July 16

Amber pages

Joshua Reynolds, English portrait painter, born today in 1723

Roald Amundsen, the Norwegian who beat Scott to the South Pole, born today in 1872 (see January 5 and January 15)

Pinchas Zuckerman, violinist and giver of masterful masterclasses, born today in 1948

Henry James, American novelist, became a British citizen, today in 1915 - I am wondering what induced me to put this in my notebook, years ago when I first stumbled on it: the fact that so many Americans who wanted to live an intellectual life had to leave America to do so, then as now? But the same was true of all the English intellectuals, who likewise congregated around Paris, and still do. James tried Paris, and left very quickly, tried London, and left even quicker, settling in provincial Rye, on the Sussex coast. How does that inform our reading of his novels? He became a British citizen, incidentally, as a way of protesting America's refusal to enter the European war - and then had a stroke and died, so we can't know if he would have changed his mind when America did finally join, three years later.

And if he had lived to retake American citizenship, would he have re-renounced it again, not today in 1945, when America exploded its first atomic bomb (at 5:30 am local time, in Alamogordo, New Mexico), but three weeks later, on August 6th, when the success of that first test was confirmed in the town of Hiroshima, in Japan? 

Today the day, in 1918, on which the Bolsheviks took the Czar's children and had them shot, the haemophiliac Alexis who was just 13, his sister Anastasia, the queen herself, Alexandra Fyodorova, still something of a beauty at 46; then the youngest children, Maria, Olga and Tatyana; and with them the servants who still accompanied them: Charitanov, the royal cook; Botkin, the Czar's personal physician; the lackey, Trupp; Demidova, the Czarina's lady-in-waiting; and finally Nicholas Alexandrovitch himself, shot like all the rest of them, all the Berias and ... far too many to need listing... to come, a bullet in the neck, quick as revolution or the fall of Empire. And of course Nicholas was a fool, as Lear was a fool, in misgoverning his country, in misunderstanding his people, in blind despotry. I use Lear as a simile because it seems the two endings are analogous, each dying with Cordelia in his arms, each caught in the grip of fools and maleficents. 

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