I once met a girl from Utrecht (it’s in Belgium, I think), and trotted out the only thing I know about it.
“The Treaty of Utrecht,” I said.
She’d never heard of it.
“You know,” I said, “the War of the Spanish Succession. Or was it the Austrian Succession?”
But what was any of that to her? She grew up in a real city with all its complications, realities, nuances. I just knew a historical fact, a label, a pigeon-hole.
The other day I read a review of a new biography of Castlereagh. I’ll trot out my one bit of knowledge about that too: Shelley’s lines on Peterloo:
“I met Murder on the way/He wore a mask like Castlereagh.”
Great lines. They’ve stuck in my head for decades, I don’t know why. Marvellously unfair to Castlereagh, it turns out. He wasn’t just Murder; he was a complicated human being. As we all are, I suppose.