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  • Sticky Proverbial Talks & Fabulous Fables & Revolutionary Rhymes

    Proverbial Talks were created three decades ago as 3-6 minutes word jingles for words & music radio shows. Twenty years on some fabulous fables and revolutionary rhymes came along to keep them company.

    In a sense there is no difference between the long playing record of the modern troubadour with his fifteen or so songs and the idea songs designed for the spoken word on this long-reading record.

    The trend in advertising is towards projecting an image and then associating a product or a service with that image. There is also a tendency to begin to extend the corporate jingle idea to full song length as Pepsi Cola are doing when they work with Michael Jackson or when Coco Cola adopt a song such as This Is It.

    As competition gets tougher and advertising gets more intelligent, it might make a lot of sense for some bank like The Royal Bank of Scotland or a big brewery like Carlsberg to begin to associate their services or their products with ideas and patterns of thought in similar ways.

    These word jingles are a first attempt to create intelligent word jingles that might be used by anyone bold enough to risk testing such ideas.

    List of Proverbs

    Prologue
      1. Don't Count Your Chickens Before They're Hatched
      2. Out of the Frying Pan into the Fire
      3. Too Many Cooks Spoil the Broth
      4. A Bird in the Hand is Worth Two in the Bush
      5. The Early Bird Catches the Worm
      6. Don't Bite Off More than You Can Chew
      7. You Can't Have Your Cake and Eat it Too
      8. The Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side
      9. You Can't See the Wood for the Trees
    10. A Stitch in Time Saves Nine
    11. Don't Burn Your Boats
    12. Waste Not Want Not
    13. Halve Your Sorrows Double Your Joy
    14. The End Justifies the Means
    15. Fences Make Good Neighbours
    Epilogue

    List of Fables

    Prologue
    01. Lifting Shops
    02. Useful Trades
    Epilogue

    List of Revolutionary Rhymes

    Prologue
    01. Baa! Baa! Black Sheep!
    02. Sing a Song of Sixpence
    03. Humpty Dumpty
    04. Ride a Cock Horse
    05. Simple Simon & Georgie Porgy
    Epilogue

  • Simple Simon & Georgie Porgy

    Many traditional nursery rhymes have hidden, sinister backstories which are far from child-friendly. Dating from as early on as the Viking period in England, some are records of political and religious upheaval, while others explore aspects of daily life, scandals and gossip.

    It is well-nigh impossible to understand many nursery rhymes without a knowledge of the political, religious and sexual mores of the times. An innocent little ditty like Simple Simon met a Pieman is not quite as innocent as it appears, if one assumes that 'pie' refers to prostitutes and that 'pie-men' are their pimps.

    image
    illustration from William Wallace Denslow's Mother Goose; artist anonymous

    Simple Simon met a pieman,
    Going to the fair;
    Says Simple Simon to the pieman,
    Let me taste your ware.

    Says the pieman to Simple Simon,
    Show me first your penny;
    Says Simple Simon to the pieman,
    Indeed I have not any.

    Simple Simon went a-fishing,
    For to catch a whale;
    All the water he had got,
    Was in his mother's pail.

    Simple Simon went to look
    If plums grew on a thistle;
    He pricked his fingers very much,
    Which made poor Simon whistle.

    Georgie Porgy comes from the same period with the Prince Regent (1660-1727) in the title role of Georgie Porgy. He was well known for his predilection for cohorting with prostitutes, abandoning them when they become pregnant...think pudding and bun in the oven,,,and running away from (responsibility to) the resulting offspring. The Prince Regent was enormously fat, and notoriously gluttonous and couldn’t fit into regular clothes. He wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, but he definitely loved the ladies. The last couplet might refer to an incident where George attended a bare-knuckle boxing match which left one contestant dead. He ran away and hid himself, afraid of a potential scandal. So in reality Georgie Porgy is a coward, a cad and a glutton.

    The version below was known to George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) in his childhood.

    Georgie Porgy

    Georgie Porgie, Puddin' and Pie,
    Kissed the girls and made them cry,
    When the boys came out to play
    Georgie Porgie ran away.

    Two other theories are that George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham (1592-1628) was the Georgie Porgy in the rhyme and that supporters of the Stuart line to the throne associate this rhyme with the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745.

    George Villiers (16-17th century) was an up-start who wormed – or earned – his way into the court of King James I. George Villiers was likely a bisexual, who had an intense and fairly well-documented attachment to the king. King James was extremely fond of George, and gave him money and titles. While there is no sure, definitive proof of a homosexual relationship between the two, King James’s affection was without doubt. Either way, George still loved the ladies and was rumoured to be fond of seducing noblemen’s wives – sometimes without the consent of the ladies in question. This fact, together with well-known (and probably very necessary) ability to avoid confrontation, makes him a good fit for the nursery rhyme.

    In the Jacobean account, the rhyme relates to King George II, who, as the Jacobite army headed further and further south ("When the boys came out to play"), fled England for the safety of Europe ("Georgie Porgie ran away"). The convention of using "ie" instead of "y" or "ey" at the end of words, is prevalent in Scotland.

