Jigs Gardner

Jigs Gardner

Jigs Gardner is an associate editor of the St. Croix Review.

Tuesday, 25 September 2018 13:51

My Harvey Weinstein Moment

My Harvey Weinstein Moment

Jigs Gardner

Jigs Gardner is an associate editor of The St. Croix Review. Jigs Gardner writes on literature from the Adirondacks, where he may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

There was a time, as a senior in high school, when my career might’ve taken a turn toward fame and fortune, but alas! It was not to be. I was the ordinary horny 17-year-old, not very bold, in fact, not bold at all, but with a jaunty façade. One morning as classes were changing, I walked into the room where my history class was to be held, and in the crush of students leaving and students arriving, I found myself next to Faye Stein, a very attractive girl. We smiled and nodded, and I saw that she was wearing a tight blouse that seemed to thrust her classic bust toward me. Without a thought in my head I reached out and cupped one of those beautiful breasts in my hand. Faye reacted instantly, slapping my face so hard I was staggered. The whole thing was over in an instant, and I don’t think anyone noticed, but in that moment the career that might have been vanished. Had Faye equivocated, I might have gone on to fame and fortune, Hollywood, the Senate, who knows what heights I might have scaled.     *

Writers for Conservatives, 71: The Wolf by the Ears — Thomas Jefferson and Slavery, by J. C. Miller

Jigs Gardner

Jigs Gardner is an associate editor of The St. Croix Review. Jigs Gardner writes on literature from the Adirondacks, where he may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The title, an image used by Jefferson to express the dilemma of Southerners who wanted to abolish slavery but couldn’t find ways to do it, is an apt summary of this book, a thorough account of Jefferson’s thinking on the subject from the 1780s until his death in 1826. The history of the period, before slavery (thanks to Calhoun) was regarded as a positive good, makes for very sad reading because abolition had more support then than it had later, and prominent men, like Washington, were known to despise it.

Jefferson’s role in the arguments of the time begins with his “Summary View of the Rights of British America” (1774), publication of which may have led to his being picked to write the Declaration of Independence. In the “Summary View” he claimed that slavery had been forced on Americans by George III. His belaboring of the issue in the first draft of the Declaration was cut out by his collaborators. Later, his draft of a constitution for Virginia, advocating gradual abolition, was rejected, and so was the same project in his contemplated revision of the laws of Virginia. The Continental Congress’s Ordinance of 1784, prohibiting slavery in the territories ceded to the government by the states, was lost by one vote (the Northwest Ordinance of 1789 banned slavery north of the Ohio River in the territories).

After peace was established and stringencies of wartime were relaxed, Jefferson was dismayed to see that the ostentation and self-indulgence he had deplored before the war, and which he had attributed to the “demoralizing influence of monarchial government and slavery,” had returned, and he preached “frugality, temperance, and the simple life of the American farmer.” He blamed the credit advanced by British merchants. His thinking on this point — he maintained his prejudice against Great Britain and “Monarchism” to the end — was not merely simple-minded but almost hallucinatory.

From 1785 to 1790 he lived in Paris as the minister to France, and he wrote Notes on Virginia in which he had his full say in print, for the first and last time, on slavery. At first the book was circulated in manuscript because it was intended only for the eyes of French savants. It was only when a pirated edition was published that he agreed to its publication, and then only anonymously with limited circulation. In it he condemned the Virginia constitution of 1776, expressed his abhorrence of slavery, and asserted the inferiority of Negroes’ intelligence. He feared that his condemnation of slavery would be premature and would strengthen resistance to its abolition. This was to be a constant theme throughout his life.

The point should be made that Jefferson was mainly concerned, not so much with the slaves, but with the effect of slavery on the white masters, insisting that it debased them. He thought Negroes were inferior and when they were freed should be banished from America, because he feared race war and miscegenation.

I should say something about the Sally Heming story, presuming that my readers will know about it, or at least Fawn Brodie’s version of it. In fact, the story was started by James Callender, an amazingly scurrilous writer (he can hardly be called a journalist) who had fled from Great Britain after publishing a diatribe against his country, a book which confirmed Jefferson’s worst prejudices and inspired him to call Callender a “man of genius.” He gave the rogue money and promised to further his publishing career. Jefferson was then Vice President in Adams’ Federalist administration. Callender published a book attacking the Federalists. Jefferson bought fifteen copies. Then Callender wrote The Prospect Before Us, blacking the reputations of Hamilton, Washington, and Adams, a book which Jefferson read in proof. After Jefferson became President in 1800, Callender, for reasons too involved to explain here, turned against him, made a Richmond paper into an anti-Jefferson scandal sheet, and invented the Sally Heming story. Miller devotes a chapter to it and to my mind, convinces me of its falsity (and the falsity of Fawn Brodie’s account as well). Incidentally, we are mistaken if we think the bitterly partisan tenor of the media today is unprecedented, as even a cursory glimpse of the newspapers of Jefferson’s time will show. The Sally Heming story (complete with a “dusky harem”) was printed in a Richmond paper. Talk about “fake news”!

Controversy erupted in 1819 over the admission of Missouri as a slave state. Southerners wanted it because it affected the balance of power in the Senate, but a group of Northern Jeffersonian Republicans broke away from the domination of the Virginian dynasty to sponsor the Tallmadge amendment forbidding slavery there. After all, Missouri was north of the Mason-Dixon line. The Amendment passed the House, but lost in the Senate. What interests us is Jefferson’s reaction. He saw the Amendment as an attempt by Northerners to use the federal government to crush the South, and he went so far as to advocate legalizing slavery in all the territories, arguing that by diffusing the ownership of slavery over such a vast area (he thought, for some reason that they would be small farms) in small groups, abolition would be easier. He was violent in his denunciations of what he thought of as Northern aggrandizement.

