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Shakespeare and the Making of the Modern City

Shakespeare and the Making of the Modern City


I’m going to talk to you today about
Everything to Everybody which is a big project I’m leading in Birmingham which
has two sort of twin objectives is that they’re on the screen one of which is
unlocking what is the world’s first great Shakespeare library for all that
is in Birmingham, it’s part of Birmingham City library’s collection and they’re
more broadly using Birmingham’s forgotten past to inspire future but there is a
big project that I can talk about which will hope to to deliver on these grand
aims but this is a research seminar and I’m going to talk a bit more to you
today about the pioneer of both the Birmingham Shakespeare Memorial Library and
something much bigger really the the the of the idea and realization of what does
have a real claim to be the world’s first modern city and that person is
called George Dawson and Birmingham has you may be surprised to hear as I
was surprised to find out has a real claim to being a Shakespearean city that
is George Dawson you’ll see a better picture of him later
you know who that is that’s Shakespeare so Dawson stood under a medallion of
Shakespeare’s face in the right in the Civic heart of Birmingham in what is now
Chamberlain Square it was then Ratcliffe Square or place from 1881 his this
monument was erected at the same time as the Chamberlain monument many of you
will know that monument it’s not a very personal monument actually there is a
medallion of Chamberlain’s face on it but you have to look quite hard to see
it this is a very personal monument has a life-sized man speaking in a fairly
relaxed attitude by Victorian standards to passes by so I say right in the heart
of Birmingham and it stood there till 1951 so pretty much within living
memory not for many people here but never
it’s its it till fairly recent date it stood there proclaiming something about
Birmingham and about the kind of civilization it sought to embody as many
of you probably all of you know in Shakespeare’s lifetime Birmingham was about
the same size as Stratford so it’s a city a very recent vintage in fact it
wasn’t a city in George Dawson’s times is later on in the nineteenth century
that it gets city status in mushrooms with the Industrial Revolution into a
city into a town soon to be a city which sees itself as the second city of Empire
and as I say you’ve got right at the heart of you’ve got this strange
forgotten man George Dawson somehow inspired by Shakespeare and others as I
will say so who was George Dawson one contemporary pictures him as follows how
clearly how vividly he stands out in memory the mass of iron gray hair
heavily streaked with white nearly covering his ears quite covering his low
broad forehead bushy eyebrows nearly straight and beneath them dark brown
eyes that twinkled and flashed and blazed and melted the nose straight or
nearly so the mouth partly hidden by straggling beard firm but not so firm
that it could not scorn or quiver with emotion the face was lined and seamed
the face of a man who’d known many sorrows who’d carried his own burden of
care and the burdens of others also his voice when he spoke to you was full and
deep and rather husky the voice of a man who’d struggled and suffered who’d known
disappointed and disappointment and defeat in the service of great causes
and in the pursuit of noble ideas there was a note of scorn in its times a note
of pity in it always the man himself was of middle height broad and sturdy slow
in the movements of the body Swift in the movements of the head and lastly one
of the little things almost always a velvet coat or at least a velvet
waistcoat with a necktie that was any colour but white
in short a man thoroughly unclerical unprofessional
unusual altogether unlike ordinary men if you saw him in a crowd you’d have
marked him out if you heard him speak you’d have watched him and waited for
him to speak again such was George Dawson in the later
years of his life but he was a young man when he came to Birmingham and he came
in the fire and freshness of his use Dawson was controversial
he never altogether lost that fire and freshness but not long after he came to
Birmingham in the late 1840s he was perhaps the most hated man in England
minister of a church which he himself called the Church of the Doubters friend
to exiled European insurrectionists like the Hungarian Kossuth and the Italian
Mazzini friend also to the memory of Oliver Cromwell Dawson comprehensively
and courageously reinvented religion and canonical culture for new times as a
vocation for radically insurgent activism and solidarity both at home and
abroad he championed workers rights recreation and education
he brought the latest art and ideas to Birmingham and he really he’d spoke to
Birmingham audiences in front of pre-raphaelites paintings almost as as
they were drying on the canvas and lost my place now I got so excited he even
brought Kossuth to the city and hundreds and thousands turned literally turned
out to see the Magyar revolutionary and a city center that was
festooned with the Hungarian tricolor or which is quite an amazing thing to think
of in the context of brexit he was notorious in Australia a scion of the
