Posts Tagged ‘History’

 

The writer Ted Hughes had a long engagement with Shakespeare.
Story goes, in the early 1950s, just as he was to go up to Cambridge – working-class boy makes good – he was called-up, as all were in those days, to do his National Service. He said he spent those two years in various look-out posts, reading all of Shakespeare’s works. It went on from there.

The culmination of this long engagement came first in his 1971 book, A Choice of Shakespeare’s Verse, published by Faber and Faber. His argument there was – ever the controversialist –  that we can appreciate Shakespeare’s poetic art as well in excerpts from the plays, as in sticking solely with the published poems.
His argument is more than borne out by the samples he gives. This is indeed an excellent book.

The part relevant to my argument here, is the postscript. This is a long essay on what Ted Hughes saw as the evolution of Shakespeare’s craft, and forms the heart of what became his next big attempt on Shakespeare: Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being. He came to blame the writing of this as a betrayal of his/the muse, and resulting in his last illness.

In these works he came up with what he called ‘the tragic equation ’ of Shakespeare’s writing. This was all to do with the evolution of Shakespeare’s craft, its psychic properties, and engagement with history.

For this blog I am just looking at a detail of that postscript, beguilingly called ‘Note,’ in A Choice of Shakespeare’s Verse.

In the ‘Note’ he discusses how Shakespeare’s craft and art underwent a ‘quantum leap.’ It was a ‘quantum’ leap because it worked on the level of a new weighting of language and language use rather than big themes. He writes of how Shakespeare’s mature style used a ‘high’ word ie a usage from a lexicon outside the normal language of the audience, that was paired with a ‘low’ word, to qualify a third. He writes ‘… the new, unfamiliar, word from the ‘high’ language is balanced, interpreted and translated by an old word (or words, or image made up of old words) from then ‘low.’ In practice, this becomes usually a combination of one word of classical derivation with another of native… derivation.

He goes on to call this a ‘masterful democritisation’ of language, for ‘welding the audience into a single thing.’ He dates this change in resource of language from All’s Well That Ends Well onwards.

Here he brings in another conceptual avenue: ‘If other evidence is valid and he used a Brunoesque mnemonic system…’ Ted Hughes was hedging his bets with that  ‘If’, but it is evident he has been reading A study of Love’s Labour’s Lost (1936), Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition (1964), The Art of Memory (1966) by Frances Yates. All, but certainly one or two of the above.

What is it about this causes Ted Hughes to make this claim? How, he seems to ask, could Shakespeare have memorised all these new words? His answer, by using a memory system, a mnemonic. And then tying this in with the newly available books by Frances Yates on The School of Night, Giordano Bruno et al. He ties this to Shakespeares’ quoted use of tables: ‘set it down in ‘…‘tables’, or notebook…’. (p187, 1991 edition). There are a number of such references to ‘tables’ used in this way.

He gives the example from All’s Well That End Well of a line from a speech:
On the catastrophe and heel of pastime
He reads the use of catastrophe as one of Shakespeare’s new words; how is it used with the term heel, then? By reading catastrophe as  down-turn… heel then becomes, of the foot, but more, it becomes in context the image of Achilles’ heel.
Ted Hughes writes:
‘By regarding the line as a slightly modified ‘New Word’ entry in his ‘tables’, where the word to be mastered is matched with its translation and ‘fixed’ with its mnemonic image….
(page 186/7).

What do you think?

There is, of course, another explanation for that word ‘tables’, other than implying a mnemonic system of tables.

Roger Chartier, in Inscription and Erasure, (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007), writes of how between 1577 and 1628 a certain London bookbinders sold what were called Tables. Many examples survive, complete with bookbinder’s name and London address.
A direct reference to these can be found in Hamlet Act 1, Scene 5, lines 107-11.
They are notebooks with the added ability of being able to be wiped clean.
In effect they were the wax tablets as used in medieval times. As we see from Roger Chartier, they were still in use in Shakespeare’s time. He describes them as part of the materiality of the text.
They were small: hand-sized, and rectangular: wooden trays, usually in pairs, strapped together with leather, so they could be closed face to face to save what had been imprinted from smudging. These trays were filled with bees wax, to be marked on, written on, with a metal stylus. They could be erased with a wet cloth, allowed to dry, and used again.
Roger Chartier writes how an eleventh-century priest-poet, Baudri de Bourgueil, wrote in detail about his tablets/tables. The wax in time would become old, blackened, full of grit.
Being wax, they would also be vulnerable to temperature: cold, draughty cloisters and scriptoria  probably held ideal conditions.

By Shakespeare’s time, we read, the medium had been changed from wax to a mixture of plaster, glue and varnish (page 23, Inscription and Erasure). The ‘tables’ of this period also included in their package printed almanacs, tables, weights and measures, calendars… much like our own notebooks.

So what, then, of memory systems? You need to go back to the Hamlet reference, above. Just before that speech, comes the phrase, table of my memory.
We read in Roger Chartier, how many such Tables could be collected, and stored. Their contents were not erased, but kept for transcription onto parchment, vellum in the future. They were, in effect, stored writings: libraries.

