Every now and then, when one seeks out the wisdom of the ages, a singular passage or reference contains a resonance that is transcendent; one which helps the reader to realise that he is part of a continuum, rather than an atomised individual who shrinks from – or is oblivious to – the greatness of his forebears.
Such a reference recently made itself clear to me.
While reading some Edwardian texts as research for a matter quite unrelated to this blog, I was struck by a stark, bleak vision of the future, written by Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India, in January 1908. The observation is repeated below in full:
England, from having been the arbiter, would sink at the best into the inglorious playground of the world. Our antiquities, our natural beauties, our relics of a once-mighty sovereignty, our castles and cathedrals, our mansion houses and parks, would attract a crowd of wandering pilgrims. People would come to see us just as they climb the Acropolis at Athens or ascend the waters of the Nile. A congested population, ministering to our reduced wants, and unsustained by the enormous demand from India and the Colonies, would lead a sordid existence, with no natural outlet for its outflow, with no markets for its manufactures beyond such as were wholly or partially barred to it by hostile tariffs, with no aspiration but a narrow and selfish materialism, and above all, with no training for its manhood. Our emigrants, instead of proceeding to lands where they could still remain British citizens and live and work under the British flag, would be swallowed up in the whirlpool of American cosmopolitanism, or would be converted into foreigners and aliens… As for the priceless asset of the national character, without a world to conquer or a duty to perform, it would rot of atrophy and inanition. To use Wordsworth’s splendid simile – ‘the flood of British freedom would perish in bogs and sands, and to evil and to good be lost for ever’.
Here, I realised, was not just the substance and matter of numerous issues which I have touched upon or analysed in detail in this blog, but also a gathering of all the current malaise which affects England and Britain; a full and scathing riposte to postmodern pseudo-English nullity.
This is clearly a work of prescience quite unlike any other; one which merits greater understanding and analysis if we, as English people, are to recapture and embody the virtues which he extolls and to escape and undo the vice, villainy and evil which he decries.
In a series of three blogs, to be published over the next few months, I will aim to analyse how Lord Curzon’s statements came to pass and manifest themselves in modern England and Britain.
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