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Hastings, the governor-general of Bengal, Jones believed that, though ultimately subject to East India Company rule, Hindus and Muslims in India should be governed by their own laws. It was the need to establish the native Hindu law that first impelled him to study Sanskrit, a language that in the eighteenth century was not only unknown to Europeans, but also dead and mostly forgotten in India. Guided by Brahmins and pandits, he soon moved on from legal texts to drama and poetry. At first the pandits had been reluctant to teach ‘the language of the gods’ to ‘an unclean meat-eating foreigner’, but in the long run they were charmed by Jones’s scholarly enthusiasm. He delighted in Sanskrit and it was not long before he recognised the resemblance of its verbal roots and grammatical structures to those of Greek, Latin, Gothic and Celtic, and he went on to postulate the existence of an Indo-European family of languages.
Though he was excited by Sanskrit, he did not abandon his study of Persian literature. In particular he worked on translations of Sufi poets, including Rumi and Hafiz of Shiraz. It is unfortunate that in studying Islamic mysticism he relied on the thoroughly unreliable Dabestan, a seventeenth-century pseudo-Zoroastrian treatise on religions. Hastings and Jones believed that Sufism in India should be encouraged as they viewed it as a harmlessly quietist and syncretistic form of religion.
Earlier accounts have tended to focus on Jones’s achievements as a philologist, but, as the ordering of Franklin’s subtitle suggests, he places greater stress on poetry, both Jones’s own and his renderings of Sanskrit, Persian and Arabic poems. In his own lifetime he was at least as well-known as a poet as he was as an Orientalist. Precursors of the work of the Romantic movement, his verses and translations were admired by the Lake poets and by Shelley, Southey and Thomas Moore. In particular, Jones’s notion that the chief aim of poetry should be to express emotion foreshadowed the Romantic commitment to the poetic expression of the passions, and his championship of the lyric paved the way for Wordsworth’s Lyrical Ballads.
Jones’s works were at least as influential in Germany. Goethe declared him to be ‘a far-seeing man’. In particular, Jones’s translation of the Sanskrit verse drama Sakuntala by Kalidasa, dating from perhaps the fourth century AD, was admired by Goethe, Herder, the Schlegels and Novalis. For a few decades at least, Jones’s translations from Sanskrit enjoyed the same sort of acclaim in Europe as that accorded earlier to Galland’s translation of The Thousand and
Jones: polyglot poet
One Nights. Moreover, in India the editing and publication of Sanskrit texts made Hindus more aware of the antiquity and splendour of their culture and this apparently antiquarian scholarship became an important part of the background to the social and intellectual reform movement known as the Bengal Renaissance.
Michael Franklin has absorbed a lot of the gravitas and scholarly attention to detail of his chosen subject. His dense and allusive text relies heavily on quotations from Jones’s prose and poetry. Alas, I did not warm to the decorous Pindaric verses as much as the Lake poets.
r i c h a r d dav e n p ort - h i n e s
Crash & Burn Fortune’s Spear: The Story of the Blue-Blooded Rogue behind the most Notorious City Scandal of the 1920s
By Martin Vander Weyer (Elliott & Thompson 337pp £18.99)
In his 1909 novel Tono-Bungay, H G Wells made the swindler Edward Ponderevo escape from justice in an aircraft. Life imitated art thirteen years later when the City tycoon Gerard Lee Bevan fled from creditors and the police in 1922. He went to Croydon aerodrome, hopped onto a puny aircraft, and flew to Paris. The aerial flight of the financier was as dramatic in its time as Lord Lucan’s disappearance. He was brought back to London in handcuffs, and his trial was a cause célèbre. The ensuing civil litigation defined the responsibilities of company directors for generations.
Martin Vander Weyer, business editor of The Spectator, is the son of a former deputy chairman of Barclays Bank. Bevan (born in 1869) was the middle of seven sons of the chairman of that same bank, which until 1896 had the cumbersome name of Barclay, Bevan, Tritton, Ransom, Bouverie & Co. Bevan married at the age of twenty-three into the Kenricks, an industrial family from Birmingham; his wife was first cousin to Austen and Neville Chamberlain. She resembled a Wodehouse aunt – ‘large, plain and tiresome with a very decisive manner of speaking’. This tartar took up eugenics and was an early advocate of what is now called VAT. Vander Weyer’s account of several generations of Bevans shows the domestic lives of Edwardian businessmen as a nasty mix of bombast, stilted cravings, loneliness and bullying.
