A Triptych of England and the English

Procession_of_Characters_from_Shakespeare's_Plays_-_Google_Art_ProjectThis royal throne of kings,this scepter’d isle, This earth of majesty,this seat of Mars, This other Eden, Demi-paradise, This fortress, built by Nature for herself, Against infection,and the hand of war; This happy breed of men, this little world, This precious stone set in the silver sea, Which serves it in the office of a wall, Or as a moat defensive to a house, Against the envy of less happier lands; This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England..

Seems a good way to start since we mark three things today, a triptych, if you will. In 1564 William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-on-Avon, and 52 years later on this date he died there, as well. In between he became the greatest author to ever write in the English tongue, and simply perhaps the best, ever.

A man whose works we have read, and honored in all our generations, and whose phrases like the one above, continue to grace our everyday tongue. There’s little more for me to say, except that it would be a good day to reread some of your favorites.

st-george (1)The third pane of our triptych today is that it is St. George’s day, and so as we celebrate the greatest author in English, we also celebrate the patron Saint of England herself.

Wikipedia tells us:

St George was born sometime around the year 280 in what is now Turkey. He was a soldier and rose up through the ranks of the Roman army, eventually becoming a personal guard to the Emperor Diocletian. He was executed for being a Christian on April 23, 303, and is buried in the town of Lod in Israel.

St George is most widely known for slaying a dragon. According to legend, the only well in the town of Silene was guarded by a dragon. In order to get water, the inhabitants of the town had to offer a human sacrifice every day to the dragon. The person to be sacrificed was chosen by lots.

On the day that St George was visiting, a princess had been selected to be sacrificed. However, he killed the dragon, saved the princess and gave the people of Silene access to water. In gratitude, they converted to Christianity. It is thought that the dragon represents a certain type of pagan belief that included the sacrifice of human beings.

St George is the patron saint of a number of places, such as Bulgaria, England, Ethiopia, Georgia, Greece, Portugal and Russia. He is also remembered in some regional holidays, such as in the province ofNewfoundland and Labrador in Canada and among the Gorani people who live in a mountainous area in the Balkans and were converted to Islam many centuries ago, but still observe St George’s Day. Around the world, a number of days are devoted to St George, including April 23 and dates in November and December of the Gregorian calendar.

Sir Winston Churchill said:

There is a forgotten -nay almost forbidden word,
. . . . a word which means more to me than any other. . . .
That word is
“ENGLAND”

This morning in an article on the Watchtower, I said this:

Seems to me he wasn’t far wrong. We hear much of Great Britain, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, and even of the former Empires: America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Singapore, and even India, but we hear little of the source of the glory: England. For without the driving force of English ideas, our world would simply not exist.

The Late Rt Hon Enoch Powell MBE gave the following speech to a dinner of The Royal Society of St George, in London, on St George’s Day, April 23rd 1961

There was a saying, not heard today so often as formerly . .

What do they know of England who only England know?”

It is a saying which dates. It has a period aroma, like Kipling’s “Recessional” or the state rooms at Osborne. That phase is ended, so plainly ended, that even the generation born at its zenith, for whom the realisation is the hardest, no longer deceive themselves as to the fact. That power and that glory have vanished, as surely, if not as tracelessly, as the imperial fleet from the waters of Spithead.

And yet England is not as Nineveh and Tyre, nor as Rome, nor as Spain. Herodotus relates how the Athenians, returning to their city after it had been sacked and burnt by Xerxes and the Persian army, were astonished to find, alive and flourishing in the blackened ruins, the sacred olive tree, the native symbol of their country.

So we today, at the heart of a vanished empire, amid the fragments of demolished glory, seem to find, like one of her own oak trees, standing and growing, the sap still rising from her ancient roots to meet the spring, England herself.

 

Perhaps, after all, we know most of England “who only England know”. 

So the continuity of her existence was unbroken when the looser connections which had linked her with distant continents and strange races fell away. Thus our generation is one which comes home again from years of distant wandering. We discover affinities with earlier generations of English who felt no country but this to be their own. We discover affinities with earlier generations of English who felt there was this deep this providential difference between our empire and those others, that the nationhood of the mother country remained unaltered through it all, almost unconscious of the strange fantastic structure built around her – in modern parlance “uninvolved”.

