Some of my favorite books are the ones I’ve never opened
Like most readers, I love browsing in bookshops and libraries. I enjoy running my fingers along the spines of books and reading titles and authors’ names, pulling the books out and flipping through them, thinking about the stories inside them.
I buy or borrow the books and read them. This is where an unexpected and troubling thing happens. As much as I enjoy the books, I often find that the book I have read is somehow not as exciting as the book I had imagined reading.
There are hundreds of films I’ve never seen, thousands of songs I’ve never heard. But I don’t anticipate them the way that I do books. I don’t imagine the things I would learn from them, how my life would be subtly but surely different after I had experienced them. With books, the anticipation is different. In fact, with books, it is sometimes the best part.
Last week I bought a book. I looked at the blurb and read the first paragraph, and I could feel the texture of the book in my mind. It was going to be a steadily paced yet exciting coming-of-age story about three young girls who go camping in the woods, stumble across a couple vacationing in a cabin, and see things through the windows that upend their world. It would move from the girls in their clumsy tent, to their fable-like journey through the forest, to the glowing windows of the cabin. The story was going to be overflowing with the smell of mulching leaves, the stale sweetness of fizzy drinks on the tongue, the crackle of empty sweet wrappers. It was going to be honest and real and uncomfortably sensual.
Except that it wasn’t about that at all: It was a thriller about a woman having an affair. With every sentence I read, the book I had imagined shrank smaller and smaller. By the end of the third page, it had disappeared. The actual book was by no means bad, it just wasn’t the book I thought it would be. That dense, bittersweet story I had anticipated reading did not exist, and I felt a sense of loss, a yearning for something unreal. And yet somehow I had read that nonexistent book, because I had created it myself. I was not changed by the experience of reading that book, but perhaps I was changed by my own anticipation of what it could have been.
So I save books. I buy a book with every intention of reading it, but then the more I look at it and think about how great it is going to be, the less I want to read it. I know that it can’t possibly live up to my expectations, and slowly, the joy of my own imaginings becomes more precious to me than whatever actually lies between the covers.
Most books I read just get chewed up and spat out. I enjoy them, but ask me in a year and all I’ll remember is a vague shape of plot, the sense of a character, perhaps the color of a sky in summer, or the taste of borscht. My favorite books, of course, do stay with me. They shift and color my world, and I am different for having read them. But before reading a book, there’s no way to know which it will be: a slick of lipstick that I wear for a day and then wipe off, or a tattoo that stays on my body forever. An unread book has the potential to be the greatest book I have ever read. Any unread book could change my life.
I currently have about 800 unread books on my shelves. Some would find this excessive, and they would probably be right. But to me, my imagined library is as personal and meaningful — or perhaps even more so — than the collection of books I have read. Each book is intense and vivid in my mind; each book says complex things about my life, history, and personality. Each book has taught me something about the world, or at least about my own expectations of the world, my idea of its possibilities. Here are some examples:
I think that Mervyn Peake’s “Gormenghast Trilogy” is at once claustrophobic and expansive. It has the texture of solid green leaves crunched between your molars. It tastes of sweetened tea and stale bread and dust. When I read it, I will feel close to my father because it is his favorite book. Reading the Gormenghast books will allow me to understand my father in ways I currently do not, and at certain points in the book I will put it down and stare into the middle distance and say aloud, “Oh. Now my childhood makes sense.”
Radclyffe Hall’s “The Well of Loneliness” will make me sad and proud and indignant. I will no longer get tangled up in discussions about gender issues, because I will finally have clear-cut and undeniable examples of how gender stereotyping is bad for everyone. Reading it will make me feel like an integral part of queer history and culture, and afterwards I will feel mysteriously connected to all my fellow LGBT people. Perhaps I will even have gaydar.
Roberto Bolaño’s “2666” is an obsessive and world-shifting epic. When I read it, I will be completely absorbed by it. It will be all I think about. It will affect my daily life in ways I can’t fully understand, and when I finish it, I will have come to profound revelations about the nature of existence. I will finally understand all the literary theory I wrote essays on when I was at college.
Manuel Puig’s “Kiss of the Spider Woman” has been on my shelves for 10 years, dragged from house to house without its spine ever being cracked. It was given to me by a friend when I was a teenager, and I cannot read it because when I do, I will finally understand my friend, and that scares me. Her life is a set of nesting dolls with something solid and simple at the center, and I do not know whether that thing is pure gold or sticky-dark tar-poison. Holding the book is holding my friend’s hand, and that is as close as I dare to get.
Jeff VanderMeer’s “City of Saints and Madmen” is an entire universe between two covers. It contains sculptures and mix tapes and skyscrapers and midwives and sacrifices, and everything else that exists in my own world, but with every edge crusted in gilt and mold. It will open my eyes to a new way of seeing, and when I finish it, I will somehow have been transformed from being just a person who writes into A Real Writer.
Anais Nin’s “Journals” will shatter my illusions and create new ones. Anais Nin is everything that I fear and hope that I am; when I read her “Journals,” she might be everything I think she is. This is thrilling and terrifying at the same time, because then I will be forced to emulate her life of complex heartaches, pearls and lace, all-day sleep, and absinthe-soaked dinner parties — and those things are just not practical. And, even more frightening, she may not be who I think she is. If she is not special, then no one can be special.
I am not ready for Françoise Sagan’s “Aimez-Vous Brahms.” At 18 I read her novella “Bonjour Tristesse” and I was transformed: This book held a truth I didn’t even know I knew. The protagonist of “Aimez-Vous Brahms” is 39, and so when I read it at 39 it will tell me the truth the same way that “Bonjour Tristesse” did when I was 18. Like 18, 39 is a the perfect meeting of anticipation and experience, and this book will guide me through into the next phase of my life.
I have not read these books because I worry that they’re not the books I think they are. I’m sure they are wonderful books, but no book could possibly contain all the knowledge and understanding I am expecting from these. Perhaps I will never read them. This is the same logic that means I will probably never visit Russia: I imagine that a trip to Russia will be the crux of my life. Every moment will be candy-colored buildings and strong coffee on silver platters, steam trains slipping past quaint farmhouses and huge black bears glimpsed through the snow, furred hats against my ears, and history seeping into my veins. I know that if I actually go to Russia, there will be moments where I don’t like the food, or my feet ache, or I can’t sleep, or I get annoyed at not being able to read the Cyrillic signs. If I keep it in my imagination, it stays pure and perfect.
There is another reason to leave books unread: because I know I really will love them. This might seem nonsensical, and I suppose it is. I am a writer, and I know that certain books will resonate deeply and perfectly because they are similar in some way to my own writing, though vastly better. This is why I have not read Alice Greenway’s “White Ghost Girls,” a short and lyrical novel about sisters in 1960s Hong Kong; or Francesca Lia Block’s fantastical erotica novellas, “Ecstasia” and “Primavera”; or Stewart O’Nan’s small-town ghost story, “The Night Country”; or anything ever written by Martin Millar.
I know that I will love them and want to learn from them, and so I don’t read them: firstly because it is tiring to read that way, with your eyes and ears and brain constantly absorbing; and secondly because once I read them they will be over, the mystery will be revealed. These books have affected my writing, and I haven’t even read them. Maybe we can learn as much from our expectations of a story as we can from the actual words on the page.
Try an experiment with me. It might seem odd at first, but go to your bookshelves and pick a book you have not read. Hold it in your hands. Look at the cover and read the description on the back. Think about what the story might be about, what themes might be in it, what it might say about the world you inhabit, whether it can make you imagine an entirely different world.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with that book. It might prove to be a great book, the best book you have ever read. But I suggest that the literary universe you have just created might be more exciting and enlightening than the one contained within those covers. Your imagination contains every possible story, every possible understanding, and any book can only be one tiny portion of that potential world.
France imports 80% of the grain it uses as raw material for the much-loved condiment from Canada, where drought has ravaged the crop yield.
By Marine JeanninPublished on August 31, 2022 at 05h03, updated at 09h18 on August 31, 2022
It is a wavering pillar of French gastronomy. Mustard, the third most consumed condiment in France behind salt and pepper, has disappeared from supermarkets. It too is a victim of global warming. As Europe’s leading producer and the world’s leading exporter of mustard, France imports 80% of its raw material from Canada, where the latest drought ravaged harvests of Brassica juncea and Brassica nigra, otherwise known as brown or black mustard – a plant in the same family as canola.
In Burgundy, local production has not been spared either, and the Russian-Ukrainian war has deprived France of its potential emergency suppliers. Producers are promising a replenishment of stocks for November, as the 2022 vintage has been good. But with climate change worsening, it is likely that there will be more shortages.
But what if the solution was in West African cooks’ cupboards? From Niger to Guinea-Bissau, people are familiar with “African mustard,” a type of faba bean called soumbala in Bambara, netetou in Wolof, afitin in Fon-Gbe and dawadawa in Igbo. It is made from the seeds of the néré tree, a food tree of the Sudanese and Sahelian savannahs also known as the purple mimosa. The fruit’s yellow pulp, which is sweet and carbohydrate-rich, is used as flour, while its black seeds are either cooked, fermented and sold in the form of pellets with a characteristic strong odor, or dried, roasted and ground into a powder.
‘An almost classic mustard… without the mustard’
“When used in this form, it’s more like nutmeg,” said the Malian Fousseyni Djikine, co-founder of BMK canteens in Paris. “In our restaurants, we use it to make mafé. Soumbala brings a rather atypical flavor, which is difficult to describe, but which flavors the sauce. For specialists, that’s what makes the country’s good mafé!” It’s easy to believe him, smelling the powerful, slightly cocoa-like aroma that wafts from the open kitchen of his restaurant in the 10th arrondissement. But it is not strictly speaking a substitute for mustard, he said, because the latter is “characteristic of French cuisine. On the other hand, what they have in common is that, like mustard, soumbala radically transforms a dish!”
Unlike French mustard and its Eastern cousins horseradish and wasabi, soumbala does not linger in the nose. It is mainly used as a substitute for spices in countries that do not have them, especially in the Sahel region with its desert climate, said the Cameroonian entrepreneur and chef Nathalie Brigaud Ngoum.Read more
“As we have few trees, we use fermented ingredients to flavor our dishes, fish for coastal countries or, even, soumbala,” she said. But to transform the seeds of the néré tree into an authentic African mustard, you have to roll up your sleeves. “If you want to go all the way, soumbala should not be used as a powder, like a spice, but as a pomade, like a condiment.”
Nathalie Brigaud very kindly agreed to give us her recipe. “You buy prepared and fermented néré seeds, and you crush them with oil, vinegar and lemon. You add cassava or sweet potato flour, for creaminess, and turmeric, to get a nice dark yellow paste. You can use it fresh to spice meat or fish, or cook it and store it in a jar, to make it last a little longer.” While the scent of pure soumbala may put off sensitive noses, the chef promised that this homemade African mustard is even accessible to rookies. “In fact, it makes an almost classic mustard… but without the mustard. It’s a mixed condiment, at the crossroads of European and African cuisines!”
All that remains is to find suppliers. For that, there is only one destination: Château-Rouge, an African neighborhood in the 18th arrondissement of Paris with dozens of stores selling traditional ingredients. At the elegant Marché de la Côte d’Ivoire, a tiny family-run stall that is barely 13 meters squared in rue Doudeauville, the owner Yohann Abbé sells his powdered “soumara.” “When you buy it in balls in the African markets, you then have to pound it yourself… We prefer to save our customers this trouble,” he said, smiling behind his cash register.
He gets his supplies in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, from a producer in the big market of Adjamé, and sells his imported product to consumers in West Africa: the Côte d’Ivoire of course, but also Senegal, Mali and Guinea. “In addition to being a staple of African cuisine, it has interesting health benefits,” he said, “to the point of being considered a superfood. In particular, it’s very good for people with high blood pressure.”
Outside of Château-Rouge, it is currently difficult to obtain it in mainland France. But according to the latest projections of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), temperatures in the south of the country will be close to 50°C by 2050: African mustard therefore seems to have a bright future.
Translation of an original article published in French on lemonde.fr; the publisher may only be liable for the French version.
Beyond his political career, Mikhail Gorbachev became an unlikely cultural icon, appearing in ads for Pizza Hut and Louis Vuitton. He was immortalized in film by Werner Herzog, and even won a Grammy Award.
Mikhail Gorbachev with a Louis Vuitton bag and the Berlin Wall in the background
Hours after the news of Mikhail Gorbachev’s death was made public, “Pizza Hut” started trending on Twitter. Amid the tributes to the last leader of the Soviet Union who initiated the fall of the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall through his perestroika and glasnost policies, a 25-year-old ad for the pizza chain went viral.
The clip opens with a series of shots of Moscow landmarks, such as the Cathedral of Christ the Savior and St. Basil’s Cathedral, and then shows Mikhail Gorbachev and and a young girl, presumably his granddaughter, walking through a snowy Red Square before they enter a Pizza Hut restaurant.
The other clients in the restaurant recognize their former leader and all start discussing his legacy.
While a middle-aged man complains that because of Gorbachev, they face “economic confusion and political instability,” and are even plunged into “complete chaos,” a younger guy points out that he is the reason that they’ve gained access to “opportunity and freedom.”
An older lady at the table ends the dispute with one killer argument: “Because of him, we have many things… like Pizza Hut,” she points out, and everyone agrees, leading them to cheer, “Hail to Gorbachev!”
Commercials to finance his foundations
Along with charging fees for the lectures he gave around the world, appearing in ads was one of the ways Gorbachev used to finance his foundations.
The think-tank International Foundation for Socio-Economic and Political Studies, also known as the Gorbachev Foundation, was created in 1991 to monitor developments in post-Soviet Russia and promote democratic values.
In 1993, Gorbachev also used the money from his Nobel Peace Prize to help establish the “Novaya Gazeta” newspaper, known for its critical and investigative coverage of Russian politics. Gorbachev’s Geneva-based non-profit environmental organization, Green Cross International, was also set up that same year.
Among the products Gorbachev agreed to promote were Apple Computers. In the 1994 ad created for German publications, Gorbachev is shown standing next to a Macintosh computer. “A man can either be part of the solution or part of the problem,” the caption says, quoting the politician, “I have chosen the former.” The computer screen happens to be flashing the name and symbol of Green Cross International.
Gorbachev announced his resignation on TV on December 25, 1991; over the decades, he made major media appearances
A Louis Vuitton ad that reflected a Russian murder case
But it was the details of another commercial that triggered questions.
In 2007, Gorbachev appeared in an advertisement for French luxury label Louis Vuitton.
In a portrait by star photographer Annie Leibovitz, the former Soviet leader is shown in the back of a car, driving past the remains of the Berlin Wall — a reference to his political legacy. He has a classic brown Louis Vuitton bag sitting next to him.
There’s a magazine poking out of that bag. Those who were curious enough to zoom into the picture to analyze its contents still were required to understand the Russian language to read the front cover headline: “Litvinenko’s murder: They wanted to give up the suspect for $7,000.”
That was the cover of the May 28, 2007 edition of the New Times magazine, a liberal Russian weekly that has often published pieces critical of President Vladimir Putin.
The magazine’s cover refers to the case of Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian spy and prominent critic of Putin who was poisoned. On his deathbed, Litvinenko accused the Russian president of having orchestrated his murder. The suspect above-mentioned in the headline refers to Andrei Lugovoi, who is wanted by British authorities; the Kremlin has, however, refused to extradite him from Russia.
Responding to internet speculation at the time, Louis Vuitton spokespeople said that the magazine shown in the image was not chosen with any deliberate intention beyond adding authenticity to the look of the picture.
Nina Hagen’s rap for Mikhail
Singer Nina Hagen, aka the German “Godmother of Punk,” paid an early tribute to Gorbachev in a humorous rap song titled “Michail, Michail (Gorbachev rap),” released on her eponymous album from 1989.
The song’s lyrics were actually written by her stepfather, poet and singer-songwriter Wolf Biermann, who is one of former East Germany’s most famous dissidents. Biermann also released his own version of the song that same year, on his album “Gut Kirschenessen. DDR – ça ira!”
An astute observer of the changes emerging from Gorbachev’s glasnost and perestroika reforms, Biermann advised his “dear Gorbi” through the lyrics of the song to “stay smart” to avoid “cannons instead of butter,” all while reminding him that, alongside freedom, the population will need food, too (“Nix is mit Freiheit ohne Futter”).
From a Grammy Award to a Werner Herzog documentary
Gorbachev also contributed to a number of noteworthy media productions.
His recording of Sergei Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf”, created with Bill Clinton and Sophia Loren, won the 2004 Grammy Award for best spoken-word album for children.
Different documentaries also feature interviews with the pivotal political figure. Most prominently, Werner Herzog directed “Meeting Gorbachev,” which features three conversations filmed over the course of six months.
Werner Herzog filming the documentary ‘Meeting Gorbachev’ with the former Soviet leader
In the 2018 film, Gorbachev discusses different aspects of his personal life, his legacy, as well as his disappointments.
At the time of the shoot, Gorbachev was already in poor health, but he was still clear-headed about what was happening in his country. The democratic reforms he had tried to set up were being swept aside, with Russian President Vladimir Putin using authoritarian measures to reinstate the Soviet empire that collapsed under Gorbachev’s watch.
One quote from the “Meeting Gorbachev” film summarizes the melancholy mood triggered by the overturn of Gorbachev’s attempted democratic reforms. Herzog asks the veteran politician: “I would like to hear, what should be on your gravestone?”
With a sparkle in his eye, Gorbachev simply answers: “We tried.”
At an event organized by her Social Democratic Party (SDP) on Wednesday, August 24, in the city of Lahti, in the south of Finland, Marin asked to be judged on her work as the country’s leader and not on what she does in her private life.
A day earlier, Marin had apologized after the publication of a photograph taken at the prime minister’s official residence showing two well-known influencers in the country kissing topless, with a Finland sign obscuring their breasts. The image reignited a controversy that seemed to have been put to bed the previous day after Marin announced she had tested negative in a drug test. The test was taken three days earlier on the insistence of several opposition politicians, who claimed that in one of the videos showing Marin letting her hair down with well-known society figures, a partygoer could be heard alluding to cocaine.
“I haven’t missed a single day of work,” Marin said in her defense on Wednesday. “I want to believe people will look at what we do at work rather than what we do in our spare time. I don’t see any problem in us enjoying ourselves in the company of our friends.” Marin acknowledged that the week had proven “quite difficult” for her.
Several police sources and criminology experts have since explained that there was no clear indication that drugs were being taken at the private party in the footage in question. Drug use and possession for personal use are a criminal offense in Finland, subject to a fine or, in exceptional cases, by imprisonment for up to six months.
The Helsinki police have confirmed that they have received three complaints regarding the videos but, as there is no indication of law-breaking on behalf of the prime minister or her friends, and there will be no investigation.
Marin, 36, became the world’s youngest female head of government in 2019. She has since given the role her own individual twist: “I want to show that there are normal people with normal lives in these jobs,” she said recently. Shortly before the release of the controversial videos this summer, the leader caused a furor on the internet with the publication of images of her attending a music festival in a leather jacket, denim shorts and combat boots.
In December, Marin apologized after local media reported that she had gone out partying just hours after her foreign minister, environmentalist Pekka Haavisto, had tested positive for Covid-19. Marin explained that, while out, she received two text messages advising her to self-isolate for having been in close contact with Haavisto, but did not see them until the following day as she had left her work cellphone at home.
John Gibbens’s tour of second-hand bookshops turns up a neglected humorist
My Financial Career (Stephen Leacock)
He started writing pieces for periodicals in the 1890s, and in 1910 he brought them out as a book, Literary Lapses. It was a smash. A wag commented in 1911 that more people had heard of Stephen Leacock than had heard of Canada. His most lucrative book, however, was his first, Elements of Political Science (1906), which became a standard university text.
Like Literary Lapses, Laugh with Leacock opens with ‘My Financial Career’. If this was actually his first piece, few writers can have made a debut so near their peak. Describing his attempt to open a bank account, Leacock captures minutely the psychopathology of the ‘customer’ – bullied, belittled and bewildered. The detail may be historical, but the theme has only grown more universal, now that we spend so much of our lives being treated as ‘customers’ by someone or other.
A lot of his satire still stands up like this. The clothes and settings have changed, but the pretensions, follies and fads are all recognisable. Take, for instance, his assault on the magazine short story, ‘The Snoopopaths or Fifty Stories in One’: ‘ “Back,” she iced. And then, “Why have you come here?” she hoarsed. “What business have you here?” “None,” he glooped, “none. I have no business.” They stood sensing one another.
“I thought you were in Philadelphia,” she said – her gown clinging to every fibre of her as she spoke.’
Leacock’s durability may result from a rule he made himself. Apparently, when he was in teacher-training he carried off a wicked impersonation of the principal of his college that deeply wounded the man, and from then on the precocious humorist vowed to keep personal mockery out of his comedy. Someone who’s funny without either malice or obscenity – it’s increasingly hard to imagine, nowadays.
The sleepy lanes, by the way, turned out to be vergeless and patrolled by ferocious 4x4s. And though we scanned every single headstone, we never found Andrew Young. Was that precise description of his own funeral the canon’s little joke?
We may not be quite so delicate today, but euphemism — from the Greek for “auspicious speech” — is with us still. Our rooster and weather vane date from the 19th century, when cock became too vivid for polite American discourse. (So strong was the taboo that Bronson Alcocke, father of Louisa May, changed the family name to Alcott.) For public tough talk about courage, we translate our favorite English slang into Spanish, like George W. Bush and Sarah Palin, and compliment folks on their cojones. (Or tone it down further, George Will-style, and ask if a leader has the “kidneys” for the job.)
Euphemisms can be private or public, trivial or deadly, serious or joky — but they can’t be dispensed with, says Ralph Keyes in his new book “Euphemania: Our Love Affair with Euphemisms.” So long as humans have had things to be discreet about, they’ve had names that furnish some rhetorical distance from the things themselves. “Penis, Latin for ‘tail,’ in Cicero’s time was put to work as a euphemism for the male sex organ,” notes Keyes. (And just as some writers groused, in recent decades, that a former meaning of gay had been filched from them, Cicero complained that he could no longer call a tail a tail, now that the word meant something else.)
What could be more fun than mocking yesterday’s euphemisms? Open a copy of Mencken’s “The American Language” and you find our American forebears exclaiming “nerts!” (to avoid the naughty “nuts!”) and calling their legs “limbs” or “benders.” Then there are the benighted Brits, for whom Poe’s “The Gold Bug” was retitled “The Golden Beetle,” since “bug” to them meant only the (unmentionable) bedbug.
For modern Americans, of course, penis is just the scientifically correct name. Over the centuries, the job of euphemizing the organ has been handed off to hundreds of other words, some short-lived and others more durable. This is the typical life of a euphemism: a ride on what Keyes calls the “euphemism carousel” and Steven Pinker called the “euphemism treadmill.” By either metaphor, a euphemism wears out as it becomes too familiarly linked to the thing it designates; its distancing powers fade, and it’s abandoned, temporarily or permanently, for a newer term.
Any word, however inoffensive it looks, can wear out its welcome this way. It’s hard to imagine a more abstract word than undertaker, for instance: “One who undertakes a task.” But as a euphemism for “one who handles funerals,” it acquired a morbid aura in less than 200 years. By the end of the 19th century, writes Keyes, “undertakers had promoted themselves first to funeral directors, then to morticians…presumably because it sounded like ‘physician.’ ”
This process takes time, naturally; at the moment, some American parents think butt is a fine word for kids to use, while others still hear it as vulgar. Specific terms aside, though, we all know how to tailor our language to the audience of the moment. Even the most plain-spoken among us seem content with a world where some words are off limits to 3-year-olds and radio bloviators. And this euphemizing of intimate matters — death, bodily functions, sex — seems like a perfectly reasonable social contract: I’ll pretend I would never picture you on the toilet, or in your coffin, if you’ll pretend the same in return.
But euphemisms, as Keyes notes, aren’t limited to these universal human realms. They also have their dark, Orwellian public side. And the use of euphemism by the powerful — insiders and authorities of all stripes — involves a different relationship between the euphemizer and euphemizee. We all know what “passed away” really means, whether it’s our idiom or not. But when a finance guy euphemizes risky investments as “subprime loans” or a military officer calls dead civilians “collateral damage,” the obfuscating language can begin to sound like professional terminology — the equivalent of the doctor’s “MI” for “heart attack” — rather than what it is, an intentional attempt at misdirection. When euphemisms cover up things we aren’t familiar with (and often don’t want to know better), they’re much more insidious than the polite evasions of everyday life.
In fact, the whole subject would be easier to talk about if we assigned euphemisms to two separate categories — benign and malign, maybe. To call the room where you urinate a “bathroom” or refer to a sexual act as “sleeping with” is hardly sinister; it’s merely following a set of cultural expectations, just like using napkins or saying “please pass the salt.” Describing a patient’s MRI as “worrisome” rather than “dire” may be a (temporary) hedge, but it’s also a human gesture.
But telling citizens that torture is “abuse” and mercenaries are “contractors” — or in Orwell’s words, that burning and bombing villages is “pacification” — is a different sort of enterprise. These euphemisms — the top-down terminology invented and deployed to serve the interests of the coiners — are the ones that give “euphemism” a bad name.
There is not too much one can find on Internet on the 1969 International Bible Contest, There are two versions of the Bible Contest – an adult version and a youth version.
In the Adventist 1983 Spectrum, an Adventist publication, one can read with respect to M, Jean Rouillard, who was the French representative the following, at page 30:
Jean Rouillard, an Adventist pastor, prize winner at the Bible Contest of Jerusalem, member of the society of Cathari studies, published a series of articles in the Revue Adventiste, from April to December 1977, under the title: “Knowledge of the Cathari.” We find there a detailed description of various Cathari manuscripts actually available for researchers, as well as an article on the main beliefs of the Albigenses.
