Sir Richard Wallace:
until 6th January, 2019
This year the Wallace Collection finished a multimillion pound refurbishment to restore to imperial glory its home at Hertford House. Not only have the state rooms been stunningly brought back to life with gorgeous fabrics and wallpapers, the collection has been rehung and an exhibition space has been created in the old cellars. The museum now stands out amongst its peers – the Musée Jacquemart-André and Waddesdon Manor – as the preeminent example of a nineteenth century Anglo-French collection of paintings and bibelots. It also has a decent restaurant (more ‘no riff-raff’ than ‘ace caff’). To showcase this refurbishment and to celebrate the two hundredth anniversary of its founder, Sir Richard Wallace, the Museum has put on a show of Sir Richard’s choicest purchases from the collection which bears his name.
Sir Richard made those purchases thanks to a fortune in agricultural land in Lisburn bequeathed him by his supposed father, the Fourth Marquess of Hertford. The Marquess was a great collector – especially of porcelain and paintings – who had hugely expanded the collection begun by the previous Marquesess. Sir Richard added much icing to the cake, though frustratingly this show does not make it clear just what he added to the collection. Instead, after the twenty exhibits in the new gallery we are sent out, rather feebly, to explore the main collection and find out who bought what.
Still the show is interesting for what it reminds us about the way collections are made and the shifts in taste over the generations. It is primarily a show of objets rather than paintings, and objets which are no longer the height of expensive fashion – long gone are the days when a character in a Henry James novel could sell their collection of maiolica to raise substantial funds.
So, some of the exhibits on show have kept their interest. There is a large Chinese market for items looted from the Summer Palace but the two imperial blessing cups acquired by Sir Richard are perhaps a little too ornate for anyone whose taste was born in the democratic Ikea age. Other items have long lost their appeal. The arms and armour of which the Collection has many, many examples, are very much of specialist interest, even when, as in the show, the arm in question is a dagger which belonged to Henri IV. And the small sculptures once so popular – Bossuit’s ivory carving of the ‘Toilet of Bathsheba,’ was bought for two and a half times what was paid for the Collection’s most famous item, Frans Hals’ ‘Laughing Cavalier’ – are very easy to overlook.
On the other hand, few parish priests would turn down the chance to purchase the horn of St Hubert, carried by the saint when he was spoken to by the miraculous hart. And then there is the Asante gold trophy head, bought for £500 from Garrard and Co. after it was seized in the Anglo-Asante War. This is one of the largest African artefacts in gold to be found outside of Africa. And it is an extraordinary piece, witness to Sir Richard’s eclectic (magpie) taste for what ever was excellent, expensive and for sale.
And Sir Richard didn’t just profit from the Empire’s colonial wars. He bought French collections which came on the market after the Franco-Prussian War, just as the Marquesses of Hertford had bought from the Revolutionary sales of the possessions of Marie Antoinette. The result of this high-end buying was not so much a modern museum-style collection but an old-fashioned kunstkammer, where luxury was an essential ingredient of taste and where the rich can feel their wealth.
However, Sir Richard was modern in that he was not a selfish collector. He was a philanthropist. Not only did the collection eventually come to the nation as one of the largest ever such donations, during his lifetime it was also lent out. So, when Hertford House was refurbished to house the collection, parts of the collection were displayed in Bethnal Green for everyone to see. Likewise, in the early years of the Victoria and Albert Museum, 2,300 items were lent to support the museum’s shows.
Sir Richard’s philanthropy was not confined to London and his Lisburn estates. Indeed, he was able to buy up in France after the War of 1870 because he was on site during the war. He stayed in Paris during the Prussian siege and later Commune and gave £3.8 million in today’s money for the poor of Paris. In 1871 the French government decorated him with the Legion d’Honneur. And in 1883 Sir Richard won a Silver medal at the Smithfield Show as breeder of the best “Single Pig” in class LXXXVI. It was one of his proudest achievements.