Bevan became senior partner in the venerable stockbroking firm of Ellis in 1912. He was a prissy man, living in Mayfair and collecting Chinese porcelain, until his mid-life crisis. His wife published a book on domestic science in which she boasted of the ‘patriotic economy’ of her wartime household management, and (as a mother only of daughters) extolled the
Literary Review | n o v e m b e r 2 0 1 1 10 b i o g r a p h y & m e m o i r carnage of the trenches as ‘a resurrection of the national grit and character [for] we were rapidly becoming too soft, too flabby, too fond of the insidious gospel of comfort’. As relief from this bloodthirsty, comfortless gorgon, Bevan began keeping mistresses in London and Paris.
In his mid-forties, halfway through the war, Bevan’s pride and rash habits seem to have intensified. He had long been a heavy plunger at casino tables. In 1916 he allied himself with a young discharged bankrupt called Clarence Hatry, of whom it was said that meeting him ‘was like drinking champagne on an empty stomach’. Instigated by Hatry, Bevan arranged for Ellis & Co to buy control of City Equitable Fire Insurance (CEFI), a reinsurance company of which Bevan became chairman. A cool head might have anticipated an end to the booming wartime profits as postwar reinsurance markets stabilised. Bevan, however, paid preference dividend of 50 per cent for 1919–20 and 62.5 per cent for 1920–21 with ordinary dividends of 200 per cent and 250 per cent in those years.
Somerset Maugham defined a booming stock market as a place where ‘even the suckers are making money’. This well described the London stock market during 1919 and 1920. Bevan and Hatry cooperated in lucrative flotations that made the suckers feel they were on the high road to wealth. Their amalgamations of existing businesses created companies with grandiose names such as Amalgamated Industrials, Jute Industries and British Glass Industries, which were devised for flotation profits with little thought of rationalising production or improving manufacturing profits. Ellis was the broker to the issues, Bevan joined the new company boards, and CEFI was underwriter. Whereas most reinsurance companies held their capital and reserves in gilt-edged stock, CEFI reduced its gilt holdings and speculated in industrial securities. After stock market prices started falling in 1920, new issues became harder to place, and securities created by Hatry and placed by Bevan were unmarketable. To maintain the illusion of an active market, Bevan took the shares that Ellis clients wanted to sell and sold them to CEFI. CEFI advanced money for Ellis to uphold the share market in the hope that new buyers would eventually appear.
CEFI loaned nearly a million pounds to Ellis, often unsecured. In 1921, to raise cash, Bevan floated the City Equitable Associated Company with a fraudulent prospectus. His tricks were undetected by the ornamental dolts (known as guinea-pig directors) whom he recruited for his company boards. The guinea-pigs included Sir Douglas Dawson, starchiest of courtiers and heir-presumptive of the Earl of Dartrey (readers of Steve Nicholson’s excellent history, The Censorship of British Drama, will know Dawson as the most reactionary, dour and hateful of theatrical censors); Lord Ribblesdale, weary ex-Master of the Buckhounds, who had outlived his sons and was the last of his line; the crippled, depressed Earl of March; and ‘Pubbles’ Barclay, a Cambridge rowing blue whose health had been wrecked by typhoid. These were not men to gainsay Bevan or Hatry.
In February 1922 CEFI filed for bankruptcy, and the Ellis firm was hammered on the Stock Exchange. Bevan disappeared on his serpentine route from
Croydon, via Paris and Naples, towards a Russian Pacific port from which he could reach South America, but was caught in Vienna. At his trial at the Old Bailey, he was convicted on fifteen counts of publishing false balance sheets and fraudulent conversion, and sentenced to seven years’ penal servitude. Released in 1928, he managed a bootleggers’ distillery in Cuba until his death eight years later.
Vander Weyer has written a shrewd, informative and enthusiastic piece of City history, though it would have been even better if the chapters had been 10 per cent shorter. He makes excellent use of Galsworthy’s Forsyte novel The White Monkey (1924), in which the villain is modelled on Bevan. What led this suave, callous hypocrite into the ruinous, criminal mismanagement from which no one benefited? ‘What was his kink?’ asked the veteran company promoter Osborne O’Hagan after Bevan’s release. ‘The only answer which comes to me is, “Vanity, pure vanity”.’ To order this book for £15.19, see the Literary Review Bookshop on page 49
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