Thursday 16 June 2011

Iron in the Soul

I have one major failing: I simply can’t abide fools. It’s not a question of a person having a different viewpoint from me; that’s a part of life. I can deeply disagree with people while still respecting what they have to say. What angers me is ignorance and the wilful misinterpretation of words. Let me show you what I mean.

I took part in a discussion recently on patriotism, on the meaning of patriotism, specifically directed to one’s own personal feelings on the matter. My answer was simple enough: I said it meant exactly the same thing to me as it did to Rupert Brooke, that golden boy of long-gone golden summer;

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
that is forever England. There shall be
in that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
a dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam;
a body of England's breathing English air,
washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
a pulse in the eternal mind, no less
gives back somewhere the thoughts by England given;
her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
and laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
in hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

It’s a poem by a soldier in the midst of war, a soldier writing from one of the theatres of war, but it’s not about war, not about hatred, not about enmity, not about vainglory; no, it’s simply about home, what home means, what love of home means, the words and sentiments of a patriot. The difference between this and nationalism could not be greater. As I’ve said on a number of occasions, a patriot is a person who loves their country; a nationalist a person who hates everyone else’s country.

In another essay posted last October (England, my England) I defined precisely what England means to me, what it is that defines me specifically as English, in all my uniqueness and eccentricity;

Yes, I’m not British; I’m English. I cycle from my rooms to college most days. I go riding just about every Sunday along old bridal paths. I like gymkhanas and country pursuits in general. I go hunting in season. I have a passion for the history of my country, particularly for the England of the seventeenth century, which has done so much to confirm my belief in the importance of monarchy in our constitution. I enjoy such food as roast beef - though I have a preference for venison -, fresh salmon, scones with high tea and stodgy puddings. I like to be taken punting on the Cam on warm spring days. I like May balls and daffodils. I like strawberries and cream at Wimbledon. I love the plays of William Shakespeare, the poetry of John Donne and the novels of Charles Dickens. I like Tudor and Stuart dance music and the orchestral work of Frederick Delius, particularly Brigg Fair and In a Summer Garden. I like old churches and ruined castles. I have a tremendous affection for the Church of England and an even greater affection for old English folkways. I like Christmas carols, the more traditional the better. I distrust alien ideologies, like socialism, communism and scientology, any form of fanaticism, really, in politics or religion. I distrust political enthusiasm and hero worship. Or if I do like heroes it's historic fatties like Sir John Falstaff or Horace Rumpole! I dislike American spellings of English English words. I like to go to Henley for the regatta and I far prefer tea, English Breakfast, to be precise, to cappuccino!

I am what I am; a single-minded English girl, whose simple love of home entails no harm and does no harm. But then, oh then, came the stupidity, those who could not tell the difference between introspective patriotism and aggressive nationalism, those who persisted in seeing patriotism as a form of wilful ignorance, as a mood of superiority, as a rejection of other nations and other loyalties; that one somehow perceived these as ‘inferior.’ I let rip in my inimitable way, doling out in full measure the kind of response this deserved.

There are some people, sad to say, not just of limited wit but almost completely lacking in basic comprehension. I have no hesitation at all in making a fool look like a fool, condemned not so much by what I say as their own choice of words. I’m neither going to mention the context of this discussion or the people in question. There are those, as Plato says, who only have iron in the soul.

Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!
Whose heart hath ne'er within him burn'd,
As home his footsteps he hath turn'd
From wandering on a foreign strand!
If such there breathe, go, mark him well;
For him no Minstrel raptures swell;
High though his titles, proud his name,
Boundless his wealth as wish can claim;
Despite those titles, power, and pelf,
The wretch, concentred all in self,
Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
And, doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust, from whence he sprung,
Unwept, unhonour'd, and unsung.


  1. My favourite

    “Patriotism is proud of a country's virtues and eager to correct its deficiencies; it also acknowledges the legitimate patriotism of other countries, with their own specific virtues. The pride of nationalism, however, trumpets its country's virtues and denies its deficiencies, while it is contemptuous toward the virtues of other countries. It wants to be, and proclaims itself to be, "the greatest," but greatness is not required of a country; only goodness is.”

    - Sydney J. Harris quotes (American Journalist and Author, He wrote a syndicated column, Strictly Personal, from 1944-86. 1917-1986)

  2. A good soldier dosn't die for his country, he makes the other poor bastard die for his country - Gen. George Smith Patton Jr.