Cicero’s Rhetorica ad Herennium was one of the main sources for describing a memory system (though many found the descriptions confusing, incomplete). By Chaucer’s time Geoffrey de Vinsauf had dispensed with this as far too outlandish.
By Shakespeare’s time the Tables would be used for storing quotations, improving phrases, then jottings, recipes, tittle-tattle. They became known as ‘writing tables,’ or ‘table books.’
And memory systems, as part of what might be considered ‘occult’, were very much forced underground after the fall from favour of Dr John Dee, and especially in Jacobean times.

We have here, though,  the act of writing as an act of memorising. Any student will know this: the physical act of writing notes on paper aids to remembering in revision.
And yes, I did keep a straight face when I wrote that – though only just.

Behind this memory–writing equation is maybe an episode from Plato’s Phaedrus. Here, Theuth (Thoth), the Egyptian god, had invented the art of writing: using visual, drawn, images, to convey spoken words. He presented his invention to the king of all Egypt, Thamus. He refused the gift, on the grounds that it would make people lazy, not having to remember everything.

I do not know the book by Plato, and cannot tell what was made of this anecdote by Socrates. It certainly would not be left to stand alone, that is for certain.
Topic for another day.

Roger Chartier is one of the chief writers of the histoire des mentalities school of cultural history.
He writes in French, but many of his books are available in translation.
Inscription and Erasure is a book full of riches. I would recommend it very highly.

 

 

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It was the summer of 1618, and the poet and, yes, dramatist, Ben Jonson, was at the height of his fame and powers.
I emphasise dramatist, because shortly before this date Ben Jonson had published his Works, in which he included his dramatic works. This was not done – at that time dramatic scripts were not considered ‘works’ but throw-away pieces. He received a lot of criticism for this; he was by then inured to the extremes that criticism could reach, his part in the ‘War of the Theatres’ had been bloody, hard, and he had had to concede defeat. For Ben Jonson’s character, defeat was not easily admitted, or lived with, and yet he had swallowed it the best he could.

So, in 1618, July 8th, Ben Jonson set out on an epic journey; it was well-advertised to interested parties.

He was to walk from London to Edinburgh. 450 miles.

He took the Great North Road out of London, up country, meeting the coast near Alnwick, Northumberland, whereon he followed the coast road right around to Edinburgh, coming in from Leith, on September 6th.

– A friend of my son’s walked to London from Cambridge one day: it took a punishing 12 hours. Ben Jonson’s walk took him 60 days.
The friend was fit and young; Ben Jonson had acquired his legendary girth of 20 stone in weight. He was also 46 years old, rather older than middle-age, for those times.
At the beginning of his career Ben Jonson was nick-named ‘the anatomy,’ due to his lean-ness: tall and thin.
How time was to change him.

What was the purpose of this walk? It can be considered a huge publicity stunt: he was, as all were, constantly on the look out for patronage, and Royal patronage was the best paid. He was, in effect, purposely celebrating the journey made by King James I/VI of Scotland – in reverse. The name Jonson, was also, through his father’s side, a Scottish Border name, from Johnstone, of Annandale. By acknowledging the Scottish name, he was therefore cementing his link, and also his credentials, to further a further suit with King James.

He stayed there six months, and then undertook the return journey, following the same route.

His journey has been tracked, and meticulously noted: see the map: http://www.blogs.hss.ed.ac.uk/ben-jonsons-walk/map/

It was thought for a long time he undertook the journey alone. Rather recently, though, papers have been unearthed in the Cheshire Archives, which give detailed notes on the journey, in another’s hand.
The paper was not signed, and describes the walk as a Foot Voyage.

For much of the way, then, he had a travelling companion, a member of the Alder(s)ley  (sic) Family perhaps, among whose effects the notes were found. Was this a relative of the 1st Baronet, John Thomas Stanley, 1597–1672? The family are connected to the Earl of Derby, and the Baron Sheffield.
The Stanleys came in for some criticism in Alan Garners’ 1976 novella, The Stone Book.

The Alderleys, called, confusingly, the Stanley Family, are connected with what is now the affluent dormitory town of Alderley, properly known as Alderley Edge, and a place well known the readers of young adult fiction, and general fiction writer, Alan Garner. His earliest, and latest book are set there: The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, The Moon of Gomrath, and the latest, Boneland, (2012).

*

Ben Jonson noted that his shoes gave out by the time he had reached Darlington, near Newcastle. That was not bad going, actually. He had another pair made, and suffered them for the next few days, until he wore them in.

What we know of Jacobean male footwear is scanty, and restricted to court fashions, and further, to what was depicted in portraits from the period.
During the late Elizabethan era, however,  pamphletting was taking off. One such practitioner was Philip Stubbes, a puritan. He inveighed against  ‘unchristian’ workplace practices. We have to thank him for the details he provides of such practices of the time. One of which was, shoe making.
http://www.elizabethan-era.org.uk/elizabethan-shoes.

He tells us the leather was soaked in liquor for hardening, then well greased. The fraudulence was in the use of, for example, the more thinner, fragile, calf for cow hide and, controversially, horse skin for ox-hides. They were always, he insisted, cat-skin lined.
The sewing was done with hot needles and twine. He says the shoes were then heated by the fire to harden them. We can only presume this was a fraudulent practice.