This show honours a decent man and avid collector. It is free.
The House of Islam:
A Global History
Bloomsbury Publishing 2018 £13.65
(Kindle Edition) pp336
‘In essence, Muslims are expected to be people of shukr, or gratitude. The Quranic opposite to shukr is kufr or disbelief. As a community of gratitude, it is among the greatest acts of ingratitude to burn the bridges of pluralism and secularism that allow for Muslims to observe their faith in the West.’ That bridge burning is addressed head on in this topical book by a former Muslim extremist now passionate for the recovery of Islam’s mainstream. ‘The House of Islam is on fire – and the arsonist still lives there. Neighbours can bring water to put out the fire, but Muslims must also expel the fire bombers in their midst.’
Londoner Ed Husain helped found Quilliam, the world’s first counter-extremism think tank, in Britain. His latest book is a highly readable history of Islam giving insight into how things have come to be as they are and inviting strategies like the founding of a Middle East Union to improve a dangerous situation. The current situation can be traced back to the attempt by Saudi Arabia to impose one form of belief, worship and dress upon the broadness of Islam fuelled by oil wealth. This form, that of the Salafi–Wahhabis, account for fewer than 5% of Muslims, but has gained influence since Saudi Arabia emerged in1932 (with British help) out of the detritus of the Ottoman Empire. Husain gives a demonstration of its narrowness and infidelity to the Quran explaining how it rides on the back of the crisis of confidence among Muslims. ‘The Russian end of empire produced Communism; Germany produced Nazism; and Ottoman decline produced Islamism…whose prevailing political ideology – the zeitgeist among young Muslim activists – says that being a Muslim, a believer in Islam, is not sufficient. Islamists yearn for something deeper: to bring back the Caliphate as the perceived restorer of Muslims’ lost dignity and end the feelings of loss and humiliation inflicted on Muslims.’
This book explains the essence of Islam, in the simplicity of worship of one God, honouring the Quran and the Prophet, the celebration of family life and emphasis on the world to come, all of which are well illustrated by Ed Husain. Terms like Sharia are explained, meaning ‘path to water’ echoing Islam’s nomadic heritage but now bearing fearsome meaning as a result of the culture war fuelled by literalistic Islamism. This deadly movement distorts the historic breadth of interpretation within Sharia Law, virtually forbidding everything not sanctioned by the Quran, something Husain exposes for the infidelity it represents. ‘In Islam, if a Muslim drinks alcohol, consumes pork or steals, he or she is still considered a Muslim, albeit a sinful believer who is expected to have to face God to account for these acts in the next life. If, however, that same person then attempts to justify those sins, then she or he becomes a disbeliever, a kafir, because they have committed an open act of disbelief … what then of someone, nay an entire movement, committed to the worst acts of inhumanity – killing innocents, enslaving women, murdering Muslim believers and destroying historical sites? If consuming and defending the consumption of a bacon sandwich puts a Muslim outside the faith, then why not murder, rape, enslavement and the demolition of antiquities?’
In this global history Sufism is given special place for its mystical charism and inclusivity counter to the Islam preached by Salafi–Wahhabis. ‘The Sharia specialists are intent on explaining the Quran; the Sufis are, in their words, ‘not interested in the love letter, but the lover Himself’, and so immerse themselves in love, miracles and pious devotion.’ The author sees recovery of these depths allied to diversity as one answer to current extremism and its violent outcomes. Quran interpretation – the business of Sharia – is pivotal and Muslims need to take fresh note of Quran verses like ‘God intends felicity and ease for you and he does not want to put you in hardship.’ The idea of umma fuelling a ‘them against us’ narrative also needs renewing in the light of Mohamed’s idea of community which included non-Muslims especially Christians and Jews. Appealing to the experience of Muslims like himself thriving in countries run without Sharia Law Husain boldly notes that ‘any government that upholds the higher aims of the Sharia is, in fact, Islamic by default. By that definition, Britain and America are fully Islamic because they conserve life, faith, family, property and the intellect. The West is already Quran-compliant.’
