Saturday, February 27, 2021

BOOK: Giovanni Pontano, "Dialogues" (Vols. 2 and 3)

Giovanni Gioviano Pontano: Dialogues. Vol. 2: Actius. Edited and translated by Julia Haig Gaisser. The I Tatti Renaissance Library, Vol. 91. Harvard University Press, 2020. 9780674237186. xi + 463 pp.

Giovanni Gioviano Pontano: Dialogues. Vol. 3: Aegidius and Asinus. Translated by Julia Haig Gaisser. The I Tatti Renaissance Library, Vol. 92. Harvard University Press, 2020. 9780674248465. xi + 264 pp.

Eight years after the first ITRL volume of Pontano's dialogues, the remaining two volumes have finally been published — better late than never :)


The second volume contains just one dialogue, Actius, which is thus much longer than the two dialogues we saw in the first volume. Apart from that you might say it has much in common with Antonius. The characters are Pontano's humanist friends, who together with him constituted a kind of “academy”, though perhaps this term suggests a more formal institution than this really was (the translator of the present volume consistently calls it a “sodality”, which seems to be little more than a fancy Latin term for ‘a group of friends’).

There is pretty much no plot, and frankly very little dialogue; it is more like a series of monologues. The friends take turns delivering long and learned speeches which they must surely have prepared in advance, and the result in many ways resembles less a normal conversation between people than a formal session of some learned society, with papers being read and lectures being given. The topics do not change quite so frequently and wildly as they do in Antonius. The dialogue is named after Actius Sincerus, the academic pseudonym of the poet Jacopo Sannazaro (we had a volume of his poetry in the ITRL a few years ago; see my post about it), who does the largest share of the talking in this dialogue.

I wonder how Pontano's friends felt about appearing as characters in his dialogue, characters which (I presume) deliver Pontano's opinions that may or may not have agreed with what that particular friend really thought. Well, judging by the introduction that one of these friends wrote for the first printed edition of Pontano's dialogues (which he prepared for publication after Pontano's death), they seemed to like it (vol. 2, p. 341–9).

Well, without further ado, let's have a look at the various topics discussed in this dialogue:

§1–4: a short comical scene as an introduction, involving two peasants that appear before a notary to transfer the title of a house from one to the other. Much of the humour here seems to be is supposed to be derived from word-play, ridiculous personal names and the like; but I didn't find it very funny. One of the peasants is so uneducated that when he hears, in the text of the contract, something about buying the house “for himself, his children, [. . .] with the entire posterity”, he thinks this refers to the back part of the house and keeps insisting that he wants to buy the anterity as well. At the end of the scene, Pontano's humanist friends show up as witnesses to the transaction, at which point the dialogue turns into a learned discussion between them and all pretence to a plot is hastily abandoned.

§5–10: Actius remembers his late friend, Ferrante Gennaro (a Neapolitan diplomat), who appeared to him in a dream and told him that the soul after death yearns to be reunited with the body.

§13–18: various Latin usages that some pedants object to, but that actually have plenty of support in the work of important Roman authors.

§19–21: dreams and where they come from; they are a mechanism whereby an external mind (mens) provides an individual person's mind (animus) with information, prophecies etc. (a view “of dubious orthodoxy”, n. 61 on p. 404).

§22–56: a long section about the various sound effects in (Latin) poetry, especially rhythm but also effects arising from a juxtaposition of sounds, either pleasing repetition of the same sounds or syllables (this includes a discussion of alliteration, a term apparently coined by Pontano himself; see n. 233 on p. 419), or rough clusters of harsh consonants if that's the effect that the poet wants to go for.

Pontano gives countless examples, especially from Virgil, in which we can supposedly observe these things; but sadly, I was able to profit very little from this section, and overall found it much more boring than I had hoped. Knowing no Latin, I could notice some of the repetitions of sounds, though I'm not sure if they really have such a big effect on how the line sounds as Pontano claims; but maybe my sense of these things just isn't finely-tuned enough.

But when he talks about rhythm, he loses me completely. I guess that the problem is that in Latin poetry the metre was based on the length of syllables, but besides this words also had stress, so the poet had, as it were, two (somewhat) independent things to play with, and could use this to achieve a certain rhythm. But since I don't know any Latin, I had no idea which vowels are long, couldn't feel the metre of the verse, and could make only the most tentative guesses as to which vowels are stressed.

If there really is any rhythm in the examples Pontano gives, I was unfortunately not in the position to notice it or appreciate it; and the English translations of his examples convey (with a very few exceptions) only the meaning of the originals, not the sound effects that may be present in them.

It also didn't help that Pontano often speaks of rhthym in very impressionistic terms, as something that can be ‘weak’ or ‘strengthened’ and the like, and clearly has many quite determined opinions along the lines of ‘a word of x syllables, in the y-th foot of the line, does/doesn't sound good’. Such statements, without any explanation of why they are supposed to be true, are of little use to someone like me, but would probably be interesting to someone that knows Latin. But I would love to read something about this topic with examples in Slovenian or English, where I'd have some chance of seeing what's going on.

§57–60: miscellaneous Latin etymologies. They don't all sound quite as wacky as some of the others that we've encountered in the ITRL series over the years, but I'm still not quite sure how much to trust them. For instance, there's the idea that a root am ‘round’ is the basis of such diverse words as hamus ‘hook’, annus ‘year’ “because it returns in a circle”, amnis ‘stream’ “because the courses of rivers are usually full of turns”, anulus ‘ring’ and anus ‘anus’ from their shape, anus ‘old woman’ because “an old person's posture bends forward [. . .] and becomes curved” (§59).

§61–8: a comparison of history and poetry. Nowadays historians probably think of themselves as doing some sort of social science, but in ancient times, as well as in Pontano's day, one gets the impression that history was thought of as more of a branch of literature; the historian and the poet both “undertake the narration of matters far removed from the business at hand” (p. 207), the difference is only in whether they are real or fictional. There is also a difference in style: “history is purer in style, poetry more extravagant” (p. 199); he continues with a funny analogy: the difference between the style of history and that of poetry is like the difference between a sober matron and a heavily made-up girl :))). Pontano gives a number of examples from Livy and Sallust of historical writing with a literary, even poetic, quality (§64, 67).

Incidentally, there's a funny instance of anachronism in translation on p. 229: one of the participants in the dialogue admonishes another by saying “I am certainly not going to allow you range any farther, Altilio, and waltz around [exultare] outside the prescribed limits”. And of course you can't help thinking ‘wait a minute, this dialogue was written in the 15th century, and the waltz was invented circa 1800...’ The OED's earliest citation of this word in English is from 1781, and Byron wrote a satirical poem about this new, shocking, lewd form of entertainment in 1812, when it was introduced into England. Thus seeing it here in a 15th-century context is definitely a bit jarring.

§69–72: again a section about etymology, this time mostly about words that emerged as contractions of earlier forms: e.g. vinum ‘wine’ is supposedly a contraction of vitinum, derived from vitis ‘vine’ (p. 239). He is particularly interested in words containing x, which he says is often from an earlier ss (p. 231); this surprised me as I had the impression that the change usually goes in the opposite direction, e.g. we see that Latin x developed into Italian ss, and likewise for other ‘hard to pronounce’ combinations of a stop and another consonant (ct and pt turned into tt).

§73–88: the discussion of historical writing is resumed. The historian should of course be truthful and unbiased, and his style should be neither too long-winded nor so terse as to be obscure. Poliziano recommends an interesting technique that he calls “speed” (celeritas), which he describes as “a short and precise summing up or enumerating and combining of several things and words at the same time” (§76); he gives a few examples of this and they do seem to move the narrative forward at a very lively pace.

He gives some oddly specific advice on what things a historian should write about, and in what order (§79–84) — oddly specific in that it seems to assume that you're Sallust or Livy and are writing about ancient Roman politics and warfare :) When reporting on speeches made by generals before battle, you should include “not only the things reported to have been said by commanders but also what they might have said” (§82) — a bit too speculative for my taste, but unsurprising if you remember that they saw history as almost a branch of literature.

But what I found even more disappointing is that Pontano specifically enjoins the historian to “assume the role of a judge, to praise, condemn, admire, disparage, pity” (§85) — but surely that is precisely the last thing I want a historian to do. Passing judgment is cheap and easy and I can do it myself if I want to; what I expect from the historian is the part that I can't do myself, namely to figure out what really happened.

§89–94: an interesting comparison of the different goals of poetry and rhetoric. The orator, Pontano says, may be satisfied even if he does merely a solid job; but a poet seeks to win admiration, and will be a failure if he produces a work of merely average quality. Historians borrow some elements of a poetic style to make their writing more elegant (§93). “[O]f all learned men it was the poets who appeared first” (§94), and the earliest ancient philosophers and lawgivers followed their example by writing in verse.


This dialogue is named after Egidio (or Giles) of Viterbo, a learned monk who however does not appear in it directly and is only mentioned briefly near the beginning and end (§6–11, 66–7).

§1–5: the dialogue opens with two visitors, Suardino and Peto, who come to Naples to meet Pontano and attend some meetings of his circle. Later a number of Pontano's friends will also appear in the conversation, though the details of their arrival are left unspecified.

After some preliminary chitchat, the conversation turns to a recently deceased preacher, friar Mariano, and his successor, Egidio (§6). Pontano recounts a short sermon by Egidio (§7–11). This sermon confirmed my impression that I just don't like sermons as a genre. It proceeded mostly by blind assertion, free association, and vigorous gesticulation, never gave any real arguments for its claims, and obviously relied on the assumption that the audience already agrees with everything in it. This makes sense, of course — sermons are meant to be heard by a congregation in a church, after all. It just means that there's not much point in a non-believer like me reading them.

§12–16: on the immortality of the soul; Pontano claims that the belief in it was the original and more or less universal state of affairs, while the idea that the soul might be mortal is a comparatively recent innovation by a few foolish philosophical schools.

