The revolutionary spirit is mighty convenient in this, that it frees one from all scruples as regards ideas. Its hard, absolute optimism is repulsive to my mind by the menace of fanaticism and intolerance it contains.
It's Ireland, we'll have to deal with it. The advantage is that everyone knows them, it's England the second.
C'est l'Irlande, il faut le faire. L'avantage, c'est que tout le monde les connait, c'est l'Angleterre bis.
When the man of God had leisure to read his holy books, the fly would trot up and down his codex: and should some one call him, or he had to go about other business, he would instruct the fly to sit down upon the line at which he had halted, and keep his place until he should return to continue his interrupted reading: which the fly infallibly would do.
--Story told of Saint Colman mac Duach of Ireland, "Saint Colman and the Cock, the Mouse, and the Fly," from John Colgan (d. ca 1657), Acta Sanctorum Hiberniae [Acts of the Saints of Ireland] (folio, 1645) 1.244a, as cited in Plummer (ed.) Vitae Sanctorum Hiberniae (Oxford, 1910), p. cxliv. I believe the source of this English version of the story is Helen Waddell's Beasts and Saints (London, 1934, repub. 1996).
Quotation found online in sidebar in The Continuum Encyclopedia of Animal Symbolism in Art by Hope R. Werness (pub 2004)
Nineteenth-century England was the time of our big novels, our centre-of-the-world novels, our time of imperial confidence. That has shifted to America and I cold-bloodedly and selfishly think, I want some of that. I want that attitude that is no longer appropriate to England.
I would go day after day to read among the ruins of the big house beside the road. It was quiet and mysterious. The weeds had made a riot of the garden, but roses still flowered. All I knew about the big house was that at some time during the "Trouble" the owners were turned out and the place fired by the Irregulars. There was not far from the house, in a shrubbery, the remains of an ancient wall and tower, all that was left of a fortress. The place had evidently been occupied for centuries.
The dead house began to fascinate me. I would prowl about in the ruins looking at the blackened walls and the faded wall-paper, the places where pictures had hung, the staring windows, doors which led nowhere, stairs that ended in mid-air; and I would wonder what kind of people lived there and what they had done to deserve this.
I asked questions about it and bit by bit pieced together its history; and in the story of that piece of land was also the history of Ireland.
When in the year A.D. 1171 Henry II became Ireland's first absentee landlord, he left behind him a Norman baron (Welsh on his mother's side, like so many of the original invaders) in possession of his estate. The six-foot thick boundary wall in the shrubbery is all that remains of the castle built by this settler.
This Norman family settled down and developed along that line of least resistance which had it not violently conflicted with the ideas of England's rulers might have solved the "Irish Question" centuries ago. In the course of a few generations this family became, to all appearances, Irish. It spoke Irish, intermarried with Irish families, observed the Brehon law, adopted the Irish system of fosterage, and changed its name to-- say-- MacFerris. Such union between the English and the Irish was hateful to Westminster. Such families were known as the "degenerate English." The Statute of Kilkenny was launched against them in 1367, forbidding them on pain of high treason to intermarry with the Irish, speak Irish, or adopt the speech or dress or customs of the Irish. The MacFerris family, however, managed to weather the storms of three centuries, until a bright light of burning in the sky announced the arrival of Cromwell on his war of extermination. Then the MacFerris family was driven into the hills. That was in the year A.D. 1653.
The new owner of the estate was one of Cromwell's Puritan followers, a soldier named-- say-- Buckley. He took the MacFerris demesne, built himself a suitable house, and established himself on the land. He weathered the Stuart storms as successfully as his predecessor had weathered those of Plantagenet times.
The Georgian age found these Buckleys no longer humble ex-service men of Cromwell's but distinguished country gentlemen with Gainsboroughs and Romneys on their walls, good wine in the cellar, and a stable full of noble horses. The house of their ancestors had made way for an austere square mansion with a portico upheld by Corinthian columns. They were, by comparison with others, good landlords and well liked.
They disappeared for long periods into England, where their rents were sent to them. Here the process of Irishing which had penalized the Plantagenet settlers was a kind of social charm. The Buckleys when in England were considered to be delightfully Irish. They were expected to do and say funny things and to be generally a bit mad. But they could not speak Gaelic and they were staunch Protestants. (When they returned to Ireland their tenants thought of them as English.)
They sent sons into the Army and the Church. A Buckley distinguished himself in the Crimea. Another became an English bishop. In Victoria's reign-- so glorious and well-fed for England, so miserable and starved for Ireland-- the Buckleys heard the first faint rumble of rebellion, but they rode to hounds right through it. They served in the South African War, and a Buckley commanded an English yeomanry regiment during the war with Germany.
This was the Colonel Buckley who had come over to see his agent in 1922. He discovered that the warning rumble of Fenianism through which his great-grandfather and his father had hunted now swept with the force of a gale throughout Ireland The young men of his estate seemed to belong to a secret society. He saw strange slogans chalked up on the walls. His tenants had the appearance of spies. One night, he was sitting at dinner in the big Georgian room, congratulating himself perhaps, that the good deeds of his ancestors had preserved his Irish fortunes, when there was a tramp of feet as a band of Irregulars walked in, tough young men with caps pulled over their eyes. He had time to notice among them the sons of one or two of his tenants.
"You've got your rosary?" one began from force of habit; then, remembering that the Colonel was a Protestant he smiled grimly and said: "Come now to the top of the hill."
The Buckleys, like most of the unfortunate Anglo-Irish, may at times have been stupid but they were never cowardly. The Colonel, knowing at once that he was to be murdered, and knowing too that argument was pointless, asked to be allowed to find a hat. They marched him to the top of his own hill in the dark. Here a huge young man stood over him.
