Burgoyne and Cornwallis

I was not missing facts, as Norman S. Poser alleges (Letters, May 20), when I pointed out that social class had nothing to do with the very different treatment meted out by George III and the North government to Sir John Burgoyne and Lord Cornwallis after their surrenders at Saratoga and Yorktown respectively.

When Poser denies that Burgoyne intended to embarrass Lord North’s ministry as much as possible, he ignores Burgoyne’s speech to the Commons of May 28, 1778, only a fortnight after his return and after he had met the opposition leader Charles James Fox, in which Burgoyne said: “The salvation of the country depends upon the confidence of the people in some part of the government. The ministry has it not; the whole nation see, or think they see, their insufficiency”. He later had the speech printed at his own expense. Before that he had written privately about “the peremptory tenor of my orders” and how “the expedition I commanded was evidently meant at first to be hazarded”.

The reason that the government tried to send Burgoyne back to America was because he had, disgracefully in their view, deserted his men in captivity and returned to Britain without leave, thus fulfilling Congress’s hopes to cause maximum trouble in London.

Unless Professor Poser is being deliberately obtuse, it is surely obvious why Burgoyne’s possibly being the illegitimate son of Lord Bingley would have made him less socially inferior to Cornwallis than Poser thinks he was. As for Burgoyne not being considered “a trouble-maker”, if a public elopement with the daughter of the Earl of Derby isn’t making trouble, it’s hard to know what is.

When Poser states that “It is beyond belief that the king would have made [Lord George] Germain a peer if he had not been an aristocrat by birth: the younger son of a duke”, in fact George III created viscountcies for St Vincent (the son of a barrister), Hood (son of a vicar), Melville (son of a judge) and Sidmouth (son of a doctor), none of whom was an aristocrat by birth. As I stated, and the debate in parliament on his appointment attests, Germain received the viscountcy of Sackville for his loyal promotion of the king’s American policy; his social standing was immaterial. Similarly, the fact that Cornwallis returned without any intention to cause trouble for the government explains why he was welcomed by George III and the government, not the fact that he was an earl.

The obsession among some historians to see class rather than politics as the driving force in eighteenth-century politics can go too far, and often betrays an unsure touch as to how the British class system actually worked in the eighteenth century.

Andrew Roberts
London SW1

Unsaid by Andrew Roberts (Letters, April 29) and Norman S. Poser (Letters, April 1) is another current pushing against a peerage for George Germain. In The Men Who Lost America (2013), Andrew O’Shaughnessy discusses Germain’s long-known homosexuality or bisexuality, little disguised by him, causing latent fear that the nation had become effeminate and was in dangerous decline. The playwright Richard Cumberland – who, Mrs Thrale declared in her diary, “did like the Masculine gender best” – was Germain’s neighbor and wrote the most affectionately of him after Germain picked him for a diplomatic mission. The American loyalist Benjamin Thompson, described as a “shop lad” from Massachusetts, spoke freely of living with Germain, with whom he “always breakfasts, dines and sups”, was dubbed by Marquess Wellesley “Sir Sodom Thompson, Lord Sackville’s [ie Germain’s] under Secretary”, and repeated private comments of George III made to Germain. Germain was thought “extremely incautious in trusting his conversation with the King” to pillow talk with young Thompson.

Simply “everyone” knew it.

Michael Smith
San Francisco CA

Christina Rossetti

As well as the 1885 gift of Time Flies mentioned by Dinah Roe (“Tale of Tender Lizzie”, June 10), inscribed to “Dr Hare, from his old friend and patient Christina G. Rossetti”, her sometime physician was earlier presented with her poem “Looking forward”, written “ in her own neat handwriting” and dated June 8, 1849. This was at a time when she was acutely unwell, self-harming and suffering vertiginous hallucinations that the walls were falling forward and the floor undulating. It suggests that Hare encouraged Rossetti to write, common prescriptions of the era that banned reading and studying by mentally stressed women, and perhaps comparable to the poetry workshops for carers organised by Roe. The poem’s opening line, “Sleep, let me sleep, for I am sick of care”, inadvertently anticipates a later sense of onerous care-giving.