Pastor Rouillard finished 8th from the 18 competitors. Pastor Rouillard described his experience in an Advantist publication. The TV and Radio Show lasted more than 5 hours. On the group photo at page 2 of the pdf, the 5th person from the left, is the Canadian contestant.
As a matter of fact, every competitor in the final TV show received a medal. Mr, Rouillard received a Bronze Model, because he was not one of the first three winners. He got eliminated in the second round. the Canadian was eliminated in the first round.
I first heard about the existence of fountain pen lovers’ gatherings from Marc Pelletier, of Castine, Maine, a family friend whom I met recently on a trip to Maine. He had written my daughter’s name in a beautiful, flowing hand with what he called his “everyday writer” — an instrument that was anything but ordinary. It was a 1925 black-and-pearl-celluloid pen with a flexible nib, the part that touches the paper. Pelletier also mentioned that I was lucky to live in D.C., because the Washington DC Fountain Pen Supershow was held nearby.
So one day in August, I went to the show, billed as the world’s largest. Display areas at the Marriott Fairview Park in Falls Church, Va., teemed as pen enthusiasts made their ways along aisles, testing nibs with calligraphical flourishes and holding the barrels of pens carefully in their hands. Tables spilled out from the ballroom into surrounding hallways and onto a lower floor. Approximately 170 vendors occupied 250 tables, and about 2,000 people attended over three days, according to Barbara Johnson, who runs the show with her son, Jeff Hancock.
T-shirts at the show read, “My fountain pen scoffs at your subpar writing instrument,” and “Don’t touch my nibs.” Companies had names such as Pendemonium and Penquisition. The DC Metro Pen Crew, an approximately 575-member group that organizes pen buys, meetings and other events, hosted a table to give away new and used pens and accessories. There were pen kimonos and pen pillows. Walking through such a space scrawling in a notebook with a felt-tip earned glances full of pity.
Vintage-pen collectors are a mainstay of pen shows. Some of these people are more interested in pens as “a work of art rather than a writing instrument,” Ed Fingerman, a former president of Pen Collectors of America and the director of operations for Fountain Pen Hospital, in New York, told me earlier. They might collect art nouveau pens, or celluloid pens like Pelletier’s, which became popular in the 1920s. Not all are prohibitively expensive; some can be had for less than $200.
Vintage pens have meaning, said Baltimore resident and self-described “pen nerd” Yarelis Guzman, who was attending the show. When Guzman’s mother was growing up in Puerto Rico, she earned a Parker fountain pen as a member of an honors class. She lost it on her way home, and although she and her father looked, they couldn’t find it. A generation later, Guzman continued the search at pen shows, and eventually located and bought the same style of Parker. She gave it to her mother for Christmas last year. “She was so happy,” she told me.
Pen shows also host new pen creators. “I am a one-woman shop,” said Lauren Elliott, of Reston, Va. “I’m the CEO and the marketing manager and the shipping department.” She named her company Lucky Star Pens because she loves the night sky, and at the show, she wore a black shirt covered with white stars. On her table, she displayed Celestial Moon pens, on which she’d collaborated with other artisans. They were gleaming and galactic-themed with a swirling purple-and-black design and a lunar white round barrel finial.
A mechanical, not unpleasant buzz ran underneath the constant talk of vermilion ink and vintage Watermans. The sound came from grinding, as craftspeople shaped fountain pen nibs for customers. Individuality and customization matter to pen aficionados, said nibmeister JC Ament of Arlington, Va., whose company is called Nib Tailor. “A fountain pen is obsolete technology,” he said. “It’s not a necessity. You want it to be a very tactile thing. It’s a talisman.”
Social media, Fingerman said, has been “huge” for the hobby. There are YouTube channels, blogs, and Etsy, Instagram and Twitch accounts by so-called penfluencers for penthusiasts. “There’s no bottom to the rabbit hole,” said Arielle Fragassi, of Houston. “It just goes deeper and deeper.”
The ever-mounting presence of digital technology in daily life has turned some toward the hobby, said Bryant Del Toro, a software engineer who creates content as ThatJournalingGuy. Digitally expressing creativity can be a challenge, he said. That’s where analog instruments and particularly fountain pens come in: “You pick up the pen, you’re more intentional with your thoughts, and it adds a whole bunch of personality.”
“If I sit down with a pen and an ink, I’ll try to pair a pen with a specific color ink,” said Fragassi, a chemist and novelist who also maintains an Instagram page with pen and stationery content. “I love brainstorming pen to paper because I can jot stuff down and draw different conclusions and get all that information out of my head onto the page.”
At the show, an ink-testing station took up long tables. Racks holding ink and containers of cotton swabs sat near rectangular sheets of white paper swatched with rows of inks, donated by sellers, with names including Blue-Ringed Octopus Blue and Gibson Les Paul Guitar Series Desert Burst. Showgoers could use the swabs to sample different colors.
By early afternoon on the day I attended, vendors seated back-to-back turned to talk with each other. At a seminar, held away from the rush of the ballroom and hallways, Geoffrey Parker, great-grandson of the founder of Parker, gave a talk on the company’s archives. The trading and selling floors kept churning. A high level of pen-loving conversation carried on, the lively sound of an interactive community.
“What I write is pleasant to actually experience, and I think that there are a lot of people like me,” Pelletier had told me earlier. The crowded, bustling event bore this out. “You go to a pen show,” said Fragassi, “and suddenly you’re surrounded by people and everyone’s enthusiastic about fountain pens. You’ve found your people.”
Ukraine announced a counter-offensive on the occupied region of Kherson on Monday.
Le Monde with AFPPublished on August 30, 2022 at 10h40, updated at 10h41 on August 30, 2022
Ukrainian forces pressed their counter-offensive to retake the Russian-occupied southern region of Kherson, while a team of UN experts were en route to inspect the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant which was targeted by fresh shelling over the weekend.
There is “heavy fighting” in “almost the entire territory”, Ukraine’s presidency said Tuesday, August 30. The clashes were raging after Ukrainian troops on Monday launched a counter-offensive to retake the southern region which was seized by Russia early in the war. “Heavy fighting is taking place in almost the entire territory of the Kherson region. The Armed Forces of Ukraine launched offensive actions in various directions,” it added.
Regional officials said the long-awaited offensive was “the beginning of the de-occupation of Kherson region”. In an intelligence note, Britain’s defense ministry said although it was “not yet possible to confirm the extent of Ukrainian advances” its army had increased “artillery fire in front line sectors across southern Ukraine”. It added that it was using “long-range precision strikes to disrupt Russian resupply” lines.
The coastal region of Kherson and its capital city of the same name have been contested by Russian troops since the war broke out six months ago. Russian forces seized Kherson, a town of 280,000 inhabitants, on March 3. It was the first major city to fall following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Ukraine’s move was already having an impact on Russian military capabilities as it forced them to reposition forces and deplete some units in the east. “Because the Russians have had to pull resources from the east simply because of reports that the Ukrainians might be going more on the offense in the south,” Mr. Kirby told reporters Monday, CNN reported.
Attacks on Zaporizhzhia city
Russia’s defense ministry meanwhile claimed it had repulsed attacks in the Kherson and Mykolaiv regions and inflicted “heavy losses” on Ukrainian forces. The spokeswoman for the Ukrainian military’s Southern Command, Nataliya Gumenyuk, had said Kyiv’s forces were attacking from many directions to push the Russians back to the other bank of the Dnipro river. In an update on Facebook early Tuesday, the Southern Command said the situation remained “tense” in its area of operations.
“The enemy attacked our positions five times, but was unsuccessful,” it said. The city of Mykolaiv, just northwest of Kherson, had come under “massive bombardment” from Russian anti-aircraft missiles, with two civilians killed and 24 wounded, it said.
Kherson lies some 200 kilometers (125 miles) southwest of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant – Europe’s largest atomic facility – which has also been occupied by Russian troops since early March. Regional governor Oleksandr Starukh said early Tuesday that Russia had launched a missile attack on Zaporizhzhia city. “According to preliminary information, there are no casualties,” he said. “So far, no significant damage to infrastructure facilities has been detected.”
Brazil’s loneliest indigenous man, the only survivor of a slaughtered tribe, chose to live out his life alone. In late August, he was found dead in his hammock, covered with macaw feathers. Known as the “Man of the Hole” (indio do buraco, in Portuguese) because he dug deep pits inside his huts, he lived on Tanaru tribal land, in the state of Rondônia (western Brazil). His partially decomposed body was discovered by Altair Algayer, a Brazilian government official who had monitored the solitary man for the last 26 years. He was the last of a tribe of unknown ethnicity who never communicated with other groups. Brazilian officials believe he died of natural causes.
Ironically, he was well-known in Brazil precisely because he lived in solitude for so many years. Brazil’s National Indian Foundation (Fundação Nacional do Índio – FUNAI), the government agency responsible for protecting the country’s indigenous peoples, transferred his remains to the capital, Brasilia, for forensic analysis. The Man of the Hole lived on 50 square miles (80 square kilometers) of land surrounded by cattle ranches, protected by a specific law that barred outsiders from intruding. He is believed to have been about 60 years old. Brazilian authorities intend to bury him on the land where he lived out his life.
For the past 26 years, Algayer led a FUNAI team that watched over the man from afar, maintaining the long-time Brazilian policy of no contact with indigenous peoples who choose to shun the outside world. Once every three months, a FUNAI team would approach and set up cameras to monitor his activity and see if anyone had invaded his protected land. That’s how they know that he died in the 53rd hut he had built since the monitoring began. All of his huts “had the same design, and always with a pit inside,” said the FUNAI notice of his death.
Waiting for death
In an interview with Amazonia Real, Marcelo dos Santos, one of the FUNAI team members who monitored the Man of the Hole, said, “He was found in his hammock, covered with macaw feathers. He was waiting for death — there were no signs of violence.”
Not many images of the anonymous man exist. The clearest ones are from a video released a few years ago. Almost completely naked, the man is chopping down a tree unaware that he is being filmed from a distance. He never spoke with his protectors, perhaps to avoid being identified by his native language, but he did accept some seeds and tools that were left for him to find. Brazil’s Organization for Isolated Peoples said that these items were left behind “to improve his quality of life.”
Brazil’s uncontacted peoples are the most vulnerable of the country’s 115 indigenous tribes, yet they are the most adept at jungle and biodiversity conservation. The Javari valley, on Brazil’s border with Colombia and Peru, is where most of these tribes are located. Last June, Bruno Pereira, an expert in uncontacted peoples, and British journalist Dom Philips were murdered by poachers in the Javari Valley. The Brazilian institutions responsible for protecting the environment, indigenous peoples and biodiversity have become significantly weaker since President Jair Bolsonaro was elected almost four years ago.
The Man of the Hole is the only known survivor of a 1995 massacre, when some large landowners greedy for more land paid local settlers to exterminate the entire tribe and destroy all traces of their existence. He began a new life of almost complete solitude, living on wild boars, turtles and birds that he hunted or trapped. The Man of the Hole also liked honey.
The Organization for Isolated Peoples said that the Man of the Hole “was the victim of an atrocious process of extermination caused by government-sanctioned incursions by large ranches. He saw his people die out and his land turned into pasture. H
e was condemned to spend the rest of his life in a small area of protected forest surrounded by the large ranches that dominate the Corumbiara River area in Rondônia.” Now that the Man of the Hole is gone, people fear that his little patch of land will soon be at the mercy of big agricultural interests.
Germany celebrates Manga Day on August 27. A look at how Japanese comics such as Akira, Dragonball and Pokemon conquered the European market.
There is a huge variety of manga, “Kodomo” for young children, “Shojo” for female teenagers, “Shonen” for male teenagers, “Seinen” for (young) men and “Josei” for (young) women. The last three, which explore Japanese everyday life, are expanded by a variety of science fiction worlds or the depiction of sexual fantasies.
Germany now has its very own Manga Day, along the lines of Comic Book Day, the day when bookstores in Germany, Austria and Switzerland have been giving away for free comics since 2010.
On Saturday, August 27, 2022, more than 720 bookstores across Germany are set to give away manga comics, a promo event bound to garner attention and higher sales in the long run.
Manga boom before and during the pandemic
Manga are all the craze in Germany. Sales of the Japanese comics — impressive even before the pandemic with gross sales of 70 million in 2005 — increased by 75% in 2021, according to a trade magazine.
Two German publishers, Carlsen and Egmont, first dominated the market. In the meantime, publishers Kaze and Tokyopop, as well as a host of newcomers are joining the fray.
Manga comics are not a fringe niche on the book market. In 2014, the Leipzig Book Fair established Manga Comic Con, which attracted many visitors from the colorful cosplay community before the pandemic.
The scene in Europe, which was dominated by Franco-Belgian comics, once eyed the manga publications with skepticism.
In the meantime, however, the tide has turned. The European comic tradition in the style of Herge and Uderzo has not lost its appeal, but comics as a whole have undergone a revaluation.
Manga comics have opened up an entirely new readership, especially girls and young women. The exchange of the Japanese and European drawing traditions has proven to be very creative indeed — the late Jiro Taniguchi successfully mixed the styles in works such as “Distant Neighborhoods,” which was adapted into a live-action French-Belgian film in 2010.
Germany is the third-largest comics market in Europe after France and Italy. And the boom presumably won’t be ending any time soon.
Widely celebrated New York street photographer Harvey Stein is known, in part, for his ability to notice the beautiful, mundane and quirky aspects of human nature. In doing so, he elevates the everyday to a space of wonder. Coney Island People: 50 Years is published by Schiffer. All photographs: Harvey Stein
Man, Umbrella, Bug Mask, 2019
Alan Klotz contributed an essay to the book. In it he writes: ‘Make no mistake about it, Coney Island is a theatre — always was — and there is no shortage of fascinating actors here … and that’s where Harvey Stein comes in.
Woman in Mermaid Costume, 2017
Stein is drawn to people and gesture and expression – and how authentic humanity reveals the most about the spirit of a place, and perhaps about life itself
Back of Man with Hula Hoop, 2000
Klotz continues: ‘Stein shows us that there is a Coney Island continuity that maintains itself through all this … that the place is greater than the forces moulding it. Its denizens are the ones projecting its aura’
Elevated Man Parallel to the Earth, 2021
Harvey Stein says: ‘I simply love this image for its uniqueness and how it seems optimistic and pointing to better years to come. To me, his legs are aiming like an arrow to an improved future and a way out of the pandemic. This man is effortlessly lifting his body well above and parallel to the earth, smiling and delighted to be there. He is posing for me and the camera; he is welcoming, big hearted, and marvellous. He embodies the spirit and communality of Coney Island
Legs in Photo Booth, 1974
The collection incorporates nearly 200 evocative black and white photographs spanning from 1970 to 2021 that focus on the people who populate this legendary place
Youthful Chaotic Group on Beach, 1982
Included are several essays and interviews by Harvey himself – conducted with site owners and long term characters
Polar Bear Club, 1981
Dennis Thomas was President of the Coney Island Polar Bear Club – they take freezing winter dips every Sunday from November through April. Harvey Stein: ‘They are always generous with their emotions and openness. No Bear has ever refused me when I nod to make a photograph of them. Sometimes, when I see them cheering and jumping around in the freezing ocean, I wonder what is wrong with me that I don’t participate in this crazy, cold weather weekly event’
Child mermaid with father Dennis Thomas, 1995
Dennis Thomas: ‘We are not trying to challenge each other, it’s not a macho competition; we want everyone safe. We are doing this for fun; if it’s not fun, go find something else that is. There is an unbelievable connection among all these people. I’ve heard people say, more than once, that this is their second family. There is something bonding about being in 38F water or whatever temperature, standing in a huge circle of 80 people holding hands for a few moments’
Child Sitting on Sand, Wonder Wheel, 2013
Stein interviewed Dennis Vourderis, the co-owner of Wonder Wheel. ‘My dad always had his eye on the wonder wheel. The guy who owned it, Fred Garms, was looking to sell and my dad said: “I want to buy it; don’t sell to anybody else!” They made a deal; Dad bought it on 7 June, 1983. There were some handwritten directions on how to run the wheel on pieces of card stock that also involved the arcade games and toilets that were included in the purchase. We came willingly into the business — it was in my blood; sand was in my shoes as they say’
Man Wearing Bow Tie and Hat, 1970
Stein: ‘I make books because I have stories to tell and want to share some of my visions; because I am passionate about a subject and want to explore it over a long time period with my camera. I do a book because I have to, because I wish to add my voice and viewpoint to the conversation. Might I say that I do a book to change people a little, and to think about and perhaps experience the world a little more fully’
Man Wearing Wonder Wheel Hat, 2015
Ruby’s Bar and Grill celebrated its 80th anniversary on the Coney Island Boardwalk in 2014. It opened in 1934 as Hebrew National Deli and was sold to Ruby Jacobs, a longtime Coney resident and restaurant owner, in 1975. Ruby’s is one of the oldest venues on the boardwalk next to Nathan’s Famous, the Wonder Wheel, the Cyclone and the New York Aquarium
Seagulls Over Boardwalk, 2015
The Cyclone Rollercoaster (back) celebrated its 90th birthday in 2017 with free rides and entertainment. Built in 1927, the cost of a ride was 25 cents; in 1977 the cost was $4, and in 2017 the cost was $10
People Wearing Nathan’s Hot Dog Hats, 2019
In 1916 Nathan Handwerker, a Polish immigrant, founded Nathan’s Famous which sold hot dogs for a nickel. The first hot dog eating contest at Nathan’s Famous was held on 4 July that year to settle an argument among four immigrants about who was the most patriotic. In 2009, a new world record in the 94th annual Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest was set: Joey Chestnut ate 68 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes. In 2020 Chestnut broke the record by eating 75 – his 13th win out of 14 competitions
Sitting Man Holding Small Dog Wearing Cap, 2018
Coney Island is located in the New York borough of Brooklyn and has established itself as a cultural phenomenon for over a century. Today, it is estimated that more than five million people visit annually. Over the past 50 years, Stein estimates he has gone to photograph Coney Island more than 600 times
Person Flying Above Boardwalk, 2014
In 2018 the Coney Island Boardwalk was named a New York scenic landmark. At 2.7 miles it is the world’s second longest boardwalk after Atlantic City’s
Top Hatted Man on Beach Holding Rabbit, 2020
Coney Island is an American icon, a fantasyland of the past with an evolving present and an irrepressible optimism about its future. It is a democratic place where people of all walks of life and identities are brought together, and that is much of its appeal
Two Girls Somersaulting on Beach, 2013
After Hurricane Sandy in 2012, which struck New York City on 29 October, the owners of the Cyclone, Wonder Wheel and other beach front attractions spent more than $5.5m to repair damage to the Coney Island Amusement Zone. The Wildlife Conservation Society estimated it would cost $65m to fully restore the aquarium, which opened on the boardwalk in 1957 and attracts 750,000 visitors annually
Police are investigating the theft of one of the most famous portraits of Winston Churchill. Photographed in 1941 and dubbed “The Roaring Lion,” it had been on display since 1998 in the Fairmont Château Laurier hotel in downtown Ottawa (Canada). On August 19, hotel employees noticed that it had been replaced by a copy – the portrait frame did not match the other five portraits in the hotel lounge. Experts later determined that the photographer Yousuf Karsh’s signature on the portrait copy was a forgery. The portrait’s value has been estimated at US$100,000, although a price is difficult to establish due to its historical significance.
When the hotel and police appealed to the public for help, several personal photos taken by hotel guests showed that the original was there on December 25, 2021. But photos taken 12 days later showed the copy hanging in its place. The hotel’s general manager, Geneviève Dumas, told The Canadian Press that special tools are needed to detach the frame from the wall, so it must have been stolen by a professional. “The thief knew what he was doing,” said Dumas.
The photograph was taken on December 30, 1941, after Winston Churchill’s speech to the Canadian parliament. The image was featured on the cover of Life magazine in May 1945, and has been on the back of England’s £5 note since 2016. The iconic photo of the British prime minister was taken by Yousuf Karsh (1908-2002), an Armenian-born Canadian photographer renowned for his portraits of 20th century luminaries, including Albert Einstein, Queen Elizabeth II, Pablo Picasso, Grace Kelly, Martin Luther King, Helen Keller and Mohamed Ali.
On that winter day in 1941, Winston Churchill thanked all Canadians for their dedication to “the total and final extirpation of the Hitler tyranny, of the Japanese frenzy, and the Mussolini flop.” After the speech, Churchill agreed to have his photograph taken in another room of the legislative chamber. According to Karsh, when Churchill refused to part with his trademark cigar, he leaned over the camera and plucked the cigar from his mouth. “He looked so belligerent; he could have devoured me. In that instant, I took the photograph,” said Karsh.
“The Roaring Lion” portrait brought Yousuf Karsh international renown. He lived for 18 years in one of Fairmont Château Laurier hotel rooms, and six of his photos were permanently on exhibit in one of the hotel lounges. When the theft of the Churchill portrait was discovered, the other five works by Karsh were removed to a more secure location. A police investigation is ongoing, and Geneviève Dumas is asking potential buyers to be on alert. “Is someone trying to sell you a photograph of Winston Churchill? Well, maybe it’s the one that disappeared from our hotel.”
Art Spiegelman on the School Ban of His Book “Maus”
A school district in Tennessee recently removed Art Spiegelman’s Holocaust comic »Maus« from its curriculum. In an interview, the artist discusses his view of the controversy and why he fears American democracy is facing dark years ahead.
Controversy has long been a part of the job for American cartoonist Art Spiegelman. Decades after its publication, his Holocaust comic “Maus” has once again caused an uproar following its recent removal from the eighth-grade curriculum by a school board in Tennessee.
In “Maus,” Spiegelman tells the story of his parents, who survived the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. In the graphic novel, he depicts Jews as mice, Germans as cats and emblazoned the cover with a swastika. The book won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992 – and it continues to agitate the guardians of America’s morals today.
It’s not an isolated case. In the United States, particularly in the conservative Southern states, a growing number of books dealing with anti-Semitism, racism, sexism or LGBTQ concerns are being banned from schools. But the censorship is also having an unintended side effect: After the ban in Tennessee, “Maus” climbed to No. 1 on several American bestseller lists.About Art Spiegelman
Art Spiegelman, 73, is one of the world’s most famous and feistiest comic book writers. He caused an uproar back in the 1980s when many schools banned his subversive trading cards, the “Garbage Pail Kids.” At first, he had trouble finding a U.S. publisher for his 9/11 book “In the Shadow of No Towers,” in which he criticized the Bush administration. Most recently, he did the illustrations for “Street Cop,” a novella by author Robert Coover.
DER SPIEGEL: Mr. Spiegelman, originally, we wanted to talk about your most recent book, but now it looks like we need to talk about “Maus” again.
Spiegelman: I kept trying to put it behind me, because I’ve been doing many other things since. But it became clear to me that since 2016, we are consciously being led into a world that has much more to do with Germany in the 1930s than with America in the 21st century. As a result, I have to be willing to be come out and talk about “Maus” as necessary.
DER SPIEGEL: So, let’s do that. What’s your reaction to “Maus” being removed from an eighth-grade curriculum by a Tennessee school district because of, and I quote, “unnecessary use of profanity and nudity and its depiction of violence and suicide”?
Spiegelman: It’s just misguided and ignorant. But there must be something far more malevolent to this agenda, because this sounds insane.
“I said “shit” a couple of times, and they didn’t censor that.”
DER SPIEGEL: Why?
Spiegelman: The allegedly dirty words in “Maus” are not the dirtiest words I know or that 14-year-olds know. It’s “goddamn,” and I used the word “bitch” once. When I talked about this case on American television, I said “shit” a couple of times, and they didn’t censor that. Those words were OK on television. So, what the school board is doing can’t be about this.
Cartoonist Spiegelman: “profanity and nudity” Foto: Art Spiegelman / Pantheon Books / Thomas Lehne / DER SPIEGEL
DER SPIEGEL: What do you think it this really about?
Spiegelman: I think they were genuinely shocked by such a clear imagery of the Holocaust. Yet when I was a kid I read lots of horror comic books that gave me much worse dreams than the pictures I drew in this book. If anything, I was trying not to sensationalize the Holocaust at all. It isn’t lurid. I was just trying to really be clear.
DER SPIEGEL: Does the sudden, very late backlash shock you in any way?
Spiegelman: No, but in the last two weeks, I’ve learned a lot.
“They focused on one naked picture of my mother’s breasts while she’s in a bathtub as she cuts her wrists, in a pool of blood.”
DER SPIEGEL: What have you learned?
Spiegelman: I’ve learned that not everybody in Tennessee is a toothless hillbilly with a burning cross on their neighbor’s lawn. There are some incredibly wise, friendly, smart people resisting exactly what’s going on in McMinn County. I also learned that in the U.S., you cannot ban books on the grounds of subject matter, but you can ban books in the context of age-appropriateness and pornography.
DER SPIEGEL: At what age would the Holocaust be “age-appropriate” then?
Spiegelman: When “Maus” first came out, it got a young adult literature award from the Public Library in New York. I was not happy about that because I had spent 13 years making a book for grown-ups. But over the years, I’ve had to learn that there are a number of kids who are incredibly sophisticated about what they’re reading, and there are a number of adults – like the ones on school boards – who are, well… They’re either stupid or they’re reading the existing laws on censorship well enough to know how to phrase their arguments against me.
Spiegelman in his studio in New York: In the crosshairs of America’s would-be moral police Foto: Katja Heinemann / Aurora Photos / IMAGO
DER SPIEGEL: How so?
Spiegelman: They focused on one naked picture of my mother’s breasts while she’s in a bathtub as she cuts her wrists, in a pool of blood. It’s hardly a salacious picture, but they refer to it as a “nude woman.” She was not nude. She was naked.