"Who does that demesne belong to, Colonel Buckley?" he asked.
"It belongs to me," said the Colonel.
"Oh; it does?" replied the young man with deep irony. "Well, now, take a good look at me while you can! that demesne belonged to me before you came over with Cromwell. My name's MacFerris! Now down with ye on your knees...."
But the Colonel was not shot. At the last moment the men, becoming alarmed by a scouting-party of Free State troops, fled, leaving the middle-aged Anglo-Irishman kneeling on the grass without the slightest idea that Cromwellian had met Plantagenet. As the Colonel rose he looked down and saw that his house was on fire. He then and there swore never to set foot on Irish soil; and he kept his vow. He retired to an English cathedral city.
So I go day after day to read among the ruins of the house beside the road. There is something as inevitable as Greek tragedy in the thought of a MacFerris, probably a farm-labourer, swooping down with the indignation of centuries behind him to snatch a brief vengeance at the pistol's point. If this long memory is not nationalism what is it?
There is not a great estate in Ireland owned by one of Cromwell's settlers which had not always had a ghostly other owner in the memory of the common people.
This story is still going on. Here is one old Irish estate which was repurchased by descendants of the original family.
Yes, if you meet Englishmen in a foreign country, you see their defects quite glaringly through the contrast. They are the gods of boredom, who hunt through all countries post-haste in shiny black carriages, and leave a gray dustcloud of gloom behind them everywhere they go. And then you have their disinterested curiosity, their well-washed dowdiness, their impertinent stupidity, their awkward selfishness, and their dreary joy in all melancholy subjects. For the past three weeks, you can see an Englishman every day here in the Pizza di Gran Duca [in Florence, Italy]. For hours at a time he watches a charlatan there who sits on a horse and pulls out people's teeth. Perhaps the noble son of Albion takes advantage of this show because he misses the executions in his dear homeland....For, next to boxing and cockfighting, there is for a Briton no finer view than the agony of some poor devil who has stolen a sheep or counterfeited a signature and is shown to the public for an hour in front of the façade of Old Bailey, with a rope around his neck, before they spin him off into eternity. It is no exaggeration when I say that stealing a sheep and counterfeiting are punished the same as the most abhorrent crimes, like parricide or incest, in that savage land. I myself, passing by through a sad coincidence, saw a man hanged because he stole a sheep, and since then I have lost all my pleasure in roast mutton; the fat always reminds me now of the white cap of the poor sinner. Next to him they executed an Irishman who had imitated the handwriting of a rich banker; I still see the naive fear of death of the poor Paddy, who at his trial could not grasp that he would be punished so harshly for an imitated handwriting-- he, who would let anyone who wanted imitate his own! And this people constantly talks of Christianity, and misses no Sunday in church, and floods the whole world with Bibles.
--Heinrich Heine (1797-1856), Florentine Nights
Ja, wenn man den Engländern in einem fremden Lande begegnet, kann man, durch den Kontrast, ihre Mängel erst recht grell hervortreten sehen. Es sind die Götter der Langeweile, die, in blanklackierten Wagen, mit Extrapost durch alle Länder jagen und überall eine graue Staubwolke von Traurigkeit hinter sich lassen. Dazu kommt ihre Neugier ohne Interesse, ihre geputzte Plumpheit, ihre freche Blödigkeit, ihr eckiger Egoismus und ihre öde Freude an allen melancholischen Gegenständen. Schon seit drei Wochen sieht man hier auf der Piazza di Gran Duca alle Tage einen Engländer, welcher stundenlang mit offenem Maule jenem Scharlatane zuschaut, der dort, zu Pferde sitzend, den Leuten die Zähne ausreißt. Dieses Schauspiel soll den edlen Sohn Albions vielleicht schadlos halten für die Exekutionen, die er in seinem teuern Vaterlande versäumt... Denn nächst Boxen und Hahnenkampf gibt es für einen Briten keinen köstlicheren Anblick als die Agonie eines armen Teufels, der ein Schaf gestohlen oder eine Handschrift nachgeahmt hat und vor der Fassade von Old Bailey eine Stunde lang, mit einem Strick um den Hals, ausgestellt wird, ehe man ihn in die Ewigkeit schleudert. Es ist keine Übertreibung, wenn ich sage, daß Schafdiebstahl und Fälschung in jenem häßlich grausamen Lande gleich den abscheulichsten Verbrechen, gleich Vatermord und Blutschande, bestraft werden. Ich selber, den ein trister Zufall vorbeiführte, ich sah in London einen Menschen hängen, weil er ein Schaf gestohlen, und seitdem verlor ich alle Freude an Hammelbraten; das Fett erinnert mich immer an die weiße Mütze des armen Sünders. Neben ihm ward ein Irländer gehenkt, der die Handschrift eines reichen Bankiers nachgeahmt; noch immer sehe ich die naive Todesangst des armen Paddy, welcher vor den Assisen nicht begreifen konnte, daß man ihn einer nachgeahmten Handschrift wegen so hart bestrafe, ihn, der doch jedem Menschenkind erlaube, seine eigne Handschrift nachzuahmen! Und dieses Volk spricht beständig von Christentum und versäumt des Sonntags keine Kirche und überschwemmt die ganze Welt mit Bibeln.
A sweet disorder in the dress
kindles in clothes a wantonness:
a lawn about the shoulders thrown
into a fine distraction:
an erring lace, which here and there
enthralls the crimson stomacher:
a cuff neglectful, and thereby
ribbands to flow confusedly:
a winning wave (deserving note)
in the tempestuous petticoat:
a careless shoe-string, in whose tie
I see a wild civility:
do more bewitch me, than when art
is too precise in every part.
--Robert Herrick (1591-1674)