This account of Jefferson’s thinking about slavery, politics, and American prospects is depressing, but we should think of him and his choices in the context of his time. It is not generally realized how constrained Southerners, especially Virginians, were then, but once we know how Virginia was molded in the 17th century by the royal governor Berkeley (who ruled from 1641 to 1670) who was determined to make it a royalist colony by encouraging the immigration of royalists (willing to leave Great Britain at the time of their Civil War and Cromwell’s Commonwealth), the vigor and persistence of slavery is explained.

These royalists were granted extensive parcels of land for tobacco plantations, and of course, they were worked by slaves. Indentured servants, common then, soon gained their freedom and went off to small farms of their own, but slavery created a stable working class; they were going nowhere. Slavery was created to perpetuate the Southern system and it could not be abolished without destroying that system.

People, even historians as shrewd as Allan Nevins, often express the wish for an inspired leader who, in the decades before the Civil War, could have solved the great issue, but that could never be. It took 600,000 lives to begin the job and another century to finish it.     *

Writers for Conservatives, 71: Medieval Technology and Social Change by Lynn White

Jigs Gardner

Jigs Gardner is an associate editor of The St. Croix Review. Jigs Gardner writes on literature from the Adirondacks, where he may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Over the years I have led my readers into some odd corners of the world of books, but this may be the oddest. It is a scholarly book on what would seem to be obscure subjects — the origin of the stirrup and its relation to feudalism; the plow and agriculture in the early Middle Ages — The Medieval Exploration of Mechanical Power and Devices. Furthermore, while I enjoy footnotes, you may not, especially when they take up half the page and are in German, Latin, French, and sometimes Italian, and sometimes, when the author is pressing the material evidence hard, you get sentences like this:

“Linden Schmidt, who published the Budenheim stirrup, was reluctant to date it more exactly than ‘Frankish,’ and there is no adequate reason for altering his judgment.”

But that’s when he is on a hunt for the origins of things, like the stirrup; his ideas and conclusions are written in strong, concise prose. This could be, in fact, the model of a scholarly book suitable for intellectually curious readers — as I hope can be said of my audience.

The preface should not be neglected, because it succinctly explains the book’s purpose. He begins by pointing out the illusion that written records give us “a reasonably accurate facsimile of past human activity.” He goes on:

“If historians are to attempt to write the history of mankind, and not simply the history of mankind as it was viewed by the small and specialized segments . . . which have had the habit of scribbling, they must . . . use all the resources of archaeology, iconography, and etymology to find answers when no answers can be discovered in contemporary writings.”

In the first chapter he explains the classic theory of feudalism: “a type of social organization designed to produce and support cavalry,” and he lays out the evidence. As late as 733 Charles Martel’s army that defeated the Saracens at Poitiers were composed of infantry, but in 758 Pepin the Short changed the Saxon tribute from cattle to horses, and in 755 the Marchfield, the traditional muster of the Frankish army, was moved to May so there would be enough forage for a large number of horses. Charles Martel’s vast confiscations of Church lands, begun in the 730s, were used to support an “. . . enlarged body of followers on condition that they serve him on horseback . . . the ancient custom of swearing allegiance (vassalage) was fused with the granting of an estate (benefice) and the result was feudalism.” But why did they suddenly create this mounted force?

The answer lies in the use of stirrups. White then discusses what we know of the stirrup’s origins, a complicated, ambiguous, and confusing story. Finally the author decides that the stirrup first appeared in Western Europe in the early 8th century. When Frankish weapons changed; infantry weapons are replaced by a heavy lance with “spurs below the blade to prevent too deep penetration . . . which might result in difficulty in withdrawing the weapon,” something which makes sense only if we are contemplating mounted shock combat, made possible by the stirrup, which keeps the warrior firmly in the saddle as he charges with his lance under his arm. He is no longer a man on a horse, swinging a sword, but a unit, horse and man together, directing their combined mass and force against the target. White then goes on to show how the spread of the Frankish innovation feudalized Europe, with special attention to the Norman conquest of England. He concludes:

“Few inventions have been so simple as the stirrup, but few have had so catalytic an influence on history . . . antiquity imagined the centaur; the early Middle Ages made him

master of Europe.”

The author begins the next chapter on the agricultural revolution of the early Middle Ages by pointing out that scholars have largely ignored illiterate peasants despite the centrality of agriculture to all societies until about two centuries ago, thus preparing us for revelations from archaeology and iconography. He begins with the plow, distinguishing between what was essentially a large digging stick, a scratch plow, used in the light Mediterranean soil, and the moldboard plow used in the heavier, moister, northern soils that yielded far better returns. This heavier plow, with its colter, share, and moldboard:

“. . . offered much greater resistance to the soil so it required not just one yoke of oxen but four (eight animals), which meant that the peasants would have to pool their resources — all the lands of a village had to be reorganized into vast, fenceless open fields.”

As a consequence, peasants had to join together to decide how the “total lands of the community should be managed” — “the essence of the manorial economy in northern Europe.” There follows a discussion of variations in field types (which we can see today with aerial photography) and plows, because this was a phenomenon that occurred from the Slavic lands in the 5th century all the way to Britain in the 9th century.

The next step in the revolution was the development of efficient harness and the nailed horseshoe, which would make the horse “an economic as well as military asset.” The ubiquity of horseshoes is evident by the 11th century, useful harness somewhat earlier. The advantage of the horse over the ox is that while they both exert the same pull, the horse moves much faster and has more endurance. This led to another significant change, the abandonment of small settlements for larger villages, because peasants could now, with horses, go to and from their field work at a greater distance.

The next section is about the development of a more productive farming regime, the three-field rotation and its accompanying improvement in nutrition. The first thing to understand is that the Mediterranean system (which prevailed also in Europe in lighter soils) was a two-field rotation: half the fields were planted and half fallowed to restore fertility. The cultivated fields were planted with grains in the fall and in the spring with relatively trivial crops. The next year the two fields exchanged functions. The three-field system, developed in the 8th century (especially in Charlemagne’s imperial manors) worked like this:

“. . . the arable soil was divided into thirds. One section was planted in the autumn with winter wheat or rye. The following spring the second field was planted with oats, barely, peas, chickpeas, lentil, or broad beans (summer crops). The third field was left fallow. The next year the first field was planted with summer crops; the second field was left

fallow; the third field was put into winter grains.”

