Saturday, August 26, 2006

History Readings Do Not Have To Be Boring

This is a surprise to me.

However, since I actually did the readings for last week (ok I did them this week, but at least I did them) I was rewarded with a very interesting, very funny piece of writing.

Oh and you should not read interesting, funny things in the library. People tend to look at you funny.

So here are some examples of what could await you should you actually do the readings:

The Convention ... passed a law as requested, offically called the 'Law of Suspects', also known as the Terror. This is one of the many points during the revolution at which it's clear no one had quite mastered the art of political spin. Couldn't they have thought of a slightly more PR-friendly name than 'the Terror'? A modern government would have slipped it in as 'Section 24 of the Grain Distribution Act (pike clause)' or something.

I wondered whether they [farmers] have a similar perspective on every news event. So if there was a plane crash, Farmers Weekly would report, 'Fortunately ten of the dead were vegetarians, so the impact on beef sales will not be as great as was originally feared.

[The Revolutionary Tribunal] back the surreal law that aristocrats weren't allowed to live by the coast. Presumably this was to stop them escaping to join a foreign army, though it would have been interesting to see what the Sun would say if a couple of thousand aristocrats were plotting to sneak on to a cross-channel ferry.

The Convention decreed that 'only the houses of the poor and the homes of good patriots shall be left standing'. Which must have caused havoc with the property prices, estate agents advertising their most exquisite properties are 'poky little hovel, needs tons of work, miles from the shops'.

The first man to be guillotined under the Terror was called des Maulans and the judge and jury burst into tears as the sentance was passed. But, as hit-men say, it got easier after the first one.

There were usually two or three executions a day ... with refreshments available. Wouldn't that bring home to you the mundanity of life, to be mounting the scaffold and hear in the distance, 'Do you want onions with that?'?

The new months were named for their scientific attributes. For example there was frimaire, meaning the month of frost; thermidor meant the month of heat; and brumaire was the month of mist. Again, this could only happen in French. In Britain we'd end with months called 'Tut, the nights are drawing in' and 'Well at least it's keeping mild.'
In any case its doubtful whether such a change could ever take place in Britain, when you consider the only time the calendar was altered, when it jumped ten days to the Gregorian system, there were demonstrations against the disappearance of these dates. It must have caused havoc with the chanting:
'What do we want?'
'Our ten days back!'
'When do we want them?'
'Ah, now there's a metaphysical conundrum...'

Theatres were required to show three times per week 'the tragedies of Brutus, William Tell and other plays which recall the glorious events of the Revolution'.4 Which sounds a bit grim, like the plays put on by left-wing theatre groups in the '70s. A typical play would have begun:
[Peasant carrying pitchfork approaches noble with a cushion up his jumper to make him look fat]
PEASANT: It's a nice day today, isn't it?
NOBLE: For me it's always a nice day. For while we are just four per cent of the population, we own ninety-six per cent of non-clerical land. But tell me, I hear you have fallen in love. Is this true?
PEASANT: Indeed it is. I have fallen in love with liberty, for as long as the people yearn to be free we shall we richer than you, the Duke of Brunswick and all the tyrants.

An American, Citizeness Mace, found herself in court for serving a cheese shaped like a white heart, which was described as a counter-revolutionary pudding. The Daily Telegraph should take note: that is political correctness gone mad.

The farmers ... had benefited from the abolition of feudal dues, but their enthusiasm for having their produce removed at gunpoint was limited.

Certainly, more people would watch the discussion programmes after the Budget if the interviewer was saying, 'So, the main points of Gordon Brown's speech appear to be no change in the basic rate of tax, a two-billion pound boost over three years for the public sector, and an army to be sent to the boards of multinationals to threaten execution if they continue to avoid tax through bureaucratic loopholes. Roy Hattersley, what do you make of all that?'

In fact almost every priest, vicar and rabbi would agree that the Bible on which their whole system is based is not be to taken literally at all. It's as if a defendant charged with murder had their alibi disproved and stood up in court to exclaim, 'When I said I was at the cinema at seven-thirty, I didn't mean that literally! It was just a sort of metaphor.'

Religion isn't usally the problem. .. When Catholic and Protestant kids get in a fight, the Catholics aren't thinking, 'We're going to keep chucking this rubble until you learn that that little wafer is the body of Christ.'

