Friday, April 11, 2014

Functions of style iv: a device of discernment

For all its hectic character, 1956
was not a merry year, on balance;
but given that there will not be a
Friday quiz, it's harmless to recall
the trials of Suez, to say nothing
of Budapest. One cultivates a style
not to marshall recitals of data,
but to call forth the components of
the style to assay an imbalance in
them in the external world; we were
given to observe for purposes other,
if not higher, than gossip. At the
very least, we'd expect a Conserva-
tive to figure out what causes are
behind his discontents. Maybe not.

These days, the fashion is to wave a
voodoo doll of ad hominem, and pack
it in at the nearest slaughterhouse;
while you and I look closer, not to
deny or flee the imbalance, but to
salvage what is screaming gorgeous.

Toward the end of 1956, a junior
but by no means unknown English ac-
ademic wrote to an American expatri-
ate friend living outside Florence,
on his government's starkly unam-
biguous débâcle in the invasion of
Egypt, along with the French and
the Israelis, a nation older than
its years.

This is a lengthy and well-etched
letter, in a compilation of cor-
respondence between Christ Church
and I Tatti, welcome anywhere. 

How could he have supposed, that
you and I, two generations later,
would sit before our seething lit-
tle monitors and discover friend-
ship of unanswerable prescience?
What is obvious, is that his was
an exercise of style, so ascer-
tained in experience as to cast
it as a device of discernment,
possibly the simplest and most
fallible of analytical tools,
but the one humanity adopts.
What fails the style, fails the
balance; there, not the reverse,
is the wedge of our discontent.

Often, in the past fortnight, I 
have reflected on the social ba-
sis of this irrational support
for a policy which seems to me
rationally indefensible; and I
conclude that there is in Eng-
land, as in other countries a
fascist world: the world of low-
er middle class conservatives
who have no intelligence but a
deep belief in violence as a 
sign of self-importance; who 
hate foreigners, expecially if
they come from 'inferior' races;
and who, gratified with the spec-
tacle of such violence against
such people, even if it fails in
its object, are prepared to shout,
in unison, il Duce ha sempre ra-
gione. In ordinary times, and
given good politics by their
leaders, these people remain be-
low the level of public notice ..
out of frustration this extra-
ordinary and disquieting spirit
breaks forth.

Criticism is an act of authen-
tication which is not aridly
taxonomic. Its impulse is to
identify, but also to retrieve.
Such is the function of style,
as we are often heard to ask,
in the conduct of discernment.
Its most frequent claimant is
ostentation (a posture premed-
itating exploitation), and no-
thing could be more ironic. A
gentleman doesn't dine in res-

Hugh Trevor-Roper
  to Bernard Berenson
25 November 1956
Letters from Oxford
Richard Davenport-Hines,
Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2006©

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Functions of style iii: the cultivation of unity

Hunting and divinity, how well
they sort together in my mind!
I must own to a weakness for
sporting parsons, for those un-
apostolic characters I read of
in Nimrod and elsewhere; for
parson Jack Russell.. for the
clergyman who [advertised] -
"Wanted, a curacy in a good
sporting country, where the
duties are light and the com-
pany convivial" ..

There can be no doubt, that
a journal affords the vital-
ity of the personality a can-
vas on which to conduct its
pursuit of form. It has some-
thing in common with the in-
tegrity of dreams, yet it is
a field for expository, ex-
ploratory energy we admire.

And of course it is not un-
delightful to observe the
familiar, emerging brighter.
Like our modern-day artisans
of the selfie, perhaps, the
journal-keeping seeker of u-
nity will be reminded of the
divine, ere long, and ponder
his rapport with it. They say
one can never be too ready.

 As to that, Biffy Holland-
 Hibbert told me that he once
 got into trouble for jumping
 into a churchyard, when the
 Bicester were in full cry;
 they said it was outrageous
 to the dead; which I thought
 inconceivable until I was my-
 self shoo'd out of the Oxford
 crematorium by a scandalised
 custodian in course of a gay
 hunt from Woodeaton Spinney
 with the South Oxon. Fantastic
 indignation! I thought to my-
 self as his cri de coeur died
 away behind me; and as I rode
 home from the Wick I tried to
 rationalise his extraordinary

Why, when I am dead, the very 
thought of a fox-chase in full 
cry streaming over my maggotry 
remainder will be as refreshing
dew to my poor wilting spirit,
as it fiddles away in some in-
conspicuous corner of the celes-
tial orchestra. But it was no
good; the mind of that odd jan-
itor of the dead evidently work-
ed on different principles from

Hugh Trevor-Roper
Major, HM Secret Intelligence Service
December, 1943

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Functions of style ii: "ex animo"

As you know, I have complete
confidence in you and am sure
that you will produce an im-
portant work; but I am also
anxious that it should be a
striking work, something out
of the ordinary, something that
even the professional Scotch
historians will have to notice
because it will be read outside
their little magic circle, and
so they will be forced to dis-
cuss it and not bury it with a
few condescending private for-
mulae. In order that it shall
have this effect, you must el-
evate it, as you can, above the
common run of theses.