The book concludes with a reminder of how the West has helped Israel but done little to help Arabs help themselves. ‘Is the West going to wait until the Islamists and radicals are powerful enough to create a Middle East in their own image, one hostile to the rest of us? A Middle East Union would not be the Caliphate of the literalists or the secular democracy of liberals, but a pluralistic political and economic union true to the reality of the region, where the Sharia is honoured through… preserving life, freedom, intellect, family and property. In short, conservatism, capitalism and coexistence should be the forces behind creating a new Middle East order that provides dignity, security and stability for the region and the wider world.’ This charter is followed by an appendix of leaders’ speeches appealing for unity among the nations and peoples of the Middle East as they face problems like terrorism, poverty, unemployment, sectarianism, refugees and water shortages that need regional answers.
In its portrait of what the author describes as the counterfeiting of Islam’s riches in this age. ‘The House of Islam – A Global History’ is an eye-opener for non-Muslims and a call to action for Muslims and all who seek the world’s good.
The Character of Virtue:
Letters to a Godchild
The premise of Stanley Hauerwas’ latest work is an intriguing one, with layer upon layer of significance. Hauerwas is godfather to Laurence Bailey Wells, a relationship made possible through the friendship and collaboration Hauerwas enjoys with his parents, the Rev’d. Dr. Samuel Wells and the Right Rev’d Dr. Jo Bailey Wells. In his introduction Laurence’s father explains the origins of the book, which is that every year, on the anniversary of Laurie’s Baptism, Hauerwas should write a letter to his godson about a specific virtue, and its importance in the formation of character. It is a handy canvas on which to paint a number of themes which have characterized Hauerwas’ writings over a number of years – his reference to the writings and witness of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Reinhold Neibuhr, his sense of the danger besetting American culture, the impact of violence and, in turn, nonviolence in shaping American society. It embraces the transition between the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Indeed, one can trace the history being made as the book is written, reminding us that the lives we live are necessarily lived in a context which we cannot choose for ourselves, and which matters a good deal in the shaping of those lives.
There is much, too, that is fresh and original. This is a remarkable book, doing what it promises to do from the outset – offering to a young, fledgling Christian the means to make sense of the world around him, to enjoy the love which is his as part of a loving family, and the business of growing up as a Christian both in the USA and ‘back home’ in the UK. Hauerwas ensures that none of this is merely dry academic treatise through colourful analogies, drawn from family and domestic life, from sport, from the world of manual work (Hauerwas was initially trained as a bricklayer, as devotees of his book Hannah’s Child will note).
As ever, Hauerwas is ruthlessly honest, and his writing is lively and rooted in practical reality. He doesn’t group in the virtues in any sort of classical fashion, but in an order which is designed to suit the nurturing of a growing child. That said, the writing is not child-like, because this is intended to be a mature work. Whilst writing for a child, Hauerwas is in his seventies, and at no time ‘talks down’ to his godson. Rather, he is putting down markers for the life to be lived in such a way that the fruits of his many years are distilled into a helpful road map.
With these ingredients, alongside a deep delving of Holy Scripture and a good helping of devotional writings, Hauerwas prepares a feast for anyone who is looking for a ‘way in’ to the study of the life and nature of virtue. None of the chapters is overly long, but all repay careful reflection. It also asks certain questions of the reader which shouldn’t be ignored in our present circumstances. It raises the question of how the church prepares godparents and godchildren for an important relationship but one which, in the daily round of the church’s mission and ministry, it is difficult to get hold of in the normal course of baptism preparation in parishes. Let this book at least remind us of the potential which such relationships, positively exercised, can have, even if not all Godparents possess the type and quality of insight which Hauerwas brings to bear. Then there is the broader, and more vexed question of how the church, in a volatile age, can recover the trust-laden task of guiding the formation of character and dispositions of virtue in those entrusted to her care. This book doesn’t provide ready answers to either of those questions: rather, it demonstrates that we don’t need to be afraid of moral teaching in the quest to form new Christians, and provides much pertinent food for thought. Laurie Bailey Wells is a fortunate man indeed.