DER SPIEGEL: Your mother took her life in 1968, when you were 20.
Spiegelman: If those people find anything sexual about this little dot that represents a nipple, I don’t know what planet they’re from. Although it isn’t exactly a ban in the broadest term. It was only removed from a curriculum, it wasn’t banned. A ban means you take the books out of every library. You knock on doors, go into people’s homes and take the books out. You destroy them.
“I wouldn’t mind if they put ‘Mein Kampf’ in a curriculum as long as there are good teachers.”
DER SPIEGEL: Such as recently when a pastor – again, in Tennessee – burned “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” books as “witchcraft”?
Spiegelman: I’m not sure those were Nazis or genuinely totally malevolent creatures who set up a book burning just to get in on the news cycle.
DER SPIEGEL: What do you think that school board wanted to achieve here?
Spiegelman: They said they did want to teach the Holocaust. But the impression I got from their language was that they wanted a nicer, softer, fuzzier Holocaust than I’m presenting.
DER SPIEGEL: Almost two-thirds of Americans under 40 don’t know any more what exactly the Holocaust was. Can comics change that?
Spiegelman: One teacher at the McMinn school board meeting said, “I love the Holocaust, but this is not a book I would teach my students.” I’m glad he loves the Holocaust. But the story of the present is so interwoven with the story of the past. Comics are a great way to show this.
DER SPIEGEL: You’ve been meeting resistance for decades trying to show this. Are you at all surprised that this is happening again, so many years after “Maus” was published?
Spiegelman: We’re going in circles.
“Holocaust … I don’t even like that fucking word.”
DER SPIEGEL: In “Maus,” you tell the story of your parents, who survived Auschwitz-Birkenau. But in the beginning, the book didn’t even find a U.S. publisher.
Spiegelman: It’s Germany’s that has been very good about publishing “Maus” and keeping it available. Michael Naumann, then the publisher of Rowohlt, bought it as soon as he saw it, even while he was under pressure. He even kept the swastika on the cover of the book, even though there’s a law against this in Germany. But through his connections, he was able to show that this book is not like the other books with swastikas on them. And I had it in my contract that any foreign edition of “Maus” has to have my original cover. It’s my book, and that includes the cover as well as everything else.
DER SPIEGEL: You insisted on the swastika.
Spiegelman: But then there were unintended consequences of this. I remember seeing a documentary about skinheads once, and this poor guy was living literally in a garbage dump, but he had one poster on his wall, which was a “Maus” book poster he had stolen from a bookshop. The poor bastard, it was the only swastika he could get.
DER SPIEGEL: Some people don’t catch irony.
Spiegelman: I am not only prone to depressions but also to cynicism, and I believed that maybe “Maus” would become a manual for how to commit another Holocaust. Holocaust … I don’t even like that fucking word.
DER SPIEGEL: Why not?
Spiegelman: Let’s say genocide. I do worry about always using the Holocaust as a trope for man’s inhumanity to man.
DER SPIEGEL: Man’s inhumanity to man. That’s exactly what Whoopi Goldberg recently said when she claimed the Holocaust wasn’t about race but about that, man’s inhumanity to man. She faced an immediate backlash and was suspended from her talk show. What are your thoughts about that?
“I’m not really happy about the questioning of books or opinions from my comrades on the left.”
Spiegelman: What happened with Whoopi Goldberg is very interesting. She said something stupid. But this is America. People say stupid things all the time, now maybe more than ever. So, when somebody says something stupid, our job is not to put them on a stool in the corner with a dunce cap on. We should educate them, have a conversation to show them what they got wrong. The next day, she apologized. She said she learned that Jews are a race, because there was a master race and a race slated for extinction. So, she got it. There’s no reason to punish her further by sending her to the corner for two weeks. It’s not necessary.
DER SPIEGEL: But we live in the age of “fake news.” You don’t believe in cracking down on stupid, false or damaging statements?
Spiegelman: I’m not really happy about the questioning of books or opinions from my comrades on the left, even though that’s not as pernicious and badly intended than what comes from the right. People get triggered. People get upset. It’s part of the range of emotions that humans have to go through. I wouldn’t mind if they put “Mein Kampf” in a curriculum as long as there are good teachers. Better the students read that in school than they take it off their daddy’s bookshelf, right? I’m a First Amendment fundamentalist, even though it becomes harder.
U.S. talk show host Whoopi Gloldberg: “She said something stupid.” Foto: Jenny Anderson / AP
DER SPIEGEL: How does it become harder?
Spiegelman: The odds are getting better and better that we’re going into a really grim future unless people don’t do something about it quickly.
DER SPIEGEL: What do you mean by grim future?
Spiegelman: What’s already beginning to happen in the US. It’s the new laws that will end whatever experiment toward democracy we have by making it much less likely that all people are represented equally. It’s the Neo-Nazis shouting towards Jews and minorities, “You will not replace us.” It’s the incredible size of the black population in prison. That is the new Auschwitz.
DER SPIEGEL: You can’t be serious, are you?
Spiegelman: It’s a kinder and gentler Auschwitz.
DER SPIEGEL: Still, U.S. prisons are no death camps.
Spiegelman: But it has no bottom. What happened in the “Third Reich” proved that killings on a mass scale are very possible, that people go along with it once the toothpaste is out of the tube. How do you stop a Steve Bannon, who really did read “Mein Kampf” and has a conscious agenda to make sure that nobody replaces us? There’s no bottom unless we actually find ways to resist.
“Any time I wanted to draw Trump, I drew feces.”
DER SPIEGEL: What would that look like?
Spiegelman: It’s important to register people to vote. To go out into the streets and protest the new voting laws. For liberal media, DER SPIEGEL included probably, who had a giant Trump bump and now feel kind of nostalgic for the good old days with Trump, it means not being involved in helping to spread the lies. When the media still repeat all of these stories about Trump they make him larger and larger and larger.
DER SPIEGEL: We certainly don’t long for his days.
Spiegelman: Everybody has to find their own ways to do it. Even children are capable of making a real impact, for instance by protesting guns in their schools, because guns are much more dangerous than books.
DER SPIEGEL: Do you even think the U.S. is still a democracy?
Spiegelman: We were never a real democracy. We weren’t really democratic at the founding of our nation when only men could vote.
DER SPIEGEL: White men.
Spiegelman: White men with property. We were never a direct democracy where your vote is counted nationally. We were moving in the right direction for a while in the 1960s. Now we’re wearing hats that say, “Make America Worse Again.”
DER SPIEGEL: Would you be interested in tackling that with your next work?
Spiegelman: I’m just not sure. I only drew Trump once in the years between 2016 and 2020. It was four panels, there was a swastika between the four panels to help divide them, and I talked about him having shit instead of hair on his head. After that, any time I wanted to draw Trump, I drew feces. I have to really see when the dust (over “Maus”) settles. I’m now living with about 230 unanswered emails in my in-box.
DER SPIEGEL: You have time. Trump will still keep us busy for a while. I don’t think we’re out of the woods yet.
Spiegelman: We’re deeper in the woods than ever.
DER SPIEGEL: Mr. Spiegelman, we thank you for this interview.
In 2003, between the months of September and November, 1,500 chairs were slotted and shoved into a giant stack that filled the gap between two buildings in Istanbul. This installation, which seemed both full of violence yet disquietingly empty, spoke of loss, mourning, absence and destruction. Although only now existing in photographs, and in the memory of those who witnessed it, the work makes us wonder where all these chairs came from, who they once belonged to, and what the lives of the people who sat on them were like, as they gathered with others and conversed. Were their lives turned upside down too?
Untitled, 2003, was by Doris Salcedo, the Colombian-born artist who grew up during the Colombian conflict, the battle between the government, crime syndicates, far-right and far-left groups that began in 1964. Salcedo’s work often focuses on the human experience of war, or the futile borders that keep our world divided. “I am a third world artist,” she once said, adding that she looked at the world “from the perspective of the victim, the defeated people”.
By situating Untitled in the public realm, Salcedo opens up the work to interpretations from ordinary passersby, inviting them to tie this unusual sight to their own experiences. But she also presents the every day reality of living through a war: the abandoned possessions left after fleeing, the inescapability of it, the countless lives lost – a pervasive, neverendingness that seeps into daily existence. And what object could be more evocative of daily existence than a simple chair? A stack of 1,500 seems an enormous amount, yet it is nothing compared to the reality of a fleeing population. Untitled becomes a mass grave to the people who once existed – and flourished – in places that are now desolate.
Stacked in layers, the chairs come in all sorts of different shapes, sizes and colours, each one revealing something of its own distinct origins. It’s a point worth bearing in mind when we see huddled masses of refugees: that these are all individuals with separate experiences. Although installed by a Colombian artist and located in Istanbul, the work’s strength lies in the fact that its scope seems far wider and that it keeps speaking to us in new situations.
Given the date of its creation, it could be read as addressing the brutal wars of the early 2000s, while its towering, precariousness might suggest the mishandling by governments of their people, who wait in chairs the world over to be processed by uncaring officials. The overpowering sensation of absent bodies also chimes with the loss of life caused by Covid or, more recently, Putin’s destruction of Ukraine. It is the latter that feels most poignant at present.
As we passed the six-month mark of the invasion last week, on the 31st anniversary of Ukraine’s independence, one can’t help but see Untitled as symbolic of the wrecking of a country that once thrived, but which has been – and continues to be – torn apart by violence. Its very format also seems to echo the west’s conflicting media coverage of the war as interest and outrage slowly begin to dwindle. Constructed between two buildings on an unassuming street, the work is only visible from above or from the front. Walk to the side and suddenly it’s like Untitled never existed.
Full of contractions – fragile and strong, loud and quiet, visible and invisible – the work reminds us of those who are denied a voice, or whose voices go unheard, those being the people who often suffer the most. As Salcedo said of the work: “Woven within the fabric of the city … it just sits there quietly.”
Untitled, although initially appearing chaotic, with chairs that look as though they could crash out on to the street, is also full of order: these pieces of furniture rise perfectly in line with the surrounding buildings as if held there by an invisible wall. This opens up another dimension to war, something that Salcedo spoke of – the side “that is rational, it is a business … At the end it is chaotic, organic, painful. But it is thought out and planned with coldness.”
By transforming objects and places that are synonymous with our daily lives – from working to eating to socialising – Salcedo makes us realise on an individual level how close the lives we lead are to destruction and how we are affected by it. She takes a simple object, one whose sole function is to accommodate the human in comfort, multiplies it, then renders it defunct. The result, in the street of a city that straddles east and west, doesn’t just show us the absence of people, but also their disempowerment. “It’s not important to know the event,” Salcedo said. “I am not narrating a particular story. I am just addressing experiences.”
James Joyce’s Ulysses came in third behind George Orwell’s 1984 and Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace.
Thu Mar 5 2009 – 00:00
James Joyce’s Ulysses came in third behind George Orwell’s 1984 and Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace.
Not in a survey of most acclaimed titles, as might be expected, but in a list of books most people have lied about reading.
A survey, carried out on the World Book Day website in January and February, found two-thirds of people lied about reading books they have in fact not read.
Asked why they had lied about reading a book, the main reason was to impress the person they were speaking to.
Orwell’s futuristic thriller topped the literary fib list with 42 per cent of people claiming falsely to have read the book.
This was followed by Tolstoy¿s historical epic which 31 per cent pretended to have perused.
Leopold Bloom’s jaunt around Dublin came in third with 25 per cent of those surveyed claiming erroneously to have read.
The Bible was in fourth position, and newly-elected US President Barack Obama’s autobiography Dreams from My Father came ninth.
Aside from a list of ten titles which respondents were asked to tick or leave blank, many admitted wrongly claiming they had read other “classics” including Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Charles Dickens, Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Herman Melville.
Those who lied have claimed to have read: 1. 1984 – George Orwell (42 per cent) 2. War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy (31) 3. Ulysses – James Joyce (25) 4. The Bible (24) 5. Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert (16) 6. A Brief History of Time – Stephen Hawking (15) 7. Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie (14) 8. In Remembrance of Things Past – Marcel Proust (9) 9. Dreams from My Father – Barack Obama (6) 10. The Selfish Gene – Richard Dawkins (6)
“Tomorrow in the battle think of me, and fall thy edgeless sword; despair and die!” Shakespeare – Richard III
‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore, by John Ford
The title of Ford’s tragedy of sexual jealousy and incestuous passion is also its closing statement. After a final bloodbath, the Cardinal pronounces judgment on Annabella, who has had carnal relations with her brother and then been killed by him: “Of one so young, so rich in nature’s store, / Who could not say, ’tis pity she’s a whore?”
He Knew He Was Right, by Anthony Trollope
Trollope found a brilliant title for his tale of male jealousy, stuffed with references to Othello. Louis Trevelyan becomes convinced that his young wife Emily is carrying on with a male admirer (she isn’t). He is driven madder and madder by his suspicions, separating from his wife and stealing their son from her.
The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway
Having stuck a thoroughly gloomy Gertrude Stein aperçu about a “lost generation” at the head of this story of émigrés in France and Spain in the 1920s, Hemingway balanced it with a passage from the Book of Ecclesiastes which broadly means “life goes on”. Its modernised version became the book’s title.
The Lady’s Not for Burning, by Christopher Fry
Fry’s verse drama is the origin of the least understood literary allusion in the history of political rhetoric, Mrs Thatcher’s famous declaration “The lady’s not for turning” in 1980. Fry’s unlikely comedy is set in the late middle ages, its title referring to the beautiful Jennet, who is sentenced to burning for being a witch, but who is fancied by most of the male characters.
I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith
Via the teenage Cassandra’s journal we get the misadventures of the castle-dwelling but impecunious Mortmain family (Dad is an author with writer’s block). The title refers to Cassandra’s ambition, as an aspiring writer, to “capture” everything she sees in her journal – and also to her trick of locking her father in a tower to get him to write.
We Never Make Mistakes, by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
In this unconsoling pair of stories, the nightmare of Stalinism (asserted in the title) is treated obliquely. In the first, a “good Communist” army officer has to decide whether to turn a “lost” soldier over to the authorities. In the second, a former political prisoner takes up residence with an impoverished old woman who has been betrayed by the system.
We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea, by Arthur Ransome
Ransome’s title parodies the excuse you might make for badly behaved youngsters. The Swallows’ mother allows them to go sailing provided they promise not to go out to sea, but, after a series of accidents, their boat drifts out of the mouth of the river …
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, by Tom Stoppard
Two minor characters from Hamlet become the baffled protagonists of Stoppard’s play, which takes its title from an announcement made by the English Ambassador at the end of Shakespeare’s tragedy. They have been killed as a result of Hamlet’s “commandment”, bamboozled victims of a court plot.
We Need to Talk about Kevin, by Lionel Shriver
Why is this title so good? Perhaps because of the grim humour of it. Kevin’s mother, Eva, writes letters to her apparently estranged husband about her growing awareness that there is something very wrong with their son.
Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro
You cannot guess the meaning of Ishiguro’s title until you read the book. Kathy H recalls her days at a very special school, whose pupils have been selected by criteria that slowly become clear. The title is the refrain of an old pop song with which the narrator becomes obsessed.
Lord of the Flies by William Golding Perhaps the most famous pair of glasses in literature belongs to Piggy in Golding’s novel. They are used as “burning glasses” to start a fire (physically impossible as Piggy is short-sighted). Then nasty Jack breaks one of the lenses. Later the specs are stolen, leaving Piggy almost sightless as a prelude to his murder.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stoneby JK Rowling HP is introduced to us as calculatedly unheroic: “small and skinny”, knobbly-kneed and, of course, bespectacled. Through the seven novels his glasses get broken all the time, and he has a special fixing spell for them. But the glasses represent his intelligence.
Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift When he gets to Lilliput, Gulliver manages to keep his specs hidden from the midgets who rifle his pockets. A good thing, too, for when he drags off the fleet of the neighbouring nation of Blefuscu they protect his eyes from all those little arrows
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré Contrary to expectations born of Alec Guinness’s wonderful embodiment, the master spy George Smiley of Le Carré’s novels is a short, fat man in ill-chosen clothes. One feature, however, is constant in both books and TV adaptations: his thick glasses. He has a habit of cleaning these with the thick end of his tie, a habitual prelude to some laser-like interrogative.
The Oxford Reading Tree by Roderick Hunt and Alex Brychta The witty stories of siblings Biff, Chip and Kipper teach hundreds of thousands of children to read. The droll illustrations by Alex Brychta sometimes feature a bespectacled character in the background doing something foolish (the artist himself), and most of the stories have a pair of glasses abandoned somewhere for the reader to spot.
Emma by Jane Austen Emma visits the Bates abode to find Mrs Bates “slumbering on one side of the fire” while Frank Churchill, sits at a nearby table “most deedily occupied about her spectacles, and Jane Fairfax, standing with her back to them, intent on her pianoforte”. Little does Emma realize that he is performing the glasses repair because he is romantically attached to Jane.
East Lynne by Mrs Henry Wood Lady Isabel Vane has a good husband and nice kiddies. Disastrously, she is tempted into a liaison with the no-good Frank Levison. Divorced and disgraced, she is presumed dead in a train crash, but in fact returns to East Lynne as “Madame Vine”, employed as a governess to her own children. She is not recognised because she always wears a low bonnet and thick blue spectacles. Then one day they fall off and break . . .
“The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez” by Arthur Conan Doyle Holmes puts together a profile of a murderer from a pair of golden pince-nez found in the victim’s grasp. He also deduces that, being severely short-sighted, she would not have escaped the murder scene without leaving evidence of her progress. He is right, again. She is still in the house.
Focus by Arthur Miller Set in the 1940s, Miller’s novel features nondescript New York middle manager Newman, whose life changes radically when he gets a new pair of glasses. Suddenly he starts being mistaken for a Jew. Previously he was indifferent to racism, but suddenly a world of bigotry is revealed to him.
The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald One image hangs over Fitzgerald’s novel: an enormous billboard of a giant pair of glasses, advertising the services of a New York optometrist. His eyes fix passing motorists on the highway through the Valley of Ashes. “They look out of no face but, instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a nonexistent nose”. No one escapes their “persistent stare”.
Many years ago, it was the fashion to ridicule the idea of “love at first sight;” but those who think, not less than those who feel deeply, have always advocated its existence. Modern discoveries, indeed, in what may be termed ethical magnetism or magnetoesthetics, render it probable that the most natural, and, consequently, the truest and most intense of the human affections are those which arise in the heart as if by electric sympathy—in a word, that the brightest and most enduring of the psychal fetters are those which are riveted by a glance. The confession I am about to make will add another to the already almost innumerable instances of the truth of the position.
My story requires that I should be somewhat minute. I am still a very young man—not yet twenty-two years of age. My name, at present, is a very usual and rather plebeian one—Simpson. I say “at present;” for it is only lately that I have been so called—having legislatively adopted this surname within the last year in order to receive a large inheritance left me by a distant male relative, Adolphus Simpson, Esq. The bequest was conditioned upon my taking the name of the testator,—the family, not the Christian name; my Christian name is Napoleon Bonaparte—or, more properly, these are my first and middle appellations.
I assumed the name, Simpson, with some reluctance, as in my true patronym, Froissart, I felt a very pardonable pride—believing that I could trace a descent from the immortal author of the “Chronicles.” While on the subject of names, by the bye, I may mention a singular coincidence of sound attending the names of some of my immediate predecessors. My father was a Monsieur Froissart, of Paris. His wife—my mother, whom he married at fifteen—was a Mademoiselle Croissart, eldest daughter of Croissart the banker, whose wife, again, being only sixteen when married, was the eldest daughter of one Victor Voissart. Monsieur Voissart, very singularly, had married a lady of similar name—a Mademoiselle Moissart. She, too, was quite a child when married; and her mother, also, Madame Moissart, was only fourteen when led to the altar. These early marriages are usual in France. Here, however, are Moissart, Voissart, Croissart, and Froissart, all in the direct line of descent. My own name, though, as I say, became Simpson, by act of Legislature, and with so much repugnance on my part, that, at one period, I actually hesitated about accepting the legacy with the useless and annoying proviso attached.
As to personal endowments, I am by no means deficient. On the contrary, I believe that I am well made, and possess what nine tenths of the world would call a handsome face. In height I am five feet eleven. My hair is black and curling. My nose is sufficiently good. My eyes are large and gray; and although, in fact they are weak to a very inconvenient degree, still no defect in this regard would be suspected from their appearance. The weakness itself, however, has always much annoyed me, and I have resorted to every remedy—short of wearing glasses. Being youthful and good-looking, I naturally dislike these, and have resolutely refused to employ them. I know nothing, indeed, which so disfigures the countenance of a young person, or so impresses every feature with an air of demureness, if not altogether of sanctimoniousness and of age. An eyeglass, on the other hand, has a savor of downright foppery and affectation. I have hitherto managed as well as I could without either. But something too much of these merely personal details, which, after all, are of little importance. I will content myself with saying, in addition, that my temperament is sanguine, rash, ardent, enthusiastic—and that all my life I have been a devoted admirer of the women.
One night last winter I entered a box at the P—— Theatre, in company with a friend, Mr. Talbot. It was an opera night, and the bills presented a very rare attraction, so that the house was excessively crowded. We were in time, however, to obtain the front seats which had been reserved for us, and into which, with some little difficulty, we elbowed our way.
For two hours my companion, who was a musical fanatico, gave his undivided attention to the stage; and, in the meantime, I amused myself by observing the audience, which consisted, in chief part, of the very elite of the city. Having satisfied myself upon this point, I was about turning my eyes to the prima donna, when they were arrested and riveted by a figure in one of the private boxes which had escaped my observation.
If I live a thousand years, I can never forget the intense emotion with which I regarded this figure. It was that of a female, the most exquisite I had ever beheld. The face was so far turned toward the stage that, for some minutes, I could not obtain a view of it—but the form was divine; no other word can sufficiently express its magnificent proportion—and even the term “divine” seems ridiculously feeble as I write it.
The magic of a lovely form in woman—the necromancy of female gracefulness—was always a power which I had found it impossible to resist, but here was grace personified, incarnate, the beau ideal of my wildest and most enthusiastic visions. The figure, almost all of which the construction of the box permitted to be seen, was somewhat above the medium height, and nearly approached, without positively reaching, the majestic. Its perfect fullness and tournure were delicious. The head, of which only the back was visible, rivalled in outline that of the Greek Psyche, and was rather displayed than concealed by an elegant cap of gaze aérienne, which put me in mind of the ventum textilem of Apuleius. The right arm hung over the balustrade of the box, and thrilled every nerve of my frame with its exquisite symmetry. Its upper portion was draperied by one of the loose open sleeves now in fashion. This extended but little below the elbow. Beneath it was worn an under one of some frail material, close-fitting, and terminated by a cuff of rich lace, which fell gracefully over the top of the hand, revealing only the delicate fingers, upon one of which sparkled a diamond ring, which I at once saw was of extraordinary value. The admirable roundness of the wrist was well set off by a bracelet which encircled it, and which also was ornamented and clasped by a magnificent aigrette of jewels—telling, in words that could not be mistaken, at once of the wealth and fastidious taste of the wearer.
I gazed at this queenly apparition for at least half an hour, as if I had been suddenly converted to stone; and, during this period, I felt the full force and truth of all that has been said or sung concerning “love at first sight.” My feelings were totally different from any which I had hitherto experienced, in the presence of even the most celebrated specimens of female loveliness. An unaccountable, and what I am compelled to consider a magnetic, sympathy of soul for soul, seemed to rivet, not only my vision, but my whole powers of thought and feeling, upon the admirable object before me. I saw—I felt—I knew that I was deeply, madly, irrevocably in love—and this even before seeing the face of the person beloved. So intense, indeed, was the passion that consumed me, that I really believe it would have received little if any abatement had the features, yet unseen, proved of merely ordinary character; so anomalous is the nature of the only true love—of the love at first sight—and so little really dependent is it upon the external conditions which only seem to create and control it.
While I was thus wrapped in admiration of this lovely vision, a sudden disturbance among the audience caused her to turn her head partially toward me, so that I beheld the entire profile of the face. Its beauty even exceeded my anticipations—and yet there was something about it which disappointed me without my being able to tell exactly what it was. I said “disappointed,” but this is not altogether the word. My sentiments were at once quieted and exalted. They partook less of transport and more of calm enthusiasm—of enthusiastic repose. This state of feeling arose, perhaps, from the Madonna-like and matronly air of the face; and yet I at once understood that it could not have arisen entirely from this. There was something else—some mystery which I could not develope—some expression about the countenance which slightly disturbed me while it greatly heightened my interest. In fact, I was just in that condition of mind which prepares a young and susceptible man for any act of extravagance. Had the lady been alone, I should undoubtedly have entered her box and accosted her at all hazards; but, fortunately, she was attended by two companions—a gentleman, and a strikingly beautiful woman, to all appearance a few years younger than herself.
I revolved in my mind a thousand schemes by which I might obtain, hereafter, an introduction to the elder lady, or, for the present, at all events, a more distinct view of her beauty. I would have removed my position to one nearer her own, but the crowded state of the theatre rendered this impossible; and the stern decrees of Fashion had, of late, imperatively prohibited the use of the opera-glass in a case such as this, even had I been so fortunate as to have one with me—but I had not—and was thus in despair.
At length I bethought me of applying to my companion.
“Talbot,” I said, “you have an opera-glass. Let me have it.”
“An opera-glass!—no!—what do you suppose I would be doing with an opera-glass?” Here he turned impatiently toward the stage.
“But, Talbot,” I continued, pulling him by the shoulder, “listen to me will you? Do you see the stage-box?—there!—no, the next.— Did you ever behold as lovely a woman?”
“She is very beautiful, no doubt,” he said.
“I wonder who she can be?”