Blythe family who’d come over from Adelaide in around 1860 and quoting
expressed his surprise that there was not more anti Dawson talk he said such
feeling was much stronger with them in Adelaide in the mid 19th century and
Dawson still a young man still by the time of his death Dawson had won over
Birmingham in seemingly the world at the unveiling of the first statue what I
showed it was the second statue in Dawson’s a distinction of Dawson is that
they loved him so much they’d reject the first statue the people of the city
as as insufficiently like him and so a second one had to be erected but when
the first statue was unveiled it was announced solemnly that the gathering
that day was not merely a town’s gathering not merely a Birmingham
meeting the name of George Dawson was famous his friends are bounded far down
in the south beneath the bright beams of the southern cross and far away amid the
golden homes of the setting sun on the Pacific coast I want to think a little
bit more talk a little bit more about the statue was the work of one F J
Williamson and the canopy is the work of JH Chamberlain not a
relation of Joseph Chamberlain but the great architect of Birmingham really he
built the board schools he built Chamberlain’s Highbury he built
he designed the shakespeare memorial room which I’ll go on to talk about so
I’ve said there’s a picture of sorry the medallion of Shakespeare on one face but
of course it has four faces and the other faces literally faces are those of
Bunyan and of Carlisle Thomas Carlyle Dawson’s contemporary he knew cut Orson
knew Carlyle and accompany Carlyle on his first trip to Germany and Oliver
Cromwell and let’s remit this is right in the heart of Birmingham the Civic
Square of Birmingham you’ve got the most personal monument to a man who is
inspired by Shakespeare Bunyan non-conformist religion Carlyle science
Scottish sign of something similar that brought up and updated for it for a more
secular age and the man who faced up to the challenges intellectual challenges
of the modern day mote perhaps most squarely and then Oliver Cromwell so it
tilts Shakespeare’s influence very much in an anti-establishment direction
Bunyan representing reformed religion Cromwell leading to revolution Carlyle
wrote about Cromwell was partly inspired by him and then and then
Shakespeare somehow embodying as if the plays embody a richly specific model for
that renovated new life that Dawson was interested in but I I think this
monument also stands for something else which is the unity of culture really it
runs together politics religion art and civic life and Dawson absolutely spoke
for that life he said should be a manifestation of one spirit and should
that should be the result of the highest style of thinking they’re going to
really intellectually ambitious position to take but one that he seizes utterly
continuous with local government he spoke vociferously against
departments and sequestered specialism despising any division of experience
into religious life political life academic life etc Shakespeare Carlyle
Bunyan Cromwell letters poetry religion politics all but faces and facets for
Dawson of the one life in which they in here and which we individuals live
together Dawson would fundamentally have opposed the climate of splintering
specialism in our modern universities and it became his conviction faith even
that everything connects in life and can only be justified by that standard which
is what afforded art and literature is inalienable vocation for politics and
since there’s so much life in Shakespeare Dawson thought Shakespeare
is an important agency for enlarging Birmingham and wider culture now this
all had to be proclaimed directly to the people because he there are no barriers
for Dawson between tribes or Creed’s or in fact last week I heard to me that
it’s sort of amazing that Dawson and John Henry Newman who wrote the idea of
the university was recently canonized by the Catholic Church are in Birmingham at the
same time I’d seen no no no no acknowledgement really of this I founded
letter from from from Newman about a portrait that
had been commissioned of him and praising and expressing his gratitude to
Dawson and Timins the other founders of the Birmingham Shakespeare Memorial Library are
coming to see it for coming to see it played pay their respects but it’s sort
of amazing because Dawson was such a nonconformist
and a sort of revolutionary and but it suggests a time where those sorts of
divisions could also be reached across so Dawson wanted to speak across
divisions and I think you see that in the what could be seen as a rather and
distinguished statue in a way but the fact that he’s there talking in a casual
attitude very typical of him he used to lean on a lectern a bit like I’m doing
which might be perfectly conventional now wasn’t conventional in the Victorian
period at all and there the sculpt Thomas Wallner the pre-raphaelite has
pictured him sorry yeah embodied him just speaking to people as they walk
past and that’s absolutely right for Dawson because that’s what he did he
believed that everything was shareable quite literally with with everybody said
the highest truths that’s his phrase of course not mine everything so everybody
said the highest truths are cognizable by all what he believed in a kind of
