At first sight, 1982 is not a promising year for anniversaries. Almost the only one is just approaching. The Home Office and the Foreign Office were both founded in 1782 – products of a short-lived Whig ministry. This earth-shaking event is to be celebrated by a series of lectures for each Office. I was invited to give a lecture and was then struck off when I revealed that I do not lecture from a script. Perhaps it was wise to eliminate me. No doubt I should not have been able to resist John Bright’s definition of British foreign policy as ‘a gigantic system of out-relief for the British aristocracy’. 1882 is even less fertile. All I can discover is that in 1882 Charles Bradlaugh, the atheist, administered the oath to himself in the House of Commons. But try the half-centuries and relief is at hand. On 4 June 1832 the great Reform Bill became law under the name of the Representation of the People Act – quite a misnomer, in fact: only a small minority of the British people possessed the vote even after the Reform Bill. It took just under a century for them to reach something like universal suffrage. Nevertheless, the Reform Bill started the process. To adapt Macaulay’s sentence about the Glorious Revolution of 1688, it was because we had the Reform Bill in 1832 that we did not have a revolution in the 20th century. Parliamentary democracy stemmed from the Reform Bill, though this was far from the intention of those who promoted it. Present-day radicals are often impatient with the House of Commons. I think they are wrong: the Constitution is the foundation of our liberties, particularly as constantly reformed. So God bless Lord Grey of the Reform Bill and the Whigs who reluctantly supported him.
[*] The lecture is published by Merlin Press (22 January, 60p, 0 85036 286 5, 36 pp.).
[†] The Opies’ work is published by Oxford. The Classic Fairy Tales was issued in paperback by Paladin in 1980 (352 pp., £3.95, 0 586 083359). Also available in paperback are The Lore and Language of School Children (Paladin, 448 pp., £2.50, 1977, 0 586 083111) and The Puffin Book of Nursery Rhymes (Puffin, 224 pp., £1, 1970, 014 030200 X).
Vol. 4 No. 6 · 1 April 1982
SIR: One would have more respect for Mr A. J. P. Taylor’s opinions if he had more respect for facts. In his ‘Diary’ in your issue for 4-17 March he writes that ‘Professor Howard tells us in the columns of the Times that the peace of the world will be imperilled if we relinquish nuclear weapons.’ When on earth did I do this? My only contribution to the Times for well over a year was a letter on 3 November last, in which I wrote that ‘the Western strategy of relying on the first use of nuclear weapons to defend ourselves is not only morally dubious but politically and militarily incredible’; and went on to urge an improvement in our conventional forces so as to diminish, if not eliminate, our dependence on nuclear weapons. Lord Carver, I am glad to say, also ‘preaches the same doctrine’, but it is certainly not that which Mr Taylor attributes either to him or to me.
I had the pleasure of listening to Mr Taylor’s Romanes Lecture and hearing his highly original interpretation of the causes of the two world wars. This, if true, will require a complete rewriting of the history of Europe in the 20th century, including his own contributions: but I would prefer not to comment in more detail until I have seen the full text.
Vol. 4 No. 8 · 6 May 1982
SIR: When A.J.P. Taylor says (LRB, 4 March) that 1882 is not a fertile year for anniversaries, he is either suffering from presbyopia or indulging in provocation – presumably and hopefully the latter. A short search will reveal not just Bradlaugh administering the oath to himself in the House of Commons – a particularly ironic episode in his six-year struggle to take his seat without taking the oath (something most people still wrongly think he never did) – but also Bradlaugh being prosecuted for blasphemy, and many other much more important events. Taylor himself must be perfectly well aware of the Phoenix Park murders in Ireland and the formation of the Triple Alliance in Europe. There are the British occupation of Egypt, the Mahdi rising in Sudan, the Italian invasion of Eritrea, the Serbian proclamation of a kingdom, the Tonkinese rising against the French, the French claim of protectorate in Madagascar, the American laws against polygamy and Chinese immigration, the establishment of electricity generation and electric street lighting in Britain and the United States, the discovery of the tubercle bacillus and the invention of the electric fan and iron, the opening of Epping Forest and the St Gothard Tunnel, England’s loss of the Ashes, Oscar Wilde’s journey to America and Kipling’s journey to India, the performance of Wagner’s Parsifal and Ibsen’s Enemy of the People, the playing of Tchaikovsky’s 1912 Overture and the exhibition of Manet’s Bar at the Folies Bergères, the publication of Tolstoy’s Confession and Nietzsche’s Gay Science, William Vanderbilt saying, ‘The public be damned,’ and John Bogart saying: ‘When a man bites a dog that is news.’ Is there any chance that 1982 will be so fertile a year?