Coffee House

The genius of William Rees-Mogg

29 December 2012

At my first-ever Tory party conference, I saw William Rees-Mogg leave a reception and chased him down the corridor like a groupie. I asked him if he had any tips: since college days, I’d marvelled at how he managed to write so clearly, compellingly and accessibly on such a variety of subjects. He had no reason to talk to a nonentity like me, but was kind enough to offer three tips.

He said he took inspiration from Ben Jonson’s essays: the originals, he said, were still the best. Next, he had about six topics on the boil at any one moment. There wasn’t time to properly research a topic and write it up in one day, so he’d spend the week working up topics that were interesting. Having done the research and thought through the arguments, he’d wait for a news peg and then run it. The third tip was that you had to love journalism with all your heart: if you lose the sense of excitement, give up. Almost all of his contemporaries had. But right into his ninth decade, Rees-Mogg was still at it — producing the most thoughtful, elegant and original columns in print.

He had made his fame and fortune, but kept at journalism because he loved it. Inspired, honourable, brilliant — all of these words describe him, but none really do him justice. Right up to the end, he was regarded as a giant of British journalism not because of what he once did but because of what he still did.  To reach the top of British journalism required flair and dedication. To stay at the top for five decades requires a kind of genius — and that is what we have now lost.

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  • Coffeehousewall

    The essays by Ben Jonson are well worth reading. It is a shame that they are not required reading in schools, or at least by those who teach English in schools.

  • jazz6o6

    The disreputable but highly readable author Simon Raven characterised Rees Mogg in some of his novels ( as he did some public figures that he went to school [Charterhouse] with). Raven’s character assessments are very astute and Rees Mogg emerges as someone who is extremely clever, self righteous and not to be trusted.

    Someone here suggested that his son become Tory leader. YMBFJ !!

  • Naomi Muse

    Agree totally, Fraser. Jacob Rees-Mogg MP shows that he has very similar lines of thought and elegance of use of English. Equally unruffled too.

  • Latimer Alder

    He was a journalist. He wrote articles while others actually did things Maybe some other journalists liked him. Maybe they thought he was a ‘giant of British journalism’.

    But none of those things are particularly noteworthy outside the incestuous world of

    ego-boosting journos.

    Get a grip

    • trapezium

      Good journalists increase our understanding of the world. That is a very useful thing to do.

      In recent years, people seem to have developed a view that “good” or “useful” labour consists only of making things. That journalists and bankers and other so-called “paper pushers” have no useful function.

      Perhaps people have an understandable excuse for this illusion: there are indeed so many bad journalists and bad bankers that they can overwhelm the rest.

      I think making things is useful. I think banking and journalism and writing and insurance are useful too. I don’t subscribe to any cult of engineering or science, nor any religion that holds Jane Austen as a goddess.

      • Latimer Alder

        I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that journalists are second in the incestuousness stakes only to luvvies.

        Out here in RealWorldVille we expect our journalists to report the football scores accurately, get the bride’s mothers name correct and do the court reports.

        We do not think of journalists as the literary equivalent of Mother Teresa or embodiments of all the virtues…more likely we think of them as venal liars who would sell their grandmother for a front page headline and their morals for a scoop. And there is a great deal more evidence (see Milly Dowler etc) that the latter view is more accurate than the former.

        Today’s headline..tomorrow’s chip paper.

    • Jez

      He was different Latimer Alder.

      He was honourable.

  • Rockin Ron

    Such a pity you didn’t follow Rees-Mogg’s advice, Fraser.

  • London Calling

    RIP No Further comment other than…

    A happy new year to one and all….enjoy

  • NiBleuNiRougeNiJaune

    Like most of us, he didn’t do anything that important. He was one of that
    particular breed of Tories – snobbish but beautifully mannered who are
    absolutely convinced of their inherent right to govern. He was born into
    privilege and did everything he could to perpetuate that privilege for his own
    children, with very little regard for those who lacked his wealth and

    • David Ossitt

      What is it with the ‘or blue’ ‘or red’ ‘or yellow’ crap?

      “He didn’t do anything important” stupid bugger, everything
      he did he did very well.

      If you are none of the above colours what the heck are you?

      • NiBleuNiRougeNiJaune

        It is possible to take an interest in politics with out swallowing the yellow, blue or red party line. You should try it some time.

    • Colonel Mustard

      Doesn’t sound any different to Labour’s elite apart from the “beautifully mannered” bit.

      Your “clever” comment is therefore an epic fail.

      • NiBleuNiRougeNiJaune

        Did you think my comment was clever? Thanks! What a wonderful note on which to bid farewell to 2012!!!!!
        For what it’s worth I wasn’t really trying to be clever, just give my opinion.

    • Daniel Maris

      Couldn’t agree more.

  • David Ossitt

    Where is the post from Salazar that Colonel Mustard, Julian Kavanagh and Austin Barry
    have so eloquently castigated?

    • Magnolia

      It was truly vile David, full of hate.

  • David Ossitt

    What on earth is going on?