  • Simple Simon

    To understand many nursery rhymes, a knowl

  • Baa Baa Black Sheep

    Rudyard Kipling's version of Baa Baa Black Sheep [1] goes like this...and begs the question of where the third bag of wool went. [2]

    Baa, Baa, Black Sheep,
    Have you any wool?
    Yes, Sir; yes, Sir; three bags full.
    One for the Master, one for the Dame.
    None for the Little Boy that cries down the lane.

    Black sheep with Heart & Boy

    But the version most of us know gives the third bag to the little boy:

    Baa, baa, black sheep,
    Have you any wool?
    Yes, sir, yes, sir,
    Three bags full;
    One for the master,
    And one for the dame,
    And one for the little boy
    Who lives down the lane.

    The rhyme is a single stanza in trochaic metre, which is common in nursery rhymes and relatively easy for younger children to master. The Roud Folk Song Index, which catalogues folk songs and their variations by number, classifies the song as 4439 and variations have been collected across Great Britain and North America.

    The rhyme first appeared in Tommy Thumb's Pretty Song Book, the oldest surviving collection of English language nursery rhymes, published in 1745 with the lyrics very similar to those still used today, namely:

    Bah, Bah a black Sheep,
    Have you any Wool?
    Yes merry have I,
    Three Bags full,
    One for my master,
    One for my Dame,
    One for the little Boy
    That lives down the lane.

    In the next surviving printing, the 1765 Mother Goose's Melody, the rhyme remained the same, except the last lines, which gave the Kipling version, "But none for the little boy who cries in the lane".

    Black Sheep

    What happened between 1745 and 1765 to change so dramatically the little lad's fate? From German Freemasonry comes the strange story of Friedrich Ludwig Schroeder [3] who, we are told, was requested by the Brethren of Hamburg to carry out the task of (a) restoring the true ancient Craft Freemasonry; and (b) improving the harmony of the brethren so as to permit that the Worshipful Masters be elected in the Festivity of Saint John. What started as a two-point mission ended up in a quest to reform The Craft by adopting the original English Craft working ceremonies. This is all most odd! [4]

    On Wednesday15th March 2006 the 2006 Shepherd Chronicles featured the following anecdote:

    'I got to know Dr Aidan Rankin quite well a few years back when he was lecturing on government at the London School of Economics. I reviewed favourably his book on political correctness for Fourth World Review and we worked together on the committee of the London Academic Inn for a few years.

    One of my many unnoticed little internet pieces is a questionnaire on Political Correctness on the cesc website. The Spectator should have offered me & Aidan a pot of gold for the rights to publish it but now they have lost their chance and it will go out to the world hidden away in the corner of an obscure little thousand word a day weblog by the unknown political commentator William Shepherd.

    The questionnaire is based on a hundred one-liners in Aidan’s Politics of The Forked Tongue and asks the reader to rate them. After spending a few days putting the thing together I decided I was an expert on the subject.

    Hence my curiosity when the tabloids recycled the Baa Baa Black Sheep story last week. They all had the story...the Sun, the Mail, the Express, the Mirror and the Times. It was the same story as twenty years ago. It was wrong then...and I suspected it was wrong now.

    So I checked it out. I was right. It was humbug...but it made a good story, the gist of it being that a politically correct administrator had commanded the removal of all racist references from Baa Baa Black Sheep.

    Our intrepid Fourth Estate clearly never stepped outside the pub. Had they gone to the bother of talking to the teachers at the centre of this outbreak of political correctness they might have "come away with a different point of view" [5] because it turns out that we are talking about an action rhyme.

    To turn a nursery rhyme into an action rhyme the children replace the word black with a variety of other descriptive words dancing around the room singing about happy sheep and sad sheep, bouncing, hopping and jumping sheep...as well as black, white, blue and even pink sheep. Children love this sort of wordplay which encourages them to extend their vocabulary and enjoy words.

    There is more to be written about the history of Baa Baa Black Sheep. Research is under way...and Crowd Research is encouraged. [6] My proverbs blog gets ten hits a day so someone is listening. [7]

    Moutons Aerodynamiques

    Let me close with an anecdote about sheep. [8]

    Harold was a clever sheep, who wanted to fly. In his initial attempts, he tried mimicking the soaring of seagulls...I think he had read a book written by a seagull called Jonathan Livingstone. When that didn't work he had a word with a friendly neighbourhood kingfisher named KF Brede who explained that the peculiar flying technique of ducks was better suited to sheep, though he mentioned that Harold might also learn a thing or two from chickens. But to cut a long story short, Harold learned duck-boarding and then liberated the sheep by teaching them to plummet over fences.

    Duck & Plummet

    Harold's best mate was a black sheep called Marley, who decided to be Harold's agent, in which capacity he persuades his synthesizer brothers to invent a rhythm and some rap and dispatched a somewhat skeptical Harold to take over the world dancing the Duck & Plummet. He beat the Koreans by two decades. No matter, the main thing was that this whole episode had me questioning the alleged stupidity of sheep.

    I don't watch television but on one occasion when staying with a normal person who had one, I watched a programme by the Swedish Utbildningsradion about Argentina, in which a Falklands Vet (as in Vietnam Veteran) was telling how the soldiers had to catch sheep in their first month on the island in order not to starve.

    At first they could catch the sheep on the islands with their hands, because the sheep weren’t afraid. But soon the sheep learned that their friends never returned - so the soldiers had to shoot them at 50-yards with a pistol. Finally they had to use rifles because if men came within sight, even at 3-miles, the sheep would run! It seems that sheep aren’t as stupid as I thought. Rather they are oppressed…captive…‘1984-style’.

