In Our Time newsletter: Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People
I'm standing under lights in the close of Wells Cathedral.
The lights could be gaslights - there's that yellow glow. Frankly, I feel incredibly privileged. The massive West Front of this cathedral, the outbuildings, the houses around the close, the twilight in the West Country here, those long grey clouds and a lot of blue fading away in the sky.
What a place this can be.
And I've just come out of the cathedral having heard Choral Evensong which I made sure I caught. It is the most magnificent service in any church that I've ever been to, and this evening it was sung by young boys and men of the Wells Cathedral Choir, whom Gramophone have just voted as the best boys' choir in the world. So I'm full of - what? Hard to say really, but certainly an incredible sense of being alive in this country, in this place, at this time.
In an hour or so I'll be back in the Cathedral, at a lectern, talking about my latest book, but for now I'm just looking at this front, remarkably unscathed, although there are gaps where the vandals of previous centuries could get to it.
Okay. After the programme this morning, off to the cutting rooms to work on the three documentaries I'm doing for BBC Two. Extraordinarily, because I was still thinking about the programme, I got lost in the side streets around Broadcasting House. It's a very difficult thing to do. I've worked at Broadcasting House, one way and another, since about 1962.
I thought I only got lost in a fog in Cumbria, usually, or to be more precise, most spectacularly with Chris Bonington on the top of Saddle on Boxing Day, when he nearly led a party of us to doom one misty afternoon.
After the cutting rooms I wandered around those back streets again, trying to lose my bearings and have that rather childish feeling of being lost but knowing that you weren't really lost. It was quite nippy. Yet everywhere I went there were tables on the pavements laid out for, if I cared to count them, literally hundreds of Londoners, happy to sit in the nip and eat lunch in the sun.
And from there to the train to Castle Cary to Wells. Still looking at this front.
I would like to go on to talk about what happened after the programme and the fine poem that was produced there. But I'll have to stop now because I've left my notes inside and I will resume after the talk.
Meanwhile, one little thought. I've just heard some of the best singing I've ever heard, with a fantastic choir, in this indescribably beautiful building, but the people in the choir outnumbered those of us in the church. Why is it that we have one of the greatest assets in all world music in these cathedral choirs and only a handful or two of people turn up to listen to them? It's quite extraordinary. Now in for the rehearsal and then grab the notes and finish this piece.
Back in London now. I realise I was completely swept away by the sight of Wells Cathedral at twilight last night. But looking at that massive structure in the smallest city in England, it could have landed from space; so alien, so assured, so self-contained and so extraordinarily beautiful.
So I went back in and did my speech and came back to London very late and now have looked up the notes after the programme, the main one of which was a poem written at the time which Tim Blanning had wanted to read on the programme, but there wasn't time. It's by Auguste Barbier and it's about the painting:
"The truth is that Liberty is not a countess / From the noble Faubourg Saint-Germain / Who faints away at the slightest cry... / She is a strong woman with thrusting breasts / A harsh voice and a hard charm... / Who with her bronzed skin and flashing eyes / Takes satisfaction in the people's cries and the bloody throng."
Well, I think that's a tad nearer the courtesan or prostitute that Heine was referring to, and maybe in the end Delacroix was making a statement about the relevance of women of the streets to the Revolution, then or in the future.
Melvyn Bragg presents In Our Time