Monthly Archives: June 2010

Sunday Spotlight: The Duel for Europe 1800-1830

‘The Duel for Europe 1800-1830’ is an exhibition created by the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office. Although there is a physical exhibit, which contains artifacts such as an 1811 pistol, made by a leading London gunmaker, and the Treaties of Vienna and Paris, it is also, much to the delight of this history enthusiast who lives in Canada, an online exhibition.

‘The Duel for Europe 1800-1830’ “highlights one of the most important periods in the history of the Foreign Office, when it helped to end the devastation of war and begin one of Europe’s longest periods of peace.” The exhibition, made up of images and explanatory text, begins with the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars that consumed Britain, and the need for a new system to bring peace. Further pages summarize the 1809 duel between the Foreign Secretary, George Canning, and the Secretary for War, Lord Castlereagh, which I have previously discussed on this blog, and their different approaches to foreign policy.

Discussing the idea behind the exhibit, Chief Historian Patrick Salmon explains, “we thought of it as a literal duel, obviously, but also as a metaphorical duel; a duel between Britain and Napoleon for the future of Europe, and a duel between two alternative views of foreign policy”, referring to Canning and Castlereagh. Both men served as Foreign Secretary, but while Castlereagh worked through persuasion in one-on-one meetings and favoured a policy of international agreement, Canning preferred to use public oratory and was viewed as an isolationist.

I was surprised to learn that the Foreign Office regularly employs historians, such as Chief Historian Patrick Salmon. Aside from providing briefing support on historical issues, the historians’ roles include publishing the Official Record of British Foreign Policy since World War II, with an emphasis on documents from the last thirty years that have not yet gone to the National Archives.

‘The Duel for Europe 1800-1830’ is the first exhibition by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, but Salmon hopes that this will be the beginning of several exhibits. I hope so too.


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Filed under British History, Sunday Spotlight, The Regency

Mailbox Monday

I’ve been reading other bloggers’ weekly posts but today marks the first time I’ve taken part in Mailbox Monday, a weekly meme hosted by The Printed Page. The aim is to provide a “gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house last week”, but the site warns that “Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists.” Although the meme is often used by book bloggers receiving review copies, I’ve chosen to include books I’ve purchased.

I received just one book this week, but it’s one that I’m very excited about. The Younger Pitt: The Years of Acclaim is the first book in a three volume biography of William Pitt the Younger, the man who became Prime Minister of Britain at age 24.

Thanks to my beloved Alumni library card, I was able to borrow The Younger Pitt last month from the University library, but, at over 650 pages, it’s a dense read and I reluctantly returned it unfinished. Fortunately, used copies are available through a number of booksellers online and I found a copy at Prairie Archives, an Illinois bookstore specializing in history books.

Ehrman’s The Younger Pitt: The Years of Acclaim was originally published in 1969 and is the definitive biography of the important statesman. In power between 1783-1801 and again from 1804-1806, Pitt rehabilitated the nation’s finances following the costly American War of Independence, and was in power during the war with France. Ehrman’s first volume covers Pitt’s early life and career, finishing with the Regency crisis, and continues the story in subsequent volumes The Consuming Struggle and The Reluctant Transition

I greatly enjoyed reading William Hague’s more recent biography and look forward to reading the rest of this more comprehensive work!


Filed under British History, Mailbox Monday

The Historical Tourist visits George Brown House

Last weekend I headed into the city to participate in Doors Open Toronto, an annual event in which “buildings of architectural, historic, cultural, and social significance open their doors”. Inspired by similar events in France, which launched its Doors Open program in 1984, and Glasglow, which followed in 1990, Toronto has been holding its Doors Open program since 2000. During the event admittance to all participating buildings is free and buildings not normally open to the public are showcased. Such is the case with George Brown House, a National Historic Site that is now used as a conference centre with tenant offices on the upper floors.

Originally called Lambton Lodge, the house was built between 1874 and 1876 for George Brown, his wife Anne, and their children. After George Brown’s death, the property was occupied by Duncan Coulson, the President of the Bank of Toronto, until 1916, when it was purchased by the Canadian National Institute for the Blind and used as office space. It was declared a National Historic Site in 1976 but only a decade later was threatened with demolition. Thankfully the Ontario Heritage Trust rescued this beautiful property, restoring and re-opening George Brown House in 1989.

This example of Second Empire style architecture, so named for the French elements that were popular during the Second French Empire under Napoleon III, was the least captivating of the three historic buildings I visited, likely due to its commercial and private function, but was still worth visiting. On my visit the first and basement floors were open to visitors. While the basement floor contained mostly conference rooms, the main floor held two big draws.

One was the dining room, which was originally remodeled by the Coulsons in 1890 and has been restored to that period. Decorated in the Art Nouveau style, it has a “boardroom feel” to it, as the man on hand to answer questions explained, and features wallpaper that resembled William Morris designs.

Unsurprisingly, it was the library that appealed to me the most. The gorgeous Victorian library was re-created by the government and features 2000 of George Brown’s personal books.

Nestled amongst the books an information card explained that “Brown’s library reflects his interest in Liberal and reform issues of the period, notably the division between church and state, the establishment of a fairer penal system, and the abolition of slavery.”

I spent a great deal of time leaning sideways so I could read the titles of his many books. Since George Brown played a prominent role in establishing the Toronto Anti-Slavery Society of Canada I was not surprised to see a biography of important British abolitionist William Wilberforce in his personal library along with Wilberforce’s book A Practical View of Christianity. Other books that caught my eye were a work on Prince Metternich, a major player in the Congress of Vienna, a book labelled O’Connell’s speeches, probably referring to the Irish Member of Parliament who achieved Catholic Emancipation, and all four volumes of Stanhope’s Life of Pitt.

Tearing myself away from his collection, I read the short exhibit on George Brown’s life and accomplishments. He may be best remembered in Toronto for the college that bears his name, but his real legacy is as a Father of Confederation and founder of a major newspaper. Scottish-born Brown founded The Globe in 1844 and it became a leading Reform newspaper in Canada. Today we know it as The Globe & Mail!

There aren’t any interactive exhibits or guides in costume but George Brown House is worth a look if you have the chance to visit, especially if you enjoy historical texts. It is normally reserved for offices and private functions though so you may have to admire it from the outside during a walk along Beverley Street or wait for another event like Doors Open Toronto!


Filed under Canadian History, Local History, The Historical Tourist