“Why, in the name of all that is angelic, don’t you know who she is? ‘Not to know her argues yourself unknown.’ She is the celebrated Madame Lalande—the beauty of the day par excellence, and the talk of the whole town. Immensely wealthy too—a widow, and a great match—has just arrived from Paris.”
“Do you know her?”
“Yes; I have the honor.”
“Will you introduce me?”
“Assuredly, with the greatest pleasure; when shall it be?”
“To-morrow, at one, I will call upon you at B—’s.”
“Very good; and now do hold your tongue, if you can.”
In this latter respect I was forced to take Talbot’s advice; for he remained obstinately deaf to every further question or suggestion, and occupied himself exclusively for the rest of the evening with what was transacting upon the stage.
In the meantime I kept my eyes riveted on Madame Lalande, and at length had the good fortune to obtain a full front view of her face. It was exquisitely lovely—this, of course, my heart had told me before, even had not Talbot fully satisfied me upon the point—but still the unintelligible something disturbed me. I finally concluded that my senses were impressed by a certain air of gravity, sadness, or, still more properly, of weariness, which took something from the youth and freshness of the countenance, only to endow it with a seraphic tenderness and majesty, and thus, of course, to my enthusiastic and romantic temperment, with an interest tenfold.
While I thus feasted my eyes, I perceived, at last, to my great trepidation, by an almost imperceptible start on the part of the lady, that she had become suddenly aware of the intensity of my gaze. Still, I was absolutely fascinated, and could not withdraw it, even for an instant. She turned aside her face, and again I saw only the chiselled contour of the back portion of the head. After some minutes, as if urged by curiosity to see if I was still looking, she gradually brought her face again around and again encountered my burning gaze. Her large dark eyes fell instantly, and a deep blush mantled her cheek. But what was my astonishment at perceiving that she not only did not a second time avert her head, but that she actually took from her girdle a double eyeglass—elevated it—adjusted it—and then regarded me through it, intently and deliberately, for the space of several minutes.
Had a thunderbolt fallen at my feet I could not have been more thoroughly astounded—astounded only—not offended or disgusted in the slightest degree; although an action so bold in any other woman would have been likely to offend or disgust. But the whole thing was done with so much quietude—so much nonchalance—so much repose—with so evident an air of the highest breeding, in short—that nothing of mere effrontery was perceptible, and my sole sentiments were those of admiration and surprise.
I observed that, upon her first elevation of the glass, she had seemed satisfied with a momentary inspection of my person, and was withdrawing the instrument, when, as if struck by a second thought, she resumed it, and so continued to regard me with fixed attention for the space of several minutes—for five minutes, at the very least, I am sure.
This action, so remarkable in an American theatre, attracted very general observation, and gave rise to an indefinite movement, or buzz, among the audience, which for a moment filled me with confusion, but produced no visible effect upon the countenance of Madame Lalande.
Having satisfied her curiosity—if such it was—she dropped the glass, and quietly gave her attention again to the stage; her profile now being turned toward myself, as before. I continued to watch her unremittingly, although I was fully conscious of my rudeness in so doing. Presently I saw the head slowly and slightly change its position; and soon I became convinced that the lady, while pretending to look at the stage was, in fact, attentively regarding myself. It is needless to say what effect this conduct, on the part of so fascinating a woman, had upon my excitable mind.
Having thus scrutinized me for perhaps a quarter of an hour, the fair object of my passion addressed the gentleman who attended her, and while she spoke, I saw distinctly, by the glances of both, that the conversation had reference to myself.
Upon its conclusion, Madame Lalande again turned toward the stage, and, for a few minutes, seemed absorbed in the performance. At the expiration of this period, however, I was thrown into an extremity of agitation by seeing her unfold, for the second time, the eye-glass which hung at her side, fully confront me as before, and, disregarding the renewed buzz of the audience, survey me, from head to foot, with the same miraculous composure which had previously so delighted and confounded my soul.
This extraordinary behavior, by throwing me into a perfect fever of excitement—into an absolute delirium of love—served rather to embolden than to disconcert me. In the mad intensity of my devotion, I forgot everything but the presence and the majestic loveliness of the vision which confronted my gaze. Watching my opportunity, when I thought the audience were fully engaged with the opera, I at length caught the eyes of Madame Lalande, and, upon the instant, made a slight but unmistakable bow.
She blushed very deeply—then averted her eyes—then slowly and cautiously looked around, apparently to see if my rash action had been noticed—then leaned over toward the gentleman who sat by her side.
I now felt a burning sense of the impropriety I had committed, and expected nothing less than instant exposure; while a vision of pistols upon the morrow floated rapidly and uncomfortably through my brain. I was greatly and immediately relieved, however, when I saw the lady merely hand the gentleman a play-bill, without speaking; but the reader may form some feeble conception of my astonishment—of my profound amazement—my delirious bewilderment of heart and soul—when, instantly afterward, having again glanced furtively around, she allowed her bright eyes to set fully and steadily upon my own, and then, with a faint smile, disclosing a bright line of her pearly teeth, made two distinct, pointed, and unequivocal affirmative inclinations of the head.
It is useless, of course, to dwell upon my joy—upon my transport—upon my illimitable ecstasy of heart. If ever man was mad with excess of happiness, it was myself at that moment. I loved. This was my first love—so I felt it to be. It was love supreme—indescribable. It was “love at first sight;” and at first sight, too, it had been appreciated and returned.
Yes, returned. How and why should I doubt it for an instant. What other construction could I possibly put upon such conduct, on the part of a lady so beautiful—so wealthy—evidently so accomplished—of so high breeding—of so lofty a position in society—in every regard so entirely respectable as I felt assured was Madame Lalande? Yes, she loved me—she returned the enthusiasm of my love, with an enthusiasm as blind—as uncompromising—as uncalculating—as abandoned—and as utterly unbounded as my own! These delicious fancies and reflections, however, were now interrupted by the falling of the drop-curtain. The audience arose; and the usual tumult immediately supervened. Quitting Talbot abruptly, I made every effort to force my way into closer proximity with Madame Lalande. Having failed in this, on account of the crowd, I at length gave up the chase, and bent my steps homeward; consoling myself for my disappointment in not having been able to touch even the hem of her robe, by the reflection that I should be introduced by Talbot, in due form, upon the morrow.
This morrow at last came, that is to say, a day finally dawned upon a long and weary night of impatience; and then the hours until “one” were snail-paced, dreary, and innumerable. But even Stamboul, it is said, shall have an end, and there came an end to this long delay. The clock struck. As the last echo ceased, I stepped into B——’s and inquired for Talbot.
“Out,” said the footman—Talbot’s own.
“Out!” I replied, staggering back half a dozen paces—“let me tell you, my fine fellow, that this thing is thoroughly impossible and impracticable; Mr. Talbot is not out. What do you mean?”
“Nothing, sir; only Mr. Talbot is not in, that’s all. He rode over to S——, immediately after breakfast, and left word that he would not be in town again for a week.”
I stood petrified with horror and rage. I endeavored to reply, but my tongue refused its office. At length I turned on my heel, livid with wrath, and inwardly consigning the whole tribe of the Talbots to the innermost regions of Erebus. It was evident that my considerate friend, il fanatico, had quite forgotten his appointment with myself—had forgotten it as soon as it was made. At no time was he a very scrupulous man of his word. There was no help for it; so smothering my vexation as well as I could, I strolled moodily up the street, propounding futile inquiries about Madame Lalande to every male acquaintance I met. By report she was known, I found, to all—to many by sight—but she had been in town only a few weeks, and there were very few, therefore, who claimed her personal acquaintance. These few, being still comparatively strangers, could not, or would not, take the liberty of introducing me through the formality of a morning call. While I stood thus in despair, conversing with a trio of friends upon the all-absorbing subject of my heart, it so happened that the subject itself passed by.
“As I live, there she is!” cried one.
“Surprisingly beautiful!” exclaimed a second.
“An angel upon earth!” ejaculated a third.
I looked; and in an open carriage which approached us, passing slowly down the street, sat the enchanting vision of the opera, accompanied by the younger lady who had occupied a portion of her box.
“Her companion also wears remarkably well,” said the one of my trio who had spoken first.
“Astonishingly,” said the second; “still quite a brilliant air, but art will do wonders. Upon my word, she looks better than she did at Paris five years ago. A beautiful woman still;—don’t you think so, Froissart?—Simpson, I mean.”
“Still!” said I, “and why shouldn’t she be? But compared with her friend she is as a rush-light to the evening star—a glow-worm to Antares.”
“Ha! ha! ha!—why, Simpson, you have an astonishing tact at making discoveries—original ones, I mean.” And here we separated, while one of the trio began humming a gay vaudeville, of which I caught only the lines—
Ninon, Ninon, Ninon à bas— A bas Ninon De L’Enclos!
During this little scene, however, one thing had served greatly to console me, although it fed the passion by which I was consumed. As the carriage of Madame Lalande rolled by our group, I had observed that she recognized me; and more than this, she had blessed me, by the most seraphic of all imaginable smiles, with no equivocal mark of the recognition.
As for an introduction, I was obliged to abandon all hope of it until such time as Talbot should think proper to return from the country. In the meantime I perseveringly frequented every reputable place of public amusement; and, at length, at the theatre, where I first saw her, I had the supreme bliss of meeting her, and of exchanging glances with her once again. This did not occur, however, until the lapse of a fortnight. Every day, in the interim, I had inquired for Talbot at his hotel, and every day had been thrown into a spasm of wrath by the everlasting “Not come home yet” of his footman.
Upon the evening in question, therefore, I was in a condition little short of madness. Madame Lalande, I had been told, was a Parisian—had lately arrived from Paris—might she not suddenly return?—return before Talbot came back—and might she not be thus lost to me forever? The thought was too terrible to bear. Since my future happiness was at issue, I resolved to act with a manly decision. In a word, upon the breaking up of the play, I traced the lady to her residence, noted the address, and the next morning sent her a full and elaborate letter, in which I poured out my whole heart.
I spoke boldly, freely—in a word, I spoke with passion. I concealed nothing—nothing even of my weakness. I alluded to the romantic circumstances of our first meeting—even to the glances which had passed between us. I went so far as to say that I felt assured of her love; while I offered this assurance, and my own intensity of devotion, as two excuses for my otherwise unpardonable conduct. As a third, I spoke of my fear that she might quit the city before I could have the opportunity of a formal introduction. I concluded the most wildly enthusiastic epistle ever penned, with a frank declaration of my worldly circumstances—of my affluence—and with an offer of my heart and of my hand.
In an agony of expectation I awaited the reply. After what seemed the lapse of a century it came.
Yes, actually came. Romantic as all this may appear, I really received a letter from Madame Lalande—the beautiful, the wealthy, the idolized Madame Lalande. Her eyes—her magnificent eyes, had not belied her noble heart. Like a true Frenchwoman as she was she had obeyed the frank dictates of her reason—the generous impulses of her nature—despising the conventional pruderies of the world. She had not scorned my proposals. She had not sheltered herself in silence. She had not returned my letter unopened. She had even sent me, in reply, one penned by her own exquisite fingers. It ran thus:
“Monsieur Simpson vill pardonne me for not compose de butefulle tong of his contrée so vell as might. It is only de late dat I am arrive, and not yet ave do opportunité for to—l’étudier.
“Vid dis apologie for the manière, I vill now say dat, hélas!—Monsieur Simpson ave guess but de too true. Need I say de more? Hélas! am I not ready speak de too moshe?
This noble-spirited note I kissed a million times, and committed, no doubt, on its account, a thousand other extravagances that have now escaped my memory. Still Talbot would not return. Alas! could he have formed even the vaguest idea of the suffering his absence had occasioned his friend, would not his sympathizing nature have flown immediately to my relief? Still, however, he came not. I wrote. He replied. He was detained by urgent business—but would shortly return. He begged me not to be impatient—to moderate my transports—to read soothing books—to drink nothing stronger than Hock—and to bring the consolations of philosophy to my aid. The fool! if he could not come himself, why, in the name of every thing rational, could he not have enclosed me a letter of presentation? I wrote him again, entreating him to forward one forthwith. My letter was returned by that footman, with the following endorsement in pencil. The scoundrel had joined his master in the country:
“Left S—— yesterday, for parts unknown—did not say where—or when be back—so thought best to return letter, knowing your handwriting, and as how you is always, more or less, in a hurry.
After this, it is needless to say, that I devoted to the infernal deities both master and valet:—but there was little use in anger, and no consolation at all in complaint.
But I had yet a resource left, in my constitutional audacity. Hitherto it had served me well, and I now resolved to make it avail me to the end. Besides, after the correspondence which had passed between us, what act of mere informality could I commit, within bounds, that ought to be regarded as indecorous by Madame Lalande? Since the affair of the letter, I had been in the habit of watching her house, and thus discovered that, about twilight, it was her custom to promenade, attended only by a negro in livery, in a public square overlooked by her windows. Here, amid the luxuriant and shadowing groves, in the gray gloom of a sweet midsummer evening, I observed my opportunity and accosted her.
The better to deceive the servant in attendance, I did this with the assured air of an old and familiar acquaintance. With a presence of mind truly Parisian, she took the cue at once, and, to greet me, held out the most bewitchingly little of hands. The valet at once fell into the rear, and now, with hearts full to overflowing, we discoursed long and unreservedly of our love.
As Madame Lalande spoke English even less fluently than she wrote it, our conversation was necessarily in French. In this sweet tongue, so adapted to passion, I gave loose to the impetuous enthusiasm of my nature, and, with all the eloquence I could command, besought her to consent to an immediate marriage.
At this impatience she smiled. She urged the old story of decorum—that bug-bear which deters so many from bliss until the opportunity for bliss has forever gone by. I had most imprudently made it known among my friends, she observed, that I desired her acquaintance—thus that I did not possess it—thus, again, there was no possibility of concealing the date of our first knowledge of each other. And then she adverted, with a blush, to the extreme recency of this date. To wed immediately would be improper—would be indecorous—would be outre. All this she said with a charming air of naivete which enraptured while it grieved and convinced me. She went even so far as to accuse me, laughingly, of rashness—of imprudence. She bade me remember that I really even knew not who she was—what were her prospects, her connections, her standing in society. She begged me, but with a sigh, to reconsider my proposal, and termed my love an infatuation—a will o’ the wisp—a fancy or fantasy of the moment—a baseless and unstable creation rather of the imagination than of the heart. These things she uttered as the shadows of the sweet twilight gathered darkly and more darkly around us—and then, with a gentle pressure of her fairy-like hand, overthrew, in a single sweet instant, all the argumentative fabric she had reared.
I replied as best I could—as only a true lover can. I spoke at length, and perseveringly of my devotion, of my passion—of her exceeding beauty, and of my own enthusiastic admiration. In conclusion, I dwelt, with a convincing energy, upon the perils that encompass the course of love—that course of true love that never did run smooth—and thus deduced the manifest danger of rendering that course unnecessarily long.
This latter argument seemed finally to soften the rigor of her determination. She relented; but there was yet an obstacle, she said, which she felt assured I had not properly considered. This was a delicate point—for a woman to urge, especially so; in mentioning it, she saw that she must make a sacrifice of her feelings; still, for me, every sacrifice should be made. She alluded to the topic of age. Was I aware—was I fully aware of the discrepancy between us? That the age of the husband, should surpass by a few years—even by fifteen or twenty—the age of the wife, was regarded by the world as admissible, and, indeed, as even proper; but she had always entertained the belief that the years of the wife should never exceed in number those of the husband. A discrepancy of this unnatural kind gave rise, too frequently, alas! to a life of unhappiness. Now she was aware that my own age did not exceed two and twenty; and I, on the contrary, perhaps, was not aware that the years of my Eugénie extended very considerably beyond that sum.
About all this there was a nobility of soul—a dignity of candor—which delighted—which enchanted me—which eternally riveted my chains. I could scarcely restrain the excessive transport which possessed me.
“My sweetest Eugénie,” I cried, “what is all this about which you are discoursing? Your years surpass in some measure my own. But what then? The customs of the world are so many conventional follies. To those who love as ourselves, in what respect differs a year from an hour? I am twenty-two, you say; granted: indeed, you may as well call me, at once, twenty-three. Now you yourself, my dearest Eugénie, can have numbered no more than—can have numbered no more than—no more than—than—than—than—”
Here I paused for an instant, in the expectation that Madame Lalande would interrupt me by supplying her true age. But a Frenchwoman is seldom direct, and has always, by way of answer to an embarrassing query, some little practical reply of her own. In the present instance, Eugénie, who for a few moments past had seemed to be searching for something in her bosom, at length let fall upon the grass a miniature, which I immediately picked up and presented to her.
“Keep it!” she said, with one of her most ravishing smiles. “Keep it for my sake—for the sake of her whom it too flatteringly represents. Besides, upon the back of the trinket you may discover, perhaps, the very information you seem to desire. It is now, to be sure, growing rather dark—but you can examine it at your leisure in the morning. In the meantime, you shall be my escort home to-night. My friends are about holding a little musical levée. I can promise you, too, some good singing. We French are not nearly so punctilious as you Americans, and I shall have no difficulty in smuggling you in, in the character of an old acquaintance.”
With this, she took my arm, and I attended her home. The mansion was quite a fine one, and, I believe, furnished in good taste. Of this latter point, however, I am scarcely qualified to judge; for it was just dark as we arrived; and in American mansions of the better sort lights seldom, during the heat of summer, make their appearance at this, the most pleasant period of the day. In about an hour after my arrival, to be sure, a single shaded solar lamp was lit in the principal drawing-room; and this apartment, I could thus see, was arranged with unusual good taste and even splendor; but two other rooms of the suite, and in which the company chiefly assembled, remained, during the whole evening, in a very agreeable shadow. This is a well-conceived custom, giving the party at least a choice of light or shade, and one which our friends over the water could not do better than immediately adopt.
The evening thus spent was unquestionably the most delicious of my life. Madame Lalande had not overrated the musical abilities of her friends; and the singing I here heard I had never heard excelled in any private circle out of Vienna. The instrumental performers were many and of superior talents. The vocalists were chiefly ladies, and no individual sang less than well. At length, upon a peremptory call for “Madame Lalande,” she arose at once, without affectation or demur, from the chaise longue upon which she had sat by my side, and, accompanied by one or two gentlemen and her female friend of the opera, repaired to the piano in the main drawing-room. I would have escorted her myself, but felt that, under the circumstances of my introduction to the house, I had better remain unobserved where I was. I was thus deprived of the pleasure of seeing, although not of hearing, her sing.
The impression she produced upon the company seemed electrical—but the effect upon myself was something even more. I know not how adequately to describe it. It arose in part, no doubt, from the sentiment of love with which I was imbued; but chiefly from my conviction of the extreme sensibility of the singer. It is beyond the reach of art to endow either air or recitative with more impassioned expression than was hers. Her utterance of the romance in Otello—the tone with which she gave the words “Sul mio sasso,” in the Capuletti—is ringing in my memory yet. Her lower tones were absolutely miraculous. Her voice embraced three complete octaves, extending from the contralto D to the D upper soprano, and, though sufficiently powerful to have filled the San Carlos, executed, with the minutest precision, every difficulty of vocal composition—ascending and descending scales, cadences, or fiorituri. In the final of the Somnambula, she brought about a most remarkable effect at the words:
Ah! non guinge uman pensiero Al contento ond ’io son piena.
Here, in imitation of Malibran, she modified the original phrase of Bellini, so as to let her voice descend to the tenor G, when, by a rapid transition, she struck the G above the treble stave, springing over an interval of two octaves.
Upon rising from the piano after these miracles of vocal execution, she resumed her seat by my side; when I expressed to her, in terms of the deepest enthusiasm, my delight at her performance. Of my surprise I said nothing, and yet was I most unfeignedly surprised; for a certain feebleness, or rather a certain tremulous indecision of voice in ordinary conversation, had prepared me to anticipate that, in singing, she would not acquit herself with any remarkable ability.
Our conversation was now long, earnest, uninterrupted, and totally unreserved. She made me relate many of the earlier passages of my life, and listened with breathless attention to every word of the narrative. I concealed nothing—felt that I had a right to conceal nothing—from her confiding affection. Encouraged by her candor upon the delicate point of her age, I entered, with perfect frankness, not only into a detail of my many minor vices, but made full confession of those moral and even of those physical infirmities, the disclosure of which, in demanding so much higher a degree of courage, is so much surer an evidence of love. I touched upon my college indiscretions—upon my extravagances—upon my carousals—upon my debts—upon my flirtations. I even went so far as to speak of a slightly hectic cough with which, at one time, I had been troubled—of a chronic rheumatism—of a twinge of hereditary gout—and, in conclusion, of the disagreeable and inconvenient, but hitherto carefully concealed, weakness of my eyes.
“Upon this latter point,” said Madame Lalande, laughingly, “you have been surely injudicious in coming to confession; for, without the confession, I take it for granted that no one would have accused you of the crime. By the by,” she continued, “have you any recollection—” and here I fancied that a blush, even through the gloom of the apartment, became distinctly visible upon her cheek—“have you any recollection, mon cher ami, of this little ocular assistant, which now depends from my neck?”
As she spoke she twirled in her fingers the identical double eye-glass which had so overwhelmed me with confusion at the opera.
“Full well—alas! do I remember it,” I exclaimed, pressing passionately the delicate hand which offered the glasses for my inspection. They formed a complex and magnificent toy, richly chased and filigreed, and gleaming with jewels, which, even in the deficient light, I could not help perceiving were of high value.
“Eh bien! mon ami,” she resumed with a certain empressement of manner that rather surprised me—“Eh bien! mon ami, you have earnestly besought of me a favor which you have been pleased to denominate priceless. You have demanded of me my hand upon the morrow. Should I yield to your entreaties—and, I may add, to the pleadings of my own bosom—would I not be entitled to demand of you a very—a very little boon in return?”
“Name it!” I exclaimed with an energy that had nearly drawn upon us the observation of the company, and restrained by their presence alone from throwing myself impetuously at her feet. “Name it, my beloved, my Eugénie, my own!—name it!—but, alas! it is already yielded ere named.”
“You shall conquer, then, mon ami,” said she, “for the sake of the Eugénie whom you love, this little weakness which you have at last confessed—this weakness more moral than physical—and which, let me assure you, is so unbecoming the nobility of your real nature—so inconsistent with the candor of your usual character—and which, if permitted further control, will assuredly involve you, sooner or later, in some very disagreeable scrape. You shall conquer, for my sake, this affectation which leads you, as you yourself acknowledge, to the tacit or implied denial of your infirmity of vision. For, this infirmity you virtually deny, in refusing to employ the customary means for its relief. You will understand me to say, then, that I wish you to wear spectacles;—ah, hush!—you have already consented to wear them, for my sake. You shall accept the little toy which I now hold in my hand, and which, though admirable as an aid to vision, is really of no very immense value as a gem. You perceive that, by a trifling modification thus—or thus—it can be adapted to the eyes in the form of spectacles, or worn in the waistcoat pocket as an eye-glass. It is in the former mode, however, and habitually, that you have already consented to wear it for my sake.”
This request—must I confess it?—confused me in no little degree. But the condition with which it was coupled rendered hesitation, of course, a matter altogether out of the question.
“It is done!” I cried, with all the enthusiasm that I could muster at the moment. “It is done—it is most cheerfully agreed. I sacrifice every feeling for your sake. To-night I wear this dear eye-glass, as an eye-glass, and upon my heart; but with the earliest dawn of that morning which gives me the pleasure of calling you wife, I will place it upon my—upon my nose,—and there wear it ever afterward, in the less romantic, and less fashionable, but certainly in the more serviceable, form which you desire.”
Our conversation now turned upon the details of our arrangements for the morrow. Talbot, I learned from my betrothed, had just arrived in town. I was to see him at once, and procure a carriage. The soirée would scarcely break up before two; and by this hour the vehicle was to be at the door; when, in the confusion occasioned by the departure of the company, Madame L. could easily enter it unobserved. We were then to call at the house of a clergyman who would be in waiting; there be married, drop Talbot, and proceed on a short tour to the East; leaving the fashionable world at home to make whatever comments upon the matter it thought best.
Having planned all this, I immediately took leave, and went in search of Talbot, but, on the way, I could not refrain from stepping into a hotel, for the purpose of inspecting the miniature; and this I did by the powerful aid of the glasses. The countenance was a surpassingly beautiful one! Those large luminous eyes!—that proud Grecian nose!—those dark luxuriant curls!—“Ah!” said I, exultingly to myself, “this is indeed the speaking image of my beloved!” I turned the reverse, and discovered the words—“Eugénie Lalande—aged twenty-seven years and seven months.”
I found Talbot at home, and proceeded at once to acquaint him with my good fortune. He professed excessive astonishment, of course, but congratulated me most cordially, and proffered every assistance in his power. In a word, we carried out our arrangement to the letter, and, at two in the morning, just ten minutes after the ceremony, I found myself in a close carriage with Madame Lalande—with Mrs. Simpson, I should say—and driving at a great rate out of town, in a direction northeast by north, half-north.
It had been determined for us by Talbot, that, as we were to be up all night, we should make our first stop at C——, a village about twenty miles from the city, and there get an early breakfast and some repose, before proceeding upon our route. At four precisely, therefore, the carriage drew up at the door of the principal inn. I handed my adored wife out, and ordered breakfast forthwith. In the meantime we were shown into a small parlor, and sat down.
It was now nearly if not altogether daylight; and, as I gazed, enraptured, at the angel by my side, the singular idea came, all at once, into my head, that this was really the very first moment since my acquaintance with the celebrated loveliness of Madame Lalande, that I had enjoyed a near inspection of that loveliness by daylight at all.
