Fortitude Sculpture by Serpotta in white stucco and gilding, height 200 cm, 1710-17.
Oratorio del Rosario di San Domenico, Palermo. Image: WGA
Elegantly dressed for the life she wants,
in her favourite high-heeled shoes, breastplate bodice and plumed headdress,
Fortitude leans her elbow on the pillar of patience,
never keeping her eyes off the longest battle.
She doesn’t like what she sees, but she will never give in, she will never be part of it, even when other people make snarky remarks about her posing in her Rococo niche.
She exemplifies the moral courage of sticking to her post “because it is noble to do so, or because it is disgraceful not to do so.”
Keeping true to herself, and her fashion sense,
without bragging or lecturing, she puts the fun back into virtue.
“Patience is the pillar which nothing can soften.”
St Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179)
“She sat like Patience on a monument, Smiling at grief”
Viola in Twelfth Night, Shakespeare (1601)
Fortitude is one of the four Cardinal Virtues of Christianity, recommended in a life skills course dating back to the 4th century, based on Aristotelian and Platonic ethics.
Aristotle defined fortitude as courage governed by reason (or temperance) in circumstances of fear or over-confidence: “Courage….chooses its course and sticks to its post because it is noble to do so, or because it is disgraceful not to do so.”
St Augustine of Hippo defined fortitude as “love readily bearing all things for the sake of the loved object”.
Kant: “Virtue is the moral strength of the will in obeying the dictates of duty, never developing into a custom but always springing freshly and directly from the mind.”
Fortitude has become rarer in the modern world where license has chained us to new tyrannies, and freedom is as elusive as ever.
The advantages of self-control in adverse circumstances have been forgotten in the revolt against the misunderstood stiff upper lip. It’s adorable. The straighter the face, the better the joke.
The primary importance of sincerity in human intercourse – “speak what you feel, not what you ought to say” – has been effaced by knee-jerk opinion polls and social media group anxiety – Like to be Liked, Follow and Ye Will Be Followed – which have compromised Freedom of Speech and promulgated the nonsense that passes for wisdom nowadays.
If you’ve read this far, you deserve a modest disclaimer: yes, I’m as foolish as you.
The most self-expressive of Romantic poets would not have predicted humanity blogging itself to death.
The people who died for Democracy did not expect the Voice of the People would come from Babel.
Fortitude rests on her broken pillar, not on popularity.
Fortitude does not betray her soul, which to her is virtue, which to us is self-identity.
She fights on.
She wears the shoes she wants.
All four of the Cardinal Virtues, Prudence (or Wisdom), Fortitude (or Courage), Temperance (or Self-control) and Justice (or Fairness) were allegorized as female.
Figures of the Four Virtues from Ballet Comique de la Reine, 1582, one of the court entertainments commissioned by Catherine de Medici from which classical ballet, and political satire, developed. Image: Wikipedia
Fortitude lives up to her reputation for cheerfulness in adversity by playing the lute and holding a pillar at the same time.
“Ginger Rogers did everything [Fred Astaire] did,
backwards and in high heels.” Bob Thaves, Fred and Ernest comic strip, 1982
Poster for Top Hat, 1935
“Give a girl the right shoes and she can conquer the world.” Bette Midler
(often misattributed to Marilyn Monroe)
The case that Charles II, the most priapic and charming of English kings, only practised consensual sex with women is supported by his treatment of the teenage Frances Stewart, later Duchess of Richmond, a tall, slim, blue-eyed dark blonde, who turned him down repeatedly, except for kissing in corners, in full view of non-paying voyeurs like Samuel Pepys.
Frances Stuart, later Duchess of Richmond, by Sir Peter Lely, before 1662. Royal Collection. Image: Wikipedia
La Belle Stuart is portrayed in the character of the virginal huntress, Diana.
She looks like a golden sugared plum, a dainty dish to set before the king,
which is how she was treated in reality.
The royal chase lasted four years. Charles II wanted this splendid specimen in his harem. She preferred to elope with a duke than be the king’s whore. Rather than sulk or threaten to destroy her career, as a lesser man or misogynist might have done, the king, once he got over his resentment and was back in his usual good humour, made her famous for ever by using her as the model for Britannia on the national coinage, with her consent.
That is the story, anyway – Pepys’ story, of course. The influence that one man’s gossip has had over English history is unfathomably pernicious. Why trust a diary, anyway? It is not a reliable testament, any more than the average blog; a diary is for re-writing history before anyone else can, score-settling, wish-fulfillment, slavering over sex fantasies with the royal mistresses, confessions of groping women in church, a whitewashing of days to make the diarist sleep better at night.
