DEFAULTERS.

On the second page of In Parenthesis, the following passage occurs:

From where he stood heavily, irksomely at ease, he could see, half-left between 7 and 8 of the front rank, the profile of Jenkins and the elegant cut of his war-time rig and his flax head held front; like San Romano’s foreground squire, unhelmeted; but we don’t have lances now nor banners nor trumpets. It pains the lips to think of bugles—and did they blow Defaulters on the Uccello horns.

When I first read this, many years ago, it must have been quite frustrating. Sure, there’s a footnote to tell me “San Romano” refers to “painting, ‘Rout of San Romano’. Paolo Uccello (Nat. Gal.),” but not being in London, I couldn’t trot down to the National Gallery to have a look. Of course I could have scoured the art section of the library for a reproduction, but you can’t really go to that kind of trouble for every passing reference. The OED would have told me that defaulter (in military use) is “A soldier guilty of a military crime or offence,” but that doesn’t go very far in explaining the reference. Now, with the wonders of the internet, I can google “San Romano, Uccello” and find any number of reproductions—this page provides a nice large image, if somewhat dark, while this one is considerably brighter—as well as the start of an article explaining who the “foreground squire” is (the Florentine Captain-General, Niccolo Mauruzzi da Tolentino, who, Wikipedia informs us, was in his 80s when he led his troops at the Battle of San Romano in April of 1432!).


As for Defaulters, this page tells us that the tune was probably “A Man’s A Man For A’ That,” which

is traditionally played when an accused soldier is brought before a summary trial, court martial or other hearing. By tradition, the accused removes his hat and is escorted in by two soldiers of equal rank – his peers – and is permitted to have a piper play him in. The tune is played to bring to mind Burns’ words – and remind the presiding officer that the soldier is still a man, and should be treated fairly and without prejudice no matter what the accusation against him might be. The tune is played by a solo piper.

And this page has a link to a midi file of the tune (not to mention Reveille, Dinner Call, Lights Out, and Lament). So a few seconds with Google gave me a basic understanding of the realia Jones had in mind when composing the passage; without Google, I have no idea how long it would have taken me to amass the knowledge, but it wouldn’t have been worth the effort involved. All hail the internet!

Comments

  1. One of my all-time favourite paintings.

  2. I wrote a term paper on that, and then as I toured through Europe I was lucky enough to stumble on all three panels in different countries.

  3. Yes, mine too–though Uccello’s painting of the flood and Noah’s ark is even better.

  4. Melanie's brother says:

    I listened to the Reveille file at the site you link to, and I was shocked that the bugle tune my father would sing to wake me years ago was not, in fact, Reveille. But a minute with Google shows that the British Reveille is not the same as the American one. All hail!

  5. I don’t think people are willing to admit what an enormous resource Wiki + Google really are. It still seems typical to minimize or even denigrate them (students cheating in school, etc.) but I think that they’re far better than anything earlier (except perhaps a top research library with several servants to do the legwork.)
    Even given the top library + servants scenario, I think that I’d still use Google-wiki a lot.

Speak Your Mind

*