“And now, mon ami,” said she, taking my hand, and so interrupting this train of reflection, “and now, mon cher ami, since we are indissolubly one—since I have yielded to your passionate entreaties, and performed my portion of our agreement—I presume you have not forgotten that you also have a little favor to bestow—a little promise which it is your intention to keep. Ah! let me see! Let me remember! Yes; full easily do I call to mind the precise words of the dear promise you made to Eugénie last night. Listen! You spoke thus: ‘It is done!—it is most cheerfully agreed! I sacrifice every feeling for your sake. To-night I wear this dear eye-glass as an eye-glass, and upon my heart; but with the earliest dawn of that morning which gives me the privilege of calling you wife, I will place it upon my—upon my nose,—and there wear it ever afterward, in the less romantic, and less fashionable, but certainly in the more serviceable, form which you desire.’ These were the exact words, my beloved husband, were they not?”
“They were,” I said; “you have an excellent memory; and assuredly, my beautiful Eugénie, there is no disposition on my part to evade the performance of the trivial promise they imply. See! Behold! they are becoming—rather—are they not?” And here, having arranged the glasses in the ordinary form of spectacles, I applied them gingerly in their proper position; while Madame Simpson, adjusting her cap, and folding her arms, sat bolt upright in her chair, in a somewhat stiff and prim, and indeed, in a somewhat undignified position.
“Goodness gracious me!” I exclaimed, almost at the very instant that the rim of the spectacles had settled upon my nose—“My! goodness gracious me!—why, what can be the matter with these glasses?” and taking them quickly off, I wiped them carefully with a silk handkerchief, and adjusted them again.
But if, in the first instance, there had occurred something which occasioned me surprise, in the second, this surprise became elevated into astonishment; and this astonishment was profound—was extreme—indeed I may say it was horrific. What, in the name of everything hideous, did this mean? Could I believe my eyes?—could I?—that was the question. Was that—was that—was that rouge? And were those—and were those—were those wrinkles, upon the visage of Eugénie Lalande? And oh! Jupiter, and every one of the gods and goddesses, little and big!—what—what—what—what had become of her teeth? I dashed the spectacles violently to the ground, and, leaping to my feet, stood erect in the middle of the floor, confronting Mrs. Simpson, with my arms set a-kimbo, and grinning and foaming, but, at the same time, utterly speechless with terror and with rage.
Now I have already said that Madame Eugénie Lalande—that is to say, Simpson—spoke the English language but very little better than she wrote it, and for this reason she very properly never attempted to speak it upon ordinary occasions. But rage will carry a lady to any extreme; and in the present care it carried Mrs. Simpson to the very extraordinary extreme of attempting to hold a conversation in a tongue that she did not altogether understand.
“Vell, Monsieur,” said she, after surveying me, in great apparent astonishment, for some moments—“Vell, Monsieur?—and vat den?—vat de matter now? Is it de dance of de Saint itusse dat you ave? If not like me, vat for vy buy de pig in the poke?”
“You wretch!” said I, catching my breath—“you—you—you villainous old hag!”
“Ag?—ole?—me not so ver ole, after all! Me not one single day more dan de eighty-doo.”
“Eighty-two!” I ejaculated, staggering to the wall—“eighty-two hundred thousand baboons! The miniature said twenty-seven years and seven months!”
“To be sure!—dat is so!—ver true! but den de portraite has been take for dese fifty-five year. Ven I go marry my segonde usbande, Monsieur Lalande, at dat time I had de portraite take for my daughter by my first usbande, Monsieur Moissart!”
“Moissart!” said I.
“Yes, Moissart,” said she, mimicking my pronunciation, which, to speak the truth, was none of the best,—“and vat den? Vat you know about de Moissart?”
“Nothing, you old fright!—I know nothing about him at all; only I had an ancestor of that name, once upon a time.”
“Dat name! and vat you ave for say to dat name? ’Tis ver goot name; and so is Voissart—dat is ver goot name too. My daughter, Mademoiselle Moissart, she marry von Monsieur Voissart,—and de name is bot ver respectable name.”
“Moissart?” I exclaimed, “and Voissart! Why, what is it you mean?”
“Vat I mean?—I mean Moissart and Voissart; and for de matter of dat, I mean Croissart and Froissart, too, if I only tink proper to mean it. My daughter’s daughter, Mademoiselle Voissart, she marry von Monsieur Croissart, and den again, my daughter’s grande daughter, Mademoiselle Croissart, she marry von Monsieur Froissart; and I suppose you say dat dat is not von ver respectaable name.”
“Froissart!” said I, beginning to faint, “why, surely you don’t say Moissart, and Voissart, and Croissart, and Froissart?”
“Yes,” she replied, leaning fully back in her chair, and stretching out her lower limbs at great length; “yes, Moissart, and Voissart, and Croissart, and Froissart. But Monsieur Froissart, he vas von ver big vat you call fool—he vas von ver great big donce like yourself—for he lef la belle France for come to dis stupide Amérique—and ven he get here he went and ave von ver stupid, von ver, ver stupide sonn, so I hear, dough I not yet av ad de plaisir to meet vid him—neither me nor my companion, de Madame Stéphanie Lalande. He is name de Napoleon Bonaparte Froissart, and I suppose you say dat dat, too, is not von ver respectable name.”
Either the length or the nature of this speech, had the effect of working up Mrs. Simpson into a very extraordinary passion indeed; and as she made an end of it, with great labor, she jumped up from her chair like somebody bewitched, dropping upon the floor an entire universe of bustle as she jumped. Once upon her feet, she gnashed her gums, brandished her arms, rolled up her sleeves, shook her fist in my face, and concluded the performance by tearing the cap from her head, and with it an immense wig of the most valuable and beautiful black hair, the whole of which she dashed upon the ground with a yell, and there trammpled and danced a fandango upon it, in an absolute ecstasy and agony of rage.
Meantime I sank aghast into the chair which she had vacated. “Moissart and Voissart!” I repeated, thoughtfully, as she cut one of her pigeon-wings, and “Croissart and Froissart!” as she completed another—“Moissart and Voissart and Croissart and Napoleon Bonaparte Froissart!—why, you ineffable old serpent, that’s me—that’s me—d’ye hear? that’s me”—here I screamed at the top of my voice—“that’s me-e-e! I am Napoleon Bonaparte Froissart! and if I havn’t married my great, great, grandmother, I wish I may be everlastingly confounded!”
Madame Eugénie Lalande, quasi Simpson—formerly Moissart—was, in sober fact, my great, great, grandmother. In her youth she had been beautiful, and even at eighty-two, retained the majestic height, the sculptural contour of head, the fine eyes and the Grecian nose of her girlhood. By the aid of these, of pearl-powder, of rouge, of false hair, false teeth, and false tournure, as well as of the most skilful modistes of Paris, she contrived to hold a respectable footing among the beauties en peu passées of the French metropolis. In this respect, indeed, she might have been regarded as little less than the equal of the celebrated Ninon De L’Enclos.
She was immensely wealthy, and being left, for the second time, a widow without children, she bethought herself of my existence in America, and for the purpose of making me her heir, paid a visit to the United States, in company with a distant and exceedingly lovely relative of her second husband’s—a Madame Stéphanie Lalande.
At the opera, my great, great, grandmother’s attention was arrested by my notice; and, upon surveying me through her eye-glass, she was struck with a certain family resemblance to herself. Thus interested, and knowing that the heir she sought was actually in the city, she made inquiries of her party respecting me. The gentleman who attended her knew my person, and told her who I was. The information thus obtained induced her to renew her scrutiny; and this scrutiny it was which so emboldened me that I behaved in the absurd manner already detailed. She returned my bow, however, under the impression that, by some odd accident, I had discovered her identity. When, deceived by my weakness of vision, and the arts of the toilet, in respect to the age and charms of the strange lady, I demanded so enthusiastically of Talbot who she was, he concluded that I meant the younger beauty, as a matter of course, and so informed me, with perfect truth, that she was “the celebrated widow, Madame Lalande.”
In the street, next morning, my great, great, grandmother encountered Talbot, an old Parisian acquaintance; and the conversation, very naturally turned upon myself. My deficiencies of vision were then explained; for these were notorious, although I was entirely ignorant of their notoriety, and my good old relative discovered, much to her chagrin, that she had been deceived in supposing me aware of her identity, and that I had been merely making a fool of myself in making open love, in a theatre, to an old woman unknown. By way of punishing me for this imprudence, she concocted with Talbot a plot. He purposely kept out of my way to avoid giving me the introduction. My street inquiries about “the lovely widow, Madame Lalande,” were supposed to refer to the younger lady, of course, and thus the conversation with the three gentlemen whom I encountered shortly after leaving Talbot’s hotel will be easily explained, as also their allusion to Ninon De L’Enclos. I had no opportunity of seeing Madame Lalande closely during daylight; and, at her musical soirée, my silly weakness in refusing the aid of glasses effectually prevented me from making a discovery of her age. When “Madame Lalande” was called upon to sing, the younger lady was intended; and it was she who arose to obey the call; my great, great, grandmother, to further the deception, arising at the same moment and accompanying her to the piano in the main drawing-room. Had I decided upon escorting her thither, it had been her design to suggest the propriety of my remaining where I was; but my own prudential views rendered this unnecessary. The songs which I so much admired, and which so confirmed my impression of the youth of my mistress, were executed by Madame Stéphanie Lalande. The eyeglass was presented by way of adding a reproof to the hoax—a sting to the epigram of the deception. Its presentation afforded an opportunity for the lecture upon affectation with which I was so especially edified. It is almost superfluous to add that the glasses of the instrument, as worn by the old lady, had been exchanged by her for a pair better adapted to my years. They suited me, in fact, to a T.
The clergyman, who merely pretended to tie the fatal knot, was a boon companion of Talbot’s, and no priest. He was an excellent “whip,” however; and having doffed his cassock to put on a great-coat, he drove the hack which conveyed the “happy couple” out of town. Talbot took a seat at his side. The two scoundrels were thus “in at the death,” and through a half-open window of the back parlor of the inn, amused themselves in grinning at the dénouement of the drama. I believe I shall be forced to call them both out.
Nevertheless, I am not the husband of my great, great, grandmother; and this is a reflection which affords me infinite relief;—but I am the husband of Madame Lalande—of Madame Stéphanie Lalande—with whom my good old relative, besides making me her sole heir when she dies—if she ever does—has been at the trouble of concocting me a match. In conclusion: I am done forever with billets doux, and am never to be met without SPECTACLES.
She was a phantom of delight When first she gleamed upon my sight; A lovely apparition, sent To be a moment’s ornament; Her eyes as stars of twilight fair; Like twilight’s, too, her dusky hair; But all things else about her drawn From May-time and the cheerful dawn; A dancing shape, an image gay, To haunt, to startle, and waylay.
I saw her upon nearer view, A Spirit, yet a Woman too! Her household motions light and free, And steps of virgin liberty; A countenance in which did meet Sweet records, promises as sweet; A creature not too bright or good For human nature’s daily food; For transient sorrows, simple wiles, Praise, blame, love, kisses, tears, and smiles.
And now I see with eye serene The very pulse of the machine; A being breathing thoughtful breath, A traveller between life and death; The reason firm, the temperate will, Endurance, foresight, strength, and skill; A perfect Woman, nobly planned, To warm, to comfort, and command; And yet a Spirit still, and bright With something of angelic light.
Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent and our language — so the argument runs — must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.
Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers. I will come back to this presently, and I hope that by that time the meaning of what I have said here will have become clearer. Meanwhile, here are five specimens of the English language as it is now habitually written.
These five passages have not been picked out because they are especially bad — I could have quoted far worse if I had chosen — but because they illustrate various of the mental vices from which we now suffer. They are a little below the average, but are fairly representative examples. I number them so that I can refer back to them when necessary:
1. I am not, indeed, sure whether it is not true to say that the Milton who once seemed not unlike a seventeenth-century Shelley had not become, out of an experience ever more bitter in each year, more alien [sic] to the founder of that Jesuit sect which nothing could induce him to tolerate.
Professor Harold Laski (Essay in Freedom of Expression)
2. Above all, we cannot play ducks and drakes with a native battery of idioms which prescribes egregious collocations of vocables as the Basic put up with for tolerate, or put at a loss for bewilder.
Professor Lancelot Hogben (Interglossia)
3. On the one side we have the free personality: by definition it is not neurotic, for it has neither conflict nor dream. Its desires, such as they are, are transparent, for they are just what institutional approval keeps in the forefront of consciousness; another institutional pattern would alter their number and intensity; there is little in them that is natural, irreducible, or culturally dangerous. But on the other side, the social bond itself is nothing but the mutual reflection of these self-secure integrities. Recall the definition of love. Is not this the very picture of a small academic? Where is there a place in this hall of mirrors for either personality or fraternity?
Essay on psychology in Politics (New York)
4. All the ‘best people’ from the gentlemen’s clubs, and all the frantic fascist captains, united in common hatred of Socialism and bestial horror at the rising tide of the mass revolutionary movement, have turned to acts of provocation, to foul incendiarism, to medieval legends of poisoned wells, to legalize their own destruction of proletarian organizations, and rouse the agitated petty-bourgeoise to chauvinistic fervor on behalf of the fight against the revolutionary way out of the crisis.
5. If a new spirit is to be infused into this old country, there is one thorny and contentious reform which must be tackled, and that is the humanization and galvanization of the B.B.C. Timidity here will bespeak canker and atrophy of the soul. The heart of Britain may be sound and of strong beat, for instance, but the British lion’s roar at present is like that of Bottom in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream — as gentle as any sucking dove. A virile new Britain cannot continue indefinitely to be traduced in the eyes or rather ears, of the world by the effete languors of Langham Place, brazenly masquerading as ‘standard English’. When the Voice of Britain is heard at nine o’clock, better far and infinitely less ludicrous to hear aitches honestly dropped than the present priggish, inflated, inhibited, school-ma’amish arch braying of blameless bashful mewing maidens!
Letter in Tribune
Each of these passages has faults of its own, but, quite apart from avoidable ugliness, two qualities are common to all of them. The first is staleness of imagery; the other is lack of precision. The writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not. This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing. As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated hen-house. I list below, with notes and examples, various of the tricks by means of which the work of prose-construction is habitually dodged.
DYING METAPHORS. A newly invented metaphor assists thought by evoking a visual image, while on the other hand a metaphor which is technically ‘dead’ (e. g. iron resolution) has in effect reverted to being an ordinary word and can generally be used without loss of vividness. But in between these two classes there is a huge dump of worn-out metaphors which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves. Examples are: Ring the changes on, take up the cudgel for, toe the line, ride roughshod over, stand shoulder to shoulder with, play into the hands of, no axe to grind, grist to the mill, fishing in troubled waters, on the order of the day, Achilles’ heel, swan song, hotbed. Many of these are used without knowledge of their meaning (what is a ‘rift’, for instance?), and incompatible metaphors are frequently mixed, a sure sign that the writer is not interested in what he is saying. Some metaphors now current have been twisted out of their original meaning without those who use them even being aware of the fact. For example, toe the line is sometimes written as tow the line. Another example is the hammer and the anvil, now always used with the implication that the anvil gets the worst of it. In real life it is always the anvil that breaks the hammer, never the other way about: a writer who stopped to think what he was saying would avoid perverting the original phrase.
OPERATORS OR VERBAL FALSE LIMBS. These save the trouble of picking out appropriate verbs and nouns, and at the same time pad each sentence with extra syllables which give it an appearance of symmetry. Characteristic phrases are render inoperative, militate against, make contact with, be subjected to, give rise to, give grounds for, have the effect of, play a leading part (role) in, make itself felt, take effect, exhibit a tendency to, serve the purpose of, etc., etc. The keynote is the elimination of simple verbs. Instead of being a single word, such as break, stop, spoil, mend, kill, a verb becomes a phrase, made up of a noun or adjective tacked on to some general-purpose verb such as prove, serve, form, play, render. In addition, the passive voice is wherever possible used in preference to the active, and noun constructions are used instead of gerunds (by examination of instead of by examining). The range of verbs is further cut down by means of the -ize and de- formations, and the banal statements are given an appearance of profundity by means of the not un- formation. Simple conjunctions and prepositions are replaced by such phrases as with respect to, having regard to, the fact that, by dint of, in view of, in the interests of, on the hypothesis that; and the ends of sentences are saved by anticlimax by such resounding commonplaces as greatly to be desired, cannot be left out of account, a development to be expected in the near future, deserving of serious consideration, brought to a satisfactory conclusion, and so on and so forth.
PRETENTIOUS DICTION. Words like phenomenon, element, individual (as noun), objective, categorical, effective, virtual, basic, primary, promote, constitute, exhibit, exploit, utilize, eliminate, liquidate, are used to dress up a simple statement and give an air of scientific impartiality to biased judgements. Adjectives like epoch-making, epic, historic, unforgettable, triumphant, age-old, inevitable, inexorable, veritable, are used to dignify the sordid process of international politics, while writing that aims at glorifying war usually takes on an archaic colour, its characteristic words being: realm, throne, chariot, mailed fist, trident, sword, shield, buckler, banner, jackboot, clarion. Foreign words and expressions such as cul de sac, ancien regime, deus ex machina, mutatis mutandis, status quo, gleichschaltung, weltanschauung, are used to give an air of culture and elegance. Except for the useful abbreviations i. e., e. g. and etc., there is no real need for any of the hundreds of foreign phrases now current in the English language. (1). The jargon peculiar to Marxist writing (hyena, hangman, cannibal, petty bourgeois, these gentry, lackey, flunkey, mad dog, White Guard, etc.) consists largely of words translated from Russian, German, or French; but the normal way of coining a new word is to use Latin or Greek root with the appropriate affix and, where necessary, the size formation. It is often easier to make up words of this kind (deregionalize, impermissible, extramarital, non-fragmentary and so forth) than to think up the English words that will cover one’s meaning. The result, in general, is an increase in slovenliness and vagueness.
MEANINGLESS WORDS. (2). Words like romantic, plastic, values, human, dead, sentimental, natural, vitality, as used in art criticism, are strictly meaningless, in the sense that they not only do not point to any discoverable object, but are hardly ever expected to do so by the reader. When one critic writes, ‘The outstanding feature of Mr. X’s work is its living quality’, while another writes, ‘The immediately striking thing about Mr. X’s work is its peculiar deadness’, the reader accepts this as a simple difference opinion. If words like black and white were involved, instead of the jargon words dead and living, he would see at once that language was being used in an improper way. Many political words are similarly abused. The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable’. The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another. In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning. Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different. Statements like Marshal Petain was a true patriot, The Soviet press is the freest in the world, The Catholic Church is opposed to persecution, are almost always made with intent to deceive. Other words used in variable meanings, in most cases more or less dishonestly, are: class, totalitarian, science, progressive, reactionary, bourgeois, equality.
Now that I have made this catalogue of swindles and perversions, let me give another example of the kind of writing that they lead to. This time it must of its nature be an imaginary one. I am going to translate a passage of good English into modern English of the worst sort. Here is a well-known verse from Ecclesiastes:
I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.
Here it is in modern English:
Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.
This is a parody, but not a very gross one. Exhibit (3) above, for instance, contains several patches of the same kind of English. It will be seen that I have not made a full translation. The beginning and ending of the sentence follow the original meaning fairly closely, but in the middle the concrete illustrations — race, battle, bread — dissolve into the vague phrases ‘success or failure in competitive activities’. This had to be so, because no modern writer of the kind I am discussing — no one capable of using phrases like ‘objective considerations of contemporary phenomena’ — would ever tabulate his thoughts in that precise and detailed way. The whole tendency of modern prose is away from concreteness. Now analyze these two sentences a little more closely. The first contains forty-nine words but only sixty syllables, and all its words are those of everyday life. The second contains thirty-eight words of ninety syllables: eighteen of those words are from Latin roots, and one from Greek. The first sentence contains six vivid images, and only one phrase (‘time and chance’) that could be called vague. The second contains not a single fresh, arresting phrase, and in spite of its ninety syllables it gives only a shortened version of the meaning contained in the first. Yet without a doubt it is the second kind of sentence that is gaining ground in modern English. I do not want to exaggerate. This kind of writing is not yet universal, and outcrops of simplicity will occur here and there in the worst-written page. Still, if you or I were told to write a few lines on the uncertainty of human fortunes, we should probably come much nearer to my imaginary sentence than to the one from Ecclesiastes.
As I have tried to show, modern writing at its worst does not consist in picking out words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer. It consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug. The attraction of this way of writing is that it is easy. It is easier — even quicker, once you have the habit — to say In my opinion it is not an unjustifiable assumption that than to say I think. If you use ready-made phrases, you not only don’t have to hunt about for the words; you also don’t have to bother with the rhythms of your sentences since these phrases are generally so arranged as to be more or less euphonious. When you are composing in a hurry — when you are dictating to a stenographer, for instance, or making a public speech — it is natural to fall into a pretentious, Latinized style. Tags like a consideration which we should do well to bear in mind or a conclusion to which all of us would readily assent will save many a sentence from coming down with a bump. By using stale metaphors, similes, and idioms, you save much mental effort, at the cost of leaving your meaning vague, not only for your reader but for yourself. This is the significance of mixed metaphors. The sole aim of a metaphor is to call up a visual image. When these images clash — as in The Fascist octopus has sung its swan song, the jackboot is thrown into the melting pot — it can be taken as certain that the writer is not seeing a mental image of the objects he is naming; in other words he is not really thinking. Look again at the examples I gave at the beginning of this essay. Professor Laski (1) uses five negatives in fifty three words. One of these is superfluous, making nonsense of the whole passage, and in addition there is the slip — alien for akin — making further nonsense, and several avoidable pieces of clumsiness which increase the general vagueness. Professor Hogben (2) plays ducks and drakes with a battery which is able to write prescriptions, and, while disapproving of the everyday phrase put up with, is unwilling to look egregious up in the dictionary and see what it means; (3), if one takes an uncharitable attitude towards it, is simply meaningless: probably one could work out its intended meaning by reading the whole of the article in which it occurs. In (4), the writer knows more or less what he wants to say, but an accumulation of stale phrases chokes him like tea leaves blocking a sink. In (5), words and meaning have almost parted company. People who write in this manner usually have a general emotional meaning — they dislike one thing and want to express solidarity with another — but they are not interested in the detail of what they are saying. A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: What am I trying to say? What words will express it? What image or idiom will make it clearer? Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? And he will probably ask himself two more: Could I put it more shortly? Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly? But you are not obliged to go to all this trouble. You can shirk it by simply throwing your mind open and letting the ready-made phrases come crowding in. The will construct your sentences for you — even think your thoughts for you, to a certain extent — and at need they will perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself. It is at this point that the special connection between politics and the debasement of language becomes clear.
In our time it is broadly true that political writing is bad writing. Where it is not true, it will generally be found that the writer is some kind of rebel, expressing his private opinions and not a ‘party line’. Orthodoxy, of whatever colour, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style. The political dialects to be found in pamphlets, leading articles, manifestos, White papers and the speeches of undersecretaries do, of course, vary from party to party, but they are all alike in that one almost never finds in them a fresh, vivid, homemade turn of speech. When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases — bestial, atrocities, iron heel, bloodstained tyranny, free peoples of the world, stand shoulder to shoulder — one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker’s spectacles and turns them into blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind them. And this is not altogether fanciful. A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance toward turning himself into a machine. The appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved, as it would be if he were choosing his words for himself. If the speech he is making is one that he is accustomed to make over and over again, he may be almost unconscious of what he is saying, as one is when one utters the responses in church. And this reduced state of consciousness, if not indispensable, is at any rate favourable to political conformity.
In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them. Consider for instance some comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism. He cannot say outright, ‘I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so’. Probably, therefore, he will say something like this:
‘While freely conceding that the Soviet regime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable concomitant of transitional periods, and that the rigors which the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement.’
The inflated style itself is a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink. In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics’. All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer. I should expect to find — this is a guess which I have not sufficient knowledge to verify — that the German, Russian and Italian languages have all deteriorated in the last ten or fifteen years, as a result of dictatorship.
But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better. The debased language that I have been discussing is in some ways very convenient. Phrases like a not unjustifiable assumption, leaves much to be desired, would serve no good purpose, a consideration which we should do well to bear in mind, are a continuous temptation, a packet of aspirins always at one’s elbow. Look back through this essay, and for certain you will find that I have again and again committed the very faults I am protesting against. By this morning’s post I have received a pamphlet dealing with conditions in Germany. The author tells me that he ‘felt impelled’ to write it. I open it at random, and here is almost the first sentence I see: ‘[The Allies] have an opportunity not only of achieving a radical transformation of Germany’s social and political structure in such a way as to avoid a nationalistic reaction in Germany itself, but at the same time of laying the foundations of a co-operative and unified Europe.’ You see, he ‘feels impelled’ to write — feels, presumably, that he has something new to say — and yet his words, like cavalry horses answering the bugle, group themselves automatically into the familiar dreary pattern. This invasion of one’s mind by ready-made phrases (lay the foundations, achieve a radical transformation) can only be prevented if one is constantly on guard against them, and every such phrase anaesthetizes a portion of one’s brain.
I said earlier that the decadence of our language is probably curable. Those who deny this would argue, if they produced an argument at all, that language merely reflects existing social conditions, and that we cannot influence its development by any direct tinkering with words and constructions. So far as the general tone or spirit of a language goes, this may be true, but it is not true in detail. Silly words and expressions have often disappeared, not through any evolutionary process but owing to the conscious action of a minority. Two recent examples were explore every avenue and leave no stone unturned, which were killed by the jeers of a few journalists. (3), to reduce the amount of Latin and Greek in the average sentence, to drive out foreign phrases and strayed scientific words, and, in general, to make pretentiousness unfashionable. But all these are minor points. The defence of the English language implies more than this, and perhaps it is best to start by saying what it does not imply.
