Montagu Rhodes James (1862-1936), Provost of Kings College 1905-1918 and of Eton 1918-1936.
The hero of Shane Leslie’s “The Cantab” (1926) is matriculating at King’s College, and having forgotten the name of the college’s Provost attempts to get the Dean to mention his name:
“Again Edward sought a line on the mysterious Provost. How was he to know and venerate him? The Dean answered, ‘The Provost is essentially himself. Though a Deacon, he has reformed this College and made it tolerable to a layman. He knows all the ghost stories of the last thousand years. He walks in the paths of medieval Apocrypha and finds relaxation in obscure Hagiology. You may overhear him humming the Archbishops of York backwards, or counting the Spanish Cathedrals in feet. He is likely to be consulted when those Books are opened with which we are threatened on the last day.’ The Dean leaned back with a grey smile.”
In The Old Gang, A Sporting and Military Memoir, Simon Raven describes meeting again in 1987, at the “Tweasledown Races (near Camberly)”, Major (Quartermaster) L. R. Plumb [name doubtless fictionalized], an old comrade-in-arms with whom he’d served in Germany and Kenya in the 1950s.
Later in the same decade, Raven had been allowed to resign quietly from the regiment to avoid scandal, after he had accrued debts to bookmakers he couldn’t pay. Plumb, on the other hand, remained in the service, advancing up the NCO ranks, and finally winding up a commissioned Quartermaster officer, and a Major no less.
When Raven inquires how things have been in the British Army over the last twenty years, Plumb complains that the Empire shrank away, and the old types of officers, gentlemen of the old school, had been replaced by a new class of humanity.
“All the time, Simon, everyone getting more and more pofaced and pedantic and goody-goody and “efficient”, more “technologically minded”, less and less capable of making or enjoying a joke, shit scared of doing anything that might affect their miserable dreary careers, forever passing the pisspot to somebody else and hoping he’d spill it, so that his enemies could kick him in the face while he was trying to mop up. And all so deadly serious, so earnest, so pi. Christ, how I longed for a breath of Darcy, or O., that lot, your lot, the old gang. ...
But oh the boredom. And the nagging. After 1960 the whole thing changed completely. Don’t do this, you might kill someone; don’t do that, you might offend someone; don’t drink at lunchtime; get married, we don’t approve of bachelors; get children or the other NCOs will be jealous that you’re not buggered up with kids like they are; get a smaller car, that one will cause envy; wear a hat at the races, it’s the done thing; don’t wear a hat at the races, we don’t do the done thing anymore, it isn’t progressive and modern.”
I particularly liked the “pofaced and pedantic and goody-goody and ‘efficient’, [and] ‘technologically minded.’” The image came immediately to mind of Barack Hussein Obama promising “100,000 more teachers” and his brave new world of “green jobs.”
Raven has the contemporary incarnation of the Puritan pegged: self-important, pious, and constantly busybody-ishly improving and always in the name of Science and Progress. Look at Obama’s campaign motto: Forward. Forward like lemmings, right over the cliff of ideology.
[During the Korean War,] the North Koreans were shocked that Americans with our critical-thinking, multiple-perspective stuff were the easiest to brainwash? Pretty much 180 degrees from what they expected. The opposite end of the scale? The Turks. They were totally impossible to turn. Their perspective was: “I’m a Turk, you’re my enemy, if I had a pointy stick, I’d kill you right now.”
————————————— “Socialists,” said the Senior Usher, “can never leave anything alone. That’s the trouble. They start with one or two things that badly need reforming, and jolly good luck to them. But then it gets to be a habit. They can’t stop. And that’s what’ll do them in. As Macauley has it, we can make shift to live under a debauchee or even a tyrant; but to to be ruled by a busybody is more than human nature can bear.”
—Simon Raven in Fielding Gray (1967).
James Delingpole: A Conservative friend of mine has a favorite exasperated phrase for our political class: “There just aren’t enough bullets.”
On one of my early birthdays I was given a toy printing-set with whose large rubber letters I was able to print off my first composition. It was a story of a train going along very fast and, to the satisfaction of the passengers, racing through the small stations along the track without stopping. Their satisfaction, however, turned to dismay, and then to panic fury, as it dawned on them that it was not going to stop at their stations either when it came to them. They raged and shouted and shook their fists, but all to no avail. The train went roaring on. At the time I had no notion what, if anything, the story signified. It just came into my mind, and the rubber letters dropped into place of themselves. Yet, as I came to see, and see now more clearly than ever, it is the story I have been writing ever since; the story
of our time. The imagination, at however rudimentary a level, reaches into the future. So its works have a prophetic quality. A Dostoevsky foresees just what a revolution will mean in Russia – in a sense, foresees the Soviet regime and Stalin; whereas a historian like Miliukov and his liberal-intellectual friends envisage the coming to pass of an amiable parliamentary democracy. Similarly, a Blake or a Herman Melville sees clearly through the imagination the dread consequences industrial¬ism and technology must have for mankind, whereas, as envisaged in the mind of a Herbert Spencer or an H. G. Wells, they can bring only expanding wealth and lasting well-being. It was not until much later that I came to identify the passengers in my train as Lord Beveridge, Sidney and Beatrice Webb, Kingsley Martin, Eleanor Roosevelt, and any number of progressive prelates, mahatmas, millionaires, regius professors and other such eminent persons.
In the late Montague Rhodes James’ memoir of his time at school and university, Eton and King’s (1926), James remembers in particular Mrs. Ann Smith, an elderly college servant at King’s College, who tidied up college rooms and made the students’ beds for them.
James describes her as “tall and austere in aspect,” but with a gift for “noteworthy speech” and prone to apply the mot juste. Mrs. Smith was also evidently capable of penetrating political acumen.
“Politics, I don’t think she studied much, but after a General Election she has said to me, ‘Well Sir, simple as I am, I’ve always heard there was never better times than when the Conservatives was in power.’”
I am Pallas Athene; and I know the thoughts of all men’s hearts, and discern their manhood or their baseness. And from the souls of clay I turn away, and they are blest, but not by me. They fatten at ease, like sheep in the pasture, and eat what they did not sow, like oxen in the stall. They grow and spread, like the gourd along the ground; but, like the gourd, they give no shade to the traveller, and when they are ripe death gathers them, and they go down unloved into hell, and their name vanishes out of the land.
‘But to the souls of fire I give more fire, and to those who are manful I give a might more than man’s. These are the heroes, the sons of the Immortals, who are blest, but not like the souls of clay. For I drive them forth by strange paths, Perseus, that they may fight the Titans and the monsters, the enemies of Gods and men. Through doubt and need, danger and battle, I drive them; and some of them are slain in the flower of youth, no man knows when or where; and some of them win noble names, and a fair and green old age; but what will be their latter end I know not, and none, save Zeus, the father of Gods and men. Tell me now, Perseus, which of these two sorts of men seem to you more blest?’
—Charles Kingsley, The Heroes.