X Close

Welcome to the 17th Century Samuel Pepys has a riposte for today's chaos

Straight out of Jacobean England (Daniel LEAL / POOL / AFP)

Straight out of Jacobean England (Daniel LEAL / POOL / AFP)


June 19, 2023   7 mins

A sunny Wednesday in early June 1665, and Samuel Pepys was suffering in the heat. It was “the hottest day that ever I felt in my life”, he confided to his diary, “and it is confessed so by all other people the hottest they ever knew in England”.

Pepys spent some of the day strolling with friends in the New Exchange, a shopping arcade on the south side of the Strand, before repairing to Vauxhall’s Spring Gardens, where he “walked an hour or two with great pleasure”. There was something on his mind, though. For as long as he could remember, relations with England’s neighbours had been distinctly fraught, and Lord Sandwich’s fleet was currently engaged in a struggle with the Dutch. London simmered with rumours about the outcome of the battle, but there was no certainty: as Pepys put it, “ill reports run up and down of his being killed, but without ground”.

By evening, “weary with walking and with the mighty heat of the weather”, the diarist had returned to his house in the City. The day had been pleasant enough, but now something else was troubling him. In Drury Lane, he had seen “two or three houses marked with a red cross upon the doors, and ‘Lord have mercy upon us’ writ there”. Pepys knew immediately what that meant. Plague — the first sign of the epidemic that would kill an estimated 100,000 people, a quarter of the capital’s population, in the next 18 months. To calm his nerves, he noted: “I was forced to buy some roll-tobacco to smell to and [chew], which took away the apprehension.”

Reading Pepys’s diary, you sometimes forget that he was born almost four centuries ago. In many respects he was utterly different from us, with assumptions and anxieties we can scarcely understand; and yet often he feels almost thrillingly contemporary, as if you might bump into him in the street tomorrow afternoon. Indeed, you merely have to re-read that diary entry, and you might be looking in a mirror: the stifling heat, the fears of disease, the foreign wars, the fake news.

The past is never just a mirror, of course, and it’s the height of narcissism to cast our predecessors as mere foreshadowings of ourselves. But there are times when, for obvious reasons, a particular historical moment catches the imagination — as is the case today with Pepys’s moment, the mid-17th century.

Just look, for example, at the titles in Britain’s bookshops. For a long time, commercial publishers were terrified of the 17th century. The Stuarts weren’t as sexy as the Tudors, and the age of Oliver Cromwell seemed too dark, too violent, too religious, too complicated for ordinary readers. Why read about perhaps the most significant moment in all our history — the titanic revolutionary conflict of the 1640s and 1650s, when armies surged across the map of our islands, a king was tried and executed, and a farmer from East Anglia tried to turn Britain into a religious commonwealth — when you could read yet another book about Catherine Howard?

And then, as if responding to some subterranean shift in the cultural landscape, something changed. The last few years alone have given us excellent books on Cromwell by Paul Lay and Ronald Hutton, as well as Anna Keay’s dazzling social history of Britain in the 1650s, and Malcolm Gaskill’s haunting account of witchcraft among the settlers who tried to build a new England on the other side of the Atlantic. Meanwhile, Robert Harris’s most recent blockbuster, Act of Oblivion, follows the hunt for Charles I’s Parliamentarian killers from England to America.

Even politicians are at it. In the Conservative MP Jesse Norman’s new novel The Winding Stair, which charts the bitter feud between Sir Francis Bacon, father of the Scientific Revolution, and Sir Edward Coke, the most influential jurist of the early modern era, we appear to be plunged back into the world of early 17th-century Jacobean England. But right from the first few pages, the parallels are obvious. Among his characters, for example, is James I, a man with “bulging, expressive eyes” and an “awkward gait”, who “dresses finely, yet somehow manages to look ill-kempt”, and always “loves to display his learning with a classical or biblical line”. Even if you didn’t know that Norman had been at Eton with Boris Johnson, worked for him as a junior minister and eventually released a blistering public letter calling for his removal, you’d probably spot the parallel.

Why does the Stuart era suddenly feel so resonant? Some of the answers are obvious. People in the 17th century, like us, were struggling to come to terms with an extraordinary advance in information technology — in their case, the printing press. The political and religious passions of the Civil War weren’t merely reflected in the papers and pamphlets of the day: they were fuelled by them, too.

Then as now, readers craved paranoia, hysteria, sensation and scandal, exemplified by the coverage of the rebellion of Irish Catholics in 1641. The pamphlets of the time claimed that some 200,000 Protestants had been massacred; in reality, the true figure was probably lower than 10,000. Illustrations showed the rebels literally spearing babies on their pitchforks and ripping women’s bodies open with bestial savagery. “A woman mangled in so horred a maner that it was not possible shee should be knowne”, read one cheery caption. Fake news, as it turned out. But fake news mattered, for when Cromwell’s troops landed in Ireland eight years later, bent on vengeance, such pictures were seared into their imaginations.

Then as now, technology also mattered because it allowed news to spread more quickly than ever before, not least from abroad. The political climate before the Civil War was all the more feverish because people were addicted to the latest reports from the Thirty Years War, the ferociously complicated religious and political conflict that tore central Europe apart and killed millions of people across vast tracts of Germany. Like today’s war in Ukraine, the Thirty Years War became a kind of Rorschach test: what you saw depended on your existing religious and political prejudices.

And with news came ideas: the proto-rationalism of RenĂ© Descartes and Baruch Spinoza, the republicanism of John Milton, the liberalism of John Locke, the ruthless realism of Thomas Hobbes. No wonder that, as in 2023, many people felt dizzy at the pace of change — particularly in the aftermath of the Civil War, when the king had lost his crown, the radicals were in the ascendant and even the calendar, stripped of the festivals of old, had been rewritten with revolutionary zeal. “Holy-dayes are despis’d, new fashions are devis’d. / Old Christmas is kickt out of Town,” runs one celebrated ballad of the day. “Yet let’s be content, and the times lament, you see the world turn’d upside down.”

This belief that the world had been turned on its head — the kind of thing you often hear today, whether about Brexit, or transgenderism, or whatever — was remarkably common in the 17th century. “God Almighty has had a quarrel lately with all Mankind,” lamented the Welsh historian James Howell in 1647, “for within these twelve years there have been the strangest Revolutions and horridest things happened, not only in Europe but all the world over.” The world, he thought, was “off its hinges”.