Backward travels our gaze, beyond the grenadiers and the philosophers of the 18th century, beyond the pikemen and the preachers of the 17th, back through the brash adventurous days of the first Elizabeth and the hard materialism of the Tudors and there at last we find them, or seem to find them, in many a village church, beneath the tall tracery of a perpendicular East window and the coffered ceiling of the chantry chapel.

From brass and stone, from line and effigy, their eyes look out at us, and we gaze into them, as if we would win some answer from their silence.”Tell us what it is that binds us together; show us the clue that leads through a thousand years; whisper to us the secret of this charmed life of England, that we in our time may know how to hold it fast.

“What would they say”?

They would speak to us in our own English tongue, the tongue made for telling truth in, tuned already to songs that haunt the hearer like the sadness of spring. They would tell us of that marvellous land, so sweetly mixed of opposites in climate that all the seasons of the year appear there in their greatest perfection; of the fields amid which they built their halls, their cottages, their churches, and where the same blackthorn showered its petals upon them as upon us; they would tell us, surely of the rivers the hills and of the island coasts of England.

One thing above all they assuredly would not forget; Lancastrian or Yorkist, squire or lord, priest or layman; they would point to the kingship of England, and its emblems everywhere visible.

They would tell us too of a palace near the great city which the Romans built at a ford of the River Thames, to which men resorted out of all England to speak on behalf of their fellows, a thing called ‘Parliament'; and from that hall went out their fellows with fur trimmed gowns and strange caps on their heads, to judge the same judgments, and dispense the same justice, to all the people of England.

Symbol, yet source of power; person of flesh and blood, yet incarnation of an idea; the kingship would have seemed to them, as it seems to us, to express the qualities that are peculiarly England’s: the unity of England, effortless and unconstrained, which accepts the unlimited supremacy of Crown in Parliament so naturally as not to be aware of it; the homogeneity of England, so profound and embracing that the counties and the regions make it a hobby to discover their differences and assert their peculiarities; the continuity of England, which has brought this unity and this homogeneity about by the slow alchemy of centuries.

For the unbroken life of the English nation over a thousand years and more is a phenomenon unique in history, the product of a specific set of circumstances like those which in biology are supposed to start by chance a new line of evolution. Institutions which elsewhere are recent and artificial creations appear in England almost as works of nature, spontaneous and unquestioned.

From this continuous life of a united people in its island home spring, as from the soil of England, all that is peculiar in the gifts and the achievements of the English nation. All its impact on the outer world in earlier colonies, in the later Pax Britannica, in government and lawgiving, in commerce and in thought has flowed from impulses generated here. And this continuing life of England is symbolised and expressed, as by nothing else, by the English kingship. English it is, for all the leeks and thistles grafted upon it here and elsewhere. The stock that received all these grafts is English, the sap that rises through it to the extremities rises from roots in English earth, the earth of England’s history.

 

We in our day ought well to guard, as highly to honour, the parent stem of England, and its royal talisman; for we know not what branches yet that wonderful tree will have the power to put forth.The danger is not always violence and force; them we have withstood before and can again.The peril can also be indifference and humbug, which might squander the accumulated wealth of tradition and devalue our sacred symbolism to achieve some cheap compromise or some evanescent purpose.

Good advice there for all of us who are members of ancient and honorable countries.

69387_1It’s a low key day in England, much like the 4th of July celebrations I remember in small town America, although with Morris dancing. so enjoy. Sadly, it’s no longer a holiday tough, although some are trying to rectify that.

Happy St. George’s day to the cousins

The Music of Texas, and the Rest of Us

[First a programming note, the Newman Lecture for this week hit a technical snag, and so will be delayed, likely till next Saturday.  I followed the live Tweeting and I think it worth waiting for, so we’ll merely delay it. Stuff happens!]

So my self-imposed penance for that, and for forgetting the fall of the Alamo, we’ll just present some of the music of Texas.

.

That Mexican Army that was delayed at the Alamo got itself surprised at San Jacinto with a bit of help from an unlikely source.

Yeah, I know that this is the cleaned up Mitch Miller version but, I suspect we all know the story, and like this one. Something about those Texas girls, isn’t there?

Then came the big war, and over Sam Houston’s objections, Texas cast its lot with the South.

Those of us that keep up with history will notice something in that song, in the English speaking world revolutions are fought to restore rights that government has taken away. It’s a tradition that reaches back, at least, 800 years to Magna Charta, and it still lives.

Back in 1898 in that “Splendid Little War” with Spain, well there were a lot of cowboy boots that went up San Juan Hill, with those Yalies.

