Thursday, 28 July 2011

Death of Constantine - Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Chapter 18 Part 2

Constantine died in Nicomedia in 337 after a short illness.  He had lived to 64, a good age for the time. And he had one of the longest reigns in the history of the empire.  His death came just after he had celebrated his thirtieth year as emperor, something only Augustus had previously achieved.  It was fitting that he was buried in Constantinople, the city he founded.

Read more about the death of constantine at the new home of the blog.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Character of Constantine - Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Chapter 18

If it weren't for Constantine it is quite likely that very few of us would have ever been inside a Christian Church.  The city he founded bore his name up until the lifetime of my Grandfather.  It is still the largest one in Europe.   Ten more emperors were to bear the name Constantine, and when Greece became an independent nation in modern times several of its kings were also called Constantine which remains a popular name there and elsewhere.  Aristocratic titles throughout Europe  hark back to ranks in Constantine's army. So it is natural to be curious about what a man who had so much influence on history was really like.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Goblin Town: A Socialist reads the Hobbit Part 6

"I'm a roving Jack of all trades
Of every trade and all trades
And if you want to know my name
They call me Jack of all trades… 
In Swallow Street made bellows-pipes
In Wharf Street was a blacksmith
In Beak Street there I did sell tripe
In Freeman Street a locksmith
In Cherry Street I was a quack
In Summer Lane sold pancakes
On then at last I got a knack
To manufacture worm cakes"

Birmingham folk song.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Constantinople - Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Chapter 17

With the defeat of  Licinius, Constantine was left as the sole leader of the entire Roman world.  But that didn't stop him from dreaming.  In one dream he saw the spirit of the city of Byzantium as a tired and frail old matron.  But then she was transformed before his eyes into a beautiful young woman and with his own hands he adorned her with the accoutrements of an imperial city.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Rivendell - A Socialist reads the Hobbit Part 5

The Hobbit was a great success on its publication.  Children loved it and sales were robust.  The publisher asked Tolkien for more about hobbits.  Tolkien’s response was to send an early draft of the Silmarillion.

For anyone who hasn’t read both books, here is the opening line of the first one.

“In a hole in the ground lived a hobbit.”

Here is one of the opening lines of the Silmarillion. (Its structure is a bit diffuse making it hard to tell exactly where the actual narrative begins.)

“In the beginning was Eru, who in Arda is known as Illuvatar”.

It doesn't really grab you and pull you into the story the way the Hobbit does. I think the publishers can be forgiven for deciding not to go with the Silmarillion.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

The Fortune of the Rougons by Emile Zola

The Fortune Of The Rougons
Why does anyone get this into their head to do this?  At some point Emile Zola decided that it would be a good idea to write a huge series of novels based around the interlinked tales of one family.

The whole series would take him over twenty years and finish up comprising twenty separate full sized novels.  One of them, Germinal, would go on to become one of the great classic novels.  It would be easy to regard the whole series as one of the all time classics of mission creep.  But in the introduction to the very first one of them, the Fortune of the Rougons, Zola makes it clear that the large scale of the project was something that he conceived from the very beginning.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Dangerous Nation - Robert Kagan

Expansion of the United States (From Wikipedia)

America is and always has been a highly expansionist entity.  It has used diplomacy, commerce and outright military force to expand its influence over the globe and to promote its own interests.  It has been markedly successful in this project and is now the most powerful nation the world has ever seen.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

News of the World - Good Riddance

Rubbish First Edition of Paper that was Rubbish from beginning to end

I like history, but I try not to be sentimental about historical things.  The News of the World has been a British institution for 168 years.  When I did a paper round as a boy half the Sunday papers we delivered to the council estate I grew up on were the News of the World.  So am I sad to see it go?  Not a bit.  It might be a part of British culture but it was always a rubbish bit of British culture and we are better off without it.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Table Talk by William Hazlitt

William Hazlitt - Self Portrait (Thanks to Wikipedia)
Thanks to Jane Austen, and even more to all the television and film adaptations, we tend to think of Victorian and pre-Victorian Britain as a bit of a stuffy class based society where everyone knew their place.  And so no doubt it was.