poor lying way that you could proclaim all things to all men and women you just
had to get your address right and he himself did do that he spoke to enormous
audiences and made a lot of money on the most abtruse top topics and it’s
amazing so he spoke about Goethe’s Faust Marlowe’s Faust two things quite early
to be talking about Marlowe’s Faust I’m looking at my distinguished
colleagues I know more about such things to me and and Bailey’s Festus in the in
the Mechanics Institute in Manchester made an enormous amount of money made
nine hundred pounds on a lecture tour in America on such abstruse there’s a lot
of money in the 19th century he was he he he spoke at the Birmingham Midlands
Institute which may be known to some of you but was should be known better to
all of us it was founded in 1854 for the advancement of higher learning
throughout all classes he called for a people’s college he spoke at the peoples
hall he was opposed to what we call dumbing down not afflicted with what in
Birmingham Charles Dickens called the coxcombical idea of writing down to
the popular intelligence his speaking statue memorialized his absolute
conviction that anything can be said to anyone this is it that’s more real as
you know and I I wanted to bring that because of course it’s fairly you can
see the relationship can’t you but but how but sitting on his throne bit like a
god it’s a rather wonderful memorial and Albert has there’s a lot to be said for
in Prince Albert but again any of you who’ve looked at it I mean there’s a
kind of infinite panoply of culture around it it’s all of culture whereas
the dorsum monument seems to say this is a specific vision of what culture is a
bit more militant and insurgent so there it is again as you say you see you can
see people walking past in that was the sketch and Thomas Warner also wanted to
memorialize Dawson as a man speaking to the city not a monarch not a mortal God
like Albert in his shrine not a priest or a professor set apart I have never
been presented with an honorary degree Dawson said and I have never been made a
knight honors in the common sense I have not coveted and the world has
done me the credit of thinking I did not want them forgettable through his I
think he made no pretensions to the title reverend he was a preacher but of
a church which had no official doctrine or dogma so whether it was a church or
not is another question there were some things he thought could be said to men
and women useful to be said they thought he was able to say them that was all he
was no priest no dignitary of the church he was not reverend but reverent and he
said that actually incidentally at a dramatic supper for John Toole who was
the comic actor in the first first actor to have a theater named after him in London and in the West End and Dawson said you know
even reverence actors you know I’m here as a nonconformist Minister but I
represent a reverence and in nonconformist Birmingham that was quite
a thing to to say finally I think what that statue represents is the
collaborative improvisation of a culture so you’ve got Dawson standing under
these great living luminaries of course they’re actually dead but they they’re
part of his message and he’s speaking it directly to all of the people of the
city in the common square in Emma which was first published in 1816 Jane Austen
put the following words into the mouth of Mrs. Elton they came from Birmingham
which is not a place to promise much you know Mr. Weston one has not great hopes
from Birmingham I always say there’s something direful in the very sound but
inside 50 years Dawson was able to speak of Birmingham as quote the chief center
of civilization the chief town of democracy the town from which liberty
radiates to all the world the minister of Cars Lane Chapel the reforming
evangelical theologian and himself something of a Shakespearean RW Dayal
whose life and ministry were inspired by Dawson said in a more streetwise idiom
Birmingham was no mean city during the 1870s in the early 1880s he’s acquired
the international reputation of being quote the best governed city in the
world quote municipal for reformers looked to
Birmingham as the eyes of the faithful are turned to Mecca quote it was quote a
powerhouse of moral and material energies quote nothing was impossible
Dale said if we’re true to each other and true to this town we may do deeds as
great as were done by Pisa by Florence by Venice in their triumphant days and
they thought that Birmingham could be even more hazard as it may sound to you even
more beautiful than those great Italian cities because the beauty would acquire
would be a specific morale you see the beauty of sharing
everything with everybody and making a new and more equal and creative
civilization this newly invented new minted city was quote an achievement of
the creative imagination it was also regard regarded itself and was regarded
widely as the first modern metropolis E. P. Henock says there was no
successful precedent to which to turn by the 1880s we read in the words of the
dawn of Victorian Civic culture the character bricks the characteristic
features of the Birmingham Doctrine had become widely accepted in England and
that doctrine would come to influence the world so far as you will recall as