I won’t go into more detail, but White shows that the system was more productive because more crops were grown with less plowing and more efficiency; the spring planting, the essence of the new rotation, greatly increased production of certain crops: oats, prime food for horses, and legumes with enriched the soil, maintaining its fertility under more intensive use. The autumn planting was mainly carbohydrates while the spring planting was rich in vegetable proteins, peas and beans. It was not just the quantity of food produced by the three-field system, but also its quality that led to the great leap in population, the growth in cities and commerce — indeed the foundation for the modern world.

The book is very satisfying because of its great explanatory power. The ideas it advances about the origin and nature of feudalism, about the significance of material changes in technology and about their widespread effects on society are fascinating in themselves and in their implications for the way we think about social change at any time and place. The chapter about agriculture is especially interesting to me, a farmer always faced with the problem of how to squeeze more production from grudging land.

There is much more to the book than I have told here, for instance the last chapter about “the Medieval exploration of mechanical power and devices,” as well as many details about the three-field system and the evolution of the use of horse power.

Finally I should mention a flaw that was to have large consequences in White’s later career. He argues that because of the shift from subsistence farming to farming for more and wider production, man was no longer part of nature: “. . . now he became her exploiter. . . . Man and nature are now two things, and man is master.” Not only is this absurd in itself — men have always exploited nature and they have never been its master — but it led him, a few years later (this book was published in 1962), to write a book indicting Christianity as the driving force behind our so-called destruction of the environment: Charlemagne, after all, was the Holy Roman Emperor.

But I shall always be grateful for this book for the intelligent way it was conceived and written. And it confirms my conviction that the hand feeds the mind, or as Karl Marx put it, conditions create consciousness.     *

Writers for Conservatives, 69: The Battle for Japan, 1944-45

Jigs Gardner

Jigs Gardner is an associate editor of The St. Croix Review. Jigs Gardner writes on literature from the Adirondacks, where he may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

That’s the subtitle of the book under discussion, Retribution, another of Max Hastings’ magnificent books about World War II, akin to Armageddon, about the final throes of Nazi Germany, a book I wrote about not long ago. I cannot praise his work enough. Although this is not about the course of the war in 1942 and ’43, he refers to it often, and we know it as the preliminary to the actions that follow in the last two years of the war. When the Japanese were swiftly overrunning Southeast Asia — Indonesia, Burma, Malaya, Borneo, Indo-China, the Philippines — they seemed invincible, but the battles of the Coral Sea, Midway, and Guadalcanal, severely tested them, and thereafter, their weaknesses began to show, as, for instance, their seeming inability to learn from experience and improve their weapons. The Zero, a superior fighter plane in 1941, was soon outclassed by American planes, like the Grumman Hellcat, and the tactical skill shown by the Japanese navy in the battles around Guadalcanal gave way to clumsiness in the Battle of Leyte Gulf.

Although chronology is not ignored, and the book moves inexorably forward, the book is really organized around subjects like “The British in Burma” or “Blockade: War Under Water,” because in that way we can better grasp the larger outlines and issues of the war. For example, instead of proceeding from island to island, as a conventional account would do, the only island campaigns Hastings describes in detail are Iwo Jima and Okinawa. As he points out, battles in the Pacific were short and intense, quite unlike the European battles, and important as they were, they were not so essential as submarine warfare. As the U.S. strategic Bombing Survey put it,

“The war against shipping was the most decisive single factor in the collapse of the Japanese economy and logistic support of Japanese military and naval power. Submarines accounted for the majority of vessel sinkings.”

     

For nearly everything Japan depended on imports, and once the subs stopped focusing on warships and saw the significance of tankers and freighters, they strangled the Japanese economy. As Hastings says,

“No other combatant force as small as the U.S. Navy’s submarine flotillas and their 16,000 men achieved a comparable impact upon the war anywhere in the world.”

The B-29 campaign, led by Curtis LeMay, which burned out Japanese cities, while it was certainly destructive (far more so than the A-bombs), was mainly psychological in effect. It reminds me of Sherman’s march through Georgia and the Carolinas: it exposed the impotence of the government and the power of the U.S. And men like LeMay are “indispensable to those who fight wars on behalf of any nation.”

The value of the book is enhanced by its scope — it covers the British campaign in Burma as well as the war in China and the Russian campaign in Manchuria — and the balanced judgments he brings to bear on those conflicts. The question raised by the Japanese defeat of the colonial powers — Britain, France, and Holland — are most apparent in Burma (the troubles in Indo China and the Dutch East Indies only became pressing after the war), but it is only an undercurrent. The Burmese troops the Japanese raised melted away in the heat of battle. Hastings admires General Slim, whom he regards as the best British general of the war, and his Burma campaign was masterly (although he was never appreciated by his government).

The Chinese situation was complex, and the Americans never mastered it. We mainly supported Chiang, but there were some supporters of Mao. What no one saw was that each side, far from wishing to fight the Japanese, were only preparing for their own struggle for mastery after the war. Hastings’ account of different characters, their ideas, and their consequences, is wonderfully illuminating. I have never read such a clarifying account of the Chinese mess.

Another subject that Hastings handles skillfully is MacArthur, who largely escapes critical scrutiny in most accounts of the war. I am not thinking of his blunders in the Philippines in 1941 and ’42 (bad as they were, he was in a hopeless situation), but his strategic decision to invade the Philippines. The problem was that he had been built into such a hero in the dark days of 1942 that his wishes couldn’t be ignored. It was not until 1951 that Truman brought him down. It would have been better, certainly for the Philippines, if MacArthur had invaded the Philippines only to seize a couple of air fields. As it was, he exposed civilians in Manila to slaughter, and he wasted troops liberating every corner of the archipelago.

