiritualist note that we can safely blame the concept of eyes that seem mobile and, worse, intently watching you, on nineteenth-century French art critics, who got a kick out of that sort of thing.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Donna Orietta

I have only ever known one continental noblewoman, and even then only slightly. Somehow it seems absolutely right that I should have been introduced to her and to her family in Rome in 1986 by those shrewd but kindly Ladies of Bethany. Donna Orietta Doria Pamphilj, Princess of Torriglia, Princess of Melfi and of Valmontone, Duchess of Avigliano, etc. etc., was far more than their landlady. To a very large extent Princess Doria was a vital and practical patron of their work, and the principal reason why Miss Koet and Miss Galema managed to live for so long in their sunny apartment on the roof of the Collegio Innocenziano at Via dell’Anima, 30, overlooking Bernini’s exceptionally theatrical fontana dei quattro fiumi right in the middle of the Piazza Navona. Donna Orietta spoke English, French, and Italian with complete fluency, and was no doubt therefore entitled to make what at the time seemed the rather suprising observation that I spoke Italian with a Japanese accent. She was rightly proud of the staunch, anti-fascist stance, adopted by her father, Prince Filippo Andrea VI Doria Pamphilj, long before and right the way through World War II, and at considerable personal cost. Having refused to fly a fascist flag, a mob ransacked the Palazzo Doria, and Orietta and her mother hid in an old elevator that they stopped between floors. After the fall of Mussolini and the end of World War II, Don Filippo, who had been imprisoned, first, in a concentration camp, and later hid with his wife and daughter in different safe-houses in Trastevere, plotting with the partisans to dynamite the headquarters of the Waffen SS, which happened to be in the Villa Doria Pamphilj on the Gianicolo, whose cellars Don Filippo explored in early childhood and therefore knew like the back of his hand. He became in 1944 the first postwar sindaco of Rome, a vital role in the transition from allied occupation to the plebiscite in 1946 which abolished the Italian monarchy and established the Italian Republic. Before his death in 1958 the family estates were vast, and, I seem to recall, extended over such extensive southern territories in what was previously the Kingdom of Naples that there existed a family train in which to travel through them, at times escorted by cowboys mounted on horseback, ebulliently firing their rifles into the air by way of tribute. Upon the prince’s death, Donna Orietta had to sort out estate taxes and death duties of colossal size, and resolved to do everything in her power to save the enormous Palazzo Doria, one of the largest in Rome, together with her astonishing collections of art, among them the famous portrait of Pope Innocent X by Diego Velázquez. This she did with the assistance of her English husband Frank Pogson, who took much pleasure in sustaining over many years a cricket club which played socially in the grounds of the Villa Doria Pamphilj. That beautiful property eventually had to be made over to the Italian state, but was restored some time during the 1980s, at enormous cost to the Italian taxpayer, in order to provide a suitable venue for entertaining Diana, Princess of Wales.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Ladies of Bethany

The Ladies of Bethany, an order of Dutch nuns, were infinitely kind to me. I first met them when I stayed briefly in their guesthouse in Rome called Foyer Unitas Casa, in the snowy winter of 198485. I was initially referred to them by the redoubtable Thea Waddell, whose son Richard I knew at Trinity. Originally there were four sisters, Miss Luff, Miss Klompé—a sister of Marga Klompé who in 1956 became the first female minister of state in the Netherlands—Miss Josefa Koet (pronounced like shoot, seated here on the right), and Miss Leideke Galema (on the left). The order was one of the first to eschew the habit of the religious, and to adopt as well as civilian clothes the slightly confusing practice of referring to themselves by the secular “Miss.”

