I am, so to speak, girding my loins, or, if that is too inflammatory an image, I am doing my homework before I undertake my in-depth investigations of Messrs. Disraeli & Gladstone, former 'Managing Directors of Great Britain Inc'. As I indicated down below, whilst I know a fair bit about the early decades of the 19th century when Bonaparte provided some excitement for those of us who enjoy vicarious thrills, and the latter decades provided Bismarckian and Prussian mischief and venom to keep keep me amused, all the inbetween seems deadly boring by comparison. But, as the 'cousins' say, all this is my 'bad' and I am determined to rectify my ignorance. However, before launching into biographies of these two 'giants' of British history I had a quick look at my book shelves to see if their was something that might set the scene, so to speak. Hey-ho and hoorah, there was an old paperback entitled, rather forbiddingly, "The Struggle for Mastery in Europe 1848-1918" by A. J. P. Taylor. I have a soft spot for Taylor because once, as a callow youth, I had the impertinence to joust with him at a meeting of CND when he was a guest speaker in favour of unilateral nuclear disarmament. I can't remember the details but I am fairly sure he squidged me like an irritating mosquito. See, I was an argumentative sod even then!
I suppose I must have read this book at sometime - it was first published in 1954 and my paperback version was printed in 1971 - but for the life of me I cannot remember it. Anyway, yesterday, in between meeting old friends, I managed to begin reading his Introduction which is superb. Clear, straightforward English that directs the reader immediately to the crucial factors involved but which does not avoid some dry wit. Hence, in a footnote he writes: "It becomes wearisome to add 'except the Italians' to every generalization. Hencefort it must be assumed."
Oh boy, am I going to enjoy this one!