Beato, Tokaido, 1865
When a Spanish philosopher declared, in 1905, that –
“Those who cannot remember the past
are condemned to repeat it”,
one cannot but marvel that, what might once
have been a timely warning about learning
from the ignorance and error of those who came before,
has now become utterly redundant.
It is not that people
do not remember the past,
but that they are not the slightest bit interested
in knowing it.
And as for learning ?
That requires Humility.
And that has been eradicated from the human race
for thirty years now. As that Theatre of Arrogance,
Cruelty, and Degradation – the Internet,
displays all too clearly.
Hiroshige (1797-1858), Tokaido
Shimazu Hisamitsu was the father of an aristocrat
in the Satsuma region of Japan.
On a journey home from Edo [ now, Tokyo ],
in September of 1862,
he was being accompanied by a procession of Samurai
whilst travelling with servants and household goods.
Coming towards them on the tree-lined Tokaido Road,
was a group of four foreigners
headed by British businessman Charles Richardson,
accompanied by two men – Clarke and Marshall,
and a woman named Margaret Borrodaile.
The Tokaido being, perhaps, some 30 feet or so wide,
one did not simply ignore a procession
approaching from the opposite direction.
The famous, now public (c.1867) photograph
by Italian Felix Beato
has as its subject, Satsuma Samurai …
As anyone who had spent time in Japan would be well aware,
travellers on the road would be required to bow politely
to the passing aristocrat and his entourage:
it was a mark of simple, Japanese courtesy –
in much the same way as mature British men
doffed their hats to a lady – and even each other,
when I was growing up in the 1960’s.
Unlike today where
society regards itself as …
Courtesy … ?
Richardson was having none of it.
The “European Version” of the events that day,
has it that Lady Borrodaile’s horse stumbled;
… and then there is the other testimony –
Turning to his three companions, Richardson scoffed:
“I know how to handle these people.”
and proceeded to guide his horse
right into the midst of the procession.
While much resulting speculation and fiction abound,
the factual record of that encounter is quite scarce.
But what is certain is that that arrogant declaration –
may well have been the last intelligible words
ever to emanate from that presumptuous mouth.
Although being ‘tall in the saddle’
when Richardson smugly barged into the procession
… his horse left it
a fair bit more quickly.
Leaving Richardson lying on the road-side.
( One cannot but recollect
the Sunday School account of Baalam’s Ass,
and wonder if this may be yet
another occasion when the animal
had more sense than the man. )
Clarke and Marshall were severely wounded;
And all that is recorded of lady Borodaille
is that she ‘lost her hair’ –
presumably, having either stumbled, or moved,
at the moment a blade swiped past her head.
( I had always wondered if the Samurai stopped
at letting the woman feel the full effect of a katana blade,
but nevertheless ran a few strokes through
the length of her hair …? )
As for Charles Richardson, well …
he died from numerous torso cuts
(one running the width of his body, front to back)
the following day.
How much easier would it have been – surely! –
to simply exercise mature humility
and extend courtesy to someone else ?
It is not that arrogance and self-veneration
are … new … to the human race –
but that arrogance and self-veneration – Pride,
now DEFINES the human race.
Modern Humanity ?
Give me the company of quiet, humble folk
whose conduct and conversation
conveys everything that the majority is not,
and I feel privileged indeed.
I am content to be “old fashioned” –
and live as quietly as I can;
leaving the world to consume itself.
The arrogance of vain humanity, it seems,
will never change …
The 21st century is the age
of the “Instant Expert” where
every unskilled Phaeton takes it upon himself
to drive the chariot of the sun.
Little wonder then,
that the world is in flames.