    Spider World

    This reminded me of Colin Wilson’s Spider World trilogy in which Niall, the hero, releases the encaptured humans from their sheep-like enslavement. But the story opens, not on another planet, but on an Earth where spiders are the dominant controlling species. After a successful human rebellion in the second book, an uneasy alliance is agreed between the free spiders and the liberated humans. I have yet to read the third book. Perhaps the humans discover that the spiders are controlled by lizards?

    Ilbereth

    End Notes

    [1] This version appeared in one of Rudyard Kipling's best-loved short stories, which can be read on line here. Baa Baa, Black Sheep is the title of a short story by Rudyard Kipling, published in 1888, which deals with the unkind treatment received by two childred between the ages of 6 and 11 in a foster home in Southsea...a subject that occupies most of the first chapter of his autobiography Something of Myself published in 1937. In Kipling's story the boy and his younger sister are named Punch and Judy who were sent by their English parents living in India to stay in England in a foster home for several years. Judy was treated warmly, but Punch was miserably abused and driven to a point of murderous and suicidal desperation. He also became nearly blind at this time.

    [2] The answer is in Revolutionary Rhyme Number Two - Sing-a-Song-of-Sixpence. But here is an instant deconstruction, in which Baa Baa Black Sheep is a tale of misery and woe.

 Back in the 13th century, King Edward I realized that he could make some decent cash by taxing the sheep farmers. As a result of the new taxes, one third of the price of a sack of wool went to the king, one third to the church and the last third to the farmer. Nothing was left for the shepherd boy, crying down the lane. Black sheep are also bad luck: the fleece can’t be dyed, and so it’s worth less to the sheep farmer.

    [3] Heinrich Himmler cultivated a large circle of friends, among them the advisor to the Board of Directors of Germany's central bank, Deutsche Reichsbank...a Cologne-based Schroeder who modern historians refer to as Adolf Hitler's Personal Banker. He joined the German Peoples Party in 1928...an odd thing for a banker to do...and in 1933 advanced funds for Hitler's accession to power...a little less odd. The Baron was the German representative of the London and New York branches of J. Henry Schroder Banking Corporation (his father dropped the umlaut in the US and the UK) and was accused of funnelling ITT money to Himmler's SS organization in 1944, based on the somewhat flimsy circumstantial evidence that he sat on the board of all the ITT German subsidiaries. German corporations routinely used European banks to camouflage their ownership of assets and patents to keep the Americans from looting them under Trading with the Enemy laws. After WWII, the allies sent the smoke and mirrors department into Germany to conceal the part played by Wall Street and Lombard Street in financing the Nazi war machine...where the Cologne-based Bankhaus J.H. Stein was centre-stage. There were suspicions...perish the thought...that Himmler's SS was funded (off balance sheet as they call it nowadays), through deposits by German industrial cartels. Perhaps Baron Kurt von Schröder (1989-1966) had family in Frankfurt...at the Amalia Lodge? Wealthy banking families tend to perpetuate and accumulate behind lodge and counting house...and there must be good reason for so lenient a prison sentence as three months after being found guilty of war crimes.

    [4] The historian, Otto Caspari...a great admirer of Goethe and a Masonic enthusiast...couples Goethe and Schroeder in the change of the working of Lodge Amalia. He says: "Frederich Ludwig Schroeder was the man who made his appearance as the reformer of Freemasonry. He also went to Weimar and succeeded in persuading Goethe and the Duke Carl Augustus to take an interest in his system. Amalia Lodge accepted Schroeder's system and in 1808 opened its temple again." Goethe remained a member of Amalia Lodge to the day of his death. What was to him the 'new system' must have made a far greater appeal than the Rite of Strict Observance. Goethe embraced the Schroeder system as the real and Ancient Freemasonry, and it was this which influenced both his life and his writings." At the Goethe Haus in Frankfurt, an exhibition, Goethe und das Geld, explores how societal attitudes to money informed Goethe’s writing. Goethe knew several of the Frankfurt banking families socially...he almost married into one...and the knowledge he gained from them fed his inherent suspicion of banks. In 1784 he became finance minister of the duchy of Saxe-Weimar, whose ruler, Duke Karl August, viewed the state purse as his own. Karl August was attracted to the theories of the Scotsman John Law who had almost succeeded in replacing the French national debt with shares in economic ventures. Goethe persuaded the duke not to go down this path, but to seek for genuine reform rather than issuing paper money. In the climax of the pact between Faustus and Mephistopheles at the end of the first part of Dr Faustus, money plays a key role. The second part of Faustus opens in an Emperor's bankrupt court with the royal cellars and royal coffers empty. German school-children seldom read the second part of Dr Faustus...rather a shame because there is much to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest if the writings of Hans Christoph Binswanger and Herman Daly are anything to go by. Here are a quartet of Goethe supplementary URLs for homework assignments:

    http://www.sciencemag.org/content/281/5377/640.full
    http://muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/goethe_yearbook/v016/16.carter.html
    http://www.currentconcerns.ch/index.php?id=2049
    http://goethetc.blogspot.fr/2010/12/goethe-and-finance.html

    [5] Quote taken from A Boy Named Sue by Johnny Cash.

