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Monday, 25 March 2013

The triumph of beer

Wednesday, March 25th., Les Sablons, Fontainebleau.

The news of the triumph of beer in the Peckham election this morning really did depress me. I understood, momentarily, the feelings of the men who give up politics in disgust; and I also understood the immense obstinate faith of those who fight for Liberalism all their lives. It is the insincerity and the deliberate lying of the other side that staggers me. I read in the Daily Mail this morning that when the news of the triumph of beer got into the music-halls last night there were scenes of wild enthusiasm, and perfect strangers shook hands with one another.

The Peckham by-election, 1908 was a parliamentary by-election held for the British House of Commons constituency of Peckham on 24 March 1908. The seat was won by the opposition Conservative Party candidate, Henry Cubitt Gooch, a gain from the Liberal Party who had won a large majority at the 1906 general election. Gooch's campaign centred around opposition to the policies of the Liberal government of Henry Campbell-Bannerman. In particular he attacked the provisions of the Licensing Act 1906 and proposed education reforms. The Licensed Victuallers' Association pledged to support Gooch. There was controversy when it emerged that Meux's Brewery had made two large donations to the Conservative campaign, and the cheques were immediately returned. Gooch was also a strong proponent of "Imperial Preference" and was supported by the Tariff Reform League. Forty motor cars were used by the two parties to bring their supporters to the polls, and Peckham was said to present "the appearance of a huge fair". Processions of voters moved through the streets accompanied by marching bands and displaying coloured rosettes and lights: red for the Conservatives and blue for the Liberals. The result was announced at 11 pm. The Conservatives overturned the Liberal majority by a margin of nearly two and a half thousand votes, surpassing their expectations. The party's celebrations continued late into the night, including a firework display.

However, I worked well all day.

I have been reading an author's views on "What are works of literature about". Worth reading at: http://blog.roberthellenga.com/what-are-works-of-literature-about.
I'm not sure I really grasped the thrust of his argument, but was struck by this passage about Homer's Illiad: "We human beings are on our own. Moreover, the gods confront no limitations, make no important decisions; their initial quarrel over the fate of Troy dissolves in laughter. But human beings do confront important limitations, and this is what makes their lives meaningful. The Iliad, I tell my students, is about luminous moments of love, moments of intensely personal experience – Hector and Andromache on the wall, Achilles and Priam in Achilles’ tent – against a background of meaningless flux. I personally needed big generalizations like these in order to learn to appreciate the poem. I needed a framework, a way to think about the poem."

What he calls the “background of meaningless flux” I see as the stuff of literature. The novelist is he who, having seen life, and being so excited by it that he absolutely must transmit the vision to others, chooses narrative fiction as the liveliest vehicle for the relief of his feelings. He is like other artists in being unable to keep his knowledge to himself, but differs in that what most chiefly strikes him is the indefinable humanness of human nature, the large general matter of existing. In my view there is scarcely any aspect of the interestingness of life which cannot be rendered in fiction, and none which might not be.

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