Thinking of Lord McNaghten

On Friday night to hear Simone Young conduct the SSO. Baiba Skride was the soloist, replacing Andrea Steinbacher.

The program was:

Wagner: Lohengrin overture (or rather, Vorspiel) to Act III
Szymanowski: Violin concerto
Bruckner: Symphony No 7 (Nowak)

The house was not packed (eg: choir stalls were not filled out to the top corners), but was comfortably full.

Simone Young was given a warm reception. This was so literally, in the warmth of the initial applause greeting her, and literally for the duration of the concert as a steady stream of warm moist air was pumped in through the air conditioning above and just to the left of the stage. This produced a constantly furling and unflurling plume of steam as if someone had left a very large kettle on just out of sight. Because of the Lohengrin theme it rather fancifully brought to mind the operatic feudalism of the first act of that opera with banners fluttering above the gathered knights of Brabant. My first hypothesis is that they are putting more moisture into the air just there in a bid to ward off the problems which the organ experienced just after winter last year on account of dryness.

Simone is a hometown hero. My Hungarian neighbour Z, who appears to have made a permanent switch to my side as a result of the concert-rage she provoked the concert before last, enthused to me: “Simone, that’s a good Jewish girl” – not in fact the case so far as I am aware. It is funny but maybe not so surprising in the scheme of things how I find myself amongst Jews at both of my regular SSO subscription series.

It was a bold act to begin with the Lohengrin Act III overture. I’ve heard orchestras play this as an encore; in the opera it is the champagne opener (assumption is that the audience will already have had their champagne and probably even dinner in the dinner interval) to the last act of a reasonably long opera. In either case, musicians and audience alike will already be well warmed up. It’s a harder piece to jump into from, as it were, a cold and standing start.

For me, Szymanowski is a composer more known about than really known. I’ve liked what I’ve heard, and the violin concerto (which I thought I might know bits of but found that I didn’t really) was no exception. It was a bit more modern than I expected (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but that was a misleading first impression as some of that turned out to be a kind of folksy-modalism rather than anything more acerbic. The real modernity (and that is just on the cusp) was the use of a large, post-Romantic orchestra. Baiba Skride pulled off a wide range of heavy-grade violinistics with apparent success. I would like to hear it again, so it’s a pity to see that the program was broadcast live on its first outing Thursday afternoon.

The real business of the evening was to follow after interval: the Bruckner.

One of the reasons proffered by the SSO for starting with the Wagner was the link between Wagner and Bruckner, including in the inception of the 7th Symphony. To my mind, they chose the wrong bit of Lohengrin to demonstrate this link. Notwithstanding the presence and use of Wagner horns/tubas and the odd touch of Fasolt/Fafnerish kartoffeln, Bruckner’s Wagner is much closer to the magical/chivalric romanticism of the Vorspiel to the first act. Perhaps that was suggested but got edged out by the Act III Vorspiel because it is a showpiece and, of course, much shorter at only about 3 minutes.

I first remember encountering Wagner tubas when the SSO played Bruckner 8 conducted by Pinchas Steinberg in 1979. That time it seemed that the players hadn’t seen the horns for much longer than I had. That’s all changed now and it is amazing how evocative (of Wagner) they are. The moment I hear them, I feel myself plunged into a darkened forest somewhere.

There was a bit where the horns and Wagner horns built up a Rheingold-ish horn chord which was very much a reminiscence of the scene at the beginning of the last act of Gotterdamerung where Siegfried declines to return the ring to the Rhine maidens.

It is too late for me to give a more detailed assessment of the concert (and of course I am not a critic) other than my recollection that the ending somehow stole up on me rather briskly. I still can’t work out whether it was really brisk or that was the impression given by Ms Young from atop her (now safely infilled with perspex) trademark stiletto heels.

On a completely different track, I came across this quote, from Lord McNaghten, in the landmark passing off case of Reddaway v Banham.