    If you care to scroll down you will find three posts that show ‘This comment was deleted”,

    What can they have written that was deemed by Dyscus to be

  • morpork

    “I saw William Rees-Mogg leave a reception and chased him down the corridor like a groupie.” I fear that unguarded comment explains much about Mr Nelson that had previously left discerning Spectators baffled and which he might later wish had been left unvoiced.

  • Daniel Maris

    I don’t think one should speakly badly of the dead but equally one shouldn’t overdo their supposed achievements especially when there is essentially nothing there at all, except some baubles of office.

    • ShoeOnHead

      the word “genius”. should it really just be bandied-about, carefree…,journos crave attention in an age of exclamation points (!!!!!!), hyperbole and click-whoring. in my mind genius is a once in a 250 years phenomena

      (shoe on head)

      • Daniel Maris

        Quite: “Next, he had about six topics on the boil at any one moment.” Well, yes, so do most of the regulars here and that’s what most people do at work if they are involved in anything more complex than sandwich-making. I agree with you – genius is much over-used. Benjamin Franklin, Charles Dickens, Bertrand Russell, Albert Einstein – they are the premier league players who deserve the title.

        • Daniel Maris

          I’d just like to say my deleted comment was not at all offensive, just a general meditation on speaking ill or well of the dead with some mild observations on what had been said about this now departed person.

          I don’t believe in speaking ill of the dead, but that’s also why I don’t think you should speak WELL of the dead in a debate forum. Speaking well should be reserved for the obituary columns where I would expect a relatively generous spirit to obtain, on the principle of “at least they got out of bed in the morning” (similar to “at least they turned up for the exam and signed their name”).

          Anyway, the small amount of negativism will be nothing to compare with the occasion of Lady Thatcher’s ultimate demise. I think that is going to be a real national embarrassment. People all around the globe are going to be struggling to understand the celebrations in many parts of the country as opposed to the lamentations that follow. I suspect it is something that government has already given thought to.

  • Raman_Indian123

    Footling old ass.

  • TomTom

    He was Rupert Murdoch’s alibi

  • belbylafarge

    He was a medicrity from a privieged background. Lttile more than that.

  • Magnolia

    Very sad news.
    I would like his son Jacob to be a future leader of the Conservative party (tomorrow if possible).

    • belbylafarge

      I take it you vote labour

      • Magnolia

        No I’m sincere.
        You underestimate the electorate.
        Churchill was born in Blenheim Palace and adored by the working classes.
        Jacob has the same gift for oration and seems polite and sweetly mannered as well as having the finest ability and I believe he is a true Conservative.

        Jacob looks to be true to himself.
        I think that’s important.

    • David Ossitt

      If not tommorow then the day after that.

    • NiBleuNiRougeNiJaune

      I can only assume that you are the agent of a foreign power which wishes this country ill. Shame on you!
      If you are serious about this buffoon being a serious candidate for any of the great offices of state, let alone Prime Minister, I can only say – ROFL!!!!! LOL!!!! PMSL!!!!!!!!

      • Magnolia

        I don’t understand your acronyms.

        • NiBleuNiRougeNiJaune

          NMP (=not my problem)

          • Colonel Mustard


            • NiBleuNiRougeNiJaune

              HNY BW42013

  • Whyshouldihavetoregister

    Ben Johnson – who he? Do you mean Sam Jonson, perhaps?

  • ButcombeMan

    This 1993 article above is a good portrait. An interesting man.

    He had a very determinedly cultivated, air of fogey about him. The sort of chap who would appear at a midsummer, heat haze, weekend garden party, in a heavy & dark, pin stripe and waistcoat, with a gold watch chain.

  • Salazar

    One less reactionary. Good riddance.

    • Austin Barry

      Who breaks a butterfly on a wheel?

      Salazar (no doubt brillo-bearded and costive) appears to be a candidate.

    • Julian Kavanagh

      You clearly didn’t read his columns. To pigeon hole Rees Mogg as a reactionary is absurd. Why bother leaving such a stupid and unpleasant comment? Go back to that rock and stay under it – and have the guts to leave vile comments under your real name.

    • Colonel Mustard

      Ah, that love of “diversity”, “equality” and “fairness” bathing us all in its rosy glow of goodwill. ‘One nation’ but not, apparently, for those of a conservative disposition.

      How Salazar’s statement resonates the repugnant evil of “One less Jew. Good riddance.”

      God preserve us all from such twisted creatures as Salazar having power over us. But they do, sadly they do. In classrooms, quangos, fake charities and council offices near you.

    • belbylafarge

      I agree. Not only that he was a privileged mediocrity who only got where he got through connections. There ws nothing good about him and he was certaoinly not a genius. In fact he was a bit of turd. So is his son who has got where he got through conections.

      • Austin Barry

        “He was a bit of turd”

        The charm and eloquence of Trolltopia.

      • Etrangere

        What a predictably shitty comment. I should feel sorry for people like you but don’t.

      • 2trueblue

        Delightful. Charming. It must be the Christmas spirit that has taken hold of you.

      • 2trueblue

        Your knowledge is amazing. Staying in a position, no matter how you got there, is a great feat. Lack of success in ones own life can indeed colour how you see things.

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