Category Archives: Philosophy

A seventeenth century diarist – Samuel Pepys

/ en.wikipedia.org

/ en.wikipedia.org

History too is re-cycled, like glass, water, paper and other essenials. A history book is nothing more than a re-thinking, in some cases revising as well, of what an earlier historian wrote in another book. What happened in the world ten thousand years ago on a certain day is History, but then what happened in our world yesterday is History too. Historians have always relied on contempories who were there, in a great battle for instance, survived injured or whole, and wrote about that battle as soon as they could. This particular piece of history might be heard in the form of a ballad, or published as writing, or become a yarn told in taverns. In a recent very serious case, England discovered that their teachers, and their teachers’ teachers, and their teachers’ teachers, relying on published history texts, have been stating untruths for nearly five hundred years. This is the case of King Richard III, last of the Plantagenets, who died on a battlefield. He was everybody’s wicked uncle, a serial murderer, poisoner of his own wife, assassin of his own brother etc. etc since 1485 because the contemporary historians said so. Though it was mostly mythical, it was taught as fact in schools and colleges. Luckily, the very finest texts that can be used by historians, if they have been preserved well, are diaries. Obviously they were written by first-hand witnesses, though many have been embellished, as a diarist’s wont. It was a diarist, a foreigner whose English was questionable, called Polydore Vergil, who wrote most of the lies about Richard. Another contemporary diarist was Thomas More, an official and well paid Tudor historian, who wrote distatefully about Richard because it suited his book to do so. It was pure propaganda, but it kept More’s head on his shoulders – even if only for a while.

Samuel Pepys (1633 – 1703) is probably the most famous and quoted (and misquoted) diarist in world history. He was nothing more than an Admiralty clerk, who rose after the Restoration of Charles II in the ever-growing British Navy. He became Admiralty Secretary in 1672 when he was thirty-nine. Then he lost his job because some imp accused him of involvement in The Popish Plot (1679). It was nonsense, and he was re-instated in 1684. Meanwhile however, he was keeping a diary which became internationally celebrated, running from January, 1660 to May, 1669. It is fascinating because it provides an intimate picture of everyday personal life (Pepys was exceptionately fond of buxom, pretty, large women), court intrigue (the merriest of melancholic monarchs, Charles II, was on the throne), and naval administration. His account of three national disasters, The Great Plague of 1665/66, the Great Fire of London (1666) that followed, and the impertinent but courageous sailing up the Thames Estuary and river itself of the Dutch war fleet and the damage it did – have been quoted and used by historians ever since. It should be noted that these diaries were written in code which was not de-coded until 1825, one hundred and twenty-two years after Pepys’ death at the age of seventy. Continue reading

More thoughts on that Yalta Conference

The 'Big Three' from l. to r. 'Exhausted', 'Dying', and 'Exuberant' / spartacus.educational.com

The ‘Big Three’ from l. to r. ‘Exhausted’, ‘Dying’, and ‘Exuberant’ / spartacus.educational.com

In February, 1945, the second ‘Big Three’ conference took place at Yalta in the Crimea. The first had been in Teheran in Persia. What was agreed at Yalta changed the face of Europe, prepared the ground for the Cold War, and put millions of ordinary people into a condition of near-slavery. The three major protagonists were the respective leaders of the United States, Great Britain, and Russia – Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin. The first was dying slowly but certainly, the second was old and exhausted, and the third was younger, fitter, and unable to see any point of view that was not his. He was also a fully-qualified dictator. Continue reading

What was Laissez-faire?

/ words on images.com

/ words on images.com

Some writers have incorrectly translated this French phrase as Let Sleeping Dogs Lie, and attributed it (among others) to Prime Minister Walpole. But this doctrine means much more: it maintains that free trade is preferable to ‘protected’ trade, and that the state should not, without reason, interfere in economic affairs. It is a great pity that it is merely an eighteenth century doctrine, hardly thought of today. Adam Smith published Wealth of Nations in 1776, that constitutional date for the United States; Smith wrote that tariffs prevented or slowed down world trade, and therefore good living standards in all countries. Free trade, he insisted, provided competition and thus made certain cheaper goods of high quality. This equation would benefit both consumers and manufacturers, the latter becoming more efficient. Workers would be trained to do fewer jobs, to better effect. This could only happen, Smith claimed, in a free market. Continue reading

Three battles at Ypres (1914, 1915 & 1917)

/ the guardian.co.uk

/ the guardian.co.uk

Ypres is a place in Belgium, known mainly by Great War enthusiasts who are taken on guided tours. In October and November of the first year of the war a major German offensive to outflank the British Expeditionary Force had to be stopped – and it was – but the battle area was left still dominated on three sides by German armies, commanding the heights. This was the first Battle of Ypres.

The second took place in April and May 1915, and was notable for the first use of poison gas by the Kaiser’s armies. This gas was chlorine-based, and gas masks on the heads of allied soldiers were also seen for the first time. They did not work as efficiently as the boffins had predicted. Thousands of troops had to be invalided back into France and Britain, suffering from the gas, which left them crippled in mind and body. In terms of strategy, this second battle at Ypres forced the British to shorten their line of defence in what was called ‘The Ypres Salient’. Continue reading

Who was this fellow Clausewitz?

iclause001p1It is a fair bet that many readers have noticed a reference to ‘Clausewitz’ in the history books they are reading, or even in novels; it is a name they know, though they are not sure why. Nor are they one hundred percent sure who he was or what it was he did to receive so many mentions in literature, especially war literature. Well, Clausewitz was a specialist in wars, in which he personally fought certainly, but principally he was a theorist in how wars should be fought.

