06 October 2011

A Guide to Dorothy Sayers I

You may remember that last week 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.  I've decided to see if I can say something about every one of her references, just as if these were for the annotations of a real poet.

Let's begin:

Chamberlain (him of the orchid) – Joseph Chamberlain (1836 – 1914), who wore an orchid as a personal signature, was a prominent political figure of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and though never prime minister his name was associated with a hawkish policy against the Boers in South Africa.  He was also the father of the next figure on our list.

Chamberlain (him of the umbrella) – Neville Chamberlain (1869-1940, prime minister 1937-1940)  -- widely reviled in the post war years including the period in which Sayers was writing – he has found some scholarly defenders since. He often carried an umbrella in public, was always portrayed with one in cartoons, and  is remembered for his part in the Munich Accords, conceding Germany’s sovereignty over the Sudetenland in what had been Czechoslovakia.

[Stewart Houston] Chamberlain (1855-1927), a British-born author of books on race, he became a German citizen in 1916 and produced anti-Brit propaganda for the remainder of that war.  It doesn’t appear that there was any relation to the above Chamberlains.

“Brides-in-the-Bath” Smith – George Joseph Smith (1872 – 1915), a serial killer convicted in the Old Bailey in 1915 of drowning each of his three wives.

 “Galloper” Smith – F.E. Smith, who became known as “Galloper” when that term was used in much the way we use the term “gofer.” A Galloper was someone who did errands for someone more famous.  F.E. Smith was an associate/galloper of Sir Edward Carson  in support of giving Ireland Home Rule. Later, he became Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain.

Horatio Bottomsley (1860-1933) – the publisher of a patriotic journal of opinion, John Bull, during the first world war.  Argued for the confiscation of the property of German nationals living in Britain, and a requirement that they be required to wear distinctive clothing.   I hope Dorothy Sayers was thinking of him as a plausible occupant of one of the rings of hell. 

Horatio Lord Nelson (1758-1805)  this one requires no explanation.  Victor at Trafalgar.

Fox [Charles or George] .  George Fox (1624-1691) was the founder of the Society of Friends (Quakers).

Charles Fox (1749-1806) was the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs for about three months in 1782, as the Brits sought to cut their losses in America. That was just an incident within a long parliamentary career, in which he was perhaps the most prominent advocate of the abolition of slavery within the Empire.

Man who picked up the bomb in Jermyn Street – this apparently refers to Al Bowlly (1898-1941), a jazz crooner who made a thousand recordings in the late 1920s and through the 1930s, in both the UK and US, and whose life was brought to an end during the Blitz in London in the manner to which this phrase makes reference.

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) this one doesn’t yet require explanation.  

Oscar Slater (1872 – 1948), the victim of a once-notorious case of mistaken identity in the murder of Marion Gilchrist in 1908.  The case has often been cited as showing the imperfect nature of witness identifications/line-ups etc. The identification evidence in this case was the result of coaching of the witnesses and more subtle means of slanting their decision.

Oscar Browning (1837-1923), a figure of some repute at Cambridge University in the late 19th century.  Mentioned quite unfavorably by Virginia Woolf in “A Room of One’s Own” in connection with his prejudice against the education of women.  
That's a good start.  More tomorrow.

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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.