§17–18: on the recent death of Gabriele Altilio, who then appeared in a vision to a certain monk, enjoining Pontano and his friends to use their learning for good religious purposes rather than for “trifles and silly stories”. Later we also hear Altilio's last words (§37).

§19–23: Pontano talks about the origin of oracles: “heavenly powers know what things they will set in motion in the future” (§21).

§26–29: a discussion on where a didactic poet should begin his instruction. For example, Virgil, in a section about beekeeping, starts by teaching how to choose a site for your bee-hive; but in a section about farming, he starts not by teaching how to choose a location of your field, but jumps straight to ploughing. Pontano's discussion of this apparent inconsistency struck me as rather pointless — as if there was any need to justify a poet's random choices in matters like this. He observes, reasonably enough, that where the poet begins depends on what he assumes the audience to know already (e.g. how to choose the location of your field; §28).

§30–34: an interesting comparison of the pagan ideas about Elysium and christian ideas about heaven. Except for the presence of god in the latter (§34), Pontano describes them in such a way that they appear quite similar. In both systems there was the idea that the soul is a sort of prisoner in the body (§30), is released after death, and goes to a better place if the person took good care of it in life.

§35–6: they briefly remember their friend Actius (Jacopo Sannazaro), who has followed his employer, King Federico, into exile in France. Pontano includes a poem composed by Actius on his departure.

§38–43: Pontano's friend Cariteo announces that he now follows Hermes Trismegistus rather than Plato (§38) — in other words, his fondness for mystical neoplatonic arglebargle has intensified :)) Somewhat more seriously: his reason seems to be that Hermes is even better compatible with christianity. Discussing how god was able to create the universe from nothing, Cariteo's explanation is that it wasn't really from nothing, since everything was already encompassed in the “Word of God”... (§41).

§44–45: an interesting if somewhat hair-splitting terminological discussion about two closely related words, carentia (lack) and privatio (privation), both of which were previously used in §40. Poliziano says that some philosophers inappropriately use the latter one instead of the former, and that privatio is suitable only when something has been actively deprived of something, rather than when it already lacked that something to begin with. It was interesting to see that English has borrowed so many Latin words that much of this discussion almost makes sense in English as well :) Incidentally, it seems that the word private is also from the same root (p. 77).

§46–57: a discussion on the validity of astrology. Pontano tries to strike a middle course between total credulity (like that of Marsilio Ficino) and total skepticism (like that of Pico della Mirandola). He suggests that the stars do have some influence, especially over the material world, the elements and humours in the human body — but at the same time people still have free will and it would be foolish to expect that astrology can predict the future exactly.

§58–65: more terminological discussions. Pontano complains that people inappropriately use dispositio (“arrangement” or disposition) to refer to a person's natural inclinations or aptitudes, but in his view that word is only appropriate for something that has been deliberately arranged in some order, not for a natural aptitude (§59); he suggests the word habilitas (“ability”) instead (§60). I think his complaints, both here and earlier, make a lot of sense, but I wonder how successful he was with them. Unfortunately, when enough people misuse language in a certain way, their misuse becomes the new standard. It seems that even a dead language wasn't entirely immune to this problem.


This dialogue is quite unlike the previous ones, and felt like a breath of fresh air. There is very little of the pedantic monologues on obscure philological subjects here, and a lot more actual dialogue. If the previous ‘dialogues’ read more like thinly-veiled academic treatises, this one felt more like actual fiction, so that I'm almost wondering if I should put a spoiler warning here before I summarize its contents. And if the previous dialogues are somewhat strait-laced, this one is just plain bizarre, as if the author had kissed all sense and sanity goodbye and embarked for one last voyage aboard the good ship Fancy.

§1–10: news comes to Naples that the war between the king of Naples and the pope is over, to which it seems that Pontano's work as a diplomat had also contributed very substantially (§4). But Pontano does not appear directly in this part of the dialogue; we see things from the perspective of unnamed random people, a traveller and an innkeeper, the latter of which is of course very happy because the peace will be good for his business (§2, 5–6). A group of Irish pilgrims also appears in the inn (§7, 10), though they don't participate in the dialogue. This all feels fairly whimsical, as does the whole dialogue — random unexpected things keep happening out of nowhere, for no obvious reason and without developing into anything obviously significant for the story as a whole. I'm sure there are people who like that sort of fiction, but I'm not really one of them.

Incidentally, it seems that, despite his efforts as a diplomat, Pontano couldn't resist one last barb at the pope's expense, and, pointing out that the pope himself has a son and a daughter, suggests mischievously that this is “a miraculous proof of the Christian religion”: “Indeed, if little grandchildren are born from God, doesn't it perhaps follow that Christ himself also came forth from a woman's womb?” (§10) I expected that the pope in question would be Rodrigo Borgia, but it turns out to be his immediate predecessor Innocent VIII (n. 26 on p. 206).

§11–18: the dialogue now finally switches to its main subject. Asinus, of course, is the Latin word for an ass or donkey, and it turns out that Pontano has evidently gone mad in his dotage, he now has a pet ass, decks it out in all sorts of finery and rides it around the town (§11). Three of his friends, whom we already encountered in earlier dialogues, hear about this and decide to visit Pontano at his villa, about one hour's walk uphill from Naples, to see if they can bring him to his senses. He had still been sane during his recent time as a diplomat in Rome, at any rate (§16–17).

§19–20: a short scene between Pontano and his steward Faselius (a ‘speaking name’, as often with minor characters in Pontano's dialogues: it's from phaselus, ‘bean’; n. 42 on p. 208). They discuss the grafting of plants and disagree on how much importance the phase of the moon has on it — another example of a whimsical, unexpected change of topic.

§22–26: things are getting increasingly ridiculous. In this scene, Pontano and his stableboy are brushing and petting the ass and listening, with rapt delight, to the animal's braying and farting... and more: “after great thunderclaps, great showers of rain; could it have been done mor egracefully and more to the rhythm? O Arabian wares, perfumes of Saba!” (§22). But the ass proves to have a bad temper, it kicks the boy (§24) and eventually Pontano as well (§26). This is what finally brings him to his senses and makes him realize how foolish he has been.

§27–29: the steward announces he is going to get married, and he and Pontano quite happily come to an arrangement whereby, in exchange for money and various gifts, Pontano will be a... third party to their marriage. The bride is apparently young enough that her pubic hair doesn't grow yet (§29), which sounds like it would raise a few eyebrows in some quarters nowadays (and other things in other quarters perhaps :]). But I don't judge, and I think we can all be glad that at any rate the frisky old devil hasn't tried to screw the donkey :)

§30–32: Pontano's friends, having observed the last several scenes from hiding, now emerge and make no allusion to his recent madness, being apparently content just to see that he is cured of it. Indeed Pontano himself acts as if nothing had happened (“I have recently contemplated affairs of the heavens in this solitude”, §32), and the dialogue thus ends on a happy if somewhat sudden note.

Well, this was certainly a wild ride. I'm not sure what to make of the whole thing. The translator's introduction suggests (vol. 3, p. x) that this dialogue might be “an allegory in which Pontano uses the ass to inveigh against some ungrateful and powerful person”, but it's not clear who that might be. And even if this were true, there's still so many other things in the dialogue that make no sense at all (e.g. the sudden shifts of topic, lurching whimsically into all sorts of random directions) and that show Pontano in a bad light (his insane infatuation with the ass, not to mention his indecent arrangement with the steward and his wife). The dialogue was written late in Pontano's life, and perhaps by then he had simply decided that he had, to put it in a vigorous modern idiom, run out of fucks to give.

In any case, the zaniness of this last dialogue helps conclude the whole series on a pleasant note, after the middle three dialogues which could sometimes be a little on the boring side. But from a certain perspective, all these dialogues are interesting to read, because they are quite unlike anything we usually encounter today. Nobody mixes fiction with academic elements in their writings nowadays, or writes philological treatises in the form of dialogues. I'm not saying that they should, of course — clearly this is the sort of thing that is only viable when an academic discipline is in its infancy. So Pontano's dialogues are an example of something that we probably won't see any more of today, and reading them is a little like visiting a museum to see a fossil skeleton of some extinct animal that you won't see in nature any more; something new and different, even if not super exciting.


These two volumes also mark a little milestone for me: for the first time since the ITRL series was started almost 20 years ago, I have caught up with it, and read all the volumes that have been published so far. Woo hoo :) Now I plan to go back and re-read three early volumes that don't have their posts on this blog yet, because I had initially read them before starting the blog. So, stay tuned.

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Sunday, December 20, 2020

BOOK: Guy Endore, "The Werewolf of Paris"

Guy Endore: The Werewolf of Paris. New York: Pegasus Crime, 2012. 9781605984575. 294 pp.

I had never heard of this author or this book before noticing it by chance in a bookshop; I was intrigued by the publisher's blurb on the back cover, which says that this work occupies a similar position in werewolf literature as Dracula does in vampire literature. Having read little or nothing about werewolves before, I naturally couldn't help being curious about this novel.

There are one or two parallels with Dracula, but also a few significant differences. Dracula, famously, does not tell the story in a straightforward fashion but reveals things gradually through a series of letters, diary entries, newspaper articles and the like. The Werewolf of Paris likewise doesn't tell the story in an entirely straightforward manner, although it doesn't go as far as to be an epistolary novel like Dracula is. It is built around the conceit that the author, writing in the 1930s (the novel was first published in 1933), happened to come across an old manuscript from the 1870s, written by a little-known political pamphleteer as an unsolicited legal brief in the trial of a young soldier accused of lycantrophy. The novel, then, is Endore's expanded presentation of this fictional manuscript, with additional bits of historical background and even a few footnotes referring to old newspapers or books. [For example, Gayot de Pitaval, the author of an early collection of detective stories, mentioned here on p. 42, really existed.]

