Wednesday, 2 February 2011

And the latest blogging retirement is... Me.

"The true literary ancestry of the Rambler is overlooked, and our conception of it trivialised, if we concentrate merely on the periodical essay as it descended from Addison and Steele.  In one respect it was perfectly right to contrast the Rambler so unfavourably with the Tatler and the Spectator.  It took the Spectator as the prototype of one special form (the periodical essay) and then, finding the Rambler so much more serious in tone and weighty in thought, judged the author as failing to fulfil the special ideas and opportunities of that particular form.  A more accurate statement is simply that he transcended that form."
So wrote the late literary critic Walter Jackson Bate.  To him, the Rambler was "timeless".

Bate, of course, never read these pages - he expired in 1999, aged eighty-one, when this author was only thirteen.  Bate was one of the foremost literary authorities on the life of Samuel Johnson, and it was the great lexicographer's mid-eighteenth century periodical that he was referring to.

Johnson wrote 208 articles in his Rambler between 1750 and 1752.  My Rambler has offered 82 articles in eighteen months, roughly half of the output of the former (although my articles have only been appearing regularly since May 2010).

A confession: I had never heard of Johnson's Rambler when this all started, so I cannot truthfully claim any philosophical or literary lineage.  The name was purely functional.  I liked rural walks and thought that I would chronicle, haphazardly but improvedly, my rambles and travels.  Any idle readership would be an unexpected bonus.
So the connection is fortuitous but one that I have enjoyed learning more about, grasping greedily at analogies.  Admittedly, they are few, however Bate's comparisons with the Spectator are not completely irrelevant.  Addison and Steele's Spectator of 1711-12 is not connected to the modern publication, but then neither is this to Johnson's.  However, it was when reading the Coffee House blog during the last general election that it occurred to me to turn a sleepy little escapist travelogue about (quite literally) rambling into a regular political and cultural commentary.  So you could say that the Spectator was an inspiration for me to pick up my pen and write, as it was for Samuel Johnson.  It was somewhat touching, you might imagine, the day last year that the Spectator itself described the Rambler as a "must read".

Samuel Johnson said about retirement: "Don't think of retiring from the world until the world will be sorry that you retire."  You can't vouch for sentiment, but the graphic below might suggest - if you exclude a distracted final fortnight - that readership was on the climb.


Of course, this is not quite a retirement.  The writing shall continue, only elsewhere.  In December last year I was offered the exciting opportunity to become editor of a newly re-launched blog for the Tory Reform Group.

The TRG believes that there is a gap online for a prominently modern, progressive Conservatism, which should not have to be divided up into mainstream or liberal, right or left, but provide a distinctive and informative voice for pragmatic politics.

The new blog, Egremont, takes its name from the male protagonist of Benjamin Disraeli's seminal novel, Sybil, or The Two Nations.  It will be going live very shortly and will carry a minimum of 1-2 short articles every weekday.  Our first week is devoted to Scottish affairs and will feature articles by John Lamont MSP, and the former Foreign Secretary, Sir Malcolm Rifkind MP.

We believe that it can and will hold its own alongside - complementary to, not antagonistic to - existing political opinion sites.  Please give it a go and see what you think.  Tell you what, if you visit the new website and say that you have come from the Rambler in the 'Ask me anything' section, I'll even buy you a drink.

There's a deal that Dr Johnson could relate to.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Congratulations and good luck in your new role. Glad to hear you're not 'retiring retiring'.