|Inbox||Were I as learned and wise as I have been idle I could quote The |
Good Book in my defence –
“The wisdom of a learned man comes by opportunity of leisure
and he that hath little business shall become wise. How can he
get wisdom that holdeth the plough, that driveth oxen,and whose talk is only of bullocks.” –
I would find that comforting, but Ecclesiastes strikes me as a
curmudgeonly old fart who reckons a young child should not
romp about rejoicing in his health and youth but should
contemplate disablement, decay and death instead. I’m no
biblical scholar but I thought the Good News of the New
Testament was meant to bury such joylessness. But maybe, like
myself,the prophet had his moods of elation and deflation and
forgot to erase mistakes on his laptop.
I owe that quotation to an excellent book “Vive La Revolution” a
Stand-Up History of the French Revolution, by Mark Steel. A
learned, witty and committed supporter of the ideals of the
Revolution, Steel was quoting the very learned (and indeed
impressive) Reflections on it, by a kinsman of my own, Edmund
Burke, who was very much agin it.
Much, if not most, writing in English, on the French Revolution
regards it as thoroughly evil, on the grounds that the
revolutionaries were not ideological pacifists and on the
insupportable assumption that the counter-revolutionaries were, in all circumstances and at all times opposed to the use of arms
in their own cause. With caustic and irreverent skill, Mark Steel
shows that most commentators in English talk Bullocks on the
subject,or write it, amongst them Simon Schama, Michael
Gove, who,when Education Minister appointed him his “History
Tsar” so that the UK’s Ukase on teaching was to be regarded as
Holy Writ. Steel demonstrates that the Sans Culottes, urban workers, and rustic ploughmen, for the first time in world history,
were made conscious of their rights as human beings,to have a
say in the making of the laws that bound them, and that the
Rights of Man and of the Citizen soon gathered support in
England and on to Slave Plantations in the Pacific and that Tom
Paine’s “Rights of Man” was hailed by Wolfe Tone as “The Koran” of Belfast. Steel is probably the best informed English
commentator on Irish History since Thomas A Jackson (1879-1955) author of “Ireland Her Own.”
“Viva la Revolution” is short (275 pages) for such a big subject,
fun to read, and praised by THE TIMES, the DAILY MAIL and THE OBSERVER book reviewers when their Editors, I imagine, were asleep.
I’ve been dipping into “Scholars and Rebels in Nineteenth-Century Ireland” by Terry Eagleton. It’s a bit intellectual for me, but the passages which I can understand are brilliant. I know that this
lock-down gives me the leisure that Ecclesiastes and Burke
recommend, but I’ve yet to acquire wisdom.
Which is why I hope to mine Eagleton’s work for more reflections on philosohers and bullocks.