What of the soles? He does not mention soles. Heeled boots for men became fashionable in the late Elizabethan  period; the heels were of wood. Would workmen’s – brick-layers, as with Ben Jonson – also use wooden soles? Wooden pattens were still in use in the period.

*

Ben Jonson’s stay in Edinburgh reached its summit in his long sojourn with William Drummond, of Hawthornden Castle. This lasted from December, 1618, until early Spring, 1619, and his return journey. What eased the familiarity of their company was that William Drummond owned, and continually added to, one of the best libraries in Britain, at that time. Both were avid bibliophiles.
We also have William Drummonds’ notes on the sojourn: a commentary on Ben Jonson’s conversation, but without his own input.

One incident particularly spoiled Ben Jonson’s epic of his walk and sojourn in Scotland. That was the arrival, a few week’s after himself, of ‘self-styled… poet’ (Ben Jonson, His Life and Work, by Rosalind Miles, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986), John Taylor, the ‘sculler’, or water poet. The name derives from his previous occupation as a Thames waterman. He was born in Gloucestershire, and became a boatman/ferryman in Kent – the Sheppey region.
I am always surprised at the mobility of people then: Shakespeare from Warwickshire to London was seen as no big step.

King James applauded John Taylor’s writing, preferring him above Sir Philip Sidney (perhaps out of a sense of mischief?). Ben Jonson was indeed put out by his arrival, having walked all the way, the same route, as he himself had. He became convinced his London rivals had put John Taylor up to this, to mock his own feat. It was vigorously denied, and to a believable extent. Although John Taylor did indulge later in spectacular stunts, such as manning and sailing a real paper boat into London.
http://theshakespeareblog.com/2012/07/john-taylor-the-water-poet/
also see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Taylor_(poet).

Ah, but John Taylor had not the high connections of Ben Jonson, in Edinburgh; nor was he made Freeman of the City, as Jonson was.

On his return to London he found several things had changed. For one, the Queen had died. This was soon followed by the death of Richard Burbage. A national loss, and a more localised one; but the public stage had lost two important players.
The Queen’s death put his own suit with King James on a back burner.

If any reader is looking for an introduction, way in, to Ben Jonson’s poetic works, I would heartily recommend the Thom Gunn selection, on Penguin:
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ben-Jonson-Selected-Thom-Gunn/dp/0571226795/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1509452382&sr=1-1&keywords=ben+jonson%2C+thom+gunn

Ben Jonson:

October/November 2017, depending on which calendar you use, charts the centenary of the Russian Revolution.
Who will dust off Vladimir Iliych Lenin, I wonder?
For myself, never able to follow the straight path, I’d like to remember ALEXANDER KERENSKY.

1
Alexander Kerensky has head of the Provisional Government in 1917, when Lenin and the Bolsheviks seized control.
Was he the head? His title was, at the crucial last stage, Second Minister-Chairman.
He had served the Prov Gov as Minister of Justice, and Minister of War, before this. He was also chairman of the all-important Petrograd Soviet. His credentials were good.

The Prov Gov consisted of a conglomerate of parties, groups, such as the powerful Social Revolutionary Party, the Mensheviks,  Kadets and many others with their own spheres of interest. It was a Provisional Government, because its function was to hold power after the fall of the Tsar, and until a new Constituent Assembly was formed, to decide what form Russia would take from thereon.

Aleaxander Kerensky, however, pushed matters: he declared Russia a republic.
This was contrary to the aims of several groups in the Prov Gov.
His other great misjudgement was to push for the continuation of the Great War. He even went out to the various war fronts to rally the troops into continuing the ruinous war. The scale of desertions from the military was unprecedented. This was to have far-reaching consequences for Kerensky.

This maverick nature was the tone of the times.
Cue, General Kornilov.
Some call his counter-revolutionary followers a putative White Army. He challenged the Prov Gov’s legitimacy, and threatened to take Petrograd. Karensky had lost the support of what was left of the military. Who could he call upon who had sufficient military arms and techniques, to defend the Provisional Government?
There was only the Bolshevik Party, and its leader, Lenin, was once more on the doorstep.

The Bolsheviks were highly trained, and master tacticians. One toe in the door for them was all they needed. And that is what they were given.

Aleaxander Kerensky’s father had been a school teacher, then school inspector. In his teaching one pupil taught was the son of a close family, the Ulyanov family. The son was Vladimir Iliych Ulyanov, later known as Lenin.

2
Kerensky attempted to raise a group to fight back, but by then there were two fronts: the Bolsheviks, and the White Army. Kerensky would take neither side. Wiki tells us: Only one small force, a subdivision of the 2nd company of the First Petrograd Women’s Battalion, also known as The Women’s Death Battalion, was willing to fight for the government against the Bolsheviks….

He escaped to France, and lived in Paris. He travelled to America occasionally to raise money for his scheme, but still did not side with either group.
On the Invasion of France in 1940, however, he chose to re-locate permanently to America. It was then he offered his support to Stalin against the German invasion of Russia. It measured just how out of touch he was by this time.

He had married an Australian journalist, Lydia Tritton. They eventually moved to Australia, Brisbane, and lived with her family. She suffered a stroke, however, and died a short  time after.

He returned to America, and worked with the Hoover Administration; he became a New Yorker (91st Street, Upper East Side), and also taught at Stanford University, in California.