No book that I know of treats the Russian invasion of Manchuria, and Retribution is valuable for that alone.

Throughout, Hastings describes the brutality exercised by the Japanese on civilians and prisoners, and at the end he speaks of the Japanese denial of their past:

“As long as such denial persists, it will remain impossible for the world to believe that Japan has come to terms with the horrors which it inflicted upon Asia two-thirds of a century ago.”

Reading this book not only informs the reader of the Pacific war, it educates him in the fine art of balanced judgment of historical facts.     *

Writers for Conservatives, 67: Anglo-Saxon Attitudes

Jigs Gardner

Jigs Gardner is an associate editor of The St. Croix Review. Jigs Gardner writes on literature from the Adirondacks, where he may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

Angus Wilson (1913-1991), who emerged as a leading British novelist after the war, was an admirer of Victorian literature (he wrote books about both Dickens and Kipling), and it shows in his wonderful second novel, Anglo-Saxon Attitudes (1956), which is crowded with colorful characters closely observed and intricately connected. There’s a happy ending and what’s more, a moral one, completely believable. It is a remarkable novel, ingeniously plotted, filled with memorable scenes and characters.

The book opens with a newspaper account from 1912 of the discovery of a Saxon bishop’s tomb from the 7th century in which a pagan fertility figure anomalously turns up. This is the central incident of the story to which all the later incidents are related. The hoax (for it is a hoax) perpetrated there starts a trail of falsity that runs throughout the book. The protagonist, Gerald Middleton, must expose the lie in order to confront and conquer his own moral weakness. Nor is this only his own problem; moral weakness and dishonesty is manifest in other characters.

The theme of moral weakness is sounded at once at the beginning of the first chapter as Gerald reads the newspaper column of his son John who, unwittingly, is championing a man whose father-in-law was involved in the original hoax and whose wife blackmailed one of the people involved. Gerald does not know this at the time, but he dislikes his son’s “histrionic, self-deceiving temperament,” and there follows this sentence: “Never, after all, had he himself been prepared to face the truth in life, either in his family or in his profession.” He knows himself as a

“. . . family man who had had neither the courage to walk out of the marriage he hated, nor the resolution to sustain the role of father decently. An ex-professor of medieval history who had not even fulfilled the scholarly promise of studies whose general value he now doubted.”

On the evening of that day there is to be a meeting of the association of medieval scholars, and all the chapter’s incidents are pointed in that direction. Gerald reads a letter from the head of the association, Sir Edgar Iffley, about the editorship of the new medieval history (a multi-volume work) which nearly everyone wants Gerald to assume, but which he is determined to avoid. The narrative then shifts to a luncheon meeting of an eccentric scholar, Rose Lorimer, with a third-rate novelist, Clarissa Crane, who, planning to write a historical novel, has induced Dr. Lorimer to bring her as a guest to the evening meeting. The scholar is batty on the subject of the influence of paganism on the early Church (the Melpham “discovery” would be a key piece of evidence), and the luncheon is pervaded by misunderstanding as each character pursues her own thoughts in a comic contretemps that neither understands, another instance of self-deception. This is followed by a brief scene between Professor Clun, a nasty narrow-minded scholar, an antagonist of Gerald Middleton, and his browbeaten wife, as he sets out for the meeting. Next is a scene between two younger scholars discussing how to persuade Gerald to take the editor’s job. Finally we get to the meeting to be addressed by a German scholar, Professor Pforzheim. This is the annual Stokesay lecture named after the well-known historian who supervised the Melpham excavation. Hints that Stokesay went off the rails in the 1930s introduces another aspect of the theme of dishonesty: the men of Munich, the appeasers of Nazis, of which Stokesay was one. As the lecture is about to begin, Gerald whispers to Sir Edgar “There’s not a chance in a hundred that I’ll take the editorship.” So ends the first chapter.

I have described this chapter at length because I want to show how cleverly the book is plotted, each piece fitting together to advance the themes. I also want to show how the author advances the plot by showing the connections between the characters at the same time that our interest in them grows. I shall not continue in such detail, but I must show how the novel works.

The scene in chapter 4, Christmas celebrations at the home of Gerald’s wife, Ingeborg, is crucial because in it we learn about the past. Ingeborg is horribly sentimental, encroaching on everyone, but at the same time ensuring that her children, three sons and a daughter, fall under her sway. Gerald reflects, as he observes them:

“It recalled too vividly the whole pattern of his family life: a world of indulgent sweetness and syrupy intimacy. He had done nothing to reform it all these years: he could do nothing now. Nevertheless, the failure of his family life added to his preoccupation with his professional death and closed him round in a dense fog of self-disgust. It seemed to him that his whole life had grown pale and futile because it was rooted in evasion.”

Then he drowses in his armchair and hears phrases from the others in the room (who are arguing about some of the issues in the book) and what he overhears kindles memories, and in a series of flashbacks we observe revealing scenes which tell us more and more about the relations of the characters and the moral problems they raised in the past and are still raising. Gerald recalls the vivid scene when Gilbert Stokesay, the nasty son of the scholar, told him that he filched the fertility figure from a nearby pagan site and planted it in the bishop’s tomb. Because Gilbert is offensively drunk it’s easy for Gerald (and for the reader) to believe it’s “another of Gilbert’s aggressive drunken jokes.” The last flashback is about Gerald’s visit to Melpham on the day of the discovery, and the result is to invigorate him to face the truth. In fact, the others in the room have been discussing the nature of the truth, and when Gerald gets up from the chair, Ingeborg says:

“‘You know all about the truth, don’t you, Gerald?’ ‘Yes, my dear, I think I do,’ he answered, ‘but I’m going off to bed.’”

“When he got upstairs to his room, he sat down and wrote to Sir Edgar, accepting the editorship of the History.”