He wasn’t alone. As armies trudged across the British countryside, rebellion tore holes in the empires of the Ming and the Ottomans, and the casualties mounted in central Europe, other commentators sank into despair. Every day, recorded the Oxford scholar Robert Burton, brought news of “war, plagues, fires, inundations, thefts, murders, massacres, meteors, comets, spectrums, prodigies, apparitions; of towns taken, cities besieged in France, Germany, Turkey, Persia, Poland etc”. Four years later, a Spanish tract suggested a terrifying but increasingly popular explanation: “This seems to be one of the epochs in which every nation is turned upside down, leading some great minds to suspect that we are now approaching the end of the world.”

Behind all this, some historians believe, lay another anxiety very familiar to us today: climate change. Pepys may have been sweating like a pig that day in June 1665. But as one of the great scholars of the early modern world, Geoffrey Parker, points out in his book, Global Crisis, this was the Little Ice Age, in which temperatures plunged across the world.

Snow fell in subtropical Japan; sub-Saharan Africa suffered a five-year drought; the rivers of modern Mexico and Virginia dried up; across Europe, harvests failed and thousands starved. The first months of 1621 were so cold that people walked across the frozen Bosphorus from Constantinople to Asia. In China, Poland, Russia and the Ottoman Empire, the population fell by about a third. In some parts of Germany, the population fell by half. In 1651, Hobbes warned that, without a strong state, life would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”. For many people, it was like that already.

Finally, inevitable, there’s the W-word. The radical Puritans at the heart of the convulsions of the mid-17th century, whose zealous righteousness seems so off-putting to us today, never referred to themselves as “woke”. But they’d have recognised the social justice movement’s ethos immediately. They too believed that they had been awakened to injustice and set apart from the fallen masses. They too believed that the world was divided into the saved and the sinners, those who walked in the light of the Lord and those who dwelt in the valley of darkness. They too believed that life was an unending struggle against sin, in which you must always do better, and in which there were few greater crimes than heresy and apostasy. And they too lived in dread of that most wicked and dreaded figure of all: the witch — the old woman next door who had cursed your cow; the neighbour’s wife who made faces at your children; the bestselling novelist who knew what a woman was.

Perhaps we should go easy on the Puritans, though. Even Pepys, whose hedonistic humanity seems so divorced from their joyless moralising, thought they made an unsatisfyingly easy target. Three years after that hot day in 1665, he saw a production of Ben Jonson’s play Bartholomew Fair, long a favourite of his. “It is an excellent play,” he wrote afterwards: “the more I see it, the more I love the wit of it.” But there was a caveat. “Only the business of abusing the Puritans begins to grow stale, and of no use, they being the people that, at last, will be found the wisest.” But Pepys could afford to say that, because his Puritans had been beaten. Our own are still with us, more’s the pity.

Still, if the 17th-century parallel really does hold up, then think what’s just around the corner! A new age of pleasure-loving debauchery. The revival of the coffee house. The triumph of the beefsteak. The return of the wig. Can’t wait.

*

Dominic Sandbrook discusses the 17th century with Anna Keay and Malcolm Gaskill in two recent episodes of his podcast, The Rest is History.


Dominic Sandbrook is an author, historian and UnHerd columnist. His latest book is: Who Dares Wins: Britain, 1979-1982

dcsandbrook

Join the discussion


Join like minded readers that support our journalism by becoming a paid subscriber


To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.

Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.

Subscribe
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

66 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
11 months ago

Very nice essay, thank you.

“…People in the 17th century, like us, were struggling to come to terms with an extraordinary advance in information technology — in their case, the printing press…”.

Indeed, but unlike the 17th century, we in the 21st century seem to have been cowed by our information technology revolution. What I mean is, where are our great intellects, diarists and philosophers and poets and so on? Where are *our* Descarteses and Spinozas and Miltons, and Lockes and Hobbeses? Where is our Peyps? Instead of a creative explosion in the humanities (alongside the one in the sciences), we seem to have an explosion of ephemera, where even the most substantial figures seem to be spending half their time sprinkling shitposts on social media. No wonder no one gets round to producing any great works of the type someone will still be looking at and admiring, four centuries on.

Last edited 11 months ago by Prashant Kotak
Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
11 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

“where are our great intellects, diarists and philosophers and poets and so on?”

Podcasts, blogs, YouTube, and still … books.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
11 months ago

rappers?!!!!!

Paul Devlin
Paul Devlin
11 months ago

The most exalted voices of the age!

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
11 months ago

I was thinking of people more like Iain McGilchrist – who I was introduced to by our beloved UnHerd, and am still persuing via his talks on YouTube.

Paul Devlin
Paul Devlin
11 months ago

The most exalted voices of the age!

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
11 months ago

I was thinking of people more like Iain McGilchrist – who I was introduced to by our beloved UnHerd, and am still persuing via his talks on YouTube.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
10 months ago

Can you think of any names however….?

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
11 months ago

rappers?!!!!!

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
10 months ago

Can you think of any names however….?

Emil Castelli
Emil Castelli
11 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

excellent, Prash

but instead of their sort of Grand ”A new age of pleasure-loving debauchery” we get a society of degenerate, squalid, deviant, pathetic, solitary, wastrels wan* ing to bad porn wile drunk and stoned, and sharing their vacuous lives on cell-phones to people they could not really call friends. It is just not the same.ï»ż

Albert McGloan
Albert McGloan
11 months ago
Reply to  Emil Castelli

Yuval Noah Harari sends his regards.

Alan B
Alan B
11 months ago
Reply to  Albert McGloan

So does Robert Filmer! 😉

Alan B
Alan B
11 months ago
Reply to  Albert McGloan

So does Robert Filmer! 😉

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
10 months ago
Reply to  Emil Castelli

You obviously haven’t enjoyed very much debauchery to make that comment!

Drugs, drink, and sex can be addictive and destructive behaviours (so can cakes and soft drinks); they can also be fantastic fun.

Albert McGloan
Albert McGloan
11 months ago
Reply to  Emil Castelli

Yuval Noah Harari sends his regards.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
10 months ago
Reply to  Emil Castelli

You obviously haven’t enjoyed very much debauchery to make that comment!

Drugs, drink, and sex can be addictive and destructive behaviours (so can cakes and soft drinks); they can also be fantastic fun.

