Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Where the Elite Meet to Aesthete (part the third)

In the manuscripts room
in the National Library of Scotland

like decorations in a hotel
the complete 200 years
of the Quarterly Review
are collected in volumes
on open shelves in the manuscripts room
published by the Murrays
The oldest volume, collecting
the numbers
For February and May 1809
was itself published in 1827

So the second draft of history
(newspapers are the first draft)
became itself history
quite soon

The Murrays were great collectors of themselves...

So in that very first collection
what did Murray think that people would be talking about?

What does he lead off with?

Current events. This is wartime
let us not forget

"as the intelligence from Spain is daily increasing in volume,
as well as in importance
we are glad to avail ourselves of these materials
while they are of a manageable bulk
and whilst facts are too recent and notorious to be disputed (!)
...we are almost tempted to doubt whether
we are reading events of real history.
A king surreptitiously removed
from the centre of his dominions...
directed to abdicate his throne in favour of an alien upstart
...Even those who were most familiarized
with the singular caprices of Buonoparte's despotism
...had by no means expected...
such a theatrical and fanciful display
of his unbounded power"

Byron was in Spain then,
his sympathies divided
It was the theatrical and fanciful
he liked about Napoleon.

"It has been contended
by one class of writers
that the Spaniards have forfeited
their whole claim to the sympathy of free nations,
by making the restoration of a foolish prince
the ultimate object of all their efforts...
that now they will be totally subdued
and trampled on by Buonoparte
and will deserve their fate...
Now this is to argue that Spaniards
should act and feel like Englishmen,
which is not quite reasonable"

This is a conversation ABOUT conversation
...It is the argument in England that is interesting...
to the writer and the reader
and if Spaniards fall short
of the clarity and courage of the English
it is only to be expected

But the value of this writing NOW
is that it reminds us that history
is a succession of present tenses.

As 1809 begins, the retreat from Moscow,
Waterloo, Napoleon's exile in Saint Helena
are unguessable. Napoleon is a terror,
a fact of nature, the man of his age.
For some, like Byron, a hero because a villain.
For some, like Beethoven, a hero
then a villain,
for the English Tory, monarchist Quarterly Review
he is "Napoleon, the boldest, the most politic and the wealthiest
monarch of his time."
They hate him, but he might win.
England might have to come to terms.
His occupation of Europe may be a regrettable fact
but it is a fact for the moment
for practical men to negotiate.

As now, in the British Expeditionary Force
which has been sent to Spain

"under Sir John Moore and Sir David Baird,
we confess ourselvers unable to discover
any practicable and determinate object...
we question the wisdom or policy of the measure
The victories of Buonoparte
have been great and rapid
and he will and must pursue his blow"

Like a London Review of Books Article today
about Afghanistan, Iraq...
Except, being a Tory Paper
The Quarterly Review lacks guilt.

"But it is far easier to over-run a country
than to secure the conquest"

Just as this history is made present
by the writer not knowing the eventual result,
so he himself calls on history
to assure us that French Hegemony is doomed

And uses, amazingly, the example
of the Scottish Wars of Independence against England to prove

"Armies may be defeated by superior discipline or by superior numbers;
generals may be corrupted;
but that the whole active population of a great country
in which the strongest passions of the human heart
have been excited almost to madness
can be terrified into quiet and permanent submission
is, we think,
extremely improbable"

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