Historical Notes: The restoration of Britain's manhood

WAS THE love that dare not speak its name indirectly responsible for the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902? With the centenary of that disastrous conflict impending, it's instructive to consider the homoerotic impulses that paved the way for this ill- advised, fin-de-siecle manifestation of brute British manhood. The curious behaviour of John Ruskin's disciples bears investigation.

For a start, there was Oscar Wilde, who fell under Ruskin's spell in the early 1870s, while an undergraduate at Oxford. The brilliant and unpredictable Slade Professor of Art offered students the opportunity to combine beauty with manual labour, and Wilde found himself pushing a wheelbarrow to gain his master's special attention. Ruskin was building a road: digging earth, laying stone, and planting floral borders to the bemusement of his students and the inhabitants of North Hinksey, Oxford. The project attracted high- minded undergraduates like Arnold Toynbee and Alfred Milner who were happy to work like navvies in the hope of spiritual improvement.

Another undergraduate was in thrall to a different facet of Ruskin's philosophy. Cecil John Rhodes, empire-builder and diamond tycoon-to-be was so influenced by the his inaugural lecture in Oxford that his destiny could be said to have sprung from it. Ruskin (supposed to be addressing the subject of British landscape) beseeched the influential young men in his audience to go out and found colonies in the name of England. Rhodes set off at once. Unexpected parallels develop between Rhodes and Wilde, arising from their passion for less-than-worthy men. Rhodes adored the dashing Leander Starr Jameson, a GP who saved his life and went on to take a leading role in the wars that would transform Matabeleland into Rhodesia. Jameson, or Jim-Jam to his friends, was a handsome, healthy man; Rhodes was ill, overworked and overweight. Wilde adored Bosie, the Marquess of Queensberry's aesthete son whose beauty was a reverse of his own bloated face and belly. Both Rhodes and Wilde would be ruined by these glittering unscrupulous men within the same year.

At the height of his career, Wilde was urged by Bosie to sue his father, the Marquess, who had called Wilde a "sodomite". Wilde could not resist his beloved's pleas. After his case collapsed, he was arrested and ordered to stand trial. He was prosecuted by Sir Edward Carson. In May 1895 Wilde was found guilty of corrupting young men and sentenced to two years' hard labour in Reading Gaol. Britain's manliness had been humiliated.

Six months later Jameson led a chaotic raid into a South African Boer Republic, ostensibly to support a non-existent uprising by British immigrants who were being unfairly treated by the Boers, but in reality to grab the republic - and the richest goldfields in the world - for Britain. He did it to please Rhodes, who was dithering about whether to go ahead with this illegal incursion or not. When the raid ended in ignominious failure, Jameson found himself on trial in London for invading a friendly country. He was defended by Sir Edward Carson, the man who had prosecuted Wilde. Sentenced to 15 months in Holloway, he became a folk hero overnight; Kipling wrote "If" to celebrate his reckless courage. Jameson was the knight in shining armour who had restored the manhood of Britain. He was released from gaol after only five months.

Enter Sir Alfred Milner, another of Ruskin's acolytes, Milner, a hard- line imperialist, was sent to South Africa by Joseph Chamberlain to sort out the fiasco of the raid, and reach some sort of compromise with the outraged Boers. Instead he seized this opportunity to display the might of Britain and consolidate her Empire. Unable to withstand Milner's intransigence, the Boers invaded Natal in October 1899. Wilde and Ruskin died within the year, closely followed by Rhodes.

Ann Harries is the author of `Manly Pursuits' (Bloomsbury, pounds 15.99)

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray is joining Strictly Come Dancing 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
books
Arts and Entertainment
Double bill: Kookie Ryan, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Papou in ‘Nymphomaniac’

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Big Blues - Shark' by Alexander Mustard won the Coast category

photography
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham and Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'

Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
The X Factor 2014 judges: Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Mel B and Louis Walsh

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering