13 October 2011

Dorothy Sayers, Conclusion

Two weeks ago I quoted a passage from Dorothy Sayer's introduction to her translation of Dante's Divine Comedy. Click here to refresh your recollection. She listed some of the references drawn largely from British history of the late 19th and early 20th century that a British poet in the middle of the 20th century might use in creating an analog. Her point was that these references will become obscure over time, just as the various references of medival Italy now seem quite obscure to us.

The passage of time has proven her right in this.  In last week's entries, though, I found something to say about eachof the allusions -- except for those below.  Today we conclude our self-appointed task as annoator for Sayer's hypoithetical poem.

"the Officer in the Tower" -- Norman Baillie-Stewart (1909-1966), a Subaltern in the Seaforth Highlanders, who was court martialled in 1933 for selling military secrets to Germany. The two countries were not yet at war, so he was not in danger of execution for treason, but he did become the last British citizen ever imprisoned in the Tower of London, and earned the italicized nickname.

Peter the Painter --  the pseudonym of a Latvian Communist revolutionary, who was involved in street fighting in London (the "siege of Sydney Street") in 1910-11. His "real identity" is still a matter of some dispute, but it may well have been Yakov Peters (1886 - 1938).

Jenkins 'of the Ear', -- Robert Jenkins -- the birth and death dates are uncertain. He was captain of a commercial brig sailing the West Indies in 1731. His vessel was stopped and boarded by a Spanish ship, and his ear was severed.  The incident became the professed cause of a war between England and Spain.

Dick Sheppard (1880 - 1937), the Dean of Canterbury Cathedral from 1929 until illness forced him to retire two years later. Sheppard was was of the outstanding clerical pacifists of the inter-war period.

Jack Sheppard (1702-1724), a thief was was repeatedly arrested by, and who repeatedly escaped from, the authorities in 18th century London, making him a Robin-Hood type figure in the eyes of some.

'the Widow at Windsor' -- A phrase popularized by Rudyard Kipling for Queen Victoria (1819-1901). It refers of course to the period of her rule after the death of Prince Albert in 1861.

The writer of this hypothetical poem also "holds strong views on" the following issues, on each of which I'll say a very few words:

Trade Unionism -- nowadays we would probably speak of "labor unions," and "collective bargaining." The phrase "trade unions" with or without an "ism" seems antique.

the constitution of the UNO -- of course the United Nations' constitution was and continues to be a target of objection both by nationalists who believe it constrains the sovereignty of member nations and by full-blooded internationalists who complain that it doesn't.

the 'theology of crisis' -- a phrase associated especially with Karl Barth (1886-1968), emphasizing the utter Otherness of God, and thus His unknowability. Reliance on scripture doesn't remove this unknowability, for: "The Bible is God's Word so far as God lets it be His Word," Barth wrote.

Freudian psychology -- Sigmund Freud (1856 - 1939) hardly needs comment from me, except to say that his influence was at something of a peak in the post-war British context of Sayers' hypothetical poet.

Einsteinian astronomy -- refers of course to Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955) and the profound changes he introduced into how we think about Space, Time, Matter, and Energy.

and the art of Mr. Jacob Epstein (1880 - 1959), an influential sculptor, whose art includes for example "St. Michael's Victory Over the Devil," a work affixed to the wall of Coventry Cathedral.

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.