Whether the Britannia anecdote is true or not, Pepys helped make Frances famous for centuries after her death, and the figure on the coin sexier.
The 1672 copper farthing, showing Britannia, supposedly based on a likeness of Frances Stewart, Duchess of Richmond (1674 – 1702), seated on a rock, holding a spear and an olive branch in either hand. The figure and pose were inspired by Roman coins. Frances was celebrated for her Roman profile, and tall, graceful figure,
so it is plausible that she was the model.
And how do we know who slept with whom? Who cares? What moral lesson do we learn? What archetype are we recognizing or longing for?
Whether or not Frances ever had sex with the King, it suited both of them to perpetuate the charming myth of her virginal resistance. Charles, according to the letters he wrote to his sister Minette, had genuinely deep feelings – “tenderness” – for Frances and was hurt by her behaviour – “as bad as breach of friendship and faith can make it”. Whether their relationship was sexually consummated or not, she was supposed to be his trophy, part of his collection.
After her husband the Duke of Richmond died, in 1672, the King granted the widow an annuity of £1000. He was generous to all his mistresses, even the one that said no. He stayed friends with them. It seems that the “easiest King and best-bred man alive” during cared about women as people, not objects.
Rochester in his Satyr on King Charles II also described the “merry monarch” as so “Restless he rolls about from whore to whore”. We – I mean me – are still charmed by King Charles, contemptuous of Mr Pepys.
They were both predators, in an era of unmitigated sexual harassment, and if either of them touched me, in controlled holographic conditions, I’d tell them to stop – but I’d flirt with one and slap a Court order on the other #metoo. Frances Stewart must have felt the same.
Now in this island of Atlantis there was a great and wonderful empire which had rule over the whole island and several others, and over parts of the continent…..Plato
With Britain as the new Atlantis, contriving its own liquidation through the hubris of Brexit and Conservative Government, where can a girl go in pursuit of freedom and happiness?
Our European neighbours who we have so rudely shunned are already showing us what we will be missing in their civilized world.
Spain has given vindication to anyone who’s been harassed by manspreading on a train or a bus, or in a theatre or cinema. It’s the beginning of reclaiming personal space, the rebirth of the rights of woman and man, the recognition that arseholes can’t have it all their own way anymore.
It’s the only news to have cheered me up on a scary Election Day, tired out by the cat that’s not mine but won’t leave my house and keeps me awake all night.
In one leap she burst through the barely open bedroom window and the rolled down blind, directly on to the landing pad of our bed. We could only see her outline in the dark, no more than a sinuous body and bushy tail, and from our experience of another cat trying to break in a week ago, we knew that it’s impossible to verify feline identification without electric light.
A nano-moment after our besotted “hello, darling” cooings, my husband said, “Are you a fox?” Knowing by now that the worst usually happens, I screamed and hid under the bedclothes.
At 7am, after the cat had eaten breakfast and gone out again, there was another kerfuffle as something struggled through the letterbox. Was it her? we wondered – but, no, it was the sound of the poor Lib Dems leafleting at dawn.
I voted for them, nevertheless – because they are the only party to have been consistent over Europe. I don’t understand why Labour and the Liberal Democrats are being so snotty to the rational, valiant Greens about a progressive alliance.
I don’t understand anything, I haven’t slept for weeks, and while I stutter and splutter over the keyboard, the beautiful, free-loading, conscience-free cat burglar is sleeping peacefully in her bed behind the sofa.
Conquest Cat Portrait by Martin Hübscher Photography
I did one of those voter-party match-making tests yesterday and the big shock for me was that my views are closer to UKIP than the modern Tory party, whose social policies really must have strayed right of Attila the Hun.
Wake up, Britons! Avert this catastrophe! Don’t you hear Drake’s drum? There’s time to finish the game and beat the Spaniards too – reputed to have been said while he played bowls at Plymouth Hoe, it turns out he never said it, and it’s a soundbite invented over a century later. Our national myths had charm, once, before poetic inspiration for doing the right thing deviated into knee-jerk nationalistic slogans.
Now, the threat to the precious stone set in a silver sea is not from a foreign Armada, it’s from ourselves.
We’ve lost the blessed plot. We’re no longer the envy of less happy lands; we’re the butt of the rest of the world’s bemusement and pity.
And this same progeny of evils comes
From our debate, from our dissension
Brexit is the poison that will taint a nation, a fungus that grew in the ideological rifts of the Conservative party and infected purer minds.
