Friday, 24 June 2016

In Praise of Brexit

‘We discourage centralisation all we can’, announces old Hammond in chapter X of News from Nowhere; and I therefore voted for leaving the European Union yesterday, and am celebrating the Brexit victory in the referendum today, on what I regard as impeccably Morrisian because decentralising grounds.  We all saw what the EU did to a genuine possibility for socialism in Greece last year – i.e., totally destroyed it – and that, if nothing else, should have been sufficient evidence to the Left of the degree to which the EU is nothing more than a neo-liberal project of aggressive capitalist globalisation.  Add to that working-class anger at the economic consequences of uncontrolled mass immigration into this country – driving down wages and taking away jobs, phenomena which even the metropolitan Left seems incapable of comprehending -  and you have a strong socialist case for Brexit.

Of course there will now be various kinds of cultural, political and economic turmoil for some while to come.  The Labour Party, so many of whose leading figures including Sadiq Khan and Harriet Harman lined cheerfully up with David Cameron to sing the praises of the EU, will pay a high price in terms of working-class votes lost to UKIP; and even Jeremy Corbyn with his approval during the campaign of current levels of immigration does not come out with much credit either.  The political incoherence of the Green Party, in its capitulation to the neo-liberalist and globalising agenda as it championed Remain, will not be forgiven for a very long time to come.  But the great and heartening thing from all this, from a Morrisian-socialist viewpoint, is that after months in which the British, European and global elite threw absolutely everything in the way of threat and propaganda at the British people, working-class communities up and down the country have very loudly said to them and their Labour and Green Party allies ‘No more’. 

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

A.J. Wyatt - the Story Continued

I didn’t particularly expect any William Morris-related payoff when I started reading E.M.W. Tillyard’s The Muse Unchained (1958), an insider’s account of the rise of English studies at Cambridge University in the early twentieth century; but there was one, none the less.  For a bit-player in that story was the Cambridge Anglo-Saxonist A.J. Wyatt, with whom Morris had collaborated on his translation of Beowulf in 1893 – Wyatt providing a prose paraphrase of the original which Morris then ‘rhymed up’ (to use his alarmingly casual phrase).  There was also some exchange of views between the two men over the contents of a Kelmscott Press selection of medieval lyric poems just before Morris’s death in 1896.

 So it is curious, reading Tillyard’s rather personal and gossipy book, to come across other aspects of Wyatt’s Cambridge career.  This began admirably enough, with a First in English with distinction in 1891 (p.29).  However, disaster struck when the university’s lecturer in English, Israel Gollancz, left Cambridge for London in 1906: ‘The obvious local candidate to succeed him was A.J. Wyatt; but the electors went outside and brought in G.C. Macaulay from Aberystwyth, and Wyatt became a man with a grievance for the rest of his life’ (34). 

Moreover, he was clearly not thought highly of by the real powerhouse in Cambridge Anglo-Saxon studies, Professor H.M. Chadwick, and as the project for an extraordinarily untraditional, excitingly modern English Tripos emerged at Cambridge in 1916, with Chadwick’s full support, Wyatt set himself implacably against it, becoming something of a ringleader in the process.  The three women dons in English ‘all supported Wyatt in his opposition to Chadwick and in his resolution to keep English studies linguistic and philological’ (46).  In the run-up to the crucial Special Board meeting on 19 May 1917, ‘there was circulated a short fly-sheet signed by Wyatt alone.  It protested against the abolition of compulsory Anglo-Saxon, early medieval literature, and language’ (62).

The English studies reforms went through none the less, fortunately, producing within a decade the most dynamic English faculty in the country, with such luminaries as I.A. Richards and F.R. Leavis among its numbers.  Chadwick apparently never forgave Wyatt for his resistance to the English proposals, and subsequently ‘bore a huge load of teaching, elementary Anglo-Saxon included, in order that nothing should be left over for Wyatt’ (70).  The latter died in 1935, described by Tillyard as to the end an ‘unreconciled survivor of the pre-Chadwickian order’ (132).  It all seems a rather sad ending for a man who had once tasted artistic glory in his collaboration with Morris in the 1890s.