On the other hand, Dracula, as far as I remember it (but it has been a very long time since I've read it; though I also listened it to it in audiobook form more recently), is very much a product of the Victorian age (it appeared in 1897); it was quite clear what is good and what is evil in that world, it was also quite clear that good would ultimately win, and if you wanted to shock or titillate the reader, it didn't take very much to do so. The Werewolf of Paris, by contrast, is clearly the product of a much more modern world, in which the former certainties about good and evil are a good deal less certain, and where you need to be a good deal rougher to shock the reader.

Thus the book begins with a historical chapter about two neighbouring noble families, the Pitamonts and the Pitavals, engaged in bitter rivalry. One of the former murders two of the latter, but gets caught and imprisoned an an oubliette, a small underground dungeon where he slowly goes mad over the decades, howling like a wolf and being fed on hunks of raw meat that his captors throw into his dungeon from an opening in the ceiling (there we see the lupine element make its appearance for the first time!). This story has a grim ending with a curious mixture of the modern and the medieval: both families go bankrupt and their castles get repossessed by bankers; as one of his last acts before being evicted, the old Pitaval puts poison in the final portion of raw meat for his old Pitamont prisoner, and shortly afterwards throws the key of the oubliette to the prisoner's widow.

The story then moves to early-1850s Paris, a turbulent time not long after the revolutionary year of 1848. We are introduced to Mme. Didier, a relatively well-off widow, her nephew Aymar, and her young servant girl Josephine. The latter gets molested by a corrupt priest named Father Pitamont. In what we would now probably recognize as a none-too-surprising psychological response to this traumatic experience, she starts offering herself to seemingly every man with five minutes to spare, of which Aymar himself is also quite happy to take advantage. Nevertheless, when she gets pregnant, nobody seems to have any doubt that the child is the priest's. Mme. Didier complains to the bishop rather than to the police, with the result that the priest gets off with merely being transferred to a different parish (p. 48). Wishing to avoid scandal, she lets Josephine keep the baby, which is to be passed off as Josephine's child by a fictional husband who is now at sea (p. 72).

There are many odd things about the baby, little Bernard, from the start, such as that he was born on Christmas Day and that his palms and eyebrows are unusually hairy (pp. 61–4, 74–5). After Mme. Didier's death, Aymar moves to the countryside, keeps employing Josephine and helps her with raising Bertrand. Gradually we see more and more signs of his lupine nature. A chance event reveals to Bertrand that he has a taste for animal blood (p. 106). He seems to be anaemic, which Aymar tries to cure by feeding him raw meat (p. 114; the latter seems to be something of a recurring element in this novel). He has nightmares in which he dreams of running around like a wolf, slaughtering sheep and the like. Sure enough, local sheep are being found dead, clearly by a wolf, and when a hunter manages to injure the animal, Bertrand wakes up injured in the same way next morning (p. 103). Aymar takes to studying werewolf literature and keeping Bertrand locked up at night, often hearing odd scratchings and scufflings from inside his room.

We see Bernard's tastes progress to human blood and human flesh. Travelling to a nearby town for a school examination, he visits a brothel and leaves a prostitute badly injured with his bites (p. 124). He digs up a recent grave to feed on the dead man's flesh (p. 132). Finally his mother helps him escape from his room so he could go to Paris, ostensibly with a view to studying medicine. On the way he wakes up in a forest next to a partly eaten corpse of an old friend who happened to be travelling to Paris by the same route that day (p. 140).

Aymar travels to Paris as well, hoping to find Bertrand and put an end to his crimes. But by then it's 1870, the Franco-Prussian war, the Siege of Paris, and soon after that the Commune, and the whole place is something of a chaotic mess. Bertrand having changed his name (p. 241), Aymar is unable to track him down for a long time, and the most he can do is keep an eye out for newspaper accounts of crimes of a type by now all too familiar: desecration of fresh graves, and the occasional murder with a dash of cannibalism.

Bertrand joins the National Guard and falls in love with Sophie, the young daughter of a rich banker, whose life seems to have been something of a golden cage so far and to whom a relationship with someone like Bertrand, a rough and poor soldier fresh from the provinces, is probably a chance to feel the sort of intense emotions that have previously been missing from her life. Bertrand, for his part, seems to hope that love can cure him, and when Sophie learns more about his condition, she lets him make cuts in her skin and suck her blood, hoping thereby to assuage his bloodlust enough to keep him from committing crimes (pp. 231, 237); but he keeps finding himself yearning that he could rip her throat in true wolf fashion.

Their story comes to an end in the final days of the Paris Commune, which is being suppressed by the bourgeois government of Versailles in an orgy of fire and blood. Bertrand, finally unable to resist his lupine urges, tries to murder a soldier for his flesh and blood, but fails and gets arrested instead. Learning about this, Aymar files a document explaining the whole thing, hoping to convince the court that Bertrand really is a werewolf and must not be released. But in a cruel irony of fate, the revolutionary tribual of the Commune, a cangaroo court which has condemned so many people to death on the flimsiest pretenses and the emptiest of charges, lets Bertrand live, on the logic that they are on the side of modernity, of science, of progress, and take no stock in medieval superstition and religious nonsense, a category which clearly includes the whole phenomenon of werewolves (p. 246). Bertrand, in their eyes, is merely insane and will be committed to a state asylum. Sophie eventually commits suicide. Aymar gets Bertrand transferred to a private asylum, hoping that he will be treated better there; but he is in fact being treated much worse, the sadistic staff beat him and feed him raw meat (!), and then drug him heavily before Aymar's visits to that he is unable to complain (p. 278). After some time he escapes through a window and commits suicide by jumping off the roof.

There is no happy ending here, only a sad one. In Dracula you could close the book glad that good has triumphed over evil, but here you can only conclude that there was never much good to begin with, and it certainly can't be said to have triumphed. As Aymar, who has been vaguely involved in revolutionary activism as early as 1848, surveys the carnage with which the bourgeois regime of Versailles is suppressing the Commune, with far greater bloodshed and cruelty than any that the Commune had itself previously perpetrated, he cannot help wondering as to who the real werewolves are (pp. 263–4): “The Commune shot fifty-seven from the prison of La Roquette. Versailles retaliated with nineteen hundred. To that comparison add this one. The whole famous Reign of Terror in fifteen months guillotined 2,596 aristos. The Versaillists executed 20,000 before their firing squads in one week. Do these figures represent the comparative efficiency of guillotine and modern rifle, or the comparative cruelty of upper and lower class mobs?/ Bertrand, it now seemed to Aymar, was but a mild case. What was a werewolf who had killed a couple of prostitutes, who had dug up a few corpses, compared with these bands of tigers slashing at each other with daily increasing ferocity! ‘And there'll be worse,’ he said, and again he had that marvelous rising of the heart. Instead of thousands, future ages will kill millions. It will go on, the figures will rise and the process will accelerate! Hurrah for the race of werewolves!” (P. 264.) And this was written in 1933 — prophetic words indeed!

I really liked this aspect of the book — how could it not appeal to a long-time fan of revolutionary violence (from a safe distance) like me! Here, a werewolf is not merely a more or less fictional, more or less real monster of medieval legend, but a metaphor for the cruelty inherent in human nature — man is werewolf to man, you might be tempted to say.

There are several aspects of the werewolf phenomenon that remain tantalizingly unexplained in this novel. Is Bernard's condition only a strange mental affliction that occasionally descends upon his mind like a haze and makes him perpetrate his crimes in a state in which he is unable to control himself — or does he actually transform into a wolf? Aymar is inclined towards the latter view but cannot positively assert so, as we can see in an interesting conversation he has with the asylum director near the end of the book (p. 282–3). And what are we to make of the hereditary aspect of lycantrophy? We see that Bertrand is treated in the last stage of his life very much like that old Pitamont prisoner was — imprisoned naked and fed on raw meat; and Bertrand's biological father was a Pitamont, though presumably not one descended from that prisoner, who is not described as having had any children before being captured.

This was a very pleasant novel, a nice mixture of the medieval and the modern, of fact and fiction, and placed in a setting that I was glad to see, as France during the revolutions of 1848 and 1871 is something I'd like to read more about, so it was good to see a piece of fiction set in that environment. I'm not sure if I particularly want to read more werewolf novels, but I'm glad that I read this one.

There is one complaint I have to make about this particular edition, however. It was evidently produced by scanning and OCRing an old printed edition and then typesetting the resulting text. You can tell this by the numerous misprints of the type that are obviously caused by OCR errors, as they apparently couldn't be bothered to proofread the text after OCRing it: “w\olves” (p. 97); “are” for “arc” (p. 139); “he did not fall to protect” (p. 207); “cof1m” (for “coffin”, p. 222); “aw” for “off” and “a sha” for “in the” (both p. 242); “reinoved” (p. 246); “famons” (p. 264).


There's an interesting wikipedia page about the author, Guy Endore. He was among other things a member of the Communist Party, which unsurprisingly caused him some trouble as a screenwriter in 1950s Hollywood; but it also helps explain why this novel shows the sympathetic view of the Paris Commune that we mentioned earlier.

  • Endore also wrote Babouk: The Story of a Slave, which his wiki page describes as a “left-wing novel of the Haitian Revolution”. Sounds interesting.
  • He translated Alraune by the German horror writer Hanns Heinz Ewers, whom I now heard of for the first time but judging by his wikipedia page his work sounds very intriguing :)

P.S. On an unrelated subject: I was interested to learn, while writing this post, that the were- part of werewolf is not usually pronounced like the standalone word were (the past tense of be), but like the word wear or alternatively like the word weir. Truly there is no end to the marvels of English spelling and pronunciation :P

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BOOK: Angelo Poliziano, "Miscellanies"

Angelo Poliziano: Miscellanies. Vol. 1. Edited and translated by Andrew R. Dyck and Alan Cottrell. The I Tatti Renaissance Library, Vol. 89. Harvard University Press, 2020. 9780674049376. xxviii + 639 pp.

