For truth is deemed a sadly dull and unromantic thing: it is not for truth that men seek, but for that which is pleasant to believe. Poor, ill-clad, shivering truth stands pitiful by the way; for men have ever passed her by in search of that which they desire.
(J. Horace Round, 1910, writing of the fabulous pedigrees in books such as Burke's).
Of course, as the years passed and new editors assumed office intent on rooting out the myths, the number of absurdities diminished. Some honest mistakes remained but, slowly, many of these were corrected as they were revealed. The 1970 edition, although much criticised in the pages of the Baronage website, was an important milestone on this long march. Similarly, the three volumes of the Landed Gentry published between 1965 and 1972 eliminated most of the inventions included in its 19th century editions.
Many of these old books, some rebound several times, are still on library shelves all over the world and are much in use. They should not be discarded. Some of the families they list are unrecorded elsewhere. Some do not appear in earlier Burke's editions, some not in later Burke's editions. But no matter how helpful Burke's books seem, they were never authoritative. They are full of clues, most of which are valid, many of which are ambiguous, and some of which are forgeries. All these clues must be treated with caution. And, often of greater importance for they were harder to recognise before text was computerised, sub-editors' errors have persisted from one edition to the next, so that, for example, a 5th earl in one entry might be cross-referenced as a 4th earl in another (which could allow, perhaps, the corruption of an illuminated family tree comissioned from an expensive heraldic artist).
The 106th edition of Burke's Peerage is not the Burke's Peerage, Baronetage & Knightage of olden times. It is rather THE NEW BURKE'S PEERAGE (1st edition, 1999), which is how this newsletter will refer to it, for the differences between old and new are substantial. Principally, these differences are owed to the advantages offered by computerisation, both in correspondence between editors and researchers, and in the book's production, and to the quality of the editors and researchers themselves, for these, in the few family histories we have so far browsed on a borrowed copy, have evidently placed the virtues of 21st century academic integrity above those of 19th century romantic fiction.
Since the announcement of its publication we have received several e-mails asking for our views on its price (£295) and our recommendation on its value. We have not yet had the opportunity to examine a review copy at leisure, and when we have done so we shall include a lengthy review in the BookPost pages, but for the present we should note the following.
The 105th edition of Burke's Peerage, Baronetage & Knightage in 1970 contained 3,262 pages in one volume. THE NEW BURKE'S PEERAGE contains 3,347 pages in two volumes. This makes the new version far easier to handle (and, probably, less likely to fall apart with extensive use), and the extra space provided by both the greater width of the pages and by the absence of advertisements has been used wisely to improve legibility.
The traditional narrative layout has been retained with little modification, but some rationalisation in the presentation will assist inexperienced readers' understanding of the progress of the line.
At the beginning of the history of many major families there is a brief note on their origin. This replaces in some cases the fantasies that in the 19th century editions took the ancestors back to "the mists of antiquity", and many genealogists will find these useful, especially where they dispel those legends that "must be true because they've always been a family tradition" (for at least the last two hundred years).
Similarly, at the end of many histories there is a note on the principal residence or seat of the head of the family, giving dates of construction and the names of the architects employed on the work. Journalists will find this innovation extemely useful.
Another innovation, noted gratefully by the staff of The Baronage Press (of whose time so much is spent answering queries on forms of address), is the inclusion of the style of each living member of a family. Again, with journalists in mind, this adds to the case for every newspaper office to have a copy of THE NEW BURKE'S PEERAGE on its shelves.
A formal review will appear in the Baronage magazine later.
TITLES FOR SALE~ WHAT IS NOBILITY WORTH?
The possibility of buying nobility continues to occupy the minds of many readers, and a long series of correspondence between one and this office has recently emphasised the contradiction most seek to escape and cannot ~ if nobility can be bought, is it worth anything? Or, as one wrote last month with the same thought in mind ~ "I don't just want the title of Lord. I want to be a Lord."
In August we intend to look in depth at this ambition and at the market that exploits it.
"YOU REALLY CAN'T BE SERIOUS ! ? ! ? ! ?"
The popularity of period drama such as the BBC and Merchant Ivory productions (watch out for the most recent BBC series, Aristocrats, the story of the four Lennox sisters, great-granddaughters of Charles II) prompts many readers to e-mail queries about the social customs of recent centuries. Usually these letters criticise scriptwriters and directors, and seek reassurance. Often they are justified, but it can be difficult for dramatists to learn the complicated codes of a society that had little else to study (although in admitting this we do not seek to excuse sloppy research).
"The lady bowed first to the gentleman, and then he returned the bow. Surely this is not correct?"
Well, there are several factors involved here, too complex to explain quickly. But in general it would be correct in England, but incorrect in France. (We shall explain that later.)
