Tombland, lych gate and the Dane Law

Near our hotel is the church of St George Tombland. It’s not, however, as one might think a quirky mediaeval way of describing the graveyard; the word “Tombland” is older originating from the Old English/Anglo-Saxon word for an unused (vacant or empty) plot of land, “tom”. Many words of Germanic or Nordic origin would have been lost by the Middle Ages and replaced by Norman French. The “b” was probably added to make sense of the “tomland” (in fact making nonsense of it). This makes immediate sense to a Swede where the word “tom” is alive and kicking and means exactly “empty”. I treasure these moments when my Swedish helps me better understand what just looks quirky in English.

Another favourite of mine is “lych gate”, the covered gate to a churchyard. It makes no immediate sense to a modern English speaker, other perhaps than a very vague association with “lichen” attached to ancient wood. But a Swede would not be surprised to learn that it was the gate through which the pallbearers carried the corpse into the church, “lik” being the Swedish word for corpse.

Here in East Anglia, we are in the Dane Law, the part of England ruled for some considerable time by the Danish King, east of the Roman road, Watling St. Even after the end of the Viking period, a considerable number of Scandinavians remained settled in England. The relevant volumes of the Domesday Book, William the Conqueror’s massive account of the resources of the conquered country, contains plenty of Scandinavian names, for instance, in Lincolnshire (I’ve not checked Norfolk yet).

But it seems to me as if the history of the Dane Law has been poorly integrated into the history of Britain. Our focus on the period is centred on the Anglo-Saxons, Alfred of Wessex and the resistance against the Vikings. I don’t know so much about the history of history, when the Anglo-Saxons became as it were rehabilitated as England separated from the French and its power grew. But the Anglo-Saxons were admitted to official history, they became “us” and identity with the Normans weakened. The Vikings were also others. But at the same time, there is much evidence that this was anything but a temporary incursion – the large quantity of Scandinavian place names, the impact on the language and the development of the law. I would like to learn more about this but the written record seems sparse, or at least we are not spoon fed with what there is to know as with Alfred and his burnt cakes and other derring do. Perhaps one should look at Danish sources.

My visit to East Anglia has whetted my appetite for exploring this area of England. I’ve been here before but I don’t know it well. First camping beside a main road just west of Norwich, perhaps near Dereham, in my teens when I was immortal so no worries about lorries mounting the verge. But then I flashed straight past Norwich on my way to the coast and south. And then again when I studied at Essex University in Colchester close to the border between Essex and Suffolk. As an active member of the Students Union, I visited the University of East Anglia, another new University, a few times but I remember hardly anything of these visits, neither the city nor the university, just a few scenes from a trip when I was accompanied by my then girlfriend.

And more recently, I spent an enjoyable day exploring the coast between Cromer and Sheringham with a few hours between trains in Norwich on the way home; enough to note that it was a fine city but not enough to see it properly.

This time has been better but I’ll come back and explore more, including the Suffolk coast which has been on my list for a long time.

From nutmeg to ragamuffin and beyond

Waking up at 05.00 in the cathedral city of Norwich, my thoughts turned to the etymology of “nutmeg”, which has reached us from Old Occitan, also known as Old Provencal, closely associated with Catalan or perhaps Old Catalan. I don’t know whether langue d’oc is synonymous with Old Provencal or whether Old Provencal is intermediate between langue d’oc and langue d’oil. The southern French dialects (or languages,,,) should show the imprint of Vulgar Latin to a greater extent than the French referred to as langue d+oil where the Germanic language of the Franks to some  extent overlaid the previous influence of Latin. I would like to know more about this and have a few books on the history of French as well as a Provencal-French dictionary and the more doubtful benefit of Robinson Crusoe in Provencal. This project has not got off the ground as I would like . it would feel very satisfactory to have a project related to the French language.

Weakly remembered sloppy surfing brought me to the “punt volat”; the fly point or middle dot used in Catalan to separate, for example, two “l”s which belong to different syllables. The middle dot has a fascinating, if somewhat arcane, history. It was apparently in use to mark decimals before international standardisation led to the present location of the decimal point (although my source does not tell me why standardisation didn’t succeed in uniting users of the decimal comma and the decimal point).

I learn that at the time of decimalisation in the UK in 1971 the powers that be would have preferred to use the middle dot to separate pounds and pennies but that lower decimal point on the line prevailed, pushing aside official preferences.

