Saturday, February 1, 2014

One fellow to another

I shall venture to defend Gibbon to you.
I don't find him smug. It seems to me
that, behind the genuine belief in prog-
ress there is always, in Gibbon, a sub-
tlety, a sensitivity, occasionally a mel-
ancholy, which is totally absent from
(say) Voltaire. I suppose I have, by now,
got so used to the formal style that I
hardly notice it, and I enjoy all the 
more the urbanity, the irony, the human-
ity, which underlies it. Also I love the
marvelous precision of language, the ex-
act choice of words to convey such del-
icate shades and ambiguities of meaning.

   Do write again: I love
   your letters, and I      long to hear from you.    Do keep well. I wish I    could see you.

        yours ever

Hugh Trevor-Roper
Regius Professor of History
Master of Peterhouse
Lord Dacre of Glanton 
Letter to Gerald Brenan
11 March 1968

Richard Davenport-Hines
  and Adam Sisman, editors
One Hundred Letters from
  Hugh Trevor-Roper
Oxford University Press, 2014©

Tassos Paschalis
Northern Greece

Friday, January 31, 2014

A talent to abuse

I think it is probably not widely
understood that the cultivation of
invective in the practice of his-
toriography is as indispensable as
a reading fluency in Latin, German,
and French. With as few or as many
of my generation as you may care
to cite, formal education exposed
me to this prerequisite at the age
when one would have been loitering
in a paddock somewhere, not very
uncomfortably, in visual charity
to one's friends. By chance I was
also one of a minority cultivated
by one of the truly great exponents
of these talents of the last cen-
tury, whose shattering humiliation
at his first university became the
stroke of luck of mine, whence he
emigrated instantly to the highest
circles of power in American academ-
ia, charismatically indulging some
of us with a brilliant bitterness.

Now I come to find, that his glam-
orous nemesis, while openly and ex-
uberantly cruel when it pleased him,
is not mysteriously at all one of
the most lovingly remembered intel-
lectuals of the British establish-
ment before the age of Murdoch, un-
der whose thumb his reputation was
most ungenerously shattered. Look-
ing back through his published let-
ters, I can see how our unsuspect-
ing gang were much undereducated in
to history in the first place, by
virtue of a grievance which never
did heal, against a complex mental-
ity of prodigiously far-seeing na-
ture, despite its joy in rivalry.

I am not going to publish anything
more about that relationship in
which I was steeped, in high prox-
imity to one of its two poles; but
I do interlineate this background
into the blog, forgetful as the
form incurably is, to enable the
reconciling introduction of that
second polar personality in the
next posting here - an extract of
a letter to another Englishman of
high influence upon my education,
formal and otherwise, at a time
of his grieving. How genuinely in-
timate it was of him to embrace
his friend in argument, I don't
think anyone from his time would
fail to recognise or trust. 


Benjamin Eidem

Thursday, January 30, 2014

I'm terribly sorry, but in North America it's still Thursday ii

 As we studied poor Mr Boehner
 on his throne the other night
 he seemed to summon to memory
 the awful diatribes of coach-

Their game, can you be-
lieve, when we're the
ones who have to suit
up for it, and take
those slings and arrows
of the limning class,
faulting us for defects
in our poise. Fellow
can't even propose his
own portrait, spiffy
as he is, without be-
ing tweaked for how he
heats the tipple in his
clasp. He's the one who
has to down it, after all.

What has Thursday not in
common with that predica-

Rex Whistler
Self Portrait
The New York Review
  of Books
January 9, 2014©

Wednesday, January 29, 2014


Rumble is almost a neolo-gism again, in the way I would invoke it in criti-quing what one heard last evening from the Presi-dent. It refers to a pat-tern of audible fluctua-
tions between the sound being sampled and its playback. It is a feature of discontinuity, in a table we all know.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A precaution of Mr Cheney's, I believe

Even as we speak, in some undis-
closable but, we must suppose, 
secure location - probably har-
dened and buried unapproachably
deep - there is being prepared
this evening's stand-in for the
talking Head of State, imperfec-
tions in the resemblance being
touched up to a fare-thee-well,
for a pie in the face from some
junior Supreme Court justice ap-
pointed in the previous Adminis-
tration, for his resentments of
of diversity-seeking elites. How
compassionately these Bushes do
identify their men, one must re-
call, when one considers the long-
suffering Mr Thomas, victimised
by admission to another runway to
the stars. But I stray.

Yes, the innovation is probably
one of the decidedly un-late Mr
Cheney's inspirations from the
light side of the dark side, to
preserve the Presidential suc-
cession in permanent lockdown,
from the top down, by floating
surrogates for these silly pub-
lic facetimes of ancient custom.

Here, of course, Le Cid, himself,
must weep for the vitality of the
effigy under spiffing-up, so ob-
viously Chicagoan in aerodynamics
and of the Big Island in footwear,
that absolutely nobody is likely
to suspect an impostor. Even those
who may wish for one, could hardly

Pierre Corneille
Le Cid

If only not to listen, could mean there were no statement

I assume, it's widely
understood, the Pres-
ident is not required
to speak his obligato-
ry report to Congress.

The "framers," as men
of more experience of
our world than we let
the children worry a-
bout, were of a prac-
tical bent. Rough mu-
The sounds of certain
frailties are no fun.

But an honest school-
yard riposte is some-
thing to exonerate as
high spirits. Now who
will try a satin tie?

William Hogarth
Hudibras encounters the

Jenny Uglow
  A Life and a World
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1997©

E.P. Thompson
Customs in Common
  Studies in Traditional
  Popular Culture
The New Press, 1993©

P.G. Wodehouse
Psmith in the City
Overlook Press, 2003©

Monday, January 27, 2014

"Mr Speaker, the President of the evening's entertainment"

Readers and movie-goers recall
John Le Carré's definition of
a fanatic as a man who is con-
cealing a secret doubt. The
only problem with this allur-
ing formulation is its univer-
sal application. We need not
look, it seems to me, for the
links between meticulous tep-
idity in the most exposed pos-
ition of leadership in modern
life, and an excruciating dis-
dain for engagement in its ob-
ligations. We can recognise a
careful fellow as the connois-
seur of complication he would
like to seem; in another life,
a watchmaker. 

Ah, but when the world's most exalted practitioner of secret doubt - who knew, how little that he heralded so nobly of the faith of others, would imperil his manicure - keeps company with the media's most exalted connoisseur of it, in the re-luctances of Gorbachev, it is unseemly to speculate on who is courting whom, who enacts the fanatic to the other's admiring manipulation. Delectations wink their expedient ways between stories, all the time.
I read the wrong New Yorker, the one of Shawn's back pages in the writings of Herbert Warren Wind. Lad finds himself in a difficult bunker, of course he reaches for a wedge. But he follows through. He doesn't hustle a caddy to mourn the rules of the game.

John Le Carré
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
op. cit.

Herbert Warren Wind
Following Through
  Golf Writings from 
  The New Yorker
Ticknor & Fields, 1985©

David Remnick
Lenin's Tomb
  The Last Days of the
  Soviet Empire
Random House, 1993©