Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Endangered Tories lead the Summer List

We know, there can be nothing more
poignant than an English aristocrat
in his balancing act to sustain in-
calculable luxury through the quick
turnover of tourists at his estates. 
This Summer, Heywood Hill's List
presents the usual number of such
specimens, and two have landed here
with surprisingly redeeming charm
in self-revelation, intoning the
same theme of countryside husband-
ry. Hugh, Lord Cavendish of Furness
has presented a gorgeous tour of 
his famous gardens at Holker, in 
Cumbria, and the Duchess of Rutland
offers a spirited chronicle of the
shooting seasons at Belvoir Castle,
replete with heaps of avian carcasses.

What is interesting, staggeringly sumptuous scenery aside, is how aggressively political these titles are, in demanding sympathy for the right to lock up the place at any moment, and be alone in one's hereditary horizon. Infantility, oddly, is the leading argument: a childhood adoration of an Algerian oak is enough to warrant title to it in perpetuity. But should this fail, there is the custodial qualification, of watering the place for others to pay to see it in bloom. The daunting load of work involved in profiteering from this stewardship - never envisioned, until the 20th Century - is never far from recital.

From, however, that little bit of strain that binds us all, in the great human story of comforting the impregnable, it is only fair to take delight in the daunting glory of the other 23 hours of their day. In Lord Cavendish's 17 thousand arcadian acres, really no more than 25 represent a compelling recurring demand upon his curiosity, not counting the house, of course. At the rate at which Rutlands find themselves breeding grouse, the appalling density of their downpour cannot truly be said to represent a threatening depletion. And when it comes to that, the Duke of Buccleuch is not far to visit. These are not barren pantries. 

I very much enjoyed these two volumes, for to their credit there is no skimping in presenting the refinement of the world they document. That there is a market to support such glimpses of the exquisite, I should not have doubted (if I ever did), given the new candour of selfishness we observe in our long recession's penalties for expensive tastes. And nothing is more refreshing to an American, steeped in our plutocracy's drumbeat gospel that its tax immunities are "deficit neutral," to hear a Tory candidly exult in selling sleep-overs to expense accounts.

Hugh Cavendish
A Time to Plant
  Life and Gardening at Holker
Frances Lincoln, Ltd., 2012©

Emma, Duchess of Rutland
  A Season of Discovery
Quiller, 2012©


  1. These literary and pictorial projects are sadly very close to corporate newsletters, but the corporations' assets are so estimable that they really do represent a very material chunk of the island's divine patrimony and imperial aggrandisements. If that perspective can be kept at bay - which would be infinitely easier, if they would eschew their witty justifications - then both books are very gorgeous, their human stories (particularly Cavendish's) genuinely affecting, and tolerance of the underlying conditions even better sustained.