I found a book which I almost bought “An introduction to Old Occitan” but couldn’t come to terms with the publisher’s website, probably because my computer is a harsh environment for all kinds of But Uppsala, being the wonderful place it is, there is a copy at the library and it can be read free on the net.

The morning is spent translating, edging back to the protestant work ethic after all my gallivanting. This time I was only back in Sweden for four days before resuming my headlong flight to the nearest border. But when I go back on Monday, I hope to stay for a while to enjoy the habitable part of the Nordic year. Socially it’s been a satisfactory summer but I have read less than I planned. I would like to think of myself seamlessly following my projects undisturbed by location but it’s not been quite like that.

The day ends with “ragamuffin” – I don’t remember how I got there, not from nutmeg anyway. The etymology is probably from Piers Plowman in Middle English where ragamuffin is a devil, presumably clad in rags.

Although in fact it´s not the end of the day as there is a concert at 22,00, which will probably permit me to explore the strange country outside my comfort zone.

Max Gate and Cerne Abbas

It was further than I thought to Max Gate, Hardy’s home in Dorchester, past Gallows Hill and the memorial to the executed Catholics and on beyond the by-pass. There were several places in Dorset where the old religion died hard (usually because the local lord of the manor was sympathetic to the Catholics and protected the villagers, including Chideock with its martyrs and my own ancestral village, Marnhull, which has an unbroken history of discreet catholicism from pre-reformation days).

My old body was in a cooperative mood despite the long walk and we made it without grumbling (there and back).

The house is not as secluded as in Hardy’s time; modern buildings now overlook the large partly molehill strewn garden. It was exciting to see the room where Hardy wrote Tess of the D’Urbervilles, both because it’s a favourite of mine and because of a family connection, my great great grandfather being publican of the Crown Inn in Marnhull on which Hardy’s Pure Drop Inn in Tess was based. Hardy outraged a froth of bishops and moralists, their ire intensified by his sub-title a pure woman.

Rather less uplifting was seeing the cramped quarters where his first wife  found refuge, fell ill and died, the latter part of his marriage being grim. I know more than I wish to about this and have just written a couple of paragraphs but unusually I lost my file; perhaps it’s best that my thoughts about this matter float around for eternity with all the other forlorn documents in the cyber void.

I’ve  also been to Cerne Abbas which I’ve long wanted to explore. Once a town with an important monastery, it gradually declined to its present village status, especially during the nineteenth century when the railway took another route. There’s not much of the abbey left but a number of fine old buildings. Cerne is famous for its giant carved on the chalk hillside above the village. Its age is uncertain, the first written record being from 1694 and other earlier accounts of the location not mentioning it. However, as one writer neatly puts it absence of evidence is not sufficient evidence of absence. Ancient remains may well have attracted less attention in earlier historical periods and we can also, for example, find descriptions of Avebury, which make scant reference to the prehistoric stones, which we know were there.

The Cerne Giant has been related to a Celtic fertility god and popular etymology links the name of Cerne to this God, although more reliable sources relate it to the Welsh word Cairn, with the probable meaning of rocky stream. Recent research on soil samples has indicated that the giant may have originated in the late Saxon period although other samples produce a later sixteenth century date.

Martin Papworth, the National Trust’s senior archaeologist , has advanced the theory that the giant may have been covered over and rediscovered at some point, for instance, in the seventeenth century.

There is anyway solid evidence against it being of British Celtic origin.

It would hardly have been an asset during the monastic period, when the monastery would have been more interested in relics of saints etc. to attract pilgrims rather than a chalk giant, especially in its present form of a giant with an erection (there are theories, however, that this resulted from later tampering with the figure).

I’ve spent time in the Dorset Museum’s library and found out more about my publican great great grandfather who attracted the ire of the village by loose talk with an excise officer, which led to the prosecution of another villager (as I understand it for transporting a woman passenger on a goods vehicle without a licence). The villagers hung an effigy of Jimmy Kendall in a tree, then staged a mock funeral which passed the pub before a mock burial took place in a nearby field. This came to be known as Jimmy’s fete (the source here being a guide written by the Women’s Institute in 1940). It reminds me of the Skimmington Ride described by Hardy in the Mayor of Casterbridge where villagers outraged by what they regard as a serious breach of moral conduct organise a noisy procession with an effigy past the house of the offending party.

In two days’ time, I start my return to Sweden, well satisfied with my travels to Germany, France, Ireland, Wales and England.