To begin with it has nothing to do with archaism, with the salvaging of obsolete words and turns of speech, or with the setting up of a ‘standard English’ which must never be departed from. On the contrary, it is especially concerned with the scrapping of every word or idiom which has outworn its usefulness. It has nothing to do with correct grammar and syntax, which are of no importance so long as one makes one’s meaning clear, or with the avoidance of Americanisms, or with having what is called a ‘good prose style’. On the other hand, it is not concerned with fake simplicity and the attempt to make written English colloquial. Nor does it even imply in every case preferring the Saxon word to the Latin one, though it does imply using the fewest and shortest words that will cover one’s meaning. What is above all needed is to let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way around. In prose, the worst thing one can do with words is surrender to them. When you think of a concrete object, you think wordlessly, and then, if you want to describe the thing you have been visualising you probably hunt about until you find the exact words that seem to fit it. When you think of something abstract you are more inclined to use words from the start, and unless you make a conscious effort to prevent it, the existing dialect will come rushing in and do the job for you, at the expense of blurring or even changing your meaning. Probably it is better to put off using words as long as possible and get one’s meaning as clear as one can through pictures and sensations. Afterward one can choose — not simply accept — the phrases that will best cover the meaning, and then switch round and decide what impressions one’s words are likely to make on another person. This last effort of the mind cuts out all stale or mixed images, all prefabricated phrases, needless repetitions, and humbug and vagueness generally. But one can often be in doubt about the effect of a word or a phrase, and one needs rules that one can rely on when instinct fails. I think the following rules will cover most cases:
Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
Never use a long word where a short one will do.
If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
Never use the passive where you can use the active.
Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
These rules sound elementary, and so they are, but they demand a deep change of attitude in anyone who has grown used to writing in the style now fashionable. One could keep all of them and still write bad English, but one could not write the kind of stuff that I quoted in those five specimens at the beginning of this article.
I have not here been considering the literary use of language, but merely language as an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought. Stuart Chase and others have come near to claiming that all abstract words are meaningless, and have used this as a pretext for advocating a kind of political quietism. Since you don’t know what Fascism is, how can you struggle against Fascism? One need not swallow such absurdities as this, but one ought to recognise that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end. If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself. Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. One cannot change this all in a moment, but one can at least change one’s own habits, and from time to time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrase — some jackboot, Achilles’ heel, hotbed, melting pot, acid test, veritable inferno, or other lump of verbal refuse — into the dustbin where it belongs.
1) An interesting illustration of this is the way in which the English flower names which were in use till very recently are being ousted by Greek ones, snapdragon becoming antirrhinum, forget-me-not becoming myosotis, etc. It is hard to see any practical reason for this change of fashion: it is probably due to an instinctive turning-awayfrom the more homely word and a vague feeling that the Greek word is scientific.
2) Example: ‘Comfort’s catholicity of perception and image, strangely Whitmanesque in range, almost the exact opposite in aesthetic compulsion, continues to evoke that trembling atmospheric accumulative ginting at a cruel, an inexorably selene timelessness… Wrey Gardiner scores by aiming at simple bull’s-eyes with precision. Only they are not so simple, and through this contented sadness runs more than the surface bitter-sweet of resignation’. (Poetry Quarterly.)
3) One can cure oneself of the not un- formation by memorizing this sentence: A not unblack dog was chasing a not unsmall rabbit across a not ungreen field.
It is a question to excite the repressed student in every lawyer: which cases have most shaped British law over the past 200 years?
To celebrate the launch of The Times Archive, we asked Gary Slapper, Professor of Law, and director of the Centre for Law, at the Open University and long-time Times Law columnist, to trawl through more than two centuries of Times Law Reports (which, thanks to the Archive, you can now read as they originally appeared) and to pull out the 100 most important, influential and colourful cases since the newspaper began publishing in 1785.
The series will be presented in five parts over the next week, starting today. Everyone will have their favourites, from the Paisley snail to the Carbolic Smoke Ball Company: leave a comment if you disagree with any of our choices, or if you think we have missed any. Click on the case names to read the original law report as it appeared in The Times. Click here to go to the Archive and search for any article from the newspaper from 1785-198 .
This decision was a classic early example of the courts holding someone to the terms of a commercial bargain over goods whose quality he had inspected and accepted. The action was in Westminster, the defendant a cabinet maker who had agreed to purchase 13 mahogany logs for £18. The seller argued that the wood should be paid for as agreed but the buyer said that the batch of logs was worthless, as it differed from some of the samples he had inspected. There were holes in it “so great that you might put your head into them”; according to one wood expert, it was the “worst he ever saw”. But the verdict went in favour of the claimant, who was entitled to be paid the agreed price of £18 by the cabinet maker because the sale batch was, in general, the quality of wood he had agreed to buy.
This colourful case involving a butcher and a prince’s coachman embodied the metropolitan bustle of the age; it was also notable in the development of personal injury actions. It concerned an ordinary man who was injured by a royal carriage. The claimant, George Ormond, was a butcher who lived in Turnham Green, West London. The defendant, Don Payne, looked after the affairs of the Prince of Wales at Carlton House. The butcher sued Payne after the Prince’s coachman, George Smith — for whom he was legally responsible under civil law — drove into the butcher’s cart, breaking his leg. The coachman, according to Ormond’s claim, was in a terrible hurry and “in liquor”. The moment the horses were harnessed and he had mounted the box, he had “called for a glass of gin, drank it, threw the glass violently upon the pavement, flogged his horses” and sped away at a gallop. The jury found that Payne was liable for the coachman’s actions and awarded £100 damages.
In the early 18th-century, investors poured money into the South Sea Company on the strengths of its hopes of a great trade with South America. In 1720 it collapsed. Many other companies failed around the same time, and joint stock organisations — whereby a company’s capital comes from shareholders — were discredited and eventually banned under the so-called “Bubble Act”. In 1808 the Act was used controversially against a businessman named Dodd. He had published a couple of prospectuses hoping to raise £50,000 by issuing shares but Lord Ellenborough, the Lord Chief Justice, ruled that such a scheme was unlawful. He said he hoped others would not engage in similar “mischievous and illegal projects”. In other words, commercial activity in 1808 was restricted to unincorporated partnerships, under which each partner is liable for all the business. Companies as we know them did not really become popular until the Companies Act 1844.
The defendant, Sir Francis Burdett, was charged with seditious libel after he wrote a letter containing strong expressions about the conduct of the Government in dispersing the “mutiny” at St Peter’s Fields in Manchester on August 16, 1819. The letter claimed that unarmed men and women had been “inhumanly cut down, maimed and killed by the King’s Troops”. On the direction of Mr Justice Best that the letter was a poisonous libel, the defendant was found guilty, fined £2,000 and sentenced to three month’s imprisonment. It was upheld on appeal.
Collins, a London lawyer, agreed to testify in a civil trial on behalf of the defendant, Godefroy, in exchange for a fee of six guineas. A subpoena was issued. After the trial, however, Godefroy said he did not need to pay as Collins was legally obliged to attend once the subpoena was issued. The court agreed, finding that Collins would have given no value (known in legal terms as “consideration”) in return for the promised fee.
In this case, heard on the Oxford circuit, a man sued his neighbour after two cottages burnt down because of a fire that started on the neighbour’s property. The neighbour had been told that a hayrick was a fire risk but ignored the advice. The court held that the claimant was entitled to compensation for his two cottages because the neighbour had been negligent. The case was notable for the test of negligence it used, which was to later become very influential. Mr Justice Patteson told the jury that they must decide whether the defendant, the hayrick owner, had acted as a man of “ordinary skill and judgment” would have acted under the circumstances.
In this case, a butcher was sued by an employee who broke his thigh and collarbone after he was thrown off a van loaded with meat. The court ruled that the employer was not liable under common law for an injury done to an employee because of the negligence of a fellow employee. The injured worker was presumed to have entered into his contract of employment with the full knowledge of the risks involved. This doctrine of “common employment” set the legal scene for the entire Industrial Revolution and prevented millions of negligently injured workers from suing. It was not abolished until 1948.
This case established an important point on the principle of misrepresentation in contract law. Mr Small purchased a mine and ironworks in Staffordshire from Mr Attwood. The sale went through after the property had been inspected by Small’s own experts. Six months later, he discovered that he had been misled. He sought to rescind the contract on the ground of misrepresentation. The House of Lords held that the action must fail because Small had not just relied on the statements of the defendant but on the reassurance of independent reports he had commissioned.
The defendant borrowed £30 from the claimant. In lending it, the claimant knew that the money was to be used in playing Hazard, an illegal game of chance. It was held that the claimant could not recover this sum as it was lent for the express purpose of a violation of the law. The decision consolidated the principle that the law will not enforce a contract for an illegal purpose.
This case was important for the way it clarified the powers of Parliament. Stockdale, who published an explicit medical book, sued Hansard, the publisher of Parliamentary proceedings, for defamation. He claimed he had been libelled in a prison inspector’s report published by Hansard that said his medical text was “disgusting and obscene”. Hansard said it was entitled to publish the inspector’s report as it was protected by parliamentary privilege. The court held that such a protective privilege did not exist. Publication of the report in question was not authorised by an Act of Parliament but merely by a vote of the House of Commons. In other words: an Act is supreme and can create law, but a simple resolution from the House of Commons, such as in this case, does not bind the courts.
This coroner’s case is a vivid example of the sort of deprivation common to the era. Headed “Horrid case of destitution”, this harrowing inquest looked at the death of a three-year-old girl who had died in Sandgate, London. The verdict of the jury was one of “death by natural causes”, although a number of factors were cited in the case including the general and social conditions at the time and the behaviour of an “inhuman mother”. Something of the flavour of the story can be gathered from the opening paragraph: “It is almost impossible to convey the slightest idea of the retched hovel in which the decreased child was found . . . The room was low and naturally dark; and the light of a fire sent an unearthly glare around the place where the author of the recently published Fortunes of Godolphin [Nicholas Michell] might have gained many an idea, which might have enabled him to make the Sepulchre more descriptive where the gypsy was entombed alive.”
At a trial for attempting to fire a loaded firearm, the court considered whether, by pointing an unloaded pistol at someone, a common law assault had been committed. George Hanbury St George had been indicted for pointing the pistol at Bruce Ernest Darant and attempting to pull the trigger with intent to murder him. The court decided that it was an assault if the weapon had the appearance of being loaded (thus causing “fear and alarm”) and the range was such that it would have endangered life if it had been fired.
Finder’s keepers? Not in this case. The claimant purchased a bureau at a public auction sale and afterwards discovered a secret drawer that, unknown to anyone at the time of the sale, contained a considerable sum of money. The Court held that lawful possession of the money had not passed to the claimant.
This case arose from the gambling of an army captain who was alleged to be “of intemperate habits” and addicted to gambling “when in a state of intoxication”. Money was lent to him for the purposes of gaming at public tables in Germany, where it was lawful. The court held that his debts could be recovered in the English courts as such an action could have been maintained successfully in Germany.
This was a ruling of major significance in company law. The law has since been revised but this case is necessary to understand many company cases as it is always referred to. Two shareholders in the Victoria Park Company brought an action against the company’s directors for fraudulently acquiring, at inflated prices, property in which the directors had a personal interest. They were also sued for making false statements at company meetings. What this case decided was that when a director of a company acted in breach of his duty, only the company — and not individuals — could be the claimant in an action to secure a remedy. A similar rule applies today, although there are now, under the Companies Act 2006, circumstances in which individual shareholders can pursue actions against directors for some breaches of duty.
In this dispute over whether a marriage was valid, the House of Lords ruled that a marriage must be contracted per verba de praesenti. That means by words exchanged as an agreement in the present tense as opposed to in the future tense. The betrothal words had to be in phrases such as “I take thee to be my wife” and “I take thee to be my husband” — not “I will take thee”. That had been recognised before but in this case the Lords decided that for a valid marriage such betrothals also had to be done in front of a priest.
Thomas Hall, alias Rollins, “a poor man not possessed of a farthing, or a farthing’s worth in the world”, was indicted for bigamy. His first wife, Mary Ann, had robbed him then “sallied forth” with their child and set up another family with another man. Hall went to try to have her apprehended but was beaten up by Mary Ann’s new lover. Hall gave up trying to get her back and eventually remarried, but without divorcing Mary Ann first. In an unusually sardonic judgment, Mr Justice Maule, sitting at Warwick, said his later marriage was understandable but that Hall should have procured a divorce in the way a rich man would — by going to the House of Lords and ecclesiastic courts and spending up to £600. Being poor was not an excuse, the judge said. He hoped the four months hard labour he gave Hall would be a warning about the dangers of trifling with matrimony.
If you want to sue over a contract, you must prove you have given the other party something of value, as this ruling demonstrates. The facts were these: 19 out of 36 of a ship’s crew deserted, leaving it short of hands to complete its voyage safely. In order to persuade the rest of the crew to keep going, the master promised to pay each an additional £40. When the ship was safely back in port, the master refused to pay, saying the seamen had merely done their jobs. But a court held that the men were entitled to the money. Their original agreement didn’t require them to sail the ship if it became unseaworthy, therefore the master’s promise constituted a new contract.
Another landmark case demonstrating that the courts will not enforce contracts that have been made for an unlawful purpose. A firm of coachbuilders supplied a prostitute, Miss Brooks, with a brougham, a closed carriage. She did not pay the hire charge, so they sued her. But the court decided that the claimant’s action must fail: the contract was void because, in supplying the brougham in the knowledge that it was to be used for prostitution, the firm had contributed to an immoral act.
This was a key decision in illustrating the idea that someone can’t be held to an agreement if he was tricked into entering it. To be held to a contract you must have made it freely and voluntarily. In this case, an old and feeble man was induced into signing his name on the back of a bill of exchange, believing that he was signing a guarantee. The court decided that because he signed without knowing it was a bill of exchange and hadn’t been negligent in signing, he should be released from liability.
Statute law can only be applied to do what Parliament passed it to do. In this case, a ship owner agreed to take the claimant’s sheep from Hamburg to Newcastle, but some of them were washed overboard. The owner of the sheep sued. He argued that no pens had been provided on the ship, in breach of a statutory duty under the Contagious Diseases (Animals) Act 1869, which required pens to be installed on the decks of ships used to transfer animals. If there had been pens on the decks, the sheep would have survived. However, the court ruled that the claimant could not claim damages on such grounds because the object of the statute was to protect animals from contagious disease, not from falling into the sea. The case is often cited by anyone seeking to show that once a law has been made for a particular purpose, it would be wrong to apply it for another.
This was a classic decision that informed millions of commercial and contractual negotiations since. It says that if you make an offer you can withdraw it at any time before it is accepted. The case concerned the sale of a property by the defendant, John Dodds. Initially, Dodds agreed to sell it for £800 to George Dickinson, giving him a couple of days to accept. But Dickinson’s letter of acceptance wasn’t received until it was too late, and in the mean time Dodds sold the property to another man. Dickinson sought a court order to force Dodds to sell him the property but the court refused. It held that anyone making an offer was entitled to retract it at any time before it was accepted. By selling the property to someone else, Dodds had retracted his offer.
In order to get the fairest and truest results from cases, it is very important that expert witnesses should speak freely and fearlessly. This case, in an era in which the use of expert witnesses was growing significantly, was a good illustration of how the courts were careful to give protection to witnesses against defamation actions. The defendant was a handwriting expert. He had given evidence in a case that a signature on a will was a forgery, though his view was not shared by the court. Later, in another case, also about a witness contesting a will, he expressed his opinion again during cross examination that the signature in the earlier case had been a “rank forgery”. That led to one of the attesting witnesses to that earlier will suing for slander. However, this case of slander was dismissed, as the remark was uttered in court while giving expert evidence and was therefore “privileged”.
This landmark judgment upheld the principle that you can’t pass on what you don’t own. Lindsay & Co was a linen manufacturer based in Belfast. Alfred Blenkarn, a resident of Cheapside in London, wrote to Lindsay proposing to buy a quantity of goods. He gave his address as “37, Wood Street, Cheapside” and signed the letters without using an initial or first name so that his signature appeared to read “Blenkiron & Co”. Lindsay knew there was a respectable firm, W Blenkiron & Son, based at 123 Wood Street, so it sent the goods. But Blenkarn didn’t pay, and instead sold the goods to the defendant. Lindsay sued the defendant for the value of the goods. The House of Lords held that because of the trick no contract had been concluded between Lindsay and Alfred Blenkarn. And because Blenkarn didn’t legally own the goods, he couldn’t legally transfer them to the defendant. Consequently, the defendant was ordered to pay Lindsay for the full value of the goods. Needless to say, as news of the decision percolated out into the commercial world, in which capitalism was rapidly developing, commercial buyers began to get very particular about ensuring sellers actually owned the goods they were selling.
In a drama that sounds more like a story from an old British film comedy, this case formulated an important principle in the law of nuisance. A confectioner and physician occupied adjoining premises in London. Dr Octavius Sturges lived at 85 Wimpole Street and Mr Bridgman at 30 Wigmore Street. As part of his business activity, for more than 20 years, the confectioner used two large mortar and pestles. The noise and vibration hadn’t seemed to the physician to be a nuisance until he built a consulting room at the end of his garden, against the wall of the confectioner’s kitchen, in which the mortars and pestles operated. Dr Sturges sought an injunction to stop the noise and won. The court decided that the confectioner, Bridgman, could not claim that long usage of the equipment had established a right to make such a noise. Rather, the nuisance had only begun when the new consulting room was — quite lawfully — built close to the source of the noise.
For justice to be achieved, it is important that lawyers are uninhibited in their courtroom advocacy. The principle was illuminated in this case, made especially vivid by the fact that both the claimant and defendant were themselves lawyers. Munster was a barrister. During the trial of people accused of burgling his Brighton home, the defendants’ solicitor, Lamb, suggested that Munster kept drugs in his home for immoral purposes. Munster later sued him for defamation. However, it was decided that Munster wasn’t entitled to damages as Lamb’s statement was made by a lawyer within the bounds of the privilege extended to advocates.
This was one of the most famous and gruesome cases in English law. Can necessity ever be recognised as a reason for killing someone? The defendants, Thomas Dudley and Edward Stephens, were shipwrecked 1600 miles from the Cape of Good Hope along with another man and a cabin boy, Richard Parker. After 18 days adrift in an open boat, for seven of which they were without food, Dudley and Stephens decided to kill Parker and eat him. The other man refused to take part in the plan but on the 20th day adrift, Dudley and Stephens cut Parker’s throat. They lived off his flesh and blood for another four days before they were picked up by a passing ship. Dudley and Stephens were arrested and tried. The court ruled that the killing Parker was an act of wilful murder; even the extreme situation they found themselves in was no defence. Both were sentenced to death, but there was another twist to the story: out of compassion, their sentences were later commuted to six months.
This case decided an essential point of law about what happens when, in an action for nuisance, it is clear that the claimant has only suffered because he or his goods are unusually sensitive. There is no nuisance if the claim has more to do with the claimant’s sensitivity than the conduct of the defendant. Robert Henry Robinson occupied the ground floor of the defendant’s premises in Garden Street, Manchester, for the purposes of storing brown paper. The defendant, a paper box maker, operated a boiler in the basement. After the boiler ruined Robinson’s brown paper — even though it wouldn’t have harmed any other paper and did not inconvenience his employees — he sought an injunction to restrain its use. But the court refused, holding that a man who carries on “an exceptionally delicate trade” cannot complain if it is spoiled by his neighbour doing something lawful in his property if it wouldn’t harm an ordinary trade.
An exemplary instance of an appeal court using the common law inventively to prevent a manifest injustice. Martha Tolson received word that her husband, who had deserted her, had been lost at sea during a voyage to America. Five years after she last saw him, believing him to be dead, she remarried. But her first husband later returned from the US very much alive and she was prosecuted for bigamy. Under Section 57 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, which defined the crime, she did not have to have committed bigamy knowingly or intentionally for it to have been a crime. On the face of it, it was enough for a conviction for her to have remarried within seven years of her husband having deserted her. However, her conviction was quashed. The appeal court said that despite the absence of words such as “knowingly committing bigamy” or “intentionally committing bigamy”, which would have excused her, Ms Tolson was saved in this situation by an old common law rule. An “honest and reasonable belief” in the existence of circumstances that, if true, would make the accused’s acts innocent, was a proper defence, the court ruled.
A decision that shaped a key principle of criminal law. James Halliday terrified his wife and daughter with threats of violence. His wife, in order to escape, began climbing out a window but her daughter grabbed her. Halliday shouted, “Let the bugger go”; the daughter did, and his wife fell and broke her leg. The appeal confirmed convictions against Halliday for an assault occasioning actual bodily harm and for maliciously inflicting grievous bodily harm. The law was expressed in this way: if someone creates in another person’s mind “an immediate sense of danger” causing that terrified person to try to escape, and in doing so the person sustains an injury, “the person who creates such a state of mind is responsible for the injuries which result”.
Everybody needs good neighbours. At what point the law can intervene when neighbours are not good is a matter of some importance; this case clarified the law in a way that has settled millions of disputes since. The case concerned a property at in Brixton. Holder Christie, the claimant, lived at the address with his musical family. His wife gave music and singing lessons; his daughter taught piano and violin; and his son played the cello until 11pm at night. In the adjoining semi-detached house, Fitzer Davey, an engraver, became irritated by the din. He described singing that resembled “the howlings of a dog” and dreadful “catgut vibrations”. To get his revenge, he maliciously blew whistles, shrieked and knocked on trays during the music lessons. The court held that such sabotage could be restrained by an injunction. The malice in Davey’s behaviour made his conduct unreasonable and a nuisance.
This was a hugely influential decision that went right to the heart of contract law. It is still cited every year in law exams and essays by thousands of law students. During a flu epidemic, Elizabeth Carlill, a writer and lawyer’s wife, bought a “smoke ball” from the Carbolic Smoke Ball Company. The company claimed its product — a small rubber ball with a tube attached, filled with carbolic acid that was flushed into the user’s nose — could cure the flu. Its adverts promised to pay £100 to anyone who used the ball but still got sick. Mrs Carlill bought a smoke ball, used it, and caught a cold. She successfully sued the company. Her case confirmed many modern contract principles. Incidentally, Mrs Carlill died 50 years later, aged 96, from influenza.
In 1895, The Times reported on three trials of Oscar Wilde. It was the celebrity scandal of the century. The Marquis of Queensbury, who thought his son was being corrupted by Wilde, sent a card to Wilde’s club saying: “To Oscar Wilde posing Somdomite” [sic]. Wilde sued for criminal libel. Queensbury pleaded justification, accusing Wilde of soliciting more than 12 boys. The case had many marvellous episodes, particularly when Wilde was cross-examined:
COUNSEL: Have you ever adored a young man madly? WILDE: I have never given adoration to anybody except myself.
Wilde lost after a fatal slip in cross-examination in which he seemed to say he hadn’t kissed a boy not because he was a boy but because he was ugly. Soon after, he was arrested for indecency. Wilde was eventually convicted after a second trial — the first jury failed to agree on most of the charges — and sentenced to two years with hard labour. The case included many shocking travesties of justice. For example, it came to light that throughout the proceedings, the young men who were testifying against Wilde were each being paid £5 a week by the police, an enormous sum at the time. Nevertheless, Wilde’s courtroom wit was bountiful. Asked by the seasoned 44-year old prosecutor Charles Gill whether he exalted youth, Wilde said he did and added, to courtroom laughter: “I should enjoy, for instance, the society of a beardless, briefless barrister quite as much as that of the most accomplished QC.” He was asked later whether his habit of giving cigarette cases to working class youths was not strangely expensive. Wilde replied that it was “less extravagant than giving jewelled garters to ladies”.
Salomon v Salomon was an important case in clarifying the legal definition of a company. Aron Salomon, a boot manufacturer and leather merchant, set up a company in which he held nearly all the shares and was managing director. He loaned the company his own money and received debentures in return. He was therefore entitled to a sum of the company’s assets. After the company later went into liquidation, Salomon sought to be treated as a “secured” creditor and to have his claim settled before those of other creditors. The House of Lords upheld his claim. It ruled that a company is separate from the individuals that compose it.
The law against harming people is of immense importance in a civilised society. In defining a civil wrong in a new and clear way, this case was innovative. It created a tort of intentional infliction of mental shock. Thomas Wilkinson was a pub landlord on St Paul’s Road in east London. One day, while he was at the races, a regular named Downton decided to play a practical joke on his wife, Lavinia. Downton “falsely, fraudulently and maliciously” told Lavinia that her husband had had a “smash up” and was lying injured at the Elms Public House in Leytonstone. On hearing this, Lavinia experienced a violent nervous shock. Even after the truth became apparent, she experienced weeks of suffering and incapacity. The court ruled that she was entitled to damages as the defendant had wilfully, calculatedly, caused her distress.
This case shaped company law for decades by limiting the legal power of shareholders. It involved a group of shareholders in a colliery company called Nixons Navigation that wrote to the company secretary offering to sell their shares. The chairman and two other directors bought the shares at a favourable price. They quietly rubbed their hands with glee, knowing that an offer was soon to be made by a third party for a substantially higher price. Shareholders later discovered their dubious behaviour and applied to the court to cancel the sale. They argued that the directors should have acted in a trustworthy way. However, the shareholders lost the case because the duty owed by the directors was to the company, not to them. The ruling curtailed shareholder power for much of the 20th-century, though shareholders can today sue in such circumstances.
A case loved by law students for its archaic language of social class. It is a nice illustration of how the social axioms of an era become embedded in law. The action was brought by a Savile Row tailor for £145 for clothes supplied to the defendant while he was an undergraduate at Trinity College, Cambridge. The son of an architect who had a town house in Hampstead and a country house near Havant, the defendant was legally a minor at the time and therefore only legally liable for contracts that were for “necessaries”. The clothes supplied included, among other things, eleven fancy waistcoats at two guineas each. It was shown that the defendant already had a good supply of clothes suitable to his status in life so the new ones were not “necessaries”. That meant the tailor lost his claim.
