Bishop Notices That Wretched Hymn “I Vow To Thee My Country” Is Rubbish

Over here.

UPDATE [13.8.2004]: Four arguments have been made against the Bish, one by Backword Dave, two by the Guardian editorialists and the fourth by someone in the Daily Telegraph.

Backword Dave says that he can’t see the racism to which Bishop was alluding. Note first, though, that the word “racist” is the Guardian‘s, in the report linked to above, both in the headline and in the report, and that the Bish — on what’s given to us there — doesn’t link the question of race directly to the song (which would be silly) but only to “growing English nationalism, which he said was stoked by football fervour, and ‘a wish for a white-dominated simple world of Englishness’.”

The first reason presented by the Guardianistas can be dismissed. In fact, it’s precisely because the Holst tune is such a good tune that it needs to be saved from association with this wretched lyric so that people — perhaps not in our generation, but in a luckier one to come — can enjoy The Planets again, free from involuntarily making mental associations with Tories waving flags.

The Guardian‘s second reason is that Spring-Rice, author of these words, was no jingo, did some good things and had some fine opinions. But this is the kind of occasion when we can go for the ball without necessarily attacking the man, and call for the song to be retired without seeking to diminish the historical reputation of the Poet Spring-Rice.

The Telegraph writes nonsense, especially when it points to the unquestioning patriotism of the first verse and remarks that “that is fine, stirring stuff in the context of the First World War, when the hymn was written”. Well, some of us might beg to differ.

Incidentally, Dave, I don’t think the “rebellious Scots to crush” verse was ever officially part of the British national anthem. It’s a fun verse, though.

An Editor(ial Board Member) Writes…

PRESS RELEASE: Despite disinformation / misinformation (variously rubbish or nonsense) appearing on the Virtual so-called Stoa, reliable reports were today circulating on the internet that the splendid journal Imprints has just made its millionth sale. Seasoned observers and investment analysts were predicting a bid for the niche publication from the Murdoch empire, although Thailand’s Prime Minister Thaksin Shiniwatra is believed to be preparing a $65m bid, and Redrow Homes millionaire Steve Morgan is waiting in the wings….

Perhaps this manages to defy exclusive-and-exhaustive categories, qualifying as simultaneously splendid, rubbish and nonsense (much as baking a halfway decent cake with a friend can in certain circumstances count as being triply labour, work and action according to the classical Arendtian schema from The Human Condition). Martin? Any thoughts?

S / R / N

In comments to this post below, there’s disagreement about whether anything can simultaneously be both rubbish and nonsense. I maintain that it can’t: that something can only be rubbish if it is coherent, and anything incoherent is nonsense. That’s how I learned this vocab from my friend Martin, and I’m sticking to my guns.

On the other hand, I see this morning that Lenin agreed with my critics, and that in Chapter Six of Trotsky’s classic work, The Stalin School of Falsification, he is quoted as saying that something was “nonsense and pathetic rubbish” and that “it is a shame and disgrace to waste time on it”. So if there are any readers of the Stoa who are happy to let some of the Great Bearded Leftists of history decide technical points like this one, they at least can be satisfied that the dispute has been settled.

While on the subject of GBLs, another letter from Fred to Karl which deploys this valuable terminology in abundance is this one, written on 23 May 1862.

The Meme Spreads… Backwards in Time

Apparently Karl and Fred were no strangers to the splendid / rubbish / nonsense triad:

Paris, 18 September 1846
11, rue de l’arbre secDear Marx,

A whole lot of things I wanted to write about privately have found their way into the business letter because that was the one I wrote first. No matter if the others read the rubbish for once.

Hitherto I have rather dreaded setting to work on the extracts from Feuerbach. Here in Paris the stuff strikes one as utterly insipid. But now that I’ve got the book [Feuerbach, Das Wesen der Religion] at home, I shall apply myself to it at the earliest opportunity. Weydemeyer�s sweet nonsense is touching. The fellow first declares that he wants to draft a manifesto in which he pronounces us blackguards and then expresses the hope that this won�t give rise to personal differences. Even in Germany such a thing would only be possible on the Hanoverian-Prussian border…

But L�ning�s rubbish is the most ludicrous of all. One can almost visualise the fellow as he daringly looses a hypocritical turd into his trousers…