When he died in 1970, however, the local Russian Orthodox Churches refused him burial due to his Freemasonry, and what they read to be his giving away Russia to the Bolsheviks. Even the Serbian Church refused him.
Friends in London brought him over, for a non-denominational burial. He is buried in Putney Vale Cemetery, near Wimbledon Common, London: South perimeter, block AS, grave 1289.

3
Kronstadt, 1921
That marks the year the people’s rebellion in Russia ended.
It was a particularly cold winter, so cold that even the Gulf of Finland, outside of Petrograd, froze over. Ice-locked there was the Naval fortress of Kronstadt, the last bastion of the original fighters.
Trotsky’s Red Army came over the ice that night. The fighting was long and fierce; in the end the fighters were crushed, officers executed, and sailors shipped off to Archangel.
The people’s rebellion was over: they wanted out of the Great War, better standards of life; a chance of betterment: social and economic mobility; food.
They got Leninism, Civil War, 5-Year Plans, Collectivisation and its famines, then Stalinism etc

The Finno-Swedish writer Edith Sodergran reports she heard the shooting that night, way over and out in the Gulf. The night was so still, the air so cold.

4
Death Island
A recent BBC news article gave us the details of what it called the First Concentration Camp. It was called Death Island, the island of Mudyug, in the sea off Archangel, Russia. On the Arctic Circle.
It was a camp set up by the British and French military, who were in Russia attempting to fight the Bolsheviks. The camp’s reputation for cruelty, neglect, terrible conditions, became a Soviet legend, a place for pilgrimage.
For the Soviets, though, just a few miles away was a monastery. This, as Alexander Solzhenitsyn documented in his Gulag Archipelago, surely eclipsed the first camp for inhumanity. Not excuse, though, note.

It was to this camp on Mudyug Island, that the Kronstadt sailors were shipped. None survived. It was not that the people who ran the camp were working with/colluding with the Bolsheviks, it was ignorance, stupidity: they imprisoned anyone who caused trouble, no matter which political group they belonged to, or none.

It was also here, the article states, that a French-Russian officer, and former businessman from Moscow… Ernest Beaux worked as counter-intelligence interrogator of Bolsheviks. His reputation soon established itself: he was not a pleasant man.
What was his business? He was a perfumier for the Tsar. Later he worked for Coco Chanel.
It is said that the much-valued Chanel No5 was his creation.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-41271418

If this was the first concentration camp, then what of The Enormous Room, E E Cummings’ fictionalised account of his own incarceration in a similar camp, the Dépôt de Triage, at La Ferté-Macé, in France?

4
Putney Vale Cemetery
Is it the non-denominational nature of the site, but this cemetery plays hosts to many other luminaries, besides Alexander Kerensky?
You will find there Nyree Dawn Porter; a Doctor Who (no, they don’t all regenerate); Antony Blunt, soviet-era spy and master of the Queens Pictures; Ivy Compton-Burnett; Howard Carter, Egyptologist; Jacob Epstein….

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Putney_Vale_Cemetery

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Kerensky

 

 

 

This is a dual Romanian/English publication.
Available from:
Colectile Revistei ‘Orizont Literar Contemporani’, Bibliotheca Univeralis

Effs

There are so many untold stories.

Early mornings I would be waiting, shivering, for the early bus to go to work. One companion of those mornings was a Romanian man. Once he told me, ‘Boating was my life, then. I would have happily spent my whole life sailing on the Black Sea.’
‘One year,’ he said, ‘everyone was issued with iodine tablets. No exceptions; no explanations. That was thought to be sufficient. I remember it; it was 1986. The year of Chernobyl.’

*

Daniel Dragomrisecu has set himself a very important task, in this book. He is rescuing the memories, the works, the reputations of people lost to the old regime. People who fell out of favour. People lost to time’s relentless tumble.
He gives us eight recollections, and revaluations.

Romania.
The Ceausescu regime, with its grand empty palace and boulevard. Claudio Magris, in his book Danube, writes: “Hiroshima” is the name  bestowed by the people of Bucharest on the quarter of the city  which Ceausescu is gutting, levelling, devastating … building his Centre, the monument to his glory.

But what of the starving villages’  untold stories?

What Daniel Dragomirecu has done here is collect together articles and memoirs he has published in newspapers, magazines, journals, and published them in a dual translation book, called Effigies in the Mirror of Time.

Ok, we started with Romania, but we need to narrow-down, zoom-in. Let’s find Moldavia, and in Moldavia, the region of Vaslui. This is the hub for all the stories, the personalities.
How often do we hear or read news from Moldavia?

We have here writers, intellectuals, philosophers, engineers, and a comedy actor: the exuberant, gifted, Constantin Tanese.
This sketch-song of his could well be a timeless anthem:

Nothing has changed / Everything is the same
/ Everywhere the same lies / So what have we done? /
Revenge is plotted behind the scenes / As it has not
been seen before / The country is full of VIPS / So
what have we done? / Our people leave, our people
come! / This is the famous slogan, / We have been
fools to vote again / So what have we done?

The story was that he was shot whilst on stage – he was doing a satire on Russians, the new power. A Soviet officer in the audience stood, up and shot him dead.
Did it really happen? Was that how we wanted him to go?
Or was the end of the great man more prosaic?
Truth and legend, both are necessary, both are stories from which we gain life and sustenance. But truth must take precedence; always.

