The Fleet became a noxious ditch and, in 1679, the build up of filth burst under the pressure of the water behind it and washed away several butchers around Smithfield meat market, cattle and all. The poet John Gay, perhaps employing his profession’s licence, thought the river delightful and observed: “Fleet Ditch with muddy current flows.” Gay also recommended the oysters for sale on the quayside. Such shellfish would struggle to pass health and safety muster now. Much better to stop at The Eagle, the bar that started Britain’s gastropub revolution, and which tempts me in with those ancient London scents: meat, beer and fish.
It really is a wonderfully evocative piece and well worth reading. If you are looking for something more, you could read the Wikipedia article linked above or you could check out Mr. J Doe’s Flickr stream (his image adorns this post) and read some the fascinating captions he has on the sequence of photographs of London’s Sewers.
1789: The 14th July, Bastille Day
Maybe it is the old style liberalism in me but, being deeply suspicious of it, I have never been a fan of radicalism of any description. This has pushed my sympathies in some strange directions. In the case of France that has been with the moderate forces during the French Revolution and to some extent the moderate Royalists who in the early days of the Estates General and The National Assembly and the National Constituent Assembly.
I studied the history of the moderate and reformist aristocracy (and there were certain parts of the second estate that passionately believed in change, I must dig out that essay wherever it is) during my third year in University and they proved to be among the most active reformers in the early days of the revolution, pushing for radical reform and the type of moderate limited monarchy that most liberals would happily settle for and indeed which their close neighbours in England had slowly but surely achieved in the course of the 17th & 18th Centuries (though that development was not without its own fair share of blood).
So the shift from moderate and sensible reform towards radicalism, blood and a spiral of terror that the events of 14th July (The Storming of the Bastille) indicate are a lost opportunity in my mind, not a cause of celebration. To be clear, I don’t blame the citizen of Paris, nor even the less moderate politicians of the third estate, there was sufficient evidence in their eyes that the King and his party had plans to launch a coup, the worrying and increasing presence of foreign born troops was a worrying indicator and the sacking of Necker an equally concern one. There was an atmosphere of distrust that was fostered by the King. But the results were pretty wasteful.
Ireland’s Republican Glory
Much like the storming of the Bastille & 14th July is in France, the 1798 Rebellion is remembered in Ireland as a rather exciting and noble event in Irish history, something I have long failed to understand. The event itself was planned by some high minded people (those behind the United Irishmen) but the net effect of their planning was a violent, bloody and utter failure. It came to a somewhat shambolic end this week in a series of engagements, most notably at Knightstown Bog.
Peasants with little training were thrown upon militia and regular soldiers of the British Crown with some initial success but ultimately savage retribution. The rebellion put paid to Ireland’s Parliament dooming the country to even less self government until the protracted revolution of 1914-1921 delivered a moderate home rule program (again at some cost).
I often wonder how an Irish parliament might have reacted to the Potato Blight in the 1840s or indeed how a parliament alert to the challenges that faced its landlord membership might have tried to reactivate the economy in the decades following the Napoleonic Wars when agricultural prices suffered so badly due to the increased land supply that had proved very profitable during the wars but now, with the emergence of new grain sources and rapid transport from the US and Russia, drove prices down and increased hardship amongst the poorest, and reduced capital available for investment among the landlords.
How too might a body, without the stains of massacres like Scullabogue or battles like Vinegar Hill or Ballinahinch. While some dismiss it, I don’t think you can validly explore history as it happened without thinking of the alternatives.
All told, I tend to see these periods of radicalism as swathes of history when our worst human tendencies have gained the upper hand and pushed back rational advances until good sense and order has reestablished itself, or more simply, a was eof time, effort, money and a huge waste of lives. Eoin
Looking over the events for the day I was struck by the prevalence of violent events that happened today> I thought a flavour of them might serve to show what I mean:
The Battle of Taierzhuang was in full flow in 1938. This battle although far from a critical turning point in the war, provided a much needed victory for the Chinese and helped galvanize Chinese morale. I find these battles so interesting, they turn the course of events, or they don’t but might have, or even more critically, they set the stage for future events.