To the e-mailed queries prompted by television and the cinema we have to add those from aspirant "Regency" novelists who anxiously and laudably slave to ensure that the ceremonious rituals observed by their characters are absolutely right. Accordingly, to reduce the flow of incoming letters and to provide a readily accessible directory of 18th/19th century etiquette, we shall shortly publish an annex to the Journalists' and Authors' Guide (JAG) to Heraldry and Titles as a series of articles on the more complex rituals. Here, to give a flavour (or warning) of what is to appear, are three extracts from the advice given a hundred years ago "by a Member of the Aristocracy" on the subject of bowing.
"A lady should not bow to another who, being a stranger to her, has addressed a few remarks to her at an afternoon party, as the fact of meeting at the house of a mutual friend does not constitute an acquaintanceship and does not authorise a future bowing acquaintance."
and (BBC drama departments please note)
"Ladies, as a rule, are not too ready to bow to those with whom they have merely conversed in a casual way. In the first place, they are not quite certain of being remembered, and nothing is more disconcerting and disagreeable than to bow to a person who does not return it through forgetfulness of the one who has give it, or through shortsightedness, or through actual intention."
and (please do remember that we are trying to be helpful)
"Short-sighted people are always offending in the matter of not bowing, and almost every third person, comparatively speaking, complains of being more or less sort-sighted. Thus it behoves ladies to discover for themselves the strength and length of sight possessed by their new acquaintances, or the chances are that their bow may never be returned, or they may continue to labour under the impression that they have received a cut direct. Thus many pleasant acquaintances are lost through this misapprehension, and many erroneous impressions created."
We really can't be serious ??? Yes, if we are to portray the past accurately in our plays and films, we can be serious. (Read Neil Postman in the next section.)
PORTRAYING HISTORY ACCURATELY
One of our regular correspondents, referring to our comments on the travesty of Wallace's life portrayed in Mel Gibson's BRAVEHEART, has sent us the following observations of Neil Postman. They are of especial significance, he noted, because the Web is becoming increasingly TV-like, and because TV, far from being "the great information machine," is "the great disinformation machine."
A most nerve-wracking confirmation of this came some time ago during an interview with the producer and the writer of the TV mini-series Peter the Great. Defending the historical inaccuracies in the drama ~ which included a fabricated meeting between Peter and Sir Isaac Newton ~ the producer said that no one would watch a dry, historically faithful biography. The writer added that it is better for audiences to learn something that is untrue, if it is entertaining, than not to learn anything at all. And just to put some icing on the cake, the actor who played Peter, Maximilian Schell, remarked that he does not believe in historical truth and therefore sees no reason to pursue it.
I do not mean to say that the trivialization of American public discourse is all accomplished on television. Rather, television is the paradigm for all our attempts at public communication. It conditions our minds to apprehend the world through fragmented pictures and forces other media to orient themselves in that direction.
As a medium for conducting public business, language has receded in importance; it has been moved to the periphery of culture and has been replaced at the center by the entertaining visual image . . . When a culture becomes overloaded with pictures; when logic and rhetoric lose their binding authority; when historical truth becomes irrelevant; when the spoken or written word is distrusted or makes demands on our attention that we are incapable of giving; when our politics, history, education, religion, public information, and commerce are expressed largely in visual imagery rather than words, then a culture is in serious jeopardy.
This passage is from Neil Postman's 1986 book, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, published by Viking and obtainable direct from Amazon through this link.
European readers may order from Amazon with this link to the UK distributors.
TO BE UPLOADED IN JULY-SEPTEMBER
We are continuing the system of uploading each calendar quarter's magazine contents in monthly instalments, so the July-September Contents Page will feature new articles only (of which one-third will be accessible immediately). Articles held over from June ~ the second of the articles on the Origins of the Bruces, A View from Maastricht on the Kosovo Crisis, and the first in a new series on the Culinary Arts in History ~ will be included in the July upload.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR (1) THE SCOTTISH ROYAL STANDARD
Born & living in the U.S., and being 13 generations descended from James VI, as is the current Monarch of England, Elizabeth II, but I directly descend from Charles Edward Stuart through Charlotte Stuart, James Wray who came to the American Colonies in 1775, object to the statements in the article on Scottish descendants living in the U.S. not having the right by law to fly the traditional monarch Scottish standard ~ with Lion Rampart etc. in the U.S.
I and my 2 sons have by blood as much or more so right to represent the true Stuart Monarchs than anyone in existence throughout the world. And, it is correct to say, that without any disrespect to his position whatsoever, Lord Lyon (with whom I have corresponded recently) has no authority here. The purpose of standards, tartans & heraldry in the "beginning" of Scottish "time," was to show allegiance to or relation to blood ties & families. I, therefore, can "demonstrate" truer blood/ family ties than all others.
It puts a smile on my face to see the near 80% of the American citizens with Scottish, English, Irish & Welsh lines in their genealogy background showing their support of my ancestors & country roots so proudly. Those in Scotland should be honored that this standard is raised with more reverence than our own American Flag ~ which is often desecrated by the hands of its own citizens ~ where the Lion Rampart flies with total reverence & glory! If this "law" states the Monarch must be present at functions where it is flown ~ then as far as I can decipher ~ as long as my line is alive & well in the U.S. ~ it is legally allowed!