Folio Archives 165: Pax Britannica by James Morris 1992

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Folio Archives 165: Pax Britannica by James Morris 1992

Edited: May 15, 2020, 4:23 am

Pax Britannica by James (Jan) Morris 1992

James (now Jan) Morris’s fascinating trilogy cover the history of the British Empire from 1837 to the 1960s, and covers everything from the East India Company to the independence of the former colonies around the world.

The books took ten years to write, and rather than being a strict history, Morris gives a more personal view from those involved in the events as they unfolded, from both the British and colonial point of view.

To demonstrate the general tone of the books, my favourite sentence from the whole three volumes is this description of young women who have elected to emigrate from England to Australia, and have been confined to their own virginal quarters aboard ship. “Thus refrigerated in purity, these perishable cargoes were shipped to the bounds of the Empire, where lusty colonials presently defrosted them to perpetuate the breed”.

The books are introduced by Morris from his home at Trefan Morys, and each book is divided into three parts as well as numerous chapters. Maps are scattered through the text as appropriate.

This comprehensive three volume set has 32 pages of prints, paintings and photographs in each volume. The books are Heaven's Command (470 pages), Pax Britannica (410 pages) and Farewell the Trumpets (482 pages). Each book is bound identically in blue buckram with a Victorian sovereign design in gold and blind on both covers and gilt spine title. There are different pictorial colour endleaves in each volume.

The black three-volume slipcase (25x17.2x12.1cm.) is printed with wrap-around colour picture.

Montage of slipcase wrap-around illustration

Volume One

Volume Two

Volume Three

An index of the other illustrated reviews in the "Folio Archives" series can be viewed here.

May 15, 2020, 3:41 am

Thanks! That looks interesting

May 15, 2020, 4:12 am

>1 wcarter:

I rather fancy Trefan Morys is a place rather than another voice: the introduction is Morris's own.

Edited: May 15, 2020, 4:23 am

>3 affle:
Well that’s confusing and embarrassing!
I merely read the name at the end of the introduction and took it at face value.
Thanks for the correction.
Original entry corrected.

May 15, 2020, 4:22 am

>1 wcarter: One which I have, but thanks for the comprehensive review and copious illustrations.

May 15, 2020, 5:09 am

>4 wcarter:

I've now found a recent interview with Morris which was at the back of my mind when I posted:

May 15, 2020, 6:44 am

>6 affle: Thank you. I've just spent my lunch break reading this interview. What an incredible life she's had! She describes the Pax Britannica trilogy as '...the centrepiece of my life really, I hesitate to say intellectually, but certainly emotionally'. The trilogy has been staring at me from the shelves for some years now, asking to be read. I think now might be the moment.

May 15, 2020, 7:47 am

>6 affle:
A fascinating interview so thank you very much for sharing it. I will now be looking for more books to add to my TBR pile and just when it was starting to go down!

May 15, 2020, 8:01 am

For those interested in Jan Morris, Slightly Foxed has produced a volume of her memoirs. I haven’t read it yet, but looks very interesting!

Edited: May 15, 2020, 8:51 am

>9 RRCBS: I read Conundrum last year and the numbered Slightly Foxed edition is delightful. It was written in 1974 as a description of her life and steps to transsexual change and I found it an illuminating memoir.

She quotes from Cecil Day Lewis’ The Volunteer near the end:
Tell them in England, if they ask
What brought us to these wars,
To this plateau beneath the night’s
Grave manifold of stars –

It was not fraud or foolishness,
Glory, revenge, or pay:
We came because our open eyes
Could see no other way.

Others have written that it is dated, but it is autobiography and necessarily reflects life as the author found it, from her perspective.

May 16, 2020, 2:46 am

I have collected Morris for years. Just love her writing. Plenty to go at!

Edited: Mar 8, 2021, 2:42 pm

>1 wcarter: I've just obtained this set but I've noticed a printing error and wondered if you or anyone else in this thread also had this problem (or whether I've just been unlucky with the set I bought). Basically, in the chapter on the Scramble for Africa in vol. 1 (Heaven's Command), pages 447-54 are missing, instead appearing after the index at the end of the book. I've spent a while on Google trying to find out if anyone else has had this problem but so far it seems like it's just me

Mar 8, 2021, 2:50 pm

>12 bucklanda03:
My set is fine - just checked!

Mar 8, 2021, 2:53 pm

Same here - everything fine.

Mar 8, 2021, 3:49 pm

That's really odd - I can't understand how it could have happened. Thanks for checking

Mar 8, 2021, 5:34 pm

>15 bucklanda03: signatures stacked in the wrong order, either mechanically or by hand, is not an uncommon error, relatively speaking. Arion Press has a video somewhere of an employee laying out stacks of signatures and verifying the order.

Mar 9, 2021, 11:40 am

>16 abysswalker: Thanks for explaining. My knowledge of the actual production process is next to nothing

Mar 10, 2021, 9:34 am

I've been looking for a good history of this time period in Great Britain. This thread inspired me to buy the set, can't wait to dig in!

Mar 10, 2021, 11:09 pm

I'm nearly two thirds of the way through. I can't think of anything to compare it with. Part (but not all) of my impetus to pick it up on eBay was that in July 2020 the Baker Street Irregulars (a US-based society of Sherlockians) had scheduled a multi-day program on Sherlock Holmes and the British Empire. Covid-19 torpedoed that but it was optimistically scheduled for June of this year but has again been put off to July 29-31, 2022 near West Point, N.Y.
So I've slowed down my preparatory reading of the set. It occurred to me that I could put together a good reading list just based on Folio Books. I have now either read or will read, besides Pax:
The Siege of Delhi by Richard Barter
The Jubilee Years was that a Presentation Volume?
Revolt in the Desert
Niall Ferguson's Empire
Probably others can think of several more.
By the way, the BSI program is open to anyone and there will probably ensue a volume of papers thereafter.

Edited: Mar 11, 2021, 2:59 am

>19 laotzu225:
Ones that jump to mind immediately:
The Rise and Fall of the British Empire - Lawrence James
Raj - Lawrence James
The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes
Big Chief Elizabeth - Giles Milton

If you're looking at Revolt in the Desert, there's also the fuller The Seven Pillars of Wisdom to consider.

Fiction, but full of insight, how about The Siege of Krishnapur - JG Farrell, or any of the number of Rudyard Kipling publications - his poems included? I'm sure there will be plenty of others.

It depends how specific you want to be: for instance what about The Seven Year's War by Julian Corbett, Captain Cook's Voyages or The Mutiny on the Bounty by John Barrow?

Noticeable of course, how many I've mentioned above, are in the Victorian Travel and Exploration series - just realised looking back! Surprise, surprise! Others there would definitely be worth looking at.

It would be fascinating to dive into the bibliographies and try and put an Empire one specifically together - depending on scope allowed it could be substantial.

Mar 11, 2021, 5:24 am

>19 laotzu225: Yes, The Jubilee Years was a presentation volume.
Would also suggest Mayhew’s London’s Characters and Crooks, which looks to be in a similar format to the Victorian Travel and Exploration series.

Mar 11, 2021, 5:41 am

>19 laotzu225: There is also the "Victorian" trilogy (People, Cities, Things) by Asa Briggs. And, of course, Lytton Stracheys very entertaining "Eminent Victorians".