That chapter concludes the first half of the book, the elucidation of the past events that have led to the present; the rest of the narrative is about Gerald’s efforts as he works to discover the truth about Melpham, urged on by some of the characters. Working out the intricacies of the characters’ relations to him, to each other, and to the truth is fascinating. To symbolize Gerald’s personal triumph, at the end he accepts Sir Edgar’s proposal that he become chairman of the Historical Association.

I cannot praise this book enough. I’ve probably read it three or four times, and as I was writing this, looking up passages, I became so absorbed in my reading that I stopped writing altogether!     *

Tuesday, 31 October 2017 12:09

Letters from a Conservative Farmer: Memory

Writers for Conservatives, 67: Anglo-Saxon Attitudes

Jigs Gardner

Jigs Gardner is an associate editor of The St. Croix Review. Jigs Gardner writes on literature from the Adirondacks, where he may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

Angus Wilson (1913-1991), who emerged as a leading British novelist after the war, was an admirer of Victorian literature (he wrote books about both Dickens and Kipling), and it shows in his wonderful second novel, Anglo-Saxon Attitudes (1956), which is crowded with colorful characters closely observed and intricately connected. There’s a happy ending and what’s more, a moral one, completely believable. It is a remarkable novel, ingeniously plotted, filled with memorable scenes and characters.

The book opens with a newspaper account from 1912 of the discovery of a Saxon bishop’s tomb from the 7th century in which a pagan fertility figure anomalously turns up. This is the central incident of the story to which all the later incidents are related. The hoax (for it is a hoax) perpetrated there starts a trail of falsity that runs throughout the book. The protagonist, Gerald Middleton, must expose the lie in order to confront and conquer his own moral weakness. Nor is this only his own problem; moral weakness and dishonesty is manifest in other characters.

The theme of moral weakness is sounded at once at the beginning of the first chapter as Gerald reads the newspaper column of his son John who, unwittingly, is championing a man whose father-in-law was involved in the original hoax and whose wife blackmailed one of the people involved. Gerald does not know this at the time, but he dislikes his son’s “histrionic, self-deceiving temperament,” and there follows this sentence: “Never, after all, had he himself been prepared to face the truth in life, either in his family or in his profession.” He knows himself as a

“. . . family man who had had neither the courage to walk out of the marriage he hated, nor the resolution to sustain the role of father decently. An ex-professor of medieval history who had not even fulfilled the scholarly promise of studies whose general value he now doubted.”

On the evening of that day there is to be a meeting of the association of medieval scholars, and all the chapter’s incidents are pointed in that direction. Gerald reads a letter from the head of the association, Sir Edgar Iffley, about the editorship of the new medieval history (a multi-volume work) which nearly everyone wants Gerald to assume, but which he is determined to avoid. The narrative then shifts to a luncheon meeting of an eccentric scholar, Rose Lorimer, with a third-rate novelist, Clarissa Crane, who, planning to write a historical novel, has induced Dr. Lorimer to bring her as a guest to the evening meeting. The scholar is batty on the subject of the influence of paganism on the early Church (the Melpham “discovery” would be a key piece of evidence), and the luncheon is pervaded by misunderstanding as each character pursues her own thoughts in a comic contretemps that neither understands, another instance of self-deception. This is followed by a brief scene between Professor Clun, a nasty narrow-minded scholar, an antagonist of Gerald Middleton, and his browbeaten wife, as he sets out for the meeting. Next is a scene between two younger scholars discussing how to persuade Gerald to take the editor’s job. Finally we get to the meeting to be addressed by a German scholar, Professor Pforzheim. This is the annual Stokesay lecture named after the well-known historian who supervised the Melpham excavation. Hints that Stokesay went off the rails in the 1930s introduces another aspect of the theme of dishonesty: the men of Munich, the appeasers of Nazis, of which Stokesay was one. As the lecture is about to begin, Gerald whispers to Sir Edgar “There’s not a chance in a hundred that I’ll take the editorship.” So ends the first chapter.

I have described this chapter at length because I want to show how cleverly the book is plotted, each piece fitting together to advance the themes. I also want to show how the author advances the plot by showing the connections between the characters at the same time that our interest in them grows. I shall not continue in such detail, but I must show how the novel works.

The scene in chapter 4, Christmas celebrations at the home of Gerald’s wife, Ingeborg, is crucial because in it we learn about the past. Ingeborg is horribly sentimental, encroaching on everyone, but at the same time ensuring that her children, three sons and a daughter, fall under her sway. Gerald reflects, as he observes them:

“It recalled too vividly the whole pattern of his family life: a world of indulgent sweetness and syrupy intimacy. He had done nothing to reform it all these years: he could do nothing now. Nevertheless, the failure of his family life added to his preoccupation with his professional death and closed him round in a dense fog of self-disgust. It seemed to him that his whole life had grown pale and futile because it was rooted in evasion.”

Then he drowses in his armchair and hears phrases from the others in the room (who are arguing about some of the issues in the book) and what he overhears kindles memories, and in a series of flashbacks we observe revealing scenes which tell us more and more about the relations of the characters and the moral problems they raised in the past and are still raising. Gerald recalls the vivid scene when Gilbert Stokesay, the nasty son of the scholar, told him that he filched the fertility figure from a nearby pagan site and planted it in the bishop’s tomb. Because Gilbert is offensively drunk it’s easy for Gerald (and for the reader) to believe it’s “another of Gilbert’s aggressive drunken jokes.” The last flashback is about Gerald’s visit to Melpham on the day of the discovery, and the result is to invigorate him to face the truth. In fact, the others in the room have been discussing the nature of the truth, and when Gerald gets up from the chair, Ingeborg says:

“‘You know all about the truth, don’t you, Gerald?’ ‘Yes, my dear, I think I do,’ he answered, ‘but I’m going off to bed.’”

“When he got upstairs to his room, he sat down and wrote to Sir Edgar, accepting the editorship of the History.”

