Shame culture & English heritage

Another passage worth pondering in that excellent essay on Mill by Adam Gopnik, that must have deeply impressed William James:

“He always condescended to the French, as even Francophile Englishmen will: “Whenever anything goes amiss, the habitual impulse of French people is to say, ‘Il faut de la patience’ ”—One must be patient—“and of English people, ‘What a shame.’ The people who think it a shame when anything goes wrong—who rush to the conclusion that the evil could and ought to have been prevented, are those who, in the long run, do most to make the world better.”

As July 4 approaches, it’s hard not to agree with Gopnik and Mill’s biographer Richard Reeves: “Reeves rightly calls “On Liberty” ‘the greatest celebration of the value of human freedom ever written.’”
“What a shame” the Study Abroad course that inspired this one didn’t quite make, this year. Maybe next year we’ll get to lay eyes directly on this and other English heritage sites:

40 Queen Anne’s Gate, Westminster, London SW1H 9AP, City of Westminster
18 Kensington Square, South Kensington, London W8 5HH, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea

Mill moved to 18 Kensington Square with his mother, Harriet (1782–1854), and eight younger brothers and sisters in 1837, following the death of his father, the philosopher James Mill. Here, John Stuart Mill continued to tutor his siblings according to the demanding curriculum prescribed by his father, and it was at Kensington Square that he wrote two of his most important works, A System of Logic (1843) and Principles of Political Economy (1848), the overarching themes of which were social progress and the relation of the individual to society.

One visitor to the house, the diarist Caroline Fox, recalled Mill’s ‘charming library and … immense herbarium; the mother so anxious to show everything, and her son so terribly afraid of boring us’.

The close-knit family was blown apart in 1851 when Mill became engaged to the recently widowed Harriet Taylor, with whom he had been in love for more than 20 years. Mill took umbrage at – as he perceived it – the reluctance of his family to acknowledge his new wife, and the drawing room at number 18 was the scene of a painful attempt at reconciliation.

The house dates from 1686–7 and was built by Stephen Emmett, a bricklayer of the parish of St Margaret’s, Westminster. Mill and Harriet moved to 113 Blackheath Park in Greenwich in 1851, but the Kensington Square house continued to be associated with the Mill family until about 1857.
Less than a quarter of a mile from the Mill house:

34 De Vere Gardens, Kensington, London W8 5AQ, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea

The Anglo-American writer Henry James is famous for his novels The Portrait of a Lady, The Wings of the Dove and The Golden Bowl, as well as the novella The Turn of the Screw. He lived at 34 De Vere Gardens in Kensington for over 10 years from 1886 until about 1898, ultimately giving up the lease in 1902.

He moved to number 34 in March 1886 from a small flat in Mayfair, the darkness and mean dimensions of which contrasted sharply with the recently built fourth-floor flat at De Vere Gardens, which was ‘like a photographer’s studio’. James’s domestic needs were attended to by a live-in servant couple, and the writer jokingly vowed to a friend to be as ‘bourgeoise as my means will permit, and have large fat sofas’.

To an aunt he proclaimed that ‘my new quarters work beautifully and haven’t a flaw’, though with bachelor fastidiousness he complained of ‘some romping little wretches of children overhead’.

James nonetheless enjoyed a productive spell here. Among his successes were the novels The Reverberator (1888) and The Tragic Muse (1890) and, among other works for the stage, a dramatisation of his early novel The American (1877; stage version 1891). His 1895 short story ‘The Altar of the Dead’ tells of a man obsessed with the commemoration of those departed: James had been much affected by the loss of several close friends, including the actress Fanny Kemble and the writer Robert Louis Stevenson.

From 1896 James based himself mostly in Rye, Sussex, where he settled permanently two years later. The London flat was sub-let, and James gave up the lease in 1902. It was at Rye that he produced perhaps his best-known works, including the sinister novella The Turn of the Screw (1898) and The Wings of the Dove (1902). James became a naturalised British citizen in 1915.

Also nearby:

3 Kensington Court Gardens, Kensington, London W8 5QE, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea

TS Eliot was one of the most influential poets of the 20th century and a central figure in London’s literary scene. Best remembered for The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and The Waste Land, Eliot is commemorated with a blue plaque at 3 Kensington Court Gardens, where he lived from 1957 until his death.LITERARY LONDON
Born in St Louis, Missouri, USA, Thomas Stearns Eliot married his first wife Vivien Haigh-Wood and settled in London in 1915. He had already written The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock four years before, but it was the English poet Ezra Pound who pushed for its publication. He wrote to Harriet Monroe, editor of the magazine Poetry: “I was jolly well right about Eliot. He has sent in the best poem I have yet had or seen from an American. PRAY GOD IT BE NOT A SINGLE AND UNIQUE SUCCESS… He has actually trained himself and modernized himself on his own.”

In London Eliot and Pound formed a friendship and literary partnership that was to change the direction of modern poetry. Eliot dedicated The Waste Land (1922) to Pound, calling him ‘Il miglior fabbro’ (the greater craftsman) due to his skilful editing of the epic poem. Pound’s blue plaque can be found a few streets away from Eliot’s, at 10 Kensington Church Walk.

Eliot became a naturalised Briton – and an enthusiastic Anglican convert – in 1927. His literary reputation was later reinforced by the drama Murder in the Cathedral (1935) and the poetry collection Four Quartets (1943).

Eliot lived at a number of addresses in west London and Regent’s Park before moving to Kensington Court Gardens in April 1957, shortly after he had wed his former secretary Valerie Fletcher (1926–2012).

In his later years Eliot wrote almost no poetry, but did complete the play The Elder Statesman (1958) while living here, and continued to work for three afternoons a week as an editor at Faber & Faber in Russell Square. In this capacity Eliot introduced the work of many up and coming poets to the public, among them Ted Hughes, later Poet Laureate, who unveiled Eliot’s plaque in 1992.

Less expected was his association with Groucho Marx, the comic. Marx had dinner with the Eliots at Kensington Court Gardens in June 1964. Seeking to impress ‘my celebrated pen pal’ with his literary erudition, Groucho had read and re-read a couple of Eliot classics. He found, however, that the poet – ‘tall, lean and rather stooped over’ – was far more interested in discussing Marx Brothers films, of which he was a devotee. English Heritage
And that’s just the barest tip of the iceberg. Unlike real icebergs, fortunately, the U.K.’s not going anywhere. We’ll carry on and get there when we can. We’re resilient, like the Globe.

On this day in 1613, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre burned to the ground. The thatched roof caught on fire after a theatrical cannon misfired during a production of Henry VIII. Only one man was hurt; his breeches caught on fire, but the quick-thinking fellow put them out with a bottle of ale… After the fire, the Globe was rebuilt in 1614, and it was in use until 1642, when the Puritans closed all the theaters in London. The building was pulled down two years later to make room for tenements. It was rebuilt in the 1990s, and except for concessions made for fire safety, it is as close to the original Globe as scholars and architects were able to make it. WA


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