Angelo Poliziano: Miscellanies. Vol. 2. Edited and translated by Andrew R. Dyck and Alan Cottrell. The I Tatti Renaissance Library, Vol. 90. Harvard University Press, 2020. 9780674244962. vi + 418 pp.

Poliziano, whom we previously encountered in the ITRL series as a poet (Silvae, Greek and Latin Poetry) and a letter-writer (vol. 1 of his letters appeared in 2006, and so far there has been no hint of any subsequent volume), now appears before us in his main role, that of a philologist. His Miscellanies are a collection of short entries about various subjects having to do with classical languages and literature — not too unlike a good blog nowadays. He hoped to publish several ‘centuries’, or groups of 100 such entries, but managed to publish only the first one. He had written 59 entries of the second century by the time of his death, and they were not published until the 1970s (vol. 2, p. 300). I found many interesting tidbits in this work, and even the not-so-interesting entries, being short, weren't hard or unpleasant to get through. On average, I liked vol. 1 better than vol. 2, because in the latter the entries tend to be a bit longer and often go into more detail than I'd like about some topic that was less interesting than I'd like.

I have long had a great admiration for philologists and the work they do, and felt rather envious that I haven't got the brain for that sort of thing myself. You get many glimpses into their work here in Poliziano's book, and it's extremely impressive to see how he digs up various scraps of information scattered far and wide across the extant works of Greek and Latin literature and connects them together in a way that throws some light on whatever topic he's dealing with at the moment, whether it's explaining some obscure allusion or correcting a widespread but faulty manuscript reading. He has a good awareness that manuscript errors tend to accumulate during copying, so that older manuscripts are likely to be better; and thanks to his good connections with the Medici family he seems to have had access to some quite old manuscripts in their possession.

The humanist philologists seem to have been involved in several difficult tasks at the same time: ascertaining the meaning and finer points of various aspects of the Greek and Latin language; determining the text of ancient writings by comparing many late and faulty manuscripts; and interpreting and clarifying any hard-to-understand passages and allusions in those ancient writings. Learning more about one of these things may help throw some light on the others, and imperfect understanding of one may make it harder to clarify the others, so it's all quite intricately connected and this whole project of ‘recovering’ ancient Greek and Latin literature must have been an enormous task.

Another recurring subject in this book are Poliziano's quarrels and disagreements with other philologists; he often criticizes their errors (and some of them, if we may believe his representations, do seem to have had something of a tendency to pull things out of their asses when they got stumped in interpreting some obscure passage; one Domizio Calderini is a particularly frequent target of Poliziano's, so that I almost began to feel sorry for him) and bickers with them over priority, which clearly must have been quite important to him. He seems to have first made many of his discoveries public in his lectures rather than in print, with the result that they sometimes made their way into print in the works of his rivals sooner than in Poliziano's own. I couldn't help wishing that there was a bit less of this bickering in Poliziano's book, but I suppose it's natural that an author feels jealous about getting the recognition he thinks his work deserves.

Anyway, without further ado, here are some miscellaneous interesting things that I found in this work:

I.3 — an interesting section on the camelopard. Poliziano quotes several ancient descriptions of this animal and adds that it seems to be “what is commonly called a ‘giraffe’”. He saw one in Florence where it had been sent as a diplomatic gift by the Sultan of Egipt. He mentions how surprised he was by its horns, which are not mentioned in the ancient descriptions — a nice illustration of their incompleteness.

I.6 — a short section about Catullus's sparrow (which he mentions in one of his poems, saying that his beloved likes to play with it). This naturally led people to think that the sparrow is just a metonymy with an obscene meaning, and Poliziano exhibits a passage from Martial which supports this interpretation. We have encountered this sparrow before, in ITRL vols. 22 and 38.

I.8 — the Roman names of the days were all based on the planets (and the Sun), and Pontano cites two more or less wacky theories by Dio as to why that particular sequence was chosen. But what I found really interesting was Pontano's remark that “since the Sabbath and the Lord's Day have now commonly lost their ancient names, while the rest [of the days] still retain [theirs], it is fitting for scholars to know that the former was named for Saturn and the latter for the Sun” (I.9.2). He was, of course, writing from the perspective of the Romance languages, where we find names such as sabato and domenica; but in English, Saturday and Sunday still have those old planetary names (as does Monday, while the other days are named after Germanic gods).

I.11 — this chapter includes an interesting myth about the rose: it used to be white, but at one point Venus, while running, “fell into some roses and became caught in their thorns” (I.11.1); her blood dyed them red, and they have retained that colour ever since.

I.12 — a silly legend about the discovery of purple dye. Heracles's dog ate some of the snails that produce that dye, and the nymph Tyra (after whom the Phoenician city of Tyre was named) noticed the colour on the dog's lips and asked Heracles for a dress of the same color :)))

I.14 — on various more or less harp-like instruments and their names. Notable among these is the naula or nabla, whose triangular shape apparently inspired the mathematical symbol ∇ of the same name. We have already encountered it in ITRL vol. 6. Not to be confused with the NAMBLA :)) Also very interesting is the translator's remark that the change in pronounciation of β from b to v already took place by the Hellenistic period (n. 215 on p. 536) — thus the Greeks have been pronouncing β as v for much longer than as b!

I.15 — some interesting ancient mentions of Sybaris, the ancient Greek town in southern Italy that became a byword for dissipation and luxury. A few authors mention something called “the Sybaritic books” by an otherwise unknown “catamite Sybarite Hemitheon” (I.15.2). However, according to this blog post Hemitheon seems to have lived in the times of Ovid, long after the town of Sybaris was destroyed, so he can only have been a Sybarite in the figurative sense.

I.19 — on the use of aspiration, i.e. the sound h, in Latin. Apparently in very early times they did not aspirate consonants at all, so they said Gracci instead of Gracchi and triumpi instead of triumphi. (This last one is very interesting — does that mean that the letters <ph> in triumph used to represent an aspirated stop /ph/ rather than the fricative /f/ like nowadays?) Cicero says that he tried to follow that ancient practice for some time, but eventually yielded to the prevailing use of his own day (I.19.2). Later apparently there was a period where they exaggerated in the opposite direction, saying chenturiones instead of centuriones and the like (I.19.1).

I.26.2 — in an offhand remark, Poliziano says that the Latin language has a richer vocabulary than the Greek, but that the latter is more playful and hence better suited to poetry. Earlier he lists some examples, from Cicero, of Latin words that apparently have no Greek equivalent (I.1.6). But I suspect that with some effort you could also find Greek word with no Latin equivalent, and so on for any pair of languages.

I.28 — on the connection between the word ‘panic’ and the ancient god Pan. I knew that there was a connection, but was still surprised at it, since I thought of Pan as a relatively harmless forest deity. Apparently, however, Pan was also associated with war (he “waged war against the Titans”, I.28.3; and was the “ruler of groves and war”, I.28.4). Possibly panic terrors were also associated with the women who were “wont to celebrate Pan's orgies with shouts which [. . .] cause the listeners to be gripped by fear” (I.28.2).

I.31.4 — a nice passage from Tertullian, comparing the soul's fate after death to that of a manumitted slave who is now “honored with the splendor of white clothing [. . .] and the name and tribe of his patron and access to his table”.

I.32 — apparently the ancients had a curious custom of “acknowledging lightning by smacking one's lips” :))

I.35 — an collection of ancient references to the stereotype of Cretans being liars. I knew, of course, about that famous paradox where Epimenides the Cretan said that all Cretans were liars (did he lie or not in saying that?), but I didn't know (or more likely had forgotten) that this statement even made it into the Bible (Titus 1:17). Another nice one: “the Cretans are always liars, since they built Jupiter's sepulcher, although he never died” (I.35.3).

I.39 — apparently the Romans used to refer to the Nile as “Melo” in very early times. Well, it isn't uncommon for names to get corrupted during transmission, and I guess they switched to the correct name later as their contacts with the eastern Mediterranean increased.

I.42 — Poliziano cites a few ancient sources indicating that thumbs were “clenched” to show support and turned down to deny support. This last one surprised me a bit; it is, of course, the obvious and traditional view on the subject, but nowadays it seems that everyone and their dog is very keen to debunk it and claim that it was exactly the opposite, with thumbs down indicating support and thumbs up denying it. Now I don't know whom to believe :) And I'm not quite sure what he means by “clenching” a thumb — is that the same thing as clenching the fist? Anyway, there's a wikipedia page about the whole thing, which could be summarized as ‘it's complicated (and unclear)’.

I.45 — Poliziano cites passages from Homer and Plato demonstrating that Patrocles was older than Achilles, contrary to popular belief! That surprised me as well, I always thought of Patrocles as younger.

I.47 — ancient artists had a habit of signing their works with ‘So-and-so was making (faciebat) this’ and not ‘made’ (fecit), either out of modesty (to suggest that the work was never quite perfect) or as an excuse (should anyone find mistakes, they can be excused because the work is not yet finished).

I.52.2–3 — apparently some ancient temples had altars built out of animal horns, and in fact either only right horns or only left horns. Wow :))

I.55 — about the “crocodile puzzle”, in which a crocodile snatches a woman's child and promises to return it if she gives a true answer to the question whether the crocodile would have to return the child or not. As I understand it, if she says that the crocodile will have to return the child, the crocodile can either return it or not and still remain within the rules of the puzzle; but if she says that the crocodile will not return the child, then the crocodile can't comply with the rules of the puzzle regardless of whether it returns the child or not, so its only option is to disappear in a puff of logic :) See also the translator's note 598 on p. 563 for a list of several other types of sophistical arguments.

I.56 — about a mention of two-horned rhinoceroses in a poem by Martial. Poliziano thinks that all rhinoceroses are single-horned, so the reference might actually be to a kind of bull (I.56.4). As the translator points out (n 612 on p. 565; citing the Wikipedia! :)), some rhinoceroses are in fact two-horned and twice as horny as the single-horned ones.