That chapter concludes the first half of the book, the elucidation of the past events that have led to the present; the rest of the narrative is about Gerald’s efforts as he works to discover the truth about Melpham, urged on by some of the characters. Working out the intricacies of the characters’ relations to him, to each other, and to the truth is fascinating. To symbolize Gerald’s personal triumph, at the end he accepts Sir Edgar’s proposal that he become chairman of the Historical Association.

I cannot praise this book enough. I’ve probably read it three or four times, and as I was writing this, looking up passages, I became so absorbed in my reading that I stopped writing altogether!     *

Writers for Conservatives, 66: The Men and the Man-Eaters

Jigs Gardner

Jigs Gardner is an associate editor of The St. Croix Review. Jigs Gardner writes on literature from the Adirondacks, where he may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

Jim Corbett (1875-1955) is known as the author of The Man-Eaters of Kumaon (1944), an account of the author’s hunting of man-eating tigers in Northern India, but he wrote other books just as interesting: The Man-Eating Leopard of Rudraprayag (1947), My India (1952), Jungle Lore (1953), The Temple Tiger and More Man-Eaters of Kumaon (1954). At first we are absorbed by the details of the hunt — stalking alone a man-eating tiger in the jungle — but before we are done we realize that Corbett’s character is just as interesting as the hunt. There is a directness, a modesty, and a simplicity of character here that is immediately appealing.

The Kumaon book (as I shall refer to it) begins with a note explaining why tigers, whose natural food is not human, turn to man-eating: usually some injury that makes it very difficult for the tiger to kill its normal prey. He goes on to acquit ordinary tigers of their supposed blood-thirstiness by telling how he has, since boyhood, roamed the jungle without fear, knowing that tigers that are not man-eaters and will not bother humans unless molested.

He begins with the story of the Champawat man-eater. It must be understood that this is extreme northern India, the foothills of the Himalayas, so there is much hiking up and down hills, and Corbett thinks nothing of walking 20 miles from his home to get to the scene of action. By the time Corbett arrives on the scene, the tiger has killed over 400 people. Many hunters have tried their hand. Evidently Corbett is regarded as the consummate expert (although the author modestly says nothing about it) because the government calls on him to hunt down the man-eater. Corbett is always thorough in his descriptions of the pains he takes to locate his prey in the jungle, and the details of climbing up and down, of edging through a field of nettles while listening to the growls of a wounded tiger certainly give the reader a vivid sense of the experience. Because the author always hunts alone, we are focused exclusively on his movements and perceptions, enhancing our knowledge of the man — and a very attractive man he is: modest, unassuming, immensely knowledgeable about the life of the jungle, a real friend to the poor hill people in the scattered settlements, the victims of the man-eater.

There is a delicacy in his dealings with the villagers that is remarkable. Approaching a woman filling a pitcher from a trickle of water by the wayside, he is careful not to frighten her by a silent appearance, but coughs to warn her, and then stays while she fills the pitcher, amiably answering all her questions about himself and his mission there. Afterwards, he points out that by patiently answering her questions he has gained an ally and the acquiescence and cooperation of the villagers. His sensitivity to the country people is exquisite.

As we eagerly follow the hunt, we begin to realize that the character of Jim Corbett is a great part of the attraction of the narrative. That we know this, that we sense the nature of his character, is due to his writing skill that makes us fearful when Corbett is fearful (as he often is) and relieved when the task is accomplished.

The Temple Tiger (1955) is like the earlier book in its descriptions of the terrain, of the villages, of all the incidents of the hunts, including a hair-raising account of a fight between a tiger and a bear. Corbett has some interesting ideas about fear. He says that because of his wide experience he now “knew where to look for danger, what sounds to ignore or pay attention to.” And of course he is a much surer shot. “Experience engenders confidence, and without these two important assets the hunting of a man-eating tiger on foot, and alone, would be a very unpleasant way of committing suicide.” There is a scary incident when he unknowingly sleeps in the domicile of a leper (very contagious) and another when he has a very painful abscess in one of his ears that bursts when he is on a hunt.

The Man-Eating Leopard of Rudraprayag (1947) is an account of another hunt, this time for a leopard, but in addition to the details of the hunt, he tells some of the stories of the victims, which are really hair-raising, telling of the leopard entering houses at night to kill and carry off victims. How would you like to have a leopard trying to tear down your door?

There is much fascinating detail about fishing, about the imitation of jungle calls, about the habits of the leopard (toward the end of the hunt it stalks him).

My India (1952) is Corbett’s account of his life in northern India, told along with the lives of the poor villagers around him. The book is largely organized by chapters featuring a character, usually a local Indian known to the author. He relates accounts of their activities, giving us, incidentally, a good picture of Indian village life in those far northern forests. There is a chapter about his long employment in the railway, supervising the transshipment of freight from one railway to another, and much of the book concerns people he met there or incidents relating to the job (as when he encountered a cobra in his bathroom).

It is a rare reader, I think, who will confine his attention to the hunts and will fail to feel the attraction of the author’s character and his observations aside from the hunt.     *

Letters from a Conservative Farmer — Early Encounters with the Natural World

Jigs Gardner

Jigs Gardner is an associate editor of The St. Croix Review. Jigs Gardner writes on literature from the Adirondacks, where he may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

The encounters I shall describe were not unusual in my time — the 1930s and 40s — but I think they must be unusual today. From what I have seen of young people today, staring fixedly at small screens in their hands or talking on telephones as they walk, oblivious to everything around them, I imagine that what I have to tell would seem to them bizarre, hardly credible. It’s only fair to say that I had an inborn predilection for the natural world, shown by my refusal to go to the movies on Saturday afternoons, as my friends did, unless it was raining and I couldn’t go to the woods where I loved to spend my free hours.

