To save this undefined to your undefined account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your undefined account.
Find out more about saving content to .
To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure email@example.com is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below.
Find out more about saving to your Kindle.
Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.
Two years ago, at an NACBS council meeting at the now defunct Shamrock Hotel in Houston, one of our officers—not me, I hasten to say—suggested that NACBS Presidents really ought to begin earning their keep by delivering presidential addresses. I objected that NACBS Presidents receive no keep, but I was ruled out of order. I therefore stand before you this evening as the first person ever to deliver an NACBS presidential address. This, I can assure you, is a daunting challenge. One provision of the council resolution was that the address should be published as a scholarly essay in Albion, and with Albion's international reputation, this means that what I say here tonight will be read very critically—perhaps even scoffed at—by historians of medieval Britain throughout the world. I dare not be frivolous. On the other hand, we have all just enjoyed a splendid banquet. We have indulged in good wine. Some might now be in the mood for an hour's technical discussion of Anglo-Norman prosopography, but in actuality, I suspect that very, very few of you are in such a mood.
So the great challenge of the presidential address is to be amusing and significant at one and the same time—and I'm not at all certain that I am capable of squaring that circle. I was puzzling over the problem almost exactly one year ago, at our NACBS Annual Meeting last October, at the elegant and, indeed, unsinkable Brown Palace Hotel in Denver.
In 1922 the Irish Free State began life with a constitution which embodied two contradictory principles. The first recognized that all powers of government derive from the people and provided for a system of government in which the Irish Cabinet was clearly responsible to the popularly elected Irish lower house, Dail Eireann. The second recognized a monarch, King George V, as head of the Irish executive, with substantial prerogative powers derived not from the Irish people but from British common law. The constitution was a compromise between Britain and Irish republicans to end the Irish War of Independence. Though not every compromise in politics makes complete sense, for Britain this one represented more than a short-range expedient. Its contradictions represented the dying gasp in a long, often anguished, and ultimately futile attempt by Britain to devise a formula which would simultaneously permit the Irish a measure of self-government and protect vital British interests in Ireland.
This essay will review the attempts to construct a satisfactory Anglo-Irish relationship in the years between 1782 and 1949. It will concentrate on four models of government proposed for Ireland: (a) the independent Irish Parliament of the period from 1782 to 1800, (b) O'Connell's proposals to repeal the union with Britain in the 1830s and 1840s, (c) the devolution proposed in the home rule bills of 1886, 1893, 1912, and the Government of Ireland Act of 1920, and (d) the independence provided in the Irish Free State constitution of 1922 and its successor, the Irish constitution of 1937. It will also place these models in the context of the constitutional evolution of the British Empire. In the Canadian, New Zealand, Australian, and South African colonies, colonial self-government and British imperial interests were reconciled, beginning in Nova Scotia in 1848, by using a kind of constitutional double-think involving the Crown and the colonial Governor. But the problem of the troubled Anglo-Irish relationship could not be resolved so easily.
Students of inter-war foreign relations have long recognized the role played by the British public's disapproval of the Treaty of Versailles in the burgeoning of the appeasement policy of the 1930's. The peace settlement, once generally viewed as “stern but just,” came to be perceived by all political parties and by the public at large as unduly harsh and punitive in its treatment of Germany. Hitler's rearmament of the Fatherland, the remilitarization of the Rhineland, the Anschluss with Austria, and the occupation of the Sudetenland were all significant attacks on the Versailles system which most groups in Britain had come to consider unworthy of defense.
The influences which brought the Treaty into disrepute were various. For one thing, the deterioration of Anglo-French relations tended to foster an increasingly sympathetic attitude towards Germany. Then, too, the problems of the British economy led to an awareness that the stability of Britain's former trading partner in Central Europe was essential to her own prosperity and to a corresponding desire to soften those features of the peace settlement which might be impeding German recovery. In addition, John Maynard Keynes' brilliant polemic, The Economic Consequences of the Peace (1919), not only made the case that the reparation clauses were unfair and impossible of fulfillment, but, with its withering portraits of the peacemakers, also tended to undermine respect for the Treaty as a whole. Finally, criticisms of various aspects of the peace settlement by elite groups ranging from bankers to bishops of the Church of England contributed heavily to the public's increasingly negative perception of the entire Treaty.
No British writer has had a greater impact on the Anglo-American generation which came of age in the decade following World War II than George Orwell. His influence has been, and continues to be, deeply felt by intellectuals of all political stripes, including the Marxist Left (Raymond Williams, E. P. Thompson), the anarchist Left (George Woodcock, Nicolas Walter), the American liberal-Left (Irving Howe), American neoconservatives (Norman Podhoretz), and the Anglo-American Catholic Right (Christopher Hollis, Russell Kirk).
Perhaps Orwell's broadest imprint, however, was stamped upon the only literary group which has ever regarded him as a model: the Movement writers of the 1950s. Unlike the above-mentioned groups, which have consisted almost entirely of political intellectuals rather than writers—and whose members have responded to him as a political critic first and a writer second—some of the Movement writers saw Orwell not just as a political intellectual but also as the man of letters and/or literary stylist whom they aspired to be.
The Movement writers were primarily an alliance of poet-critics. The “official” members numbered nine poets and novelists; a few other writers and critics loomed on the periphery. Their acknowledged genius, if not leading publicist, was Philip Larkin, who later became Britain's poet laureate. Orwell's plain voice influenced the tone and attitude of Larkin's poetry and that of several other Movement poets, especially Robert Conquest and D. J. Enright. But Orwell shone as an even brighter presence among the poet-novelists, particularly John Wain and Kingsley Amis, whose early fictional anti-heroes were direct descendants of Gordon Comstock in Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1936) and George Bowling in Coming Up for Air (1939).