When communism was abandoned, many here in the West hoped that the best of that regime – or was it the most durable? – would be combined with the best/most durable in the West, to create a better society. The old Marxist dialectic, with its synthesis: how people love to make patterns.
Now, it seems, many feel what they have instead is another lost possibility. Because what modern capitalism has to offer is repugnant in many ways. And durability does not promise anything, either.

In the West these ideas, the dialectic, were never put into practice; we did not witness its effects on people as with the people Daniel here rehabilitates.

Take, for instance, Cezar Ivanescu (1941 -2004). He was an uncrowned prince among academics: Don Cezar. Writer, philosopher, critic, academic par excellence. He was severely beaten in the 1990 Miner’s Strike, and hovered between life and death for weeks.

As a less violent example, take Nicolae Malaxa (1884 to 1965). Born in humble circumstances he grew up and developed an acute managerial sense combined with a dedicated engineering skills. Train engine maker, car engine manufacturer, heavy-engineering magnate. Only to lose it all when all his great enterprises were nationalised under the new regime.
What the man could have done for Romania.

Many here were academics, writers, poets.
We ask now, what is the worth of such work? We ask that because everything now is monetarised, including health-care, basic necessities. Cultural value differs from monetary value; there is also the value of a persons’ life in itself.

And the irony of free-thought. In the context of the early part of last century when these people were young, free-thought still meant mostly left-wing ideas. And so when left-wing ideas became a (supposed) reality, they found themselves once more on the margins. Why was this?
Left-wing practice had its own very special character. Only those who legislated knew what it was; this is a well-known managerial tactic, to keep everyone slightly off-balance.
What was one of Stalin’s first acts as leader? Get rid of all the old Bolsheviks.
The old and out-of-place ideas and idealists had to go. The last thing they needed was free-thought.

Teodar Rescanu (1887 to 1952) was such a left-wing idealist. And writer: it is heartening to see his books being re-discovered.
He was out-of-step with the new regime. He had been imprisoned for his support of the left, but even that did no good with the new boys. He was black-listed, and the ostracism became increasingly brutal as conditions hardened.  Suicide was always an option, and he chose it.

One of the many virtues that stand out among these exemplars, is their dedication to the people, and to the idea of Romania. It almost becomes as if the whole communist experiment has a hiccup in history, a glitch, that all are quickly working at eradicating.
That is, until you see the human dimension.
The people in this book are ones who lost out to that glitch, and the ones who follow – this is especially illustrated in Daniel Dragomirescu’s relationship with Don Cezar, and in turn with poet Ion Enoche – are left to reconcile this loss, and rescue from it a sense of human value.

V I Catarama – it is very hard to find general information on the man. And yet at one time he was an esteemed man of letters, and teacher – an Apostle of Education, as Daniel Dragomisrecu entitles him.
He fell foul of the system in 1958, and was held until 1964. He was the son of a farm worker, a left-wing supporter. It was not enough.
His reinstatement was marginal; he was allowed to teach. Although the continued scrutiny this entailed must have been oppressive.

Ion Enoche is an interesting case: on the fall of the old regime, he still had no place. He had become such a thorough non-conformist he could no longer adapt to any system. Daniel Dragmirescu implies that the over-riding  atmosphere after the fall of the regime was predominantly political, and busy with rebuilding the new Romania.
Enoche could not adapt to this, he was singular, and one-directional; his sole focus was poetry, a poetry cleansed of any politics, official or otherwise.
How was this possible?
Daniel Dragomirescu gives a moment from one of his works:

a poor, bedraggled, and starving Roma woman was riffling through a garbage can
for ‘a ray of sunshine.’

The set up of contrasting elements, and steering of image out of one circumscribed field of imagery towards another, more open and encompassing one, one of human values, is masterly.
It is, still, we could argue, political.
See also:
https://ion-enache.blogspot.co.uk/

Another online source related to this book is:
Ion Iancu Lefter: https://cumpana.files.wordpress.com/2008/09/pagina-121.pdf

*

This is such an important and necessary project.
It only tells a fraction of the story, of course; he acknowledges this.
It is a work of love, as well as rehabilitation.

May I suggest that he follow it up with a companion book, on the subject of notable women?
I would eagerly look forward to such another book.

*

I met a bedraggled man at the bus stop. I knew him vaguely. He had just come from the police station.
My house boat was robbed last night. They were banging on the doors, the sides. They’re a group of Romanians. They’re doing all the house boats.
What did they take?
I had no money or food; they took my chairs. They live over the back, in tents in a quarry. I phoned the police, when they were there. They laughed, Your police are pussies, they said.

It is a small town, and yes, they are pussies. It is a tacit understanding: we don’t do anything too bad, and they don’t come in too heavy.
It’s better that way.
The capitalism may be repugnant, but this works. For the time being.

I greatly took to Cubism,
right from when my brain started to function properly.

Ok, that was no straight-forward event in itself, more a spasmodic, sporadic, an occasional kind of development. Retrograde at times, too.
But the point is, Cubism did it for me.