I.61.1 — wine was apparently an antidote to hemlock poison. How convenient :) ‘I swear I only got drunk because I had reason to believe I had been poisoned by hemlock!’

I.62.2 — a very interesting discussion on the names of fingers in Latin, (ancient) Greek and even “Romaic”, i.e. modern Greek (modern as of Poliziano's time, at any rate). The middle finger was apparently called “notorious” (famosus) in Latin, and the ring finger was called “the doctor” (medicus); but in modern Greek, the middle finger was called “the doctor” (iatros). Later he lists an even more odd list of Greek names for fingers: “the opposing [i.e. thumb], the licking finger, the bundle, the passenger, and the gadfly”.

I.65.2 — apparently ancient Roman statues were often in a pose called “ ‘the peacemaker’, which, with the head tilted toward the right shoulder and the arm stretched out at ear level, extends the arm with the thumb raised” (the quote is from Quintilian).

I.72.1 — apparently the ancients used to make garlands for their hair out of the bark of the lime-tree (linden). Poliziano uses what seems to be the Greek word for that tree, philyra. I'm still not quite sure how you make a garland out of tree bark, however...

I.74 — the painter Zeuxis charged people a fee to view his painting of Helen of Troy; “[h]ence even then Helen was commonly called a prostitute, since she was for hire” :))

I.77 — an interesting discussion on whether Vergil or Virgil is the better spelling of that poet's name. Poliziano supports the e-spelling, saying it appears in the earliest sources and monuments, even though in later times, and even in his own day, the i-spelling seemed to predominate. I guess you could say that the same debate is possible in English, where my impression is that the i-spelling is the traditional one (and hence I prefer it), but lately I think the e-spelling has not been uncommon e.g. here in the ITRL series. On the other hand, I don't think I've ever seen the i-spelling used in Slovenian, always the e-spelling. The wikipedia says that the i-spelling is a corruption that emerged in the late antiquity (perhaps due to some sound change?).

I.80 — a lovely poem by Callimachus; Poliziano gives both its Greek text and his translation of it into Latin. In English, of course, both versions are nearly the same. The goddess Athena is bathing in a river in the company of one of her favourite nymphs; unfortunately, the nymph's son is out hunting and happens to see them naked. [At this point you might be tempted to say: I've seen enough pr0n to know where this is going. But then, if you've seen enough Greek mythology you know that it's going to be going in a very different direction.] Apparently there is some sort of general rule, laid down by no less than Kronos himself, what whoever uninvited sees a deity naked must go blind as punishment. In response to the nymph's complaints, Athena says she is unable to prevent it, but tries to compensate the young man with the gift of prophecy and a long span of life. His name will be familiar to you from the Theban plays of Sophocles, at which point he is an old man — it's Teiresias.

I.86 — on the adjective decumanus and the various things to which it was applied. I knew that the decumanus was one of the principal streets in a traditional Roman city layout (the east-west one, as it turns out; the principal north-south one being the cardo). But here from Poliziano we learn that the adjective decumanus simply meant “tenth” and was often used with the implied idea that the tenth thing is the biggest, so they would talk about the decuman wave or about decuman eggs.

I.96 — on mice being salacious. Yes, you read that right; “mice are also said to be salacious”; “a female mouse is exceedingly randy” (the first quote is by Poliziano himself, the second from Aelian's On the Characteristics of Animals). I can only conclude that some people had nothing better to do than to watch mice getting it on. Well, everyone needs a hobby, I guess :]

II.6.2 — Aelian reports on a curious custom practised at Lavinium: on designated days, virgins presented food to snakes in a certain sacred grove; “[i]f in truth they are virgins, the serpent accepts the pure food from them [. . .] [b]ut if not, their food is left there untouched, for the serpent senses and divines that it is corrupt” — an in this latter case, unsurprisingly, the girl got punished. What an insane idea. I can only imagine how many virgins were unfairly convicted because of the random behaviour of some stupid reptile :(

II.8.4 — the ancients had special terms for former slaves who got their freedom in their master's testament, upon his death (which, if I understand correctly, made them slightly less respectable than if the master had liberated them while he was still alive). They were called orcini in Latin (from Orcus, the Roman god of the underworld) and charonianoi in Greek (from Charon, the ferryman to the underworld).

II.15.3 — the Romans had two kinds of dice: a tessera was a cube with six inscribed sides, while a talus had four flat inscribed sides, while the remaining two sides (on opposite ends of the dice) were rounded (see translator's n. 173 in vol. 2, p. 332).

II.20, 27 — when keeping boys “at home as sexual pets” (II.20.4), Romans apparently had a disturbing custom which aimed at delaying their puberty and preventing them from growing a beard for as long as possible (so as to keep them attractive to the pedophiles): “silver clasps [fibulas] were commonly made for those boys so that they might reach puberty more slowly, which is called being pinned up [infibulari] so that they would, of course, be better protected, lest while their male parts are being handled and stimulated that occur which Martial describes [i.e. they grow hair on their beard and elsewhere]” (II.20.5). Martial mentions “one who had already passed through puberty to manhood so that he had now been unpinned [refibulatus]” (II.20.6).

Another reference to the same practice: “ancient musicians used to abstain from sex in order to spare their voices, and for that purpose they were usually enclasped [infibulari], just as, we explained above, boys regularly were during puberty. For those who were enclasped were unable to have sexual relations unless they had unclasped [refibulassent] themselves.” (II.27.2) And a certain Menophilus, “because he lacked a foreskin, the clasp fell off him more easily, since those who put the clasp in place used to pierce [the foreskin], as Celsus indicates”. Eeeek.

II.30.3 — a nice list of national stereotypes by Julius Firmicus: “The Scythians alone behave with cruelty of immense savagery; the Italians always show themselves resplendent with a regal nobility; the Gauls are slow-witted; the Greeks shallow; the Africans deceitful; the Syrians greedy; the Asians always extravagant and focused on pleasure; and the Spaniards preposterous with all their extravagant boasting.” It's very remarkable how, except for the one about the Gauls, so many of these stereotypes still seem quite applicable to the present-day inhabitants of those areas. I wonder what that is. Is there some real basis to these stereotypes? If not in the actual behaviour of those people, is it maybe that the geographical character of a country consistently gives rise to certain kinds of stereotypes about its inhabitants? Or are we just extremely lazy in our stereotype-building and didn't bother to invent new ones for nearly two thousand years?

II.35.3 — a funny confusion between the words poeta (poet) and pycta (boxer) occurred in certain manuscripts of Pliny: “Nicaeus, the famous poet” was apparently actually a famous boxer... An important difference should you, for example, want to go about mocking him :)

II.37 — If you think the cosmetic industry of today is bad, just listen to this: “women once used to use makeup made from crocodile dung” (II.37.1). Apparently, however, these were not the usual crocodiles that live in water, but a smaller terrestrial species, and the Pliny “says that the crocodilian cosmetic is made from the intestines of this second one, and that it has a fine aroma”. I wonder what exactly this second species of crocodile is supposed to be, but unfortunately the translator's notes don't offer any comment on it. (I also wonder what the hell the first person was thinking who went rummaging through crocodile dung on the off chance that something there might turn out to have a fine aroma...)

II.46 — some ancient authors apparently claimed that elephants had no joints in their legs and hence couldn't bend their knees; as a result, they can't lie down, but lean on a tree to sleep, with predictably hilarious effects: “Sometimes the tree, overwhelmed and unbending, is broken by the massive body, and the beast that had supported itself on it falls down and cannot raise or lift itself.” (II.47.5; from the Hexaemeron of St. Ambrose.) And Julius Caesar apparently wrote the same sort of nonsense about elk (II.47.7)! But Poliziano also quotes other authors who described elephants as being able to kneel, lie down, etc. He doesn't wish to quite commit himself to either side of the dispute, as he had never seen a living elephant. That's fair enough, but I thought that in the ancient Roman world elephants would have been seen often enough that such wild nonsense as their inability to kneel or lie down couldn't have spread like this...

II.50.5 — the ancient Greek word gyne “can mean both ‘wife’, just as it did in Hesiod, and any woman”. This seems to be fairly common. Its Slovenian cognate, žena, still had both senses as late as the mid-20th century, but has pretty much completely restricted itself to the ‘wife’ sense by now. Its English cognate had a still more curious fate, splitting itself into two words, one of which restricted its sense to ‘a king's wife’ (queen) and the other to ‘a hussy’ and ‘a young woman’ (quean). The OED tells us that in Middle English their pronunciation still differed, quean having an open e.

II.55 — on the enthymeme, an interesting concept that I didn't know about until now. It is apparently like a syllogism but one of the two premisses is left unstated, as if the writer expects that the reader already considers that unstated premiss to be true and will supply it automatically in his mind (II.55.2). [Example from the wikipedia: “Socrates is mortal because he is human.” The unstated second premiss is that all humans are mortal.] But Poliziano argues that Aristotle defined enthymeme differently: it is not about whether a premiss is left unstated, but about having a syllogism “that is inferred only from signs and conjectures” (II.55.7). [Example from the wikipedia: “He is ill, since he has a cough.” Obviously this does not logically follow unless we have somehow demonstrated that illness is the only thing that causes coughing. But we might say that a coughing person is more likely to be ill than one who is not coughing.]

II.57.3 — the myth of Crocus and Milax (or Smilax), two lovers turned into plants who now bear their names (crocus and smilax), though I'm not quite sure what this latter plant is. It is translated as bindweed here, but in the wikipedia smilax seems to be a genus of plants that is not particularly closely related to the bindweeds. In any case, I was mostly impressed by how Poliziano managed to reconstruct this myth from tiny bits of information scattered across the work of several ancient authors.