Barnes and Hardy revisited

Rereading my blog, it could give the impression that I want to nudge Barnes and Hardy in the direction of socialist realism, which wasn’t my intention.

From Alan Chedzoy’s “The People’s Poet”’, I understand that Barnes’ social position was more marginal than Hardy’s. His father John apparently described himself in an early census as “a labourer in husbandry” (the date 1801 is given which seems very early for such individual details in a census). Chedzoy describes Barnes’ and his wife’s struggle to make a living from running schools in Mere and Dorchester. How Barnes tried to stabilise his social position by taking a degree in divinity at Cambridge and the price paid by his overworked wife in poor health and the negative effect on their school of Barnes’ prolonged absences for study.

Chedzoy describes the conflict between the need for the Barnes to attract “middle class” parents to place their children in a school run by a family whose social status was dubious and the effect of Barnes’ ideas, his enthusiasm for the Dorset dialect, regarded in polite society as vulgar, and willingness to participate in the educational activities of an aspiring working class, activities frowned on by the burgess.

However, the contours of established society in Dorchester seem vague to me from my reading. Being the county town, there must have been a layer of people of higher social rank – judges, the military, lawyers etc. as well as the old landowning aristocracy. given Victorian England’s version of the caste system, this layer would not be on calling terms with the broad layer of folk in trade, which encompassed Barnes (just about) and Hardy’s families. Which children did Barnes cater for in his school – presumably those of the traders; it’s not clear to me after reading Chedzoy’s book although I’d need a second careful reading to be sure.

Thomas Hardy’s father was a mason. Hardy was assisted by a genteel lady (as well as his mother with a remarkable breadth of interest) but the contours of Dorchester society in descriptions of Hardy’s younger days are vague. The picture of the intellectually ambitious Hardy discussing theology and the classics with friends such as the tragic Horace Moule, the vicar’s son and others is attractive. I think, however, that Hardy’s lack of a university education cast a shadow on his work; his novels contain not a few biblical and classical references that I find superfluous but which might indicate that Hardy felt he needed to demonstrate his learning.

Hardy, the man of Dorset, also spent long periods each year in London where he obviously enjoyed being feted by the “cream of society” His life seems fragmented between Dorset and London so that it was perhaps appropriate that his remains were divided up, the heart returning to Dorset while the remainder made for the Abbey. It was not a solution desired by Hardy; I find it distasteful.

He is often sympathetic towards the common folk, although I don’t always enjoy his occasional use of them for comic relief. His positive characters are those who rise above their lowly station through personal qualities (Gabriel Oak, perhaps Farfrae) or make the effort but fail such as Jude, victim of his Achilles penis, negative towards the nouveau riche (D’Urberville). But the emphasis as I wrote earlier is on the individual, never on individuals working together to improve their lot in these turbulent times as England industrialised and the poor became separated from their means of production. I would argue that his vision of the common people is partial and romantised.

But I still think Hardy is a great novelist, even if he, like us all, is a product of his social circumstances. I was attracted by him from my school’s soft intro of Under the Greenwood Tree and had read most of his other novels by the time I left for university. I loved his descriptions of West Country nature, his architect’s eye for shape and space, familiar to me as I walked and cycled around my village on the fringe of Blackmore vale. And the stoic grimness of the fate of his characters (those not blessed with a happy ending). I wasn’t so fond of his melodrama, perhaps a side-effect of serialisation. And I greatly disliked the descriptions of his first marriage with Emma Gifford, a romance that ended in a long drawn-out death in life at Max Gate before she actually died, but that was later when I hit the lit crit.

And I suppose he struck a social chord, a young man in the country but not completely of it, who aspired to the world of ideas and wanted to move beyond his origins before later returning as  a successful writer. I’ve re-read his novels as an adult but want to do so again.

William Barnes and Thomas Hardy

My wanderings around Europe, to Germany, France, Ireland, Wales and England are drawing to a close and in less than two weeks time, I will return hopefully to a less frozen home. It’s been an intensive experience as, besides translating, I’ve met friends and family from various stages of my life, moving back and forth in time as well as space.

In a few hours, I’ll leave the strange suburb of Elstree/Borehamwood, with its film and TV studios where seat plaques commemorating worthy folk who loved this place are likely to be cheek by jowl with information boards about Hitchcock, and where gaggles of folk hoping for a glimpse of the great cluster at the roadside, ignoring signs requesting them not to do so.