Look at those early Picasso’s and Braque’s: the regular rectangular picture frames; the muted, limited chromatic palette.
It all spelled out Ordinary, and Normal.
The colour-scheme was deliberately mimicking the faded, un-retouched, colours of Old Masters, of Renaissance art.
This was part of the point – Picasso’s ego was towering, as usual, and he was laying down his statement: We Are The New Renaissance Artists

Of course, what those regular frames and muted colours contained was something else again. This set-up was all part of the effect, the impact.
Set-up, and punch-line.

As to the new content: we were so used to older art having a narrative, of even being the adjunct – although as a very established and authoritative one, of a pictorial experience.
Decorative art was taking off, though: think of those gold panels of Klimt. Painting was calling its own bluff:
I am a flat surface. What you see as multidimensional is really just graded marks in two dimensions.
Art is illusion.

The novelty of this was paramount: the emperor has no clothes.
Think of stage magicians showing how a trick is done.
Ah, but they always hold something back.

The new ‘thing’ was to break with narrative, and be Art: painting, colour, volume, shape,  all owning their own identities, in their own rights. Abstract Art. Balancing colours, volumes, shapes, created on the field.
Think of Mallarme, and the breaking away of words, language, from its narrative. Words as decorative, or, if you like, freed.

Art always moves on, seeks further expression; the meeting of one’s slice-of-time, and psychological make-up, interact, feed into each other. They are made from each other.

There is always this dialogue.

Art does not exist in isolation, no matter how hard it tries. The multi-cognitive nature of painting depicts all the aspects of the human imprint.
Cubism was a dialogue with what went before, and also with what might come.
Cubism, authorities agree, had its roots in the later Cezanne’s cubic, conal, spherical, dominated landscapes. Those and ancient African and Iberian works.

But it was also grounded in the intellectual ferment of its period: give it a name, for convenience: Relativity.
I refer you to this stimulating blog:
https://richlynne.wordpress.com/2012/07/21/cubism-and-relativity/

Those cubist multi-angled, part-depictions, the objectivications, of that most intimate subject, the  human portrait, also imply – and this is what excited me – the painter’s response to, if not a proper understanding of (but then, what in the public sphere ever has a full grasp of its subject?) the new theories coming from out of physics and the sciences.

The meeting point between Picasso and Einstein is given in an stimulating article on the  book, ‘Einstein, Picasso‘, by Arthur I MIller, in the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/m/miller-01einstein.html .
The meeting point was Poincare’s book La Science et l’hypothèse.
The book introduced ideas of non-Euclidean geometry, multi-dimensions, multi-perspectives.
– Einstein read it and was fired up.
– Picasso heard the theories at around the same time (third-hand), and was freed.

It was this hidden, though implied, back-story that I responded to in Cubism. I did not know it at the time, and am incapable of understanding the mathematics, and would probably struggle and fail with the concepts now. But the need for tantalising dimensions of deeper meanings has always been my life’s ache.

There are currently writing practitioners who pronounce Writing Is Words. Nothing else (see Mallarme again). This goes for all types of writing.
Are they trying to create a form of decorative art, in words?
In art, some track all this from Duchamp, this breaking the art-and-meaning bond.
Post-War American artists, writers, took to it large-scale. It was one way, perhaps, of dealing with the War horror, by defusing it, scattering it. Meanwhile Korea, then Vietnam, were tearing at the heart of it all.

Painting, sculpture, music, without some grand narrative has never been enough.
Is it part of a cluster of synapses were developed by my response to my-period-of life in the world?
Do other generations not have this? Or other clusters that I do not detect?
There are no cut-off points. No generation ends and another begins.
As an analogue, try this:
I was investigating oral traditions of legends, tales. One source pointed out, quite pertinently, that writing and oral traditions, especially in Western Europe have co-existed for a long time. It is perhaps impossible to conceive of a solely oral tradition. All cultures have connected elements, whether painting, carving, weaving as well as some forms of written.
Some Native Australian groups now will not allow, for example, a piece of their music, or picture-making, to be copied, on the grounds that it cannot be divorced from the complete event of dance, song, music, making, that is their whole ceremony.

Now, off to bed with you.

Harold Nicholson (1886-1968), in his Chichele Lectures, Oxford University, 1953, and published as The Evolution of Diplomatic Method, Constable, 1953, repeated several anecdotes from his earlier book, The Congress of Vienna, 1812-22: A Study in Allied Unity. Constable, 1948.

The anecdotes are all about the fights for precedence and position among ambassadors.

He writes, to begin with:
In 1504 Pope Julius II had composed a table of precedence, under which the (Holy Roman) Emperor (Maximilian I) came first, the King of France second, the King of Spain third, and so on down to the smaller dukes, despots and princes. Under this table the King of England came seventh on the list, after the King of Portugal, but just in front of the King of Sicily….

This would be the last years of England’s Henry VII.
How different perspectives give completely different evaluations! On what did Pope Julius II base his table?
Contemporary England certainly seems determined to get back down here.

The real juicy quotes are as follows:
Ungainly incidents were always occurring, one of the most notorious of which took place in London in 1661, when the coach of the Spanish ambassador tried to push in front of that of the French ambassador, a battle occurred with loss of life among the footmen and postilions, diplomatic relations were severed between Paris and Madrid and a very real danger of war arose.