Australia and the profit of this new movement was it was largely agreed
though he’s forgotten today was George Dawson George Joseph Chamberlain
Birmingham’s greatest reforming mayor he was in office from 1873 to 1876 and he
since eclipsed Dawson in the historical record and in Birmingham’s memory
himself admitted it’s a great thing to say of a man that he’s influenced the
life of a great town and it’s true and we know it that if this great town has
its special characteristics they are due to the teachings of George Dawson
Carlyle called him Brumagen Dawson and there was indeed a sense in which Dawson
was if he’s remembered at all today it was his for his so called Civic gospel
as a friend not a phrase he used but it’s a useful phrase and I think what
it’s meant to suggest is Dawson is somebody who transfused the passion and
mission of religion into civic politics in a speech typically taken as the
touchstone of the civic gospel he said at the opening of Birmingham’s
corporation library that this new library announced to the world quote a
conviction that a town like this exists for moral and intellectual purposes so
it’s not just a glommeration people looking for work and a library like this
like the one Dawson was opening is a proclamation that a great community like
this I’m quoting him is not to be looked upon as a fortuitous
concourse of human atoms or as a miserable knot of vipers struggling in a
pot each aiming to get his head above the other in the fierce struggle of
competition not by bread alone with his scriptural rubric a city I’m quoting
must have its parks as well as its prisons its art gallery as well as its
asylum its books and its libraries as well as its baths and watch houses its
schools as well as this sewers it must think of beauty and of dignity no less
than of order and of health Dawson you know who sat on every committee in
Birmingham as well as producing his extraordinary lectures and was involved
in securing as extraordinary range of actual political reforms also wanted a
beauty society for Birmingham and he wanted Birmingham men to say I’m quoting
with the Passion of the Jews of old I will go around Jerusalem and tell the
towers there off I will stand on the bullock’s and look at the beauty of the
city and it was this sort of it I could go on it was this sort of attitude that
that helped to make Birmingham according to Alfred St.Johnson in 1877
so 1887 perhaps the most artistic town in England I mean not what we perhaps
think of Birmingham today literally central to the life of this most
artistic city was Birmingham’s revolutionary Shakespeare library and in
fact Dawson stood under that medallion of Shakespeare in the same square so the
Shakespeare library is more or less behind behind him so you could you could
look at that but it wasn’t gestural then you could go into the Shakespeare
library which you yourself own as a citizen of this this city when 1864 and
the tercentenary of Shakespeare’s birth was up we’re approaching Dawson and
Birmingham decided they didn’t want a statue Dawson actually growled let
Stratford endow its own boys instead he they decided that if the gentle poet
could himself appear amongst them I’m quoting again of course then he would
wish for no noble and monument than that of being enshrined in the memories
and hearts of hard-working men in this town and the feeling of the conceptions
of his mind of his noble expressions were clearing and illuminating the path
of the hard-working artisan that the leaves of his divine works were being
turned over by the hardy hands of our own forge men would be greater pleasure
to him than any sculptured marble or start pointing pyramid it’s difficult to
overestimate I think the importance of the now forgotten Birmingham Shakespeare
Memorial Library they found it instead So Birmingham belongs the credit of having
reared the noblest monument to the memory of England’s greatest poet as one
local historian pities the largest and most varied collection of Shakespeare’s
works in the English and foreign literature illustrating them which has
ever yet been made and the greatest literary memorial which any author has
ever yet received confirmation of the centrality of the Shakespeare library to
the civic gospel comes in the form of architect and subscriber JH not Joseph
Jamie-Lynns arresting a vowel that he should like the Shakespeare idea the
Shakespeare idea to grow in the same proportion as the accumulation of their
Shakespeare property so it wasn’t meant just to be a kind of posh or broom which
kind of ornamented the city and dressed it up as culture it was meant to
promulgate and further this that shaped their idea whatever that was will return
to their the collection very quickly outgrew the splendid shakespeare
memorial room which housed the library according to a confirmed conviction on
the part of Chamberlain and others that the shakespeare library ought to be
the very best room in town sorry I messed up the syntax there it did
outgrow it but it but this wonderful room is the fruit of an express is the
idea that this architect had that the Shakespeare library ought to be the very
best room in town not excepting the council chamber of the new Municipal
Building and that tells you a lot is as well it is not just a you know a posh
antechamber there there’s some relationship between civic governments