How far people other than the police have the power to arrest each other is an intriguing question. This case set the rules for decades. A private shop detective arrested the claimant on suspicion that he had stolen a book from one of the defendant’s shops. It turned out he hadn’t. It was held that a citizen can make an arrest after an offence has been committed but the arrest will be lawful only if the accused was guilty and the arrester had “reasonable and probable cause” for his suspicion. That wasn’t so in this case and the claimant was awarded £75 damages for false imprisonment. Today, you can make a citizen’s arrest only if you satisfy a string of requirements, including that that there were reasonable grounds for your suspicion and that you had reasonable grounds for believing that it was necessary to prevent injury, property damage or loss.
There is nothing like noise nuisance to get people resorting to the law. The law here hinges on that most assuring and magical word: reasonable. This case sent soothing news to the sleep-deprived and sent reverberations through the construction industry. The defendants used a steam pile-driving machine during the night on a building site near the claimant’s hotel. It was held that in conducting building operations it is not reasonable and proper to operate a pile-driver at night if it means residents in an adjoining building cannot sleep. Such conduct was liable to be restrained by injunction. The injunction was granted to stop the work between 10.00pm and 6.30am.
Sir Roger Casement, it is sometimes said, was hanged by a comma. This was a rip-roaring case about war, treason, syntax, punctuation, an ancient document and the noose. Casement was convicted during the First World War of conspiring with the Germans to further an Irish insurrection. The contentious punctuation mark appeared in some but not all versions of the law under which Casement was prosecuted, the Treason Act 1351. Ultimately, the comma allowed the definition of a traitor to include someone whose treachery, such as Casement’s, was committed outside the realm. In this case, Casement had made his plans in Germany. Before the final decision, two judges went to the Public Record Office to check with a magnifying glass what was on the original Statute Roll and Parliamentary Roll. Casement’s appeal was rejected and on August 3, 1916, he was hanged at Pentonville prison.
This case was of considerable historic significance in supporting the freedom of a citizen to leave his wealth to whom he wanted. It is also solidified a great principle of British freedom of expression by ensuring that no legal disadvantage fell on those with dissentient ideas. The House of Lords upheld the lawfulness of a bequest to a company whose aim was opposing Christian dogma. In making this decision the Lords overruled precedents going back over 50 years. The next-of-kin of a testator challenged the bequest to the society on the grounds that its objects were unlawful. The House of Lords decided that there is nothing contrary to the policy of the law in an attack on or a denial of the truth of Christianity or any of its fundamental doctrines, provided that such an attack or denial is couched in temperate language and did not constitute blasphemy as defined by the common law.
This is a classic case in the field of contract law. It was an alarm bell for any star-struck retailers prone to be a bit too impressed by any display self-importance. A man bought pearls and rings worth £3,000 from a jeweller’s shop in Wardour Street, London after passing himself off as a wealthy gentleman from St James’s Square. The cheque was dishonoured — the man was in fact an imposter named North, who pawned one of the rings for £350. After the jeweller sued, the court held that as the jeweller intended to make a contract with the man in the shop, even though he was not who he said he was, the property had legally passed to him. North was legally entitled to sell it to a pawnbroker. The jeweller’s attempt to get the ring back failed.
This is, indirectly, one of the most often quoted cases in English law. It was famous for the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Hewart’s comment: “There is no doubt that it is not merely of some importance, but of fundamental importance, that justice must be done, and be manifestly and undoubtedly seen to be done”. A driving conviction was quashed because one of the magistrates’ clerks had an apparent conflict of interest: he worked for a law firm that acted for someone who was suing the driver in another case. No-one suggested the clerk behaved improperly, but it looked bad to have someone involved who was potentially partisan. The case cements a principle of fundamental significance to a civilised legal system: namely that all judicial processes must not just be fair but must never even be seen to raise a suspicion of unfairness. Public confidence in the law demands nothing less.
In the realms of the oxymoronic, “buying honour” must sit alongside “open secret” and “larger half”. But the attempt to purchase honours is not a recent development in British public life. In this case, the law set a clear precedent in how it should be treated. The secretary of a charity fraudulently promised Colonel Parkinson a knighthood if he made a large donation. Parkinson, accordingly, gave £3,000. But after he didn’t receive a knighthood, he sued the charity and its secretary for breach of contract. It was held that a contract for the purchase of an honourable title is an improper and illegal contract since it is against public policy. As Parkinson knew he was entering into an improper and illegal contract he could not recover the money. A year later, such activity was also criminalised by statute law.
Victor Betts and Herbert Ridley agreed to rob a man. The plan was simple: Betts would push him to the ground and seize his bag while Ridley waited in an escape car round the corner. But Betts struck the man with such force that the man died. They were both convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Ridley’s appeal failed. It was held that to be convicted it was not necessary that an accessory should be actually present when the offence was carried out. If the main criminal actor departed wholly from the scope of the agreement then he alone would be liable. But where the principal substantially complied with the plan and there was a departure only in the time, place or manner of execution of it, then the person soliciting the offence would be guilty of that offence, either as an “accessory before the fact” if he were absent and as a principal if he were present or nearby.
This colourful case helped put advertisers on guard against unlawfully exploiting the reputation of public figures without their consent. It encompassed several elements cherished in Britain — sport, chocolate and scandal — and so its legal principle became widely understood. The defendant, a chocolate manufacturer, published an advertisement featuring a caricature of Cyril Tolley, a prominent amateur golfer. It depicted him playing golf with a packet of their chocolate protruding from his pocket. Pictured with him was a caddy, who likened the excellence of the chocolate to that of Tolley’s drive. The ad was published without Tolley’s knowledge or consent. He sued, alleging it constituted a libel. He said the ad was understood to mean that he had permitted his portrait to be exhibited for the purpose of advertising chocolate and that that he’d done so for gain and reward. This would mean that he’d prostituted his reputation as an amateur golf player for advertising purposes. He was awarded £500.
This case on directors’ contracts caused quite a stir at the time. It concerned what happens when both sides to a contract make a mistake. Lever Brothers, the largest shareholder in the Niger Company, appointed Ernest Bell chairman of Niger’s board at a salary of £8,000 a year. It appointed Walter Snelling as vice-chairman at a salary of £6,000 a year. Behind the company’s back, the two executives speculated in cocoa, a commodity in which Niger dealt, which would have justified both being sacked. But it was for other reasons that their appointments were later cancelled. Unaware of their breaches of duty, Lever agreed to pay Bell £30,000 and Snelling £20,000 — a lot of money at the time — as compensation for terminating their services. Later, Lever said it would have sacked them without pay if it had been aware of their breaches of duty. The company tried to get the money back but the House of Lords said the company’s mistake wasn’t sufficiently fundamental to allow it to avoid the contractual obligation to pay the compensation.
An important ruling on the law of negligence involving cars, pets, shopping and gore. Mr and Mrs Harcourt-Rivington of Langhan Street, London, left their car outside an entrance of Selfridges off Oxford Street. They left their large Airedale dog in the car while they popped in to the department store. For reasons unknown, the dog became excited and started jumping around, barking furiously. It pawed the rear glass window, shattering the window pane. Improbably, a shard of glass flew off into the eye of a passer-by, Oliver Fardon. Fardon’s eye had to be removed. Were the couple liable to pay compensation? The House of Lords ruled that people should take care to guard against “realistic possibilities” but are not liable if we fail to guard against “fantastic possibilities”. The accident in this case, the judges ruled, was a “fantastic possibility”.
Among lawyers and law students this is probably the most famous case in British history. Never have so many cases flowed from a single formulation of law. On August 26, 1928, May Donoghue sat in the Wellmeadow Café in Paisley and drank the defendant manufacturer’s ginger beer, which her friend had purchased for her. The bottle contained the decomposed remains of a snail. After drinking it, Donoghue suffered from shock and severe gastro-enteritis. As she could not sue under contract law since it was her friend, and not she, who had purchased the drink, she brought a claim on the alleged negligence of the ginger beer manufacturer. The case settled for £200. Lord Atkin, hearing the case, stated: “You must take reasonable care to avoid acts or omissions which you can reasonably foresee would be likely to injure your neighbour.” Seventy-five years on, a mountain of cases has arisen from actions brought by citizens under this principle. Negligence cases in their millions have been brought against manufacturers, drivers, employers, government departments, doctors, local authorities, accountants, and even lawyers.
This classic case concerned the duty a negligent person owes to someone who acts to rescue a victim of the negligence. The claimant, Thomas John Haynes, was a Metropolitan police constable. On August 24, 1932, a two-horse van belonging to the defendants was left unattended in Paradise Street, Rotherhithe. The driver had put a chain on one of the wheels (which was afterwards found broken), but for some reason, possibly because of a stone having been thrown at them by a boy, the horses bolted along the street, which was frequented by children. Constable Haynes was on duty inside the local police station. Seeing the runaway horses with a van attached coming down the street, he rushed out and eventually stopped them, sustaining a severe injury. It was decided that the defendants’ employee was guilty of negligence in leaving the horses unattended in a busy street and that the constable’s injuries were the natural and probable consequence of their negligence. He won £350 in damages.
In depressed economic times and with growing social discontent, the law dealt firmly with people wanting to exercise free speech. This case curtailed the extent of freedom of speech for decades. On May 25, 1933, Katherine Duncan addressed a meeting in Nynehead Street in London’s New Cross, opposite the entrance of an unemployed training centre. The meeting led to a disturbance at the training centre and the superintendant called the police. A year later, about 30 people including Duncan held another meeting in the same street. Duncan was about to mount a box placed in the roadway when the chief constable told her that the congregation had to move to another street 175 yards away. She ignored him and began to step on the box to address the meeting; she was swiftly arrested and prosecuted for unlawfully and wilfully obstructing the police officer when in the execution of his duty. There was no obstruction of the highway except for the box and the presence of the people surrounding it. Neither Duncan nor any of the persons present at the meeting had either committed, incited or provoked a breach of the peace. Nevertheless, Duncan was convicted and fined. Her appeal was dismissed.
Although resembling a vivid 1930s theatrical farce, this case decided an important point of defamation law, clarifying how much can be read into certain types of communication. Herbert Stretch’s housemaid left his service and returned to work for another man, Sim, for whom she had previously worked. She re-entered Sim’s service on April 12, 1934. On that date, Sim sent a telegram to Stretch informing him that “Edith has resumed her service with us today. Please send her possessions and the money you borrowed, also her wages to Old Barton.” Stretch claimed these words were defamatory and that Sim was insinuating he had money troubles that forced him to borrow from his housemaid. It was held that the words complained of were not reasonably capable of a defamatory meaning and he lost the action.
This case formulated an important part of contract law. It said that an injunction will be granted to stop someone breaking a contract and going to work for a rival company if the term in their contract was not so severe as to face them with starvation unless they kept the contract. Before she was famous, the film star Bette Davis (original name Bette Nelson) signed a contract with Warner Brothers for one year. The studio had the option of extending it and Davis agreed she would not undertake other film work without its written consent. When she tried to make a film with another company, Warner sought an injunction. The court granted an injunction for the remainder of the contract or for three years, whichever was the shorter. Davis wasn’t faced with the option “work for Warner or starve” because she could work for other companies so long as she didn’t make films. In other words, the contract was not too oppressive, so she was bound by it.
This was a landmark case in the development of judicial review. A local council had granted a licence to the claimants for them to open their cinema on Sundays. But the council imposed the condition that children under 15 were not to be allowed in. The company said that was “unreasonable” and therefore beyond the powers of the council. The Court of Appeal found that the condition was reasonable — however, Lord Greene, the Master of the Rolls, stated that in certain circumstances courts could declare administrative or governmental actions as unauthorised or unreasonable. His words crystallised into a hallowed and frequently cited proposition. He said the courts couldn’t simply substitute their own opinion for that of the public body or official but they could invalidate a decision if it had been made in an unreasonable way. To be unreasonable, the decision would have to be one in which an authority had “taken into account matters which it ought not to take into account”, or, conversely, has “refused to take into account or neglected to take into account matters which it ought to take into account”. The number of judicial review cases has risen dramatically from just a few a year in the 1950s, through 500 a year in the 1980s, to about 6,000 a year now.
A graphic instance of a legal decision being influenced by the social environment in which it takes place. A ministerial power to make subjective judgments about a citizen’s freedom was permitted in this controversial House of Lords’ decision. During the Second World War, Robert William Liversidge of St James’s Close in London’s Regents Park, who was in Brixton Prison at the time of the action, challenged the legality of his incarceration. There was a defence regulation providing that a Secretary of State could make orders for the detention of people whom he had “reasonable cause” to believe were “of hostile origin or associations” and in need of subjection to preventative control. Liversidge was such a suspect. The regulation was interpreted as establishing a subjective test of reasonableness. In other words, it all depended on what the minister thought was reasonable, not what an outside, objective person might think. To establish the invalidity of a detention order, a detainee would have to prove that the Secretary of State did not genuinely believe he had reasonable cause. The case is also famous for a very powerful and florid dissenting speech from Lord Atkin, who said that even during war a minister should not have uncontrolled powers of imprisonment: “In this country, amid the clash of arms, the laws are not silent.”
This case was originally about a man, Young, who lost three fingers in an industrial injury involving unfenced machinery. But the judgment is important because it explains the circumstances in which the Court of Appeal can go against one of its earlier decisions. In addition to saying something about how factory machinery should work, the case sets the law on how the legal machinery should work. It decides, for example, that the Court of Appeal is not bound to follow a previous decision of its own if there are two earlier Court of Appeal decisions inconsistent with one another. The Master of the Rolls, Lord Greene, said the court is not bound to follow a decision of its own if it is satisfied that the decision was “given per incuriam [through an error], for example, where a statute or rule having statutory effect which would have affected the decision was not brought to the attention of the earlier court”.
This case settled a key point in the definition of the oldest statutory offence in England: treason. William Joyce broadcast fascist propaganda on the radio from Germany. He was popularly known as “Lord Haw-Haw”. The phrase had been used by Daily Express radio critic Jonah Barrington to describe the nasal tone of another broadcaster of propaganda, but eventually came to be associated with Joyce. He was an American citizen who moved to Ireland, then England and who got a British passport by falsely stating he was born in Britain. During the war, Joyce was captured by the British, brought back to England and charged with high treason. The charge said that, while owing allegiance to the Crown, he had “adhered to the King’s enemies”. But did Joyce remain under a duty of allegiance to the Crown as alleged? The jury said yes and so did the House of Lords. He was hanged at Wandsworth prison.
An early 17th-century proverb had it that “possession is nine points of the law”. This case is a good illustration of those important property disputes arising in every age that require clarification of the law. Harold Hibbert trespassed on some golf links owned by the Reddish Vale Golf Club and helped himself to some abandoned golf balls. In this appeal, it was held that he had been rightly convicted of larceny (the old name for theft) by the magistrates at Stockport. As owners of the land, members of the golf club had a prioprietary right to goods left on the course.
On August 9, 1947, Miss Bessie Stone was hit by a cricket ball while standing near her front gate on Beckenham Road in Manchester, 100 yards from the neighbouring cricket pitch fence. She sued the cricket club and lost. Balls had been hit over the 17-foot-high fence only about six times in the previous 30 years and never hit anyone. The House of Lords said that to get compensation for an injury, it had to be caused by something that could be anticipated by a reasonable man, whereas the risk taken by the club was limited and not unreasonable. The law requires citizens to be careful toward one another but cases such as this have been helpful in determining just how far we are permitted to take risks.
Changes in the economy require the law to adapt to suit new circumstances. This case is a classic instance of adaptation. The advent of supermarket-style shops mean that it became necessary to determine where in the shop a contract of sale was finalised: when a customer places goods in their shopping basket or at the till? The Boots store in Edgware, London had been accused by the Pharmaceutical Society of selling prescription medicines to the public without the supervision of a registered pharmacist, as was legally required. On April 13, 1951, two people (acting for the Pharmaceutical Society) bought medicines containing a tiny amount of strychnine and codeine. That would have been an illegal sale if not supervised by a pharmacist. Was it in fact supervised? The Pharmaceutical Society said it wasn’t supervised as the customers bought the products when they put them in their wire baskets. But the Court of Appeal ruled that the point of sale was at the till rather than when the customer puts something in their basket or trolley. As there was a registered pharmacist at the till, Boots had committed no offence.
Another key case in which the law adapted to a social change: this time the advent of the telex (electric typewriters connected via cable systems). The decision had a huge impact on business. Under general principles in the law of contract, if there is to be an enforceable agreement, acceptance of an offer must be communicated to the person who has made the offer. Here, the court was concerned with the technicality of precisely where a deal for 100 tons of Japanese cathodes had been completed. The court had to consider at what point an acceptance made by telex (a precursor of the fax machine) in Amsterdam was “communicated” to the person receiving the message in London. Was it communicated when it was typed by the sender or when it was printed at the other end? The Court of Appeal decided the deal was made in London when the telex message was printed in that office.
In cases of alleged medical negligence there are commonly various schools of medical thought about how something should be done. This case gave guidance about how far a treatment must be accepted among doctors in order for it not to be seen as negligent if it goes wrong. An action for damages was brought by a psychiatric patient, John Bolam, for a fracture sustained during electro-convulsive therapy. Although he had signed a consent form, Bolam hadn’t been warned of the risk of fracture, which was one in 10,000. Nor had he been given relaxant drugs, which would have excluded the risk of fracture. However, the lawsuit failed. The court ruled that in order to prove negligence a doctor had to fall below a standard of practice recognised as proper by every responsible body of opinion. At the time it was not common practice to warn patients about the dangers of the treatment and many doctors were opposed to the use of relaxant drugs.
An amusing drama, this case also carried an important point about the law relating to accidents. Something of the mood of the case is heralded by the fact that The Times law report was headed “Lady Locked in Lavatory”. Eileen Sayers and her husband were on a coach trip to London from Essex. At one point on the journey, Mrs Sayers went to the lavatory but became locked in the cubicle. She injured herself when she fell trying to climb out using the toilet roll holder as a foothold. Although Mrs Sayers was successful in her claim for damages, the court found that she was guilty of some contributory negligence in the way she endeavoured to escape. She bore 25 per cent of the blame, and so the damages were reduced by that amount.
This gruesome case decided an essential principle of cause and effect in the law of murder. Is the chain of causation broken if a victim of violence is injured by someone else before he dies? Private Thomas Joseph Smith was convicted of murdering a fellow soldier whom he had stabbed with a bayonet during a barrack room fight. The victim received a peirced lung that caused a haemorrhage. He was taken to hospital. On the way, he was dropped twice. When he got to the hospital, the graveness of his condition was missed because the medical staff were so busy with other patients. Had the victim been given a blood transfusion his chances of recovery would have been as high as 75 per cent, but he received “thoroughly bad” treatment, including inappropriate artificial respiration, and died. Private Smith’s appeal concerned the “causation” of the death. He argued that while he had caused the victim’s wound he could not be held responsible for his death because the chain of unfortunate events after the injury had really killed him. But the court held that Private Smith had been rightly convicted. If at the time of the death, the original wound is still “an operating and substantial cause”, then the death can be said to be the result of the wound, even though some other cause of death is also operating. Only if the second cause is so overwhelming as to make the original wound merely part of the history can it be said that the death does not flow from the wound.
In the 1950s, giving away discounted goods in exchange for chocolate or candy wrappers was a popular marketing scheme. The law had to decide how this should work if royalties were payable on the discounted item. Should the copyright owners get a percentage of just the discounted price paid by the customers, or should the royalty be based on the price of the item plus the value of the wrappers they handed in? In this case, Nestle, in a promotion for its chocolate bars, gave away a pop single, “Rockin’ Shoes”, in exchange for three wrappers and 1s 6d (about 8p) for postage. According to the law, Chappell, the publisher of the song, was entitled to 6.25 per cent of the “selling price” of each record. It sued Nestle. Chappell won the case as the House of Lords decided that the “selling price” on which their royalty should be based wasn’t just the 1s 6d but also included the value represented by the three wrapping papers. It didn’t matter that the actual papers themselves were of no intrinsic value (Nestle threw them away when they got them back from customers) as they were the value asked for by Nestle.
This is a classic case on law, art and freedom of expression. On October 20, 1960, a jury of nine men and three women were handed unexpurgated copies of D H Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover and instructed to read it. Its publishers, Penguin Books Ltd, were being prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act, which allowed for literary and artistic merit to be considered in judging whether a work was obscene. The prosecutor, Mervyn Griffith-Jones, argued that the book had no substantial literary merit and merely advocated “coarseness and vulgarity”. He set the jury the following test: “Is it a book you would even wish your wife or servants to read?” But Penguin’s lawyer, Gerald Gardiner, QC, defended the use of four-letter words by arguing that if such language was depraved and corrupt then “95 per cent of the Army, Navy, and Air Force are past redemption”. The defence also called the novelist EM Forster, who said he knew Lawrence well and regarded him as the greatest writer of his generation; Cecil Day-Lewis also testified on his behalf. Penguin was acquitted and Lady Chatterley’s Lover went on to sell three million copies in a year.
This was a classic decision determining a highly consequential point of retail law. The Restriction of Offensive Weapons Act 1959 made it an offence to offer for sale certain offensive weapons, including “flick-knives”. James Bell, a Bristol shop keeper, displayed a weapon of this type, an “ejector knife” selling for 4s, in his shop window. The Divisional Court held that he could not be convicted because, giving the words in the Act their tight, literal legal meaning, Bell had not “offered” the knives for sale. Under the law of contract, placing something in a shop window is not, technically, an “offer for sale”; it is merely an “invitation to treat”. It is the customer who legally makes an “offer” to the shop when he proffers money for an item on sale. This decision has significance in other scenarios. What if a £2,000 multimedia system was mispriced in the shop window at £200? The decision in Fisher v Bell means that you can’t seal a contract by walking into the store and saying, “I accept”. The shop has the final say about whether it wants to make a contract with you and on the terms you offer.
This landmark case decides the test for working out whether a defendant who starts a series of unusual events is liable to pay compensation for the damage they cause. The ruling was by the Privy Council on an appeal from Australia but it also changed English law, as it was later followed by English courts. Through carelessness, furnace oil from a ship in Sydney harbour was spilt into a bay. The oil spread over the water to a wharf 600 feet away where wharf owners were carrying out repairs to a ship, including welding metal. Molten metal from the wharf dripped down on to floating cotton waste which ignited the furnace oil on the water. The wharf was badly burnt in the resulting fire. The wharf owners sued for damages but the court found that the ship owners could not reasonably have known that the furnace oil was capable of being set alight when spread on water. It was held that the test of liability for the damage done by fire was whether it was “reasonably foreseeable” in the circumstances.
This case cemented into English law a key principle of natural justice: that a court or tribunal cannot come to a fair decision unless both sides have been heard or have been given the chance to be heard. It was held by the House of Lords that the former Chief Constable of Brighton, Charles Ridge, had been unfairly dismissed in breach of the principles of natural justice. He had brought a legal action against George Baldwin of the Brighton police committee, in which he asked for a declaration that their termination of his appointment as chief constable was illegal and beyond the powers of the authority. At the core of his allegation was that at the appropriate time, no specific charge was notified to him and he was not given an opportunity of being heard. His solicitor was given an opportunity at one stage to address a committee but had been given no particulars of the case against him. Lord Reid recognised the cherished principle of the law audi alteram partem, which means a judge in a dispute should allow both parties to be heard and should listen to the point of view of each, or at least given an opportunity of each to speak.
This House of Lords case took the duty of care into the realm of advice. The law had previously applied only to manufacturers, but this ruling affected everyone from architects to zoo consultants. It now applied to anyone who gave advice in the course of their job. It began when a bank phoned a merchant bank to check on the financial position of a potential client, Easipower Ltd, which wanted to borrow money to fund advertising. The bank promised the merchant bank would be “without responsibility” in providing the information. After Easipower went into liquidation, out of pocket advertising agents sued the merchant bank to recover their losses, but lost. They would have won were it not for the “without responsibility” disclaimer.
A court blew the whistle on Newcastle FC and declared a foul. This case affected the way football contracts worked across the land. The claimant, George Eastham, became a professional football player in 1956 when he was 19. He then transferred to Newcastle United, entering into an annual contract. A while later, he asked for a transfer but the club notified him that his services would be retained for the next season at his current wage. The club cited regulation 26 of the Football Association rules. This blocked him from getting a transfer and meant he could not play for another club in the UK or Ireland provided Newcastle offered him a “reasonable wage”. But the court decided that this was an “unlawful restraint of trade”.
This decision was influential in clarifying the law whereby traders are bullied by customers into accepting a smaller payment. The claimant company consisted of two jobbing tradesmen, one a decorator and the other a plumber. They carried out work for Rees, the defendant, worth £482 13s 1d. For months, the builders pressed for payment. Finally, the defendant’s wife, who knew that the company was in financial difficulties, offered £300 to settle the debt, saying that if that offer wasn’t accepted nothing more would be paid. They accepted the £300 but later sued for the balance of £182 13s 1d. The court held that the company was not barred from recovering the balance by the agreement to accept a smaller sum because there was “no true accord”. The defendant’s wife had put pressure on the company to accept the £300 in settlement by threatening that if they did not accept nothing would be paid.
Under the British constitution there is nothing more sacred or potent than a properly passed Act of Parliament. It is the most powerful legal instrument and can’t be declared invalid by reference to any political principle. This case is a classic example of what that means in practice. Colin Jordan was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment for offences under the Race Relations Act 1965. He asked for legal aid to apply for a writ of habeas corpus (a process by which the authorities have to justify an imprisonment) on the grounds that the Act was invalid as it was a curtailment of free speech. It was held, dismissing his application, that Parliament was supreme and there was no power in the courts to question the validity of an Act passed by it.
