THE ESSENTIAL ENGLISHMAN
There is no watertight excuse for this book. It strolls impertinently over ground that has been carefully mapped by the qualified authorities and elegantly appreciated by many devoted amateurs. Its purview is ludicrously broad – nothing less than an exhibition of the Englishman in his more characteristic manifestations through the ages. It is, wriggle out of it as we would, a hopelessly, damnably patriotic book. However, it is our opinion that the evils of nationalism, cultural hostility, race hatred and fear of social change are best countered by an open regard for the values of one’s own society and a cheerful celebration of its virtues – and, on this basis, an honest recognition of its failures and weaknesses.
The Essential Englishman is a fascinating composite portrait in words and pictures which seeks to define at least some of the Englishman’s attitudes, to celebrate his successes, admire his strengths, to glance with understanding at his weaknesses and also to reflect the way that others see him. Recent dramatic political changes make it even more timely for the millennial Englishman to be able to gain, through looking back at history, a quirky if affectionate view at who and what he is.
The picture that emerges is rich in contradictions. The archetypal Englishman, it seems, adores animals yet has a passion for fox-hunting; he has founded empires but has an inherent mistrust for anything foreign; he is suspicious of government yet trusts his (unwritten) Constitution implicitly. And while the English possess a profound scepticism about the value of creative endeavour, England has consistently given the world some of its greatest poets, writers, musicians and artists.
Authors Duncan Steen and Nicolas Soames have called evidence for the defence (and occasionally for the prosecution) from more than a thousand years of English literature, history and historical anecdote, while witnesses range from Shakespeare to Bernard Shaw, from Dr Johnson to D. H. Lawrence – and a range of foreigners who are bemused yet often view their subjects with a whimsical goodwill.
By turns hilarious, sad, heroic, eccentric, maddening and oddly inspiring, here is the true Englishman – at school, in love, in battle, at prayer, at sport, abroad, or at home in the country. This entertaining and informative book is essential reading for everyone in or out of England, and especially as it forges a new identity within the geographic (if not political) environs of Europe.