the Shakespeare idea and the actual government and
and culture of the city that they feel it expresses that there was an attempt
to make a Shakespearean City in Birmingham and if so the Birmingham Shakespeare
Memorial Library flung its doors open it has to be said I think
from the perspective of democratic inclusiveness that the foundation of
degree courses in English in Oxford in 1894 Cambridge in 1912 as well as the
endowments of chairs but later looks like a regrettable narrowing one over
which which over the past hundreds of years or so has had the effect of
withdrawing Shakespearean English into the possession of an educated elite in
1849 Dawson offered evidence before the
parliamentary committee who were scoping out the possibilities for public
libraries saying that quote the higher class of poetry was very much read by
working clean people those of them who could read had presume he means but
Shakespeare is known by heart almost and Dickens concurred declaring I believe
they are in Birmingham at this moment many working men infinitely better
versed in Shakespeare and Milton than your average a fine gentleman when the
central lending library was opened Dawson denounced the prejudice against working
men reading literature as quote old patronizing twaddle of the last
generation that day was gone he said the building this library would put an end
to all such twaddle for the future and if that announcement seems regrettably
pre-merger off-shore consider these the time of private ownership has nearly
come to an end the death the day with the day would
come when a man would be ashamed to shut up a picture by Raphael or any statue by
a great master in a private house the gifts of genius should be like sunshine
open to all for all to be reached by all ultimately to be understood and enjoyed
by all that great democratic dawn has yet to arrive but Dawson and the
founders of the Birmingham Shakespeare Memorial Library did all they could to
bring it on in an earlier lecture on the collection Dawson’s co-founder Samuel
Timmins emphasized just as much as the world-class complement of early
folios and cortos a quote series of keys which open all the rest to general
readers to any ordinary intelligent lexicons concordances and the Chief
Librarian Mr. Mullens groundbreaking comprehensive catalogue of all
Shakespearean literature the list of occupations of readers given in the
general annual reports for the Birmingham reference library suggests
all sort of people did indeed use it the record for 1872 includes hairdressers
electro-platers grocers japaners and enamels gun makers steel toy makers
and one pearl worker it was natural that Birmingham should quickly become the
birthplace of the National Education League Dawson said at its first meeting
on the 12th of October 1869 we wish to lay the foundation of a national
education system it must be laid with great simplicity and great breadth so
what was the Shakespeare idea that they they wanted to convey I mean I think the
movement for open education represented by the foundation of the library
combined this commitment to breath with an equally intense commitment to depth
it wasn’t just that as Dawson said the highest truths are cognizable
by all even more importantly the lesson of Shakespeare supreme characterization
is in Dawson’s phrase that every man woman is a great original fact such was
the great pearl which the solitary pearl will work and might have discovered in
the reading room in 1872 and thereby being inducted into the progressive
culture of a modern city for which it was the first or generating principle so
what Dawson watt is once his depth for everybody and he refuses to believe that
that can’t be given away it can’t be found the people’s individual power
can’t be they can’t be endowed with that and therefore make a contribution to a
pluralistic city civic gospel one of his great attributes I think is the honesty
and directness with which Dawson faces up to the challenges of contemporary
culture not the least among which is the question of what to do with the passion
and energy of religion in increasingly rationalist and secular age Dawson was a
great preacher one contemporary cause running into Robert
Martineau, Mayor of Birmingham in 1846 after hearing Dawson preach for the
first time I can hear him now exclaiming I hope we’ll this is the preaching I
have longed for all my life literature was the road down which
Dawson brought religion into the world and his unconventional hymn book he made
his own includes text by Schiller in translation worthless in Carlyle as
well as bits from all over the spectrum of the confessional spectrum bits of all
kinds of different liturgies and political songs
Dawson wanted Shakespeare open on a lectern in all places of worship and he
predicted that quote empty churches would then begin to fill strong branch
benches would groan beneath the weight of attentive hearers sleepers would be
unfrequent and the clergyman would cease to be
looked upon as an anodyne Bardolatry has long been a term of
intellectual abuse in Shakespeare studies Ben Jonson professed of course
to admire Shakespeare this side idolatry but such careful piety seems quaintly
outmoded in our own more secular age George Bernard Shaw coined the term bardolatry – gasps castigate that shameless evasion of the political
