Lives in shadow and sunlight

By , 26 June 2009 6:45 pm

I am currently reading a book on the Napoleonic Wars called War of Wars by Robert Harvey. (No, I am not writing a book on the time; it’s just that it’s an appalling gap in my own knowledge I would like to remedy.) It’s an easy read although I was a bit alarmed to find from the Amazon reviews that there are a number of minor historical errors.

Anyway yesterday I came across mention of Charles Middleton, 1st Baron Barham (October 14, 1726 – June 17, 1813) a British naval officer and politician. ‘Who?’ you say, and frankly I don’t blame you: you’d have to be a specialist in the period to know him. The point is that Barham was head of the British Admiralty during the Napoleonic Wars, by which point he was in his late 70s. Essentially what we would call a ‘desk warrior’, Barham made sure that the ships and sailors were supplied with everything necessary to fight Napoleon. In an age of corruption, he was incorruptible and at a time of sloth, he was energetic. He was, by all accounts, the model of the perfect civil servant. It was his wise decisions and prudent planning that made sure that Nelson was able to resoundingly defeat the French and Spanish fleets at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. You will not be surprised to know that Barham was a very committed Evangelical and one of the early proponents of the abolition of the slave trade. In fact, it may even have been Barham who suggested to Wilberforce that he take up the antislavery cause. We Protestants do not have patron saints. If we did, Baron Barham would be an excellent one for civil servants and those whose lives involve sitting in offices, ticking off items on lists and balancing books. Perhaps there is a stained glass window of him somewhere.

Anyway as I was thinking of the good baron, news came in of Michael Jackson’s death. As one of the few people on the planet unable to hum a single bar of anything MJ ever sang I am reluctant to comment on his worth. I would cautiously suggest (there is a certain irony in my tone at this point) though that despite what many commentators have been saying, the loss to music is not quite on the same scale as if Beethoven had fallen off a cliff at the age of five. Nevertheless I found myself sticking up for the man a couple of occasions today when it was sneeringly suggested that he was a paedophile: the court found that he was not guilty. From what I understand (and I did once watch a documentary on him), Jacko seemed to be a tragic figure, a mixed up child whose development into a man was frozen by the glare of the spotlight. If ever we wanted evidence of the cost of fame, his all too short life surely provides it.

Anyway, I thought the two figures contrasted rather nicely. Barham, office bound, overlooked, labouring on dryly and steadily into an enormously profitable old age, and Jackson, the global celebrity, burnt out in the light of publicity at barely half Barham’s age. I know which I’d choose to be.

6 Responses to “Lives in shadow and sunlight”

  1. Catherine Brislee says:

    Thank you for telling us about Baron Barham. I had never heard of him. I think it's the best thing about studying history – coming across characters like this that make me want to be a better person!

  2. Simon says:

    There's a chapter on Barham in John Pollock's book A Fistful of Heroes. But you have probably read that.

  3. SuperAngel says:

    When I was in my freshman year of high school, I so enjoyed learning about the Napoleonic time. While we didn't learn much about Baron Barham, he was mentioned a bit. :)

    I am also one of the few who cannot hum or utter a single note of Mr. Jackson's. I am sad for his soul that he is lost to the amazing and saving grace of our savior, Yeshua.

    wonderful thoughts! thanks for sharing them.
    Amanda
    The Daily Planet

  4. Chris says:

    Simon,

    Yes Pollocks book is where I heard of him first

    Chris

  5. emily says:

    I'm quite amused that you consider a lack of knowledge about the Napoleonic Wars to be something appalling and in need of remedy, yet couldn't even hum a bar of 'Man in the Mirror', 'Bad', Thriller', Billie Jean' or countless other globe conquering hits. I know which I'd consider a more pressing need, but then I'd probably struggle to hum any Beethoven (all classical music blends into one for me…). I guess I'll always be a child of the 80's :)

  6. Silver Lake Art says:

    "We Protestants do not have patron saints. If we did, Baron Barham would be an excellent one for civil servants and those whose lives involve sitting in offices, ticking off items on lists and balancing books. Perhaps there is a stained glass window of him somewhere."

    I loved this bit! It causes me to think of the hero in "Brazil" – a Terry Gilliam movie.

    It also seems that many people set out to do good things, but get mixed up along the way. While children may say "I want to be a good husband, father, employee", the accomplishing of these things are much more difficult than that of stating them.

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