Tag: Roosevelt

Churchill flirted with Basic English

Wednesday, 14 August, 2019

In the early 1920s, a rather eccentric Cambridge academic named C.K. Ogden came up with the idea of “Basic English“, which reduced the language to 850 words. One can imagine Winston Churchill, then in his mid-forties, having been shocked by such an idea, but circumstances change cases and, astonishingly, the great orator and author of A History of the English-Speaking Peoples found that Basic English had its war-time merits. The first recorded mention of his support for the notion dates from an Anglo-American summit with President Franklin D. Roosevelt in Quebec in August 1943, when he was proposing a closer union between Britain and the United States. Eight months later, in April 1944, having heard nothing from Washington, Churchill wrote to Roosevelt stating: “My conviction is that Basic English will then prove to be a great boon to mankind in the future and a powerful support to the influence of the Anglo-Saxon people in world affairs.”

Filled with enthusiasm for the idea, Churchill formed a Cabinet committee on Basic English and appointed Leo Amery, then Secretary of State for Burma, to chair it. Amery had been a close friend of Rudyard Kipling, a great writer as well as a stout imperialist and, as the late Christopher Hitchens put it in Blood, Class and Nostalgia, “It is hard to think of a man less likely to acquiesce in the reduction of English to 850 words.”

Eventually, Roosevelt replied. Snippet:

“Incidentally, I wonder what the course of history would have been if in May 1940 you had been able to offer the British people only ‘blood, work, eye water and face water,’ which I understand is the best that Basic English can with five famous word.”

Thus, with a deft jab of WASPish sarcasm, Basic English was banished forever from the “Special Relationship”. Curiously, George Orwell was also an early fan of Basic English, but he turned against it and used the concept as the basis for the dreaded Newspeak of Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Churchill


And life slips by like a field mouse

Tuesday, 19 February, 2019

Ezra Pound Ezra Pound was one of the founding members of the imagist movement in the early 20th century. Imagism relied on the impact of concrete images presented in exact, everyday language rather than traditional poetic metre. This is imagism:

And the days are not full enough
And the nights are not full enough
And life slips by like a field mouse
Not shaking the grass

Ezra Pound (1885 — 1972)

Note: Ezra Pound was born in Idaho in 1885 and moved to Italy in 1924. He admired Mussolini and when World War II broke out he stayed in Rapallo from where he broadcast a series of radio talks attacking President Roosevelt and the “Jewish bankers” he deemed responsible for the war. The US regarded the broadcasts as treasonous and Pound was arrested at war’s end and imprisoned in an outdoor compound near Pisa.

While jailed, Pound completed the “The Pisan Cantos,” a group of poems that Paul L. Montgomery of the New York Times called “among the masterpieces of this century.” Eventually judged to be mentally incompetent to stand trial, Pound was transferred to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C., where he remained incarcerated until 1958 when Robert Frost led a successful effort to free the poet. Ezra Pound was awarded The Bollingen Prize for Poetry in 1949 and he died in his beloved Venice in 1972.

Many writers have made disastrous personal and political choices but few have faced up to their failings as clearly as Pound did during his final years of catatonic depression. His acknowledgement here of his failure is honest and poignant and tragic:

I have tried to write Paradise.
Do not move.
Let the wind speak.
That is Paradise.
May the gods forgive what I have made.
May those I have loved try to forgive
what I have made.


Gore Vidal: 1925 — 2012

Wednesday, 1 August, 2012

Among the celebrated works of the late Gore Vidal, wit, essayist, playwright, historian, author, provocateur, gay icon, conspiracy theorist, would-be-senator and former resident of Ravello on the Amalfi Coast, was Lincoln: A Novel. On the back of this, back in 2005, Vanity Fair asked him to assess C. A. Tripp’s much-discussed, hotly-disputed The Intimate World […]

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