THE SOUL OF ENGLAND -PART 1
IS THERE SUCH A THING AS NATIONAL CHARACTER?
We assume that, and it has lately been convenient for us
to defend the very doubtful thesis that every society which has enough of a
distinct tradition to be called a character, has a natural right to political
independence and what is called in the jargon of the hour self -determination.
It is plain that we cannot answer our question till we
have decided what constitutes nationality.
In my brief discussion of this question I wish to acknowledge a debt to Mr.
John Stuart Mills says that any portion of mankind may be
said to constitute a nationality if they are united among themselves by common
sympathies which do not exist between them and any others, and which make them
co-operate with each other more willingly than with other people. It is further
necessary that they should desire to be under the same government, and that it
should be government by themselves or a portion of themselves. This definition, as Mr Burns says, would
partly apply to almost any group, and partly only to an ideal society.
Professor McDougall, though with caution and some
reserves, accepts the theory of a race spirit, or group consciousness, which is
not merely the sum or resultant of individual consciousness. This theory, which is held by many modern
philosophers and psychologists, seems to me to involve an introduction of
mysticism where it is least appropriate; but it is not necessary to argue the
He is on firmer ground when he says the national characteristics
are in the main the expressions of different traditions. The importance of tradition is worth
emphasing. Renan too says,
which causes men to form a people is the recollection of great things which
they have done together, and the will to accomplish new things.”
Thus he adds a common ideal, as equally important with
common memories. A nation, says another
writer, is any group, which feels itself to be a nation - a definition which
favours those fissiparous movements, which in our time have broken up
several larger aggregates (1926)
However, as a rule we think we know what a nation means
and we are ready with thumb-nail sketches of our neighbours, and even of
ourselves. We think of the Scot as
canny, thrifty, fond of metaphysics and controversial theology, and perhaps
slow to understand a joke.
This description may apply to the Lowlander, and to his
near kinsman the north-country Englishman; it clearly does not suit the
We think of the Jew as keen in money-making, fond of
display if rich, and adverse to physical exertion.
We remember that the Romans found the Frenchmen of their
day studious of the military art and of witty conversation; the modern
Frenchman, we say, still exhibits those characteristics. Rank was strongly of this opinion.
“Ambitious, warlike, incited by national pride, the
French have kept their neighbours in constant excitement, sometimes liberating
the oppressed, more often oppressing the free”
We are ready to describe the typical Spaniard, the typical
German, and the typical American.
For ourselves we have the portly and good-natured John
Bull, who in a cartoon, which moved Ruskin’s wrath, is represented as “guarding
OUR CHARACTERISTICS, we say, are a love of LIBERTY,
JUSTICE, and DUTY (so Bishop Creighton has it); we are honest but dull and
stupid, for which reason we are frequently outwitted by the nimbler intellects
of our rivals [hence our present perilous situation we find ourselves in
2006 -which also had the help of our own traitors within]
nations do not seem to admit either our superior high-mindedness or our
stupidity; but they grant us great tenacity. ENGLAND, the French say, is the
country of WILL.
These judgments are mostly very crude. Circumstances have
much to do with the impression that a country makes abroad. Napoleon called the English a nation of shopkeepers,
which is very inappropriate, for the English have never been good shopkeepers.
They have excelled in manufactures and commerce, but not
in shop-keeping, which demands a more rigid care for the pence than is often
found among Anglo-Saxons.
A ruling class may represent a country abroad and may
there display the qualities which foreigners come to regard a characteristic of
the nation as a whole, whereas in reality the masses have habits and ideals
unlike those of the oligarths.
A nation governed by an aristocracy may seem to be high-spirited,
warlike, and contemptuous of trade and manual work; when the middle class is in
power the same nation may appear pacific and fond of money; under universal
suffrage it may say display very different characteristics.
all this, foreign conquest, emigration and immigration, and a
differential birth-rate, may produce great changes in what is called
[As we can see in the early years of the 21st
century under Tony Blair]
For instance, the conquest of a country by Nordic invaders
may add to the population those enterprising and restless qualities, which
belong to that race, and subsequently the submergence of the Nordics by another
race, such as the Alpine, may give the nation the quality of stubborn tenacity
in place of the chivalrous and adventurous disposition, which formerly
Writers like Mr Lothrop Stoddard, who attach great and
probably excessive importance to these racial characteristics, think that the
French nation has become more “Alpine” both in blood and character since the
Certainly the behaviour of the soldiers in the Great War belied
the traditional opinions about the qualities of French and English.