Milton Gibbon
Milton Gibbon
11 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Peterson, Murray, Anderson, Hitchens, even Sandbrook & Holland perhaps? Charles Moore’s diary in the Spectator is always amusing. That is in the non-US anglosphere. I am sure there are others accross the pond. The difficulty with finding a new Hobbes or Locke is that they were pioneering for their time – much like “woke” academics are today.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
11 months ago
Reply to  Milton Gibbon

Oh, come on. Fine as these gentlemen are, they are not exactly Descartes or Locke. Who exactly is hypothesising new frameworks of human existence? I can think of, say Penrose or Searle or Chomsky or Wolfram and so on, but for the number of people on earth right now compared to the 17th century, I can’t help feeling a little short changed here.

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
11 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

“Who exactly is hypothesising new frameworks of human existence?”

The ‘transhuman’ crowd?

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
11 months ago

Absolutely there are some interesting ideas coming out of the Transhumanist movement, but nothing I would class as philosophically groundbreaking yet. For the avoidance of doubt, I separate out the Transhumanists from the Transgenderists. I know people will tell me they are one and the same, but I don’t view them as such at all. Genuine Transhumanists very often have a solid lock on Science and Mathematics, and look at trends, data and probabilities, often in a Bayesian context. Transgenderists are invariably a bunch of f**king idiots, more often than not from Humanities backgrounds or working in HR or something, who wouldn’t know a Turing Machine from their tushy.

Last edited 11 months ago by Prashant Kotak
AJ Mac
AJ Mac
11 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Philosophy and History belong to the Humanities too. A giant brain-in-a-jar (so to speak) with great scientific and mathematical knowledge and insight, but no appreciation of history, philosophy, literature, or music, is just as blinkered as a “poetry expert” who can barely count, in my opinion.
Sincerely,
AJ M.,
Humanistic Dilettante Generalist (with a literature degree or two)

Last edited 11 months ago by AJ Mac
Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
10 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

I must say I’m pretty down on philosophy in general. Arguing fundamental ideas in isolation purely with words (which do not and cannot in the human world have rigid meanings) might not even be possible. And what the hell progress has actually been made in the thousands of years of philosophy, floating away from any mooring in empirical reality?

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
10 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

I must say I’m pretty down on philosophy in general. Arguing fundamental ideas in isolation purely with words (which do not and cannot in the human world have rigid meanings) might not even be possible. And what the hell progress has actually been made in the thousands of years of philosophy, floating away from any mooring in empirical reality?

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
11 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Philosophy and History belong to the Humanities too. A giant brain-in-a-jar (so to speak) with great scientific and mathematical knowledge and insight, but no appreciation of history, philosophy, literature, or music, is just as blinkered as a “poetry expert” who can barely count, in my opinion.
Sincerely,
AJ M.,
Humanistic Dilettante Generalist (with a literature degree or two)

Last edited 11 months ago by AJ Mac
Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
11 months ago

Absolutely there are some interesting ideas coming out of the Transhumanist movement, but nothing I would class as philosophically groundbreaking yet. For the avoidance of doubt, I separate out the Transhumanists from the Transgenderists. I know people will tell me they are one and the same, but I don’t view them as such at all. Genuine Transhumanists very often have a solid lock on Science and Mathematics, and look at trends, data and probabilities, often in a Bayesian context. Transgenderists are invariably a bunch of f**king idiots, more often than not from Humanities backgrounds or working in HR or something, who wouldn’t know a Turing Machine from their tushy.

Last edited 11 months ago by Prashant Kotak
Milton Gibbon
Milton Gibbon
11 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Hmmm. A hard one to please. I don’t know if hypothesising new frameworks of human existence is the be all and end all of philosophical acheivement – look what Nietsche or Marx did to the last hundred years (and in some cases are still doing) or the French revolutionaries did to the 19th century. Poetry has definitely declined, I will give you that and for me the best rap music is head and shoulders above anything newly “in print’.

Last edited 11 months ago by Milton Gibbon
Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
10 months ago
Reply to  Milton Gibbon

You’d have to work very hard to persuade me that rap music isn’t extremely limited by its very structure and subject matter!

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
10 months ago
Reply to  Milton Gibbon

You’d have to work very hard to persuade me that rap music isn’t extremely limited by its very structure and subject matter!

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
11 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Most of those frameworks have been hypothesized to death. While I’m not a materialist, I’d say Sir Isaac Newton’s physical insights were of more use to mankind than Descartes’ arid dualism, though I have higher esteem for Locke, whose works directly inspired some of the better parts of the American Revolution.
In 1650, with great leisure and a great library, it was remotely possible to read almost all that was regarded as essential (at least in the West). Now– depending on what you consider essential–that probably couldn’t be done in 10 lifetimes.
We need to digest and improve upon what we already have. Innovation, like “disruption” as a virtue-in-itself is a faulty torch that helps to fuel to some of the worst idiocy of the Tech Bros and Social Engineers, which most of us can agree to disapprove of here among the UnHerd.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
10 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

To be fair, there are just so many more intellectuals writers today, so they are unlikely to stand out. It’s easier to be the first Newton than say, Richard Feynman, who was almost certainly his intellectual equal. I found a few fascinating books by writes I wasn’t aware of straight off in a large Waterstones branch the other day, which looked original and promising.

Descartes and Locke were also significantly misguided on major issues. However at least they were able to write what they believed. Unfortunately the humanities in particular have been largely taken over by irrational “woke” progressivism.

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
11 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

“Who exactly is hypothesising new frameworks of human existence?”

The ‘transhuman’ crowd?

Milton Gibbon
Milton Gibbon
11 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Hmmm. A hard one to please. I don’t know if hypothesising new frameworks of human existence is the be all and end all of philosophical acheivement – look what Nietsche or Marx did to the last hundred years (and in some cases are still doing) or the French revolutionaries did to the 19th century. Poetry has definitely declined, I will give you that and for me the best rap music is head and shoulders above anything newly “in print’.

Last edited 11 months ago by Milton Gibbon
AJ Mac
AJ Mac
11 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Most of those frameworks have been hypothesized to death. While I’m not a materialist, I’d say Sir Isaac Newton’s physical insights were of more use to mankind than Descartes’ arid dualism, though I have higher esteem for Locke, whose works directly inspired some of the better parts of the American Revolution.
In 1650, with great leisure and a great library, it was remotely possible to read almost all that was regarded as essential (at least in the West). Now– depending on what you consider essential–that probably couldn’t be done in 10 lifetimes.
We need to digest and improve upon what we already have. Innovation, like “disruption” as a virtue-in-itself is a faulty torch that helps to fuel to some of the worst idiocy of the Tech Bros and Social Engineers, which most of us can agree to disapprove of here among the UnHerd.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
10 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

To be fair, there are just so many more intellectuals writers today, so they are unlikely to stand out. It’s easier to be the first Newton than say, Richard Feynman, who was almost certainly his intellectual equal. I found a few fascinating books by writes I wasn’t aware of straight off in a large Waterstones branch the other day, which looked original and promising.

