This weekend marks the centenary of the Armstice that ended the Great War. We shall have some special observances, including a brand new edition of our series of Sunday poems.
~In the meantime, welcome to Part Two of The Scarlet Pimpernel, The Mark Steyn Club's latest audio adventure in Tales for Our Time and a classic tale of honor, duty and romance by Baroness Orczy. In tonight's episode, the action moves to Dover, and an especially convivial public house:
Facing the hearth, his legs wide apart, a long clay pipe in his mouth, stood mine host himself, worthy Mr Jellyband, landlord of The Fisherman's Rest, as his father had been before him, aye, and his grandfather and great-grandfather too, for that matter. Portly in build, jovial in countenance and somewhat bald of pate, Mr Jellyband was indeed a typical rural John Bull of those daysâ€”the days when our prejudiced insularity was at its height, when to an Englishman, be he lord, yeoman, or peasant, the whole of the continent of Europe was a den of immorality and the rest of the world an unexploited land of savages and cannibals.
The European continent is still a den of immorality, but whether any "typical" John Bulls survive in modern England I cannot say. "John Bull" is (was?) the iconic embodiment of England as a bluff hearty countryman, created by Dr John Arbuthnot (friend of Pope and Swift) in various satirical pamphlets of the early eighteenth century. He was the old country's equivalent of Uncle Sam and endured into the modern era (see the Great War recruiting poster above) but has scarce been glimpsed in recent decades. The differences between the yeoman stock of England and les citoyens of revolutionary France are sharply distinguished in Baroness Orczy's writing, as we shall see. But, "prejudiced insularity" aside, Mr Jellyband does follow politics attentively:
'There's all them Frenchy devils over the Channel yonder a-murderin' their king and nobility, and Mr Pitt and Mr Fox and Mr Burke a-fightin' and a-wranglin' between them, if we Englishmen should 'low them to go on in their ungodly way. "Let 'em murder!" says Mr Pitt. "Stop 'em!" says Mr Burke.'
William Pitt the Younger was Prime Minister at the time - 1792 - and before that, at the dawn of his political career,one of the first members of the House of Commons to protest continuing the fight to retain the American colonies. So, having been prepared to cede his own king's dominions across the Atlantic, he was disinclined to fight for a foreign king's across the channel. Charles James Fox, on the other hand, was an enthusiastic supporter of the French Revolution, even as it descended into the Reign of Terror, and his loyalty to the cause eventually drove prominent Whigs to abandon him and cross the floor to join Pitt on the Government benches. Edmund Burke, of course, was the author of Reflections on the Revolution in France, and was dismayed by Fox's embrace of "French principles" over Whig principles. Between them they approximate to this day the three most common attitudes to foreign affairs - the Arab Spring, say: Get in there and prop up your existing strongmen in the cause of stability; cheer on the mob as nascent liberal democrat reformers; or steer well clear and, as Sarah Palin put it, let Allah sort them out.
Thank you for all your kind comments about our opening episode. Judith Kempen, a First-Day Founding Member of The Mark Steyn Club from the chadlands of Florida, asks:
Having only seen the movie and never having read the book, I wonder if the lovely rhyme that begins: 'They seek him here, they seek him there. Those Frenchies seek him everywhere...' is actually found in the book itself or if it was just created for the movie.
Stick with us, Judith, and your question will be answered in a week or so. C Victor Selby, a second-day Founding Member from Toronto, reminds us that the Kinks quoted Baroness Orczy in their great swingin' Sixties hit "Dedicated Follower of Fashion":
They seek him here, they seek him there
His clothes are loud, but never square...
As last month's Steyn cruisers well know, Tal Bachman treated us to a live performance of one of Ray Davies' songs at our grand finale on the final evening. The above couplet is an example of Ray Davies at his very best - and a very artful allusion to Emmuska Orczy's hero, using the rhyme about his counter-revolutionary adventures as an expression of admiration for his day job as a fop and dandy. Clever stuff.
Tales for Our Time is an experimental feature we introduced as a bonus for Mark Steyn Club members, and, as you know, I said if it was a total stinkeroo, we'd eighty-six the thing and speak no more of it. But I'm thrilled to say it's proving very popular, and looks like it'll be around a while. If you're a Club member and you incline more to the stinkeroo side of things, give it your best in the Comments Section below.
We launched The Mark Steyn Club a year and a half ago, and I'm overwhelmed by all those members across the globe who signed up to be a part of it and then enthusiastically re-subscribed for a second year - from Fargo to Fiji, Vancouver to Vanuatu, Cook County to the Cook Islands, West Virginia to the West Midlands. As I said at the time, membership isn't for everyone, but it is a way of ensuring that all our content remains available for everyone. None of it's going behind a paywall, because I want it out there in the world, being read and being heard and being viewed, and maybe changing an occasional mind somewhere along the way.
However, we are offering our Club members a few extras, including these nightly radio serials. I did do a little professional story-reading a zillion years ago, so, if these fancies tickle you, we may release them as audio books on CD or Audible a ways down the road. But for the moment it's an exclusive bonus for members. If you've enjoyed our monthly Steyn Club radio adventures and you're looking for a present for a fellow fan of classic fiction, I hope you'll consider our special Club Gift Membership. However, aside from Tales for Our Time, The Mark Steyn Club does come with other benefits:
~Exclusive Steyn Store member pricing on over 40 books, mugs, T-shirts, and other products;
~The opportunity to engage in live Clubland Q&A sessions with yours truly (such as last Tuesday's);
~Transcript and audio versions of The Mark Steyn Show, SteynPosts, and our other video content;
~My video series of classic poetry (the latest edition of which airs on Sunday morning);
~Priority booking for the second Mark Steyn Club Cruise (following last month's sell-out inaugural cruise);
~Advance booking for my live appearances around the world, including my upcoming tour with Dennis Miller;
~Customized email alerts for new content in your areas of interest;
~and the opportunity to support our print, audio and video ventures as they wing their way around the planet.
To become a member of The Mark Steyn Club, please click here - and don't forget that special Gift Membership. As soon as you join, you'll get access not only to The Scarlet Pimpernel but to all our other audio adventures.
One other benefit to membership is our Comment Club privileges. So, whether you like my reading of this eighteenth Tale for Our Time or are minded to send it to Madame La Guillotine, then feel free to comment away below. And do join us tomorrow for Part Two of The Scarlet Pimpernel.