The King and the Catholics:
The fight for rights 1829
Weidenfeld and Nicolson. 2018.336pp.
ISBN: 9781474601931. £25
When Nicholas Wiseman, Rector of the English College in Rome, decorated its façade with lanterns spelling Emanzipazione Cattolica, some passers-by thought a new saint had been canonized and exclaimed: ‘Santa Emancipatione, ora pro nobis.’
The passing of the Catholic Relief Act in 1829 was the culmination of a long and tortuous process. Among other concessions, Roman Catholics could at last sit in Parliament without having to swear oaths against transubstantiation, the invocation of saints and the sacrifice of the Mass.
Opposition to Roman Catholicism had long been part of the English identity; ‘no popery!’ was a rallying cry sure to stir up any crowd. The King and the Catholics begins with the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots, the worst riots in London’s history. Antonia Fraser outlines how Catholic Emancipation was achieved through a combination of changing circumstances, unlikely collaborations, and force of personality.
England had become a safe haven for Roman Catholic refugees fleeing The Terror of revolutionary France; victims of the enemy were to be welcomed. The conquest of French Canada had brought with it some 70,000 new ‘popish’ subjects whose right to practise their Catholic faith was protected by the Quebec Act of 1774.
The impetus behind the passing of the legislation was undoubtedly the threat of civil unrest in Ireland. It was this priority which made the Prime Minister, the Duke of Wellington, its unlikely champion. His pragmatic approach was bolstered by the conversion to the cause of the Home Secretary, Robert Peel (formerly known as ‘Orange Peel’ for his support of Irish protestants). That it was achieved peacefully owed much to the pacific yet flamboyant leadership of the Irish lawyer Daniel O’Connell.
Fraser evokes a different political age when disputes might well be settled on the duelling ground: O’Connell killed his protestant opponent John Desterre; while The Duke of Wellington merely grazed the trouser leg of the ‘roaring’ Earl of Winchilsea, a vociferous opponent of the measure.
The clergy play a relatively minor role in the story, though Cardinal Consalvi, the Papal envoy, did charm the Prince Regent who was much taken by his scarlet stockings. The politicians and the monarchs are the leading protagonists of the drama. For both George III and George IV, the oaths sworn at their coronations promising to uphold the rights of the Church of England made it almost impossible for them to assent to the bill. As Fraser points out, their consciences delayed the passing of the act for some thirty years.
Antonia Fraser deftly traces her way through a complicated series of setbacks and break-throughs, contradictions and volte-faces. She lets the events speak for themselves and does not let personal opinion overly intrude into the narrative. Catholic Emancipation was the issue of its day, and in ‘The King and the Catholics’ its history is expertly written.
THE POPE WHO WOULD BE KING:
The Exile of Pius IX and the Emergence of Modern Europe
David I. Kertzer
Oxford UP 2018 474pp, £25
It is not unusual to see political lives move from a liberal youth to authoritarian middle age to aged reactionary. Some buck the trend, notably William Gladstone began as the great hope of the stern, unbending High Tories to embracing a radical liberalism laced with a high-minded, High Anglican piety. With Pope Pius IX we are on more familiar territory.
At his election to the triregnum throne in 1846, Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti was regarded, certainly, in contrast to his adamantine predecessor Gregory XVI, the Camaldolese monk who asserted it “false and absurd … mad … that we must secure and guarantee to each one liberty of conscience,” cautiously sympathetic to liberal and democratic values. His first few years showed evidence of that but his timid reforms were derailed by violent pressure for further and more extensive radical reforms, the assassination of his lay Minister of the Interior, Pellegrino Rossi and, most significantly, the events of 1848, the year of revolutions.