Descartes and Locke were also significantly misguided on major issues. However at least they were able to write what they believed. Unfortunately the humanities in particular have been largely taken over by irrational “woke” progressivism.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
11 months ago
Reply to  Milton Gibbon

Oh, come on. Fine as these gentlemen are, they are not exactly Descartes or Locke. Who exactly is hypothesising new frameworks of human existence? I can think of, say Penrose or Searle or Chomsky or Wolfram and so on, but for the number of people on earth right now compared to the 17th century, I can’t help feeling a little short changed here.

Susan Grabston
Susan Grabston
11 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

We have spent the past 20 years outsourcing much of our humanity – we disassociate with our addictions and drugs, we outsource our critical thinking to memes and algorithms, we virtualise our identify to whatever flavour we want, the advent of Neuralink will start the transhumanist arms race, and the evasion of death through digital consciousness is all the rage (and if that’s not within your reach, Canada has some interesting Assisted Dying criteria that you can sign up for). The lack of serious thought has many causes, but in my view our resistance to being embodied is the fundamental cause. Very few of us actually live in the now.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
11 months ago
Reply to  Susan Grabston

Well said. We are living in escapist times, with certain major new developments.
In my view, our underlying deficits are not primarily intellectual, but existential or spiritual. We are not deep-thinkers as a global population, true–but when have we been? Most of what survives from previous centuries (especially the 18th and earlier) was written by the Intellectual One-Percent, not characteristic of the common person. A lack of meaning or purpose, or even a sense that any meaning or purpose is possible, seems to underlie the malaise for many, in this age of hyperconnected alienation.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
11 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

And yet… when someone puts forward an alternative perspective on how meaning and spirituality might be redeveloped within our human framework, you try to find ways to disagree, which at times appears to be disagreeing for the sake of disagreement; and simply because it doesn’t follow the pattern of meaning and spirituality that you prefer.
Either that, or it becomes misrepresented as “materialist”.

Last edited 11 months ago by Steve Murray
AJ Mac
AJ Mac
11 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

I can certainly be argumentative and contrarian. I did think your most recent opening comment was more in opposition to religion than in favor of spirituality, and also part of a series of anti-deistic comments I disagree with for the most part, but not in every way.
I’m a God-leaning agnostic: I feel certain there is Something, but of course I can’t prove that and I don’t claim to understand what It is.
A perceived trashing of major religious traditions or texts tends to get me defensive or even combative, and I know I’m too easily “triggered” in that way. Sometimes I also respond to multiple comments in the form of a reply to one. I shouldn’t do that.
I always find your comments worthwhile and typically agree with most of what you say. I regret that I seem to have offended you with my tone, which I know can be highhanded and self-important (or maybe it’s more accurate to say that it can be other things too). I’m working on it.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
11 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

I suspect we’re pretty much of the same mindset, from what you describe – and that in itself can be quite annoying!!
I don’t trash major religious traditions, though; pointing out why they may be leading people to search down the wrong paths isn’t disrespectful of their achievements in helping humanity through its initial phases.
My biggest concern is when the exchanges lead to others taking sides in a too-defensive manner, which is probably what led to the debate over the weekend getting pulled… in fact – we were cancelled. That was plain wrong of Unherd, or those who forced the Unherd algorithms into doing so. The debate itself is vital, and i look forward to furthering it at some other point.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
11 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

A fair reply. I shouldn’t have implied you “trashed” religion (even in my “perception”). That was a bit defensive or overstated.
I know what you mean about being cancelled. I’ve found that when comments get a lot of downvotes, especially quickly, they get voted off the island, into a usually temporary oblivion. They tend to come back after 12-plus hours, but it is still a bit unfair and unnecessary, unless there is something blatantly libelous or aggressively vulgar or what not. The same thing happens with certain key words in an otherwise inoffensive post. (Why does it take 12 hours to vet their actual content?)
Your comments are typically a hit, but many of mine have be “time-outed” or quarantined. I’ll try not to explode the discussion with my attitude if/when the topic comes up again. Cheers.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
11 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

A fair reply. I shouldn’t have implied you “trashed” religion (even in my “perception”). That was a bit defensive or overstated.
I know what you mean about being cancelled. I’ve found that when comments get a lot of downvotes, especially quickly, they get voted off the island, into a usually temporary oblivion. They tend to come back after 12-plus hours, but it is still a bit unfair and unnecessary, unless there is something blatantly libelous or aggressively vulgar or what not. The same thing happens with certain key words in an otherwise inoffensive post. (Why does it take 12 hours to vet their actual content?)
Your comments are typically a hit, but many of mine have be “time-outed” or quarantined. I’ll try not to explode the discussion with my attitude if/when the topic comes up again. Cheers.

Richard Ross
Richard Ross
11 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

AJ Mac – you’re pretty much the perfect Unherder.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
11 months ago
Reply to  Richard Ross

Thanks, Richard Ross. Many would disagree, which is perfect too.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
11 months ago
Reply to  Richard Ross

Thanks, Richard Ross. Many would disagree, which is perfect too.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
11 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

I suspect we’re pretty much of the same mindset, from what you describe – and that in itself can be quite annoying!!
I don’t trash major religious traditions, though; pointing out why they may be leading people to search down the wrong paths isn’t disrespectful of their achievements in helping humanity through its initial phases.
My biggest concern is when the exchanges lead to others taking sides in a too-defensive manner, which is probably what led to the debate over the weekend getting pulled… in fact – we were cancelled. That was plain wrong of Unherd, or those who forced the Unherd algorithms into doing so. The debate itself is vital, and i look forward to furthering it at some other point.

Richard Ross
Richard Ross
11 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

AJ Mac – you’re pretty much the perfect Unherder.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
11 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

I can certainly be argumentative and contrarian. I did think your most recent opening comment was more in opposition to religion than in favor of spirituality, and also part of a series of anti-deistic comments I disagree with for the most part, but not in every way.
I’m a God-leaning agnostic: I feel certain there is Something, but of course I can’t prove that and I don’t claim to understand what It is.
A perceived trashing of major religious traditions or texts tends to get me defensive or even combative, and I know I’m too easily “triggered” in that way. Sometimes I also respond to multiple comments in the form of a reply to one. I shouldn’t do that.
I always find your comments worthwhile and typically agree with most of what you say. I regret that I seem to have offended you with my tone, which I know can be highhanded and self-important (or maybe it’s more accurate to say that it can be other things too). I’m working on it.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
11 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

And yet… when someone puts forward an alternative perspective on how meaning and spirituality might be redeveloped within our human framework, you try to find ways to disagree, which at times appears to be disagreeing for the sake of disagreement; and simply because it doesn’t follow the pattern of meaning and spirituality that you prefer.
Either that, or it becomes misrepresented as “materialist”.

