Saturday, 5 November 2011

October books: Strachey wins

I didn't read much in October, unless you count books with titles like Problem-Solving in C++ and Structured Computer Organization.  I liked The Family Markowitz by Allegra Goodman, though I still think Intuition is my favourite of hers.  I also liked some short stories by Muriel Spark -- her particular sort of nastiness comes over well in short story form.  But the thing I enjoyed most was Lytton Strachey's Eminent Victorians.  I should have read this years ago.  Because it's free on Project Gutenberg I read it on my Kindle, and highlighted some bits I enjoyed.

Here he is on History in general:
THE history of the Victorian Age will never be written; we know too much about it. For ignorance is the first requisite of the historian—ignorance, which simplifies and clarifies, which selects and omits, with a placid perfection unattainable by the highest art.
Human beings are too important to be treated as mere symptoms of the past. They have a value which is independent of any temporal processes— which is eternal, and must be felt for its own sake.
Poetry and common sense -- not my experience of Cambridge, but maybe Newman might have done better there:
Even in his own age he might, at Cambridge, whose cloisters have ever been consecrated to poetry and common sense, have followed quietly in Gray's footsteps and brought into flower those seeds of inspiration which now lie embedded amid the faded devotion of the Lyra Apostolica. At Oxford, he was doomed. 
 The Oxford Movement, making Cambridge look good by comparison:
'It would be a gain to this country,' Keble observed, 'were it vastly more superstitious, more bigoted, more gloomy, more fierce in its religion, than at present it shows itself to be.' 'The only good I know of Cranmer,' said Hurrell Froude, 'was that he burned well.' Newman preached, and soon the new views began to spread. Among the earliest of the converts was Dr Pusey, a man of wealth and learning, a professor, a canon of Christ Church, who had, it was rumoured, been to Germany. 
The Irish monsignor who did for poor old Newman:
Monsignor Talbot was a priest who embodied in a singular manner, if not the highest, at least the most persistent traditions of the Roman Curia. He was a master of various arts which the practice of ages has brought to perfection under the friendly shadow of the triple tiara. He could mingle together astuteness and holiness without any difficulty; he could make innuendoes as naturally as an ordinary man makes statements of fact; he could apply flattery with so unsparing a hand that even Princes of the Church found it sufficient; and, on occasion, he could ring the changes of torture on a human soul with a tact which called forth universal approbation. 
Here is Florence Nightingale considering a proposal of marriage:
'I have an intellectual nature which requires satisfaction,' she noted, 'and that would find it in him. I have a passionate nature which requires satisfaction, and that would find it in him. I have a moral, an active nature which requires satisfaction, and that would not find it in his life. Sometimes I think that I will satisfy my passionate nature at all events. …' 
Dr Arnold, Headmaster of Rugby, wants to improve his pupils' morals:
... and it was that that Dr. Arnold set himself to accomplish. But how was he to achieve his end? Was he to improve the character of his pupils by gradually spreading around them an atmosphere of cultivation and intelligence? By bringing them into close and friendly contact with civilised men, and even, perhaps, with civilised women? By introducing into the life of his school all that he could of the humane, enlightened, and progressive elements in the life of the community? On the whole, he thought not.
And on General Gordon in the Sudan:
One catches a vision of strange characters, moved by mysterious impulses, interacting in queer complication, and hurrying at last—so it almost seems—like creatures in a puppet show to a predestined catastrophe.

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