  3. Ana - have you read Dornford Yates?

  4. Calvin, no. Something to look into?

  5. Ana there is a prevalent and pernicious stance of being apologetic for being English, think of councils stating that celebrating St George's day is racist, and when you are deling with the ideologised there is no reason since they speak in jargon. It's a bit early in the day for venison but this has certainly given me an appetite.

  6. Mother makes a superb venison casserole on Christmas Eve, Richard, and then tucks a lot of it away in the freezer, so we can enjoy it at various points in the year!

  7. He's very much out of fashion these days, but he wrote with great fondness of a genteel England that, perhaps, never existed. He wrote two sorts of books - collections of mildly comic events - "Berry & Co." is typical - and ripping thrillers set in Europe between the wars - "Blind Corner" and "She Painted Her Face" would be good examples.

  8. Now I'm ravenous Ana. Your mother is a wise woman.

  9. I've shown patriotism for the Anastasian realm by adding two links to R&A. Check 'em..change 'em if thou pleasest.

    MMMMhhh...venison! Favourite food of Robin Hood and his Merry Men. Can ya freeze dry some and send it to Australia?

    But seriously, I just saw kangaroo meat being offered for sale for human consumption in Woolworths...on special...because no bastard is buying, I suspect. I keep warning visitors to these islands that's it's not really a national dish and that anyone trying to make you eat it is having you on!

  10. My England is more pedestrian than equestrian. The England of Edward Thomas. His patriotism was not unlike yours however - not a trace of aggressive nationalism.

  11. Calvin, thanks. I'll see what's available.

  12. Richard, you bet she is. I'll tell her. :-) Oh, the meat is marinaded for a day or so in wine, only the best Burgundy will do!

  13. Retarius, I wouldn't dream of changing your links. :-)

    I actually tried kangaroo tail soup once – never again!

    Oh, I read a report in the Times on Saturday about Alice Springs, a place I’ve always wanted to go to. Not now, not if the report is accurate. Apparently there is a horrendous level of violence fuelled by alcoholism among the local aborigine community. Do you know anything about this? Is it, perhaps, an exaggeration?

  14. Mark, I ramble too, and not just in words. :-)

  15. Ana, fly straight to Yulara and give Alice a miss, unless you are keen to ride the 'Ghan. The rock and the desert are worth the trip. There's also Kings Canyon not too far away.

  16. Re Alice Springs: The tourists are usually well looked to the direness of the circumstances of the Aboriginal community there, I doubt that it could be exaggerated. Google "NT Intervention" and you'll find most of the sorry story.

  17. Retarius, I will. I wish I could link the Times article for you but it's a subscription only service now.

  18. You drink deep, my Ana, down to the dregs.

    Prophet Muhammad said 'Patriotism is part of faith' so Muslims are duty bound to be loyal to the country in which they live. It is crucial to note that this prophetic injunction did not come with any precondition of the country being an Muslim or Islamic country, it applies to any country in principle no matter what form of government it has. Similarly there is no requirement of the country having a legal system based on Islamic Shariah law.

    In extreme cases where there are prohibitive conditions for Muslims to practise their faith and possibly where they are persecuted because of their faith, Muslims are advised to migrate from such places and move to other countries where they can practice their faith. This was the example of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ himself (and the practice of those before him) who was bitterly persecuted in Mecca for well over a decade before he migrated to Medina. There was no call for uprising or dissent but an adherence to the principle of peace.

    And as for that "illicit" ven'son, I side with Pope's verse about prefering a rogue with it 'to a saint without.' Pope liked his ven'son, his letters often mention dining on friendly venison with quite some relish. I don't believe anybody in Barking has venison so it is not to be found on my menu (which about 70 years ago would have contravened rule 47b of the Emergency Butchery Act). Do you fancy the haunch yourself, or "half an 'aunch" (like Phoebe in Goodnight Sweetheart: London Pride)? In India there is a traditional succulent curry to be had, prepared from the freshly-hunted leg meat. Enjoy these biting lines from Pope's 'Epistle To Allen Bathurst: Of the Use of Riches':

    What made Directors cheat in South-sea year?
    To live on ven'son when it sold so dear.
    Ask you why Phryne the whole Auction buys?
    Phryne foresees a General Excise,
    Why she and Sapho raise that monstrous sum?
    Alas! they fear a Man will cost a plum.