J’accuse: the right-wing Brexit conspiracy, in which the public has colluded, is an act of vandalism, defacing our country’s history and laying waste to its future.
Nothing that was true is true any more, nothing makes sense, not in my catatonic state. One thing is certain: all cats are grey in the dark. The inconstant cat’s not ours. She must have at least one other home. The stupid human beings in their different dwellings think she’s dependent on them alone, and she’s playing all of us.
Sounding like a Millwall fan chanting “Noone likes us, we don’t care”, I don’t like blogging, I don’t like Brexit, I don’t care if you don’t Like me, and all it takes to go to hell nowadays is pressing Publish, or drawing X on a ballot paper.
…..and the island of Atlantis …. disappeared in the depths of the sea. Plato
For once – I hope it’s only once – I’m going to let two rich, middle-aged men speak for me.
They didn’t even remember to invite me to their party, but I, like them, am an angry denialist, rejecting this country’s fatalistic decline.
Before you generously ‘Like’ this post, you should know that I don’t respect the vote of anyone who voted Leave. When I try to, I’m lying to myself, and I won’t do that to you.
I think Leaving is deluded. I think the EU Referendum trivialized democracy and has betrayed our country’s past and future. I don’t want to “move on” into complicity. I prefer to stand ranting on the spot.
I know blogging about Brexit is silly and futile, but blogging is nothing if not a vent for denial and frustration, an illusion of empowerment, an undignified scramble for Likes and Followers similar to that of politicians and demagogues as they harry the country eating babies and kissing chips. [sic]
It’s my scream in the dark and if the noise disturbs you, I’m not sorry.
Jan Swart van Groningen, Woman Lamenting by a Burning City 1550-55
Pen in black, brush in brown,
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Image: WGA
Extract from The Guardian, 12 May 2017.
[Ian] McEwan said: “I belong to the smallest, saddest, most pessimist faction: I am a denialist. Almost a year on, I am still shaking my head in disbelief. I know it’s not helpful, but I don’t accept this near mystical, emotionally-charged decision. How can it be that in a one-off vote, a third of the electorate have determined the fate of the nation for the next half-century?”
“The musician and activist Bob Geldof said: “I loved [McEwan’s] rejectionism. Anger is a great animus. I heard too much reasoned debate this morning. I resent those who voted leave. There is too much hubris that infects the political class. Fuck them.”
Does Geldof make sense, rejecting reasoned debate? Not much. I thought it used to be Leavers who didn’t have reasoned arguments, only sentiment and gut feelings, but now it seems everyone is mad in England, just as the gravedigger told Hamlet they were.
Why, because he was mad. He shall recover his wits there, or, if he do not, it’s no great matter there.
‘Twill not be seen in him there. There the men are as mad as he.
Lady Emma Hamilton as Cassandra.
Oil painting by George Romney © National Maritime Museum.
Emma Hamilton, painted by Romney at the height of her beauty and celebrity, long before she became Nelson’s blowsy, beloved trophy and resented by the ungrateful nation to whom he bequeathed her, in the character of Cassandra, the prophetess no-one believed.
“People are frightened of being associated with me in any way, shape or form.”
interviewed by The Guardian, 13 May, 2017
Rippl-Rónai, Girl with Cage 1892 Oil on canvas Magyar Nemzeti Galéria, Budapest.
This is Beetley Pete‘s fault. Before that, it was Sarah of FND‘s fault. She handed me the bird in the gilded cage. I don’t even know if I want a blog, and I sure as hell don’t know where I should be going with it. I’ve carried it around in my head for three years, and now I don’t know where to put it.
Supposing the bird has fled or died, and I’m just lugging an empty cage? I really don’t have anything to say. I try to have the Last Word, and Beetley Pete squeezes another one out of me.
The moment a blog starts singing about itself, is the moment the blanket should be put over it.
But the painting is fascinating. That’s the saving grace of scavenging the web for a shiny image to illustrate a dull thought: serendipity. Like Vermeer, József Rippl-Rónai describes the deep spaces in corners we feel but cannot see.
They make you hear eternal whisperings (Keats’ words, not mine, of course) in the most ordinary looking rooms, only the sound in Rónai’s interiors is so much louder, building to a roar. His intense background offers no comfort to the human figure, at odds with her environment in a recognizably modern way. Where are we going?
So here she is, as my way of saying thank you to the great bloggers and readers out there – the ghostly Girl with Cage.