Saturday, December 1, 2018


John Ashbery reading from his poetry, 2014.
December 1, 2018–I was browsing on the web, looking for something else, and I ran into the Dactyl Foundation in Soho, New York City.

It has a modest ambition, to reunite science and art.

One of the articles on its site is a critique of fiction in the The New Yorker (yes, The New Yorker) over the years.

I realized that I, too, look eagerly for the nonfiction pieces and have been often disappointed in the fiction. Dactyl Foundation contributions attempt to look fundamental questions like this in the eye. It is unsparing in its anger at mediocre and half-hearted fiction. It is a fierce website.

One of their contributors has posted a poetic appreciation of the late John Ashbery, who was a close neighbor of ours in Chelsea, New York, and from time to time a good friend. Here is the tribute:

Friday, November 30, 2018

PARLIAMENT WINS | Cromwell Captures Charles I

Oliver Cromwell (L) and King Charles I (R).
November 30, 2018–On this day in 1648, Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army, led by Yorkshireman Sir Thomas Lord Fairfax, captured Charles I in Oxford.

Two months later, the King was beheaded.

King Charles had retreated to loyalist Oxford University after the Parliamentarians defeated Royalist troops at Naseby three years earlier, and Marston Moor before that.

While all the Oxford University colleges except Merton were loyal to the King, and donated their silver plate to help pay for the King's troops, the Oxford townspeople were Parliamentarians.

Charles I was put on trial for high treason. He vociferously claimed the monarch's divine right to rule, which he had been coached to uphold by his father James I. Charles was sentenced to death and was beheaded on January 30.

Charles I was the last reigning English monarch to be executed. After him, Britain's royals have soft-pedaled their divine right to rule. More in Oxford College Arms (Boissevain Books, 2018), p 11.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

WWI | Oxford's Losses in the Great War

One of two paving stones in Oxford for Noel
Chavasse, awarded two Victoria Crosses for bravery,
 the only person in WWI to receive two VCs. 
November 11, 2018–As the centennial of Armistice Day is celebrated today (renamed Veteran's Day in the United States), Oxford University’s great contributions to the Great War effort are being widely noted.

Corpus Christi lost nearly half of the undergraduates admitted between 1912 and 1914; losses at other colleges were not far behind.

In total, 351 Corpus students and alumni  saw active service. Of these men, 90 were killed, one-fourth of those serving. 

These losses, according to the College, were the highest of the Oxford colleges, because Corpus had a high proportion of “public school” (elite British schools, mostly boarding schools) graduates. 

Recruits from Oxford colleges were overwhelmingly public school men who were quickly commissioned as junior officers. Their lives as leaders in the front line were generally short. (During the Normandy invasion, the half-life of American first lieutenants was the shortest of any rank.)

Of the 90 Corpus alumni casualties, 15 had earned an order (two Victoria Crosses, nine Military Crosses and four Mentions in Dispatches) during their World War I service. Aside from Corpus Christi College alumni who died, two Corpus staff members were killed in the war, A. Clifford and H.G. Ward.

The only person in World War I to receive two Victoria Crosses was an alumnus of Trinity College, Oxford – Noel Chavasse, a fearless medic. The bravery of the young men who went to war is as unquestionable as the folly of the war itself.

World War I is a reminder that the symbols of Oxford’s colleges and halls were born out of wars, and the needs of heralds and soldiers to identify the location of their leaders. Coats of arms became attached to colleges. They were often the shields of the founders, or of people the founders looked to for protection – a saint or king. Stories about the colleges help make each college and hall a special place. My collection of the arms and stories became a book, Oxford College Arms (links to Amazon).

As an American, I am asked how I became interested in Oxford’s arms. It began in Yorkshire when at ten years of age I was sent off to Ampleforth College and ate my meals in the Great Hall of Gilling Castle. Its giant stained-glass windows featured the shields and stories of the Fairfax family. General Thomas Fairfax, cousin of the Gilling Castle Fairfaxes, was the man who created Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army and invaded Oxford to hunt down Charles I.

