This article is taken from the February 2022 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issue for just £10.
Alexander Larman (“Sacred Cows”, Dec/Jan) is quite wrong to date “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night” and “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” to the Tudor period. The former first appeared in 1700 and the latter is not found in any printed source earlier than the 1830s.
While it is true that there were a significant number of carols written in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, including “Adam lay ybounden” and “Lullay, lulla, my little tiny child”, nearly all of our most popular and most sung carols today date from the mid-nineteenth century, among them “O Little Town of Bethlehem”, “Away in a Manger”, “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear” (those three all coming from the USA), “Good King Wenceslas”, “In the Bleak Midwinter” and the English version of “Silent Night”.
In terms of carols, as in several other respects, the Victorians really did invent and define the modern Christmas, not so much in terms of commercialism and consumerism but as a sentimental celebration of Christian and family values. The Victorian Christmas is neither a myth, nor a sacred cow.
Professor Ian Bradley
(Author, The Penguin Book of Carols)
St Andrews, Fife
A Royal Retreat
Marcus Walker (“The greatest cancellation”, Dec/Jan) wrongly suggests that I am a “High Tory”, when I am really a suburban lower-upper-middle class conservative social democrat. And he then accuses me of seeking to cancel the Queen for expressing a political opinion I do not like.
As I made quite clear when I criticised the monarch’s open support for the contentious Green position, I am not a republican, or anything silly like that. I do not support the green position, but I hope that I would be appalled by Her Majesty’s open partisanship in any direction even if I agreed with it. I know perfectly well that this is not a first offence, and have complained at previous breaches of this rule. But the scale of this particular transgression was too great.
By contrast, I have personal experience of the Royal Family’s strong aversion to expressing or being associated with unfashionable views. Some years ago, I received what I can only call feelers, suggesting that I might be asked to meet the Prince of Wales, who was interested by my book The Abolition of Britain.
Those who transmitted these feelers were most anxious to be assured that, above all things, I would not blab about it afterwards. I readily gave the assurances, but nothing happened. I kept my mouth shut. But some years later the Blairite MP, Tristram Hunt, revealed that Prince Charles had been browbeaten by his advisers into abandoning the meeting, presumably lest it upset the then government.
The contrast between the secrecy, discretion and ultimate loss of nerve in one direction, and the bold and open endorsement in the other is a bit hard to put up with.
David Starkey’s excellent analogy is perhaps more fitting than he imagines — if you define woke thinking as a short-cut to a goal (“Woke: the oldest profession”, Dec/Jan).
As a biologist, I observe such short-cuts operating throughout the natural world. Typically, the attempt by one organism to out-compete another involves a variety of ingenious short-cuts which actually boost the efficiency and survivability of both. This is called adaptation. Over evolutionary time, short-cuts have given rise to the unique adaptability that is the core of human free-will and inventiveness.
But some species have indulged in more radical short-cuts, leading eventually to the loss of independence once possessed by their free-living ancestors. Instead of maintaining energy autonomy, they have become adept at “taxing” the metabolic work of another life-form. They have become parasitical — living in, or on, a free-living organism.
The new breed of utopian know-all, with their woke short-cuts to moral superiority, like their antecedents throughout history, are ever and always dependent on those who do the real thinking — and the real work.
C. M. Wheeler McNulty
Whisky: a No-No
Like Joseph Connelly (“My interiors life”, Dec/Jan), I frittered away many hours in the 1950s and 60s watching (mostly) low budget films. I also noted the contents of the ubiquitous drinks tray. Yes, the Scotch was usually Johnny Walker. What was really odd was the way it was drunk. Invariably, the man poured about four fingers for himself, and the same for the lady. They drank it without ice, without a mixer, without water. Neat.
It saved the director needless time fiddling about with ice and soda, but who drinks whisky neat? Not the Scots. Only in films. And only in films do they pour whopping great glugs of the stuff, about ten pub measures, enough for the lady and her chap to forget their lines.
Nicholas A. Bird
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