Last edited 11 months ago by Steve Murray
AJ Mac
AJ Mac
11 months ago
Reply to  Susan Grabston

Well said. We are living in escapist times, with certain major new developments.
In my view, our underlying deficits are not primarily intellectual, but existential or spiritual. We are not deep-thinkers as a global population, true–but when have we been? Most of what survives from previous centuries (especially the 18th and earlier) was written by the Intellectual One-Percent, not characteristic of the common person. A lack of meaning or purpose, or even a sense that any meaning or purpose is possible, seems to underlie the malaise for many, in this age of hyperconnected alienation.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
11 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Perhaps the late Alan Clark or even Tony Benn for Pepys.

As for philosophy. A.N. Whitehead* said it all years ago with this:-
“The safest general characterisation of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”

(* 1861-1947.)

Last edited 11 months ago by Charles Stanhope
Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
11 months ago

I can buy into Alan Clark as a latter day cut-price Pepys. Tony Benn, less so.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
10 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

They were all good political diaries. Crosland another.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
10 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

They were all good political diaries. Crosland another.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
11 months ago

I can buy into Alan Clark as a latter day cut-price Pepys. Tony Benn, less so.

Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
11 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

I think think that is a very relevant point and it is about control of information and propaganda. Before the printing press the church controlled information and would not allow access to the bible. Even with the printing press many people could not read or afford them. In time we had the burning of books with unacceptable views. Now we have the internet where anybody can express any view and it can go round the world in seconds. It can turn an opinion into a fact based on the number of likes. But equally the internet has valid views and now we see a move to suppress them. Our intellectuals have been cancelled.

Matt M
Matt M
11 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

where are our great intellects, diarists and philosophers and poets and so on?

I worry about the lack of poets. When I was a boy, there were several world-class ones still writing (Betjeman, Heaney, Hughes) and they seemed to me to be part of an unbroken line of British and Irish poets going back to Shakepeare and Donne and Milton.
It seems the line is now broken. Simon Armitage is fine in his way but is he really part of this legacy?

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
11 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

Absolutely, and in the US there was the extraordinary Plath, uncomfortable as she is to read. No Greats around now anywhere in the Anglosphere that I can see. We are in the midst of a Poets Wiinter.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
11 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

Legacies of great power, like the English poetic tradition, lie dormant but do not die. There was quite a dry spell between Milton and Blake/Wordsworth/Keats wasn’t there? (I like Dryden and Pope, Gray, etc., but the other four, to me, belong in a deeper line, extending past even national roots into an ancient bardic tradition).
A fallow period, to be sure, but announcement’s of Poetry’s death are either premature or greatly exaggerated.

Matt M
Matt M
11 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

You are probably right AJ. I certainly hope so.

Matt M
Matt M
11 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

You are probably right AJ. I certainly hope so.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
11 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

He is not.
That’s really no disrespect either, because much of his output is admirable.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
11 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

Absolutely, and in the US there was the extraordinary Plath, uncomfortable as she is to read. No Greats around now anywhere in the Anglosphere that I can see. We are in the midst of a Poets Wiinter.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
11 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

Legacies of great power, like the English poetic tradition, lie dormant but do not die. There was quite a dry spell between Milton and Blake/Wordsworth/Keats wasn’t there? (I like Dryden and Pope, Gray, etc., but the other four, to me, belong in a deeper line, extending past even national roots into an ancient bardic tradition).
A fallow period, to be sure, but announcement’s of Poetry’s death are either premature or greatly exaggerated.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
11 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

He is not.
That’s really no disrespect either, because much of his output is admirable.

Alan B
Alan B
11 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Fair enough, but consider: How many of those writers were celebrated in their own time?

Russell Sharpe
Russell Sharpe
11 months ago
Reply to  Alan B

If “those writers’ refers to the ones PK mentioned viz Descartes, Spinoza, Milton, Locke, Hobbes and Pepys, then the answer is: all of them, apart from Pepys who of course wrote his diary for himself with no thoughts of publication.

Russell Sharpe
Russell Sharpe
11 months ago
Reply to  Alan B

If “those writers’ refers to the ones PK mentioned viz Descartes, Spinoza, Milton, Locke, Hobbes and Pepys, then the answer is: all of them, apart from Pepys who of course wrote his diary for himself with no thoughts of publication.

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
11 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

“where are our great intellects, diarists and philosophers and poets and so on?”

Podcasts, blogs, YouTube, and still … books.

Emil Castelli
Emil Castelli
11 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

excellent, Prash

but instead of their sort of Grand ”A new age of pleasure-loving debauchery” we get a society of degenerate, squalid, deviant, pathetic, solitary, wastrels wan* ing to bad porn wile drunk and stoned, and sharing their vacuous lives on cell-phones to people they could not really call friends. It is just not the same.ï»ż

Milton Gibbon
Milton Gibbon
11 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Peterson, Murray, Anderson, Hitchens, even Sandbrook & Holland perhaps? Charles Moore’s diary in the Spectator is always amusing. That is in the non-US anglosphere. I am sure there are others accross the pond. The difficulty with finding a new Hobbes or Locke is that they were pioneering for their time – much like “woke” academics are today.

Susan Grabston
Susan Grabston
11 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

We have spent the past 20 years outsourcing much of our humanity – we disassociate with our addictions and drugs, we outsource our critical thinking to memes and algorithms, we virtualise our identify to whatever flavour we want, the advent of Neuralink will start the transhumanist arms race, and the evasion of death through digital consciousness is all the rage (and if that’s not within your reach, Canada has some interesting Assisted Dying criteria that you can sign up for). The lack of serious thought has many causes, but in my view our resistance to being embodied is the fundamental cause. Very few of us actually live in the now.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
11 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Perhaps the late Alan Clark or even Tony Benn for Pepys.

As for philosophy. A.N. Whitehead* said it all years ago with this:-
“The safest general characterisation of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”

(* 1861-1947.)