Trinity College, gold field with blue chevron
with four golden fleurs-de-lis on it, with three
langued blue griffins, two and one,
counterchanged in pale. Shield by Lee
Lumbley, © 2018 by Boissevain Books.
When I came to live in Trinity College in the early 1960s, I enjoyed trying to interpret the coats of arms that appeared on buildings, dining accessories, and clothing. Trinity’s arms are those of Sir Thomas Pope, who became wealthy while dissolving monastic colleges for Henry VIII. Under Mary Tudor, he refounded a college to ensure that he would leave behind someone to pray for him. Trinity’s three birds with the big ears are griffins, which have the head and wings of an eagle (king of the air) on the body of a lion (king of the land). Another fascinating bird featured on college arms is the martlet. A flock of four or five of them appear around a cross on the shield of University College, one of Oxford’s three oldest colleges. This coat of arms was attributed posthumously to St Edward the Confessor. The cross at the center of the shield shows that St Edward was saintly, while the martlets show that he was learned. The martlet is always shown legless and footless, so it can’t perch. It is like an aircraft without landing gear and has to stay aloft. In this way, the bird symbolizes thinkers who can never rest, because the answers of those who became before are constantly challenged. Coats of arms are brands. Oxford’s communities need an identity, and a common shield provides it. A deep dive into colleges’ coats of arms is a better guide to visiting Oxford than a GPS. Colleges can return to some of their historic themes when least expected. After World War II, new Oxford colleges were needed to provide the common living experience to burgeoning numbers of students in graduate and professional specialties. At first, it was assumed that new University-created colleges, like Kellogg and St Cross, would not need a coat of arms. But students and dons missed the heraldry when they competed in intercollegiate programs. The University discovered that it needed arms to identify each college in its calendar. So the new colleges created their own arms. I wrote about their choices for the Oxford alumni magazine in 2015.
Corpus Christi College, with vulning Pelican
("in its piety") feeding its chicks. Shield by
Lee Lumbley, © 2018 by Boissevain Books.
For the book, I have tried to wring truth out of the many college shields. Are these arms relics of feudalism, sexism, superstition, racism? Assuredly.

Do they also tell the story of how generations gradually escaped some of these suffocating prisons? Yes.

For example, imagine what a great leap into the future was made by Bishop Oldham of Exeter and his colleague Bishop Foxe of Winchester, when they founded Corpus Christi College. From the beginning, as a great departure from existing practice, they decided in 1517 to open its doors to non-monastic scholars.

The left third of its shield shows another bird, the pelican, with blood dripping from its beak. The medieval world thought that pelicans poked their beaks down to pierce their breasts and feed their young with blood. It was called a “vulning” (wounding) pelican, “in its piety” – i.e., sacrificing its blood for its chicks. This is, of course, a metaphor for Jesus. Today, we know that a pelican puts its beak down on its chest not to wound itself but to push up food from the pouch below its beak. We can also interpret the message of the pelican in a more secular sense as one of a caring parent. “Oxford College Arms” was recently reviewed with enthusiasm by the online Oxford Alumni Magazine QUAD and was the subject of a "Guestwords" in the East Hampton, NY Star.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

BLAZON, BLASON | Differences in Pronunciation and Meaning

Pronunciation Lesson from Sir Henry
Bedingfeld, Bt. (center), September 2018.
EAST HAMPTON, 26 September – This is about the pronunciation of the word "blazon", a word that is at the very center of heraldry.

The blazon is a coat of arms reduced to words. From a blazon a scholar of heraldry can generate a "trick" – a black-and-white sketch of the coat of arms.

Then the heraldic artist, someone like my friend Lee Lumbley, can generate for you a colorful drawing of the coat.

The blason is different... But let's first focus on the blazon.

