And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
- And did those feet, William Blake

lørdag 13. august 2011

London Letters - A London Miscellany

I wander thro' each charter'd street,
Near where the charter'd Thames does flow
- London, William Blake

Saddle up, kick your feet
Ride the range of a London street
- At the chime of a city clock, Nick Drake

And I walked the streets of London town
Looking for a place to put my head down
- No Can Do, Mark Knopfler

Although my stay in London was not of such a length as is required in such a metropolis and despite having missed a vast number of sights great and small, I nonetheless have a small number of pictures I would like to share with all of my two readers. Those who have read my previous London-related blogpost will know the course of my visit in sufficient detail, so I will not elaborate on the subject.

As often is the case when the mind is too fixed upon a singular aim, it will not allow the eyes to wander too freely, nor will it move the muscles to much beyond the aim in question. This was very much the case during my pilgrimage, since I noticed very little aside from my primary targets, as has been covered in previous blogposts.

Although my initial plan - established in late December 2010 - had been to spend several days exploring Britain's capital and its various historic sites, my friends in York got the better of me and I chose to spend a few more days in their delightful company rather than meandering the streets of London, a decision I do not regret. The following array of pictures gives a good indication of my whereabouts the first three hours or so, before I went searching for my hotel and thus ended up covering areas of London I had not imagined I would visit, areas where I sacrificed photography for relatively speedy progress on sore feet.

London National Gallery

  He was the most extraordinary compound of talent, wit, buffoonery, obstinacy, and good feelings, in short, a medley of the most opposite qualities, with a great preponderance of good - that I ever saw in any character in my life.
- Arthur Wellesley, First Duke of Wellington

Wellesley's comment is quite apt. Although George IV was a great patron of the arts, his various projects were immensely costly, especially considering they were performed in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars and the Industrial Revolution which both had taken their heavy toll on Britain's treasury and its citizens. 

 Plaques depicting scenes from the Battle of Trafalgar.
Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London
I'll show you something to make you change your mind
- Streets of London, Ralph McTell

 View from Nelson's Column.

 Nelson's column.

 The Ugandan Embassy. In the hotel later that night I watched parts of The Last King of Scotland.Coincidence? You bet.

 Some posh building ostensibly commemorating the death of King Edward VII in 1910.

 London Eye.

 Big Ben and Houses of Parliament.

 There mighte men the royal egle finde,
That with his sharpe look perceth the sonne;
And other egles of a lower kinde,
Of which that clerkes wel devysen conne.
Ther was the tyraunt with his fethres done
And greye, I mene the goshauk, that doth pyne
To briddes for his outrageous ravyne.
- The Parlement of Foules, Geoffrey Chaucer

The gentil faucoun, that with his feet distreyneth
The kinges hond; the hardy sperhauk eke,
The quayles foo; the merlion that payneth
Him-self ful ofte, the larke for to seke;
Ther was the douve, with hir eyen meke;
The Ialous swan, ayens his deth that singeth;
The oule eek, that of dethe the bode bringeth
- The Parlement of Foules, Geoffrey Chaucer
 The crane the geaunt, with his trompes soune; 
The theef, the chogh; and eek the Iangling pye; 
The scorning Iay; the eles foo, heroune; 
The false lapwing, ful of trecherye; 
The stare, that the counseyl can bewrye; 
The tame ruddok; and the coward kyte; 
The cok, that orloge is of thorpes lyte 
- The Parlement of Foules, Geoffrey Chaucer
 The sparow, Venus sone; the nightingale, 
That clepeth forth the fresshe leves newe; 
The swalow, mordrer of the flyes smale 
That maken hony of floures fresshe of hewe; 
The wedded turtel, with hir herte trewe; 
The pecok, with his aungels fethres brighte; 
The fesaunt, scorner of the cok by nighte 
- The Parlement of Foules, Geoffrey Chaucer
 The waker goos; the cukkow ever unkinde; 
The popiniay, ful of delicasye; 
The drake, stroyer of his owne kinde; 
The stork, the wreker of avouterye; 
The hote cormeraunt of glotonye; 
The raven wys, the crow with vois of care; 
The throstel olde; the frosty feldefare. 
- The Parlement of Foules, Geoffrey Chaucer

 At this point I realised that I was moving in the opposite direction of where I ought to be going and there was much frustration. Distances in London are surprisingly great, at least when your muscles are stiff from too much walking and refuse to cooperate.
 The Burghers of Calais by Auguste Rodin (1840-1917). This bronze monument was made to commemorate the Siege of Calais in 1346, when Edward III of England promised to refrain from a mass slaughter of the city's inhabitants provided that the six foremost citizens would give themselves over to him. This monument is one of the 12 casts of the piece and it was purchased by the British government in 1911.