My first conscious contact with the natural world occurred at Benkendorf’s farm, a few miles from our house in a place called Richfield, a farming area where early vegetable crops for the New York City market were grown in acres of cold frames. Benkendorf’s was not an intensive farm like that but a small general farm common then: some milk cows, some workhorses, pigs and chickens, and the reason for my presence — riding horses which were rented to be ridden on the nearby bridle paths. When my brother and sisters wanted to ride and were burdened with me, I was established in a corner of the kitchen to play with blocks. Once I was taken for a brief ride around the yard. But I recall Benkendorf’s for its association with my first named vegetable: Golden Bantam corn. When my father returned from work at the end of the day during the month of August, he would often drive out to Benkendorf’s to buy Golden Bantam corn for supper. Introduced in 1890, it is still grown today, and it is the corn I plant, not wholly because of the past but because it has the “corniest” taste of all varieties.

Incidentally, all the rich land was built over after the war, and in 1951 I lived in an apartment on the land that had been Benkendorf’s farm.

My next memory: I am holding a buttercup under my chin to see if my skin will turn yellow. I have no idea why. My wife has the same inexplicable memory.

The third memory: I pick a dandelion that has gone by and blow on the seed head. If I disperse all the seeds with that one breath, I’ll get my wish. I don’t remember any of my wishes, but I know I’ve blown many a dandelion seed on its way over the years.

The next vegetable I became conscious of was the Rutgers tomato. Developed in the 1930s, I know it because my father planted a Victory garden in our backyard during the war, and the main produce was that tomato. It was a superior tomato, a little late for the Adirondacks where we live now, but I grow half a dozen plants and ripen the green fruit in the greenhouse after frost.

One bit of nature got me in trouble. I liked to chew something we called “onion grass” (probably wild garlic, Allium canadense) and once in shop class I was chewing some when the teacher ordered me to rinse my mouth, which meant I had to walk about 100 yards to another building. I did so, rinsed my mouth, and then bought a package of “Chuckles,” a gumdrop candy of different colors and flavors. Unfortunately, I had the green candy in my mouth when I returned, and the teacher, thinking I was defying him, in a rage ordered me out. As I was going away he came out yelling at me, and at the end of my patience, I told him to go to hell. I was expelled. Eventually the principal was persuaded to allow me to finish out the year. I must say in my defense that the teacher was an obnoxious bully who blatantly favored students who were athletes (I wasn’t), but no one in the school or my family had a word to say in my favor, and to this day I feel the injustice.

My favorite summer fruit was green apples, filched from neighbors’ trees.

I don’t know if you’re familiar with the purple beech (Fagus sylvatica var. atropunica), a large handsome hardwood with smooth gray bark and very dark red leaves.

It was planted as an ornamental on two old estates in our neighborhood. I and two of my more imaginative playmates, Tony and Margaret Randazzo, used to roll the leaves into tight cylinders, “cigars” which we would then “smoke” as we pantomimed the gestures of adults. I supposed the color of the leaves lent verisimilitude.

Eventually we graduated to what seemed at the time to be the real thing — well, almost. I discovered that, by cutting dead goldenrod stalks into four-inch lengths and using a long finish nail to poke a hole through the pith, one could, by lighting one end and strenuously puffing on the other, provide a simulacrum of smoking (I marvel at my ingenuity). Because these improvised cigarettes didn’t stay lit for long, we conducted our smoking sessions (there were about five of us) in a kitchen with a gas stove where we could relight our cheroots. Of course, we couldn’t do this when adults were in the vicinity, but once my brother, ten years my senior, walked in on us, and, pretending to choke on the fumes, staggered around the kitchen clutching his throat and exclaiming, “Hafkaff! What’re your smoking, moose hairs?” And that’s how they were known thereafter.

We spent part of our summer in a cabin at a lake in northwest New Jersey, and there I pursued the fauna — toads and frogs and turtles and dead snakes gathered as road kill early in the morning, later to be coiled realistically on paths. Once I caught a bullfrog as large as a small dinner plate and carried him around showing him off at the other cabins. I particularly liked the red efts that seemed to spring from the earth after a shower and then as quickly disappeared. I could catch some and put them in an aquarium, but they always escaped. I became a skilled still fisherman, casting my baited hook in the water to dangle from a bobber, catching sunfish, perch, small mouth bass, and catfish. So I became acquainted with earthworms and grasshoppers as bait.

It would be pretentious to draw large conclusions from my experience, but I know this, that thus I was made familiar with the small aspects of the natural world around me, that located me, placed me in that world.     *

Letters from a Conservative Farmer — Grassroots Patriotism

Jigs Gardner

Jigs Gardner is an associate editor of The St. Croix Review. Jigs Gardner writes on literature from the Adirondacks, where he may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The small towns around here in upstate New York often, in a pathetic attempt at boosterism, hang signs from telephone poles on their main streets with such anodyne messages as “Westport-Yoga and Wellness” (I kid you not) with the name of a local business sponsor, but the nearby town of Willsboro, which attracts us with the only useful library in the area, has been hanging impressively different signs for the last three years: photographs of local veterans of our wars from World War I to the present (this year it is planned to include a photo of a Civil War soldier as well as one from the 1898 war with Spain). It is variously known as Hometown Heroes or the Military Banner Project, and so far as I can discover it seems to have begun spontaneously in different places all across the country.

How it began here may be typical. A young man from Willsboro, a Marine veteran now working in Philadelphia, happened to see such banners in a Pennsylvania town and suggested to his mother, Robin Belzile, that she initiate such a project in Willsboro. Mrs. Belzile looked up references to it on the Internet and set to work. While the town authorities were not hostile to the idea, they could see only difficulties and expense. But Mrs. Belzile persisted and eventually, after working out the particulars, persuaded the American Legion to sponsor the program.

This is the way it works: those Willsboro residents who want a photo of a relative displayed give a photo and check for $200 to the Legion, which then pays a printer to make a sign 2½ feet by 5 feet consisting of an enlargement of the photo with his or her name and branch of service. All the town has to do is assign some men with a lift truck to put up 75 banners in May and take them down in September. Sometimes they are damaged and must be replaced, but the cost is small, and Mrs. Belzile held a successful fundraiser last year to collect money for that purpose. The Legion does nothing but accept the checks and pay the printer; it makes no money from the transaction.

