Nature, red in tooth and claw
is from Lord Tennyson's In Memoriam A. H. H., 1850. [Canto 56] It is generally taken to mean that 'nature' is pretty cruel, and whilst we may gaze at the 'cute lion cubs' playing on a TV documentary or in a zoo, we must also realize that they will grow up to be dangerous, predatory animals.
Tennyson wrote his epic poem to celebrate the life of - and also mourn the sudden death of - his best friend Arthur Hallam. The short phrase quoted is part of the following:
Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation's final law
Tho' Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek'd against his creed
and questions why the God whom Churches in the 19thC taught loved 'All creatures great and small' [to quote Mrs Alexander] could also let evil things happen to them. Obviously Tennyson was questioning why his young friend [Hallam was only 22 when he died] died so suddenly. Tennyson, like many others at this time, must have wondered whether God existed in view of the sort of scientific discoveries that explorers like Darwin were making.
Of course in the 21st century many believe that the two are not incompatible, but in the 19th century they seemed so and Darwin - who at one time in his life had planned to enter the church - lost his faith due to his evolution theories. Those who had relied upon the Bible to guide them throughout their daily lives felt adrift in the light of what they felt to be a complete overturning of long held beliefs.
So where am I going with this blog? Perhaps many do not now rely on the Bible, or other religious teaching in their daily lives. Whereas in most middle class Victorian households the first thing to be read [out loud] in the morning was the Bible, and the servants were included in this 'instruction', now the early morning reading/hearing for most is the newspaper on the way to work/radio news. How often do we hear 'it must be right, it's in the ....[fill in the name of whatever national/local paper that applies!]
Suddenly in just over a week the sort of change that took place in mid - late 19thC Britain over religious beliefs is happening with the public's faith in three public institutions. Newspapers are not now to be believed it seems: although at the moment it is only the News of the World, the Sun and the Times that are included in the News International 'nastiness', the whole of Grub Street seems to be teetering on the edge of a chasm of disbelief by the public. The 'phone hacking scandal, which seems to have been bubbling away for years, has 'gone viral'.
When public figures like John Prescott said a few years ago that there was more to this than we had been told, he was accused in certain areas of the press and media of being over the top and causing trouble. Other public figures and politicians like Tom Watson MP were scorned for their warnings. The police seem, at the very least, to have been very careless in their investigations and top politicians are firstly victims of the most awful intrusions into their private lives and others may have been aware of what was going on. So who do we, the public, trust?
And there is also another area of confusion for the public. Last night on Newsnight [BBC2] the actor Hugh Grant questioned the executive editor of the Times, part of the News International Group, Roger Alton about the 'phone hacking scandal. Now here's the thing. Grant played the Prime Minster in the RomCom Love Actually and wasn't awfully good at it, imo. And he has played a lot of upperclass slightly twittish characters in his career, not to mention his adventures in Los Angeles and love life with Liz Hurley. But last night, in the interview with Roger Alton, Grant came across as statesman like, dignified and reasonable whilst the newspaper executive editor was as daft as a brush [imo] making ludicrous excuses and at times quite insulting really.
So whether or not there are more revelations to come, the damage caused to the victims already named is too much. Investigative journalism, which is impressive when it is properly done, has been damaged too by cheap sensationalism parading under the name of 'investigative'. The police have a lot of questions to answer as do some politicians.
Back to nature, red in tooth in claw. Last week in deepest Somerset I saw birds pecking at road kill [badgers and rabbits] and also saw some 'dear little bunnies' displaying signs of myxomatosis whilst others, hopefully immune, played on nearby and big birds like kestrels and sparrow hawks were out hunting 'pretty little birds'. Watching the media interviews and House of Commons enquiry into the 'phone hacking scandal seemed a bit like anthropomorphism in reverse.
And the picture. The sadly defunct Daily Herald - a REAL newspaper. Worth noting that it 'died' in 1969 only after it was bought out by News International in 1968! My father was lobby correspondent for the Herald for many years so this blog is dedicated to him and all the honest journalists everywhere!