 The images commonly presented of Richard I are perpetuated by the romantic and idealised statute of him on horseback that stands just outside the Houses of Parliament. But is this a true picture? Sadly, it has to be said that Richard was one of our worst kings.
- Kings, Queens, Bones & Bastards, David Hilliam

Hilliam is not too scorching in his critique of Richard I, far from it. Often have I wondered why anyone has paid good money for a statue of Richard on this very spot, surely the persons in question must have been too dazzled by legends to pay attention to proper history. He is indeed a very strong candidate for the worst regent in the history of Britain, and off the top of my head I can't think of any worthy contenders, save George IV as seen above. The reasons for his strong candidacy to a title of such dubious honour are numerous. During his reign (1189-99) he was very rarely in England - a matter of months all put together, most likely - and left the country pretty much in charge of his very able mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Upon his return from the crusade, Richard was captured by the Duke of Austria and sold to Emperor Henry VI who in turn demanded a huge ransom of the English government. To pay for the king's release cost, according to Hilliam, a quarter of every man's income for an entire year, in addition to livestock and church gold. In addition, his failure to capture Jerusalem, losing an ally in king Phillipe of France after Richard had refused to marry his sister and his probable lack of mastery of the English language all strengthen Richard's claim to be the worst regent in Britain's history.

This is an image which put enemies to flight,
But under which citizens enjoy quiet leisure.
- On a portrait of Oliver Cromwell, Andrew Marvell (translated from the Latin)

This is another choice of motif that puzzles me somewhat, although to a lesser extent than in the case above. On the one hand I can understand a desire, especially among Labour politicians, to display Britain's most well-known Parlamentarian of all times as a counterweight to the romantically royalist Richard I, for despite his shortcomings and his troublesome aspects Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) was an able man in the face of an uncooperative, spendthrift and militarily unsuccessful king Charles. On the other side, however, he was an iconoclast in the right sense of the word, a zealous Puritan who sought to banish Christmas and a ruthless commander who had as little success in mastering parliaments as had his royal predecessors. Andrew Marvell is quite right in the first sentece of his couplet, but whether the citizens of England could find much leisure under his auspices is somewhat dubious, and it is noteworthy that Marvell's Ode upon Cromwell's return from Ireland is considered to contain numerous veiled critcisms of Cromwell.

Although historians must be careful in asserting too stern a judgement on the characters of persons past, I personally would be quite happy if this affront to Irishmen, monarchists, Catholics and most likely quite a number of other groups, were to be removed. The same counts of course for Richard I. 


4 kommentarer:

  1. It seems to me that you walked in the same streets I walked on my last visit in 2005 since the easiest way from Nelson's Column to the Parliament is through the Whitehall district and Downing Street. If you you turned around and walked upwards towards Picadilly Circus, I guess you would have walked up Haymarket and Her Majesty's Theatre. PC is not far away from the British Museum.

  2. Good to hear from you, Christian. I think you're quite right in what you're saying, and if I'm not mistaken I came to Trafalgar Square from Piccadilly Circus, but sadly I was in a hurry to meet up with a friend at the National Gallery, so I paid little attention to my surroundings. In addition I spent most of my time south of Paddington underground, so I didn't see much of London in any case, meaning I sadly missed the British Museum. I hope to return some day, though. What are the highlights you recall from your visit?

  3. I wrote a lot of things here but I accidentally refreshed the page and everything was gone. If you are still interested I am more than happy to tell about the trip when I arrive in Trondheim. But what i do have are pictures taken with my cell phone:

  4. I'd love to hear about the trip, so just notify me when you're well established in Stokkanhaugen or if you're on Dragvoll some day and I'll look forward to hear from your adventures. And I shall also check out your pictures.