Tuesday, November 02, 2004 +

The Daughter of Time

Jacques Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life: 1500 to the Present (2000):

[Sir Thomas] More either invented, or allowed himself to propagate in a work of his own, the "big lie" in favor of the Tudors he served -- the lie that Richard III, the king whom the Tudor Henry VII overthrew, was a deformed monster who murdered his nephews, the young princes in the Tower. Ever since Horace Walpole in the late 18C raised doubts, a number of scholars have come to believe that Richard was the very opposite of legend -- handsome, able, and innocent of blood. It is not remembered, either, that the phrase "a man for all seasons," now applied to More as a compliment, was used in the past to mean an opportunist.

Incidentally, Walpole's work created a great stir on the Continent and had the distinction of being translated into French, then the universal language, by no less a scribe than Louis XVI. [The book to read is Josephine Tey's fictional account, The Daughter of Time; and for the present state of the case, Richard III, by Charles Ross]. Of course, Shakespeare's great melodrama has made a reversal of common opinion impossible. And that too is cultural history.

Josephine Tey, The Daughter of Time, (1951):

He came to the surface [from reading More] an hour later, vaguely puzzled and ill at ease. It was not that the matter surprised him; the facts were very much what he had expected them to be. It was that this was not how he had expected Sir Thomas to write.

He took ill rest at nights, lay long waking and musing; sore wearied with care and watch, he slumbered rather than slept. So was his restless heart continually tossed and tumbled with the tedious impression and stormy remembrance of his most abominable deeds.

That was all right. But when he added that "this he had from such as were secret with his chamberers" one was suddenly repelled. An aroma of back-stair gossip and servants' spying came off the page. So that one's sympathy tilted before one was aware of it from the smug commentator to the tortured creature sleepless on his bed. The murderer seemed of greater stature than the man who was writing of him.

The fifteenth century was more actual to him this morning than any ongoings in Shaftesbury Avenue.

"Poor Richard. Poor Richard. It didn't work."
"What didn't?"

He listened to the twentieth century sparrows on his window-sill and marvelled that he should be reading phrases that formed in a man's mind more than four hundred years ago.

"There's always the odd chance that he believed it, of course," Grant said, his habit of weighing evidence overcoming even his dislike of Morton.

"But honestly, Mr. Grant, this is the first time in my life that anything exciting has happened to me. Important, I mean. Not exciting meaning exciting. Atlanta's exciting. She's all the excitement I ever want. But neither of us is important, the way I mean important -- if you can understand what I mean."
"Yes, I understand. You've found something worth doing."

This placid acceptance of wholesale murder.