But I can breathe here, there’s a small town calm and the hotels are a fraction of the price of central London gearing up for the coronation. And there are also fast regional trains to St Pancras within easy reach of the British Library and friends in town.

But now I’m off to Dorset and have been reading Alan Chedzoy’s biography of William Barnes “The People’s Poet”, interesting as I know far more about Thomas Hardy than Barnes. Barnes wrote poetry in the Dorset dialect, which he considered to be closer to Old English than modern standard English, but which was considered by fine folk to be low and vulgar. Barnes would have liked to strip English of its Latin and Greek accretions and return it to its robust Anglo-Saxon roots so that school students would perhaps study Folk Lore rather than Civics.

More than a generation older than Hardy (1840-1928), Barnes (1801-1886) looked back to the eighteenth rather than forward to the twentieth century.  A largely self-educated polymath, his interests ranged far beyond philology writing “View of Labour and Gold” in 1859, the same year that Karl Marx produced his “Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy”. Despite his thoughts about the labour theory of value, Barnes was not an early socialist, not even of the utopian kind. He looked back to an imagined golden past where the wealthy established justified their privileges by pastoral care of the less well endowed, who still had access to their own modest means of production before the disruptions caused by the onward march of Mammon.

Barnes has little to say about popular resistance, devoting little or no attention to Captain Swing, the Tolpuddle Martyrs or other social turbulence in the nineteenth century. “Man of the people” is thus what the Swedes would call “a truth with modification”.

Writing later, Thomas Hardy can be critical of the stressful and sometimes dangerous effects of the introduction of agricultural machinery. And highly critical of the hypocrisy of Victorian morality (in for example, Tess of the D’Urbervilles or Jude the Obscure) with a grim empathy for its victims. But they, as are his heroes and heroines, are tragic and/or admirable individuals expressing their aspirations and making an impression on others by their personal qualities rather than being participants in collective action.

Hardy was inspired by many events that had taken place in Dorset and there are references to the wider world but his silences are significant. There is no novel about the Tolpuddle Martyrs despite their trial taking place in Dorchester. Nor did stories about the Chartists or the agricultural crises of the later nineteenth century make an appearance in his work.

I haven’t seriously studied Barnes’ dialect poetry or Hardy’s poetical work (he wrote mostly as a poet from the beginning of the last century onwards). It’s a gap in my education. I enjoyed poetry as a sixth former but since then my diet has been almost exclusively prose. I must try to correct this but need to find an annotated version of Barnes and Hardy’s poems as I am slow to interpret and lose patience too quickly.


Long High West Street past the museum and William Barnes statue, remembered independent shops selling “clothes for gentlemen”, and leather goods for the rural leisured. A few remain in the shadow of closures, charity shops and the retail hopeful at best quirky, more often mournful.

At the top Dorchester Castle visited (for some reason) on a family excursion back in the 60s where the local military had Hitler’s desk on proud display.. And on High Street and down Cornhill, cafes offering genteel teas, historically prejudiced as tea-bound farmers’ wives taking a break after the weekly shopping round and meeting husbands done with bartering livestock. I struggle to equip the women with rubber boots and get them to the market too but I think it was not so.

And then the museum with its British Celtic defender from the battle against Vespasian’s Legio II Augusta (at what is now known as Maiden Castle) with a ballista bolt buried in his spine. Vespasian is remembered at Vespasian House (a Covid vaccination centre).

And the wonderful old museum hall full of objects from Dorchester’s history with Hardy’s study at the end. Now emptied of content, a space for events, elegant and architectonically fine but for me, with the memory of how it once was, too barren, a space for those with panic fear of the intruding object. The museum revamp was otherwise better than I dared hope, even the bookshop has perked up, allowing space for more volumes of Dorset interest although the obscure shelf warmers that I loved have gone.

And at the bottom not all the way down to Maumbury Rings but in that direction, the two stations, Dorchester West much as it always was but ghostly quiet with porter replaced by digital help point. And Dorchester South rebuilt to remove the nineteenth century vestigial terminus to allow trains to go straight through to Weymouth without reversing. Weird that it took so long to do this (was the idea of an extension to Exeter so long lived?).

Beside the South station, there was the brewery, Eldridge Pope. Industrial activity close to the town centre, at the same time clamorous and calm, all very West England, and now all gone, swept away by brewery consolidation, which unmired Dorset from its fastening in an earlier capitalism. Now it’s Brewery Square shopping and entertainment centre. As an architectural solution, I don’t dislike it. It’s not tabula rasa. Old buildings have been repurposed and we can imagine the area’s history not completely unanchored. But the quiet mellow where I peacefully thrived has gone.

