BBC Radio 4

    The In Our Time newsletter: 1848 - The Year of Revolution

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    Editor's note: In yesterday's programme Melvyn Bragg and his guests discussed 1848, the year that saw Europe engulfed in revolution. As always the programme is available to listen to online or to download and keep - PM.


    I waited for two or three minutes after the programme had finished. I chatted away with the others of course, but I knew that really I was waiting. But nobody said it. I think this is a record and deserves to be noted.

    Nobody said "I wish we'd included this..." or "why didn't we have time to do that..." or "we missed out an entire section, or the whole point of it, or the core of the subject, or the meaning of it all..."

    There was cautious but modest agreement that, on the whole, given the time and given the fact that it was a radio programme and not a seven-day seminar in Frankfurt, we had covered the field pretty comprehensively.

    I wonder if you'd had a coach with a fast set of horses you could have chased the revolutions around Europe in those months, as a sort of revolutionary Grand Tour?

    Let's see how they're revolting in Budapest. Off to Venice to see how good they are at it... The programme demonstrated that there are an infinite variety of patterns in history. So many explosions. So little gunfire. So soon over. So much achieved in the long after-effect.

    Over the years of this programme the pieces are starting to fall into place, all over the place, and this centre of the 19th century - almost literally - was a big piece of the jigsaw. Perhaps we didn't make enough of the fact that the Communist Manifesto was published in 1848.

    But at the time nobody else did either.

    Tim Blanning said afterwards that Louis Philippe, in his dash away from Paris, was an old man; he didn't want any blood or any trouble, his son had just died in a bad coach accident and he was tired. He adopted the disguise of a servant and forgot to take any money.

    When he got to Boulogne he was broke and couldn't find the cash to pay his ticket for the boat. To his great credit, the British Consul in Boulogne dug into his pocket (or were trousers in those days too tight to have pockets; in that case his coat pocket) and brought out the lucre to pay for the passage of a king of the French to safety in England.

    He seems to have lived reasonably contentedly ever after; probably, Tim thought, well-subsidised. Or was that tongue in cheek? But certainly someone subsidised him. Claremont House was no Left Bank garret. He is said to have met Metternich on the steps of the British Museum reading room. I do hope that's true.

    I decided to go the direct route and not loop around St James's Park today. So I went down Wardour Street and across Shaftesbury Avenue and - behold - walked into the wonderful decorations for the Year of the Dragon in Chinatown. Yellow and red lanterns swaying in the streets everywhere. Gerrard Street itself a carnival.

    And then through Trafalgar Square where Leonardo still nestles, and to my right, just along a bit and up a bit, the Royal Academy, where I saw Hockney in all his great Yorkshire pomp the other night, with an exhibition which, in every way, fills that great gallery.

    And down to the House of Lords, to be met by several of their Lordships who deeply approved of the revolutions of 1848.

    Best wishes

    Melvyn Bragg

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