Magna Carta and Waterloo dinner

The dinner at the Savage Club to commemorate the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta on the 15th of June 1215 and the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo on the 18th of June 1815 was a huge success and thoroughly enjoyed by all who attended. There was a full program of toasts, readings, and discussions which resulted in the evening passing too quickly.

Edmund Burke’s Club president, Gerard Wilson, welcomed the guests in the lounge. He explained that the connection between the Battle of Waterloo and Edmund Burke was Burke’s stunning prophecy in 1790 that a military leader in France would take control of the army and become master of revolutionary France. Napoleon mounted a successful coup in 1799.  He read the passage from Burke’s Reflections of the Revolution in France where Burke was discussing the rising indiscipline among the army ranks.

In the weakness of one kind of authority, and in the fluctuation of all, the officers of an army will remain for some time mutinous and full off action until some popular general, who understands the art of conciliating the soldiery, and who possesses the true spirit of command, shall draw the eyes of all men upon himself. Armies will obey him on his personal account. There is no other way of securing military obedience in this state of things. But the moment in which that event shall happen, the person who really commands the army is your master — the master (that is little) of your king, the master of your Assembly, the master of your whole republic.

That master was of course Napoleon. Gerard Wilson spoke briefly about Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington, leader of the forces that faced and overcame Napoleon in that critical battle outside the Belgian town of Waterloo. He highlighted Wellington’s prime ministership in 1828-30 and in 1834 and his lasting fame as a military commander. Significant is that Prime Minister Wellington oversaw the passage of the Catholic Relief Act in 1829 which was to have an influence on Governor Richard Bourke’s administration in the Australian colony. Indeed, the Catholic leadership in the colony regarded the passing of the Church Act in 1836 as the ‘Magna Carta of their religious liberty’.

Gerard Wilson remarked that most boys in the 1950s counted the Duke of Wellington and Horatio Nelson (Battle of Trafalgar) among their heroes, making no distinction between them and their Australian-bred heroes. This, he said, was a demonstration of the unbroken lines of cultural continuity at that time. He then proposed a toast to the Duke of Wellington and his victory over Napoleon, pointing out that the Waterloo battle resulted not only in a military victory. More importantly, it was a victory for Britain’s social and political system of which the British Commonwealth would be the beneficiary.

The attendees then removed to the private dining room upstairs for dinner which included ‘Beef Wellington’ as the main course. The first reading took place after the entrée. Passages were read from Burke’s account of the events leading up to the sealing of Magna Carta followed by a toast to Simon Langton, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the real behind-the-scenes organizer of the document. The second reading during dessert was from the Reflections on the place of Magna Carta in the British Constitution. To end the formalities, Fr Glen Tattersall declaimed Lord Byron’s poem the ‘Eve of Waterloo’ (below). Attendees returned to the lounge for after-dinner drinks which put a seal on the pleasantest of evenings.

Special thanks are due to Fr Glen Tattersall for making the Savage Club available to Edmund Burke’s Club for their meetings and occasions such as the Magna Carta/Waterloo dinner. It is Fr Tattersall’s membership of the Savage Club that allows EBC to enjoy such unique surroundings.

THE EVE OF WATERLOO
by: Lord Byron (1788-1824)

HERE was a sound of revelry by night,
And Belgium’s capital had gathered then
Her beauty and her chivalry, and bright
The lamps shone o’er fair women and brave men.
A thousand hearts beat happily; and when
Music arose with its voluptuous swell,
Soft eyes looked love to eyes which spake again,
And all went merry as a marriage bell;
But hush! hark! a deep sound strikes like a rising knell!

Did ye not hear it? — No; ’twas but the wind,
Or the car rattling o’er the stony street;
On with the dance! let joy be unconfined;
No sleep till morn, when youth and pleasure meet
To chase the glowing hours with flying feet.
But hark! — that heavy sound breaks in once more,
As if the clouds its echo would repeat;
And nearer, clearer, deadlier than before;
Arm! arm! it is — it is — the cannon’s opening roar!

Within a windowed niche of that high hall
Sate Brunswick’s fated chieftain; he did hear
That sound the first amidst the festival,
And caught its tone with death’s prophetic ear;
And when they smiled because he deemed it near,
His heart more truly knew that peal too well
Which stretched his father on a bloody bier,
And roused the vengeance blood alone could quell;
He rushed into the field, and, foremost fighting, fell.

Ah! then and there was hurrying to and fro,
And gathering tears, and tremblings of distress,
And cheeks all pale, which, but an hour ago,
Blushed at the praise of their own loveliness.
And there were sudden partings, such as press
The life from out young hearts, and choking sighs
Which ne’er might be repeated; who would guess
If ever more should meet those mutual eyes,
Since upon night so sweet such awful morn could rise!

And there was mounting in hot haste; the steed,
The mustering squadron, and the clattering car,
Went pouring forward with impetuous speed,
And swiftly forming in the ranks of war;
And the deep thunder, peal on peal afar;
And near, the beat of the alarming drum
Roused up the soldier ere the morning star;
While thronged the citizens with terror dumb,
Or whispering, with white lips — “The foe! they come! they come!”

Text of the two readings will follow in separate blogs. Photos of the evening are in the Gallery.