The four women converged upon Rome from various different places in, I think, the mid- to late 1950s, with an essentially outward-looking and ecumenical mission, much supported by Monsignor Giovanni Battista Montini, who was at that time Pope Pius XII’s sostituto for ordinary affairs in the Vatican secretariat of state. With Monsignor Montini’s assistance they found accommodation in the Palazzo Salviati in Trastevere, a sinister, ramshackle building that was used by the Germans during the war as a point of deportation of Roman jews from the Ghetto. Possibly the ladies moved from there once or twice before Princess Orietta Doria Pamphilj was persuaded by Monsignor Montini, with whom she was on friendly terms, to restore and make available to them and other religious bodies an essentially derelict, six-storey palazzo she owned that adjoined the great family church of S. Agnese in Agone, which dominates the Piazza Navona. (She had previously sold the huge Palazzo Pamphilj to the Republic of Brazil, whose embassy to Italy continues to occupy it.)

With the coming of the Second Vatican Council the work of the Ladies of Bethany suddenly assumed far greater prominence in Rome than it had previously, and the guesthouse they maintained, and the hospitality and programs they offered their guests, were geared towards accredited non-Catholic observers at the Council, both Orthodox and Protestant—Davis McCaughey was a guest at around this time—and continued thereafter to support far greater efforts in inter-church and inter-faith dialogue.

On one occasion, Miss Galema once told me, a young theologian then staying at Foyer Unitas, who was peritus to Josef Cardinal Frings, Archbishop of Cologne, received word that his mother had died in Germany, and therefore needed to be driven straight away to the old airport at Ciampino. This Miss Galema did, thus earning the sincere gratitude of the future Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI.

At around the same time, Monsignor Montini, who had in the meantime gone to be Cardinal Archbishop of Milan, was elected to succeed Pope John XXIII. For the rest of his life, Pope Paul VI took a lively interest in Foyer Unitas, and presented to the ladies the gold chalice which a kindly Dutch Jesuit priest used every afternoon for the masses he said in their beautiful little chapel, a calm, whitewashed slice of Holland right in the heart of the Baroque city.

I only ever knew Miss Koet and Miss Galema. Miss Luff and Miss Klompé died long before I arrived in Rome. Miss Koet, alas, died some years ago, but Miss Galema is still going strong, and, when last I received news of her, was busily drawing up plans to travel to the Holy Land. She is now well over ninety. I recall many good stories that each of them told me a different times, Miss Koet with wry good humour, wit and wisdom, and Miss Galema with considerable flamboyance. One of those has remained especially important to me.

Immediately after the end of World War II, Josefa Koet was attached to a convent in Vienna. When I learned this, I asked her with the boldness of the very young and inexperienced whether she had ever seen Carol Reed’s The Third Man—convinced when I did so that her reply would be no, and that I would be introducing a comparative simpleton to something potentially interesting and novel and informative. As usual, with infinite indulgence, she surprised me. Yes, she had not only seen that marvelous film, but had seen it many times, because it so perfectly captured what she recalled of the sinister postwar mood and rubble of occupied Vienna. And evidently she knew it far better even than Carol Reed, because clandestinely, Josefa and her fellow religious undertook the hazardous task of ferrying messages—letters, memoranda, deeds, money, etc.—between families for the time being divided between the three allied sectors and the locked-down Soviet, from which even temporary departure was for several years forbidden. Such communications were naturally also prohibited by the Russian military authorities, and there were numerous instances of people being deported to the east, or even worse simply disappearing for presumed political and other offenses far less serious than this essentially humanitarian work, about which, incidentally, certain officers of British military intelligence were glad to learn as many trivial details as Miss Koet could remember. Josefa told me she was not aware at the time that she was ever being debriefed, but she eventually reached that inevitable conclusion with considerable alarm. Alarm, because on one occasion in an especially cruel midwinter she was detained by Russian soldiers for four interminable hours on an exposed railway platform, as she was about to cross back into the British sector, and was questioned there in some detail about the purpose of her visit to the Soviet. They never learned that she was carrying an infinitely compromising brace of letters in both outside pockets of her overcoat—compromising not only to Josefa herself, but obviously to each and every correspondent who had entrusted them to her care through an intermediary—because when at length the Russian military police conducted a careful body search, they made the simple, life-saving mistake of asking Josefa with considerable gruffness to unbutton and open wide her overcoat for ease of frisking, and evidently assumed that nobody would be so stupid as to carry secret messages anywhere other than below many layers. They mocked her vocation, shocked her by the intrusiveness of the search, but eventually let her go.