Yesterday evening, when I was with the workers here, I read the �London Address� already in print. Trash. They address themselves to the �people�, i.e. the presumed proletarians in Schleswig-Holstein which is haunted exclusively by loutish, Low-German peasants and guildish Straubingers. They have learnt from the English this nonsense, this total disregard for actual circumstances, this inability to comprehend an historical development. Instead of answering the question, they want the �people� � who, in their sense of the word, don�t exist at all there � to disregard it and behave peacefully and passively; it doesn�t occur to them that the bourgeoisie continues to do as it likes…

I did Proudhon a really crying injustice in my business letter. Since there was no room in this last letter, I must make amends here. For I believed he had perpetrated a trifling nonsense, a nonsense within the bounds of sense. Yesterday the matter came up again and was discussed at great length, and it was then I learned that this new nonsense is in truth wholly unbounded nonsense. [Marx explains why this is nonsense in a few lines, and then summarises:] By dint of proletarian savings, and by waiving the profit and interest on their capital, these people intend, for the present, to buy up the whole of France, no more nor less, and later, perhaps, the rest of the world as well. Was ever more splendid plan devised, and if you want to perform a tour de force, what quicker way than to coin five franc pieces out of silver moonshine? And the workers here, fools that they are � the Germans, I mean � believe this rubbish, they who can�t keep six sous in their pockets to visit a marchand de vin on the evenings of their meetings, propose to buy up toute la belle France with their savings. Rothschild and company are mere dabblers compared with these accapareurs. Gr�n has so confused the fellows that the most nonsensical platitude makes more sense to them than the simplest fact adduced for the purpose of economic argument. It is disgraceful that one should still have to pit oneself against such barbaric nonsense… But one must be patient, and I shall not let the fellows go until I have driven Gr�n from the field and have swept the cobwebs from their brains. The only fellow clear-headed enough to see through the whole nonsense is our Junge who was in Brussels. …

What is everyone doing there?


Yes, that’s Fred to Karl, 18 September 1846, full text available here. And for those of you without internet access, it’s also in Vol.38 of the Marx-Engels Collected Works, pp.67-73.

The Meme Spreads

Chris Lightfoot (scroll down a bit) divides the world’s contents into what’s splendid, what’s rubbish and what’s nonsense. Good man.

As a reward, I’ll follow the request near the top of his main page and mention the Mistaken Identity event at the LSE on 19 May, which is Privacy International / No2ID’s public debate on the Government’s ID card plans. Why not go along, if you’re in the area?

UPDATE [10/5/2004]: And still it spreads

Breaking the Silence

Apologies for a bit of silence. The computer system here crashed horribly on Tuesday, what with the rubbish Sasser worm or whatever it’s called, and things have been busy for other reasons, too…

… And we missed a bunch of good Dead Socialists while I was quiescent: the implausible trio of E. Nesbit, Tito and Irving Howe… (There’s always next year. And last year.)


The Red Sox were swept by the Texas Rangers over the last few days, boo hiss. Stupid National League rules, no doubt. Or something.

In other Red Sox news, however, I’m pleased to report that while there are far too many eejits wearing NYY caps around Oxford, which is something that me growl at strangers in the street, Red Sox caps are clearly in second place in this town, with the rest nowhere, and this is probably a Good Thing.

Hurrah for the NHS

I don’t often have much contact with hospitals, being a generally healthy person surrounded by other generally healthy people, and I haven’t been down to the John Radcliffe Hospital since going there to be hit on the knee with a rubber hammer late in 1993 after very mild concussion playing rugby, but I spent almost all of Friday night — from 12.30 to 5.30am — down there in A&E, and without exception all the doctors and nurses were entirely splendid, and possessed of that marvellous and somewhat morbid sense of humour that’s probably essential if you’re working amidst so much illness and injury. So hurrah for the NHS in general and the JR in particular. It’s a fine, fine hospital.

[I should add that I wasn’t the one on the receiving end of the A, and the E is over and everything’s basically fine, in order to forestall any potential friendly-but-concerned enquiries.]

Splendid Things

I’m in a very good mood at the moment, so I’ll contine to praise things that are splendid without worrying about what else might be either rubbish or nonsense. [1] Over at his new url Anthony Wells reminds us of the history of the various pantomime animals that enlivened the 1997 election campaign. (Best pantomime animal ever: the pantomime walrus briefly onscreen in Ingmar Bergman’s Magic Flute.) [2] Norm takes apart a lamentable page of argument in the Socialist Review; [3] The Fafblog.