Last edited 11 months ago by Charles Stanhope
Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
11 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

I think think that is a very relevant point and it is about control of information and propaganda. Before the printing press the church controlled information and would not allow access to the bible. Even with the printing press many people could not read or afford them. In time we had the burning of books with unacceptable views. Now we have the internet where anybody can express any view and it can go round the world in seconds. It can turn an opinion into a fact based on the number of likes. But equally the internet has valid views and now we see a move to suppress them. Our intellectuals have been cancelled.

Matt M
Matt M
11 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

where are our great intellects, diarists and philosophers and poets and so on?

I worry about the lack of poets. When I was a boy, there were several world-class ones still writing (Betjeman, Heaney, Hughes) and they seemed to me to be part of an unbroken line of British and Irish poets going back to Shakepeare and Donne and Milton.
It seems the line is now broken. Simon Armitage is fine in his way but is he really part of this legacy?

Alan B
Alan B
11 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Fair enough, but consider: How many of those writers were celebrated in their own time?

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
11 months ago

Very nice essay, thank you.

“…People in the 17th century, like us, were struggling to come to terms with an extraordinary advance in information technology — in their case, the printing press…”.

Indeed, but unlike the 17th century, we in the 21st century seem to have been cowed by our information technology revolution. What I mean is, where are our great intellects, diarists and philosophers and poets and so on? Where are *our* Descarteses and Spinozas and Miltons, and Lockes and Hobbeses? Where is our Peyps? Instead of a creative explosion in the humanities (alongside the one in the sciences), we seem to have an explosion of ephemera, where even the most substantial figures seem to be spending half their time sprinkling shitposts on social media. No wonder no one gets round to producing any great works of the type someone will still be looking at and admiring, four centuries on.

Last edited 11 months ago by Prashant Kotak
Simon Neale
Simon Neale
11 months ago

“the hottest day that ever I felt in my life”, he confided to his diary, “and it is confessed so by all other people the hottest they ever knew in England”.

“But then as I wandered I fell to thinking as to whether such confession be as it seems, or whether all other people be so influenced, cajoled, and frighted by the incessant promptings of the British Broadcasting Corporation, My Lord Attenborough (though he be now well into his dotage), and the proclamations of Mistress Thunberg. For these, and others of their cabal, do scarcely seem to let up from their hectoring about the end of times, that their opinions, being a curious mixture of Natural Philosophy and the Puritan sentiment, do make the minds of all men likely to run mad with distraction….”

Last edited 11 months ago by Simon Neale
William Murphy
William Murphy
11 months ago
Reply to  Simon Neale

May I modestly suggest Professor Alec Ryrie? He gives a thoughtful and often wickedly funny account of the 1640s and 1650s. The era was packed with political and religious loonies of all persuasions. The land was infested by Ranters, Levellers, Diggers, Seekers and, worst of all, the Quakers. They created a stir out of all proportion to their numbers. It was like having Al Quaeda and the Taliban taking over your suburb. Plus there was a Civil War, abolition of Parliament and the execution of the King. No wonder people were happy for Charles II to come back.

https://youtu.be/mK5-UaRSSSs

net mag
net mag
11 months ago
Reply to  William Murphy

Thanks for the link.

net mag
net mag
11 months ago
Reply to  William Murphy

Thanks for the link.

William Murphy
William Murphy
11 months ago
Reply to  Simon Neale

May I modestly suggest Professor Alec Ryrie? He gives a thoughtful and often wickedly funny account of the 1640s and 1650s. The era was packed with political and religious loonies of all persuasions. The land was infested by Ranters, Levellers, Diggers, Seekers and, worst of all, the Quakers. They created a stir out of all proportion to their numbers. It was like having Al Quaeda and the Taliban taking over your suburb. Plus there was a Civil War, abolition of Parliament and the execution of the King. No wonder people were happy for Charles II to come back.

https://youtu.be/mK5-UaRSSSs

Simon Neale
Simon Neale
11 months ago

“the hottest day that ever I felt in my life”, he confided to his diary, “and it is confessed so by all other people the hottest they ever knew in England”.

“But then as I wandered I fell to thinking as to whether such confession be as it seems, or whether all other people be so influenced, cajoled, and frighted by the incessant promptings of the British Broadcasting Corporation, My Lord Attenborough (though he be now well into his dotage), and the proclamations of Mistress Thunberg. For these, and others of their cabal, do scarcely seem to let up from their hectoring about the end of times, that their opinions, being a curious mixture of Natural Philosophy and the Puritan sentiment, do make the minds of all men likely to run mad with distraction….”

Last edited 11 months ago by Simon Neale
Nell Clover
Nell Clover
11 months ago

Dominic’s excitement for what comes next demands faith in an ever-lasting upwards march of our civilisation. But our civilisation, rooted as all civilisations are in culture, religion and procreation, is coming to a close. The people that followed the civil war were the children of those that had gone before, inheritors of a culture and religion with an added dose of a powerful lessons learned. The people that follow us bring new cultures, new religions, and share nothing of the lessons we have learned.

So what if our own civilisation has peaked and instead of history repeating, history goes into reverse? Then what follows isn’t a parallel but a mirror. We would be in the midst of an information technology revolution giving birth to a new medieval world. New types of lords with great power over the rest of us, new types of peasants whose lives are severely restricted, and a new self-serving overbearing church that provides the moral framework justifying the new unfairness for some sort of greater good.

In terms of strength of belief and willingness to act and force everyone else to submit, you’d have to say the three most powerful “belief” systems today are wokeism, environmentalism, and Islam. All of these have a core that is medieval in outlook so it is not unreasonable to assume the future they are competing to create will be medieval whether there is a winner or a compromise.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that we already live in an age of pleasure-loving debauchery, a coffee shop in all hamlets, and a beefsteak served on every high street. This is the status quo. And it was the status quo that was destroyed by new forces claiming to represent the future.

Islam isn’t so keen on certain kinds of debauchery, the woke seem to think me drinking coffee is imperialist and/or racist, and the environmentalists are trying to end beef farming. I don’t have the same faith Dominic does…

Last edited 11 months ago by Nell Clover
Nell Clover
Nell Clover
11 months ago

Dominic’s excitement for what comes next demands faith in an ever-lasting upwards march of our civilisation. But our civilisation, rooted as all civilisations are in culture, religion and procreation, is coming to a close. The people that followed the civil war were the children of those that had gone before, inheritors of a culture and religion with an added dose of a powerful lessons learned. The people that follow us bring new cultures, new religions, and share nothing of the lessons we have learned.

