The 20th century wasn't very kind to The History of England's reputation as a work of history. I don't know the material well enough to speak to theseThe 20th century wasn't very kind to The History of England's reputation as a work of history. I don't know the material well enough to speak to these criticisms, but I suppose there is a lot of substance behind them. Certainly Macaulay shows his biases and prejudices from time to time, probably enough to cause the modern reader to question the reliability of his narrative. But at the same time, who cares. Because whatever more modern and evenhanded historians may have over him, very few of them can come close to writing with the verve and style that drips off every page Macaulay wrote.
Whatever the title might suggest, the first volume of The History of England, from the Accession of James II doesn't actually reach the accession of James II until well past the halfway mark of the volume. The first three chapters serve as a long introduction. The first chapter provides a semi-brief overview of the history of England from the time of the Conqueror up to the Restoration, which is a thrilling feat of literary prose. The second chapter gives a semi-detailed account of the 25 year reign of Charles II. The third chapter gives an overview of the contemporary economic, social, and cultural climate in England. While these chapters are too long to be considered a brief overview, they could frustrate readers not overly familiar with the details of the period. For example, Macaulay generally refrains from referencing dates, so the reader is often unsure not only what the month or year is, but what decade the events took place in. Also, while Macaulay does an impressive job of introducing and familiarizing the reader with the important figures of Charles reign, they tend to get lost in the shuffle. The practice of referring to individuals soley by their last name, or their tiles (or their last names, then once granted their titles) once they are introduced doesn't help overwhelmed readers. I'm not sure what more Macaulay could have done to prevent this, except to spend even more time time on an era that is supposedly outside of his proposed purview, so it's hard to say that these shortcomings are a fault. Nonetheless it's something for the reader to be aware of.
It's not until the fourth chapter that Macaulay reaches the beginnings of his actual narrative. These two chapters cover the early months of James II's reign and the disastrous and futile rebellion of the Duke of Monmouth, the popular illegitimate son of Charles II, and James' vindictive and misguided policy that followed. Appropriately he slows things way down. The first chapter covers 600 years of history. The second chapter covers 25 years. By contrast the fourth chapter begins with the death of Charles II in February 1685 and the fifth chapter ends with the Bloody Assizes in August of the same year. Here, the reader begins to get a much better feel of the important figures of the time and how one event flowed to another.
Of course three years after the complete failure of Monmouth's cause, James II would be driven from his throne without hardly any bloodshed. The Whigs, or the Country Party, who were at an all-time low after the Exclusion Crisis and and James' succession, would very quickly repair their reputation, overthrow the king, and dominate English politics for the next several generations. The Tories and Churchmen, who had held unquestioned obedience to the sovereign as one of the central tenants of the state-church since Restoration, would very quickly condone, if outright collude in, the overthrow of the rightful monarch. We're introduced to several figures who would play prominent roles in this reversal, and the events that followed. Macaulay introduces us to figures like Churchill, Danby, William of Orange, and Jeffreys.
The History of England used to be one of those books that no self-respecting private library went without. It was one of those books that became a status statement, displayed not because you had read it but because you liked the impression it created that you had read it. It's reputation has taken a hit even among aficionados because the history isn't unimpeachable. That's a shame, because it appears that the storytelling is....more
This is the story of how a bunch of kids who appreciated the Beatles, the Stones, and the Stooges, but came of age after they left the scene. These kiThis is the story of how a bunch of kids who appreciated the Beatles, the Stones, and the Stooges, but came of age after they left the scene. These kids became alienated with new mainstream bands like Aerosmith, the Eagles, and Genesis but then the Ramones put out a record and these kids found solace and a sense of identity in the music of the Clash, Television, and Talking Heads. They took these new ideas and formed great bands like the Minutemen, the Replacements, Sonic Youth, Fugazi, the Meat Puppets, Husker Dü. These bands would in turn inspire younger bands like Pavement, Sleater-Kinney, Superchunk, and Neutral Milk Hotel who would dominate college radio for much of the '90s. They also inspired this kinda white-trashy kid from Aberdeen, WA who borrowed their ideas and mixed it with a dose of late '70s cock-rock and an instinctive knack for pop song-craft and eventually put together an album that presented the previous decade's underground ideas in an accessible but not too dumbed-down manner, sold a bajillion copies, and made it briefly appear that the underground could make the mainstream adopt to their culture. 1964 -> 1977 -> 1991. Of course that kid from Aberdeen decided it was better to burn out three years later, and his main musical legacy appears to be with bands that never grasped the underground structure underlying those songs, and thought they could get by with growling vocals over power riffs. The legacy of punk's first "break" in 1977 dominated a significant facet of the musical culture for the next two decades and the aftershocks are still being felt. The legacy of 1991 were some of the worst rock bands of all time - Nickleback, 3 Doors Down, Limp Bizcuit.
Once you're gone you can never go back. Now even bad traditional rock music is almost completely absent from the Top 40 scene. Even on the indie scene, whatever that means, traditional guitars and percussion rock seems to play an increasing smaller, less-relevant and fragmented part. The Beatles -> Big Star -> The Replacements -> Pixies - > Nirvana -> Creed -> crickets and I'm not talking about Buddy Holley. So it goes. We'll always have Let It Be though (both of 'em). Same goes with Daydream Nation. And Double Nickels on the Dime, Zen Arcade, Signals, Calls and Marches, Repeater, You're Living All Over Me, Songs About Fucking, and quite a few others. Azerrad's book enhanced my appreciation for quite a few of these. It gave me an excuse to listen to others of them again, which is a service in itself. It didn't get me to start liking Black Flag, but it made me glad they existed.
Who knows? Maybe this very night there's some perpetually pissed off and sex-deprived teenaged kid living in the middle of nowhere who's about to stumble onto "I Wanna Be Your Dog" on Spotify for the first time, launching an inevitable chain of events leading to the next new thing. The king's long gone, but he's still not forgotten. Hey, hey, my, my......more