Harriet Martineau on Robert Malthus 

From the Autobiography (US ed., vol. 1, p. 247):

He [= Sydney Smith] was not quite the only one of my new friends who did not use my trumpet in conversation. Of all people in the world, Malthus was the one whom I heard quite easily without it; — Malthus, whose speech was hopelessly imperfect, from defect in the palate. I dreaded meeting him when invited by a friend of his who made my acquaintance on purpose. He had told this lady that he should be in town on such a day, and entreated her to get an introduction, and call and invite me ; his reason being that whereas his friends had done him all manner of mischief by defending him injudiciously, my tales had represented his views precisely as he could have wished. I could not decline such an invitation as this: but when I considered my own deafness, and his inability to pronounce half the consonants in the alphabet, and his hare-lip which must prevent my offering him my tube, I feared we should make a terrible business of it. I was delightfully wrong. His first sentence, — slow and gentle, with the vowels sonorous, whatever might become of the consonants, — set me at ease completely. I soon found that the vowels are in fact all that I ever hear. His worst letter was l : and when I had no difficulty with his question, — “Would not you like to have a look at the Lakes of Killarney?” I had nothing more to fear. It really gratified him that I heard him better than any body else; and whenever we met at dinner, I somehow found myself beside him, with my best ear next him; and then I heard all he said to every body at table.

Filed under: c19 on Saturday, August 23rd, 2014 by chrisbrooke | No Comments

Harriet Martineau on Robert Owen 

From the Autobiography (US ed., vol. 1, pp. 174-5):

From the time of my settlement in London, there was no fear of any dearth of information on any subject which I wished to treat. Every party, and every body who desired to push any object, forwarded to me all the information they held. It was, in fact, rather ridiculous to see the onset on my acquaintances made by riders of hobbies. One acquaintance of mine told me, as I was going to his house to dinner, that three gentlemen had been at his office that morning;— one beseeching him to get me to write a number on the navigable rivers of Ireland; second on (I think) the Hamiltonian (or other) system of Education; and a third, who was confident that the welfare of the nation depended on it, on the encouragement of flax-growing in the interior of Guiana. Among such applicants, the Socialists were sure to be found; and Mr. Owen was presently at my ear, laying down the law in the way which he calls “proof,” and really interesting me by the candour and cheerfulness, the benevolence and charming manners which would make him the most popular man in England if he could but distinguish between assertion and argument, and abstain from wearying his friends with his monotonous doctrine.

Filed under: c19, leftwingery on Saturday, August 23rd, 2014 by chrisbrooke | No Comments

Anniversary 

It was ten years ago today that I first noticed there was something fishy about Johann Hari’s journalism–a post that was cited by the Deterritorial Support Group when they decisively went to work on destroying his reputation in 2011.

Filed under: idiots, newspapers on Monday, August 18th, 2014 by chrisbrooke | No Comments

“Expensive appendages to the science of robbery” 

So I spent part of the morning reading stuff by the eccentric eighteenth-century Welsh philosopher (and friend of Brissot) David Williams, as one does, in which he more or less calls for the Hanoverian political system to be replaced with something that looks quite a bit like what the Marxists later called democratic centralism. Anyway, I liked the rhetoric of this bit, towards the end of the sixth of his 1782 Letters on Political Liberty:

It will probably be said, that the revival of this mode of establishing political liberty would have all the effect of innovation; and that innovations, even on the most perfect principles, are hurtful, because they press on the prejudices of the people.

This is always the shallow pretence of political Jesuitism. The throne is daily innovating; while every step presses out the blood of the most industrious and excellent among the people. A standing army is an innovation against the prepossessions, habits, and judgement, of every independent man in the nation; and yet it has been established. Is it to be imagined, the people will object to the very little trouble attending to such an arrangement, as will afford them an intire security against the encroachments of the Crown, and the depredations of fluctuating parties in their legislature, who plunder them in succession? If they were to arm themselves slightly, they would also have a police on the best footing; and be perfectly secured against the collusions of thieves and thief-takers, watchmen, constables, church-wardens, overseers, trading justices, and the whole train of expensive appendages to the science of robbery.