You  must give it form and vi-
tality. Form, of course, only
comes from care and discipline;
vitality comes from you. The es-
sence of form is unity.. a sense 
of proportion.. write with con-
fidence and brio (which must be
fed, if necessary, on champagne
purchased on the credit of fu-
ture royalties). Above all, en-
joy writing. It is not always
easy to do so. One has to get 
over the flat somehow. 

 'Recklessly selfish advice, a
 Mephistophelian manipulation,'
 one can almost hear the men-
 tors of the forgotten, murmur.

 Still, his Festschrift was em-
 bellished and his final post-
 humous work guided to press 
 by the man who got that letter.
 He didn't call for damages.

Hugh Trevor-Roper
Lord Dacre of Glanton
16 April 1973
One Hundred Letters ..
op. cit.

The Invention of Scotland
  Myth and History
Jeremy Cater, editor
Yale University Press, 2008©

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Functions of style

Possibly it falls to all publishers
in this medium to encounter 'style'
finally in the perspective of their
own interests. Mine are in the chan-
neling functions of style, and only
moderately in the others; it is in-
teresting to me as a boulevard of a
personality, albeit laced with some

  I have lately introduced one
  of the most notably problem-
  atical personalities ever to
  be heard from, in selections
  chosen for a humaneness that
  I find uncanny and inspiring.
  These discoveries stir genu-
  ine surprise in me, although
  this has been suggested only
  once. But he was a figure of
  renown for rhetoric of other
  qualities, that drove one of
  his early editors to wonder:

  I find it difficult to decide
  whether he is a fundamentally
  nice person in the grip of a
  prose style in which it is im-
  possible to be polite, or a
  fundamentally unpleasant per-
  son using rudeness as a dis-
  guise for nastiness.

The question could not conceivably
have been framed in these terms if
the stylist were any less exorbit-
antly attractive than he was, when
at his best. Such persons are ava-
tars of hope to anyone who senses
the power of rhetoric, not merely
to lead but to illuminate. Custom-
arily, we discard them, throw them
away; but truly, I think, this is
a surrendering of them which is a
great mistake. In the case of this
personality, entire cadres in the
ostensibly learned world stood by
in prayer that he would hurl him-
self upon a great mistake. Yet it
was his nature to hurl himself; he
rode with the hunt, religiously.

I am tending to entertain the proposition,
that if there are tragic figures, the pre-
sumptive 'failure of their light' is one
in which the bystander participates. If I
am correct to be pursuing this line of
thought, what can it mean that such a fig-
ure is the one who opened that boulevard?
If I confer prestige of tragedy upon an-
other person, have I struggled sincerely
enough to preserve its dignity as rare?

Monday, April 7, 2014

Sipping from Goti

   From whatever place
   they may have come from,
   from under rocks,

   that moistness, or the sea,
   or else in those
   slanting places of darkness,

   in the woods, they
   are here and ourselves
   with them. All

   the forms we know,
   the designs, the
   closed-eye visions of

   order - these too they are,
   in the skin we
   share with them.


   if you twist one
   even insignificant part
   of your body

   to another, imagined
   situation of where it
   might be, you'll

   feel the pain of all
   such distortion and
   the voices will

   flood your head with
   terror. No thing 
   you can do can

   be otherwise than
   these people, large
   or small, however

   you choose to think
   them - a drop of
   water, glistening

   on a grassblade, or
   the whole continent,
   the whole world of size ..

Robert Creeley
Selected Poems
University of California Press, 1991©

But you can't say, Martin, forum shopping's shopping as we know it

  You always knew, they'd come
  after us, Martin, on that very
  ground, seeking redress in the
  courts instead of another gen-
  eration of sporting battery,
  you know, that sort of thing.
  They seem to be saying that
  open secret of their play, and
  there are those who say one ought
  to see their point. Why, only over
  the weekend, we were cautioned
  against ebullience, but then I do
  think this advice is rather fam-
  iliar. It reminds me of these en-
  dearing warnings, that they'll
  get tired of us. Have you ever
  quaked more wretchedly in fear?