The market is on the other side of Weymouth Road, its present state unknown although I suspect it is not what it once was. And beyond at the beginning of the rolling green relic-strewn country, there is Poundbury, with its imitation historic architecture,  and the heavy royal hand with its Queen Mother Square and all the rest. Some individual buildings I like but it’s all appearance, the modern buildings are there behind the façade. And the styles are jumbled – it’s part village, part town and the community feels more socially upscale and dormitory than organic settlements. And it lacks connection to the glory of the surrounding countryside, reminding me more of a circle of covered wagons protecting against the outside wild.

Sometimes I feel mournful when I return, especially in winter, feeling estranged among the chic.

But I wouldn’t like it either if there was only the Dorset of my memories hanging on in shabby survival in slow collapse.  All that’s living has to develop but I am at times Greekly nostalgic returning “home” in pain.

Göttingen, Niedersachsen

Expecting to find that my Air BnB in the largely undestroyed old University town of Göttingen in Niedersachsen would be in a student hall of residence, my basic needs catered but not in a calm environment, I was pleased to find the apartment instead in a very salubrious area with large houses once owned by Nobel prize winners, Max Planck, an important figure in the development of quantum physics, at Merkelstrasse 12 (and died there in 1947), and Werner Heisenberg at no. 18, who, according to Wikipedia, was initially frowned on by the Nazis because of his association with the ideas of Einstein, which the Nazis self-destructively regarded as Jewish physics. Heisenberg was subsequently protected by Himmler and became an important collaborator in the German nuclear programme. And in my street lived Fridtjof Nansen, the Norwegian explorer, awarded a Nobel Peace prize in 1922 for his work as a League of Nations commissioner for refugees in the first world war. I wonder if Fridtjof Nansenstrasse kept its name during the Nazi period.

Göttingen is bigger than Lund but smaller than Uppsala. Finding my lodgings on the outskirts of the centre reminded me very much of my early days in Lund, liking the laid-back environment where you didn’t always bother to lock the door when you went out but where there was much, including the language, that I didn’t understand. But in Göttingen, I wondered, as I did in Heidelberg, about life in Göttingen in the Nazi period. I want to get hold of David Imhoff’s 2013 book “Becoming a Nazi Town: Culture and Politics in Göttingen between the World Wars”. University of Michigan Press.

.My visit to Göttingen university library confirmed what I already suspected, that it wasn’t the place to work on my reading list of books on India as the academic focus didn’t cater for my needs. But I was too enamoured of the picture of myself sitting and reading in a German university library to lightly do the sensible thing and abandon the idea of a visit. And I couldn’t avoid the railway station as it was on my route to France so it was easy to persist.

The town is fine, having suffered only light damage in the war with many old buildings extending all the way back to the thirteenth century. But the cold prevented me from doing it justice, the old man in me lacking the steely determination of earlier versions to complete my intended programme regardless of sporadic externals. I saw the house where Bismarck had lived when a student in the city and the statue of the girl with a goose that new graduates (or was it new PhDs) were supposed to kiss. And the statue of Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-1799), whom I took a fancy to. He was the first person to hold a professorship in experimental physics. An anglophile who visited England on two occasions, hobnobbing with George III; there were many German-English cultural contacts in the eighteenth century when the British king was also Duke and Prince-elector of Brunswick-Lüneburg (“Hanover”) in the Holy Roman Empire before becoming king of Hanover on 12 October 1814. 

What interested me most about Lichtenberg was not his royal contacts or scientific contributions but his “sudelbucher”, a translation of “waste books”, an old bookkeeping term. As I understand these were books that bookkeepers jotted economic transactions down in before transferring the information m to a more permanent and organised form when back in their offices. Lichtenberg used his travelling notebooks in much the same way (lettered alphabetically I believe), transferring his jottings and ideas to structured notebooks when back in his work room. His notebooks have subsequently attracted attention from Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Freud, Wittgenstein and Jacques Barzon; not sure whether it was his travelling notebooks or the sanitised home versions they admired.