problems of contemporary life which often dresses itself up as a love of
Shakespeare but as I will see for Dawson Shakespeare offered a way of finding the
world which conventional religion too often evaded Shakespeare also offered a
future he felt for religion in the modern industrial world without which
Dawson was convinced we could not live he closed Carlyle himself quoting the
German thinker Novalis if men have lost belief in a God their only resource
against a blind no God of necessity and mechanism that held them like a hideous
world steam engine they’d be with or without hope revolt they could as
Novalis says by a simultaneous universal act of suicide depart out of the world
steam engine and end if not in victory yet in invincibility a nun subdue able
protest the such world steam engine was a failure and a stupidity
now that is talking straight but how are we to avoid such mass despairing suicide
in an age like this when foundation of old faiths was shaken when
the works of their fathers tottered and crumbled and fell when in politics the
fight became bitter when in theology the ground which should be covered by
religion and binding man and man together became too often the faith only
the field of conflict in these days when in their social life many terrible
problems pressed for solution when even in their own immediately and friendly
circles great difficulty sometimes occurred Shakespeare according to Dawson
and his Birmingham friends was the way forward as Emerson suggested he wrote
the text for modern life we know that for humanity there is now a worldwide
religion Dawson announced the religion not of the Greek or Jew the rich or the
poor the sage or the sage but the religion for humankind the religion of
human nature and Shakespeare for Dawson made this more than merely gestural
sentimentality showed what form this might take for quote there was something
higher and nobler in William Shakespeare then his dramatic merits in Birmingham
quote they claim for him a higher morality than perhaps had ever been
claimed before a satirical poster from the archive of the library of Birmingham
indicates how far should Dawson was willing to go in this time directions
presumably this was pasted up to mock Dawson in Birmingham but George Dawson
on the Bible and on Shakespeare and the crew from here is on the Bible therefore
they did not believe anything just because it was written in the scriptures
and on Shakespeare the final thing is the first general Canon for the
interpretation of Shakespeare was that he was always right so the make of this
poster is scorning a kind of disjunction between the Shakespearean fundamentalism
and free thinking in relation to the Bible but I think Dawson would have been
quite happy with that he sees a sort of liberal fundamentalism in Shakespeare is
sort of fundamental pluralism that he wishes to commit to he prefer prefers
that to dogmatic biblical fundamentalism Dawson in his
church preached on Shakespeare preached on Mohammed preached on every evolution
and it’s extraordinary thing first for Emerson Shakespeare was
insufficiently religious the world still wants its poet priest that’s Emerson
this was because as Dawson phrased it there’s nothing about the priest about
Shakespeare no conscious attempt to lift man from where he is to where he ought
to be but for Dawson precisely that Shakespeare’s realism is what makes him
religiously serviceable for new times I look upon him Dawson says as planned
with one great intention that in him should be wrought out what in deference
to my clerical friends I will call the lair duty of mankind so he Dawson thinks
that shaped it reveals a new way for religion a new responsibility to life as
it actually is lived he might have been taking a bearing from Carlyle here who
saw Shakespeare as quote a man justly related to all things and men a good man
a prophet in his way of an insight analogous to the prophetic though he
took it up in another strain Carlyle even saw Shakespeare’s the priest of a
true Catholicism the universal Church of the future and of all times
this Universal Church of latter-day Saint
Shakespeare becomes comprehensible I think if we see in it the broad Church
of modern liberalism from which Carlisle ultimately recoiled but to which Dawson
always remained actively devoted he Dawson’s interest in Shakespeare and
morality dates back to the philosophical essays he penned as a young man between
eighteen and twenty in his last annual lecture to the Birmingham our
Shakespeare Club of which he was live president he presented reading
Shakespeare as a course in tolerance but he said that if you read Shakespeare you
learn that the toleration is a temper not a principle and I think he says that
because his toleration is politically associated with the Liberal Party and
what Dawson wants is a toleration that will extend beyond tribal party politics
so he thought that actually doing proper literary criticism really responsive
stuff would induct you into a rather different kind of politics here he say
responds when he was very young as a young
radical daughter Eden spoke in Manchester in 1846 and announced that
that Shakespeare music the drama sculpture and poetry are objective forms