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BOOK: David Cannadine, "Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy"

David Cannadine: The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy. (First ed.: 1990.) Papermac, 1996. 0333652185. xviii + 814 pp.

This book was first published in 1990; I bought my copy nearly twenty years ago and read most of it, but for some reason stopped before finishing, although I enjoyed the book. Titles following the “decline and fall” formula are always alluring, they remind me of good old Gibbon, and I couldn't help feeling fascinated by the topic: how a class that was formerly in an indisputably top position in society could dwindle into insignificance in little more than half a century. So now I finally got around to reading this book again; this time I finished it and can heartily recommend it to anyone interested in the subject.

Cannadine places the beginnings of the decline around 1880 or so. The segment of society he deals with — which he variously calls patricians, grandees, aristocracy, the British landed establishment, etc. — was, as of 1880, indisputably at the top of British society in various ways; they had wealth, status, and political power, and more of all of these three things than any other class:

• There had been until then a fairly widespread idea that they are the natural ruling class of the country, having the sort of temperament, experience, and leisure that is the most likely to result in good government. Most members of the parliament, cabinet ministers, military officers, etc., came from that class.

• Their wealth was largely in the form of land, and their income derived mostly from the rents paid by farmers who lived and worked on it; this was a very secure form of property and income, and they were overall still wealthier than people who got rich by industry or trade.

• Amongst this class were to be found nearly all holders of inheritable titles of nobility; and there was then no real alternative status hierarchy to the one provided by these titles.

This book is basically one long story about how all these things ceased to be true over the next fifty years or so — much of this happened already before WW1. Cannadine mentions two main causes that started this decline. One was the decline of agriculture as an important part of the British economy. The country had, some time before, basically made the decision to be an urban and industrial one, rather than a rural and agricultural one. By 1880, thanks to the progress of technology and the development of agriculture on other continents, it was possible to start importing large quantities of food into Britain, and its agriculture never quite recovered from that. The value of land and the income from rents declined, which put many patricians into increasingly straitened circumstances. Many were saddled with big debts (either from profligate ancestors or from loans taken to finance investments during previous, economically more optimistic times), so that even a small decline in the rents could lead to a dramatic decline in their actual disposable income.

The other cause for the start of the decline was the Third Reform Acts of the 1870s, which reduced the restrictions on voting and rearranged the parliamentary constituencies. After these reforms, enough people had the right to vote that politics became dominated by the middle class rather than by the aristocracy, and by the cities rather than by the countryside. In the old days a big rural landowner could be pretty sure to get into the parliament if he wanted to (or send one of his sons into parliament), but that increasingly became impossible. If they ran at all, they often failed to get enough votes; but political campaigning also got more expensive and time-consuming, which led many patricians to stop running for parliament at all. Politics increasingly became a professional activity for pushy upper-middle-class people, rather than a genteel affair that amateurish patricians could conduct on the side, as a sort of natural extension of running their own landed estates. Even the Conservative Party stopped catering to the interests of the aristocracy and became a party of big businessmen instead.

Pretty much all of the decline stems from these two causes, the rest is just details. Due to the loss of their formerly dominant political position, the patricians were unable to prevent any of the subsequent changes that weakened their position still further, such as the increase of taxes, death duties, and the like. Their political power was still further reduced in 1911, when the House of Lords lost its veto power, so the worst thing that all the hereditary peers together could do in politics thenceforth was to delay the passage of laws by a couple of years or so.

Gradually but inexorably, the traditional patrician way of life became unsustainable. An estate in the countryside was no longer a reliable source of income, but just the opposite: an endless money-sink, a liability. Traditional professions that the aristocrats used to go into if they needed to make money (e.g. younger sons who were not going to inherit their father's estate) became increasingly hard to get into: formerly one became a military officer by buying a commission; one became a parish priest by being appointed by the local landowner; one got into the diplomatic service by being appointed by the foreign secretary on the basis of a personal connection; etc. — and all these methods of entering these professions on the basis of connections used to ensure that largely only aristocrats could get in. All this was gradually replaced by more modern and professional methods, where hiring and promotion was at least theoretically on the basis of merit and performance rather than purely by connections. For example, they began holding examinations to hire civil servants. As a result, the proportion of aristocrats in these professions decreased. (Incidentally, this doesn't mean that any random old nobody could get into the top positions. It's just that the bulk of those positions was now taken by the upper-middle class rather than the aristocracy. They were still all coming from a handful of ‘public’ schools and two universities.)

In some areas, this decline took place sooner and in some later — for example, the diplomacy was still mostly aristocratic until WW1, on the argument that middle-class people would have a hard time dealing with foreign royalty and the like.

The former dominant role of the aristocrats not only became unviable economically, but also intolerable politically. The idea of a cabinet filled with mostly aristocratic ministers was increasingly regarded as anachronistic and unacceptable; gradually, insofar as there were any aristocrats in government at all, they took on less and less significant roles. The idea of a landowner living it up on the rents paid by the farmers was also increasingly objected to, and governments were increasingly OK with pressure being exerted on the landowners to sell their estates to the farmers. In parts of Ireland the English landowners found themselves the targets of political violence by Irish nationalists, and the government in London didn't try to protect them, but rather to help them get out of the business of owning land there (by setting up a compulsory buy-out scheme).

Insofar as the patricians tried to keep fighting for their interests in politics, they failed spectacularly: they couldn't prevent the House of Lords from losing its veto, (southern) Ireland from getting Home Rule, they couldn't get agricultural tariffs introduced to protect their landed estates, they couldn't prevent taxes and death duties from getting higher and higher, etc. Some went so far as to flirt with fascism, but accomplished nothing thereby either.

Their social status was also reduced by the fact that more and more titles of nobility were being granted in the late 19th and early 20th century, so they weren't as exclusive any more; and many of the new titles went to plutocrats, people who got rich in business and often had no real connection to the traditional landowning classes (and increasingly also had no interest in joining those classes; if a rich businessman bought a mansion in the countryside, it was go to there for a weekend's partying or hunting, not to live there permanently as an old-time squire). Increasingly, peerages were given to people not for any particular merit or service, but simply for donating lots of money to the prime minister's election campaign, a practice which reached its peak of notoriety under Lloyd George. From about the 1960s onwards, they stopped granting new hereditary peerages altogether (with a tiny handful of exceptions in the 1980s); and since existing peers sometimes die without an heir, Cannadine has calculated that at this rate the hereditary peerage will die out by 2175. Nowadays the status of the aristocracy is low enough that even the tabloids aren't interested in them, this role having been taken by media celebrities instead.


A major part of this book consists of chronicling the numerous ways in which the aristocrats tried to cope with their changing circumstances. If they knew what was good for them, they sold their land and invested the money in shares and bonds instead. Some aristocrats lost their capital in risky investments — ranching or mining in America (North or South), Australia, and the like. Some tried to go into business as company directors and the like; some of this was legitimate and occasionally even successful, but often it wasn't. Much of the public still respected aristocractic titles, and unscrupulous businessmen who wanted to promote some shady scheme would find it easier to attract investors if they had one or two lords on their board of directors.

Some managed to get jobs in the colonies, as officials or magistrates of various kinds, jobs that the aristocracy had previously left to the middle classes because the pay wasn't that good and one had to live in distant countries with an unpleasant climate much of the time. Some of the higher-ranking aristocrats could actually have a very pleasant career as colonial governors, moving from one country to another every few years and hoping to crown their career by becoming viceroys of India at some point. At a lower level, in the first half of the 20th century many aristocrats could spend a few decades in ‘ornamental’ roles as mayors, university chancellors, lord-lieutenants of counties and the like, where they were generally well-liked as long as they knew their place: an ornamental aristocrat was expected to “lend a genteel tone” to the proceedings, do as he is told, take no initiative of his own, and let the middle-class professionals and bureaucrats run the organization. The most he could hope to accomplish was to use his connections in London, if he had any, for the benefit of his city, university, or county.

Some patricians moved abroad, temporarily or permanently, where they could live more cheaply and perhaps make some money meanwhile from letting their country house in England to some rich industrialist. Sometimes the move abroad involved a desperate effort to preserve, in some colony like Kenya or Rhodesia, the sort of hierarhical social structures and way of life that was increasingly impossible in modern Britain. Some opened their mansions to tourists, either directly or by handing them over to the National Trust. Many of their stately houses were sold and demolished, or converted to hotels, schools and the like. Some tried writing books, many of them wistful memoirs of their life before the decline. Some managed to secure careers in academia (again not really a traditionally aristocratic profession). Men with a title but not much money tried to marry rich non-aristocratic heiresses, British ones at first but later increasingly Americans as well.

The two world wars exacerbated their decline still further. In WW1, they took a higher proportion of casualties, relative to their numbers, than lower classes did, so that in the post-war world, even if it had been possible for new patricians to fill the leading roles as the old ones retired, there were not enough young ones to do so. In the WW2, they were hit hard by restrictions on rents, new taxes, increasing government control of the economy, and the like. Many had their country houses requisitioned by various military or government agencies and got them back in an uninhabitable condition. Those who still had any land, old paintings and the like, found their position somewhat improved from 1970 or so, as the price of these goods began to grow.

Increasingly, the patricians' way of life began to resemble that of ordinary upper-middle-class professionals (and a few of the most unfortunate ones sank into the working class and into actual poverty). If they managed to remain reasonably wealthy, it was by having the sort of careers that upper-middle-class professionals have. Among the richest people in Britain, there were, as of the 1980s when Cannadine was writing his book, few or no landowners, and it was hard to say that the patricians still exist as a real social class at all.


This was a fairly long book, but an extremely interesting one. I was very impressed by the enormous amount of material that Cannadine must have studied to write this. Whenever he writes about a phenomenon or development, he never stays only at the level of generalities; he always gives you a paragraph or two of examples illustrating that phenomenon: Lord X did so and so, Sir Y did this and this, the Earl of Z did that and that. It must have taken a huge amount of work to dig up all these examples, scattered across countless official sources, memoirs and the like. Although he is clearly an academic historian, he has an engaging style of writing, I liked his fondness for alliterative phrases, and he always remembers to frequently include interesting details and anecdotes to prevent the book from getting boring.