Two Pronunciations of Blazon

Most people who are not heraldic scholars pronounce the word "blazon" so that the first syllable is the same as the word blaze, or the first half of the word blazer, which has an Oxbridge origin. The Ur-blazer was the flaming red boating jacket of Lady Margaret Boat Club, named after Lady Margaret Beaufort. Beaufort founded St John's College, Cambridge and is the nominee of Lady Margaret Hall at Oxford. The first recorded reference to a blazer was in the 1852 Cambridge General Almanack and Register, says Jack Carlson, on pages 12 and 126 of Rowing Blazers (New York: The Vendome Press, 2014).

A couple of pronouncing dictionaries say that the word blazon should be pronounced BLAY-zun.

But heraldic scholars pronounce blazon more like a Frenchman would, BLAZ-un (the de-accenting of the second syllable is a common byproduct of the Anglicization of French words).

That's how, for example, Sir Henry Edgar Paston-Bedingfeld, Bt., of Oxburgh Hall, Norfolk pronounces it after a lifetime in the business. He was once Rouge Croix Pursuivant, York Herald, and then Norroy and Ulster King of Arms (the two Kings of Arms were separate until 1943). A long career in the College of Arms.

The first syllable of blazon, he confirms, is pronounced like the first syllable of the current Mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio, with a short "a" as in black or blast.

So how should we pronounce it? If you are among the hoi polloi, blay-zun will probably pass without comment. If you are mixing with folk from the College of Arms, it is blaz-un.

A Blason Is Something Else

Meanwhile, I have come across the word blason, which is pronounced differently from blazon. Fewer people would be tempted to mispronounce, for two reasons: (1) fewer people know what it is in the first place, and (2) blason is a French term of art and would therefore be assumed to be pronounced with a short "a", as in "blasé", and with a full-throated "on" (as in garçon) at the end.

Blason is a form of poetry that originated with the heraldic blazon but took on a whole new specific meaning.  Both in France and in Holland (the Dutch term is blazoen), the word can refer to a description of a coat of arms or to the coat itself. It was used often to describe a "chamber of rhetoric", which was a dramatic society once popular in Belgium and Holland that had aspects of Japanese karaoke and community theater as well as welfare aspects associated with civic associations.

The term blason, along with related words, was used in 16th-century French literature by poets who followed in a tradition pioneered by Clément Marot in 1536.  The blason draws on the tradition of chivalry that is exemplified by the 14th-century book of poems of Francesco Petrarca (Petrarch), Il Canzoniere. Petrarch addresses his poems to his beloved Laura, but doesn't describe her all at once, referencing only parts of her person, invariably with reverence and extravagant comparisons to something in nature, such as (to make up a couple of examples) "Your eyes are stars; they light up my night." Or: "Your lips are pools to dive for." It is still a device used often by precious poets and writers.

However, the extravagance of the French blason tradition became oppressive, and many post-Petrarchan voices emerged, of which three types endure:
  • Extension to groups. One approach was to up the ante with the blason populaire, extending the extravagant praise to an entire culture or ethnic group, puffed up by belittling others. The original seems to have been a travel book by Alfred Canel, Blason Populaire de la Normandie (1859), in which Norman travelers scoff at the primitive culture of other regions. Samuel Johnson, for example, says in his dictionary: "The noblest prospect which a Scotsman ever sees, is the high road that leads him to England!" In modern times, the blason populaire endures in Donald Trump, who seeks to elevate U.S. status by belittling that of foreign nationals, starting with but by no means limited to Mexicans and other Latin American citizens seeking to emigrate to the United States.
  • Parody. Another prominent set of voices were the parodies. In the 16th-century parody, Don Quixote, Cervantes describes the adventures of a madman who decides he is a knight on a quest. The girl of his dreams is a local peasant girl, whom he calls Dulcinea. In her honor, Quixote devotes countless inflated assessments of her beauty. 
  • Denial. Another approach is to attack the Petrarchan genre by denying its validity. Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130 rejects several Petrarchan clichés:
My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks,
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.

I love to hear her speak, yet well I know,
That music hath a far more pleasing sound.
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.

