09 Apr 2007 04:02 pm
I've developed a soft spot for John Derbyshire - mainly for his rude, English empiricism among the cloying Christianists hither and thither on NRO. But it's important to remember that he really is a reactionary, not a Tory. Hence this passage, lamenting for the millionth time the passage of the England he once knew:
I caught the tail-end of that old England — that bumptious, arrogant, self-confident old England, the England of complicated games, snobbery, irony, repression, and stoicism, the England of suet puddings, drafty houses, coal smoke and bad teeth, the England of throat-catching poetry and gardens and tweeds, the England that civilized the whole world and gave an example of adult behavior — the English Gentleman — that was admired from Peking (I can testify) to Peru.
It's all gone now, "dead as mutton," as English people used to say. Now there is nothing there but a flock of whimpering Eloi, giggling over their gadgets, whining for their handouts, crying for their Mummies, playing at soldiering for reasons they can no longer understand, from lingering habit. Lower the corpse down slowly, shovel in the earth. England is dead.
And they call me excitable? Orwell had it right, of course, in an essay that, when I read it as a twelve-year-old, persuaded me in one sitting that I wanted to be a writer:
This war, unless we are defeated, will wipe out most of the existing class privileges. There are every day fewer people who wish them to continue. Nor need we fear that as the pattern changes life in England will lose its peculiar flavour. The new red cities of Greater London are crude enough, but these things are only the rash that accompanies a change. In whatever shape England emerges from the war it will be deeply tinged with the characteristics that I have spoken of earlier. The intellectuals who hope to see it Russianized or Germanized will be disappointed. The gentleness, the hypocrisy, the thoughtlessness, the reverence for law and the hatred of uniforms will remain, along with the suet puddings and the misty skies. It needs some very great disaster, such as prolonged subjugation by a foreign enemy, to destroy a national culture. The Stock Exchange will be pulled down, the horse plough will give way to the tractor, the country houses will be turned into children’s holiday camps, the Eton and Harrow match will be forgotten, but England will still be England, an everlasting animal stretching into the future and the past, and, like all living things, having the power to change out of recognition and yet remain the same.
(Photo: from a reader's window in PateleyBridge, Yorkshire, England.)