Swainston had been the home of some minor aristocrat till it was gutted by an incendiary bomb during World War II (1). It remained an empty shell until completely refurbished in the Fifties. When the school took it over and I moved in, everything was fresh and new, no expense spared, with floors and all trimmings in solid oak; the flat roof covered in fresh lead (on which I soon carved my name and other details for posterity). I’ll write about those times in future posts.
I’ve also added some fresh footnotes, clickable to get there and back.
IN WHAT WAYS CAN THE ENGLISH HERITAGE LEAD THE WORLD IN THE FUTURE?
This fortress built by nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war.(5)
We may eagerly try to impose our way of life on other nations, but they will have different things to contend with. For instance our monarchical stability is in no small measure due to the geography of England: few other countries can boast a succession of kings and queens unbroken—except in one instance (Cromwell)—from before 1066 to the present day.
As far as ruling the country is concerned in its more tangible forms, the Queen is closely connected with the Government. The average monarch has a longer reign than the term of office of the average prime minister, and the heirs are trained from a very early age in matters of state. This means that the King or Queen, though ruling by heredity, will have a vast fund of wisdom and experience, and be enabled in many cases to give advice to the chief ministers. The monarch is not connected with any party; we have seen the effects on nations whose presidents enter into politics. Eisenhower supports a different party from the majority in Congress and his efforts meet with continual frustration. Nasser, under the pretence of a democracy, is ruling the United Arab Republic almost like any medieval despot(6). The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics has, of course, only one party and its leader is its political oracle. President Coty of France remains aloof from politics, and is, to a certain extent, a stabilising influence, but this influence is limited. The older established nations, such as France and England, distinguish between Country and the Government. In France “La Patrie” is over and above every government, and anarchistical views as to the government may be freely expressed without any decrease in patriotism. In Great Britain and the Commonwealth the situation is rather different: the Government is realised to be an essential part of the country. It is for this reason that the Queen always supports the party in power, though the Opposition fully lives up to its name, and sometimes causes a fatal division, as in the Suez incident. This latter is not a characteristic which is likely to provide an example for other nations, and seems to disprove the British “genius for compromise.”
Another attribute of the British is their “rare political sagacity” and their extreme tolerance and respect for freedom. Some people consider that freedom of speech and thought is carried too far, and that we preserve in our breast adders that will inevitably strike (in both senses of the word !). There is no decree against Communism, so long as its supporters do not break the laws of the land, and propaganda such as the “Daily Worker” is allowed to infiltrate unchecked. The leader of the Opposition is paid by the Government. Such an attitude is misunderstood by other nations, who tend more to the theory that if a thing is condemned by the majority it is wrong and should be stamped out. The extreme case of this is the U.S.S.R., and we seem to be the other extreme. Measures are still being taken to preserve this individual liberty of action, and thought, so long as it is not contrary to the State. The report of the Wolfenden Committee on prostitution and homosexual offences is an example. The curtailment of freedom in Britain always involves a public outcry. (7)In Egham, Middlesex, there is a controversy at the present time between the town council and caravan owners who have refused to leave their site. Though they have been paying rent, permission has not been given to use the site, and they have been ordered to quit. Since adequate housing facilities were not provided, they refused to go and dug trenches so that their caravans could not be towed off. It is unfortunate that the British capacity for compromise has not kept up with the British freedom of opinion. Nevertheless, it has been Britain who led the world in the defence of liberty, despite incidents such as the American War of Independence. Even this inspired the French Revolution by the eventual success of the Colonists.
It was the British who laid the foundations of democracy, just as it was the Romans who laid the foundations of law as it exists to-day. It was a very long time before Parliament embraced representatives from all classes of life and this step was not in the form of a revolution, like that of France, but “broadened slowly down from precedent to precedent,” as Tennyson wrote. Every change has been a step forward, from the Magna Carta to the women’s vote.
No free man shall be taken or imprisoned, nor will we go upon him unless by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land. To none will we sell, to none will we deny or delay, right or justice.
Simon de Montfort established the first real Parliament, and he established it for England. Since then it has become steadily more powerful, and the monarchical power has become less and less until nowadays, as a lawyer said, “Parliament can do everything but make a man a woman and a woman a man.” Parliament is the department of legislature, one of the three organs of government. The others are the Executive, which includes the Civil Service and Police, and the Judicature, which is a body of skilled judges, the High Court, who interpret the law and decide the issue of cases brought before them. This “trinity” has been copied by almost every other nation, though not with the same success. The Supreme Federal Court of the United States seems to have too much authority over Congress and the Executive in the Federal Government, as has been shown by the recent incidents in Little Rock, Arkansas (8). Yet on the other hand, it might be argued that the United States are more democratic than Great Britain, since their Congressmen obey the wishes of their constituents rather than the party whip.
