Sunday, October 01, 2006

What will our descendants know of Tony Blair or Margaret Thatcher? asks Mark Twain

Mark Twain muses about "the unsubstantial, un-lasting character of fame". He wondered what might be "left of General Grant’s great name...". A good question, I had to Google to discover that the said General was US President when the humorist was writing and therefore well known to his readership.

Twain was writing in ‘The Innocents Abroad’about a trip he’d made to Pompeii, an excellent place in which to ponder on the fragility of fame, existence and suchlike. "Men lived long lives, in the olden time, and struggled feverishly through them, toiling like slaves, in oratory, in generalship or in literature, and then laid them down and died, happy in the possession of an enduring history and a deathless name. Well, twenty little centuries flutter away, and what is left of these things? A crazy inscription on a block of stone, which stuffy antiquarians bother over and tangle up and make nothing out of but a bare name...."

At least the General is now unlikely to suffer the fate that Twain anticipated for him, to be mistaken for a "popular poet of the ancient times in ... the United States of British America...". But we’re now only just over one century after him and I could but faintly recall his name (clearly those who constructed this site are a bit more knowledgeable – nice tune what?). What, indeed, will be known of him after two millennia, and will any of it be ‘true’. And what of famous British leaders of our own era, eh?

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