in which God exhibits some of his ideas which sounds sort of man to us but in
its time thing is a break out beyond dogma and Dawson suggests in his in the
art from his pulpit which is actually a lectern that there is no infidelity of
the intellect another ringing phrase so for him again close reading genuine
aesthetic responsiveness is itself a form of religion it is the form of
religion beyond dogma in which Dawson is really interested I want to say a little
bit more now to about a couple of sermons that I found at the library she
gave in 1864 although I’m looking I’d be going off-piste a bit so I’m going to
move around a little bit Dawson preaches on Shakespeare and
suggests really to his audience that they should see Shakespeare as a way
beyond as a scripture that will supplement and change Scripture itself
so he sees the Bible has definitively limited he says and he draws attention
to various things that aren’t in it including erotic love for instance said
you don’t go there for there and including the sort of populist mnestheus
ease in Shakespeare in which he sees as a kind of blueprint an image of what a
modern city might be like and he starts to imagine two worlds a heavenly world
I’m not gonna have time to do this on doing it off there’s both off the top of
my head and I’ll get ins the next bit and the real world and he starts to see
them a giving light and sharing light a kind of reciprocity between them and
then the real world which he associates with Shakespeare becomes more and more
glistening because he sees the heavenly world lighting that world and it becomes
clear as he’s talking what you’re seeing is a kind of modern
man in his own pulpit stepping into a secular world which he sees as
expressive of some of the desire and possibility of religion it absorbs the
heavenly world so he starts with a kind of equal commitment to both but by the
end of the sermon you can tell that it’s sort of the city that phrase which he
didn’t invent civic gospel is something used to describe what he did in Burma
kelis ette up the model of local government ambitious local government
that we inherit you see it happening because you’ve got the gospel and it
becomes into the Civic world and Dawson says at the end that the task for us is
to engage with this populous world of men and women which William Shakespeare
has given us so I would have said a lot more about that but I’m not going to
what I did want to a sort of new idea that are beginning to entertain about
this which I would like to try out on you is that I think what if looked at
anthropologically one of the things that religion does I think is to infuse
social life duty with a kind of religious with with idealism and to make
it potentially an object of desire and then I think in a madly broad-brush but
then in in many philosophers will tell you Hegel and others that with the onset
of modernity private life and satisfaction and so forth becomes much
more intensely important I think correspondingly you need a kind of a new
religious myth or something like it that will invest idealism and the possibility
of desire in social work and duty with a corresponding intensity does that does
that make sense and I think what Dawson did and is doing with Shakespeare is
looking to find that see Shakespeare as beyond dogma but as having a kind of
aesthetic radiance as exemplifying a kind of shining pluralism and cumin
complexity that might invest social life and duty with the kind of mad
it is indeed for us to go on living responsible and socially ambitious lives
how to make personal freedom and fulfillment general I mean that seems to
me to be one of the the fundamental and most serious questions of modern liberal
culture and the answers of course are very varied and there are some very
important practical answers to it what one of them we don’t often talk about
these English literature seminars is you need an efficient bureaucracy and you
need credible institutions and George Dawson is committed to those via his
civic gospel but I think he also sees that you need to want it you need to
desire it you need you need a vision without the vision the people will
perish so to wind up and get a better perhaps
more richly specific idea of what this might mean critically politically and in
religious terms I want to turn to Dawson’s treatment of one character a
failure Dawson at first found a failure to be a misogynistic caricature a
bearing out a general anglo-saxon prejudice whereby quote women are
interesting in proportion to their neutrality whereas in the glorious days
of France wit and intellect with the charm of the grand dam de salón
so he’s he’s first he finds of philia rather blank and empty
and thinks she’s a symptom of English misogyny really and of course remember
this is before literary criticism is before Shakespeare’s taught in schools
and he cries out fancy Ophelia in middle age I am sorry for her but I’m glad that
she died we’re obviously plainly in the days
before the establishment of English is a respectable academic discipline although
that questionable directness is perhaps a refreshing he then starts to
sympathize with her and to see her as something more than just a raised by
patriarchy when anticipating Freud he recognizes in the lewd rush of talk and
song that’s released by her madness a testimony to painful sexual repression
