An archaic dialect

Dalrymple begins to wonder whether

I still speak modern English, or whether, approaching middle age, the language of my youth and education has become an archaic and somewhat quaint dialect.

Dalrymple’s gout

There was, writes Dalrymple,

no mistaking it. My right big toe was red, hot, swollen, tender, and painful. My foot swelled and I could put my shoe on only if I went through what athletes, in their gormless interviews, call the pain barrier.

Obituary: Theodore Dalrymple

Melaten-Friedhof cemetery, Cologne

Dalrymple supposes that a doctor

is growing middle-aged when he goes straight to the obituary columns of the British Medical Journal and the Lancet instead of to the scientific papers, and starts to recognise the names that appear there.

Dalrymple is

a devotee of medical obituaries, with their mixture of post-mortem piety and snide remarks. They have a language of their own.

He recalls the Lancet obituary of a recently deceased physician,

from whose passport photograph alone it was possible to deduce that he had been a mean-spirited, bullying, pedantic stuffed shirt.

By The Death Bed, 1893. Munch Museum, Oslo

The obituary read:

Though not immediately likeable, those who knew him well detected many sterling qualities.

Dalrymple, while describing himself as one of

the highly replaceable dregs of the profession,

has not given up hope of an obituary, for this reason: he has discovered that the BMJ‘s obituary pages carry this italicised note to authors: ‘Self-written obituaries are welcome.’ What, then, he asks, should he write of himself? Perhaps

Outwardly he often appeared compassionate towards his patients, but inwardly he was seething with irritation that they should have been so feckless, foolish, ignorant, fat, importuning, immature and unrealistic.

Or

Sometimes he wanted to have an affair with a patient, but he always resisted the temptation, unlike some other doctors he could name.

How socialism works

The Left, writes Dalrymple,

is forward-looking and judges the present not by what has existed in an imperfect past, or by what is possible for human beings given their essential and abiding nature, let alone by any deontological precepts, but by a future state of perfection that will allegedly be called into existence.

Communism was supposed to

usher in an era of such material plenty, spread not equally but according to what each man needed (as judged by himself), that Man would be all but freed from labour, and the full beauty and potential of his personality would thereafter blossom. Government would wither away; and when it did, let a thousand Mozarts bloom!

What actually happened

was so preposterously different from this adolescent Marxian nonsense that the ideology could not long survive in the hearts and minds of millions its encounter with reality.

As time went on, with no utopia (or even adequate levels of material prosperity) in the offing, propaganda

was no longer an attempt to persuade the population, but became an attempt to humiliate and thus render it docile. Perpetual shortage was represented as unprecedented abundance, either present or to come. Constant intrusion and surveillance was represented as the highest form of freedom.

The error

was to be relatively specific about what utopia would look like. Whatever material abundance meant, it could not possibly mean queueing for five hours for a few measly potatoes.

Empire of supposed virtue

Amsterdam City Hall

Dalrymple reports that Amsterdam’s city council has forbidden the use of the locution ‘ladies and gentlemen’ in its halls and precincts, so as not to upset those who consider themselves neither male nor female, or consider themselves both. He comments:

No evidence that the locution caused any widespread distress, let alone harm, needed to be adduced. The prohibition was an exercise in power, not an expression of sensitivity. It was a Lilliputian step in the creation of an empire of supposed virtue, in which the rulers will enjoy simultaneously the awareness of their goodness and the pleasures of bullying.

Not everyone’s favourite uncle

Grimble of the Gilberts

The people at the admirable Dalrymple resource The Skeptical Doctor have tracked down what may be the first published Dalrymple article (in the London magazine Spectator, 26th August 1983). The subject is Sir Arthur Grimble (1888-1956), who was a member of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Administrative Service from 1914 to 1932 (Lands Commissioner, 1922-25; Resident Commissioner, 1926-32).

Why we read and re-read the doctor-essayist

Dalrymple is identified by an acute English journalist (also a skilled and powerful debater), Peter Hitchens, as

one of the greatest men of our age [second item in Hitchens’s 6th August 2017 column in the UK newspaper the Mail on Sunday].

For decades, Hitchens reminds us, Dalrymple

worked in a major British jail, listening to the excuses and self-justifications of people who had done terrible things to others, and to themselves.

Refusing to follow fashion,

and genuinely concerned for these often very sad characters, he treated them as adults, urging them to take responsibility for their actions instead of offering excuses for them. Many, who had come to despise authority, were glad to be up against someone they could not easily fool.

Hitchens’s guess is that many of those Dalrymple treated

benefited greatly from his tough-minded approach. He didn’t fill them with pills or substitute one drug for another. His observations of the way heroin abusers feign terrible discomfort, after arriving in prison and being deprived of their drug, is both funny and a badly needed corrective to conventional wisdom.

All this, Hitchens notes, is to be found in the Dalrymple collection The Knife Went In (2017).

The title, a quotation from an actual murderer, is an example of the way such people refuse to admit they had any part in the crimes they commit. The knife somehow got there and went into the victim, by itself. It is a series of short, gripping real-life stories in which he recounts his experiences with our broken, lying penal system with its fake prison sentences and its ridiculous form-filling as a substitute for action.

The book is mainly about prisons and crime, but, says Hitchens,

it tells a deep truth about the sort of society we have become. It is one in which almost nobody is, or wants to be, responsible for anything.

Hitchens concludes:

A future historian, a century hence, will learn more about 21st-century Britain from this book than from any official document.

Dalrymple’s MP

Dalrymple’s residence when he is in England is in Bridgnorth, and his representative in the Commons is Philip Dunne, Member of Parliament for the Ludlow constituency (covering the district of south Shropshire, and the district of Bridgnorth wards of Alveley, Bridgnorth castle, Bridgnorth east, Bridgnorth Morfe, Bridgnorth west, Broseley east, Broseley west, Claverley, Ditton Priors, Glazeley, Harrington, Highley, Much Wenlock, Morville, Stottesdon, and Worfield).

Dunne is one of the 50 ‘saints’ — MPs who minimised their (taxpayer-funded) expenditure. In Dunne’s case, his parliamentary expenses were minimised to zero.

Pinker’s piffle

The vogue word ‘pellucid’ is used by the half-educated to describe books such as these — or the even more tired ‘seminal’. This work is neither. It is humbug.

Dalrymple writes that pedagogically, disapproval of standard grammar

has become almost an orthodoxy.

A very smelly one.

In his preposterous book The Language Instinct (1994), the popular scientist and purveyor of pap Steven Pinker argues that, because all forms of human language have their rules, a standard language is, as Dalrymple puts it,

only a language with an army and a navy, as it were.

Whatever else may be said of this view, says Dalrymple,

it is certainly socially conservative in its effects.

Dalrymple points out that to discourage impoverished children from learning a standard language

is to ensure (unless they become sportsmen or the like) that they remain impoverished for the rest of their lives, not only economically but most likely in intellect.

Dalrymple observes that

to be intelligent but not to have the tools to be able to use one’s intelligence is a terrible fate, and dangerous too.

The Nazi occupation of the Channel Islands

It was, writes Dalrymple,

the longest lasting of any in Europe, nearly five years, ending on the very day of the German surrender; and the islands also had a far bigger number of troops relative to the population than any other territory occupied by the Nazis, at times being nearly a quarter of the total.