Years later, I am still struck, indeed ever more so, by the extraordinary bravery exhibited by Miss Josefa Koet, then and on numerous subsequent occasions—bravery to which she would never have laid claim, but almost certainly would have dismissed with a chuckle instead. She simply did what she had to do, and it would never have occurred to her not to do it. Goodness of heart, strength of spirit, gentleness and wisdom. How rare are those qualities, and how lucky we are when, with luck, it is given to us to encounter them at an early age? Josefa died peacefully some years ago in a pretty retirement home, formerly a boarding school for the children of Rhine barge captains, at Arnhem in the western-most corner of the Netherlands, not too far from the house in which she was born.

Friday, November 11, 2011

SS. Quattro Coronati

The year I lived in Rome was one of the happiest and most adventurous of my life. I was not yet twenty-two when I arrived in the fall of 1986, armed with a trio of scholarships and a letter of introduction to the ancient Professor Richard Krautheimer who graciously allowed me to get a reader’s ticket at the Bibliotheca Hertziana over which he still presided in the Palazzo Zuccari at the top of the Spanish Steps. There I spent many sunny mornings reading my way into an impenetrable thicket, trying with minimal resources but much ambition to make sense of the Tavolette di San Bernardino at the Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria in Perugia. That group of panels I first knew in the somewhat unpromising form of several dusty old Arundel Society prints that hung in the corridor outside the office of the Warden of Trinity, the late and much lamented Evan Laurie Burge. The problem I set for myself was to come up with a hypothesis about the sequence in which the panels were originally installed in the Augustinian oratory for which they were intended; figure out what they meant; and who painted them. Essentially I failed in all three endeavors, but it was heaven. I had a job answering the telephone for the Ladies of Bethany, an order of Dutch nuns of whom only two elderly members remained en poste, living in considerable splendor in a very large apartment on the top floor of the Collegio Innocenziano in the Via di Sta. Maria dell’Anima, overlooking the Piazza Navona. And I enrolled as a part-time student of Latin at the Pontifica Universitas Gregoriana. It sounds busier than it actually was, because as far as I can remember I spent most of my time exploring the churches of Rome, of which there is a limitless supply, and in every one of which there is an abundance of treasure.

One of my favourite places, because of its scarcely conceivable antiquity, was the fortified monastery of SS. Quattro Coronati, which is tucked along an almost bucolic uphill lane just behind the Colosseum. In that complex, then and still now occupied by an enclosed order of especially ferocious nuns, the small chapel of S. Silvestro contains a cycle of early thirteenth-century frescoes depicting scenes from the lives of Pope Sylvester and the Emperor Constantine the Great. What is so fascinating about this monument is that, not surprisingly because of earthquakes, the frescoes were at intervals heavily restored (most recently towards the end of the nineteenth century), but evidently restored in the certain belief that the original paintings were far, far cruder in execution than was actually the case, and in conformity to the view that before Pietro Cavallino Roman painting of the dugento amounted to nothing. If there is one monument that should teach caution to those of us who concern ourselves with the repair and restoration of damaged works of art, it is the fresco cycle of S. Silvestro at SS. Quattro Coronati. However, we did not know this when I first knew S. Silvestro, because the art historian Andreina Draghi had not yet re-discovered an astounding further fresco program elsewhere in the same complex, in the aula gotica upstairs, that also dates from the early thirteenth century. This happened in 2002. That lost cycle was entirely covered with plaster probably at around the time of the Black Death around 1348 or 1349, presumably in a desperately prophylactic but useless gesture of penitence—which nevertheless and, at length, fortunately insured that many of the frescos have been preserved in almost pristine condition. The monument is a revelation, and shines entirely new light upon the artistic milieux of medieval Rome, far, far less like something out of the Flintstones than we previously assumed. These airy frescoes let us see as never before what early thirteenth-century Roman painters were capable of. They are amazing: subtle, intensely colored, brimming with life, energy, even choreography. And, equally remarkable, they are secular, a scheme of Twelve Months (May is illustrated here), representations of the Liberal Arts, the Four Seasons, and of the Zodiac—a kind of temporal pendant or counterpoint to the ecclesiological cycle that lurks underneath the crude reconstructions in the chapel of S. Silvestro downstairs. Thank goodness Professor Draghi was allowed to reveal and conserve these lost paintings in the Gothic hall, and to photograph and publish them in sumptuous detail, because those wretched sisters will not allow them to be seen by any visitors at all because of the strictly enclosed state of their order. Nevertheless the work that Professor Draghi has done now lets us see beyond the gluggy restorations, and hazard a guess at what S. Silvestro might once have looked like.