Friday, September 21, 2018

OXBURGH HALL | Visit to the Bedingfeld Home

Oxford to King's Lynn, Norfolk.
A pleasant drive.
EAST HAMPTON, N.Y., September 21, 2018–On Sunday, September 16, after the Oxford Alumni Weekend, Alice and I went by car from Oxford to Oxburgh (pronounced OX-boro or even just OX-bru with a hint of a u) Hall near King's Lynn, Norfolk.

This Grade I (highest-rated) National Trust estate has been occupied by ten generations of Bedingfelds. It is now open to the public. The family lives in a closed-off portion of the building.

Alice and I with Sir Henry Paston-Bedingfeld (center),
the 10th Baronet (photo by Lady Mary Bedingfeld). 
The Bedingfelds were recusant Roman Catholics during and after the Reformation.

Certain post-Reformation monarchs, starting with Henry VIII after his break with Rome, considered it treasonous to adhere to a religion other than that of the Church of England.

Therefore Oxburgh Hall includes a "priest hole" where someone could hide from priest-hunters.

A Catholic priest had to be ready, in the event of a raid by priest-hunters, to slide down into a small disguised room. The room is reached via a trapdoor that blends in with the stone and brick floor. It is not something for the claustrophobe to contemplate. No doubt the avoidance of imminent death has a great persuasive effect for using such a hideaway. Unlike most other houses with priest holes, at Oxburgh Hall it is on display, although the National Trust in its zeal for the safety of its visitors has made it impossible to lock the trapdoor to the hole. 
A book on Heraldry by Sir
Henry, when he was Rouge
 Croix Pursuivant.

Built during the Wars of the Roses, Oxburgh Hall has castle-like features such as a moat, a formidable gatehouse, and turrets. But it was always intended to be a family home and it is lightly fortified – not a castle that would withstand an artillery attack.

It was completed in 1482 for Sir Edmund Bedingfeld, the 1st Baronet, ten years before Columbus sailed the ocean blue in search of China. The Bedingfeld family has lived at Oxburgh Hall ever since, nearly 540 years.

That the house still stands is an achievement in itself. It survived a huge fire during the English Civil War, periods of disrepair, and the threat of demolition.

The family’s Catholic faith and desire to preserve the memory of their forebears are a potent combination. Their tradition is expressed in Oxburgh Hall's architecture, furnishings, objets d'art, and gardens.

In front of the Customs House
 at King's Lynn, Norfolk.
The collections include the Oxburgh Hangings needlework by Mary, Queen of Scots, and Bess of Hardwick. The needlework was completed while Mary was imprisoned (she was locked up for 18 years), in the custody of the Earl of Shrewsbury. 

In 1586, Queen Elizabeth was given evidence that Mary was conspiring with those plotting against her. In 1587, Elizabeth put a stop to the conspiracy by signing Mary's death warrant. Mary was subsequently beheaded.

Sir Henry Edgar Paston-Bedingfeld, the 10th Baronet, served as Rouge Croix Pursuivant, York Herald, and then Norroy & Ulster King of Arms (the two formerly separate Kings of Arms were united in 1943, the year Sir Henry was born). When he was Pursuivant he was co-author with Lancaster Herald of the book Heraldry, the cover of which is shown above. The book appears in the heraldic bibliography I have posted.

Lady Bedingfeld drove Alice and me to King's Lynn, where we took photos and bought some lunch. I was especially interested in seeing King's Lynn because it is featured in my late sister Sheila's first book for children, Flip to the Rescue. The book says that there is a Seal's Rescue Inn there.

Afterwards, Alice and I headed to London by train, via Cambridge to King's Cross. A lovely and educational visit. The Bedingfelds couldn't have been more gracious in welcoming us to their home and showing us the port town,

Friday, September 14, 2018

R.I.P. | Robert L. Schuettinger (Exeter and Christ Church)

Robert L. Schuettinger,
Posted on the bulletin board of the Oxford and Cambridge Club of London, where Alice and I stayed on Wednesday night, was a notice of the death of member Professor Robert L[indsay] Schuettinger, who was up at Oxford the same time as I was in 1962-64.

The notice said that Bob (as we knew him) died on September 11, 2018.