    [6] Not all crowds are wise. Mobs are notoriously unpredictable, which does not necessarily mean they make poor decisions. As for stock market bubbles and the herd instincts that drive them. These stock market mania appear sensible enough with hindsight...to the insiders who bailed out before the bubble burst...but the out-pirates seldom share this opinion as they jump out of 60th-storey windows. Four factors shown to improve the quality of group-think are: (a) Diversity of opinion: each person should have private information even if it's just an eccentric interpretation of the known facts; (b) Independence: the more people who think for themselves...instead of repeating the opinions of those around them...the better the outcome; (c) Decentralization: this allows people to specialize and factor in their own local knowledge; (d) Aggregation: disaggregated wisdom is not much use...unless it is disaggregated action that is called for...so there needs to be a mechanism for turning individual personal judgments into collective action.

    [7] The ten William Shepherd blogs get over 100 visits a day (in total). Climate is No.1 with 1200 a month, followed by William Franklin at 500 a month, Tom Lethbridge at 400 a month, and then William Shepherd and Proverbs each with 300 visits per month. In a good sixth place...as Nicholas Parsons might say in Just a Minute...on 200 a month is Usury & the English Church. The 2012 additions to the blog-stable...William Hall, Sundance and ANC research...will break the hundred barrier by the end of 2013.

    [8] This anecdote was first published in Chapter 170 - Clever Sheep (© William Shepherd 1993) of The Private Papers of Crocodile Uppsala. My daughter was responsible. She raided my book-shelves and told me about a story in Buckminster Fuller’s Autobiography. It went like this. ‘I turned my attention to transport, to developing a vehicle that would take you back and forth from these remote places and I wanted it to fly the way a duck flies: a duck doesn’t soar like a seagull can, it has to flap it wings very rapidly and has jets under each of its wings. The jets give it a little elevation then, due to its shape and elevation, it falls in its preferred direction, so it plummets. It lifts and plummets, lifts and plummets.’

  • Humpty Dumpty Sat on a Wall

    In June 2010 I published The Rollright Letter [1] as one of a new series of dispatches from William of Salisbury. This dispatch started off with Tom Graves' experience of dowsing sacred sites but took an unexpected turn when I went looking on the web for an image of the Rollright Stones and discovered that Rollright...like Stonehenge [2]...is a complex of several sites, one of which is The King's Men.

    Humpty Dumpty

    And so with a leap of faith [3] and a bound of memory I found myself thinking of Humpty Dumpty...and from there, by way of all the king's horses, to Gogmagog and Tom Lethbridge's five chapters on the old religions and the buried gods of this sceptered isle.

    So it goes.

    Which led to Banbury Cross and a second nursery rhyme. So now the first question is who is Humpty Dumpty? And the second question is what is this wall he is sitting on...a stone wall perhaps?

    Humpty dumpty sat on a wall
    Humpty dumpty had a great fall
    All the kings horses
    And all the kings men
    Couldn't put humpty together again.

    End Notes

    [1] This piece was first published online in July 2010 when included in William of Salisbury's Letter from Rollright.
    [2] If this made you sit bolt upright in your chair, you should pour yourself out a glass of red wine and settle down to an evening in attendance at the Lethbridge Symposium where David Brandon reports on some fascinating insights into the Stonehenge sites.
    [3] Soren Kierkegaard would have liked the expression 'a leap of faith'. See the essay of The Unfashionable Kierkegaard by Peter Drucker...yes the Peter Drucker...written in 1947 although all the web references seem to date it as 1933.

  • Ride a Cock Horse to Banbury Cross [1]

    In 1957 T.C. Lethbridge’s published his first book entitled Gogmagog: The Buried Gods. The book was really two books. The first half (Chapters 1-4) describes Lethbridge’s discoveries and subsequent excavations in the Gogmagog Hills twenty miles east of Cambridge near Wandelbury.

    But in the second half (Chapters 5-10) Lethbridge took the opportunity to set down what he then knew about England’s pre-history.

    The two books complement each other but Lethbridge’s speculations are often at odds with the theories in Sir James Frazer’s Golden Bough which held sway over the academic consensus in the 1950s. Instead he found himself closely aligned to the heresies being expressed by his friend and colleague at Cambridge University, Dr Margaret Murray.

    Lady on a white horse at Banbury Cross

    According to Lethbridge, ‘Sir James Frazer’s dying god and the burning of the nature spirit may well be the result of an adaptation of the earlier beliefs of a pastoral people in an agricultural age. In Britain there seems to have been less of this than elsewhere. This may be why Caesar said that Druidism was found in its purest form in Britain.’

    Lethbridge’s tenth and final chapter in Gogmagog included brief notes on legends such as the Cailleach (the Forest One) who kept a beautiful girl, Spring or the New Moon, imprisoned in a cave on Ben Nevis, controlled winds and winter…and could turn herself into a standing stone.

    Here is Lethbridge on Cailleach: ‘Many localities in the Highlands are associated with her and in particular her name has clung to rounded hills of breast-like shape. She is the dark phase of the moon and the Great Earth Mother. Like Kali in many particulars and even name, she was goddess both of destruction and fruitfulness. Her husband is sometimes said to have been a seagod and perhaps Manann. Poseidon’s relationship to horses should be remembered here.’