The Finger again

My last book has now appeared in paperback, though only in the United Kingdom. It has this glamorous new cover, but everything else in it is the same. It’s a strange feeling, because it has been so very long since I wrote it, but upon revisiting certain parts I remain satisfied, and occasionally have the satisfactory and somewhat surprising feeling that, you know, this is quite good. The Guardian seems to like it, though they also used the word creepy. The wider critical reception has been mixed, which doesn’t really bother me as it might once have done—because you get better at putting those things in perspective as you get older, and as you write more books. And now, I think, a novel.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Debt Crisis

The events unfolding in Europe in recent days, indeed the lack of geopolitical focus exhibited by the entire community of nations in the midst of the current economic crisis, brings into focus a horrible truth: As far as creativity and boldness of leadership are concerned, we are adrift in a sea of ordinariness.

Where is the vision? Where is the grit and determination to put the shamefully expedient western financial system in order; to deal forthrightly with excessive, squalid wealth that treads with contempt and utter selfishness upon grinding poverty; to forge a more adequately representative international settlement which accommodates the great states such as Russia, China, India, and Indonesia? Where is the gravity that looks far beyond opinion polls and even election results; and, perhaps above all, where is the proper disregard for the shallow cult of celebrity that practically everywhere now so deeply undermines public life, discourse, and deeds?

When the democratically-elected representatives of the American people find themselves in a crisis simply unable even modestly to raise the level of taxation on the incomes of the wealthiest few in order to confront and alleviate the enormous problems faced by the entire polity, you have to ask: How did this happen, and where has our common sense gone, to say nothing of our basic senses of justice, of goodness, and of truth?

All this puts me in mind, first, of Kenneth Clark’s famous rhetorical flourish: “What is civilization? I don’t know. I can’t define it in abstract terms, yet. But I think I can recognize it when I see it, and I’m looking at it now,” and, following his prompt, and that of Jacob Bronowski here, a single speech delivered in the House of Commons on November 12, 1940.
Only 71 years separate us from that moment, but from where I sit it might almost be centuries. Here is what Winston Churchill said then about Neville Chamberlain:

“Since we last met, the House has suffered a very grievous loss in the death of one of its most distinguished Members, and of a statesman and public servant who, during the best part of three memorable years, was first Minister of the Crown.

“The fierce and bitter controversies which hung around him in recent times were hushed by the news of his illness, and are silenced by his death. In paying a tribute of respect and of regard to an eminent man who has been taken from us, no-one is obliged to alter the opinions which he has formed or expressed upon issues which have become a part of history; but at the Lychgate we may all pass our own conduct and our own judgments under a searching review. It is not given to human beings, happily for them, for otherwise life would be intolerable, to foresee or to predict to any large extent the unfolding course of events. In one phase men seem to have been right, in another they seem to have been wrong. Then again, a few years later, when the perspective of time has lengthened, all stands in a different setting. There is a new proportion. There is another scale of values. History with its flickering lamp stumbles along the trail of the past, trying to reconstruct its scenes, to revive its echoes, and kindle with pale gleams the passion of former days. What is the worth of all this? The only guide to a man is his conscience; the only shield to his memory is the rectitude and sincerity of his actions. It is very imprudent to walk through life without this shield, because we are so often mocked by the failure of our hopes and the upsetting of our calculations; but with this shield, however the fates may play, we march always in the ranks of honour.