Perhaps the most important characteristic of the British, which accounts for nearly all their peculiarities and foibles, is the fundamental principle that they are not fatalists. ‘When a difficulty is confronted, it is overcome. This characteristic is expressed in numerous English proverbs: “Half a loaf is better than no bread,” “Make hay while the sun shines,” “ A stitch in time saves nine,” “ Where there’s a will there’s a way.” Our philosophy is not one of sighing and saying with resignation “It is the will of Allah.” An Englishman cannot be confined, he will insist upon open windows, fresh air, exercise, sport. No wonder he has been classed with “mad dogs” who “go out in the mid.day sun.” No wonder his enemies find it impossible to imprison him in concentration camps, and to daunt his spirit by “ brain washing.” The more his basic principles and traditions are attacked, the more stubborn he becomes. In the arts he is romantic, because when cramped by the limitations of classicism his thought becomes sterile and merely imitative. “An Englishman’s home is his Castle” and he will defend it against all aggressors. He does not talk a great deal about his heritage, and when he does it is usually in a faintly satirical way. He will point out with pride the illegitimate origin of William the Conqueror, will celebrate the anarchistical attempt of Guido Fawkes, revere Lord Nelson, who disobeyed the commands of his superiors. The Englishman usually has an infinite capacity for laughing at his own ways; in the “Goon Show” we have a brilliant example.
At the present time we are not over-confident of Britain’s future status as a leading nation, We are concerned at the irresponsibility of youth and every so often look at the statistics with alarm. But one thing is certain: the youth of today is not lacking in imagination, resource, and initiative. There is immense potential in our youth, but it is like a beanstalk with nothing to support it: it continues to grow, but in no definite direction. Once a beanstick can be planted, a goal and a ladder for the younger generation, the supple green sapling will soon support itself and bring forth good fruit (9). More than anything else, it is stability that is the urgent need of the world to-day, for every minute of instability sets off sparks which may catch the tinder of war. We British can contribute to this; it is our heritage and our traditions, in the light of present-day conditions which mould our policies of to-day. Our heritage is not a dead thing: we learn from past successes and past failures. So long as we do not establish fatalism, or a defeatist attitude, or break away from the slowly built up treasury of precedent, Britain should hold her own in the future, and even exert the deciding influence on world events.
I. V. Mulder
(1) “Swainston Manor is the largest and oldest building in our area. The name of the house is said to derive from a Viking called Sweyne who is thought to have settled on the same site as the present house. The house was for many years the property of the Bishops of Winchester, until it was seized by King Edward I. Later it became the property of the Barrington family, in whose ownership it remained for 300 years. The last member of the family lived here until 1941, when the house was bombed during a wartime air raid. Full repairs were begun in 1950 and they took four years to complete at a cost of £50,000. The Manor then became a private school, until in 1981 it became a hotel for the first time. The oldest part of the Manor is the 12th. century chapel which is at present used for dances and banquets.
Source: BBC - Domesday Reloaded
(2)For the world, an underestimate:
1958: 2.9 billion
2008: 6.7 billion
(3)Not an idea that would be popular today except amongst neo-Nazis, perhaps.
(4)Reds and Whites - the opponents in the Cold War.
(5)Richard II, from John of Gaunt’s speech.
(6)I was merely parroting British propaganda. Nasser was a freedom fighter to the Arabs, uniting them against British and other colonists from the past.
(7)The town where my parents had moved.
(8)This was a garbled reference to what the English press were saying. We had looked on the events in Little Rock as a demonstration that we in England by contrast were free of racism, and more civilized than the Americans. Then there were some violent street clashes between black and white youths in Nottingham, which were reported round the world as being somehow equivalent to the extraordinary confrontations at Little Rock, referred to in my last. Which was unfair. So again, I was reflecting British propaganda. There was indeed no overt or official racism in the UK, no Jim Crow laws, but there were prejudices, of which I knew nothing at the time. See a paper here on the topic.
(9)Not an idea likely to be expressed by so many 16-year-olds today; except perhaps fatherless boys, semi-orphaned, if they are able to be honest.