Jan Marsh
London N10

Carlo Levi

May I add just three points to David Aberbach’s stimulating re-reading (June 3) of Carlo Levi’s 1945 memoir Cristo si è fermato a eboli (Christ Stopped at Eboli)? To be fully appreciated the book should, as Raymond Rosenthal (a translator of Primo Levi) pointed out in a review in 1947, be read in close conjunction essay with the author’s earlier collection Paura della Libertà (Fear of Freedom. Second, what Professor Aberbach doesn’t sufficiently bring out is that the local peasants’ titular saying disguised the extent to which their world-view and spiritual practices were pagan, that is, not just non-Christian, but pre-Christian. It’s odd to think that Levi’s terribly impoverished Matera of 1935-6 is also the Matera that served as a European Capital of Culture in 2019. Finally, in 1979, a truly terrific film based on the novel was directed and co-written by the great Francesco Rosi, starring Gian Maria Volonte as Levi and the Greek actor Irene Papas, among others. Rather extraordinarily, the film also did considerable justice to the fact that Levi was not only a writer (and a medical doctor), but also a most accomplished painter: one full-length Italian study of him is indeed subtitled The painter as writer.

Paul Cartledge

Age of distraction

Irina Dumitrescu writes that “It has become commonplace to call this era ‘an age of distraction’” (Afterthoughts, June 3). Her examples are only too well known. They paint distraction, resulting in a lack of focus and inattention, in a dark, negative manner. Contrast that with what the poet George Meredith, in “Modern Love XXVII” (1862), shouted from the rooftops:

Distraction is the panacea, Sir!
I hear my oracle of Medicine say.

It has been suggested that Meredith had in mind Janet Duff Gordon, “of golden hair, or raven black, composed?” If so, what better advice to rely on our “age of distraction”? after all, omnia vincit amor.

Alastair Conan
Coulsdon, Surrey

The invention of the blues

Thellen Levy (Letters, June 10) takes a gentle exception to my suggestion (May 20) that the blues is (are?) a Scottish invention. There is a hoary tradition that the form was inspired by the sound of bagpipes on migrant ships heading west. There are also strong harmonic connections between the blues and piobaireachd, which doesn’t clinch the influence, but is, to put it mildly, interesting. And in recent times Scotland has punched well above its weight in producing blues and jazz singers: Maggie Bell, the saintly Lulu, Jack Bruce, Frankie Miller, the Average White Band, Alex Harvey et al. The reference was intended lightly. No cultural (re) appropriation should be imputed. Woke up this morning, read a letter of complaint. I said, woke up this morning, read a letter of complaint.

Brian Morton
Campbeltown, Argyll

County Kilburn

The review of Patrick McCabe’s Poguemaone (May 20), and its references to “Killiburn”, reminded me of when I was a junior assistant in the Kilburn branch of Hampstead Public Library of blessed memory in the late 1950s. The area was so Irish then that it was widely known as “County Kilburn”. I learned a lesson in library collection development that I never forgot in fifty years of library work. The book stock was excellent for a small library and featured many books on Ireland. I read a lot of them, partly because they were always available. By contrast, the far fewer books on countries like the US, Australia and Canada flew off the shelves. So much for wallowing in the memories of the Old Sod.

Michael Gorman
Chicago IL

Canadian bilingualism

In his article about Daniil Trifonov’s concert at the Maison Symphonique de Montréal (May 20), Adam Foulds mentions that Marianne Perron, director of musical programming at the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, explained the context of the event, “switching between English and French in official Canadian style”. I feel compelled to point out to Mr Foulds that this “Canadian style” of bilingualism is a myth, for most of the country at least. Only in Montreal would such a statement be delivered in both languages; outside Quebec it would have been made in English only. The truth is that Canadian bilingualism only goes one way, and the burden of it falls disproportionately on the shoulders of French-speakers.

Mathieu Thomas
Montreal, Quebec

Family fictions

Writing of the royal family, Nicola Shulman (May 27) struggles to think of any other “whose life has been subsumed to a fictional version of itself while they are still living, unless it is the Family Von Trapp”. Another family comes to mind: the film Hilary and Jackie (1998) presents a highly fictionalized account of the relationship between the cellist Jacqueline du Pré and her sister, Hilary. Jacqueline du Pré died in 1987, but the pain such prurience causes can be felt in the comment by her husband, Daniel Barenboim: “Couldn’t they have waited until I was dead?”.

Sharon Footerman
London NW4

Bad geography

In his generous review of Jeff Deutsch’s In Praise of Good Bookstores (June 3), Oliver Balch mislocates the esteemed Seminary Co-op Bookstore to Downtown Chicago, whereas local book lovers know it is on 57th Street on the city’s South Side, some eight heavily congested miles from Downtown.

Paul Schlueter
Easton PA

Reviewing Shaul Magid’s book on Meir Kahane, Uri Dromi locates the site of Kahane’s assassination in Brooklyn (June 3). It was at the Marriott hotel in Manhattan.

Yisrael Medad
Shiloh, Israel

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