For years, I have had a problem with notebooks. I like having a notebook with me to jot down words and book titles, practical things and whatever cerebral flotsam and jetsam that catches my fancy. But I’m too promiscuous as I fall in love with notebooks at the flick of a creamy page and acquire more and more. And I have become increasingly preoccupied by my obvious need for a notebook policy. A couple of years ago, I took the radical step of collecting every notebook I could find, dividing them into virgin and used, and then categorizing them, but carrying around separate notebooks for etymology, vocabulary/language, book titles, memories, associations etc. is too cumbersome. Instead, they have to be on a shelf in my work room and I will have a general notebook or perhaps binder that I carry with me before transferring my info to my shelf of books at home. Not quite sure yet how this is going to work as home is an infrequent place but I am convinced that a Lichtenberg solution is the way to go, perhaps a digitalized Lichtenberg solution.

I somehow doubt that my collection of notes, scribbled by the Delphic oracle after having taken LSD is going to attract future praise from the latter- day equivalents of Tolstoy and Wittgenstein.

I’m also grateful to Lichtenberg for having led me to read about Jacques Barzon, who lived from 1907 to 2012, according to whom “Old age is like learning a new profession and not one of your own choosing” (he had a few years to sharpen his act in this area). I’d never heard of him before but he was an active writer from 1927 to 2004 and published what some people regard as his magnum opus: From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present in 2000 at the age of 93. I must find out more about him; I will undoubtedly find much that I don’t agree with but also the admirable.

So thank you for that Göttingen, despite the almost inaudible voice of the past dubious

Polytheism, monotheism and henotheism

Are the terms ”polytheism” and ”monotheism” too crude for an analysis of Hinduism? These terms were culled from a western reality before knowledge of the Indian sacred writings became more widespread in the nineteenth century,

The terms seem at least fuzzy to me. Christianity is formally a monotheistic religion but has the awkward construction of the Trinity, which has caused much discussion and dissent as to the relationship and identity of God, Christ and the Holy Ghost. And angels are they divine rather than human (including the fallen one, the Devil), not to mention the Virgin Mary, who is also revered as divine. And then there are the saints, whom I believe must have performed a miracle before being sanctified, and to whom believers addresses their wishes. Defining Christianity in terms of monotheism seems rather blunt – it may be monotheistic in principle, but in practical terms, in terms of what believers actually do, this appears less certain when divinity is spread in this way.

The famous German philologist and religious researcher Max Muller, a German, who spent most of his active years in Oxford made widespread use of the term henotheism” coined earlier by Schilling to describe Hinduism, meaning the worship of a single, supreme god that does not deny the existence or possible existence of other deities. Hindus believe in the one all-pervasive God who energises the entire universe. It is believed that God is both in the world and beyond it (definition from Wikipedia, with sources in the article on henotheism).

I found the concept interesting as a further development of the blunt contrast between polytheism and monotheism (other related concepts are kathenotheism and monolatrism). However, after discussion with those more cognisant with Hinduism, I think Muller may have underestimated the importance of the other Gods in the Trimurti. Muller’s reading of the Indian classics was also hardly an innocent reading, not at least in his early years. He wanted to find evidence of tendencies towards monotheism as he wanted to Christianise India.

He translated over 50 volumes of Indian religious texts but he had an agenda:

“I do not at all like to go to India as a missionary, that makes one dependent on the parsons… I should like to live for ten years quite quietly and learn the language, try to make friends, and see whether I was fit to take part in a work, by means of which the old mischief of Indian priestcraft could be overthrown and the way opened for the entrance of simple Christian teaching…

— The Life And Letters Of The Right Honourable Friedrich Max Müller Vol.i, Chapter X.

I didn’t record the date of this quote but it must have been early in his career.

And later on, he had links with the reformers in the Brahmo Samaj and Ram Mohan Roy, which he hoped would lead to the development of an Indian form of Christianity, hoping that the “superstition” and idolatry, which he considered to be characteristic of modern popular Hinduism, would disappear.

I don’t know about the subsequent trajectory (after Ram Mohan Roy’s early death in Bristol) of his contacts with the Brahmo Samaj. I would assume that they became less important once the Bengali participants realised that many of the English whom they at first regarded as being sympathetic to the modernisation of Bengali society had a “tabula rasa” attitude more in the spirit of Shiva than Vishnu, which they couldn’t support.

Or it may have been that Müller moderated his attitude to Hinduism later in life.

The following is a quote from a lecture he held in 1883.