He was born in 1780, a Prussian, and fought in the French Revolutionary Wars (q.v.) in 1793 and 1794, as a drummer boy presumably, given that he was only thirteen. He got captured in 1806 while fighting properly at Jena and Auerstadt. His enemies’ commander was no less than Napoleon Bonaparte. By 1812 he had enough experience and rank to assist Scharnhorst in the reform of the Prussian army, but, following the example of other Prussian officers, he refused to accede to current politics and fight for Napoleon against Russia. He was therefore not present in the Emperor’s Moscow Campaign. Continue reading

Fascism – a dreaded word

Fasci or Fasces / britannica.com

Fasci or Fasces / britannica.com

Fasci, literally meaning ‘bundles’, and perhaps descending from the fasci of thin staves of wood carried by Roman officials as symbol of authority, were established in Sicilian towns and villages in the late nineteenth century. They were mutually – supporting societies of peasants and workers; the basic trade union in fact. Their leaders varied in type and political opinion, but were usually anarchists, though many were teachers, local landowners and gentry, members of ancient and respected families. Not a few among them were local mafiosi. Continue reading

Who said it?

An auctioneer / joystiq.com

An auctioneer / joystiq.com

Our first slightly intellectual quiz for the year 2015 presents the published words of an eccentric and wit, male, and the only clue to his identity is that he is not English. The sayings resemble a dictionary, which, I note, is another clue:

Acquaintance – A person whom we know well enough to borrow from, but not well enough to lend to. (It is) a degree of friendship called slight when its object is poor or obscure, and intimate when he is rich or famous.

Applause – The echo of a platitude.

Auctioneer – The man who proclaims with a hammer that he has pìcked a pocket with his tongue.

Battle – A method of untying with the teeth a political knot that would not yield to the tongue.

Conservative – A statesman who is enamoured of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.

Future – That period of time in which our affairs prosper, our friends are true, and our happiness is assured.

History – An account, mostly false, of events, mostly unimportant, brought about by rulers, mostly knaves, or soldiers, mostly fools.

Patience – A minor form of despair, disguised as a virtue.

Peace – In international affairs, a period of cheating between two periods of fighting.

Prejudice – A vagrant opinion without visible means of support.

Saint – A dead sinner revised and edited.

Please give your answer as to who write these lines in the form of a Comment sent to www.general-history.com.

The Freemasons

Masons hard at work / lessons-from-history.com

Masons hard at work / lessons-from-history.com

Even today, in predominantly Roman Catholic countries the word Mason, or Francmason or Masonería is taboo in polite society. Spanish people assure you that Masons are only one step better than the Devil, that they have been behind every evil conspiracy, that their presence among politicians spells disaster etc. But in protestant countries Masonry is as acceptable as Methodism, and in England, for example, the Masons finance and manage charitable organisations of the best kind, such as the Royal Masonic Hospitals, schools and universities.

   The origins of Freemasonry are mysterious; some kind of continuity exists between guilds of stonemasons, responsible for the building of most of the vast cathedrals to be found everywhere in Europe, and the Masonic lodges of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The process, and the order, continues to the present day, though not so openly in Catholic countries. Continue reading

Colonization

/ from a painting by Angus McBride - posterlounge.co.uk

/ from a painting by Angus McBride – posterlounge.co.uk

These days the word strikes a sour note, arousing images of rough settlements, starving ‘piccaninies’, whips, shackles, thoughtless government from a distance of thousdands of miles etc. If there are any ‘colonies’ left after the post-war rush to be rid of them I think it is because the ‘colonists’ prefer it that way. 90% of colonies which achieved independence have suffered under bad or atrocious rule since being ‘freed’, with the possible exception of the United States, and even there half the settlers in the Thirteen Colonies claimed they did not wish for independence from British rule, and after 1776 sold up lock, stock and barrel and moved to Canada, where they were welcomed. Continue reading

William Cobden

Cobden's ideal England, done by computer / craftform.com

Cobden’s ideal England, done by computer / craftform.com

Cobden was a self-educated farm labourer from Surrey, England who became one of the first professional journalists. By this I mean that he wrote for the papers of the early 19th century for a living, not as a hobby for some ex-graduate. He was born in 1763, and by 1802 he was publishing his own Political Register as an enemy of the French Revolution and supporter of his own government. As such he could be labelled ‘conservative’, but in 1804 he ran foul of the law and was convicted of criticising the government’s conduct of the war against France. The terms ‘freedom of the Press’ or indeed ‘freedom of speech’ had yet to be introduced.

   Personal experience of governmental repression gradually turned Cobden into a radical, blaming ‘misgovernment’ for England’s economic troubles, attacking ‘corruption’ where he thought he saw it, the patronage system, and control of Parliament by the rich and landed aristocracy and gentry fuelled by their own interests. He saw how the poor existed, and defended them as under-privileged. Perhaps he was blind to the tremendous forces which were changing society, because he loathed the factories and the new industrial towns. While Britain grew richer every year, Cobden saw the agricultural worker as an example of a glorious past – growing and tending his crops, breeding fine cattle, feeding often and well from his farm’s produce, weaving his own cloth etc. It was all a dream, but it was Cobden’s dream. Continue reading