this is him as long as St George the saddle the dragon is kept under but
suppose St Gorge out of the saddle then the dragon may lead up leap up could be
clearer really then turning on his audience he rushes to defend Ophelia
against any lurking disapproval it is however said that it was highly
improper that she shouldn’t know such things but this is totally idly for he
must all know many more wicked things than we do and a thousand and one
reasons might be given why Ophelia should know the songs which she sang in
her madness how did she come to know such songs ah how do people know such
things would everyone in this assembly like me to know that you know the things
you know the poor girl by nature was amorous I don’t find anything unnatural
in it there are many things permissible in secret only become shameful when
uttered there are indecencies that are only indecencies in the year they may be
of the earth earthy but the earth is a very good thing and not to be despised so he’s you know he’s interested in
Ophelia’s increasing his modeling a real sort of personhood ambivalent and rich
and so forth but if he spoke up for her repressed sexuality he also trembled
with her grief and what he called a weekday sermon from Shakespeare he
preached on the theme of Ophelias flowers in the city taking as his text as though
reversed from Scripture there’s a daisy I would give some violets but they
withered all when my father died and he does treat Ophelia as we’ve all taught not
to do as a real person he treats Hamlet perhaps the greatest play in Western
literature as though it were completely analogous to my life or yours observing
that Ophelias dad Polonius wasn’t anything exceptionally great beautiful
wise all good and yet he insists to this bright and beautiful girl he was part of
the world’s light and fragrance when he died all the loveliest flowers wizard he
trembles with Ophelias grief and he calls upon his listeners to do the same he
wants them to feel for her chase please heroine because he believes it could
wake them up morally opening up a channel of sympathy so the many real
women in nineteenth-century Birmingham who were vulnerable but are being
suddenly devastated by grief and thrown into a life
insecurity and hardship in a context where men women were literally the
property of their husbands and fathers Dawson’s insists to his listeners that
were feel is all over contemporary Birmingham and he explains all-out
Ophelias do not go insane when their fathers die but nonetheless that their
violets wither and truly they stand greatly in need of charities Tender is
sympathy who haven’t been cared for all their lives by a good father who planned
and strove that they might want for nothing but live in the sunshine and be
beautiful unhappy suddenly find that life means toil and strife and
forethought and the hope deferred and makes the heart sick who have to pay the
world’s price for daily bread which is so difficult always for girls to win
summer friends who had known them when the world was a garland of roses and
every day a holiday won’t know them any longer their eyes are red with work and
weeping the sweet fragrance of youth is going the gay colors are gone alas alas
there are thousands of beautiful young Ophelias not insane saying today he is
ruined prayer plenty and just one poor daisy left
I’ll give you violets as I used to were they wizard when my father died this is
not a fate to be lightly spoken of its natural to wish to be bright and winning
and free from care it’s hard to forego the sunshine that we may own wages and
see the face lose its beauty that the hands may win it’s bread its pleasant to
be sought and loved and admired it’s hard to mix only with masters bargain
makers and self seekers its pleasant to have your hands filled with violets it’s
hard to put down those flowers and take up work farewell old home old pleasures
old friends there aren’t any violets now they whiz it when my father died so
Dawson sees Ophelias everywhere he sees Ophelias flowers as a suitable theme for
a sermon because he recognizes that Shakespeare’s play actively addresses
contemporary life he imagines Shakespeare’s sad words in the mouths of
real working women he urges his hearers to respond sympathetically to the
crushing bereavement suffered by Shakespeare’s heroine and then to open
their hearts to thousands his world of real ones privileged women who lives
might be suddenly devastated by death and the threat of poet poverty
and he does this I think this is the last point want to make rather briefly
but in the name of solidarity as well as in the name of diversity and I feel that
this 19th century story is a way of recognizing as something we need in
contemporary theory solidarity is the context in which diversity flourishes it
is what diversity enriches and I think there’s perhaps a need in some current
debates to bring those two things back into a new conjunction this story anyway
of what George Dawson was doing in the 19th century might cast some lights on
that as I said I haven’t spoken to you at all really about the project but
about the man in the hinterland who inspired it and did so much for
Birmingham and indeed us has been forgotten for for Shakespeare thank you

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