“If I were to look over the whole world to find out the country most richly endowed with all the wealth, power, and beauty that nature can bestow—in some parts a very paradise on earth—I should point to India. If I were asked under what sky the human mind has most full developed some of its choicest gifts, has most deeply pondered on the greatest problems of life, and has found solutions of some of them which well deserve the attention even of those who have studied Plato and Kant—I should point to India. And if I were to ask myself from what literature we, here in Europe, we who

have been nurtured almost exclusively on the thoughts of Greeks and Romans, and of one Semitic race, the Jewish, may draw that corrective which is most wanted in order to make our inner life more perfect, more comprehensive, more universal, in fact more truly human, a life, not for this life only, but a transfigured and eternal life—again I should point to India”.

Max Müller, India – Lecture I. What can India teach us?, A Course of Lectures Delivered before the University of Cambridge

Müller also met Swami Vivekananda, the disciple of Ramakrishna, for lunch in 1896. According to Vivekananda,

“The visit was really a revelation to me. That little white house, its setting in a beautiful garden, the silver-haired sage, with a face calm and benign, and forehead smooth as a child’s in spite of seventy winters, and every line in that face speaking of a deep-seated mine of spirituality somewhere behind; that noble wife, the helpmate of his life through his long and arduous task of exciting interest, overriding opposition and contempt, and at last creating a respect for the thoughts of the sages of ancient India—the trees, the flowers, the calmness, and the clear sky—all these sent me back in imagination to the glorious days of ancient India, the days of our brahmarshis and rajarshis, the days of the great vanaprasthas, the days of Arundhatis and Vasishthas. It was neither the philologist nor the scholar that I saw, but a soul that is every day realizing its oneness with the universe”.

As I understand it (or perhaps misunderstand it…), Vivekananda did not regard himself as a Hindu, or at least did not have a simple relationship with Hinduism, but argued for a universal religion transcending Christianity and Hinduism etc. But he would hardly have expressed himself in such glowing terms, had Muller been in any way condescending or had devalued the Indian tradition.

It would be interesting to read more but another day, or another year. Having worked intensively on St Jerome, I now have a strong desire to read about the world we live in today and its problems. And until I have done that, no more dabbling with theology!!


Tuesday, 24 January 2023

It will be an exciting end to my trip to Bengal with both the literature festival, Kolkata Literary Meet, and the Book Fair.

Yesterday, I went to my first event, a digital meet with the Anglo-Indian author Ruskin Bond discussing a new biography of Ruskin Bond by Barry O’Brien (also Anglo-Indian).

The Anglo-Indians have for a long time been described as people having an English father, who were born in India. The definition has become broader since independence to cover a father from any European nation and, in popular usage, a person with an English (or perhaps Anglo-English parent), regardless of sex.

I’ve seen various estimates of the number of Anglo-Indians at the time of independence, a BBC article “Anglo-Indians. Is their culture dying out? from 4 January 2023 estimates that there were 300,000 at the time of independence. This number fell rapidly after independence as many Anglo-Indians relocated then to the UK (poorly known to many of them) or to another Commonwealth country.

Unlike the French in Algeria, they didn’t all or almost all leave. They were half Indian and regarded India as their home country, even though their grasp of Hindi, Bengali etc. may have been weak.

Their position was difficult; in colonial times not fully accepted as English by the British nor fully accepted by Indians partly due to their ambiguous relationship to independence. Anglo-Indians often worked on the railway system and sometimes in the police, which would hardly be a merit after independence.

It was interesting to see and listen to Ruskin Bond. I was less enthusiastic about his biographer, whose book was described as being easy-to-read and conversational but might be too “popular” for my taste. I shall see if I can examine a copy when I return to the festival later today,

As an Anglo-Swede, it’s been a major theme of my life how I preserve and develop my identity as English while at the same time being open to Sweden’s culture, its literature and history. How to make Swedishness an extra floor in my existential building where I can view the world from a different angle, without having to demolish the English foundation, how to be nourished by both cultures, how to avoid becoming a “museum English person”, visiting the UK and doing the same things and seeing the same people, and viewing anything new from the outside as a tourist. And to avoid being contented with a superficial familiarity with things Swedish where I know enough to get by in everyday life but where the pleasures of the language, Sweden’s history, its place names, its intellectual discussions are closed to me or only afforded a cursory glance. It’s a struggle to make the crisis of moving country into a positive experience but a struggle you have to make if  you want the experience to make you more rather than less.

