Thursday, 11 March 2010

Taking Guard for my Second Century: Retrospective Mood

War. The Exile and the Rock Limpet - J.M.W. Turner. (1)

Exhibited in 1842 - painted in the aftermath of the return of Napoleon's body from St. Helena.

A curious picture by the famous romantic landscape painter - and arguably Britain's finest artist.

An exiled Napoleon with elongated legs, guarded by a British soldier, gazing on a limpet. The land he inhabits bears no resemblance to St. Helena. It is perhaps a state of mind.

Turner incidentally was a friend of Sir John Soane, who has appeared previously in this blog.

Anyway it seemed a suitably reflective picture to begin the second century. Excuse the cricketing reference in the title - but Wellington did I think at one point say that Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton! As to whether I shall complete the second century, perhaps the only wise comment is that cricketers rarely do.

Some Questions to Myself

Why do I do it? The hardest question to answer. I guess the simplest answer is that I enjoy it.

Which post do I think is the best? Perhaps the one on Capel Lofft - it certainly took me a long while to assemble. I personally like to look back on my very earliest posts, which evoke a wonderful holiday which my wife and I hope to repeat sometime.

Which post has been the most visited? Possibly the ones on Maldivia for a time - they certainly got a number of comments.

The Rev Boys and Napoleon's chair also seemed to excite a lot of interest.

The post about the Two Saints in Manchester seems to be very frequently visited via google images. I don't know why, I have a feeling it is something to do with Manchester United and Old Trafford (the football not the cricket ground of the same name). Posts on Betsy Balcombe and the Exhumation of Napoleon also seem popular.

There are also a surprising number of people who ask google what language is spoken on St. Helena and so end up on my blog, and likewise those looking for the St Helena Independent.

What have you enjoyed the most? Meeting with the Manchester Maldivian Community, emails from blog readers and chats with other bloggers.

What is your opinion of Napoleon? I haven't made up my mind, maybe I never will. He seeems to me to have been extraordinarily complex and multi-talented - and probably the most remarkable man to emerge in a thousand years of European history.

What has surprised you the most? The interest my blog aroused in the Maldive Islands. Also, over a longer period, the discovery of the unique place which Napoleon held in the British imagination. Like most people I was unaware of the respect and some times support which many in Britain had for him from his own time right up until the first world war - most memorably when Queen Victoria visited Les Invalides and bade the young Prince of Wales kneel down before "the Great Napoleon." Many of my posts have reflected this.

To go back to the question of why I do it, perhaps I should end with a few comments by A.J.P.Taylor made 40 years ago in a review of books by George Lefebvre, Gilbert Martineau and others:
There are more books about Napoleon than about any other human being (a phrase carefully chosen in order to rule out Jesus Christ). More than 100,000 titles appeared by the end of the nineteenth century, and no one has made the count of those which have appeared since. Probably the total has by now reached a quarter of a million, and more are added every year. It is odd enough that readers should want to go on reading such books. It is even odder that writers should want to go on writing them. Can there really be anything fresh to be said on the subject, any new gold to be found in this well-dug field? It seems so. Napoleon not only remains a profitable market. He actually provides pleasure for those who write about him. It is very rare to pick up a book about Napoleon which has the air of being a hack job. Nearly every author seems to be in the game for the love of the thing.(2)

Love of the game - a very English/British idea - although perhaps not how others see us!

1. Part of Turner's bequest to the nation. It is in the Tate Gallery.
2. "The Emperor Industry", New York Review of Books, Volume 13, Number 11 · December 18, 1969

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