Recent links of note:

“Writer who caught the reality of war”
Robert Chandler, The Critic

As Jacob Howland noted in our pages thirty years after the publication of Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate, the Russian writer’s celebration of common soldiers and working men during World War II makes the book a worthy heir to Tolstoy’s battlefield realism in War and Peace. Robert Chandler explores Grossman’s contemporary battlefield reporting for the Russian military newspaper Red Star, which would eventually form the basis for Life and Fate and its companion novel, Stalingrad. Although less-known in the West, Grossman’s journalism, especially his firsthand reportage of the Battle of Stalingrad, was so visceral and moving that it remained stamped in the Soviet consciousness long after the war was over. His reports remained popular even after the government severely repressed Grossman’s later work, the regime knowing full well that it would do little good to stamp out such an iconic memorial to the men and women who gave their lives in that terrible siege. 

“I want to be an Admiral”
N. A. M. Rodger, London Review of Books

It can be hard to draw an accurate historical picture of the Golden Age of Sail (stretching roughly from the beginning of eighteenth to the middle of the nineteenth century). Few eras have been so thoroughly romanticized in literature and art—and, subsequently, “deconstructed.” Consider, for instance, the gulf between James Fenimore Cooper and Walter Scott’s swashbuckling adventure novels, written in the midst of the era, and Conrad’s craven skipper in Lord Jim, written a half-century after the era’s end, as the sailing ship itself was swiftly becoming obsolete. 

One roadblock to understanding the era is the dearth of firsthand accounts from sailors, with only around twenty known to survive to the present day. One might be tempted to attribute this to the stereotype of sailors as dirt-poor, illiterate young men press-ganged into lives at sea. As Stephen Taylor writes in Sons of the Waves: The Common Seaman in the Heroic Age of Sail 1740–1840 (reviewed by N. A. M. Rodger for the London Review of Books), however, this profile was by no means the norm. Many sailors were skilled members of the working class, and a surprising number of them were literate, often by self-education. One had to have some way to pass the long months at sea, after all, and for many sailors, reading (and reading aloud among comrades) was a favorite pastime. Rodger, himself one of Britain’s preeminent naval historians, gives a fascinating summary of the surviving accounts of the Golden Age of Sail, from a naval officer’s slave who bought his way to freedom and a successful career in shipping, to an illiterate pauper who survived a shipwreck, taught himself to read, and became a newspaper editor.

“Robin Fleming, merchant banker and custodian of a superb collection of Scottish art”
Obituary, The Telegraph

Robin Fleming spent a long career at the helm of his family’s investment bank in London, always bringing a rarely seen warmth and old-fashioned charm to his endeavors, both business and personal. A well-loved member of an illustrious Scottish family, his cousins included the James Bond novelist Ian Fleming and the travel writer Peter Fleming. Robin Fleming funded countless charitable projects, including a restoration initiative for St. Paul’s Cathedral, but his most enduring contribution, true to his heritage, was to assemble an unparalleled collection of Scottish artwork from the seventeenth century to the present day. If you need a refresher on some of the highlights of great Scottish art, pay a visit to the Fleming Collection’s website to appreciate the life’s work of a tireless protector of the British Isles’ cultural heritage. 

Podcasts:

“Music for a While #30: A joyful jolt”
Jay Nordlinger, The New Criterion’s music critic, talks music—but, more important, plays music.

Dispatch:

“Two bros, four hands” by Jay Nordlinger. On Lucas & Arthur Jussen in Mendelssohn.