When I write about preserving my English foundation, I don’t mean preserving the historical baggage that encumbers many British minds – I am a republican, not proud of the legacy of empire and I have parted with insular attitudes a long time ago. But it’s English language and literature I know best and there are many places in the UK that I have an attachment to. I would find it very uncomfortable to lose interest in that foundation in favour of a shallower attachment to another culture (even if I struggle to reduce that shallowness).

I would like to know more about what the Anglo-Indians do to maintain their Englishness and how well integrated they are into Indian culture. It’s a smallish group (by Indian standards) and I suppose they may develop like Irish Americans, who are clearly American but don’t deny their Irish roots.

The session at the Literary Meet didn’t satisfy me but I was glad I went. In learning about India and Bengal, the widespread use of English is very useful for me so that I can follow what’s happening culturally and socially.

To the neighbouring state of Odisha

Wednesday, 19 January 2023

Up early for a 5.30 departure, the station forecourt at Puri (Odisha) was full of people who had spent the night there. But they might have been going upcountry and not on our train to Kolkata. Puri has a fine beach and is a tourist resort for Indians, especially perhaps Bengalis, although the sleepers didn’t look like holidaymakers (they had perhaps been there for a religious festival).

If you have a reserved seat, Indian trains can be spacious; the main Indian rail gauge is broader than in the UK, 5 foot six inches  instead of 4 foot and 8½ inches, five seats across with plenty of space for elbows and legs. And they have not been “rationalised” with additional seating as in some Swedish trains causing some seats to have no window or only a very partial view. Here there was even a foot rest like the old Swedish stock from the 1960s and earlier.

The trains aren’t fast – the average speed of our express was about 50 mph. But it got to Kolkata on time and we had food served at our seat (twice) so I wasn´t complaining but worked my way happily through a couple of Bengali lessons, read a short story by Anita Desai and a few pages of Pagnol as well as thinking about what I would write about St Jerome’s involvement in religious disputes.

I’m tired of hobnobbing with life-denying Christian ascetics. I don’t think he should use his stone to beat his breast for thinking about his libidinous youth but instead give himself a bash or two for his thoughts about the purity of monastic life.

I enjoyed my days in Puri. My admittedly superficial impression of Odisha is that it felt less self-confident about its identity than West Bengal. They speak mainly Odia there, with a rounded alphabet that reminds me of Malayalam further south instead of the more angular Bengali and distinctly spiky Hindi. According to one source (perhaps it was.  Wiki), it’s rounded as they used palm leaves when they started to write, which easily break if you draw sharp straight lines on them. It’s a nice story although it has an “apocryphal” feel to it.

The main language is called Odia (or Oriya from colonial times when the state was referred to as Orissa), “d” in Odia is apparently pronounced so that it sounds similar to “r”.

The beach at Puri is fine – long and sandy, although there are apparently treacherous currents. Indian women (of all ages) sit on the beach in their saris – I saw none in the water in a bathing costume. Sometimes, however, they remain sitting when the waves come in making their dresses wet. But I didn’t see any awkward towel-draped gyrations to change clothes. They seemed happy to remain sitting on the beach until they were dry,

While there were groups of women sitting together, there were also mixed sex groups of young people, associating freely with one another and looking and behaving much like their peers in Europe, with the exception of the women (and, in fact, most of the men, not going in the water other than paddling.

But otherwise, the beach was familiar with its cheap eating places, excursion adverts in the neighbourhood, and hired chairs and sunshades; there were,  however, camel rides which are difficult to find in Weymouth.

We made an excursion to the Temple of the Sun with its intricate carvings at Konark a few miles away, It dates from about 1200 and only part of the original temple remains (it’s no longer an active temple). But what’s left is impressive and it whets my appetite for learning more about Indian art. The joie de vivre in the carvings of the dancers was very pleasing after overdosing on the chaste.

Otherwise, there are many fine temples in Odisha so there is more to see for another visit.

The population is more than 90 per cent Hindu, Islam has a much weaker presence than in neighbouring West Bengal.

I tried to find out more about Odisha and discovered a government Survey of the state (which probably exists for other states too) with statistics. It was less agricultural than I thought – just over 20 per cent of the population were engaged in agriculture (still a high percentage compared with Sweden which must be down to about 3 per cent by now but perhaps low for India). I couldn’t find information about land distribution from my cursory throughflick. Mining is an important source of employment in Odisha; I saw evidence of this from the train when we passed long coal trains; it´s many years since I saw that sight, once common in the UK, where steam locomotives were still being produced in the 1960s.