So what if our own civilisation has peaked and instead of history repeating, history goes into reverse? Then what follows isn’t a parallel but a mirror. We would be in the midst of an information technology revolution giving birth to a new medieval world. New types of lords with great power over the rest of us, new types of peasants whose lives are severely restricted, and a new self-serving overbearing church that provides the moral framework justifying the new unfairness for some sort of greater good.

In terms of strength of belief and willingness to act and force everyone else to submit, you’d have to say the three most powerful “belief” systems today are wokeism, environmentalism, and Islam. All of these have a core that is medieval in outlook so it is not unreasonable to assume the future they are competing to create will be medieval whether there is a winner or a compromise.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that we already live in an age of pleasure-loving debauchery, a coffee shop in all hamlets, and a beefsteak served on every high street. This is the status quo. And it was the status quo that was destroyed by new forces claiming to represent the future.

Islam isn’t so keen on certain kinds of debauchery, the woke seem to think me drinking coffee is imperialist and/or racist, and the environmentalists are trying to end beef farming. I don’t have the same faith Dominic does…

Last edited 11 months ago by Nell Clover
J Bryant
J Bryant
11 months ago

Interesting essay.
Still, if the 17th-century parallel really does hold up, then think what’s just around the corner!… The revival of the coffee house.”
Yes, indeed. Look no further than Unherd’s very own Unherd Club in Westminster. I wonder who will be their latter-day Pepys?

Emil Castelli
Emil Castelli
11 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

haha

Emil Castelli
Emil Castelli
11 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

haha

J Bryant
J Bryant
11 months ago

Interesting essay.
Still, if the 17th-century parallel really does hold up, then think what’s just around the corner!… The revival of the coffee house.”
Yes, indeed. Look no further than Unherd’s very own Unherd Club in Westminster. I wonder who will be their latter-day Pepys?

michael harris
michael harris
11 months ago

Not so much witchcraft as witch hunting. On both sides of the Atlantic.
And the hunts in England (East Anglia, Pendle etc) and in Salem were small beer compared to the frenzies in some parts of Europe (even Scotland).

Mike Doyle
Mike Doyle
11 months ago
Reply to  michael harris

The witch hunts in England were born in Scotland. They came South when James VI of Scotland became James I of England.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
11 months ago
Reply to  Mike Doyle

perhaps we need some more packs of witch hounds… Just imagine them in full cry after Markle, the Jock woman politician, and one or two others Tally Ho… as I wave my cap hurtling over a fence in Monte Cito or Glasgee!!!!

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
11 months ago
Reply to  Mike Doyle

perhaps we need some more packs of witch hounds… Just imagine them in full cry after Markle, the Jock woman politician, and one or two others Tally Ho… as I wave my cap hurtling over a fence in Monte Cito or Glasgee!!!!

Mike Doyle
Mike Doyle
11 months ago
Reply to  michael harris

The witch hunts in England were born in Scotland. They came South when James VI of Scotland became James I of England.

michael harris
michael harris
11 months ago

Not so much witchcraft as witch hunting. On both sides of the Atlantic.
And the hunts in England (East Anglia, Pendle etc) and in Salem were small beer compared to the frenzies in some parts of Europe (even Scotland).

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
11 months ago

I was delighted to read this “long-distance” comparison by Mr. Sandbrook. Nostalgic for a time of actual Civil War anyone? From a jesting perspective, I’d say nostalgia’s not as good as it used to be.
There is something of extraordinary resonance about the mid-17th century, though–especially in England (at least in my memory). To illustrate, I’ll just name three famous Johns: Milton, Dryden, and Locke. Certainly Wordsworth, not a reactionary, looked back with fondness on the Puritan Poet: “Milton, thou shouldst be living at this hour: / England hath need of thee: she is a fen / Of stagnant waters: altar, sword, and pen”. Aside from the archaic diction, that sounds like a lot of common, present-day complaints to me.
“Like today’s war in Ukraine, the Thirty Years War became a kind of Rorschach test: what you saw depended on your existing religious and political prejudices”. This seems quite accurate and extends well beyond the single major issue of that war. We see through competing lenses that we regard as clear, but we are almost constitutionally-unable to see the lens itself, and many refuse even to question the clarity thereof. “Why beholdest thou the mote” and all that, right?
Great article!

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
11 months ago

I was delighted to read this “long-distance” comparison by Mr. Sandbrook. Nostalgic for a time of actual Civil War anyone? From a jesting perspective, I’d say nostalgia’s not as good as it used to be.
There is something of extraordinary resonance about the mid-17th century, though–especially in England (at least in my memory). To illustrate, I’ll just name three famous Johns: Milton, Dryden, and Locke. Certainly Wordsworth, not a reactionary, looked back with fondness on the Puritan Poet: “Milton, thou shouldst be living at this hour: / England hath need of thee: she is a fen / Of stagnant waters: altar, sword, and pen”. Aside from the archaic diction, that sounds like a lot of common, present-day complaints to me.
“Like today’s war in Ukraine, the Thirty Years War became a kind of Rorschach test: what you saw depended on your existing religious and political prejudices”. This seems quite accurate and extends well beyond the single major issue of that war. We see through competing lenses that we regard as clear, but we are almost constitutionally-unable to see the lens itself, and many refuse even to question the clarity thereof. “Why beholdest thou the mote” and all that, right?
Great article!

Max Rottersman
Max Rottersman
11 months ago

No matter what technology we create, it doesn’t change our fundamental nature, to sit around our cave dissing the hunters who don’t bring us back what we want, when we want it and how it’s served.

Max Rottersman
Max Rottersman
11 months ago

No matter what technology we create, it doesn’t change our fundamental nature, to sit around our cave dissing the hunters who don’t bring us back what we want, when we want it and how it’s served.

Emil Castelli
Emil Castelli
11 months ago

‘Still, if the 17th-century parallel really does hold up, then think what’s just around the corner! A new age of pleasure-loving debauchery”

I thought that next was the Royal Fleet being destroyed at anchor on the Thames in London by the Dutch, and the Great Fire of London destroying the city….

I suppose covid – and – the insane war in Ukraine, both of which Boris created would be parallels, and do leave UK devastated as is on track now …, they are the self inflicted disaster –

1600s London rebuilt in Brick, and the new Fleet took on the world…..

