ISSUE 23, October 2007

Quarterly Communication: Speech of the Pro Grand Master : Quarterly Communication
Grand Secretary: Exciting times ahead
Historic: Telford - Mason extraordinary
Travel: Cruising round Sicily
Samaritan: Helping the distressed
Younger Masons: The common bond
Jersey: Local Masons guard the Duke
   Classic car run: Down memory lane
International: Joseph Brant - a Masonic legend
Universities Scheme: The way ahead
Grand Chancellor: The importance of external relations
Education: Events : Understanding the symbols of the craft
Specialist Lodges: Australia link
Royal Arch: Why join the Royal Arch?
Lbrary & Museum: Major award for Library & Museum
MQ Signs off
Masonic Charities: Grand Charity : NMSF : RMBI : RMTGB
Letters, Book reviews, Gardening

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William Wilberforce – The Life of the Great Anti-Slave Trade Campaigner by William Hague, HarperPress, £25. ISBN 9780007228850.
    As every schoolboy once knew, William Wilberforce was instrumental in achieving the passing of legislation at Westminster abolishing the slave trade between Africa and the Americas and West Indies. The passing of the Slave Trade Abolition Act in 1807 was the culmination of a bitter 29 year campaign.
     For many of his powerful opponents there was so much more than humanitarian considerations at stake. Their wealth depended either on the profits of this human trade or on the economic benefits that resulted. It was therefore no surprise that Wilberforce and, let it not be forgotten, his brave supporters, attracted the most virulent personal and collective attacks.
     The bicentenary of the Act has been somewhat hijacked by those who prefer to dwell not on the fact that it was the British Parliament that triggered the closing of this chapter in man’s inhumanity to man, but on the British involvement in the trade.
     By fuelling debates as to the need for apology and even compensation, critics obscure the fact that it was a Briton, nay a Yorkshireman, who was instrumental in this momentous achievement. They also conveniently ignore the fact that, without the connivance of the Africans and Arabs themselves, there would have been no Atlantic slave trade.
     William Hague has all the right credentials to be Wilberforce’s biographer and redress this imbalance. His research and literary skills were confirmed by his acclaimed work William Pitt the Younger.
     Hague is, like the other William, an orator and Parliamentarian of rare ability; he is not easily deterred by setbacks; he has weathered personal vituperation and has a steel that can only come from moral strength. Certainly he enjoys a rare empathy with his subject.
     This fine study will long be the definitive biography of a remarkable man whose sense of moral outrage changed not just the lives of millions but the course of history.
     Not many men can lay claim to such an achievement. This is an important book on an important subject.

The Force of Destiny – A history of Italy Since 1796 by Christopher Duggan, Allen Lane, £30. ISBN 9780713997095.
    Of all the stories in modern European history, the unification of Italy has been among the most written about, most memorably by Denis Mack Smith. This is hardly surprising, as it was a truly remarkable event with characters as diverse as Giuseppe Garibaldi, leader of an irregular band of freedom fighters, to King Victor Emmanuel, King of Piedmont and his wily Prime Minister Cavour.
     Quite how the great forces of Austria and France, who ruled many of the states within Italy, were disposed is fascinatingly recounted by Christopher Duggan, who takes us from the time when Italy was merely a ‘geographical expression’ right up to the modern politics of Berlusconi.
     It is easy to find oneself somewhat discouraged by the sheer size of this book – a full 650 pages of it. However, it is testament to Duggan’s ability as a historian that he succeeds in making the story such a gripping read.
     A central theme of the book is the question of whether ‘Italy’ is merely a peninsula made up of many regions, or whether there is a greater collective unity and allegiance to the state. On the whole, the localities seem to venerate far greater strength of feeling than the country.
     Arguably, it is this insecurity that has lead to such yearning for martial victory. Ever since the Risorgimento, Italians have had a desperate desire to prove their strength, only to be humiliated on the battlefields of Adua (1896) by the Abyssinians and later to suffer even greater losses on the battlefields of the First World War. Bismarck’s insult that Italy ‘has a large appetite but poor teeth’ has all too often proved apt as Italy lurched from one humiliation to another.
     This is not, however, the narrative of a doomed nation and Duggan describes the heroism and glories as well as the tragedies in equal measure. Some of the most interesting parts of this book are his portraits of the great characters of modern Italian history, which combined with the subtleties of changing political winds, make for fascinating reading.

Thames: Sacred River by Peter Akroyd, Chatto and Windus, £25. ISBN 9780701172848.
    Peter Ackroyd is no stranger to many readers. His ground-breaking book London: the biography made a huge impact selling nearly 400,000 books and winning many plaudits for its innovative and idiosyncratic style. The sequel Thames: Sacred River explores the river from source to sea, from prehistoric times to the present.
     The first question is how this highway can form the basis for such a substantial book. However, it soon becomes clear that the Thames is more than just a waterway – it has been a frontier and an attack route, a playground and a sewer, a source of water and a source of power.
     The Thames, Ackroyd asserts, is the lifeblood of the city, ‘the epitome, the liquid essence, the spirit, of London’. The author tells the story of the river and the people who have lived on and by it over the centuries.
     We discover the barges and bridges, the industries, lawmakers and lawbreakers who form the life of the river. In his exhaustible, but compelling style, Ackroyd investigates the flora and fauna of the river, its geology, smells and colours as well as its magic and myths, hauntings and suicides.
     In AD 54, the river was 14 feet shallower than it is now, thus helping Caesar and his legions to cross the Thames and defeat the British tribes. 1700 years later, malaria in the marshes of the estuary was so prevalent that mortality rates rose to unprecedented levels in the city.
     The Thames, asserts Akroyd, is now less polluted than at any time in history and is now the ‘cleanest metropolitan river in the world’. There is no stopping his magpie inclusiveness. His genius is that he successfully digs out these surprising anecdotes and facts in such entertaining and lucid prose.

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