The joviality and irrepressible gaiety of the British was
contrasted with the tenacity and grimness of the French soldiery. Lastly,
besides class differences, and changes from one period to another, there are
provincial peculiarities, which may be important. Even within a compact nation there may be great local difference,
which cannot escape the notice of a travelling stranger. In Spain, for example. The Galician is
unlike the Andalusian, and the Catalan quite different from both.
These considerations may prevent us following those
writers who have romantically assigned fixed characters to the nations of
But in spite of this, I think we may venture to claim
certain qualities as characteristics of the
-without attempting to decide whether they are racial, or
due to our geographical position, our history, or our traditions.
Since the days of the Saxons and Vikings, the English
temper has been the temper of an independent, free-spoken people
arrived in 1997] -who in ordinary times are refractory to discipline
and impatient of restraint, each man feeling himself fit to rule; but in times
of danger ready to combine, to form
- to obey the commanders whom they have chosen, and to
trust them until they have proved themselves incompetent [as in Iraq since
Fifteen hundred years ago Sidonius Appollinaris
describes the Saxons he had seen them - ferocious barbarians, their faces
painted blue, their long hair falling over their foreheads; shy and awkward
among courtiers, but turbulent and animated among their ships.
would think” he says, “that each oarsman was himself the arch-pirate.”
We can trace this independent spirit all through our early
history, till the time came to break entirely with the medieval theory of
politics both in CHURCH and STATE.
The rulers of the land the defiantly proclaimed that
the English Church hath always been thought, and is at this hour, sufficient
and meet of itself, without the intermeddling of any exterior persons, to administer
its own affairs and duties.”
sundry old authorities, histories and chronicles it is manifestly declared and
expressed that this
-That is, a
SOVEREIGN INDEPENDENT NATION
so hath been accepted in the WORLD, governed by one SUPREME HEAD and KING
having dignity and royal estate of the imperial CROWN of the same.”
Among the various early descriptions of the national character
we may select that of Andrea Trevisano, Venetian Ambassador in 1497.
The English are great lovers of themselves and everything belonging to
them. They think that there are no
other men like themselves, and no other world but England; and whenever they
see a handsome foreigner, they say that he looks like an Englishman; and when
they set any delicacy before a foreigner they ask him if such a thing is made
in his country.”
Count Magalotti, who accompanied Cosmo de Medici on a visit
to Charles II in 1669, finds the English
by nature proud and phlegmatic in their behaviour, so that they never hurry
those who work for them by an indiscreet impatience, but suffer them to go at
their own pleasure and according to their ability. This proceeds from their melancholy temperament, for which those
who live in the north are more remarkable than those who live in the south, the
former being saturnine and the latter more lively.
consider a long time before they come to a determination, but having once
decided, their resolution is irrevocable, and they maintain their opinion with
the greatest obstinacy. The English are
men of a handsome countenance and shape, and of an agreeable complexion, which
they owe to their climate and to the salubrity of the air, and to their use of
beer rather than wine. They are of a most manly spirit, and valiant even to
rashness in war both by land and sea.”…
[What a right moment to close
SOUL OF ENGLAND
HODDER AND STOUGHTON
* * *
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'The Spirit of
In London on St.George's Day -1953
WITH THE ONLY PARTY WITH A MANDATE
TO SET YOU
THE QUESTION THAT THE VOTER MUST
YOU WISH TO BE GOVERNED BY YOUR OWN PEOPLE, LAW AND CUSTOM OR BY THE CORRUPT
,EXPENSIVE UNACCOUNTABLE AND CORRUPT ALIEN BUSYBODY BRUSSELS’
-SIMPLE IS IT NOT?
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TRIPARTITE PARTIES IN WESTMINSTER
SMALL PARTIES THAT SPEAK THEIR MINDS
WITHOUT SPIN AND LIES.
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