In that case, Reddaway had established a reputation for their machine belting which they sold as “Camel hair belting.” Banham had worked for them, and then set up on his own account. At first he just called his product “Arabian Belting” but eventually he grew more bold and started selling camel hair belting. Reddaway sued him, saying that “Camel hair belting” was their own distinctive fancy name (ie, not actually descriptive) and that Banham could not use it when customers might associate the name with Reddaway’s belting. In a stunning forensic coup, and contrary, it seems, to what Reddaway at least previously thought, Banham established that the belting of Reddaway and Banham were, in actual fact, principally made of camel hair. (The evidence included an analysis of hair taken from a camel at Manchester Zoo.) Who would have guessed it?  The court held that if Banham wanted to advertise his camel hair belting, he had to make clear that it was not Reddaway’s product, already well-known to the market by that term.

Along the way, Banham said, in effect, “Why should we not call our product camel hair belting? It’s the simple truth.”

Lord McNaghten was having none of this.  To say it was the simple truth was begging the question.  At Banham’s factory they might know this, but what about “abroad, to the German manufacturer, to the Bombary mill-owner, to the up-country native.”  There “it must mean Reddaway’s belting; it can mean nothing else.” (There was a jury verdict by the Lancashire jury to that effect.)

Towards the end of his judgment, when discussing the cases dealt with in the court below, McNaghten offered the following flourish:

“Fraud is infinite in variety, sometimes it is audacious and unblushing; sometimes it pays a sort of homage to virtue, and then it is modest and retiring; it would be honesty itself if it could only afford it.”

It’s a famous purple passage but I had forgotten the last bit about being honest “if it could only afford it” which I particularly like as a characterisation of the combination of greed and cunning. I have a case for which that is so apt – from which you can guess that I represent the plaintiff.

Lord McNaghten was an Ulster unionist conservative baronet, so hardly my type of person really. The picture at the top of this post is of Runkerry House, which he built on his family estate in the 1860s. Shortly after the death of the last of Lord McNaghten’s daughters in about 1950 one of his his successors as baronet gave it over for public purposes and it was used, amongst other things, as an old people’s home. More recently, it was sold off and converted into apartments.

5 Responses to “Thinking of Lord McNaghten”

  1. ken n Says:

    Still on legal matters, seems to me that in the Lane trial the prosecutor is making some pretty extreme speculations in his opening address. I thought he was limited to matters for which he had evidence?

  2. Victor Says:

    By coincidence I happened to hear the first half of that Thursday concert on ABC FM. I won’t burden you or your readers with an explanation for only hearing the first half to save your sensitivities and my embarrassment.

    The host of the broadcast announced Simone Young’s approach to the podium with the words ‘I can hear her footsteps’ and then on her appearance made reference to the stilettos!

  3. marcellous Says:


    Tedeschi seems to have pulled his head in today, according the SMH:

    He also today told the jury there was no evidence at all about what happened to Tegan between Ms Lane leaving Auburn Hospital and arriving at her parents’ house at Fairlight to dress for the wedding on September 14.

    There was no evidence that the Olympic site at Homebush Bay had been searched, he said, and it would be “inappropriate” to speculate about what might have happened.

    Yesterday, he told the jury the site contained ”vast swathes of vacant land”, building zones and deserted roads, presenting Ms Lane with an opportunity to dispose of Tegan in private.

  4. Legal Eagle Says:

    I hadn’t ever read the camel hair belting case, but I think I need to go have a read!

    I have just been teaching the four “heads” of charity from Pemsel, another McNaghten case.

  5. marcellous Says:

    LE, I’m a bit surprised you never read this case, though maybe an extract in a casebook would suffice and I think the leading judgment is Lord Herschel (I’m away from the books just now). Did you not do Intellectual Property in your academic youth? At Sydney when I was at law school we were all just crazy about property and although it was not a compulsory subject I think just about everybody did it as an elective – and certainly among the “in crowd.”

    McNaghten is also famous for:

    “Thirsty folk want beer, not explanations.”

    Which was an 1891 preceding case about a big brewing company which opened up a branch brewery (in a manner of speaking) in Stone and called itself Stone Brewery or somesuch when there was already and had been for over a century the one brewery in Stone which went by that name.

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