All in one breathless sentence, note!

He gives a further, hilarious, example:
As late as 1768, at a Court Ball in London, the French Ambassador, observing that the Russian Ambassador had established himself in front seat next to the Austrian Ambassador, climbed round over the back benches and inserted himself physically between them. This led to a duel at which the Russian Ambassador was severely wounded

Interesting to note that the second anecdote is a direct follow-on from the first, and yet the term ‘ambassador’ has been capitalised/upper-capped in the second. Copy-editor, anyone?

And we thought we had seen it all!
President Trumps’ barging the Montenegro President out of the way, for his celeb photo-shoot is peanuts next to this.

 

Harold Nicholson was the husband of Vita Sackville-West, based at Sissinghust, Kent. He was a knighted as Sir Harold for his diplomatic duties. At one point he was First Secretary to the League of Nations. He became a Labour MP after resigning from the Diplomatic Corps.
His was a ‘colourful’ life.

This is a re-posting from earlier. I took it down to make way for a time-specific post on Cinema-Based Well Dressing.
And so, avoiding further confusion, here we are:

The Sequence of St Eulalia is one the earliest surviving French hagiographies, in the vernacular. It dates from 880AD.
It is called a sequence because the manuscript contains three poems based on the St Eulalia legend. The first is a Latin fourteen-line poem, followed by the French vernacular poem, and then one in Old High German. It is surmised the Latin poem was the original of the manuscript, and the others added in response.

Poem is a wrong description: the Latin piece was written as prose but in assonantal couplets, and the whole piece ending in an unpaired coda verse form. The lines are mostly ten syllables in length, but this admits variations of eleven, twelve, even thirteen at one point.
Internal evidence of the French vernacular shows the composition to have been in the northern French region, indeed beyond, in modern Belgian Wallonia.
This is initially puzzling, because the Sequence manuscript was found in 880AD, in Barcelona.

1
Eulalia was a twelve year old girl, from Merida, in northern Spain. She was known to be especially devout.  She was martyred for the intransigence of her belief, during the persecutions of Diocletian, around the year of 304AD.
Merida was the capital of Roman Lusitania; its ruins, part of an amphitheater, its bridge, and aqueduct  were still impressive in the 1850s.

The French vernacular begins:

Buona pulcella fut eulalia.
Bel auret corps bellezour anima
Voldrent la veintre li deo Inimi.
Voldrent la faire diaule seruir

This has been modernised:

Bonne pucelle fut Eulalie.
Beau avait le corps, belle l’âme.
Voulurent la vaincre les ennemis de Dieu,
Voulurent la faire diable servir.

It is interesting, instructive, even, to see how the French language has developed over time.
I made an attempt at Englishing the piece from the modernised French:

The good girl Eulalia
lovely of from, lovely of soul,
and ready to overcome the enemies of God,
was intent to make the devil serve
her, nor listen to his bad counselors.
She denounced them to God, who dwells in heaven.
Not for gold, nor silver, nor finery,
royal threat, nor prayer,
no thing could ever make her bend,
the young nun, from the love of God’s ministry.
And for this she was presented to Maximilian
who was at that time king of all the pagans.
He uttered: It matters little to me.
What he did not want
was to be called a Christian man.
And so he summoned together his forces
better to put her in chains,
and put her virginity in danger.
For that she died, in great honesty.
In the fire they threw her, but it would not burn
her, nor cook her flesh.
But that did not please the pagan king,
he ordered them with swords to cut off her head.
The young girl did not try to stop them
she wanted to leave her life, as ordained by Christ.
In the figure of a dove, she flew to heaven.
All pray for her, who deign to pray.
This you can thank Christ for
after death, that we can only leave
by his clemency.

There is an excellent paper on the background and context of the St Eulalia legend, transmission, and period, on Academia.edu, by Fabian Zuk, of the Universite de Montreal.  I give the link below:

https://www.academia.edu/30143399/Eulalia_and_her_Sequence_a_Bridge_between_the_Marca_Hispanica_and_the_Carolingian_Heartlands

There is an earlier version of the legend, as Fabian Zuk points out in his paper. This is the poem contained in the Peristephanon (Crown of Martyrs) by the Hibernian Latin writer, Prudentius (348 to 410AD).
Prudentius was another devout Christian; he was born in Saragossa, highly educated, and became an innovative writer for his period. It is claimed that he introduced a trochee-dominant prosody to the established Latin classical forms.
The Peristephanon is a collection of fourteen lyric poems by Prudentius, on Spanish and Roman martyrs.
Anyone who has translated Latin will know that a line’s word order is wholly dependent on the writer’s intent, emphasis, within that line. For those, like myself, without a classical education, the initial impact is one of chaos.
The following is from a literal Google Translate version of Prudentius’s ‘O in Honour passionis of Eulalia blessed martyr’, written in the 4thCentury AD:

next Southside location it is and took this ten excellent; city powerful; people abundant; and more blood martyrdom maiden powerful title. coursing tribe , and the nine three winters?quarter adtigerat; and clinking pears The distressed terrified rough butchers; execution himself sweet rata

As you can see….
The poem was written as a dedication of the remains of St Eulalia recently unearthed, transported, and then placed in a prepared tomb, in Barcelona. That explains the reference to placement at the beginning. Fabian Zuk investigates all this in great detail in his paper.

