Monday, July 18, 2005

Scrutinizing a Genealogy

Eminent British philosopher and defender of traditional conservatism Roger Vernon Scruton, whom The Independent has called "The patron saint of lost causes," has recently published his autobiography, Gentle Regrets: Thoughts From a Life.

An excerpt, "The curse of Scrofa," appears in the June 25th issue of The Guardian and is worth reading for anyone ever cursed with an unwanted name. Here's the red-haired Scruton on "Scruton":

"One such [unwanted] name is Scruton -- Scrofa's Tun -- named for a Viking chieftain whose distinguishing feature was not red hair but dandruff. The sound can be rectified by no efforts of elocution. In whatever tone of voice Scruton sounds mean and censorious. Scourge, Scrooge, Scrotum and Scrutiny all tumble like black scarabs from the mouth that utters it. I am convinced that the hostile reception encountered by even my most forgiving works has been due, not to the conservative voice that speaks through them (which is Vernon's voice, not Roger's), but to the scraping steel of this scalpel-like surname."

Yet . . . not everyone felt this way. When Scruton had just published his book Sexual Desire (1986) and had traveled all the way to Adelaide, Australia to find the rare audience open to hearing his views on conservatism, he also found there a fan of all things Scruton:

"The first thing I saw on emerging into the arrivals hall was a placard on which SCRUTON had been written in bold gothic letters. I had to fight the urge to apologise for this name, which had begun to sound in my ears like the growls of a bogeyman. To my surprise, however, a middle-aged man emerged from behind the placard and apologised for nobbling me. He wore blue plastic sandals, khaki shorts and a hideous orange shirt, above the open collar of which his leathery neck stretched and gobbled impatiently. On top was a large Anglo-Saxon head, precariously balanced, in which the pink-veined blueish eyes stared fixedly like headlights.

'Mr Scruton,' he cried as he shook my hand. 'Welcome to Adelaide. I just had to come to meet you. I am a Scruton aficionado, a Scruton fanatic. I collect everything to do with Scruton -- everything!'"

The fellow then thrust before Scruton's wary eyes a large green folio with the lettering "The Scruton Estate." Inside were the details of the estate's auction, the selling off, in 1953, of the woodlands, fields, farm, house, village, and surrounding cottages -- the entire legacy of a place called "Scruton," now razed to the ground.

The encounter moved Scruton to look into his family history and engage in a bit of creative genealogy:

"Returning to England I decided to investigate my right to the Scruton name. I discovered that my grandfather was described on his birth certificate as Lowe, which was his mother's unmarried name. She had called her illegitimate child Scruton for reasons that she never imparted, being permanently drunk by the time anyone thought to inquire of her. I made up a story that would connect me to that precious document in which an English village -- my village -- was offered for sale. My grandfather, I put it out, had been conceived in Scruton when my great-grandmother had been in service there. She had drifted to Manchester, pregnant and rejected, in search of support."

The fabricated story, says Scruton, "gave me the kudos of bastardy, the glamour of poverty and a wonderfully succinct family tree."

Thus did Scruton come to terms with "Scruton."


At 10:43 AM, Blogger The Root said...

He got off easy. Try having a last name that is slang for "penis" in dozens of other countries.

At 12:06 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Do you mean your own surname? I was unaware that "Root" could mean that.

My family name is innocuous enough, but my first name, "Horace," has caused me grief.

Being called "horse" is the kindest of the variants on my first name, but even that one is not especially kind.

But I got used to this a long time ago . . .


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