    Here is Lethbridge on the goddess Epona: ‘Usually Epona is depicted as a young woman with a horse and key to Heaven. It is probably her figure seen riding on numerous coins of the British Iron Age, together with a crescent moon symbol. She should be compared with the young girl imprisoned by the Cailleach in the cave of Ben Nevis, who escaped and rode away with Diarmid, the young phase of the Gaelic Sun God.

    Epona’s mother was a mare and her father a god in human form, sometimes said to have been a mortal. She is clearly the same as Hippa of Greek mythology, who had a similar parentage. Epona represents the Earth Mother in her young phase as the new moon. Not a few English place-names probably retain her name rather than that of some imaginary Saxon.’

    In the Gogmagog index we find 32 references for ‘horses’…for comparison there are 46 for ‘moon’ and 27 for ‘Saxon’. Lethbridge writes of ‘…the whole of Britain being full of traces of white horses’ and that ‘…the horseshoe has become a lucky talisman; but it was once a lunar symbol and a fertility charm…the horse was sacred to Diana because of its moon-shaped hoof’. There is a horseshoe beside me on the window sill as I write.

    In Britain there are ritual processions of naked women on white horses. At Coventry Lady Godiva was, according to Lethbridge ‘…veiled in her hair’; At Southam she was ‘…painted black, the ceremony ending in an unveiling when the New Moon was then revealed’.

    The Lady on the White Horse

    At Banbury the lady ‘…had bells on her toes to scare off the demon. Demons hate noise. That is what the bells are for.’ Different versions of the nursery rhyme have a fine, young or old lady.

    Ride a cock-horse to Banbury Cross
    To see a fine lady upon a white horse
    Rings on her fingers
    Bells on her toes
    She shall make music wherever she goes

    End Notes

    [1] This piece was first published online in July 2010 when included as the final page of William of Salisbury's Letter from Rollright.

  • Sing a Song of Sixpence

    Sometimes things are so familiar that you no longer notice them. My mother sang Sing-a-song-of sixpence to me as a child...although my memory probably comes from Listen with Mother on the BBC Light Programme at quarter to two every day. I sang the rhyme to my children countless times and read to them from the many books of nursery rhymes we had around our house.

    But the other day, after singing it to my grand daughter, instead of the rhyme fading away, it buzzed around inside my head in the irritating way of such things. Sing a song of sixpence a pocket full of rye; four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie; when the pie was opened the birds began to sing; now wasn't that a dainty dish to set before a king. Dainty? A pocketful of rye? Whatever does this all mean?

    waltercranesmaid

    The clues are in the next verse. The king was in his counting house counting out the money; the queen was in the parlour eating bread and honey; the maid was in the garden hanging out the clothes; when along came a blackbird and pecked off her nose.

    Well this is something you can sing casually for years without giving it any attention. 'Pay attention! Pay Attention!' was the refrain of Aldous Huxley's parrot in Island, written in 1954 by way of an antidote to Brave New World with its stark choice between technological fascism or mindless savagery. [1]

    But when it starts buzzing around in your head it is something different. What a strange idea. A black bird...presumably one of the twenty four in the pie...pecking off the nose of a hard-working peasant who knew her place, and perhaps more to the point, was usually there.

    Sometimes, tacked on the end, is a verse which goes something like this: ‘There was such a commotion that little Jenny Wren; flew down to the garden and put it back again.’ Why a wren? The smallest bird in England. Wrens huddle together in winter to keep themselves warm...and the wren was an augury to the Druids. Perhaps the lords of Lombard Street were fearful of too much transparency. 'Commotion' sounds just a little too much like a riot...and the rich and powerful have always feared the mob. Mustn't give the little dears ideas above their station! Suppress the last verse!

    At this point, the flash of inspiration. 'Peter picked a peck of pickled pepper.' The peck is the point. The Hebrew word neshek - usury, is from the root n-sh-k which means to bite. After that it all falls into place.

    Farthing
    click on the image on the obverse of the farthing coin for a history of this tiny coin

    The smallest coin minted in England was the farthing...and on the reverse of the farthing coin is a wren. One farthing is one twenty-fourth part of sixpence…a little over four percent. You pay me back sixpence and a farthing for my sixpence loan. That farthing is the usury. Big time! [2]

    The biggest usurers in medieval times were the Church and the Jews...to most people the words Jew and Usurer were synonymous. The clerks and agents and the priests dressed in black. Hence the blackbirds. And how strange that they should still be alive after an hour in the oven at 200 degrees Celsius. But this would have come as no surprise to an ancient Greek or Babylonian. Aristotle, who understood something of the nature of money, wrote:

    'Usury is most reasonably hated because its gain comes from money itself and not from that for the sake of which money was invented. For money was brought into existence for the purpose of exchange, but interest increases the amount of the money itself and this is the actual origin of the Greek word: offspring resembles parent, and interest is money born of money; consequently this form of the business of getting wealth is of all forms the most contrary to nature.' Something dead becomes a living thing. No wonder it was ‘contra natura’.

    Ezra Pound devotes the whole of Canto XLV to Usura with the repeating chorus usura contra natura...and Pound was a good orthodox Roman Catholic schooled in the Greek classics before educating himself in Chinese letters [3].

