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The Levellers – John Wildman, John Lilburne, William Walwyn, Richard Overton et al., 1645-49

There is no memorial to this lot in London — no statues, no plaques in the wall. Londoners by trade and profession, they became soldiers in the civil war of 1642 on the Parliament’s side against King Charles I; and then against their chaplains and officers; and finally against the Protector of the Commonwealth, Oliver Cromwell. For four years they led a party called the Levellers until it was stamped out. In and out of jail and exile, they survived to die in their beds. Their political programme included voting rights for all adult males, annual elections, full religious freedom, an end to the censorship of books and newspapers, the abolition of the monarchy and the House of Lords, trial by jury, an end to taxation of people earning less than £30 a year and a maximum interest rate of 6%. But they were not only defeated politically and physically – they were also written out of English history. Wildman (left) thought that was bound to happen. “Our very laws were made by our Conquerors. ” he said , “I conceive there is no credit to be given to any of them; and the reason is because those that were our Lords, and made us their vassals, would suffer nothing else to be chronicled.” In the year of Our Lord 1963, when I first began to study this history, the Levellers were deemed too dangerous by historian academics of the University of Melbourne to be allowed to be taught. Nor even the revival of their thinking, in a book published in 1961, was allowed to be footnoted in undergraduate essays as evidence of anything at all.

Hatzimichalis Dalianis, Χατζημιχάλης Νταλιάνης, 1775–1828 – leader of Crete

You should go up and across the spine of the island, through the Imbros gorge, then down, taking the left fork in the road to Frangocastello. Start at dawn on May 18, when the Cretan spring begins to give way to early summer, and the lambs are delicious. That day in 1828, Dalianis and 385 Cretans fought from the castle against 8,000 Ottoman troops, until they were all slaughtered, their corpses destroyed so that noone could find them again. Their holding of the castle lasted just seven days. If you sit under one of the tamarisks beside the sea, before the sun gets too high and too hot, you will see Dalianis and his men rising between the castle walls and the hills behind. They are dressed in black, armed, walking or riding. They are called the Drosoulites, Δροσουλίτες, the shadows of the dew. They return every year. Those who defeated them do not.

Cyrano de Bergerac (Edmond Rostand), killed by a log dropped by an enemy on his head, December 28, 1897

Mais on ne se bat pas dans l’espoir du succès !
Non ! non ! c’est bien plus beau lorsque c’est inutile !
–Qu’est-ce que c’est tous ceux-là ?–Vous êtes mille ?
Ah ! je vous reconnais, tous mes vieux ennemis !
Le Mensonge ?
Tiens, tiens !–Ha ! ha ! les Compromis !
Les Préjugés, les Lâchetés !. . .
Que je practise ?
Jamais, jamais !–Ah ! te voilà, toi, la Sottise !
–Je sais bien qu’à la fin vous me mettrez à bas;
N’importe: je me bats ! je me bats ! je me bats !
Oui, vous m’arrachez tout, le laurier et la rose !
Arrachez ! Il y a malgré vous quelque chose
Que j’emporte, et ce soir, quand j’entrerai chez Dieu,
Mon salut balaiera largement le seuil bleu,
Quelque chose que sans un pli, sans une tache,
J’emporte malgré vous,
et c’est. . .
Mon panache.

Link to English

Claudia Wright, 1934-2005

When she died on January 29, 2005, Claudia Wright’s end came in a sequence of deep sighs, then three rattles between her lungs and her throat, amplified by her chest. Her pulse, which hours before had jumped at Glenn Gould’s fingers and Zorba’s feet, slowed. Then, having decided finally to end the 17 years of her survival from Alzheimer’s Disease, she stopped breathing. She was one of the greatest journalists and essayists in Australia’s short history. She had turned every losing fight she had waged to account in words, which don’t lose their punch with time. With television documenting her failing mind and body, though not her wit, she was the first writer to expose by image, as well as words, the special terrors that come to you when you know you are losing your mind. When her fingers could no longer move on the keyboard, she used her elbows against the staff of the hospital, to which she had been committed against her will. That hospital is called Carnsworth. Her resistance encouraged the staff to let her teeth rot in her mouth, and leave her to suffer the agony of a broken hip. Even that failed to strip her of her dignity, or her will to strike. Strike short and sharp, strike swiftly, strike back – they were three of the lessons she taught me.

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