His subsequent and long reign needs to be viewed through the prism of those events which caused the loss of the Papal States, his flight from Rome, exile in Gaeta, and, more widely, by the long shadow cast and the seismic repercussions of the 18th century Enlightenment and French Revolution.
His restoration to Rome and the Papal States saw the reimposition of clerical government, repressive inquisitorial measures, and social regimentation (insofar as that was possible on the notoriously unbindable Roman citizenry). As well as political and social retrenchment, he asserted papal power in matters of doctrine, notably in the Bull Ineffabilis Deus (1854) which dogmatically defined the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the publication of the Syllabus Errorum (1864) condemning the heresies of modernism, relativism and liberalism. When civil and political strife broke out once again in 1870 in the Risorgimento, he asserted the doctrine of Papal Infallibility. Following another flight from Rome and return he declared himself a prisoner in the Vatican, the square mile of what remained of the papal territorial patrimony. The self-incarceration was broken by Pope Paul VI.
David Kertzer, Professor of (inter alia) Italian Studies at Brown University, deals with the events of 1848 in meticulous, ordered and comprehensible detail from the events which led to the fall of Rome to the establishment of the short-lived Roman Republic (Mazzini and Garibaldi much in evidence), the Pope’s exile, and the machinations of the four Catholic powers, Austria-Hungary, Spain, Naples, France to restore the Pope and exert their influence. Whereas Pius IX favoured Austria as his liberator and restorer, it was France that took Rome.
Here Professor Kertzer is at his best in detailing French policy and action. The publicly declared intention of the Republican government’s intervention was to defend the liberties won and the democratic structures erected in the nascent Roman Republic. Its undeclared intention was to restore the Pope not to his secular power but to a position limited by secular and representative government. Political uproar ensued in Paris when this aim was revealed. The French Army occupied Rome after siege and bombardment but Louis Napoleon’s able and conscientious envoys to the exiled papal court and his ministers were unable to persuade the Pope, who became increasing adamant in his refusal to concede or compromise. Among the French ministers who tried was Alexis de Tocqueville who emerges from the tangled diplomatic undergrowth relatively unscathed, more sinned against than sinning. The same could not be said for Louis Napoleon who cuts a sorry and inadequate figure in the narrative. Despite their strenuous efforts they failed to move the Pope. The nearest Pius came to conciliation was an amnesty that was circumscribed with so many exceptions that it was difficult to know who, if anyone, could possibly qualify.
Professor Kertzer aptly summarises what the French diplomats were up against in Pius’s visceral response to the traumatic events and humiliations to which he was subjected in this crucial year and which defined the remainder of his long pontificate, when he writes that Pius “never wanted to repeat that terrifying sense of helplessness … amid chaos in Rome … following Rossi’s murder. He clung to the one path … that of the eternal verities that his predecessors … had followed. Listening to those who told him to adapt to modern times had produced only heartache … and disaster … Parliamentary government and individual freedom … were not only incompatible with the divinely ordained nature of his own states but inherently evil. It was a belief he would hold for the rest of his life.”
Conjuring the Universe
The Origins of the Laws of Nature
OUP 2018 Kindle £8.59. 205pp
Though having a Chemistry Doctorate – Peter Atkins examined me – I found his short book a struggle but worth it for some big picture thinking and some elucidations by analogy. I liked his idea of seeing electromagnetism as a cube with electricity and magnetism as say square and hexagonal sections of that higher dimension. Atkins summarises how the world has come to be scientifically and the beauty of the laws of thermodynamics. There’s less beauty in his insistent return to indolence (1st Law) and anarchy (2nd Law) governing a creation that probably stems from dull nothing. Though I admit that as a priest I felt disappointed by the bleak rationality of this brilliant scientist whose very arguments invite you to see sense by going up a dimension!