And you know, it just going on, there were a fair number of those boots flying in those Mustangs and Fortresses, back in the Forties as well. To the point that one officer in the Eighth US Air Force provoked a protest from the Ambassador from Ireland when he commented that the Allies would have lost if it weren’t for Ireland and Texas. But he may have been right, although he actually meant the Irish-Americans.

But you kind of have to feel for the Mexican Army, they’ve always done there best, and twice they’ve won engagements fought to last man but both times the glory has gone to the losers. The first was the Alamo, and the second made this unit famous.

Who are of course no one but the French Foreign Legion

 

 

O Holy Night

nativitybg22I wanted to give you something for Christmas Eve as we are thinking about the birth of our Saviour. I found I didn’t have much to say, at least that was new or interesting.

Most of what I want to remind you has been said, and better than I can, and on this blog, no less. Last year Jessica wrote on Christmas Eve and she said this:

In the Christian calendar, Christmas is of secondary importance when compared to Easter; although the former brings us the Word made Flesh, the latter brings us eternal life. As our society here in the West sees little in either of these concepts, it tends to focus upon Christmas, because it is a time of the year when merchants can move much merchandise; let there be a celebration of all the wealth we have; that is a temptation to which only a rich society can succumb.

But that first Christmas Eve was not given to the rich, the powerful and the elite; it was given to the poor, the marginalised and the ordinary. There was nothing special about Joseph or Mary in human terms. Joseph probably got a decent living from his hands, but it is unlikely that his house was anything special; and Mary, well, a young girl with child is, to any decent society, and object of love and sympathy, but nowadays someone would be telling her she was too young and should be considering her career, and pointing her to ‘Planned Parenthood’. These were simple people.

God could have chosen anyone for His purposes, but He chose these people. we cannot know why, except to know that they were obedient to Him; they did not question His will, they did not argue or suggest they knew better; in them the self-will of our first parents burnt low. Joseph did what men through countless ages have done. He earned his living by the sweat of his brow and he looked after his family. He does not seem to have made a great fuss about things, and even when he discovered that his betrothed was pregnant and he was not the father, being a righteous man, he was minded not to have her stoned, but just to set her aside; sadness rather than wrath seems to have been his reaction; and he believed what he was told in his vision. Upright, straightforward, Joseph did his duty, and that first Christmas Eve it involved making sure there was somewhere for the baby to be born where his betrothed and the child could be sheltered; the primeval task of all men.

Her post is called Silent Night, Holy Night and it is one of the best posts on the site.

Frankly I have little to add except for this

The Man Comes Around

A friend of mine tweeted this yesterday, it is incredibly powerful.

Thanks, Siobhan

Keeping the Faith

I can’t speak for you but, this has been the longest summer I can remember. It has had many distractions in my life, and our lives as Christians and citizens of free countries and it seems like none of them were for the good, or at least they seemed to have little good at the time. My friends, and my God have pulled me through, sometimes nearly against my will. I’m not sure that the trials of ’14 are over, in fact, I’m quite sure they are not.

Still, as always, I find comfort in the music of my faith, in many ways, I think it one of the great contributions of Protestantism is in the awesome (in the real sense) hymns of faith that we have brought to our worship. These are some of my favorites, and I’m sharing them with you today mostly because maybe they will help you in your troubles as they do me in mine.

I was reminded today of a poem that Jess adores, and I’m going to use part of it but, I will let her introduce it. Jess’ words are all from Naught for your Comfort and are in italics

Chesterton’s Ballad of the White Horse deals with an episode in what must have seemed at the time the doomed attempts by King Alfred of Wessex to deal with the invading Norsemen. No one did historical-Romantic despair like GKC, and I adore the whole poem. It is far too long to quote in full, but the lines which came back to me as the result of reading the two posts were those Our Lady speaks to King Alfred at the lowest moment of his fortunes: Read more of this post

Welcome Aboard

Like all of you who blog, I always notice and am pleased when somebody follows this blog. Normally I figure they are finding what they want here, and so no particular effort towards them is warranted. And that is, of course, also true for the blogs I follow; if I wasn’t finding what I wanted/needed, I wouldn’t be following.

But, you know, once in a while, somebody follows, whom you really didn’t expect to, and even more rarely they are somebody whose work absolutely enthralls you, although you can rarely figure out how to comment intelligently about it. :-)

So it is today, as I say welcome aboard to one of my favorite authors. I’m glad you are here, dear lady.

 

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