But I would not hope for that, I think at this point we part with the later 1600s and modern days just keeps going down hill – look at what is in Parliament, not one Statesman. Not one Great writer, No – Donne, Bacon, Shakespeare…No scientist but the Fauci-esk monsters shilling for Pharma…no Philosophers, no Warriors, no person who stands out in greatness in all UK since Thatcher….

decline is in the cards, self inflicted decline, not 45% of London is even related to Pepys Londoners, and they are mostly old Boomers shivering in cold winter rooms from now on…. it has moved on….Greatness does not lie ahead…..

Emil Castelli
Emil Castelli
11 months ago

‘Still, if the 17th-century parallel really does hold up, then think what’s just around the corner! A new age of pleasure-loving debauchery”

I thought that next was the Royal Fleet being destroyed at anchor on the Thames in London by the Dutch, and the Great Fire of London destroying the city….

I suppose covid – and – the insane war in Ukraine, both of which Boris created would be parallels, and do leave UK devastated as is on track now …, they are the self inflicted disaster –

1600s London rebuilt in Brick, and the new Fleet took on the world…..

But I would not hope for that, I think at this point we part with the later 1600s and modern days just keeps going down hill – look at what is in Parliament, not one Statesman. Not one Great writer, No – Donne, Bacon, Shakespeare…No scientist but the Fauci-esk monsters shilling for Pharma…no Philosophers, no Warriors, no person who stands out in greatness in all UK since Thatcher….

decline is in the cards, self inflicted decline, not 45% of London is even related to Pepys Londoners, and they are mostly old Boomers shivering in cold winter rooms from now on…. it has moved on….Greatness does not lie ahead…..

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
11 months ago

Return of The Whig would be far more useful than the wig…

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
11 months ago

Return of The Whig would be far more useful than the wig…

Maurice Austin
Maurice Austin
11 months ago

Here in Australia, the one thing I really do look forward to is the return of the wig. Officers of Parliament and the courts should LOOK like officers of Parliamant and the courts, dammit.
The return of true debachery ran from about 1967 to the first AIDS diagnosis, and although with the advent of the Internet it has become indeed nasty, poor and brutish, but more particularly – ahem – solitary and short, it continues. The revival of the coffee-house is well under way. The triumph of the beefsteak is stirring in the carnivore diet movement.
It remains only for the revival of the wig for Dominic’s quadrella of resurrections to be achieved. For my part, Bring It On.

Maurice Austin
Maurice Austin
11 months ago

Here in Australia, the one thing I really do look forward to is the return of the wig. Officers of Parliament and the courts should LOOK like officers of Parliamant and the courts, dammit.
The return of true debachery ran from about 1967 to the first AIDS diagnosis, and although with the advent of the Internet it has become indeed nasty, poor and brutish, but more particularly – ahem – solitary and short, it continues. The revival of the coffee-house is well under way. The triumph of the beefsteak is stirring in the carnivore diet movement.
It remains only for the revival of the wig for Dominic’s quadrella of resurrections to be achieved. For my part, Bring It On.

Martin Terrell
Martin Terrell
11 months ago

If we’re looking for historical rhythms I’m not sure if we’ve reached the Restoration yet. We’re 1630 at best with a bankrupt and out of touch ruling class unable to reconcile two opposing forces from left snd right.

Martin Terrell
Martin Terrell
11 months ago

If we’re looking for historical rhythms I’m not sure if we’ve reached the Restoration yet. We’re 1630 at best with a bankrupt and out of touch ruling class unable to reconcile two opposing forces from left snd right.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
11 months ago

A needlessly depressing and somewhat slanted essay. Take this for example: re: Ireland. “the true figure was probably lower than 10,000”.

Really, then not so bad then?
Off course 10,000 from a country with a population estimated at about one million in 1640 would be about 50,000 in today’s terms-2023, so a little worse than say Bloody Sunday, or for that matter the whole of the ridiculously named ‘Troubles’.*

Why nothing of the enormous scientific advances of this century? Nor anything about how Europe really began to dominate the planet, firstly with by its command of the oceans, and then snatching the ultimate prize, the Americas.

Still Mr Sandbrook you didn’t go for the fourteenth century, the normal haven of ‘doomsayers’, for which you are to be congratulated.

(* Incidentally Ireland’s population had doubled by 1700.)

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
11 months ago

I respect your take, informative as usual, but I found the essay to be quite lighthearted–far less depressing or dark than what I typically read here.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
11 months ago

I respect your take, informative as usual, but I found the essay to be quite lighthearted–far less depressing or dark than what I typically read here.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
11 months ago

A needlessly depressing and somewhat slanted essay. Take this for example: re: Ireland. “the true figure was probably lower than 10,000”.

Really, then not so bad then?
Off course 10,000 from a country with a population estimated at about one million in 1640 would be about 50,000 in today’s terms-2023, so a little worse than say Bloody Sunday, or for that matter the whole of the ridiculously named ‘Troubles’.*

Why nothing of the enormous scientific advances of this century? Nor anything about how Europe really began to dominate the planet, firstly with by its command of the oceans, and then snatching the ultimate prize, the Americas.

Still Mr Sandbrook you didn’t go for the fourteenth century, the normal haven of ‘doomsayers’, for which you are to be congratulated.

(* Incidentally Ireland’s population had doubled by 1700.)

Tony Taylor
Tony Taylor
11 months ago

I love reading Robert Harris’s historical novels, and Act of Oblivion was no exception, except for one exception – no spoilers, after all it’s only been 360 years – but I can’t think of any way to describe my qualm without letting the feline beast out of the portmanteau. Anyone else have a similar complaint?

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
11 months ago
Reply to  Tony Taylor

The recent desecration of General Franco’s grave in Spain was NOT a good omen.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
11 months ago

Has anyone here read either or both of the Cromwell biographies that Sandbrook gave favorable mention? If so, please tell me whether they are worthwhile, or which is better.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
11 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Have you read, ‘Cromwell: An honourable enemy’ by Tom Reilly?

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
11 months ago

Not yet. I’ll take that as a recommendation and look into it.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
11 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

‘Lay’ heavy going. ‘Hutton’ volume II should be better.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
11 months ago

Much obliged.

Melanie Mabey
Melanie Mabey
10 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

I haven’t read Paul Lay’s book on Cromwell, but I have read his book ‘Providence Lost’ which covers the period just after the civil wars, it is a very good overview of why the Puritans failed to subdue Britain.A book which makes a good companion to this is Diane Purkiss’ â€˜The English Civil war’ its very good at outlining the long term trends and roots of the conflict among the people.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
11 months ago

“The best thing about Scotland is the road back to England” or similar?

Robert Eagle
Robert Eagle
11 months ago

A delightfully written piece that has cheered me up no end!