Reading this book led me to wonder whether similar developments took place in other countries as well. Understandably, Cannadine focuses entirely on Britain and Ireland, as expanding beyond that would surely take too much work and wouldn't fit into one book; but he does have a brief section near the end of the book, comparing the decline of the aristocracy in Britain with that in other countries. The decline was a bit earlier in some countries and slower in others; e.g. in Germany and Hungary, the aristocrats remained the ruling class until WW1, and in Hungary and Poland they actually had a strong influence in the interwar period as well. But on the other hand the collapse of the old empires after WW1, the upheavals during and after the WW2, communist takeovers, land reforms and the like, tended to eradicate the aristocracy on the continent much more thoroughly than in Britain. On the whole the decline in Britain was slower and more moderate.

There are one or two questions where I wished the book had provided more explanations. For instance, being a patrician landowner somehow became unviable after 1880. But clearly the land was still being worked and farmed. If it could still support the farmer, why not the farmer plus the landowner? Obviously the farmer would get less money in this scheme, but it isn't obvious to me why it was suddenly impossible. And we know that nowadays much of the farming is actually done by corporations; so the farm supports the workers and the shareholders, who presumably get dividends from the corporation. Isn't this very similar to the old scheme of tenant farmers and the squire? If this still works for big agribusiness companies today, why not for a patrician landowner? How would it be any different from him owning 100% of the shares of such an agricultural corporation?

I can't help wondering if the real reason why the old landowning arrangements became unviable was political rather than economic; after all, whether something is viable depends a lot on how the government regulates it. An agricultural corporation doesn't die, doesn't have to be divided amongst heirs, nobody has to pay death duties for it, etc., all of which might allow it to be viable where a traditional individual landowner's position wouldn't be; but that's because the government passed laws which treat him differently than they would an agricultural corporation.

The decline of the British aristocrats as presented in this book is so relentless and inexorable that I almost felt sorry for them by the time I got to the end of the book. The world clearly wasn't going their way, and they saw it and knew it but couldn't really do anything about it. This is a position I can very much sympathize with, even though I'm neither rich nor an aristocrat. Not all of the things they stood for were bad, and not everything that replaced them was obviously better. Instead of paternalistically-minded local landowners tied closely to their land there is now a ruling class of sociopathic plutocrats tied to nothing at all, and next below it an upper-middle professonal-managerial class also increasingly bereft of any ties and obsessed with its own competitiveness and endless internal jostling for status. I can't help wishing that it had been possible to put a few of those old-time country squires into some sort of reservation somewhere :)


Numerous potentially interesting books are mentioned in the text, and still more in the endnotes:

  • W. H. Mallock: The Old Order Changes (1886) [vol. 1, vol. 2, vol. 3]. A novel about the decline of the aristocracy, by an author who was himself “the scion of a minor squirerachical family” (p. 30).
  • Anthony Trollope: The Way We Live Now (1875). Mentioned here in the context of the British aristocracy being overtaken in wealth by the plutocracy (p. 91).
  • Flora Major: The Squire's Daughter (1929). A story of the “decline and fall of the De Lacey family” (p. 127). She also wrote a novel called The Rector's Daughter (1924).
  • Lord Percy of Newcastle: Some Memories (1958). His “nostalgic reminiscences” (p. 141).
  • Early in his career, “[b]etween 1877 and 1895”, Curzon did a good deal of travelling in Central Asia and “wrote a succession of massively erudite books which were prodigious syntheses of history, archaeology, politics, travel and adventure” (p. 378). Cannadine lists several of these books later (p. 765, n. 143): Russia in Central Asia (1889), Persia and the Persian Question (1892) [vol. 1, vol. 2], Problems of the Far East (1894). Later he also wrote Tales of Travel (1923; mentioned here on p. 765, n. 126).
  • Another aristocrat, Lord Ronaldshay, also wrote several books about his travels to the Far East circa 1900 (pp. 378–9). Cannadine lists them on pp. 765–6, ns. 124, 144–5: Sport and Politics Under an Eastern Sky (1902), On the Outskirts of Empire in Asia (1904), A Wandering Student in the Far East (1908) [vol. 1, vol. 2], An Eastern Miscellany (1911).
  • Evelyn Waugh: A Handful of Dust (1934). About a squire who “sets off for South America in the company of an eccentric explorer in search of a fabulous city” (p. 381). This description naturally made me wonder if the book was inspired by such things as the expeditions of Percy Fawcett, and judging by its wikipedia page there does seem to be a link: Waugh's novel was inspired by his own travels in South America, and his going there was in turn inspired by Peter Fleming's expedition in search of Fawcett a few years before. (I read Fleming's book about it, Brazilian Adventure, a long time ago. I liked Fleming's disarming honesty about the lack of any real accomplishments of his expedition; it was a bit of mildly adventurous bushwhacking that neither made any contributions to geographical science nor discovered anything definite about Fawcett's fate, and Fleming at no point tries to pretend that it was anything more than that.)
  • Evelyn Waugh: Remote People (1931). Cannadine says that Waugh was sympathetic to the attempts of British aristocrats in Kenya to recreate there “the traditional life of the English squirerachy” (p. 442).
  • D. Pryce Jones: Evelyn Waugh and His World (1973). Mentioned here on p. 787, n. 59.
  • Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, “a Sussex squire, lecherous poet and celebrated late-Victorian misfit” (p. 382), wrote various potentially interesting works; his Poetical Works appeared in 1914 [vol. 1, vol. 2] and his Diaries in 1921 [vol. 1, vol. 2]. A biography of his is E. Longford: A Pilgrimage of Passion: The Life of Wilfrid Scawen Blunt (1979; mentioned here on p. 766, n. 158).
  • Vita Sackville-West: The Edwardians (1930). “Her most famous novel [. . .] an evocation of the old, vanishing aristocratic society” (p. 400). Many patricians of the same period did the same thing except in memoirs rather than fiction.
  • Henry Paulet, 16th Marquess of Winchester: Statesmen, Financiers and Felons (1935). The author was a downwardly mobile aristocrat who had unsuccessfully tried to mend his fortunes by agreeing to become the director of a string of enterprises that turned out to be fraudulent (pp. 415–16).
  • George Moore: Hail and Farewell (1911–14); “his three volume autobiography” [Ave, Salve, Vale] was “essentially a requiem for the ascendancy” (p. 479; i.e. for the British ruling class in Ireland).
  • G. G. Coulton: Friar's Lantern (1906). A novel, mentioned here in the context of patrician efforts (inevitably unsuccesful) to prevent the disestablishment of state churches (p. 491).
  • Lord Willoughby de Broke: The Passing Years (1924); the “elegiac autobiography” (p. 530) of one of the “die-hard” peers, i.e. those who were the most stubbornly opposed to the loss of the House of Lords' veto power, as well as to granting Home Rule to Ireland and other similar changes.
  • Amabel Williams-Ellis: The Wall of Glass (1927). A novel that includes an example of a peer joining the Labour Party, in the hope of finding “less competition” there (p. 540; in the real world, Oswald Mosley joined the Labour Party for a few years before starting his own fascist movement).
  • Arthur Ponsonby: The Decline of Aristocracy (1912). He author was a landless aristocrat himself (p. 541). He later wrote another interesting and well-known book (not mentioned in the present volume), Falsehood in War-Time (1928), about propaganda in the WW1.
  • Christopher Isherwood: The Memorial (1923). An “ostensibly fictitious” “picture of his family as textbook declining gentry” (p. 544).
  • Nancy Mitford: Pigeon Pie (1940). Mentioned here in the context of the phenomenon where failed patricians espoused political extremism (p. 545), of which of course the Mitfords themselves provided some examples (Diana and Unity, or for that matter their father, Lord Redesdale).
  • Nancy Mitford: The Pursuit of Love (1945). Mentioned here as an example of her novels being “revealing insights into her vivid sense of family and class decline” (p. 553).
  • Nancy Mitford (ed.): Noblesse Oblige: An Inquiry into the Identifiable Characteristics of the English Aristocracy (1956). Mentioned here on p. 769, n. 87, and p. 788, n. 18, mostly in the context of the aristocracy's decline or transformation into something rather resembling the middle class.
  • Nancy Mitford: The Pursuit of Love (1945); “preoccupied with the difference between the disinterested and dutiful landed gentleman and the irresponsible and unpatriotic capitalist” (p. 553).
  • Nancy Mitford: Wigs on the Green (1935). A novel that pokes fun at the British fascist movement and some of her sisters' flirtations with it (Diana married Oswald Mosley, the leader of the movement); mentioned here on p. 554. Mosley and his blackshirts appear in the novel thinly disguised as ‘Captain Jack’ and his ‘Jackshirts’ :))
  • Jessica Mitford: Hons and Rebels (1960). Memoirs of another Mitford sister, who became a left-wing journalist; mentioned here on p. 550.
  • Jessica Mitford: A Fine Old Conflict (1978). A later memoir, mentioned on p. 623; it seems to be largely about her experiences with the U.S. Communist Party, of which she was a member for some time.
  • D. Pryce Jones: Unity Mitford: A Quest (1976). Mentioned here on p. 871, n. 175. Unity was probably the craziest of the Mitford sisters; she became a fangirl of Hitler, tried to commit suicide by shooting herself when Britain and Germany declared war on each other, but survived as an invalid (or, as Cannadine puts it rather less delicately, “an incontinent vegetable”; p. 623) and died of the consequences of that injury some ten years later.
  • G. M. Trevelyan: English Social History (1942); “an elegiac lament for the world of aristocratic decency and rural wholesomeness” (p. 635).
  • Marghanita Laski: Love on the Supertax (1944), “a parody of Walter Greenwood's depression-ridden novel, Love on the Dole” (p. 635). The title refers to the additional tax that was added on top of the income tax for high incomes during the WW2, bringing the marginal tax rate to a delicious 98%.
  • Cyril Connolly: Enemies of Promise (1938). A memoir, mentioned here on p. 666.
  • H. Rider Haggard: Rural England (1902) [vol. 1, vol. 2]. This appears to be a massive work about the state of English agriculture and countryside at the beginning of the 20th century; Cannadine quotes from it on p. 95, in the context of the decline of land prices. Rider Haggard was, of course, famous as a writer of adventure novels (notably those featuring Allan Quatermain), and I had no idea that he also wrote serious works such as this one.
  • Jamie Camplin: The Rise of the Rich (1979). Cited on pp. 182–3 on the eclipse of the old land-based aristocracy by the new industrial plutocracy as the richest (and soon also as the politically most influential) part of society.
  • Barbara Tuchman: The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890–1914 (1967). I have long meant to read this extremely interesting-sounding book, as well as several other similar ones by Tuchman. Cannadine cites it in the context of the decline of the number of landed patricians in the House of Commons (p. 189).
  • Sir Almeric Fitzroy: Memoirs (1925) [vol. 1, vol. 2]. Mentioned on p. 242 as an example of a patrician with good connections (though not much wealth), which enabled him to lead a comfortable life as a civil servant, in various positions.
  • Duff Hart-Davis (ed.): End of an Era: Letters and Journals of Sir Alan Lascelles, 1887–1920 (1986). Lascelles is mentioned on p. 246–7 as an example of a courtier, one of the few careers that remained largely exclusive to aristocrats.
  • Lord Ormathwaite: When I was at Court (1937). Another memoir by a courtier and a self-admitted snob (p. 249).
  • Sir Charles Dundas: An Admiral's Yarns: Stray Memories of Fifty Years (1922). Mentioned on p. 273 as an example of how many high-ranking officers were of a patrician background.
  • George Young: Diplomacy Old and New (1921). Quoted on p. 280 in the context of diplomacy staying the preserve of aristocrats for longer than other civil-service careers.
  • Lord Vansittart: The Mist Procession (1958). Memoirs of a prominent diplomat, cited on p. 280 in the same context as the previous entry.
  • Lord Hardinge of Penhurst: Old Diplomacy (1947). Cited on pp. 282–3 as an example of a diplomat whose early career was helped by his aristocratic connections. Later he was also the Viceroy of India for a few years (1910–16).
  • Sir Arthur Hardinge: A Diplomatist in Europe (1927). Cited on p. 284 in the context of how the high-ranking diplomatic posts were also attractive to the patricians due to providing them with a lavish lifestyle that few could otherwise have afforded. Next year he published a second volume of memoirs, A Diplomatist in the East (1928).
  • Sir Victor Wellesley: Diplomacy in Fetters (1944). Cited on p. 290 in the context of how patrician diplomats tended to be distrustful of democratic politics once it was out of the hands of the aristocratic class. Earlier Cannadine also mentions the memoir of Victor's father: Frederick Wellesley, Recollections of a Soldier Diplomat (1941).
  • Sir John Tilley: London to Tokyo (1942). Cited on p. 292 in the context of how the old pre-WW1 courtly and aristocratic society, of which diplomacy used to be an important part, largely disappeared or became disconnected from politics after the war.
  • Violet Bonham Carter: Winston Churchill As I Knew Him (1967). Cited here on p. 349 in the context of how Society was changing as the result of declining patrician influence. She was the daughter of the former Prime Minister, H. H. Asquith, and incidentally the grandmother of the actress Helena Bonham Carter. Nowadays you hear about the ‘six degrees of separation’, but in early-20th-century British high society it seems it was more like two degrees as most :)
  • Louis Turner and John Ash: The Golden Hordes: International Tourism and the Pleasure Periphery (1975). (Cited on p. 371 in relation to the fact that the patricians used to travel more and more, to increasingly distant lands, as travel became easier and faster; and this tended to weaken their traditional ties to the land at home.) The title is priceless, but the subtitle makes me suspect that the rest of the book is a dry-as-heck academic monograph. One review says it is a “highly polemical view” of international tourism, so I guess I would find a fair few things to agree with in that book.
  • Lord Cranworth: A Colony in the Making, or Sport and Profit in British East Africa (1912) and Kenya Chronicles (1939). Cited here on pp. 376, 436, 439. We have encountered the first of these books in the pages of this blog before. Cranworth was a big-game hunter and later a promoter of Kenya as a place for upper-class Britons to settle in and take up farming; but he disapproved greatly of the louche and frivolous type of settlers that one now usually hears about, the Happy Valley set and the like.
  • Errol Trzebinski: Silence Will Speak: A Study of the Life of Denys Finch Hatton and His Relation With Karen Blixen (1977) and The Kenya Pioneers (1985). Cited here on p. 440 in the context of British patricians migrating to Kenya in the early 20th century. Trzebinski also wrote a book about the life and murder of Lord Erroll some time ago; see my post about it.
  • Dane Kennedy: Islands of White: Settler Society and Culture in Kenya and Southern Rhodesia, 1890–1939 (1987). Cited here on p. 436 in the context of how the early British colonization of Rhodesia was “almost exclusively in the interests of aristocratic adventurers”.
  • Isabel Colgate: The Shooting Party (1982). In this novel, a British aristocrat moves to Kenya to avoid getting in trouble for shooting an employee in dubious circumstances — a fictional example of the sort of things that also happened in reality, especially in the early post-WW1 period (Cannadine, p. 440 and n. 157 on p. 772).
  • Hon. George Lambton: Men and Horses I Have Known (1924). The title sounds like the author embraced the stereotype of the British country squire and I can only hope that he looked like a real-life copy of John Bull :) Cannadine mentions him on p. 394 as an example of an impecunious patrician who, finding himself obliged to get a job, picked up something related to the traditional pursuits of his class and became “an outstandingly successful racehorse trainer”.
  • Victoria de Bunsen: Charles Roden Buxton: A Memoir (1948). Cited here on p. 542, Buxton being an example of a patrician who joined the Labour Party, mostly it seems out of quite high-minded motives. I heard of Buxton before, because Sven Hedin quoted him in his propaganda book, America in the Struggle of the Continents; Buxton, it seems, was such a committed pacifist that as late as May 1939 he still argued that Germany was being treated unfairly, and recommended more appeasement.
  • John Pearson: Facades: Edith, Osbert and Sacheverell Sitwell (1978). An interesting passage is quoted on p. 545 here, discussing Osbert Sitwell as an example of a patrician who felt lost and alienated in the interwar period, when both his own class and he individually no longer had the sort of prominence that he perhaps expected they should. I should like to read more about the Sitwells and their attempt to establish an ersatz Bloomsbury group some time, and Pearson's book sounds like just the thing.
  • Richard Griffiths: Fellow Travellers of the Right: British Enthusiasts for Nazi Germany, 1933–9 (1983). Cited here on p. 546; many of these fellow travellers were disaffected patricians whose opinions were “a bitter amalgam of paranoia and disenchantment”. I'm not sure why, but I find fellow travellers of the nazis much more interesting than the actual nazis themselves :)
  • Lord Raglan: If I Were Dictator (1934). Mentioned on p. 546: “When Methuen published an ostensibly light-hearted series entitled If I Were Dictator, the jokes turned out to be very serious indeed.” Raglan thought that “politicians were too busy talking to govern”, and similarly Churchill suggested in 1930 that “an alternative structure of executive government was needed”. It seems that there was a widespread sense of disappointment with democratic politics in the interwar period, and the allure of fascism went far beyond just those countries that ended up on the Axis side of the WW2; it would be interesting to read more about this, and one can't help feeling that we have more than a little of that sort of disappointment nowadays as well. — On an unrelated subject, I find in the wikipedia that Raglan also published several interesting-sounding anthropological works, notably Jocasta's Crime (1933), “a study of incest and incest taboos”.
  • Philip Woodruff (pseud. of Philip Mason): The Men Who Ruled India (1954). 2 vols.: The Founders and The Guardians. Cited here on p. 601, about the patricians as “great ornamentals” in their positions as Viceroys of India and the like.
  • The Duke of Bedford: A Silver-Plated Spoon (1959). As the title of this memoir suggests, he was one of those many patricians whose finances weren't all that great; he resorted to opening his estate to visitors to bring in some money (p. 646). In this he was “brash, undignified, and pushy [. . .] likened to a circus impressario”, and as a result he made a lot of money. He even set up a safari park there.
  • Nicholas Monson and Debra Scott: The Nouveaux Pauvres: A Guide to Downward Nobility (1984). Cited on p. 659, about various patricians who now make their living in fairly conventional middle-class jobs. Monson himself was the grandson of a baron (says the wikipedia), so presumably he wrote from personal observation :)
  • Arno J. Mayer: The Persistence of the Old Regime: Europe to the Great War (1981). Cited on p. 698 with regard to the observation that “the old regime persisted on the Continent for a longer time, and to a greater extent, than it was once fashionable to suppose”.
  • Lord Montagu of Beaulieu: More Equal Than Others: The Changing Fortunes of the British and European Aristocracies (1970). Cited on p. 700, with regard to the observation that the French aristocracy declined much more in influence (after the introduction of the Third Republic in 1870) than the British.

In the process of compiling the above list, I found several misprints, especially when it comes to names; “Isobel” Colgate (p. 772; should be “Isabel”), “Ormanthwaite” (pp. 249, 750; the correct spelling, “Ormathwaite”, appears on p. 248); “The Walls of Glass” (p. 540; should be “Wall”); “Sachaverell” (p. 781; should be “Sacheverell”). Now I can't help wondering how many other little errors there are in the book that I haven't noticed.

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