Schuettinger was the founder and president of the Oxford Study Abroad Programme, which began as a Washington Academic Internship Program in 1983 and first sent American students to Oxford in 1985. He was an Affiliated Faculty Member of the Washington International Studies Council in Oxford. He studied at Columbia, the University of Chicago, and at Oxford University (Exeter and Christ Church).
His graduate supervisor in political philosophy was Professor Sir Isaiah Berlin, Fellow (and President) of the British Academy, Order of Merit, and Fellow of All Souls College. 
Schuettinger taught at St. Andrews University in Scotland and Yale University, where he was an Associate Fellow of Yale's Davenport College from 1974 until his death. He has lectured at the Kennedy School of Politics in Harvard and also was a Visiting Research Fellow in International Relations at Mansfield College, Oxford University, for a three- year term. 
He taught an Oxford seminar in diplomacy jointly with Professor Lord Beloff, FBA, Fellow of All Souls College.
He was a Visiting Research Fellow of Oxford University's Rothermere American Institute, elected by the RAI's Fellowship Committee in April 2013. He was an Associate Member of the Senior Common Room of Christ Church. He was also appointed by Christ Church to the college's Board of Benefactors.
One of Schuettinger's books.
He authored or co-authored 19 books, including Forty Centuries of Wage and Price Controls, which he wrote with Eamonn F. Butler and was rated 4.11 out of 5 on Goodreads and went into a third edition in the United States and was translated into Chinese. He also wrote U.S. Strategy for the Decade Ahead, China: The Turning Point, Korea in the World TodaySaving Social SecurityScholars, Dollars and Public Policy, and Toward Liberty.
He served as a senior aide in foreign affairs in the U.S. House of Representatives, as deputy to the Under Secretary of State for Security Assistance, as a senior policy aide in foreign policy in the White House and in the Senior Executive Service in the US Information Agency and the Pentagon (Director of Long-Range Policy Planning).

He was also Assistant Director for National Security Policy in a Presidential Transition Office. He was Director of Studies in the largest think-tank in Washington, The Heritage Foundation, and was founding editor of its social science quarterly, Policy Review, now published by the Hoover Institution of Stanford University.
Besides his membership in the Oxford and Cambridge Club in London, he was a member of the Cosmos Club and the Metropolitan Club in Washington, and of the Beefsteak Club and The Reform Club in London. He was elected to membership of The Pilgrims Society, the Anglo-American Society, and of the Institut d'Études Politiques. He also received several teaching awards, including "Best Professor of the Year."

Sources of information, in addition to citations above, include: 

Sunday, September 9, 2018

OXFORD COLLEGE ARMS | Review in QUAD "Off the Shelf"

Richard Lofthouse in "Off the Shelf", QUAD, 4 September 2018

Imminently available to order is John Tepper Marlin’s Oxford College Arms (Boissevain Books, 2018. £15). If you ever wondered what your college coat of arms means, and where it came from,  here is the answer.
The heraldic expert in our midst and distinguished former Chief Economist for New York City and of course Oxford alum (Trinity, 1962),  John delves into every college coat of arms while a heraldic glossary provides valuable guidance to those uninitiated by the formal language used to describe coats of arms.
When he wrote about this subject for the Michaelmas, 2015 issue of Oxford Today, John explained that even late 20th century colleges scrambled to establish coats of arms. Not out of vanity and not even to flog scarves and trinkets to eager parents. No,  they fell into the tradition in order to have a sustainable identity in the broader context of a collegiate university, particularly on sports field and river.
As such the book is a delight because John has taken recent images to journalistically nail his theme. In one instance a Mansfield wall hosts a perfectly recreated, chalk-rendered coat of arms, alongside the results from rowing Torpids in 2015.
Whether or not any generation of students really thinks about their coat of arms, and I suspect most of us blanked it,  John’s point is that we enthusiastically embrace it as the token of belonging to a particular community. This is so strong that modern arguments to ditch coats of arms have come to nought.

[The author is speaking at the Oxford Reunion on Saturday 15 September. The book is on sale at Blackwell's.]