    'Usury is that swelling monster contrary to nature, order and all good reason.' Thus spake Aristophanes. 'Tokos', the Greek word for usury, is from the root which means to breed or increase.

    The Romans also understood the danger to the state posed by usury. 'The cancer of usury is an old venomous sore and the chiefest head and cause of rebellions in countries.' Tacitus wrote that.

    Usury was no light matter five hundred years ago. Medieval man knew his bible and there is a phrase in the sixth verse of Psalm XV, for instance, that condemns the giving of money upon usury: ‘lo natan beneshek’. And Thomas Wilson in 1569 in his Discourse Upon Usurye wrote that 'Usury overthrows trade, decays merchandise, undoes tillage, destroys craftsmen, defaces chivalries, beats down nobility, brings dearth and famine, and causes destruction and confusion.'

    Professor R.H. Tawney wrote a 169-page introduction to the 1923 re-issue of Wilson's influential 16th century tract...in ten brilliant short essays.

    The issue of usury is the key to understanding European politics in Tawney's century. In the end the baby was thrown out with the bathwater but not without a mighty struggle. The Doctrine of Usury did not need to decline just because the established churches went into decline, and the doctrine can be brought back in secular form as an amendment to the US constitution on the other side of the pond or as a re-enactment of the usury laws of the 16th century on this side.

    Michael Hudson has pointed out that '...neither Hebrew, Greek nor Latin had separate words to distinguish between 'interest' and 'usury' and that this distinction is a product of Canon Law seeking to carve out a form of financial gain (interesse).

    However although the modern definition of usury as 'excessive interest over and above the legal rate approved by civil authorities' may pervert the original meaning of the word, the middle way developed by the Calvinists in Geneva makes excellent modern sense and would allow Christian teaching to be brought into line with Jews and Moslems under a secular law against usury. It could be a key part of any arrangement for Turkey to join the European Union.

    I particularly like the provision in the 1545 legislation of triple fines for usurers. This, combined with the ideas in the Act of 1571 for the administration of the Doctrine of Usury,[4] would provide a sound basis for a bill in the Westminster Parliament.

    Such a bill would cut back financial transactions to a fifth of their present level, regulate the exchanges by attacking their excessive profits and bonuses directly and making all but their core business in physical commodities unprofitable; and within a few years would transform the banking industry into a back office operation run by chartered accountants in accordance with the ethics and rules of their guild. [5]

    Not a bad return on four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie. And the queen would still get her honey and cake. Sing a song of sixpence; a pocketful of rye...hmm...why rye and why a pocketful. Perhaps it bought enough gin to get mums through the night...or put the wee bairns to sleep. Babies have always screamed...and always will.

    End Notes

    [1] Brave New World was written in 1932. Brave New World Revisited (Harper & Row, US, 1958; Chatto & Windus, UK, 1959) was written by Huxley almost thirty years after Brave New World. It was a non-fiction work in which Huxley considered whether the world had moved toward or away from his vision of the future from the 1930s. He believed when he wrote the original novel that it was a reasonable guess as to where the world might go in the future. In Brave New World Revisited, he concluded that the world was becoming like Brave New World much faster than he originally thought. Huxley analysed the causes of this, such as overpopulation as well as all the means by which populations can be controlled. He was particularly interested in the effects of drugs and subliminal suggestion. Brave New World Revisited is different in tone because of Huxley's evolving thought, as well as his conversion to Hindu Vedanta in the interim between the two books. The last chapter of the book aims to propose action which could be taken in order to prevent a democracy from turning into the totalitarian world described in Brave New World. In Huxley's last novel, Island, written in 1954, he again expounds similar ideas to describe a utopian nation...a counterpart to Brave New World.

    [2] An image of a wren is on the reverse of the farthing coin. Money, size and solidarity. Not a bad formula for 21st century left-wing politics. Perhaps the great and the good at the Eton College of Maynard Keynes and the Cambridge University of Henry Sidgwick & Alfred Marshall thought that usury smacked too much of Christianity...too much for a science of economics in a secular age. Besides R.H.Tawney and Beatrice Webb were beyond the Bloomsbury pale...more in Endnote [5].

    [3] Cantos XLII, XLIII and XLIV move to the Sienese bank, the Monte dei Paschi di Siena and to the 18th-century reforms of Pietro Leopoldo, Habsburg Arch Duke of Tuscany. Founded in 1624, the Monte dei Paschi was a low-interest, not-for-profit credit institution whose funds were based on local productivity as represented by the natural increase generated by the grazing of sheep on community land (the Bank of the Grassland of Canto XLIII). As such, it represents a Poundian non-capitalist ideal.

    Canto XLV is a litany against Usura or usury, which Pound later defined as a charge on credit regardless of potential or actual production and the creation of wealth ex nihilo by a bank to the benefit of its shareholders. The canto declares this practice as both contrary to the laws of nature and inimical to the production of good art and culture. Pound later came to see this canto as a key central point in the poem.

    Canto XLVI contrasts what has gone before with the practices of institutions such as the Bank of England that are designed to exploit the issuing of credit to make profits, thereby, in Pound's view, contributing to poverty, social deprivation, crime and the production of "bad" art as exemplified by the baroque.

    [4] R.H. Tawney reported that in 1595 the author of a careful study of the 1571 legislation on the subject of usury wrote that '...there be many simple men, which, having no insight into the statute, are not ashamed to say that it alloweth ten in the hundred.'