A dreadful human drama. In this case, the appeal court formulated an important rule about what does and doesn’t amount to an unlawful assault. The appropriate state of mental blameworthiness must exist at the time of the defendant’s conduct. Terence Lamb pointed a revolver in fun at a friend. He knew that there were two bullets in the revolver and also that neither of them was in the chamber opposite the barrel. But he didn’t realise that when the gun was fired the cylinder would automatically rotate. He shot his friend dead. The judge directed the jury that they could convict of manslaughter if the accused had been grossly negligent or if the killing had occurred in the course of an unlawful act. He told them that the pointing and firing of the revolver amounted to an unlawful act even if the accused had not intended to alarm or injure. On appeal, it was held that the pointing and firing was only the actus reus (the physical conduct) of assault but there was no criminal assault without the mens rea (a blameworthy mind). Although the accused might have been criminally negligent, the trial judge hadn’t properly explained to the jury what was required for there to be an criminal assault. His direction to them on an unlawful act had been wrong and so the conviction was quashed.
This is a leading case on cause and effect in the law of tort. It shows a how medical negligence might not be the legal cause of someone’s injury or death if even good medical treatment would not have saved a patient. William Barnett was employed as a night watchman at the hall of residence at the Chelsea College of Sciences and Technology in London. On December 31, 1965, following celebrations with some friends at the hall, he went to hospital with symptoms that included continuous vomiting and cramp. The nurse telephoned a doctor. The doctor, who was himself unwell, instructed Barnett to go home and call his own doctor. He went away and died some hours later from what was later found to be arsenic poisoning. The court decided that although the doctor had been negligent in not seeing the man, the poisoning of Barnett was at that time so far advanced that even if the doctor had seen him he would have died. The hospital was found not liable — the death did not result from its negligence.
A serious case (and one that decides an important point of law), but one posited on an extraordinary and comical set of facts. The court decided that although an omission to act cannot amount to an assault, the crime of assault will be committed if someone accidentally commits a battery which he then refuses to discontinue. Vincent Fagan drove his car on to the foot of PC David Morris in north London. It was most likely an accident, but when the PC said, “Get off, you are on my foot”, Fagan replied: “F–k you, you can wait”. Although Fagan soon relented and it had initially been an accident, his conviction for assault was upheld using what has become known as the “doctrine of the continuing act”.
This is a case of major importance in constitutional law. At its heart it is about the judicial control of public authorities. A police officer, Michal Conway, had been prosecuted for theft of a torch. He was acquitted but sacked nonetheless. He began a civil action for malicious prosecution against his former superintendent in the Cheshire constabulary, Thomas Rimmer. Conway wanted certain documents to prove his case, including reports about him relating to the prosecution. The Home Secretary objected to Conway getting the documents, saying that release of them would be “injurious to the public interest”. The House of Lords looked at the documents and disagreed. It said that where there was a clash between the public interest in withholding a document and the interests of justice in it being seen, the court could ask for documents, examine them itself and order their release if necessary. The police officer, however, eventually lost.
In what circumstances Government departments owe a duty to members of the public is a point of momentous importance, and this case helped define the nature of that duty. The Dorset Yacht Company claimed that seven youths has escaped on the night of September 21, 1968 from the borstal institute on Brownsea Island and then boarded the yacht Silver Mist, cast her adrift and caused considerable damage to her and her contents. The company alleged that the Home Office was liable for the damage because of its negligence in failing to exercise effective control and supervision over the youths. The House of Lords held that public policy doesn’t require that the Home Office is immune from legal actions in such cases. It did owe a duty of care. But to establish liability, it had to be proved that the Borstal officers were negligent in performing their duties to control and supervise the teenagers and that the particular damage that did occur was the sort of thing likely to result from such negligence. The case was later settled out of court by the Home Office.
Amid great political controversy this case confirmed that there was no constitutional reason why the UK could not join the Common Market (now the European Union). Raymond Blackburn of Chiswick, in London, asked the judges as “the guardians of the British constitution” to explain the constitutional position in relation to the Government’s application in 1971 to join the Common Market. He said that the Treaty’s provisions could be validly accepted only if a new constitution was adopted with the consent of the British people. The Court of Appeal disagreed, saying that Parliament was competent to hand over some parts of its sovereignty if it wished, although this would not necessarily be binding on future parliaments.
In some circumstances, someone who commits a crime may have a defence if it was committed under duress. Linda Hudson and Elaine Taylor were two girls from Salford who, as witnesses at a criminal trial in Manchester, gave false evidence. Their defence on charges of perjury was that they had previously been threatened by violent men that they would be “cut up” if they told the truth. One of the men had been sitting in court when they gave their evidence. At their trial the judge directed the jury that this was no defence and they were convicted of perjury. Quashing the convictions, the Court of Appeal held that duress was a defence to all offences (except murder as principal offender, and possibly treason) if the will of the accused had been overborne by threats of death or personal injury. To be a defence, the threat had to have been “present”, which meant “effective at the moment the crime was committed”. In this case, the threats of future violence were likely to have been present. They were no less compelling just because they couldn’t be carried out in the court room itself: they could have been carried out in the streets later that evening.
This case settled an important principle of law applicable to people caught legging it out of restaurants without paying. It has been applied countless times since. After eating a meal in the Wing Wah restaurant in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, Roger Ray, a university student, and his three companions decided not to pay. About 10 minutes later, after waiting for the waiter to leave the dining room, they made off. Ray was convicted under the Theft Act (now covered by the Fraud Act 2006) and the conviction was upheld by the House of Lords. The law lords ruled that Ray had impliedly stated in ordering the meal that he intended to pay, and that by remaining in his seat after deciding not to pay had ostensibly continued that earlier implied statement, thereby deceiving the waiter.
What happens if someone is attempting to commit a crime that is legally impossible? Is it a criminal attempt? The House of Lords gave the answer in this cops and crooks caper. Police officers stopped a large van on the motorway travelling south from Liverpool and found it contained stolen goods. The police decided to allow the men to continue their journey along the motorway to a service area in order to catch the receivers. One of those waiting, Roger Smith, was later convicted of attempting to handle stolen goods, even though the Crown conceded that at the time of the alleged offence the goods, being in the lawful custody of the police, ceased to be stolen. But the decision was overturned by the House of Lords, which said there could be no conviction in such circumstances. In order to constitute the offence of attempting to handle stolen goods, the goods in question must be stolen. These goods were not because they were in the lawful possession of the police. It is not a crime to try to commit a crime that, in the circumstances, it is impossible to commit.
This influential criminal law case concerned what happens when someone gets an advantage from one person by having deceived another. Stephanie Kovacs knew that her bank account was overdrawn and that she no longer had authority from her bank to have possession or use of her cheque book or her cheque guarantee card. Nevertheless, she wrote a cheque to pay for a railway ticket costing £2.89. Her bank was bound, because of the cheque guarantee card, to honour the cheque, but Kovacs was convicted of dishonestly obtaining a pecuniary advantage (an increased overdraft) by deception. Her appeal was dismissed. The court held immaterial that the person deceived — the railway clerk — was not the person from whom the pecuniary advantage was obtained by the deception.
The sorts of compensation aggrieved holiday makers can claim when things go wrong was one of the key points decided in this case. A family holiday to Sri Lanka was not all it was cracked up to be. Julian Jackson, the father of the family, sued the tour operator and won an award of £1,100 damages for distress and inconvenience. The tour operator appealed. Several legal points were in issue. The court decided that damages for loss of a holiday may include not only the difference in value between what was promised and what was obtained but also damages for mental distress, inconvenience, upset, disappointment and frustration. It stated that where a person had entered into a contract on behalf of himself and others who were not parties to the contract, he could sue on the contract for damages or loss suffered not only by himself but also by the others in consequence of breach of the contract.
The UK joined Europe in 1972. This case a few years later concerned how European law should be applied — what was the status of a European directive? Yvonne van Duyn, a Dutch woman, wanted to enter the UK to take up employment with the Church of Scientology. She was refused entry and challenged the decision under a European directive guaranteeing the freedom of movement for workers. The High Court made a preliminary reference to the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The question arose whether the rights conferred under the Article of the EEC Treaty were directly applicable and enforceable by an individual in the courts of a member state. The ECJ ruled that the rights were enforceable without the need for further laws in each state to have been passed.
What does the law say in the case of someone who secretly puts alcohol in the drink of a person who then goes on to drive. Such a prank or plot is, of course, dangerous and potentially lethal. This case was an Attorney-General’s Reference, a procedure by which the appeal court can rule on a point of law that the Attorney-General wants clarified. The Court of Appeal was asked to consider the position of an accused who had surreptitiously laced, with double measures of spirits, an otherwise innocuous drink of a friend when he knew the friend would shortly be driving home. As a result, the friend was guilty of driving with an excess of alcohol in his blood. The driver was guilty in that the driving offence is one of strict liability — it doesn’t matter whether you did it on purpose, or accidentally, just that you did it. It was held that the person accused of lacing drinks in these circumstances was guilty as a secondary party provided he knew that his friend was going to drive and also that the alcohol surreptitiously given would bring his blood-alcohol concentration above the prescribed limit. The Court pointed out that the “generous host” who kept his guest’ s glass topped up would not necessarily be guilty in the same way since in that case the guest would be aware of the contents of his glass and could make his own decision as to whether to drive.
In criminal law, can a wrongdoer defend himself by saying his victim’s fate wouldn’t have been so bad if she had not had the unusual beliefs she did have? This case answered that question. Robert Blaue stabbed the victim, who was taken to hospital. The victim, a Jehovah’s Witness, was informed that without a blood transfusion she would probably die. She refused to accept a transfusion as it would have been contrary to her religious beliefs. The accused appealed against his conviction for manslaughter at Teesside crown court on the grounds that the victim’s refusal to accept a blood transfusion broke the chain of causation. The court dismissed the appeal. Those who inflict violence must take their victims as they find them. The victim’s refusal to accept treatment does not break the chain, even if it is an unreasonable belief.
In this leading judgment, the House of Lords decided that a person who commits a crime but doesn’t know what he’s doing because he is so inebriated can still be convicted if it is not necessary to prove intention for that particular crime. During the course of a disturbance at a pub in Basildon, Essex, Robert Majewski attacked the landlord and two other people, injuring all three of them. When the police arrived, he assaulted an officer, and later, at the police station where he had been taken, he struck two other officers. He was charged with various assaults. At his trial he testified that during the 48 hours preceding the disturbance he had taken a considerable quantity of drugs and that, at the time when the assaults were committed, he was acting under a combination of amphetamines, barbiturates and alcohol. He didn’t know what he was doing and had no recollection of the incidents in question. He was convicted and his appeal was dismissed. The Lords held that unless the offence was one that required proof of a specific intent, it was no defence to that the accused didn’t intend to commit the act alleged. His recklessness was enough to convict him.
Clever arguments for defendants in criminal cases are sometimes confounded by simple and even cleverer ones for the prosecution. This famous case provides a good example of such a thrust, parry and counter thrust. When Dennis Bundy was stopped by police in his car, he had with him some piping, a hammer, a pipe threader and three pieces of stocking. He had been driving around following a woman who was collecting the takings from vending machines in London pubs with the apparent intention of robbing her. He was convicted of “going equipped” for theft when “not at his place of abode”. Bundy appealed on the grounds that, since he lived rough in his car, it was his abode. But in dismissing the appeal, the court held that his car was his place of abode only when after finding a site he had parked for the night, not when he was in transit.
A major judgment on the charge of going equipped to cheat. Joseph Doukas, a hotel wine waiter, had six bottles of his own wine in his coat pockets when going to work. He intended, when a customer ordered wine, to serve one of these bottles which he’d got very cheaply, to make out a separate bill and keep the money that the hotel customer paid him. The scam was that while the waiter would pocket the customer’s money, the hotel wouldn’t notice any loss of income because none of its own bottles of wine were being taken to the tables by the waiter. And the waiter would be making a profit because there was a big difference between the cheap price of the wine he smuggled in to the hotel and the expensive prices on the wine menu. An important question for the appeal court was whether a charge of going equipped to cheat was sustainable because a customer would not have been deceived if he paid for wine and got wine. Doukas’s appeal was dismissed. It was held that customers were deceived because it was reasonable to assume that they’d never have handed over cash if they’d have known that the wine wasn’t the hotel’s but rather that of the waiter’s personal stock being used in a swindle.
This was a leading and groundbreaking decision about the law of provocation. Before this case, defendants on charges of murder could plead provocation only by showing they had the power of self-restraint of an adult, even if they were younger. Paul Camplin, a 15 year-old, hit a 50 year-old man over the head with a chapatti pan and killed him. His defence was provocation. He claimed that the deceased had forcibly had anal intercourse with him and then laughed at him, whereupon Camplin had lost his self-control. The judge at Leeds crown court directed the jury to consider whether the deceased’s actions were enough to make a “reasonable man” do what Camplin did. If they were, the killing could be reduced from murder to manslaughter. The judge told the jury to consider not how a reasonable 15-year-old may have responded, but how an adult man would have responded. That was unfair because an adult man might be expected to show more restraint before using lethal force. The jury convicted Camplin of murder. However, on appeal the House of Lords held that the judge ought not to have instructed the jury to disregard his age.
People rolling up drunk at the wrong address and breaking a window or lock in order to enter what they think is their property is not an unknown problem in Britain. This case decides an important point of law regarding that scenario. Beverely Jaggard had a good relationship with Ron Heyfron and had his consent to treat his property as if it were her own. One evening after being out drinking she took a taxi to his house in South Ockendon, Essex, but the taxi dropped her outside another, similar looking house on the same street. Not realising in her drunken state, she broke windows to get in. Jaggard was prosecuted for criminal damage. But the court ruled that under section 5(3) of the Criminal Damage Act it was required to consider the accused’s actual belief when she committed the act. As she believed, even in her intoxicated state, that the accused would have consented to the damage, she was found not guilty.
This landmark decision on life and death concerned two cases considered together by the Court of Appeal. In both cases, the accused had inflicted serious injury on his victim for which hospital treatment was necessary. In each, the treatment involved the use of a life support machine. In each, the doctors, having satisfied themselves that the patient was, for practical purposes, dead and were only being kept alive mechanically, disconnected the life support machines. The defendants, convicted of murder, claimed that the hospital had caused the death by turning off the machines. But their appeals were dismissed. It was held that the medical treatment did not break the chain of causation.
Laskey, Jaggard and Brown v United Kingdom February 20, 1997
This is a famous modern case in which the personal freedom of individuals with unusual tastes was set against society’s right to rule certain conduct as criminal. It addresses a debate at the core of law: when can something be condemned as illegal where the conduct is private and involves only consenting adults? It went all the way to the European Court of Human Rights. The applicants were a group of gay men who participated in sadomasochistic activities including beating and branding. Their activities involved causing injury to the genitals and other places using fish hooks, spiked gloves and wires heated with blow torches. All were of full age and consenting. No permanent injuries were caused. Nevertheless, they were prosecuted for causing bodily harm and wounding under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. At their trial, the defence of mutual consent was rejected and they consequently pleaded guilty. On appeal, their convictions were upheld but the sentences were reduced to between three months and three years. A further appeal to the House of Lords was dismissed. They then appealed to the European Court of Human Rights claiming that their convictions were a violation of their human rights to a private life. The court said the issue was whether the interference with their rights was “necessary in a democratic society”. It ultimately ruled that the interference had been necessary and that the state was entitled to regulate the infliction of physical harm through the criminal law. It was up to the authorities to determine the “tolerable level of harm”.
Attorney-General’s Ref No. 3 of 1994 (1997) July 25, 1997
This case decided the law in a situation where a man stabs a pregnant woman and inflicts a wound that eventually kills the baby she is carrying. It rules on the important issue of which forms of life are protected by the criminal law. On May 26, 1990, a man stabbed his girlfriend in the face, abdomen and back. At the time she was, to his knowledge, 22 to 24 weeks pregnant with his child. Seventeen days later the child was born — it survived for 120 days before dying from the effects of premature birth. The mother recovered and the assailant was convicted of wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm and sentenced to four years imprisonment. Although the man was charged with murder after the death of the child, the judge ruled that neither murder nor manslaughter was proved on the available evidence and directed the jury to acquit on the murder charge. The Attorney-General referred the matter to the Court of Appeal on points of law including whether the crimes of murder or manslaughter can be committed where unlawful injury is deliberately inflicted to a child in utero (in the womb). The House of Lords decided that it was enough to raise a prima facie case of murder if the defendant committed the act that caused the death of the victim (the foetus) or caused grievous bodily harm. So an assailant such as the one who escaped a homicide conviction in this case could now be convicted.
Gregory v Portsmouth City Council February 2, 2000
The civil action for malicious prosecution is a useful defence for a citizen against oppressive behaviour by a prosecutor. It is available where a prosecution has been brought maliciously, without reasonable and probable cause and has been unsuccessful. It helps balance the relationship between the individual and the state. This case made an important decision about the limits of that civil action. Terence Gregory, a councillor, had allegedly misused his position for financial gain and had been subject to disciplinary proceedings by a city council. Those proceedings, however, were quashed by the Divisional Court following a judicial review. The councillor then sued the council for having ‘maliciously prosecuted’ him by taking disciplinary proceedings against him. But the House of Lords decided that an action for malicious prosecution will not be open to someone who has been merely the subject of disciplinary proceedings.
Chief Adjudication Officer v Faulds May 16, 2000
This case concerned the important issue of when incidents can be properly described as accidents. It is a fine illustration of how what might seem like remote philosophical semantics are an important and unavoidable part of law and have a striking impact on real life. Thomas Faulds, a senior fire officer, was claiming industrial injury benefit as a consequence of post-traumatic stress disorder. Faulds, who had served for 27 years, argued that he was entitled to benefit within the provisions of section 94(1) of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992, as he had suffered personal injury (stress) “by accident arising out of and in the course of his employment”. He had attended many appalling fatal accidents and had been required to photograph mutilated bodies. But the law lords rejected Faulds’ claim that he had suffered from an “accident” in the way meant by the legislation. He wasn’t present when accidents actually occurred and it was not, at least directly, the actual happening of a crash or a fire or a vehicle collision that caused him any injury. The mere fact of suffering stress or developing some illness or disorder from being engaged in a stressful occupation wouldn’t bring the sufferer within the purview of the Act for the purposes of injury benefit.
Regina (Quintavalle) v British Broadcasting Corporation May 16, 2003
This landmark House of Lords decision dealt with the issue of when broadcasters can decline to show something they regard as unfit for the public. ProLife, a political party, was campaigning against abortion. It had fielded enough candidates in a general election to entitle it to one party election broadcast in Wales and submitted a tape of its proposed broadcast to various channels. The major part of the programme had been devoted to explaining the processes involved in different forms of abortion, with prolonged and graphic images. The pictures were judged to be very disturbing. The BBC did not broadcast the film. The party took legal action in an effort to have that decision declared improper. But the House of Lords decided that the BBC and other terrestrial broadcasters had been entitled to refuse to show it on the ground that it would be offensive to public feeling. Lord Nicholls said that television broadcasters had to ensure, so far as they could, that their programmes contained nothing likely to be offensive to viewers. That was a statutory obligation placed on the independent broadcasters by the Broadcasting Act 1990 and on the BBC by an agreement with the Secretary of State for National Heritage. It wasn’t for the courts to find that the broadcasters had acted unlawfully when they had done no more than give effect to the statutory and other obligations binding on them.
Regina (Williamson and Others) v Secretary of State for Education and Employment February 25, 2005
This case hinged on the contentious issue of whether the law against corporal punishment in schools broke the alleged human right of some parents to delegate to teachers the power to hit children. The claimants were religious educationalists. They applied for judicial review against the Secretary of State for Education and Employment, asking for a declaration that the Education Act 1996 did not prevent a parent delegating to a teacher in an independent school the right to administer physical punishment. They wanted it stated that a teacher who gave physical punishment on the basis of an expressed delegation by a parent in writing did not act unlawfully or unprofessionally. The House of Lords disagreed with that interpretation. The law lords ruled that the statutory ban on corporal punishment was not incompatible with the human right to freedom of religion and the freedom of some people to manifest their religion in practice by caning children. Although the statutory ban on corporal punishment was capable of interfering with the rights of those who sincerely believed that they had a religious duty to discipline children by the use of mild corporal punishment, Parliament was entitled to take the view that the ban was necessary in a democratic society to protect children from the infliction of physical punishment in an institutional setting.
Regina (Laporte) v Chief Constable of Gloucestershire Constabulary December 14, 2006
The circumstances in which the police are permitted to stop citizens and turn them away from where they want to go is an issue of crucial consequence in any society. Too little power and there might be disorder; too much power and you would have an oppressive police state. This case had to address that issue in the context of that key characteristic of democracy — the right to protest. Relying on their duty to prevent a breach of the peace, police intercepted coach passengers travelling from London to a protest demonstration in Gloucestershire and prevented them from continuing to the demonstration. Police had turned back three coaches of anti-war protesters, including Jane Laporte, from a journey to a protest against impending bombing raids on Iraq. The Lords decided that police acted unlawfully. Stopping them proceeding was unlawful because no such breach of the peace was about to occur. The Lords ruled, citing European jurisprudence, that freedom of expression and assembly are “an essential foundation of democratic society”, and that there was insufficient reason here for those rights to be curtailed.
Bashing the bar, a treasured and still thriving tradition that dates from the Bard.
January 18, 1991
By DAVID MARGOLICK
“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”
— “The Second Part of King Henry the Sixth,” Act 4, Scene 2.
In the pantheon of Shakespearean creations, Dick the Butcher is no Othello. But to anyone who follows law or lawyers, his modest proposal has become an overly familiar friend. It is a staple of law school commencements, momentarily introspective speeches at bar meetings, and legal reporters looking for an erudite and handy way of writing that lawyer-bashing is nothing new.
In their rebuttals, lawyers and lawyerphiles note by rote that Dick is the lowliest of knaves, a follower of the nefarious insurrectionist Jack Cade, who heartily seconds Dick’s suggestion in his less familiar response: “Is not this a lamentable thing, that of the skin of an innocent lamb should be made parchment? that parchment, being scribbled o’er, should undo a man? Some say the bee stings; but I say, ’tis the bee’s wax, for I did but seal once to a thing, and I was never mine own man since.”
But despite these caveats, the Butcher’s flock flourishes. His sentiment can now be found in a variety of mediums, including coffee mugs, T-shirts, pillows and soon, perhaps, at the Cannes Film Festival.
Souvenir plates inscribed “Let’s Kill All the Lawyers” combine the two passions of Robert van Kluyve of Madison, Va.: English literature and pottery. For more than 20 years, Mr. van Kluyve has been making them, along with companion plates for other professions (e.g. “God heals, and the doctor takes the fee”; “If all the economists were laid end to end, they would not reach a conclusion”).
For a while, Mr. van Kluyve sold his plates through the Folger Shakespeare Library. More recently, he placed advertisements in The New Yorker and The National Law Journal. These produced orders for some 300 plates, placed largely, the artist said, by the mothers and spouses of either lawyers or those who hate lawyers but have to use them.
Whether out of humorlessness or hypersensitivity or whatever, lawyers seem disinclined to buy the plates for themselves; the notice in the Law Journal netted a grand total of one order. So Mr. van Kluyve also offers plates with another, more lawyer-friendly message, from “The Taming of the Shrew”: “Do as adversaries do in law, strive mightily, but eat and drink as friends.”
Still, one lawyer, Finn M. W. Caspersen of Wilmington, Del., ordered “Kill all the lawyers” plates as Christmas presents for six friends, including Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter and Robert Clark, Dean of the Harvard Law School. Justice Souter would not say whether he had received the plate or if it now hangs in his chambers. Dean Clark acknowledged its arrival but said he would most certainly not display it in his office, even though Mr. Caspersen is a Harvard Law School graduate and fund raiser.
“I disagree with the sentiment, quite vehemently,” he said. “I’m not quite sure what the message was behind it, but I’ll talk to him and straighten him out.”
This year, Lighten Up Films Inc. of Farmington Hills, Mich., will release “Let’s Kill All the Lawyers,” a chronicle of a young man’s preprofessional angst. In it, the hero rejects a legal career to become a gardener at a retreat for burned-out lawyers.
The story is loosely based on the experiences of Ron Senkowski, the film’s director and writer. Mr. Senkowski landed in the 99th percentile when he took the Law School Admissions Test, but his legal career ended prematurely when he devoted the essay portion of the examination to a diatribe on lawyers. It included a quotation from H. L. Mencken worthy, perhaps, of one of Mr. van Kluyve’s plates: “If all of the lawyers were hanged tomorrow, and their bones sold to a mah-jongg factory, we’d be freer and safer, and our taxes would be reduced by almost half.”
Shannon Hamed, the film’s producer, hopes “Let’s Kill All the Lawyers” is a sleeper, in the manner of “She’s Gotta Have It,” and thinks the catchy title might help. “It’s our greatest asset,” she said.
Though Pamela Du Val embroiders more than 1,000 adages on her pillows, “Let’s kill all the lawyers” cushions are perhaps the most popular item in her Manhattan boutique on Lexington Avenue, between 63th and 64th Streets. She began making them three years ago and since then, she said, they’ve sold “like wildfire.” As disaffection with the bar has grown, sales of “Let’s kill” cushions have outstripped those of the previous best seller: “Old lawyers never die, they just lose their appeals.”
“People know that lawyers are brilliant and all that, but too expensive,” she said in a telephone interview. But when pressed to explain, she suddenly grew suspicious.
“Why are you asking me all these questions?” she asked. “Are you trying to sue me?”