Filed under: books, british politics, c18, royals on Monday, August 18th, 2014 by chrisbrooke | No Comments

“In 1994-95 Hannibal’s march on Rome was recreated, though using buses rather then elephants…” 

Josephine, over at the LRB blog.

Filed under: africana, friends and family, middle east on Sunday, August 17th, 2014 by chrisbrooke | No Comments

“Beaver Bombers” 

The National Geographic has written up the Great British Beaver Debate over here.

Filed under: beavers on Tuesday, August 5th, 2014 by chrisbrooke | No Comments

First World War Height Chart 

Earlier today I was thinking about the comparative heights of giant prehistoric penguins, British men, and Hazel Blears. And chewing over this topic naturally brought to mind the Chicago Sunday Tribune‘s presentation of the “Comparative Heights of the Men Who Guide Old World Destinies” from 25 June 1939, which, now tidied up and framed, hangs on our landing. And reflecting on that in turn made me think that I don’t think I’ve ever seen a height chart that considers the warlords of the Great War.

Well, I don’t have either the time or the skill with manipulating digital images to produce one, let alone a good one, but I have scratched around the web this evening, and here’s what I’ve come up with. Please note that any or all of this information may be quite inaccurate: it just means some website somewhere says this chap was this tall. (I couldn’t find information about any of the French I looked up.)

  • David Lloyd George 5’ 6”
  • Kaiser Wilhelm, 5′ 7″
  • Tsar Nicholas, 5′ 7″
  • Winston Churchill 5′ 8″
  • Woodrow Wilson 5′ 11″
  • Lord Kitchener 6’ 1”
  • Paul von Hindenburg 6’ 5”
Filed under: europe on Monday, August 4th, 2014 by chrisbrooke | 3 Comments

The Sleepwalkers 

I read Christopher Clark’s 2012 book, The Sleepwalkers, in the Spring earlier this year (here’s a link to Thomas Laqueur’s review in the LRB) and the centenary of the British declaration of war–which is where the book ends its narrative–seems a good day on which to recycle a couple of remarks and post them here.

I thought it was an excellent book, though I was a bit surprised by the title as I made my way through it. The imagery of sleep-walking led me to expect Clark to be arguing that the powers of Europe somehow drifted into a major conflict, without ever quite intending to. But what I was repeatedly struck by were the sheer number of quite extraordinarily belligerent actors that I encountered along the way, and I ended up a bit surprised that continental war didn’t break out much earlier than 1914. My favourite of these was Conrad von Hötzendorf, chief of the Austrian general staff, who in 1913 recommended war against Serbia to his superiors on no fewer than twenty-five occasions.

For general magnificence, though, it is French diplomat Paul Cambon takes the prize:

Underpinning Cambon’s exalted sense of self was the belief–shared by many of the senior ambassadors–that one did not merely represent France, one personified it. Though he was ambassador in London from 1898 until 1920, Cambon spoke not a word of English. During his meetings with [Foreign Secretary] Edward Grey (who spoke no French), he insisted every utterance be translated into French, including easily recognized words such as ‘yes’. He firmly believed–like many members of the French elite–that French was the only language capable of articulating rational thought and he objected to the foundation of French schools in Britain on the eccentric grounds that French people raised in Britain tended to end up mentally retarded.

Clark has now ended up as the new Regius Professor at Cambridge–well done him–which means that whereas a few years ago both the Oxbridge Regius chairs in History were held by people called R. Evans, now they are both held by Australians, with three out of these four straightforward Germanists, and the fourth a scholar of the history of Habsburg Europe.

