A Short Residence

The recent Proms concert recreating the coronation of King George, as planned (rather poorly as it turned out) by Handel, was rather more pleasingly theatrical than usual. The concert began with a choir unexpectedly appearing on the staircase behind the audience and ended with a group of drummers disappearing through a door as their drumming grew fainter and fainter. The music was a pleasant mixture of Handel, Purcell and some more obscure composers. There was also a less endearing piece by Thomas Tallis which must qualify for an award for grovelling abasement, even by the somewhat low standards of CofE (it did rather remind me of a certain prayer in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life). As ever, I am at a loss to explain why the area of the Albert Hall has a pond at its centre, or why said pond has inflatable frogs and flamingos on it.

Also attended a performance of Boris Godunov from the Kirov Opera (who apparently prefer to be known as the Mariinsky theatre these days); an exceptional performance, and these two proms are certainly amongts the best I have attended (performances of Parsifal, songs of Brecht and Weill and the music of Reich, Glass & Eno being the nearest rivals). The opera is perhaps a little excessive in its religiosity (unlike Macbeth, Boris simply dies of guilt rather than being deposed) and the role of the orthodox faith but the music simply cannot be flawed. I also astonished myself by overcoming decades of English conditioning by telling the couple next to me to shut up. Lunch beforehand sat next to the Albert Memorial was also very pleasant.

I’ve recently been reading How the Dead Live by Will Self, Lessing’s The Sweetest Dream, Hazlitt’s Spirit of the Age and Wollstonecraft’s Short Residence in Scandinavia, which was the most interesting of these. Wollstonecraft makes clear throughout that sensibility is not something that can be considered separately to taste and cultivation; "society there is in a more advanced tate… as the mind is cultivated and taste gains ground, the passions become stronger, and rest on something more stable than the casual sympathies of the moment," which reinforces her statement that "I never met much imagination amongst people who had not acquired a habit of reflection." But elsewhere in the text her position is slightly different; "nature is the nurse of sentiment – the true source of taste" which accord poorly with her descriptions of the ‘simplicity of manners’ she has found.

Further afield, she appears much closer to the position of her husband, that society must be considered a largely corrupting force, as when Wollstonecraft begins her narration with the adage that "despotism, as is usually the case, I found had here cramped the industry of man," or her observation that "the natural… will be found to consist merely in the degree of vivacity… whilst
the varieties which the forms of government, including religion, produce are much more numerous and unstable." In short, nature and civilisation exist in a shifting dialogue with one another in the course of the book, which is what makes it so much more interesting than a mere tract.

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