Category Archives: refinement

Britishers are vulgar to the depths of their being

Clearly, writes Dalrymple,

vulgarity has its place. No one would want to live in a society composed entirely of well-brought-up young ladies.


vulgarity is interesting and amusing only in contradistinction to something else. Bawdiness is, or should be, parasitic on refinement, sometimes as a satire on, or corrective to, over-refinement.

Nor is it always and everywhere appropriate.

Even Mistress Quickly reveals herself to be a woman of fine feeling and humanity when she describes the death of Falstaff.

When, as in Britain today,

vulgarity achieves cultural hegemony, when it is praised, flattered and deferred to, then people will be vulgar to the depths of their being.

The uses of vulgarity

Pieter Claesz, Still Life with Herring, 1636

Dalrymple writes that if you look at something as simple as a herring on a plate, beautifully represented by a great artist, you never look at such things in the same way again. You no longer take them for granted. Taking everything for granted leads to boredom and the need for excess to drive out that boredom.

Of course, he says, next to Pieter de Hoogh, you have Jan Steen. We know from the Golden Age scenes both of refinement and excess, and no one would want a life that consisted only of the greatest possible refinement. It would be boring; people would become narrow-minded. The vulgar has its function in culture — as a court jester versus refinement. It keeps us grounded and creates a certain existential modesty.

What bothers Dalrymple is that in the modern Western world he sees a great deal of Jan Steen and not much Pieter de Hoogh.

Pieter de Hooch, Courtyard of a House in Delft, 1658

Als je naar zoiets eenvoudigs kijkt als een haring op een tinnen bord, in grote schoonheid weergegeven door het vakmanschap van de kunstenaar, kijk je daarna nooit meer op dezelfde manier naar zulke dingen, dat wil zeggen: je neemt ze niet meer als vanzelfsprekend aan. Alles als vanzelfsprekend aannemen, leidt geheid tot verveling en tot de behoefte aan excessen om die verveling te verdrijven.

Ik weet natuurlijk best dat je naast Pieter de Hoogh ook Jan Steen hebt. We kennen uit de Gouden Eeuw zowel taferelen van uitspattingen als verfijning en ik denk dat niemand zou wensen dat het leven uit alleen maar de grootst mogelijke verfijning zou bestaan. Dat zou saai zijn en de mensen zouden er kleingeestig van worden. Het vulgaire heeft zijn functie binnen de cultuur als een soort hofnar tegenover de verfijning. Het houdt ons met beide benen op de grond en zorgt voor een zekere existentiële bescheidenheid.

Wat mij dwarszit, is dat ik volop Jan Steen zie maar niet veel Pieter de Hoogh.

Jan Steen, The Doctor’s Visit, 1660

Jan Steen, Beware of Luxury, 1663

The fouling of Britain’s popular culture

Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 08.00.31A large proportion of Britain’s population, writes Dalrymple,

has been left to the mercies of a popular culture whose main characteristic is the willing suspension of intelligence, and which does not merely fail to inculcate refinement, grace, elegance or the desire for improvement, but actively prevents them and causes them to be feared and despised. An inability and unwillingness to discriminate always leads, by default, to the overgrowth of the worst, from which the better can never recover.

England’s impoverishment is

as much of the spirit as economic: nowhere in the world (at least nowhere known to me, including very many poorer places) do you see such a concentration of people who have given up on themselves, or rather, who never had any self-respect to give up on.

Britons inhabit a purely materialist society

that is not even very good at materialism, for it does not promote even those mental and moral disciplines that promote material success.

The eternally hypocritical English bourgeoisie

Screen Shot 2015-05-09 at 18.15.18The British lower classes are deeply unpleasing, having been thoroughly corrupted by welfarism. But the classes of Briton that excite the most disgust are the upper middle, to which Britain’s current, lamentable prime minister belongs.

It is not just the world-class snobbery and hypocrisy of the British upper-middle classes that repel. (The snobbery and hypocrisy persist, or are even heightened, despite the nation’s third-rate, piffling status. As snobs and hypocrites, Britons punch above their weight.)

Middle-class Britons are greatly more vulgar — and sillier — than before. They are the silly-billy bourgeoisie, and the idea of duty, responsibility, probity or self-restraint is alien to them, especially if they work in that abyss of imaginary money, the City of London. Dalrymple has, for example, often drawn attention to the grotesque, insensible vulgarity of one of their favourite magazines, the How To Spend It supplement of the Financial Times newspaper. They are, writes Dalrymple,

the underclass, but with more money.

The British middle classes are ‘not a pretty sight or a grateful sound’, for they

lack refinement in their tastes, except in matters of expensive technological appurtenances…Their manners, down to their gestures and very facial expressions, are crude, coarse and brutish.

The degeneracy and paranoid egotism of the young people of Britain

Screen Shot 2013-04-21 at 16.25.27

Fuck off!

Dalrymple notes that young Englishmen (the term, with its innocent Jerome K. Jerome Edwardian flavour, has become sadly comic)

take the mildest unfavourable comment on their conduct as a vicious assault, and become aggressive. Freedom is a matter of doing what they want, without anyone — customers, employers, whoever it might be —  telling them otherwise.

Young Britons, in their delinquency and degradation, have become incapable of recognising that

different ways of speaking and modes of address are appropriate to different situations. Their social outlook is crude; any difference in levels of formality would represent at best hypocrisy and at worst oppressive inequality. The distinction between friendliness and overfamiliarity is lost, rendering interaction shallow and vulgar. Here is a world of no degrees and absence of refinement.

The result for people attempting to run a service-oriented company — or practically any other business, small or large — is this: such companies just

will not employ young Britons,

however loud the exhortations of corrupt politicians hoping to subcontract to struggling, honest businesses their wrong-headed and repulsive work of social engineering.

Better a single Romanian, Ghanaian, Colombian, Bangladeshi or Vietnamese employee — of whatever age, but the older the better — than a thousand young Britons.