Posts by Cheryll Barron

Science, religion, and a curious note from history: the sad, small Maharaja of Chhatarpur meets a founder of the cooperative movement and is impressed

An early and influential English thinker about the theoretical underpinnings of the cooperative movement, Beatrice Webb (1858-1943), is better known for her unique marriage to a fellow socialist and social reformer, Sidney Webb. She was born rich and beautiful, an eccentric daughter — with eight sisters — of an industrial magnate. Sidney was an undistinguished-looking member of the middle class and, when they met, working as an obscure government bureaucrat.

Theirs was a childless partnership, but her inheritance and their exceptional intellectual fusion created an unparalleled record for translating ideas into action. One editor of a selection of entries from the diaries they wrote together over several decades (archived here), Niraja Gopal Jayal, has listed among their ‘brainchildren’: the Welfare State, the Labour Party, the London School of Economics and Political Science, and the New Statesman.

Discussions of cooperatives and founding cooperatives of various stripes — a subject of special interest on our blog — are inevitable, whenever there is acute, widespread worry about social inequality and have-nots faring badly in capitalism, as in the early 20th century, and today. Perhaps because the Webbs were as effective on the practical plane as in refining abstractions, their diaries also contain the most lapidary delineation of what distinguishes science from religion that we at post-Gutenberg have ever read.

The context for that definition, for which Sidney credits only Beatrice, is just as unforgettable.

They were travelling in India, on an expedition that stretched out over several months. On the 14th of February in 1912, they visited the five foot-tall Maharaja of Chhatarpur in central India – described in the diary entry for that day as ‘a rather pathetic figure … sickly and weak, who had been married at 16 to the young daughter of a neighbouring little Maharaja like himself, who had borne him no children …’. He is depressed. ‘Without children, without anyone to talk philosophy to, without friends, without faith, he had (we were told and he almost confessed to S.W.) taken to sexual malpractices, and was profoundly unhappy and unable, as he said, to “find peace”.’

Then, the entry continues,

B.W. captivated him by explaining the difference between science and religion — the one demanding a perpetual striving after making our order of thought correspond with the order of things; the other supplying the purpose of life to be gained by aspiration or communion or prayer, whereby our order of thought, in the realm of purpose, is brought into harmony with a higher order of thought, the great spiritual force that we hope and trust is above and behind all the worlds.

That is remarkable enough in itself, and more so when you consider that B.W. had had to educate herself — because, as Niraja Jayal explains, ‘even a girl with a lively intellectual curiosity was, in Beatrice’s time, denied access to formal education.’

Sidney (1859-1947), on the other hand, had studied law at London University, and was called to the Bar at the age of twenty-six. This was how Beatrice characterised their peculiar mind-meld — in a masterpiece of self-deprecation:

We are both of us second-rate minds; but we are curiously combined. I am the investigator and he the executant; between us we have a wide and varied experience of men and affairs.

Her Wikipedia entry describes this autodidact as a sociologist, economist, socialist, labour historian and social reformer.

Of course the Webbs would have got nowhere without what she described as their ‘unearned salary,’ and — as Jayal says — her upbringing in a household ‘visited not only by the captains of industry but also by politicians, pastors and philosophers’.

Still, how many other well-placed not-exactly-trustafarians put their stipends and connections in service to such ideals?


Three mini-master classes from traditional media to show the blogosphere how this journalism thingy is done

Wretched, pathetic bloggers! Most of them can’t be counted on to spell their own names right, let alone do anything remotely like fact-checking. Too much actual work! No sense of history. No understanding of – or attempt to understand – context, in their pseudo-journalism! How can they expect to be treated with the respect owed any halfway decent source of information without curbs on their typing and behaviour — vetting and supervision by editors, sub-editors, copy editors?


from Private Eye, (No: 1399, 21 August – 3 September), an item titled CORRECTION OF THE YEAR 1:

Our Magazine commemorative special ‘The reign never stops’ (last week) included a number of inaccuracies. The Queen acceded to the throne on February 6, 1952, not February 8. She married the Duke of Edinburgh six years before her coronation, not four. Her eldest grandson is Peter Phillips, not Prince William. Her uncle, Edward VIII, was King when he abdicated, not Prince of Wales. The photograph of the Queen and Princess Anne at Balmoral shows them with Peter Phillips, not his sister Zara. The battleship HMS Vanguard was not converted into a royal yacht. It was temporarily adapted to take the royal family to South Africa in 1947 but reverted to normal service afterwards. We apologise for these errors.

The Sunday Times, 9 August 2015

… and on the facing page in the same issue, the arguably even more astounding CORRECTION OF THE YEAR 2 — from a sister newspaper:

Karol Wojtyla was referred to in Saturday’s Credo column as ‘the first non-Catholic pope for 450 years’. This should, of course, have read ‘non-Italian’. We apologise for the error.

The Times, 11 August 2015

Rich newspapers owned by Rupert Murdoch, with their armies of text-massagers, are not the only large media operations to give one pause. Still, the following correction by a senior staffer at the world’s greatest, undefeated world-champion broadcasting organisation could be the nicest mea culpa we have ever read — but do pass the paper tissues, our eyes are streaming …

from the Eye’s Media News column, (No: 1400, 4-17 September 2015):

The BBC’s local news bulletin South East Today was out in force at Biggin Hill to cover the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain on 18 August, closing its show with footage of the day’s flypast of Spitfires and Hurricanes accompanied by suitably rousing martial music. Or rather, unsuitably rousing martial music.

‘You keenly spotted the music from the film Battle of Britain composed by Roy Goodwin which was a terrific soundtrack,’ programme editor Quentin Smith replied to a viewer who had emailed him about the programme. ‘Our team was asked for the Battle of Britain theme from the film and unfortunately took that to be the opening music to the film which, as you rightly point out, is the “Luftwaffe March”. I hope it did not spoil your enjoyment of the occasion too much.’

… About that first item, we’d say, howler of the year? More like a lifetime.






Henry Higgins, digitised, and a housekeeping alert

These snippets come from a yellowing scrap of newsprint cut out long ago from an obscure little Manhattan paper, and taped to the inside of a kitchen cabinet door — unnoticed for years, until yesterday. Before the internet, it might have taken oh, … the time it took to build the Pyramids, to explain the first item to someone who has never been to the segment of New York known as the Bronx, or got to know and adore by other means the sounds its natives make. Now, you can hop onto a link:

The second clip has an easily decoded message — in the half of the conversation attributed to the wicked ironist labelled ‘He’ —  the reason why post-Gutenberg posts might be less frequent, for a while.

Dear Diary:

… The scene, West 53rd Street, outside the Museum of Modern Art. Leading characters: a well-dressed girl, about 10 years old, with a thick Bronx accent and a large French poodle.

Girl (commanding the dog): Asseyez-vous! Asseyez-vous!

The dog does not respond.

Girl: Oh, sit down, why doncha!

The poodle sits.

Girl with accent: Mon dieu!

The poodle barks.

— Rodman Philbrick

Quick conversation between man and woman overheard by Robert Crohan of New Rochelle, N.Y. in a Brentano’s book store.

He: I’ve written a book.

She: You’ve written a book! How did you have time to write a book!

He: I have no life.

She: I have no life either!

He: Yes, but I have no life better than you have no life.

— Metropolitan Diary, edited by Ron Alexander for The New York Times, 1 January 1995