Volume 60 Issue 11 November 2010

When Penguin Books was acquitted of obscenity for publishing Lady Chatterley’s Lover, a door was kicked open to the social revolution of the 1960s. Geoffrey Robertson discusses the impact of the trial, a defining moment in modern legal history.

Sir Robert Peel’s ability to generate both lively debate among professional historians and continued attention from non-specialists is a bit of a puzzle. He has been dead for 160 years and the Conservative party he led has changed out of all recognition. Claims that he be considered the architect of modern Conservatism run into some well-known obstacles. His party broke up in 1846 when he ignored backbench hostility over the Corn Laws. The Conservatives would not win another parliamentary majority until 1874.
Jean Genet once described the progress of the painter Rembrandt through his self-portraits, noting how the eager young artist, who clearly thought of himself as quite a fine fellow in his early works, became a white-haired, sad haze of a man in old age, more interested in himself as a dying animal than an individual. Something similar seems to have happened to the distinguished French medievalist, Robert Fossier. Fossier’s supporters, quoted on the back cover, see this book as a ‘provocative meditation on the human condition’.
One of the most redundant slogans of the post-First World War period was ‘Lest We Forget’. For the men who fought and for those whose loved ones were severely injured or killed, ignoring the war was not an option. Yet the memories they were left with were often painful and nearly everyone was keen to forget something. The problem of forgetting was particularly acute for men who described themselves as having been ‘broken’ by their wartime experiences.
'I am so sorry – what else can I say?’ wrote the poet and artist Isaac Rosenberg to his mentor and friend, Eddie Marsh, on hearing the news of the death of Rupert Brooke, who died of blood poisoning off the Greek island of Sykros on his way to war in April 1915. ‘But he himself has said “What is more safe than death?” For us it is the hurt who feel about English literature, and for you who knew him and feel his irreparable loss.’ The death of Rosenberg himself, on the Western Front in April 1918, would be another ‘hurt’ to English literature.
Does the world need another book about romanticism? Romanticism, we surely know (and the current Tate exhibition Romantics reminds us), was a 19th-century artistic movement that highlighted individual expressiveness, replacing the more formal, hierarchical Enlightenment certainties of the 18th. Inspired by the libertarian ideals of the French Revolution and kick-started by the upheavals of the Napoleonic wars, romanticism was embodied in the life and work of radical, left-leaning musicians, painters and poets. Right?
This is a truly monumental book, dealing with a vast subject and over a relatively long time-span; the fact that it is only the second volume in a trilogy covering the whole of the early modern period makes the undertaking all the more astonishing. As the title suggests, Kevin Sharpe’s focus is on how successive regimes sought to represent themselves, to boost their authority and legitimacy. His starting point is that the reality of power is inseparable from its representation, that ‘image was power’.

Richard Cavendish remembers the birth of the pianist who was also briefly prime minister of Poland.

Richard Cavendish remembers the attempted coup against the president of South Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem, in 1960.

Richard Cavendish remembers the execution of a notorious murderer on November 23rd, 1910.

The intriguing death of an Indian holy man in 1985 suggested that he was none other than Subhas Chandra Bose, the revolutionary and nationalist who, it is officially claimed, died in an air crash in 1945. The truth, however, is harder to find, as Hugh Purcell discovers.

The Royal Society was founded in 1660 to promote scientific research. Through a process of trial and error, this completely new kind of institution slowly discovered how its ambitions might be achieved – often in ways unforeseen by its founders, writes Michael Hunter.

Frank Dikötter looks at how historians’ understanding of China has changed in recent years with the gradual opening of party archives that reveal the full horror of the Maoist era.

Many reasons have been given for the West’s dominance over the last 500 years. But, Ian Morris argues, its rise to global hegemony was largely due to geographical good fortune.

In 1817, during a period of economic hardship following the war with France, a motley crew of stocking-makers, stonemasons, ironworkers and labourers from a Derbyshire village attempted an uprising against the government. It was swiftly and brutally suppressed. Susan Hibbins tells the story of England’s last attempted revolution.

Though they originated in China, it was in the capitals of early modern Europe that fireworks flourished. They united art and science in awesome displays of poltical might, as Simon Werrett explains.

A selection of your correspondence with the editor.

Amanda Vickery’s new series on the 18th-century home is part of an enlightened new strategy from the BBC, writes Paul Lay.

Kevin Sharpe revisits an article by C.V. Wedgwood, first published in History Today in 1960, that looks at the diplomatic mission made by the artist Peter Paul Rubens to the court of Charles I. Read the original article here.

The intriguing death of an Indian holy man in 1985 suggested that he was none other than Subhas Chandra Bose, the revolutionary and nationalist who, it is officially claimed, died in an air crash in 1945. The truth, however, is harder to find, as Hugh Purcell discovers.

To conclude his series on the opportunities offered to historians by new technology, Nick Poyntz looks at how recent developments may help to bridge the gap between academic and public history.

Nothing captures the past like a drop of perfume, says Roja Dove, connoisseur and curator of a recent survey of the history of perfume, as he sniffs out the fragrances that characterised their age.

The gulf between the religious ideals of US conservatives and those of the European Enlightenment is as wide as the Atlantic. Tim Stanley looks at the origins and the enduring legacy of the American revivalist tradition.

A century after the execution of Dr Crippen for the murder of his wife, Fraser Joyce argues that, in cases hingeing on identification, histories of forensic medicine need to consider the roles played by the public as well as by experts.

The genuinely fascinating history of modern intelligence services is all too often written by former spooks who are usually poor researchers with an axe to grind and a romantic image to protect. James Morton’s new history of First World War spies, using material from and published by the National Archives, makes some strides towards correcting this with a detailed and readable account of early European espionage services.