“It fell to Neville Chamberlain in one of the supreme crises of the world to be contradicted by events, to be disappointed in his hopes, and to be deceived and cheated by a wicked man. But what were these hopes in which he was disappointed? What were these wishes in which he was frustrated? What was that faith that was abused? They were surely among the most noble and benevolent instincts of the human heartthe love of peace, the toil for peace, the strife for peace, the pursuit of peace, even at great peril, and certainly to the utter disdain of popularity or clamour. Whatever else history may or may not say about these terrible, tremendous years, we can be sure that Neville Chamberlain acted with perfect sincerity according to his lights and strove to the utmost of his capacity and authority, which were powerful, to save the world from the awful, devastating struggle in which we are now engaged. This alone will stand him in good stead as far as what is called the verdict of history is concerned.

“But it is also a help to our country and to our whole Empire, and to our decent faithful way of living that, however long the struggle may last, or however dark may be the clouds which overhang our path, no future generation of English-speaking folksfor that is the tribunal to which we appealwill doubt that, even at a great cost to ourselves in technical preparation, we were guiltless of the bloodshed, terror and misery which have engulfed so many lands and peoples, and yet seek new victims still. Herr Hitler protests with frantic words and gestures that he has only desired peace. What do these ravings and outpourings count before the silence of Neville Chamberlain’s tomb? Long, hard, and hazardous years lie before us, but at least we entered upon them united and with clean hearts.

“I do not propose to give an appreciation of Neville Chamberlain’s life and character, but there were certain qualities always admired in these Islands which he possessed in an altogether exceptional degree. He had a physical and moral toughness of fibre which enabled him all through his varied career to endure misfortune and disappointment without being unduly discouraged or wearied. He had a precision of mind and an aptitude for business which raised him far above the ordinary levels of our generation. He had a firmness of spirit which was not often elated by success, seldom downcast by failure, and never swayed by panic. When, contrary to all his hopes, beliefs and exertions, the war came upon him, and when, as he himself said, all that he had worked for was shattered, there was no man more resolved to pursue the unsought quarrel to the death. The same qualities which made him one of the last to enter the war, made him one of the last who would quit it before the full victory of a righteous cause was won.

“I had the singular experience of passing in a day from being one of his most prominent opponents and critics to being one of his principal lieutenants, and on another day of passing from serving under him to become the head of a Government of which, with perfect loyalty, he was content to be a member. Such relationships are unusual in our public life. I have before told the House how on the morrow of the Debate which in the early days of May challenged his position, he declared to me and a few other friends that only a National Government could face the storm about to break upon us, and that if he were an obstacle to the formation of such a Government, he would instantly retire. Thereafter, he acted with that singleness of purpose and simplicity of conduct which at all times, and especially in great times, ought to be the ideal of us all.

“When he returned to duty a few weeks after a most severe operation, the bombardment of London and of the seat of Government had begun. I was a witness during that fortnight of his fortitude under the most grievous and painful bodily afflictions, and I can testify that, although physically only the wreck of a man, his nerve was unshaken and his remarkable mental faculties unimpaired.

“After he left the Government he refused all honours. He would die like his father, plain Mr. Chamberlain. I sought permission of the King, however, to have him supplied with the Cabinet papers, and until a few days of his death he followed our affairs with keenness, interest and tenacity. He met the approach of death with a steady eye. If he grieved at all, it was that he could not be a spectator of our victory; but I think he died with the comfort of knowing that his country had, at least, turned the corner.

“At this time our thoughts must pass to the gracious and charming lady who shared his days of triumph and adversity with a courage and quality the equal of his own. He was, like his father and his brother Austen before him, a famous Member of the House of Commons, and we here assembled this morning, Members of all parties, without a single exception, feel that we do ourselves and our country honour in saluting the memory of one whom Disraeli would have called an ‘English worthy.’”

So, there we are. We will not, and evidently we cannot, produce another Churchill any more than we will discover in our midst a Franklin Delano Roosevelt, mores the pity, but surely there has never been a time between then and now when the need for that calibre of brave and decisive leadership; wisdom and strength; goodness of heart, and passion was ever greater, or more urgent.