2
So why all this interest in St Eulalia? Especially as, until not many years ago, I had never even heard of her.
Blame it on Federico Garcia Lorca.
I was analysing the structure of his famous Gypsy Ballads collection, for my book on chiasmus and rings: Gifts of Rings and Gold:
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Gifts-Rings-Gold-Introduction-Ring-composition-ebook/dp/B01IRPODPW

The poem on St Eulalia occurs in the last three historical poems of the collection: Martyrdom of St Eulalia; Joke about Don Pedro on Horseback; Thamar and Amnon.

Lorca’s poem is in three parts. This is a form that the French form, above, cannot accommodate. The Prudentius poem, however, has a more discursive treatment. Here we begin to see how it can be opened up into a tri-partite structure. There are still details that do and do not coincide, however. One example is the Lorca addition of the double mastectomy of Eulalia/Olalla; her intransigence is also toned down, almost to oblivion.

Herbert Ramsden, in his ‘Lorca’s Romancero Gitano, Eighteen Commentaries’ (Manchester University Press, 1988) https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lorcas-Romancero-Gitano-Eighteen-Commentaries/dp/0719078245
writes that Lorca purposedly labelled Eulalia/Ollalla ‘la gitana Santa’, a gipsy saint, even though she had lived and died over a thousand years before the gipsies entered Spain. He also notes that Lorca, ‘characteristically ahistoricist’, integrated the gipsy into mainstream culture this way, so ‘elevating the gipsy’. By adapting a more popular form of the name, Olalla, he further cemented the connection. The gipsy is, paradoxically, a symbol of the eternal outsider. Yet Lorca’s ‘ahistoricism’ identified the moment in time that such outsider-ness was becoming a dangerous position.

There is one point of connection between the vernacular French, Prudentius, and Lorca, and that is the potential assault on Eulalia/Olalla’s virginity. From the French, I give
‘and put her virginity in danger’ Englished from Qu’elle perdît sa virginité. Prudentius gives us, ‘The grace of [Eulalia’s} maidenhood [shielded]  behind the covering  of her head’.
Lorca wrote of Olalla’s sex which trembled as a bird ensnared, and her hands leap across.
Reader, take heart: she was only burned, decapitated, and masectomied.

This last detail, an addition by Lorca, occurs nowhere in the records. There is that terrible painting, though, by Bernadino Luini, where St Agatha carries her severed breasts on a tray, as Olalla in the poem. And interestingly, St Agatha was a patron saint of, among many places, Zamarramala, a province of Segovia. St Agatha was also a young girl, fifteen at the time of her own martyrdom.

What can we say about this assault upon young, outspoken, women?
It is not necessarily their vehicle for their opposition we notice, that is, their religiousness, but the form the oppression takes. It is their female identity that is attacked – their breasts, the threat of rape.
All the authority of the Church is here, but it is subtly enforced. They are applauded for their devoutness, but the indictment is still there: the terrible cost of female outspokenness, and of having a female body, with its possibilities. It is this sexuality the poem addresses partly, with that ‘Beau avait le corps’,  ‘Bel auret corps’, and the body-assault.
So why was she matryred? It is only in the Prudentius poem you get an indication: she was not just a devout believer, intransigent, but she openly mocked and attempted to over-turn the altars and images of the ‘pagan’s’ gods. Prudentius has her vehemently abusing the pagan leader, verbally.
Here we have it, the prize cannon in a woman’s armoury: speech. Not only has she the body of the fallen Eve, Eve as Magdalene, but also the gift of speech that can run rings around poor little man’s abilities.

In her way Eulalia can be said to inhabit the ambiguous transitional space between Mary and Magdalene figures. As Mary figure she connects with Lorca’s young female-centred poems of the first half of his collection. This is particularly clear in the sexual threats of the Preciosa poem. But also she connects with the gipsy nun, and with the gipsy madonna of one of the centre poem, St Gabriel. Soledad Montoya of the Black Pain, and the unnamed woman in Sleepwalking Ballad, introduce more nuanced, transitional, even median, characters. The faithless wife in the ballad is most certainly a Magdalene figure, as are, I would suggest, the grieving mothers in The Feud. This ambiguity of the Mary and Magdalene transitional moment is more fully drawn in the last poem of the collection, Thamar and Amnon, with the rape of half sister by half brother.

The Lorca Olalla poem plays also with time periods: he gives us a before martyrdom, during, and glorification in future times. This structure connects with the central poem of the collection, St Rafael. In this poem Lorca introduces another marginalised religious figure, St Tobit.
Each of these three centre poems is based on a city’s patron saint  – except St Rafael, the St Tobit poem, who was not the patron saint of its linked city of Cordoba. Lorca envisages Cordoba as Roman, Muslim, and modern city, each glimpsed in the water (a major motif in Lorca). Three time periods, again.
The tale of St Tobit/Tobias is fascinating for its own sake, a two-part story of father and son, linked by an angel in disguise. The angel exorcises a demon from the son’s wife, which caused her to kill her previous husbands. Definitely a Magdalene type woman, then rendered as Mary.

If anyone has a decent translation of the Prudentius Eulalia poem, I would be most grateful to them if they would point out a copy to me.