Wednesday, 1 August 2012

On the Treaty of Utrecht

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.

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