    This careful author continues: '...which, indeed, is a mere scandal and slander, for it upholdeth a kinde of punishment, by the loss of the least usury that is taken...When King Henry did tolerate 10 pound in the 100 many did abuse that libertie under colour of the law; and when King Edward VI had utterly taken away all usurie, this inconvenience came, few or none would lend because they might have no allowance, whereupon her Majestie to avoid this evill made this remissive clause...'

    And it is here that the author gets to the administrative genius at the heart of Queen Elizabeth I's 1571 Usury Act: '...the Borrower hath this libertie by this branche for his owne benefit: 1. If he promise usury he need not pay unless he will; 2. If he pay usurie, he may recover it again if he be grieved; 3. lf he be willing to pay usurie, he is at his own choice to complain.'

    I refer to this as the act's Citizens Arrest provisions since in practice it works in much the same way.

    [5] In a newsletter issued in the summer of 2010, James Robertson suggests that economics and ethics are starting to mix. They have been separated for well-nigh on two centuries so it is not before time. I blame my old alma mater, Cambridge University.

    The economic enterprise started off well enough with Henry Sidgwick devoting his life to the invention of a secular ethics on which economic theory would construct its edifice. The ambition was to escape the strait jacket of 18th Century moral philosophers like Adam Smith and Thomas Malthus on the one hand; and the political assumptions of the liberal reformers like John Stuart Mill on the other.

    All well and good...except that Sidgwick failed...setting the scene for the rot that was to follow, first with Alfred Marshall, who was the dominant figure in British economics (itself dominant in world economics) from about 1890 until his death in 1924, and then with John Maynard Keynes. We live in the shadow of the disaster that was the Cambridge Economics School.

    As head of the Cambridge Economics department Marshall saw his mission as being to ditch all vestiges of Sedgwick's secular ethics. When Keynes took over...intent on being his own man...he led economics even further into the weeds by seeking to deconstruct the work, wealth & happiness of mankind...human ecology...by focusing on the management of decision making under uncertainty. To Keynes, this was what economics was really all about. Such hoary old Christian shibboleths as fate and free will were buried away in the small print.

    Sidgwick stands accused of throwing out the baby with the bath water in his determination to eliminate any mention of such medieval Christian notions as usury. But neither Marshall nor Keynes made any attempt to reclaim it. They were men of their time. Darwinian thought cast a long shadow over the ivory towers of the 20th Century...in England as well as Germany.

    The only ray of hope came from beyond the pale of academic economics in the work of the Socialist Economists. John Ruskin, William Morris and Bernard Shaw saw the problem and the Fabian Socialists under the guidance of Sidney and Beatrice Webb kept the flame alive and spread its warmth and light to the Americas. But it was a minority creed in a century when making money was the measure of success and making sense or making love a project for losers. Women, the arbiters of fashion and culture must bear a significant part of the blame for the adventure of civilization taking this wrong turn.

    Shining like a beacon in the gloom was Professor R.H. Tawney at London University who realized from his studies of the 16th Century that the Elizabethans had been on the right track in their refusal to give up on the medieval Doctrine of Usury and their insistence on making it fit for the purposes of the new age being opened up by their Merchant Adventurers and Small Manufacturers. The practical application of a Doctrine of Usury was one of the key subjects of political debate for much of the 16th Century.

    From his perspective as an investigative historian, Tawney recognized the role that minting money would play in the lives of ordinary people and how the exchanges of merchants, speculators and international financiers would destroy the people's coinage if allowed to run amok. Tawney also understood that the creation and destruction of debt...and its distribution...far from being a technical exercise residing in the outer limits of economic theory…was in fact the elephant in the room. Everyone knew it was there but no one dared talk about it...or, horror of horrors, study its nature or understand its ways.

    Fortunately the work of the new business schools kept the subject alive into our own times by insisting on its relevance to governance. The work of Peter Drucker on Pensions and their unintended consequences as a new form of property...another elephant in the room all but ignored by economic academics…is noteworthy in this regard.

    Another key development was Benefit Cost Analysis which provides a scientific method of Project Clearing and hence of Investment Selection. Finance has become the tail wagging the industrial dog. It is sufficient that a project meet society's economic criteria. Money is not the scarce resource of the mercantile age when the mining and plunder of gold and silver artificially limited the availability of money. Human work is the limiting resource...and ‘working days’ its surrogate...with Intelligent Tools and Energy Slaves as key to shifting the balance of work between toil and vocation.

    E.F.Schumacher, Chief Economist to the British National Coal Board was much concerned about the metaphysical underpinnings of economics and wrote extensively on the subject. Below is an extract from William Shepherd's essay The Limits to Models, which presents Schumacher’s introduction to his essay A Machine to Foretell the Future?

    ‘The reason for including a discussion on predictability in this volume,’ wrote Schumacher, ‘is that it represents one of the most important metaphysical - and therefore practical - problems with which we are faced. There have never been so many futurologists, planners, forecasters, and model-builders as there are today, and the most intriguing product of technological progress, the computer, seems to offer untold new possibilities. People talk freely about ‘machines to foretell the future.’ Are not such machines just what we have been waiting for? All men at all times have been wanting to know the future.’