Some towns only put up pictures of those currently serving, others honor only those killed in Iraq or Afghanistan, but I like Mrs. Belzile’s ecumenical approach. It is certainly interesting to see men in the uniforms of world War I as well as more recent conflicts, and it gives one a small shock of recognition to see the local names — Sayward, Morgan, Drinkwine, Reynolds, Haskin, Lindsay — turning up so frequently.

Of course, a project like this does not happen in a social vacuum. It is particularly appropriate to Willsboro, because it is a working class town (it had a pulp mill until the 1960s). My town of Westport was a resort town now almost entirely populated by genteel retirees. “Yoga and Wellness” is probably the best it has to offer. Essex, another nearby town, has a substrate of people who mow lawns and drive snowplows and manage the town’s petty affairs, has been taken over in the last 30 years by yuppies. A couple of years ago one asked the Town board not to display so many American flags on the main street in summer but to show some foreign flags.

The Willsboro banners, viewed as one drives along the main street, seem a cheering, homely gesture, and once the process is understood, it seems very simple — but it required the indefatigable persistence of one patriotic woman to bring it to fruition. May we all be blessed with the presence of such citizens!      *

Writers for Conservatives, 65: World War II Again

Jigs Gardner

Jigs Gardner is an associate editor of The St. Croix Review. Jigs Gardner writes on literature from the Adirondacks, where he may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

Recently I wrote about books on World War II by Len Deighton, excellent accounts of the Battle of Britain, the 1940 Blitzkreig, and the last book, an analysis of certain aspects of the conflict, and now I want to call your attention to two books about the war in Europe in 1944-45, Overlord and Armageddon by Max Hastings, the most impressive books on the subject I have ever read. The author maintains a fine balance throughout of enough detail to make us feel the intense reality of what’s going on at the same time that we have a sense of the general movement. This is not just a matter of narrative balance — Hastings makes the point again and again that plans at the top must be carried out by the men at the bottom, that the success or failure of an army depends on its soldiers, especially in battle against the most formidable army in the world. German soldiers by tradition, by culture, by ideology and training were fighters, while British and American soldiers were civilians in uniform. This is not a bad thing in itself, but the fact and its ramifications explain what happened on the Western Front in the last year of the war.

“It seems fruitless to consider whether an Allied plan or maneuver was sound in abstract terms. The critical question, surely, is whether it was capable of being carried out by the available Allied forces, given their limitations and the extraordinary skill of their enemies.”

This is, I think, the unique value of these books. The focus, usually, is on the commanders and their plans. While Hastings does not neglect the elevated prospect, it is always tied closely to details of the battle on the ground, the struggles of individual units, and it is there that we see how the Germans were better at the task.

 

“Their tactics were masterly: stubborn defense; concentrated local firepower from mortars and machine-guns, quick counter attacks to recover lost ground . . . they were great opportunists. They were prepared to act — always. . . . It is not that the Allied armies were seriously incompetent, merely that the margin of German professional superiority caused them great difficulties.”

Two other points that Hastings stresses are the lack of full cooperation between the air forces and the armies, because the armies, in their vanity about their supposedly superior role as arbiters of destiny (“Bomber” Harris was still claiming in 1945 that our air power alone could win the war), could not see that “the war could only be won by the defeat of the German army upon the battlefield, an enormously difficult task to which all other operations by sea and air must be subordinated.” Of course, the superiority of the Allied air forces over the Luftwaffe, their absolute supremacy over the battlefield, was of great value to the troops on the ground, but they could have done better, as Hastings shows by his account of the success of those airmen who cooperated closely with the troops. The other critical point Hastings makes is the superiority of German weapons, especially of tanks, which could “brew up” Shermans almost at will, while the Sherman’s 75 mm gun couldn’t dent the Tigers and Panthers they faced.

Overlord ends in September when the Allies were in Belgium, pressing toward the German frontier. Armageddon takes up where the earlier book ends, but it also tells the story of the Russian offensives (in lesser detail) in 1944-45. The Russians bore the brunt of the war, and their losses and achievements were much greater than those of the Americans and British. Armageddon is a more somber book, partly because it deals with Allied reverses, like Arnhem and the Bulge, but mostly because it records the ordeal of the East Prussians during that winter as they desperately tried to escape westwards.

“The saga of East Prussia’s winter of blood and ice is one of the most awful of the war. . . . In 1945 the Red Army considered itself to deserve license to behave as savages on the soil of Germany . . . they dispensed retribution for the horrors that had been inflicted upon the Soviet Union.”

 

Churchill said to his daughter Sarah, in February 1945, “I do not suppose that at any moment of history has the agony of the world been so great or widespread. Tonight the sun goes down on more suffering than ever before in the world.”

What finally brought victory to the British and American armies was their huge material advantage, and the wearing down of the German armies by attrition, not least from the air.

Hastings’ judgments seem to me to be eminently balanced. Of the Allied troops he says finally, “They fought as bravely and as well as any democracy could ask, if the values of civilization were to be retained in their ranks.” And his conclusion:

“The battle for Germany began as the largest single military event of the 20th century, and ended as its greatest human tragedy. More than half a century later we may be profoundly grateful that its worst consequences have been undone without another war. The men who fought and died for the freedom of Europe received their final reward with the collapse of the Soviet tyranny, two generations after the destruction of its Nazi counterpart.”

Max Hastings wrote another short book about the war, Das Reich, the March of the Second SS Panzer Division Through France. The Germans wanted the division to bolster the troops fighting the Allies in Normandy, 450 miles from their base in southern France, and this book is about the many attempts by the Resistance to delay the division’s progress. The main interest for me was the honest portrayal of the various groups of guerillas, about whom so much romantic nonsense has been written.     *

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