The Crimean War: Either today or tomorrow, depending on where you look, Britain and France declared war on Russia. You’ll find and interesting time line for that war here on the Victorian Web. Link many wars, it is remembered principally for incidentals, like the Charge of The Light Brigade and Florence Nightingale rather than the real reason, the outcomes or the conflict itself. (PS: Mostly I just find the above video funny)
Then there is the president-to-be, Andrew Jackson led Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814. Frankly I’ve thought for a while that Jackson was a man who deserved attention and have been interested in the biography that has been selling in large numbers in the US. Of course he was not without his failings including a somewhat uncompromising attitude towards the Native American peoples. The Video below shows how he continued that policy when he became president.
The last event that struck me was the Battle of Komandorski Islands in the North Pacific in 1943. I had never even heard of ths engagement but the Wikipedia Article is fascinating:
Because of the remote location of the battle and chance encounter on open ocean, neither fleet had air or submarine assistance, making this the only engagement exclusively between surface ships in the Pacific Theatre, and the last pure gunnery duel between major combatants in American naval history.
It seems statesmen are drawn to the history of the French Revolution. Last post mentioned that Thiers was almost certainly the same man that led France at a troubled time in its history and now it would appear that Russell or Lord John Russell was the Prime Minister of England. You can check his Wikipedia page here and also his biography on the Liberal Democrat history Group site.
It has been a tough mission to retrieve data on this title if only because the title is so generic and used so widely. I therefore confined myself to leafing though its fine pages and dealing with the book as a book. I highly recommend doing this. The process is very enjoyable and if you spend a little time reading this book in particular you will see what it was a good choice.
One of the most interesting passages I have found is here in chapter one where the author tackles the definition of “Revolution” and very effectively describes the differences between previous uprisings and revolts and the French Revolution. His reluctance to ascribe the word revolution to the American Revolution may be controversial but his logic is at least consistent leaving the title out of his description of the events usually referred to as the Glorious Revolution of 1688.
Can we lay our hands on a copy?
You can but it is fierce expensive! See Abebooks here for more..
Google responded quickly to my concerns about accessing public domain books and reminded me that I can print the books if I like, which I did for part but I do enjoy reading the whole. In any case for now we seem to be stuck reading on the Google web pages and not downloading a text from the site as say Gutenberg allows. This seems to be taking me longer than expected but at least I finally got another post up.
So we have some fine nugget of information turning up. As I suspected but had not confirmed on writing the previous post one of the authors cited, Adolphe Thiers, was head of state of France for some time prior to and following the collapse of the Second Empire and the Franco-Prussian war, Thiers was instrumental in crushing the Paris Commune and stabilising the nation. There is more on his here on Wikipedia.
Can we lay our hands on a copy?
Project Gutenberg has more than excelled itself by providing the entire text of The History of the French Revolutiononline for free. Sadly it is in French and so is useless to someone as poorly schooled (that is to say my teachers were in fact rather good but cursed by lazy students) in the language as I. other may however use this resource to the hilt.
The Google Book Search copy is also available and for anyone not used to the run of events in the period it has an extensive time line in the front matter here. Reading it reminds me how the actual radicalisation might not have been as inevitable as I suggested yesterday. The opportunities and chances for a more benign resolution almost jump from the page. It is well worth looking over.
Finally for today I thought I’d mention the introduction (here) which is a solid twelve pages long but worth the read. It also sets the book into a nice context and offers insights that are beyond my ability.
So for now I will leave Thiers and his work and do some digging on the others. Just one point that I know will crop up again and again with this project. Why can I not buy the right to print some extracts or even select text from the online version? It is in the public domain, it is scanned. I would happily pay up to twenty dollars to access Google’s version of it and it would certainly make this task easier and more enlightening to be able to quote portions. The sooner Google offers the facility to use the text the better is all I can say.
From a wonderfully sunny Dublin
July 16th 2006