    ‘But a machine to foretell the future is based on metaphysical assumptions of a very definite kind. It is based on the implicit assumption that ‘the future is already here’, that it exists already in a determinate form, so that it requires merely good instruments and good techniques to get it into focus and make it visible.’

    ‘The reader will agree that this is a very far-reaching metaphysical assumption, in fact, a most extraordinary assumption which seems to go against all direct personal experience. It implies that human freedom does not exist or, in any case, that it cannot alter the predetermined course of events. We cannot shut our eyes to the fact, on which I have been insisting throughout this book, that such an assumption, like all metaphysical theses, whether explicit or implicit, has decisive practical consequences. The question is simple: is it true or is it untrue.’

    Schumacher continues by taking an unusual perspective…that of the mind of God

    ‘When the Lord created the world and the people to live in it - an enterprise which, according to modern science, took a very long time - I could well imagine that He reasoned with Himself as follows: If I make everything predictable, these human beings, whom I have endowed with pretty good brains, will undoubtedly learn to predict everything, and they will thereupon have no motive to do anything at all, because they will recognise that the future is totally determined and cannot be influenced by any human action. On the other hand, if I make everything unpredictable, they will gradually discover that there is no rational basis for any decision whatsoever and, as in the first case, they will thereupon have no motive to do anything at all.’

    ‘Neither scheme would make sense. I must therefore create a mixture of the two. Let some things be predictable and let others be unpredictable. They will then, amongst many other things, have the very important task of finding out which is which. And this, indeed, is a very important task, particularly today, when people try to devise machines to foretell the future. Before anyone makes a prediction, he should be able to give a convincing reason why the factor to which his prediction refers is inherently predictable.’

    Later in his ‘Roman Catholic Primer’ Guide for the Perplexed Schumacher writes of adaequatio and the Chain of Being where Man…wyfman and karlman…are at the top of the heap with dominion over the natural world; a thought too radical for the alternative movement who seldom read further than Buddhist Economics in Small is Beautiful.

  • 02. Useful Trades

    The other day a man of the cloth stopped to give a lift to a hitch-hiker on his way to Banbury to see a young woman on a white horse.

    The man was munching a sandwich and told the driver he had just been released from jail. He went on to explain he was a compulsive pickpocket, no sooner serving a sentence, he committed yet another offence.

    They were stopped by a policeman for speeding and after taking down name, address and car number, he warned the driver he would hear further about his offence.

    On arriving in Banbury the hitch-hiker asked to be put down and as he left he told the driver he was leaving him a present for being so kind to him. The driver protested he needed no return, but his guest left his sandwich bag on his seat before making off.

    On arriving at his destination the priest opened the bag only to find it contained, not a sandwich as he expected, but the policeman's notebook.

  • 01. Lifting Shops

    Some years ago, alarmed at the way that local community life was being sabotaged by giant chain stores, a man of the cloth suggested that if people took goods from a local shop without paying for them that was both illegal and immoral, whereas if they did it in a supermarket it might be illegal but it was not immoral.

    The tabloid press hailed him next day as the shoplifting vicar. None of the newspapers mentioned how giant stores were stealing the identity of local communities.

  • Prologue

    Proverbs lay bare our rural traditions. Of the fifteen proverbs in our series, there are three homilies: on happiness and sadness; on means and ends; and on friends and neighbours. But the other twelve have as their themes, hearth and home; and the daily business of putting food on the family table.

    Now it might seem that birds in bushes and the woods and the trees do not quite fall into this category, but the practice of shooting pigeons for food was abandoned only recently upon Queen Victoria's orders.

    As for the English woods, the legend of Robin Hood is no accident of history. It was the Norman kings who tried to declare the English forests to be their own private Big Game Reservations. And it was their Latin scribblers who invented the idea of the Poacher. Up until this time, the Danelaw boundary reached down as far as the Thames Estuary and the forests of Mercia and Northumbria were under the benevolent jurisdiction of the Scandinavian Settlers with their long established traditions of Common Property, Common Rights and Common Duties. What an alien concept poaching was under the Danelaw.

    Otherwise our proverbs are all about fetching water from the stream; cooking soup on an open fire; grinding corn at the mill on the floss; milking the family cow; planting potatoes; tending the chickens in the farmyard; and making the kind of decision every farmer has to make: eggs now or chicken later.

    Strangely there is little mention of pigs and goats, sheep and horses, dogs and cats, in our English or Swedish proverbs. Their complete absence is so unexpected that there must be a good reason for it. And I suspect it is an important one.

    If I were to hazard a guess, then I would say that it is because these have always been regarded as family and not food. You may make a joke about your mother-in-law, but you are tempting fate if you have the audacity to make a proverb about your wife.

    Doubtless somebody will now send in a long list of proverbs to disprove the point. If pigs could fly, talking the back legs off a donkey, and others of this ilk. But let us not dwell for I need to address a few words to producers of these Proverbial Talks.

    These fifteen radio scripts have been written in prose with the thought that they would be performed for radio in much the same manner as Alistair Cooke's Letter from America. However some of the sketches might better lend themselves to a two-voice dialogue or conversation mode...a style which appears to be gaining ever greater acceptance with the producers of television news programmes.

    Some trial and error would be advisable with your particular radio station audiences to discover the best mode of broadcasting for your listeners. But I fear I am teaching you to suck eggs.

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