A recent story in the British press about Sir Peregrine Worsthorne, the English author, journalist, and broadcaster, in retirement at the age of 92, prompted me to order one of his books, Democracy Needs Aristocracy, first published in 2004.  It is an excellent work, and one I wish I’d consulted when I was working up my After Tocqueville a few years ago.  Worsthorne began from the conviction that “without an aristocratic dimension that noble ideal [democracy in Europe] can never be realized.”  The purpose of his “essay” is, in the author’s words, “to help create . . . a state of public opinion in which the old upper classes and their institutions, shorn of their legal privileges, are once again seen as a source of strength rather than weakness; a blessing rather than a curse; and above all, as ideally suited—rather than exceptionally unsuited—for public service.”  As Worsthorne reminds, the historical role played by the hereditary aristocracy of Great Britain in every aspect of British history has been so enormous, and so valuable, that the public, and even the media, are finally unwilling (despite appearances and despite what so many people say and claim to think) that it simply “fold up its tents and fade away.”  “Whereas everybody loved a lord, nobody loves a meritocrat.”  Aristocracy, he concludes, should be given a new lease on life.  “For the only way to supersede an aristocracy that has done such historic service as Britain’s has is to incorporate it.  Only by continuing to use it, can we go beyond it.”

Having so much enjoyed Dumas’s Le Comte de Monte-Cristo last year, I’ve begun on Les Trois Mousquetaires in the single-volume Folio Classique edition.  It has all the virtues of the former novel—the rapid pacing, inventiveness, and mastery of detail across a broad social canvas—and serves to remind me how much superior I find French fiction of the 19th century to its English equivalent with its socially conscious agenda and moral didacticism.          

        —Chilton Williamson, Jr.

I have been nibbling away for some time now at a slim volume of poetry entitled From Tradition and Away From Tradition, by Andrew Huntley.  Huntley’s work has appeared in these pages a handful of times, and four of those offerings are present in this collection of poems from 2001 to 2014.  Born in Fiji to Australian parents who moved the family back to Australia when Andrew was 12, Huntley is a convert to Roman Catholicism.  Not surprisingly, given the title of this collection, his devotion to the Church’s more traditional wing is on display herein.

That devotion expresses itself beautifully in such poems as “On Praying for All Those Who Have Died Lonely Deaths,” a profound meditation on both the state of souls in Purgatory and God’s existence outside of time, and the lengthy (autobiographical?) “The Plough & The Cross,” which closes out the volume; and even where one might not expect it, such as a poem bearing the title “Lament for the Latest Female Backpacker Murdered.”

Yet other poems slip into didacticism, and lose their artfulness; “The ‘Spirit of Vatican II’ Exit March” is about what one might expect from the title, while “Against Certain Catholic Fantasts” oddly contrasts Pius IX unfavorably with Abraham Lincoln, whom Huntley sees as clothed in “the cope / Of Heaven, as he wrought to make men free.”  (Lord Acton, who famously opposed Pius’s promulgation of the doctrine of papal infallibility at the First Vatican Council, would nonetheless likely find this comparison beyond the pale, since he understood far better than Huntley what was at stake in the American Civil War, as his postwar correspondence with Robert E. Lee makes clear.)

Despite such clunkers, this handsomely typeset and well-bound volume has much to recommend it, including my favorite of Huntley’s poems, “Closing Tolkien,” first printed in these pages in August 2004.