Notre Dame was renamed the Temple of Reason. There was a new, sans-culotte version of the Lord's Prayer ... Who knows, maybe if there is a God he appreciated a bit of innovation, as he must be sick of the turgid version recited to him a billion times a week for thousands of years.

...except to say that the rural communities wouldn't be needing their churches anyway as they were seizing all church bells and silver to melt down for ammunition.

One commissar announced ... 'I ordered all the priests to marry ... some twenty promised to marry within two months, and I have authority to find wives for them.' They should have been thankful there was no television at the time or this would have become a Channel 4 reality show, on once a year with every priest's move recorded as he undertook the challenge of getting married in two months or facing a line of sans-culottes with pitchforks.

And who can say, when they're been stiched up by emergency plumbers or those crooks who demand two-hundred quid to tow your broken-down car into a garage, that they wouldn't have appreciated a visit from an army of the Terror to enforce a maximum price?

Our leadership speech would be, 'Let the coffee-shop workers produce tall lattes for the army, let the accountants work out how to carry part of the army's expenses into the following tax year, and let lap-dancers distract the enemy while production companies propose a docu-soap.'

They ended up by announcing that, after any further attack from locals on their positions, 'we shall reply by burning ten villages in your country, and every place from which we are fired on ... will be reduced to ashes'.
How many were won over to the royalist cause by this careful diplomacy isn't recorded.
[A Serb protester] suggested [to a newspaper columnist] the Americans were bombing [Serbia] because they wanted to control the region. So 'I tried to tell them no one was interested in their dirty hate-filled blot on the landscape of Europe but they just wouldn't listen.'8 Fancy, even that didn't win them over. Some people don't want to hear a reasoned arguement, that's their trouble.

'It's better to fight a year against the English that a month in the Vendee'.10 At which the most aggrieved must have been the English, ... 'What, are you calling us poofs?'

Events in 1794 ... moved at such a pace, it's easy to forget certain figures who were prominent in earlier scenes but had slipped out of the main plot, as in a soap opera. ... In the case of Marie Antionette, it was as if the writers, having suddenly remembered she was still there, decided her only use would be to have a final flourish and then killed off.

As she [Marie Antionette] set eyes on the cart prepared to take her to the scaffold, she expressed surprise at how tatty it was, though it probably didn't occur to her that, if she'd tried to escape in one just as tatty three years earlier, she might not be needing this one now.

Her [MA's] final act was to tread on the foot of Sanson the executioner, then say, 'Monsieur, I beg your pardon, I did not do it on purpose.'11 Her defenders cite this as an example of her sturdy harmlessness, civil and without malice to the end. I think they do her a disservice and the feisty cow meant it.

Herbert seems to have been a left-wing taxi driver. He should have called his paper Bloody aristocracy, they need stringing up - it's the only language they understand.

Some of the defendants screamed, especially one called Valaze. Brissot leaned across to stiffen his colleague's resolve and tell him not to be afraid, to which Valaze replied that he was screaming because he'd stabbed himself with a hidden dagger. ... The dead Valaze was taken down to the cells along with his live co-defendants, then dragged back to the dock and sentanced to death, despite being dead.
... The dead Valaze['s execution] was left to last, which must have been a bit of an anti-climax for the crowd.

It's a sad thought that if you make a grand departing gesture, your last thought is probably 'I bet the bloody journalists report that wrong.'

Right, well, if you got through all that you did very well. Now I'm to write about as many words again, this time on the aims and successes of the Revolution and the Terror respectively. Hopefully my lecturer will not be laughing when he reads it.

* All the funny and interesting material came from
Vive le Revolution by Mark Steel, Scribner 2003, pages 201 to 219.


  1. vsquared11:31 pm

    If that post was intended to loosen the mental muscles andtone up the language skills, your letcherer is going to receive a very worthwhile submission on the Terror.
    It is interesting that the mad and absurd in history are often not recognisable as such in the time and place in whch they they are happening.
    Now, about the War on Terror...

  2. Well the 'worthwhile submission' is completed and submitted. Whether it was worthwhile, we'll find out.

    I really do not want to get any of my lecturers started on the War on Terror. I have a feeling they'd have a lot to say...


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