Filed under: academics, cambridge, central europe, europe on Monday, August 4th, 2014 by chrisbrooke | 1 Comment

Penguin Height Charts 

The splendid Cath Levett, who does graphicksy things for tehgraun, recently produced this excellent height chart, which she called ‘possibly the most satisfying graphic I’ve ever produced’:

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This of course immediately reminded me of this earlier attempt at the same kind of thing, from The Times in 2007, which has featured before at the Virtual Stoa:

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Good height charts are terribly satisfying.

Filed under: animals, british politics, newspapers on Monday, August 4th, 2014 by chrisbrooke | No Comments

Podcasts, vel sim. 

Since I seem to have fallen back into a habit–goodness knows how long it will last–of posting here in a low-key way, here are three links to pages through which you can get to the audio files of talks I’ve given over the last few months and years that have found their way on-line, in case anyone is interested.

17 February 2011: ‘Why secular liberals need Roman Catholics (and Marxists)‘, a talk at ‘Republicanism and Religion: a colloquium in memory of Emile Perreau-Saussine’, Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge.

19 February 2014: ‘Towards a new, gendered history of property-owning democracy‘, a lunchtime Sussex University Lecture in Intellectual History.

15 May 2014: ‘Bees, Ants and Beavers in European Political Thought‘, an informal talk given to the King’s College Apicultural Society in Cambridge.

Filed under: academics, beavers, c18, c19, cambridge, elephants, france, friends and family on Monday, August 4th, 2014 by chrisbrooke | No Comments

Winch on conversation 

Last week I mostly sat at home, watched books by Donald Winch that I’d ordered online pop through the letterbox, and then started to read them. And today I’ve discovered that his 1995 Carlyle Lectures, ‘Secret Concatenations: Mandeville to Malthus’, are available on the web, thanks to the St Andrews Institute of Intellectual History. So that’s my Sunday afternoon sorted out.

This is from the opening discussion of the first lecture [pdf] as, following John Burrow, he presents a view of intellectual history as ‘eavesdropping on the conversations of the past’.

An attractive feature of conversations is that we can continue them at the point where our predecessors left them. The only restriction I would place on such freedom, speaking as an intellectual historian, is that the conversations should be between interlocutors who were genuinely aware of each other’s existence and arguments. This rules out those encounters in which the historian acts as ominiscient host at a kind of celestial cocktail party at which those invited only speak to one another through the intermediation of the host — indeed, can only speak through the host because they had no common language in life. I shall appear to break this rule in one respect only, namely by posing some counter-factual questions of my cast in some crucial instances. In other words, having established that a genuine conversation was taking place, I shall sometimes seek to reconstruct what their responses might have been when more direct evidence is unavailable.

Interesting conversations are usually free from the coercive dualisms that tend to be an occupational hazard of much intellectual history devoted to political thinking. Whigs and Tories have long since been replaced by debating teams bearing more sophisticated labels such as contractarians and anti-contractarians, liberals versus classical republicans, civic humanists versus natural jurisprudentialists, and so on — to mention only those dualisms that are current among students of the period and authors I shall be considering. Narratives that purport to be dealing with past social scientific conversations often attempt to enforce another powerful dichotomy — between positive and normative propositions, between statements of fact and statements of value or rights. As already hinted, one of the negative conclusions I would like to emerge from these lectures is that none of my cast was foolish enough to allow their conversations to be constricted by these dualisms. That is something we have done to them in retrospect and for our own purposes, taxonomic or ideological.

Filed under: academics, c18, c19, oxford on Sunday, August 3rd, 2014 by chrisbrooke | 1 Comment

Marx contra Parsons (Protestant, not Talcott) 

This week I’ve been reading a bit of Malthus (hence the earlier post about ostriches), and some of the nineteenth-century replies to Malthus, and this footnote from Capital is quite something.

It’s long, so I’ve stuck it over the fold.

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: books, c19, leftwingery, religion on Saturday, August 2nd, 2014 by chrisbrooke | No Comments
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